The Professors of Pleasure, John Doheny’s Tulane University faculty jazz band, use their second CD, Volume Two, to put on a clinic in modern jazz performance and composition. In less capable hands, we’d need to worry that the recording would sound clinical, but that isn’t a concern here. Instead, the interactions between the band on a collection of original compositions, Harold Battiste pieces, standards by Miles Davis (“Half Nelson”), Hank Mobley (“This I Dig Of You”), and James Van Heusen (“Nancy with the Laughing Face”), and a rousing version of the Tulane University fight song set to a second-line beat make for a fun, expressive and often whimsical exploration of what Doheny calls modern New Orleans jazz.
Responsible for the sessions’ feel, as is usually the case with jazz combos, is the solid work of the rhythm section: Geoff Clapp on drums and Jim Markway on bass absolutely lock in. Given such a strong foundation, the rest of the musicians get to stretch and showcase their impressive chops without the performances feeling perfunctory. “Elysian Fields,” an original composition of Markway’s, is a personal favorite for the emphasis its stop-time feel places on the bass and drums.
There isn’t much about Volume Two (beyond the Tulane Fight Song second-line) that will put listeners in mind of traditional New Orleans jazz. It’s inflected enough by modern jazz and fusion-funk idioms, and bebop vocabulary in particular, to avoid that easy categorization. Its obvious intent, both in conception and in execution, is to widen the category of New Orleans jazz to include what Tulane jazz performance students learn and modern jazz aficionados everywhere listen to.