A band like Doombalaya more or less lives to take challenges and turn them into art, which is what you come to expect from the many rock-funk bands somehow produced by the Tulane Jazz program. (Only in New Orleans.) These are, after all, classically trained world travelers who take all that musical knowledge and apply it to real-world, down-home constructs that the simplest person could get into. Yet they’ve nearly doubled down on their vision here, adding a drummer, beefing up the horn section, adding a female singer (again, from the Jazz program) and featuring two new songs from the percussionist, prominently featured as bookends along the usual ideas from co-leaders Ethan Stern and David Bode.
Clearly, Doombalaya knows how to let some air into a concept, and it works beautifully, even after a three-year recording hiatus: They’re picking up right where they left off on 2013’s debut, Dinner, polishing their party-ready fusion of progressive jazz-rock and Afro-funk. Jason Winikoff’s added polyrhythms don’t complicate matters: He only gives them an extra color on the sonic palette. On “Those Were the Days” and especially the album’s emotional centerpiece, “Be,” however, new vocalist Jenna Winston matches the majesty of their five-piece horn section note for blue note, taking their self-discovery and putting it into full flight. They can still jam as well as anybody, especially with the added components, but they must really be feeling themselves these days: Why else would you end your new album with a danceable yet somehow still pensive pass at Radiohead’s “Airbag”? With its own raucous guitar majesty left intact?