Along about this time in February, many folks around Tampa Bay are consulting their New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival lineups and contemplating their closing act whereabouts. Can't miss the Neville Brothers, right?
But with money tighter this year, many can't afford to make the trek to the Crescent City.
Enter the Mardi Gras Mambo tour, featuring the Nevilles, along with Dr. John. The concert trek comes to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota on Saturday. It's a chance to get your fix of funk without leaving the bay area.
Quint Davis, longtime producer and director of the Jazz and Heritage Festival, often calls the brothers "the heart and soul of New Orleans."
Keyboardist Art "Poppa Funk," saxophonist Charles, singer Aaron and percussionist Cyril indeed are often treated as their hometown's official musical ambassadors. They regularly bring their infectious mix of New Orleans R&B, funk, jazz and African and Caribbean sounds and socially conscious messages to festivals and concert halls around the world.
But the Nevilles represent just one variety of the city's musical gumbo, Charles said.
"People ask, 'Is what you're doing New Orleans music?' " he said by telephone last week. "Well, New Orleans music is not just us. Fats Domino is New Orleans music. Satchmo (Louis Armstrong) is New Orleans music, and Harry Connick, and the Marsalis family, and Dr. John. When you listen to the brass bands — that's New Orleans music. New Orleans music covers a broad spectrum of styles and genres."
The Nevilles, together and separately, have played New Orleans rhythms and melodies and harmonies for more than five decades, beginning in 1954 when oldest sibling Art put together the Hawketts. That band's Mardi Gras Mambo became a huge hometown hit.
Later, Art formed the monstrously funky quartet the Meters, which eventually included Cyril, and Aaron in 1966 scored a national hit with gorgeous soul ballad Tell It Like It Is. The Nevilles' first notable appearance together on record was with Mardi Gras Indians, on the classic Wild Tchoupitoulas in 1976, and the next year they teamed for the debut Neville Brothers album. Their most recent label-affiliated CD, Walkin' in the Shadow of Life, was released in 2004.
Which Neville Brothers albums are among the band's best? Charles' names Yellow Moon, the popular 1989 album helmed by revered producer Daniel Lanois, and Live on Planet Earth, released in 1994.
"Lanois was able to, in the studio, capture the spirit and the feeling of the music, and capture what we do and what we mean with the music," he said. "What we do — the spirit of New Orleans is in our music. It's the spirit involved in those rhythms. Those rhythms are the ones handed down (from) voodoo."