On paper the story sets off carpetbagger alarm bells: B-3 organist from Graz, Austria, traipses down to New Orleans, recruits a handful of ace Crescent City musicians for a whirlwind two-day session and titles the affair Soul Gumbo. But it doesn’t take long to realize that Raphael Wressnig is more kindred spirit than cultural tourist. More than a decade ago, Wressnig was a sideman for Louisiana blues guitarist and singer Larry Garner. Such is his love for the music of the bayou that, eight years ago, he released an album in Europe under the band name New Orleans Organ Trio.
More to the point, Soul Gumbo is built upon the impeccable foundation of ex-Meters bassist George Porter, Jr., and the distinctive jazz-funk-rock timekeeping of Louisiana native Stanton Moore. When Wressnig locks into the groove they provide — whether it’s the busy spice of “Mustard Greens,” the rolling swagger of “Soulful Strut” or the power-glide of “Soul Jazz Shuffle,” he exhibits a distinctive sense of when to pitch forward or settle back, when to hunt and peck out phrases on his keys and when to sustain a blasting spree. His credibility is further burnished by his inclusion of more straight-ahead (and in the case of “I Want to Know,” previously recorded) blues material, often with his old bandmates like guitarist Alex Schultz and vocalist Tad Robinson helping out, and that these tracks hold their own. “Room With a View” is a particular highlight.
A horn section of saxophonist Craig Handy and trumpeter Eric Bloom provides real heft to the arrangements; the guitars are divided between Schultz and the inimitable Walter “Wolfman” Washington, and Wressnig closes the set by handing the spotlight to his mentor, Garner, on “Nobody Special.” Only a similar vehicle for the usually superb New Orleans pianist Jon Cleary, “Sometimes I Wonder,” falls flat.