Coffee & the Mojo Hat (Paddledoo Music PAD 107, 2011)
What an intriguing title, though I couldn’t tell you what a mojo hat is any more than I could explain the meaning of the “mojo filter” the Beatles sang about in “Come Together.” But all the explanation you need is on the CD cover: “Traditional Scottish tunes with Latin, Funk and Jazz influences,” it reads. Well, all right. Pianist Neil Pearlman grew up listening to and playing the music of Cape Breton, Canada’s Celtic epicenter, not that he was content to leave it at that.
Ably assisted by bassist Doug Berns, drummer Alex Cohen and conga player Javier Ramos, Pearlman channels the feel, phrasing and defining rhythms of Scottish folkloric music through Latin beats and comes up with a lively best of both worlds that works a whole lot better than, say, haggis smothered in salsa.
In Pearlman’s hands, the ivories don’t stand a chance as he pummels out boogieing, clave-injected strathspeys (Scottish dance tunes) composed by his own pen and those of his forebears. He’s got a knack for speed but slows it down every so often, and lets invited guests on flute, vocals and fiddle tweak the Scottish side of the balance as often as his regular sidemen assist in turning the Latin heat up to the boiling point. It’s a crazy combination (though no more so than bands like Salsa Celtica or Baka Beyond, I suppose) and a blood-pumping delight from start to finish.
Give Neil Pearlman a tip of the hat and of the cup, and get this album.