The New Orleans Jazz Vipers

The Spotted Cat

January 16, 2004

As he waited for the band to begin their first set, the stranger spotted a woman huddled close and said, “Happy Vipers!” She seemed flummoxed at first, but when she caught onto his meaning, she tried to equal his enthusiasm with an emphatic statement.

To some fans seeing the New Orleans Jazz Vipers play standards was comparable to eating Thanksgiving turkey or getting Christmas presents. This fanaticism was not surprising. The Spotted Cat was standing room only on Friday night. It was funny to see someone looking over another’s shoulder, when they were also looking over someone else. The band was alto saxophonist Joe Braun, trumpet player Charlie Fardella, guitarist John Rodli, bass saxophonist Tom Saunders, bassist Robert Snow and fiddler Neti Vaan.

They played head-boppin’ good time music. The traditional dancehall jazz band and their fans created a positive vibe the whole night. Each member was afforded at least one solo per two songs, and they were all excellent.

Snow and Rodli, as the de facto rhythm section without a drummer, were working harder than any other members to keep the songs above water. Since all the instruments were un-amplified, the band's sound was pure and not jumbled.

The concert began with Saunders singing a mid-tempo number that had Snow plucking his strings dryly to mimic percussion. At the end of it, the band got a whoop of applause, as they did all night.

A song highlight was Braun serenading the audience on “Them There Eyes,” from their new live CD. The whole band chimed in to shout the title lyric, and the band’s overall sing-songy attitude and delivery was really catchy. The band’s delivery was respectful of the music’s history and subtle throughout the night.

“Ghost of a Chance” was more of a waltz or a dirge, but they went back into swing mode with their next tune. The music was so energetic, if they had real percussion, it seems the whole bar would have become one big dance floor.

Saunders, who used to be an on and off member, was a great permanent addition because he’s very talented, and he takes some weight off the other players. My only annoyance was that Braun held up a CD at every possible chance. But, what else can I expect from a street performer?

Most importantly, the music said this: “Oh, yeah, sit yourself down. We’ll have a good ole time.”

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