A change of pace is always a nice way to step into a new groove during this hectic March. This past weekend, jazz-funk made its way into New York City to calm the storm. With March Madness events not too far off in midtown at Madison Square Garden, it was hard not to desire an escape for the spring evening. Luckily, Trombonist Natalie Cressman and the men of Omaha Diner were the musical acts to save the day in this regard. It was to be a night of ideal celebration and frivolity in honor of the release of Natalie’s EP, ‘The Traces’ at the hip venue American Beauty.
Fun fact, American Beauty offers free pizza with each drink purchase. That was a nice surprise for many a hungry visitor who had time to kill. Fans arriving at the space had to wallow through the throngs of college basketball fans until they finally made it to the offbeat location. A bustling sports bar welcomed guests who were then prompted to head on back to the concert area. Immediately, viewers were drawn to the black dancing cages on the wall. There was a second bar on the left and a small dark stage on the right down a narrow concert floor that added a suave musical vibe to the place. Long charcoal leather booths were pressed against the walls for fans to relax and enjoy their well-deserved drinks in peace. A blood red and rippling backdrop hung against behind the jazz stage that offered the only glimmer of color in the room. Glistening glass chandeliers swayed on the ceiling every now and then landing a quick glare on the walls. Even before the show began, bright swirling lights lit up the floor to a somber crowd. Thankfully, the few people who arrived early were jiving with the loud rock and roll playing on the radio. The bartenders, who were restless, were dancing behind the bar without a care in the world. On the floor, Natalie was already manning her merchandise table as a true professional and musical entrepreneur. Key item to buy, other than her music, were the excellent Cressman pins that sparkled with each turn. They were miniature images of Natalie wielding her signature trombone. Relix magazine was also gracing the space with a table full of subscription opportunities and various swag. The sparse crowd eventually grew as the men of Omaha Diner; Skerik, Charlie Hunter, Steven Bernstein and Bobby Previte walked up on stage.
Omaha Diner came out and took their places with ease. The men are known for their jazzy and funky renditions of Billboard number one hits of which many would occupy their set list that evening. With a quick sound check, they took things off with a slow jam of funk to start. Fans clamored up to the front of the stage to observe and marvel at their musical handiwork. Already, Bobby was killing it from the inception on his drums, his arms taking control of every drum head. Quick beats amidst a rumble of funk ensued. Discordant horns followed with Skerik and Steven leading the charge. All of it turned instantly groovy. Their fast putters allowed for a slick flow. Charlie had that mischievous grin on his face as he wielded his eight string guitar. As Bobby’s drumming remained focused and quick, each impressive shift caused the audience to sway with enjoyment. All of the horns blew at strange intervals but somehow worked their magic with each low-down bit. Duel mimicking horns popped up here and there with both men having some added amusement. Almost every song had its comedic bits and banter among each musician.
Despite the laughter and endless smiles, the wicked licks of Charlie held true in his classic form. He made sure to share his trademarked Hunter thrum with everyone. Skerik unleashed some sax comedy with his unusual solos. It was a mix of sudden pumps with a subtle vein of polka. In the space, the crowd cheered him on all the while. Funk was never far behind. It managed to jump right in whenever it felt like it. Bobby continued to wow everyone there with his marionette style of percussion. He was a maniac filled with unwavering passion! Not only did the men seem to be playing their best, they also looked like they were having plain old fun up there. Their jazz skills came into play with their transitions, which were always smooth. It was hard not to get the blood pumping. Skerik and Steven offered excellent pitter-patters of interplay with both horns. Both were nimble and charming. Skerik continued to impress listeners as the shine from his beautiful designs on the saxophone were seen far and wide. Charlie then stole the show once again with his intricate licks. They matched his eyes in fire and detail. Each had their moment of glory that showcased their own unique flicker of style. Bobby’s crash of the cymbals could be heard all the way through. Highlight of their set was their sudden cover of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) that received a rowdy applause and some ambitious audience members who worked their Beyoncé choreography well.
Once Omaha Diner finished their set, Natalie’s band quickly walked on stage to set up. The woman of the hour, finally done selling her merchandise, was nowhere to be seen. After some time, the band was all set up, but heads were turned in to the back to watch some courageous fans who began dancing in the cages. The band left the stage and returned shortly after with Natalie in tow. All came out with cheers from the crowd. Natalie’s set then started with some solid bass and drum thumps to get things moving. Her soulful vocals were released. Next to the star stood the giant trombone at her side. Natalie’s music took a tone of soul roots-funk. Nice harmonies flowed with the saxophone. The inception of the set was bouncy but lingered on with Natalie’s gasping vocals. Strong funk riffs always seem to come in and save the day along with her horn. Despite the trombone being slightly quiet, its presence was omnipresent.
True skill lie in the instrumentals among the musicians on stage. Whether it was the smooth pairing of the horns or the danceable moments collected by the bass, guitar and drums, the talent was apparent. Uplifting strings helped bring the somber horns to life. Most amusing was the eight string bassist bouncing along with obvious glee. Each musician was dancing in place with smiles plastered on their faces. Their stride finally took off and a hip swing came through. It was well-aligned music. As the set progressed, Natalie and crew wasted no time with seamless transitions per song. A shift occurred once the music suddenly became pure folk-funk with an added flair of disco within. Each musician was in their own dancing vibe and the individual styles were visible to many a viewer. When Natalie sang loud and true, the instrumentation complemented her voice. It always added onto the power. Sadly, Natalie only took the trombone out every now and then. It was treated as more of an accessory during her set.
When her vocals took over, the crowd hardly moved and seemed to yearn for more exploration with the band. The audience’s vibe was not as engaged compared to Omaha Diner’s performance. Some folks wanted to hear more of Natalie’s band. There was a anxious chatter that grew with each passing moment. Eventually, the music took over and brought that optimism back. The raucous funk was palpable for a cure. Droning horns sometimes started a new song that turned into classic bellows of funk. The vibrancy was more mellow compared to the opening set. Despite their upbeat music, Natalie’s pride and joy was with her trombone. Exquisite low and high notes were heard and enjoyed when she blew. This is what people bobbed their heads to. Swaying increased among the group. Fast funk and swing time were sublime. When stripped of vocals, the music pumped up behind her with blasts and launches from the other musicians. Everything was powerful with the band. It was an impressive mix of puffs of renown and vibrating heaven.
Natalie Cressman celebrated well and knew how to choose the right people to tag along with her in Omaha Diner. For fans looking for some musical Freedom, both of these acts can help sate that hunger. For a good time and a break from the craziness, join in.