What's the difference between a supergroup and a super jam?For one, supergroup sounds rather ostentatious. Moreover, a super jam implies a good time instead of an ambitious musical project created to sell a bunch of records and make a bundle of cash.The super jam Dragon Smoke doesn't even have a record, save for a recording of one of its few shows, which might be available at one of its rare gigs.The New Orleans quartet only plays a half-dozen or so times a year, and on Sunday, Dec. 16, will appear in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room.Dragon Smoke is blues, rock and soul guitarist-singer Eric Lindell; Dumpstaphunk's Ivan Neville; and Galactica's rhythm section, drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio."What's cool about this project is that I play a lot of instrumental music, and I do play with some great singers as well, but it's interesting to have such a small group with two great singers," Moore told Lake Tahoe Action. "(This is) a four-piece band with two singers when usually it's a four-piece band with no singers."Moore is the quintessential "NOLA" musician. He has his own line of drums, is a ubiquitous studio contributor on his peers' records and he plays in a number of bands with cool names: Frequinox, Midnite Disturbers, Garage A Trois, the Stanton Moore Trio. (OK, that last handle is rather pedestrian, but nevertheless important for branding.) Put together more than a decade ago by San Francisco Boom Boom Room promoter Alex Andreas, Dragon Smoke first played in the Dragon's Den on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans. John Cleary was the first keyboard player. The next year of the super jam, Neville was on keys and Moore was absent, playing with another ensemble.The obvious reason Dragon Smoke rarely performs is because its members are all in other groups. Its music, Moore says, is centered around its members' "common denominator influences.""To me, it's a soul-based, roots, soul, blues, some R&B, some funk but a little more on the soul end of the spectrum," he said. "We do a bunch of Eric's tunes, some of Ivan's tunes and a bunch of other things that we all dig on. ... There might be things that I dip into that are more jazz-oriented and things Ivan's into that are more heavy, funk-oriented - those influences don't necessarily dip in (with Dragon Smoke)."We get in these little super jams and sometimes they turn out to really work really well, to really be cohesive and as a unit. Frequinox began that way. Dragon Smoke began that way. From Frequinox Robert Walter and Will Bernard (and myself began the Stanton Moore) Trio. These all came out of these little super jam kind of things."The collaboration between Moore and Mercurio is hardly unusual. They have been playing together since they were in the band Prophylactic in 1992. Their best known band is Galactic, which played March 25 in the Crown Room. Moore and Mercurio have recently performed with Papa Mali and original Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli. The rhythm section played on Lindell's 2009 Alligator Records album "Gulf Coast Highway" and are in the process making a record with "Jumpin' " Johnny Sansone."Robert and I were roommates for some time when Galactic was first starting," Moore said. "We lived together in the band house and then we moved and got another house together and that's also where the band rehearsed. Then I moved to Algiers Point and then Robert bought a house in Algiers Point. We were neighbors and now Robert lives downtown and I am about to move downtown."
Moore conducted this telephone interview on his front porch overlooking a "For Sale" sign. "We're selling our house and we're gonna rent downtown because we're tired of dealing with the hurricane stuff," he said. "You will go on a main drag like Canal Street and everything looks fine, then you go a couple blocks in and it's a total mess. Total neighborhoods are just decimated. There is a lot of rebuilding and there's a lot of not rebuilding. So it's just a lot of patchwork in progress. It's a case-by-case scenario everywhere you go." ... Meters bassist George Porter Jr. when he was here last August told Lake Tahoe Action Art "Papa Funk" Neville, who turns 75 on Monday, is probably finished recording. He speculated the historic funk band might replace Porter with Herbie Hancock. If the legendary jazz player is unavailable, the Meters don't have to look far to find a logical replacement. Keyboardist Ivan Neville is Papa Funk's nephew. "That is the more-than-obvious choice but for some reason they always try to avoid that," Moore said. "I'm not sure why that is. It's almost a no-brainer but it's their decision to make." ... Jelly Bread, Lake Tahoe Action's Band of the Year, opens for Dragon Smoke and its keyboardist, Eric Matlock, is stoked. Ivan has been an idol of mine for a long time," Matlock said. "He's got a great left hand and he sings like nobody's business. Ivan Neville's father, Aaron Neville, plays Saturday, Dec. 15, at Harrah's Lake Tahoe. The touring schedule is a coincidence. Aaron Neville told Lake Tahoe Action he was unaware Dragon Smoke was to be in town the night after his show, and we have no reason to doubt him because since 1965 he is known to "Tell It Like It Is." ... Made up of Moore, Mecurio, Bernard, Donald Harrison and Jeff Coffin, Frequinox was temporarily called MG5. With legal matters now settled, the band once again is called Frequinox. ... Lindell has lived more than a decade in New Orleans but grew up in the Bay Area. For a while he lived in nearby Forestville.