If you’ve gone out to more than a couple of gigs involving local musicians over the past year, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Cameron Kinghorn perform in any of a wide variety of scenarios.
That was Kinghorn singing Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” at the New Standards’ holiday shows and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” at First Avenue’s Prince block party. During last weekend’s Twin Cities Jazz Festival, he blew his trumpet with Black Market Brass and the JazzMN Orchestra. He also added backup vocals for Dessa’s Minnesota Orchestra concert in April, and he sang and trumpeted at 89.3 the Current’s birthday parties at First Ave in January.
Amid all that, Kinghorn has been fine-tuning a debut album by the one-and-only act in which he serves as frontman: Nooky Jones, a playful and tastefully sexed-up R&B/funk ensemble that he formed with some of his bandmates from the aforementioned brass and jazz bands.
“This is the one I’ve really been working toward,” Kinghorn said, “the one I’m most invested in personally and creatively.”
Nooky Jones takes over Icehouse in Minneapolis for a two-night party Saturday and Sunday, touting its self-titled record. The album’s release kicks off a busy summer for the band that also includes a set at next weekend’s Basilica Block Party, a slot the following weekend at Bauhaus Brew Lab’s third-anniversary bash and then a two-night stand at the Minnesota State Fair’s West End stage in late August.
Recorded over a year’s time, the 11-song collection finds the lanky 27-year-old journeyman diving headlong into the sultry vocal stylings of Hathaway, Billy “Me and Mrs. Jones” Paul and more modern smoothie singers like Maxwell. There are some sweet and tender songs on it, like the love-at-first-sight single “Hello.” And then there are tunes that will make more timid listeners blush, including the slow-grinding, falsetto-spiked “Sweet Wine.”
The fact that the record turned into such a lively, libido-driven affair is rather surprising when you learn that Kinghorn grew up in a conservative Mormon household in Circle Pines. The Centennial High grad said just being a kid of color was distinctive enough to make him something of an outcast in the northern Twin Cities suburb.
He made the decision to leave the Mormon faith at age 19, when youths are expected to fulfill missionary service for the church. Instead, he opted for four years of studying music at the University of Minnesota, after singing and playing in the choir since before grade school.
“It really wasn’t until I went to the U and started making more musician friends that I realized how diverse this city is, and how much I didn’t fit in where I was,” said Kinghorn.
It seems like he’s been celebrating that diversity in his wide range of music endeavors ever since.
In college, Kinghorn befriended Nooky Jones trumpeter Adam Meckler, whose 17-piece namesake jazz orchestra he eventually joined. Meanwhile, Meckler and drummer Reid Kennedy bonded in another group, the great New Orleans-styled Jack Brass Band, and from there they began brainstorming Nooky Jones.
“Adam called me up one day and said, ‘I’m starting a band, and you’re gonna sing in it,’ ” Kinghorn recalled with a wide grin. “And that was that.”
Rounded out by keyboardist Kevin Gastonguay (also of New Sound Underground), bassist Andrew Foreman (Reina del Cid) and trombonist Ryan Christianson, the young but experienced unit played its first show at Icehouse in September 2014 and never looked back. As they started to work up enough original material to fill a headlining set, Kinghorn and Kennedy settled in as the band’s principal songwriters.
“We share a lot of the same instincts,” explained Kennedy. That includes a taste for leaving their songs relatively open-ended.
“Everybody in this band has played jazz, and I think that’s a real asset,” added Kennedy, who is on staff with Meckler as an instructor at McNally Smith College of Music. “There’s a looseness and flexibility when we play that probably sets us apart a little bit. And it’s very collaborative; everybody pitches in and really has their heart in this thing.”
It’s personal for Kinghorn most of all, who seems to not only relish being a frontman in the group but also celebrates the freedom it represents in his adult life. He is still close to his family despite his decision to leave Mormonism. He even recalled an endearing phone call from his mom, who has coached and cheered on his musical endeavors over the years.
“She was asking me about one song but didn’t know the name of it, so she started singing me the melody to ‘Sweet Wine’ over the phone,” Kinghorn recalled with a grimace, since that’s the track where the band gets closest to sounding raunchy. “I was like, ‘Come on, Mom!’ ”
He added, “I think we never really cross the line. We’re exploring love and sexuality as an art form, an extension of the beautiful music we make. There’s nothing really vulgar about that.”
When: 10 p.m. Fri. & Sat.
With: Aby Wolf and Eric Mayson (Fri.), PHO (Sat.)
Where: Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $12-$15, Icehousempls.com.