Kermit Ruffins: Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Here's a version of a "Closer Walk" that is taken at a true walking pace, slow enough so that even grandpa can keep up with the strolling band. The connection to the New Orleans funeral parade tradition can be felt in each bar. But this isn't just a history in old time music葉here are bits of modern soul and funk added into the mix. Ruffins possesses a spacious range and firm command of his horn, but he uses so much vibrato that I don't think there is any left for the rest of the band by the time he is done. The result is a track that sounds just a bit too stylized and over-the-top for my tastes, jazz for the tourists passing through town. Mary Griffin's vocal is the most authentic ingredient on this track, with a real gospel-ish delivery that is perfectly suited for the lyric.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments


Fanfare Ciocトビlia: Ciocトビlia

"Ciocトビlia" translates as "Skylark," but if you're expecting the Hoagy Carmichael standard, you've bought the wrong CD. Instead, imagine what the Dirty Dozen Brass Band would sound like if its members had grown up in northeastern Romania instead of New Orleans. This twelve piece band from the village of Zece Prトニini started out as a group of regulars who played at weddings and other festive occasions. Since then they have gone on to bigger things, most notably an appearance in the film Borat, where they performed the (traditional Romanian folk song?) "Born to be Wild." The band is heavily steeped in the Roma tradition and borrows freely from Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia too, as well as adapting occasional jazz elements. Their trademark is an ensemble sound that is on the brink of veering out-of-control, coupled with a raw energy that can be felt waiting impatiently in the background even during those rare moments of brass restraint. The horn tones remind me of how string players articulate their notes and phrases, and the result is distinctive aural personality unlike any you will encounter stateside. But the hook here is the party mood, which is upbeat and unrelenting.

August 30, 2009 · 0 comments


Canadian Brass: Struttin' With Some Barbecue

New Orleans music is built on a sturdy foundation set by generations of brass bands, and even Louis Armstrong (who introduced this song to the world) learned his craft in that time-honored setting. But the N'Awlins variety of brass band never played quite as cleanly and precisely as the Canadian Brass. Perhaps if New Orleans had been situated in the middle of a military base, and had trained with the discipline of soldiers on the march . . well, maybe jazz would have sounded more like this track. I can't fault the execution here, and the trumpet work is flashy. Honestly, I am more likely to play Louis Armstrong's "version of this tune when I throw a barbecue, but if I ever plan to do struttin' with some caviar and expensive vodka, this rendition might just do the trick.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments


The Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Use Your Brain

For those raised on today's urban music, it may be hard to believe that you could get such a soulful groove without bass or guitar or keyboards . . . or sampling or programming and those other "little helpers" that are so common these days. But welcome to New Orleans, where horns have been doin' the heavy lifting for more than a century. Here we don't even get a full dirty dozen in the band, but a majority of the ensemble shows up in the studio for "Use Your Brain," and that's all they need for a funk quorum. This project found the band members focusing on original compositions, with saxophonist Roger Lewis penning this winning chart. It's fascinating to listen to this music and trace the history back to those early New Orleans brass bands, yet also hear all the contemporary ingredients. We are only a step away from the World Saxophone Quartet here, yet hints of the 1910 Tuxedo Brass Band are also in the air.

August 23, 2009 · 0 comments


The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (with Dr. John): It's All Over Now

The Rolling Stones

We all know that the Rolling Stones can "borrow" music from New Orleans. So why can't New Orleans musicians do the same in return? Here the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, joined by Dr. John, delivers a spirited rendition of "It's All Over Now," which served as the British rockers' first number one single back in '64. Of course, the Stones had picked it up from the Womack brothers, so this song has crossed the Big Pond enough times to earn frequent flyer miles and a free upgrade.

The tradition of New Orleans brass bands is a venerable one, and the Dirty Dozen are the most celebrated practitioners of the modern era. They are not afraid to update the sound, and add a full rhythm section when necessary, although everyone here except the good Doctor is playing an instrument that can be held in two hands and carried down Canal Street. Besides, who needs a stinkin' electric bass when a sousaphone is lying around? The funky march beat is a New Orleans trademark, and no one does it better than this ensemble. Dr. John is in top form, and proves that he is one of the few singers who can take a song from Mick Jagger and make it sound even grittier and more lowdown. Parade music meets dance hall funk, and everyone is a winner.

August 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Eureka Brass Band: Just a Closer Walk With Thee

With the possible exception of Mardi Gras, no New Orleans tradition is more revered than the time-honored brass band funeral and parade. The longevity and flexibility of this institution are striking: in more recent days, hip-hop or funk oriented brass bands bring this ritual into the modern age (see example here), and often still include "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" in the mix. Looking backward, this ritual can be traced to African and early diaspora traditions, and if Samuel Floyd is correct, the famous second line of the funeral procession is merely a "straightening out" of the old ring shout. Many outsiders still scratch their heads in puzzlement at the festive tone of these processions, but one need only recall that what some see as a burial others view as a resurrection. This is fitting music indeed for passage into that proverbial "better place."

This recording captures the Eureka Brass Band back in 1951. This ensemble had been together since 1920 and kept playing until 1975, and even after that leader Percy Humphrey (also a regular at Preservation Hall) occasionally revived the group. But even this relatively authentic recording shows the tendency for this tradition to morph and modernize. Immediately after this somber hymn, the brass band launches into Gerswhin's "Oh, Lady Be Good"預 Broadway song that wasn't even composed until four years after the Eureka Brass Band was founded.

August 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy: Lament

The larger the ensemble, the more tonal variety is possible葉hat's certainly a big reason why most of those who are considered jazz's greatest composers wrote for big bands. Trumpeter Lester Bowie eschewed reeds and strings in the makeup of his Brass Fantasy, but the nonet nevertheless provided its arrangers and composers with a wide array of possibilities. Composer/trumpeter Malachi Thompson takes good advantage of the tools at his disposal, exploiting unusual instruments (didgeridoo), the capacity of the individual musicians to create unusual sounds (Bowie himself wrote the book on that), writing attractive voicings, and using various combinations to produce interesting sonorities. Essentially a bossa nova bookended by free and chorale-like episodes, "Lament" doesn't offer much in the way of melody, but it does evoke a series of progressively complex if harmonically static atmospheres that, taken in total, constitute a work of some modest beauty.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments


Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy: I Only Have Eyes For You

Trumpeter Lester Bowie's love for '50s pop found an outlet in his Brass Fantasy, a nonet consisting of four trumpets, two trombones, a French horn, tuba and drums. The music the group made for ECM in the '80s was, in general, good-humored without being jokey, reasonably demanding without being pedantic. "I Only Have Eyes For You" was written for the 1934 Hollywood film Dames and sung by the then-famous screen couple, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell. Bowie's arrangement draws on the 1959 version by The Flamingos容asily the best known, thanks to its inclusion on the soundtrack of George Lucas's 1973 film, American Graffiti. The notoriously wacky Bowie is respectful in his treatment, his arrangement following the general outline of The Flamingos' version with only the faintest hint of tongue in cheek. Indeed, the performance is straightforward to the point of being a bit dull, with only Bowie's pliable improvising being of much interest. The music is adequately performed遥ou'd expect nothing less from a group that includes the likes of Steve Turre, Bob Stewart and the leader傭ut it lacks anything resembling a spark. Brass Fantasy could (and did) do better elsewhere.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments


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