October 26, 2004

Where Africa meets oompah

"Do It Fluid"
from 'My Feet Can't Fail Me Now', Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Concord Jazz, 1984

audio off

Here's an LP, the first for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, that was re-issused on CD around 1990. They are both out of print now; and more's the pity. I bought this very well-recorded LP a few years after it came out. Never heard the CD or even saw a copy. So, I'd guess it wasn't around for long. Many people regard the DDBB's Rounder album/CD 'Live: Mardi Gras in Montreux' from 1986 as their first - and it is one of their best, containing versions of several of the 'Feets' tunes. But this Concord LP came before and is a great-sounding, insistently grooving example of the band fairly early in their career (they formed, more or less, around 1977). I chose "Do It Fluid" as a highlight, because it shows what these young guys could do with their intense, accomplished musicianship and super-charged delivery. The Dirty Dozen pretty much revitalized the moribund brass band tradition in New Orleans, rewrote the rules, and led the way for all the other young bands to come with their adventurous repertoire, compositional skills and head-long drive. Note the consummate sousaphone/tuba work of Kirk Joseph (who is no longer with the group) on this track for a workshop in propulsive bass pumpin'.

The Dozen have changed over the years from a "pure" brass band (brass and percussion) to more of a funk band a with killer horn section, having added keyboards, guitar and, occasionally,
trap drums. While I prefer the sound of the early years, I've heard them numerous times on record and live in their expanded configuration and find them still to be a band with undeniable groove power. Many other brass and funk bands they have inspired are giving them some healthy competition these days. Seek this stuff out.

When African-Americans were introduced to brass marching band instruments in 19th centrury New Orleans, they did something remarkable with them over time, engendering no less than a new musical form, jazz. That's an extreme over-simplification of the process, for sure; but there's no way to neatly sum up the confluence of influences that is New Orleans music. My bias and preference is for the visceral, syncopated, funk-infused second line grooves which arose and continue to perpetuate in the streets of that humid, atmospheric, sub-sea level city through the marching, parading, and general struttin' of brass bands, Mardi Gras Indian gangs, and associated revelers. The repercussions linger there to this day. Both jazz and funk were born in those streets, went separate ways at times and came back to intertwine again and again. To my mind, the music of the Home of the Groove is at its finest when those streams merge. Look no farther than the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the modern Crescent City brass band movement for the free-flowing evidence.


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