The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
10 p.m. Sept. 16 at Exit/In
$10 adv., $12 door
Call 255-9600 for ticket information
Roger Lewis, saxophonist for The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, says his group’s recent Buck Jump is the best recording the collective has created in its 22-year history. The reason, he adds, is simple: “It’s the first time we’ve ever had another musician as a producer.”
Lewis is speaking of John Medeski, the young jazz keyboardist from New York who collaborated with the seven-member Dirty Dozen on the exhilarating Buck Jump. “The sessions had a live vibe, which has never been the case before,” the saxophonist explains. “We were all in the room together playing at the same time, which is something we’d never done before. It was the first record we’ve made where we have that energy we get when we’re playing in front of a lot of people. That’s because we were really having a good time.”
Whatever the reason, the high-stepping septet struts with outrageous vigor on its new work. Sounding like a fiery cross between James Brown’s Famous Flames and Sun Ra’s Arkestra, the brass band stirs up both high times and high art on Buck Jump. Funky and fun, yet inventive and sophisticated, the Dirty Dozen come across as both more unbound and more focused. The rhythms stay loose-limbed, while the accomplished horn section takes turns between wailing solos and darting, twisting arrangements.
“John was very open-minded about how things were put together,” Lewis says of Medeski, who’s part of the well-regarded funk-jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood. “He was real easy to work withhe didn’t come in with an attitude or anything like that. I was very impressed with him.”
As Lewis explains it, although the sessions were recorded with the spontaneity and energy of a live performance, Medeski later overdubbed solos and spliced and altered the songs to add depth without removing the jaunty feel of the tunes. “He’d take some sections of songs out and double up other sections. He was very smart about things like that. On one song, he took a solo I played and combined it with another, so that there were two different saxophone solos going on at the same time. We didn’t originally play it like that, but when he played it back, it sounded great. It was something different. It makes it a lot more interesting to listen to.”
The result is the most propulsive and provocative music the Dirty Dozen has ever made. Unlike some Dirty Dozen albums of the past, each song on Buck Jump has a distinct flavor to it. The disc is packed with variety: There’s the old-school New Orleans funk of “Unclean Waters,” the buoyant mambo rhythms that give a fresh twist to Louis Jordan’s “Run Joe,” the sophisticated jazz balladry of “Duff,” the moody, jazz-tinged remake of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” the Caribbean flow of “Pet the Kat,” the greasy soul-jazz of “Dead Dog in the Street,” and the noisy explosiveness of “Time.”
“I think this album has more of a street influence,” Lewis says. “It’s also more of a traditional brass band album in that most of it was created on the spur of the moment. There was total improvisation on each tune, but the basic design of each tune is very distinct.”
Formed in 1977 in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band has hit creative peaks before: on its 1984 debut, the joyous My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now, and again on 1989’s Voodoo. From the start, the group expanded upon the age-old New Orleans brass band tradition. It always injected a slight bebop influence, as well as augmenting the rhythmic bleat of the brass with keyboards and other instruments. It also freely expanded the brass band repertoire, working in everything from Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooch” and Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk” to the rockin’ soul classic “It’s All Over Now” to a witty combination of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Meet the Flintstones.”
Because its hybrid music is so engaging, the Dirty Dozen has found acceptance with a wide range of music fans, from rock to jazz to blues. The group recently recorded and toured with Widespread Panic, and in the past it has performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Branford Marsalis, Elvis Costello, and the Black Crowes, as well as with such simpatico Louisiana artists as the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, and Buckwheat Zydeco.
Throughout, certain elements of the band have always set it apart: Julius McKee puts out a Herculean effort on sousaphone, coming up with bass lines that play off the stripped-down drum work of Terence Higgins. The horn section plays brilliantly both as individual soloists and as an ensemble unit, executing slurs and dazzling off-kilter slides.
Even though the band’s music can be quite sophisticated, the group is determined to keep everything as accessible and as contagious as possible. As Lewis is quick to point out, the Dirty Dozen is a dance band, not a chamber group or a high-minded jazz act that expects its music to be pondered by a quiet, passive audience.
\“Jazz has gotten too intellectual,” he says. “Now people go to shows and sit there and try to figure out what’s going on. But back when bebop was in full swing, people were dancing to it. It was the jitterbug and swing era, and people were on their feet. You were getting two things for the price of one: great music and a great time. It was complicated music that was intellectual, but it also had something for the body. Now they’re playing their asses off on this highly technical stuff, but I don’t feel nothing. What about the soul? You gotta have some feeling!”
The Dirty Dozen, on the other hand, emphasizes feeling and good-time energy as much as intricate interplay. “I want to have some fun,” Lewis says. “I practice everyday, and when I do, I practice all the technical stuff, but when I hit the stage I want to go with that feel.”
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