Rhythm of New Orleans
The Rebirth Brass Band keeps Chico dancing
I’ve never been to New Orleans. The city exists in my imagination as a mythological source of energy and a mystical nexus where music—jazz, blues, hip-hop, funk, zydeco and more—rises out of the Mississippi River Delta to nurture souls and tap into a natural urge to join together in celebratory dance.
If the above statement strikes you as a bit of mildly hyperbolic mumbo jumbo/gumbo, I’d guess you didn’t attend last week’s performance by New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band at Lost on Main (April 17). The octet’s rhythm section—which includes founding members/brothers Phil and Keith Frazier, on tuba and bass drum, respectively, as well as virtuoso snare drummer and percussionist Derrick Tabb—is a wonder to behold. Working without the standard modern dance band instrumentation of electric bass guitar, trap drums and keyboards, the rhythm section is a force of nature.
In what appeared to be a telepathic unity, the three provided an ever-shifting but undeniably solid foundation—sustained by the dexterous bass of Phil’s tuba (the man must have lungs that could sustain a blue whale to keep that massive instrument resonating with such sonic force)—over which the five other horn players weaved, entwined and stacked melodies and riffs. At any moment, saxophonist Vincent Broussard, trombonists Stafford Agee and Gregory Veals, or trumpet players Chadrick Honoré and Glenn Hall would break into a solo that would transport the packed floor of dancers into musical heaven.
The Rebirth Brass Band was founded in 1983, when the Frazier brothers were fresh out of high school, and the band’s music seamlessly synthesizes influences ranging from 19th-century second line marching street band music to Afro-Cuban and Dixieland jazz to George Clinton-infused pure funk, the common thread being that everything they do will make you move. The band was a regular feature on HBO’s New Orleans-based Treme series, and it won a Grammy in 2012 for its album Rebirth of New Orleans.
Without electric instruments battling to dominate stage volume, the noise level in Lost on Main remained emphatic but comfortable throughout the set. The band could employ nuanced shifts in volume that ranged from unamplified horn solos accompanied by the clear chime of Keith’s tapping of a steel screwdriver shaft on a cymbal, to Tabb’s spot-on accents and rolls on the snare drum, often enhanced by trombonist Agee’s addition of cowbell and wood block embellishments.
The group’s vocal style—mostly chanted exhortations urging the audience to join the party—suits the celebratory, get-up-and-shake-your-ass nature of the music perfectly and brings to mind the grittier aspects of Parliament-Funkadelic’s live ensemble sing-alongs. The audience leaves the show with a sense of having shared in a visceral, body- and soul-reviving musical communion that could have burst forth only from the fertile musical soil of New Orleans.
Rigamarole, a local “collective of musical educators,” opening the show and warmed up the crowd with a not too obviously academic set of covers and originals highlighted by the trumpet-playing of Ayako Nakamura and vocals of Seth Snyder.