Element Brass Band channels New Orleans sound
Sacramento second line act is all about that brass
Sometimes it’s best to go straight to the source. And sometimes, that means beignets, jambalaya and second line jazz.
Sacramento’s Element Brass Band went on a self-described pilgrimage to New Orleans last year to soak up the style of music that the band had already been playing for years.
“Their volume and their energy. … It’s hard to put into words what they do,” said Byron Colborn, saxophonist and bandleader.
Listening to recordings and watching videos—or even catching New Orleans-based bands on tour—can’t compare, he said. Colborn remembers seeing five different concerts on a single Sunday night, and the welcoming atmosphere in the Frenchmen Street clubs. He wonders why that’s only found in New Orleans, and thinks that it’s up to New Orleans-style bands “to make a little bit of New Orleans everywhere else in the country.”
Element Brass Band got started in 2011, originally the brainchild of Ryan Robertson, inspired by his own trip to New Orleans. In 2013, Robertson followed his calling back to the Louisiana city, leaving the roughly 15-18 person ensemble in the hands of Colborn.
While most members, including trumpeters, saxophonists, trombonists, drummers, tuba players and even an emcee, were already professional jazz musicians, second line wasn’t exactly first nature.
“This was something new to us,” Colborn said. “It wasn’t really out here on the West Coast so much.”
Still, Colborn quickly connected with the music.
“What drew me to it was really just the energy of it,” Colborn said. “It’s undeniable.”
Unlike other forms of jazz, which can have a lot of chord changes and require a deep knowledge of many scales, Colborn argues that second line is musically simpler. It’s more about the performance.
“You have to go balls to the wall and you have to have soul the entire time,” Colborn said. “Like, you can’t fake it. You can’t be timid. If you sound timid or anything, it just sounds terrible.”
And the band isn’t just working with a New Orleans musical recipe, either. Element weaves in hip-hop and R&B styles, which is distinctly different from fellow local brass band, City of Trees Brass Band.
And fitting with the second line tradition, Element plays the physical streets of Sacramento. Sometimes, they’ll score invites to play private parties happening simultaneously.
“It tends to sort of create its own energy, rather than just channel the energy of our environment,” says Joby Morrow, one of Element’s trombone players.
That energy shows in the massive crowds who have come to see Element at Concerts in the Park, as well as all the fans who voted the group as the best jazz act in the Sammies two years in a row. Now, fans are waiting for Element’s second album, which will be comprised of entirely original music. Colborn hopes to get into the studio this fall and release it in early 2017. It’ll be a step up creatively from its previous album, which was mostly made up of covers.
Even with writing new music, rehearsing weekly and performing regular gigs between its many members, the elements always manage to come together.
“It’s really impressive to me, like the commitment level in this band,” Colborn says. “I don’t think we would be nearly as far along if people didn’t believe in it like they do.”