Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dirty Dozen Brass Band/Blind Boys of Alabama in Montreal

Here's a review of one of the more exciting shows at this year's Montreal International Jazz Fest:

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is as fine a concert group as a parade band and the audience at the Theatre Maisonneuve treated the front four of trumpeter Efram Towns, tenor saxophonist Kevin Harris, trombonist Keith "Wolf" Anderson and baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis like the jazz lions they've become. Lewis in particular was at the height of his power, blowing deep, carved wood notes as a striking counterweight in the brass arrangements. This is a different version of "Saints" that we've been hearing elsewhere. In the hands of the Dozen it's a musical corrolary to "Egalite" and the audience went from reverence to ecstasy,
delivering one of several standing ovations.

"St. James Infirmary" is a song no New Orleanian can sing without emotion. Its subject, the contemplation of a loved one's lifeless body, remains a stark reminder of the horrors of Katrina just as it was to the survivors of the early 20th century
yellow fever epidemics. Anderson delivered an impassioned, bulging-eyed vocal, his face etched in horror in response to the sight of the corpse, while Lewis played a sepulchral repetition of the dirge on baritone sax, an exercise that enduced a
hypnotic state in the crowd as the song went on. Lewis kept playing that same eerie phrase behind the first two verses, Towns' trumpet solo and another verse. Then Anderson and Lewis played a trombone and baritone sax duet with Anderson taking over the dirge line as Lewis crawled into a doleful and serpentine final statement.

The band's ingenious reworking of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" followed as a showpiece for Towns on vocals, trumpet and pocket trumpet. From there it was a sprint to the end with tenor saxophonist Kevin Harris taking the vocal lead for a James Brown vamp with Jake Eckert on rhythm guitar overdrive, taking them right on into the Dozen anthem "My Feets Can't Fail Me Now."

Few could follow such a display but the Blind Boys of Alabama did New Orleans their own way. "The Blind Boys like Canada... because Canada is good to the Blind Boys," Jimmy Carter told the adoring crowd. After promising to consume not just any hot dog
but "a Canadian hot dog" Carter instructed the crowd to dance by telling them "The Blind Boys don't like conservative audiences."

Carter, Bishop Billy Bowers and Ben Moore mixed in several songs from ...In New Orleans, starting the show with "Down By the Riverside," with the Dozen on Earl King's "Make A Better World" and including a scream-inducing "Free At Last." At the
climax of the show Carter left the stage to roam through the theater shouting "Feel Good" and other exhortations over and over as the crowd chanted and clapped along. Now that's "L'esprit de la Nouvelle-Orleans."