IAN FLECKNEY reviews 20 years of jazz funk in ‘Vicennial’, the latest album from The Hot 8 Brass Band of New Orleans. The band will be bringing down the house in Whitstable on 29 October as part of their ‘Vicennial 2015’ tour.
It doesn’t take much of an excuse for the people of New Orleans to have a parade, and at the backbone of any “second line” parade you will find a brass band. They can crop up anywhere, from featuring in the James Bond film ‘Live and Let Die’ to being hired by families to play music during funeral processions of a loved one.
One of their finest are here in all its riotous glory celebrating their 20th Anniversary in typical roof raising style with this ‘best of’ compilation that exemplifies the band’s ability to honour the Cities traditions while forging their own powerful legacy. While they are quite happy to play in the more traditional brass band style of the city, the Hot 8 Brass Band now curry new flavours of jazz funk and hip hop fuelled music, and as a result, their many fans will be even more ready to party, day and night!
Bennie Pete is very much the band leader here and his punchy sousaphone leads into their opening tune ‘What’s My Name, Rock With The Hot 8’, an instrumental that morphs into a vocal workout that catches the excitement of the whole album. ‘Sexual Healing’ is one of Marvin Gaye’s greatest hits and is still known as “America’s hottest pop turn on”. It was a worldwide number one and has been covered by many other artists. However, the Hot 8 version is quite unique, with the band having happy-clappy fun, with Frank ’Little Frank’ Wricks and Frank Williams whooping up the vocals, while a brass riff moves along solidly behind them.. A far cry from the original! Trumpeter Alvarez Huntley turns in a quality rap on ‘Get Up’ while ‘Royal Garden Blues’ by Clarence Williams gives the band a chance for a straight ahead hot jazz performance with standout solos from the trumpet and trombone.
One of the most popular tunes in the band’s armoury is ‘Papa was a Rolling Stone’, originally written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barratt Strong. This more than any other identifies the band’s footprint where Frank Wicks’ vocals are punctuated by Shamarr Allen’s excellent solo trumpet before the whole thing comes to a powerful conclusion.
While ‘Rasta Funk’ and ‘Just My Imagination’ are wrapped around a powerful reggae pulse, the band then contributes a very moving and contrasting moment in the spiritual ‘We Shall Walk Through The Streets Of The City’. It is sung with great feeling by Ms Betty Williams who accompanies herself on piano, as trumpet, trombone and saxophone solos back her up in celebratory style.
The final track is a rambunctious and riotous ‘New Orleans, After The City’ where the whole band continue to whoop and holler throughout.
This album reflects The Hot 8 Brass Band as they play today and consists of “old friends” as well as new songs that sit comfortably in their repertoire. But there is nothing like seeing them live and good news for fans in the county is that among dates in their extensive UK tour, they will be playing at the Duke of Cumberland, Whitstable on Thursday 29 October at 9pm. Check out the band’s web site for booking instructions. Get along – and take your dancing shoes!