After following the tradition long enough, sometimes you reach a point where you become
the tradition. Such is the case with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which has over 27 years and ten records occupied a central place in the musical life of New Orleans. At this point the brass-heavy group (the core here an octet) is the preeminent voice of traditional New Orleans street music, to the extent it can be separated from marching bands, jazz ensembles, and gospel-heavy R&B.
Funeral For A Friend is a dedication in two ways. First, it salutes the New Orleans funeral band tradition, which is a mix of dirge and jam, praise and tribute, funk and spark. Funeral processions used to incorporate this musical variety show a lot more than they do now. Second, the record is dedicated to Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen, who died of a heart attack shortly after Funeral was recorded. Lacen was a founding member of the DDBB and so this personal tribute is no small matter.
Sure, there are some reflective moments on Funeral For A Friend, but by far the majority of the record is fun and forward. To the extent the tracking reflects an actual funeral, it flows through spiritual and gospel tributaries but never really loses its funk edge. "I Shall Not Be Moved" features a sing-along groove grounded by Julius McKee's sousaphone, Jamie McLean's slide guitar tugging along behind the horns, virtually begging you to get up and dance. Picture the procession moving along and you get the general idea.
Less overtly brassy but no less moving, "Please Let Me Stay A Little Longer" offers call-and-response choruses. "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" slows things down and reflects directly upon the nature of grace and devotion, though not without some buzzing and growling along the way. The Davell Crawford Singers bring down- home enthusiasm to "Jesus On the Mainline," which also features short but effective solo statements on saxophone and guitar and eventually rises to a full-intensity double-time rip-roaring conclusion.
Further down the line, blues and R&B flavors fly into the mix, resulting in some funk hybrids that retain more than their share of soul. Melody Palmer belts out the words to "I'll Fly Away," just cause for more than a few hallelujahs but instead matched beat for beat by the band.
The stereotypical funeral dirge is nearly absent from Funeral For A Friend, though the opener and closer have the low-down beats and slow pace to make it work. Regardless, it's a mistake to listen to this record on a track-by-track basis. Better to flow from one song to the next and let the music tell its own story. It's moving, and in no small way.
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Personnel: Gregory Davis and Efrem Towns: trumpets; Kevin Harris and Roger Lewis: saxophones; Sammie Williams: trombone;
Julius McKee: sousaphone; Terence Higgins: drums; Jamie McLean: guitar. Dedicated to Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen.