Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Forked Tongue (2008)
What do Billy Idol, Ornette Coleman and Doris Day have in common? One thing at least: They’re all fodder for the creative madness of the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble (RSE), the wildly eclectic, uproariously entertaining Boston-based group that offers a post-modern, Sun Ra-meets-Mardi Gras twist (down to their outrageous costumes) on the New Orleans brass band tradition.
RSE is the brainchild of alto saxophonist Ken Field, whose resume includes everything from post-punk (he’s a longtime member of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic) to classical composition to Sesame Street. While the seven-piece band (four horns, bass, drums and percussion) has been performing together in various guises for nearly 20 years, Forked Tongue is only its second release. The album covers a dizzying range of music from reinventions of spirituals like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” “Give Me Jesus” and “Down By the Riverside” (with stirring vocals from guest Gabrielle Agachicko) to high-spirited Field originals. Meanwhile, Coleman’s “Chippie” is recast as a carnival-esque jam while “Que Sera Sera,” a lighthearted hit for Day in the ‘50s, becomes an unlikely party tune with an infectious Big Easy street beat. And really, who can resist a group that turns Idol’s ‘80s MTV staple “White Wedding” (which allegedly entered the band’s book when they were hired to play a wedding for a family named White) into an avant-funk free for all?
Beyond the novelty of the repertoire, RSE impresses with its tight grooves and energetic improvisations, as well as its commitment to tearing down walls between genres and making music that’s fun, funky and smart.
Track Listing: Just A Closer Walk; Slots; Little Liza Jane; The Large S; Chippie; Give Me Jesus; Down By The Riverside; Que Sera Sera; White Wedding; Minor Vee.
Personnel: Ken Field: alto sax, whistles and percussion; Andrew Hickman: tenor sax; Jon Fraser: trumpet; Lennie Peterson: trombone; Kimon Kirk: acoustic bass; Eric Paull and Phil Neighbors: drums, percussion; Gabrielle Agachicko: vocals; Karen Aqua: djembe, tambourine; Andy Pinkham: electric bass; Jesse Williams: bass.