Greyboy Allstars and Dirty Dozen Brass Band in Denver, Colorado
February 21, 2009
The show was billed as a "Mardi Gras Celebration." It was still a few days before Fat Tuesday, and Denver is a few miles from New Orleans, but what the heck? Close enough. With both the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Greyboy Allstars on the bill, the evening promised to be a rewarding one no matter what the calendar said or even where we were.
The Dirty Dozen opened the show Saturday night sporting only a half-dozen band members. The frontline featured trumpet, tenor sax and baritone/soprano sax. The rhythm section had drums, guitar and, of course, sousaphone. (You know there's a good time afoot when there's a sousaphone on stage.) The band got right down to some serious New Orleans-inflected funk. Most of the band members sang as well as played and consistently evoked images of New Orleans and its festive traditions. It was definitely music to let the good times roll.
The DDBB didn't stick with the funk exclusively but mixed in plenty of sonic gumbo and jambalaya and eventually pulled out "When the Saints Go Marching In." I'm not sure, but I thought I heard one of the vocalists chant "Super Bowl" several times right after the word "Saints." Somebody was hallucinating. One of the highlights came toward the end of their set, "I Feel Like Spankin' Somebody." Under normal circumstances, given the advanced age of some of the band members (especially baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis, whom the band introduced as the "Dirty Old Man" and who was handling the vocals on this one), you would expect most of the young women in the audience to run in the other direction. However, with Mardi Gras fever running rampant, the band easily coaxed a couple of sharply dressed young ladies onto the stage for some bumpin' and grindin.' Yeah, the DDBB guys know how to party.
That was a tough act to follow, but the Greyboy Allstars hit the stage about a half-hour later and immediately launched a funky blues jam, following that with "Still Waiting," a tune from their most recent album What Happened to Television? (2007). During their two sets of the evening, they threw in five or six songs from that disc. The highlight for me was "Lady Day, John Coltrane," a tune, written by Gil Scott-Heron in the early 70s, that has a driving rhythm full of energy. I remember, from playing it on the radio back in the late'70s, as one of the tunes that helped me develop a taste for jazz. Scott-Heron used to tour back then, and it was always a pleasure to hear him play it. But since he's been spending most of his time in jail over the last few years, I'm glad somebody else is picking up that banner in his absence.
Greyboy is fronted by Karl Denson on various reeds and vocals. Only about a quarter of the tunes were vocals, so Denson spent most of his time juggling his alto, tenor and flute. His playing, against the generally funky backdrop, tends to give the band a Crusaders feel (again from the late '70s). Keyboardist Robert Walter consistently kept up a rhythmic groove with his Hammond B-3 (running through Leslies), a Rhodes electric piano, and a synthesizer. His solos kept the groove in high gear. The other guy in the frontline was Elgin Park, a funky nerd, on guitar and vocals. The contrast between his look and his scratchy, infectious guitar lines was almost comical. He wore a sport coat and heavy rimmed glasses topped by a Bill Gates haircut. Since the last time the band came through Denver, they've replaced their drummer with Aaron Redfield holding down that chair, which he did energetically Saturday night. Chris Stillwell is still the bassist, and he and Park switched axes for a couple tunes toward the end of the show.
The front line of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band sat in with Greyboy for only one tune, an appropriately New Orleans-ish jazz/funk/groove; that one coming as the opening song of the second set. Besides Gil Scott-Heron and the Crusaders, I heard other echoes of the '70s, including something that sounded like it came straight out of the George Benson songbook (sans strings, fortunately) and a spacey jam that would have been right at home on a Lonnie Liston Smith album. They wrapped up the evening with an instrumental encore that actually had a bit of a country/western feel to it. Let the good times roll, pardner.
Visit Greyboy Allstars on the web.
Visit Dirty Dozen Brass Band on the web.