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Jazz permeates everything in New Orleans, a city where, as Sidney Bechet once said, “Music is as much of a part of death as it is of life.” Funeral for a Friend, the stirring new CD from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, proves that Bechet’s remark still holds true.
The Dirty Dozen, who helped revive the languishing brass band scene some 25 years ago with their modern twist on a tradition that dates back to the early days of jazz, offers its take here on another of New Orleans fading traditions—the jazz funeral. Named in tribute to one of the band’s founding members, Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen, who passed away just after the album was recorded, Funeral for a Friend —in keeping with New Orleans custom—is a joyful farewell, alternating slow mournful dirges (“Just a Closer Walk With Thee”) and somber hymns (“Amazing Grace”) with uplifting gospel tunes (“Jesus on the Mainline”) and plenty of rousing R&B-laced instrumentals. What starts out as an occasion of pure sorrow evolves, over the course of the album (as over the course of the jazz funeral) into a wild party and a true celebration of life. Along the way, much of the history of jazz is evoked, from early Dixieland and swing to funk and even, in the frenzied simultaneous soloing of the horns, free improv.
The tradition of the New Orleans jazz funeral may be on life support, but it’s not dead—not as long as groups like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band are around to honor the tradition and breathe new life into it.
Track Listing: Just A Closer Walk With Thee; I Shall Not Be Moved; Please Let Me Stay A Little Longer; What A Friend We Have In
Jesus; Jesus On The Mainline; John The Revelator; I'll Fly Away; Is There Anybody Here That Loves My Jesus; Down By
The Riverside; Amazing Grace.
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.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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