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Billy Martin's Wicked Knee: Heels Over Head

Mark Corroto By

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What if drummer Billy Martin of the late-20th, now 21st-century band Medeski Martin and Wood had been born at the end of the 19th century in New Orleans? What kind of music would he play? Certainly, it would have a brass band setting and be inflected with blues feel. Invite Buddy Bolden over tonight, because we have some funky ragtime sound with Martin's new outfit Wicked Knee. This their first full-length release, that follows the EP Wicked Knee (Amulet, 2011).

Covering King Oliver's "Sugarfoot Stomp," Martin's brass band of trumpeter Steven Bernstein (Millennium Territory Orchestra, Sexmob), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), and Marcus Rojas (tuba) sounds all-at-once old timey and wink-and-a-grin modern. The drummer's shuffle underscores the practical neatness of Bernstein and Rojas' solos, packaged to fit within the three minutes and forty-two seconds of recording space. What is old, is neither dusty, nor stodgy. Martin brings his love of groove to a brass band setting. His "Mbwemofolo" is an invitation to dance and the hypnotic "Chaman's Interlude" vibrates with enough of Rojas' low-end bass to rattle any pimp mobile.

Wicked Knee draws from the slick urbane and irreverent arrangements of Bernstein and loose feel of Martin's drumming. They can swoop from the mariachi ranchero song "Canta y No Llores" to The White Stripes' "Button To Button" hop, skipping, and jumping between cultures and genres without losing their dynamism. The band and the music is centered in the brass band tradition with songs like the über-funky "Muffaletta" and "99%"—the latter written and sung by Shelley Hirsch as a modern version of "St. James Infirmary." For Martin and Wicked Knee, everything old is undoubtedly old and at the same time very new again.

Track Listing: Ghumba Zumba; Theme One; Button to Button; Rendezvous; 99%; Muffaletta; Sugarfoot Stomp; Chaman's Interlude; Canta y No Llores; Mbwemofolo; Noctiluca.

Personnel: Billy Martin: drums, percussion, waterphone; Steven Bernstein: trumpet, slide trumpet; Curtis Fowlkes: trombone; Marcus Rojas: tuba; Shelley Hirsch: vocals (5).

Title: Heels Over Head | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Amulet

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