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Revolutionary Snake Ensemble

Dressed a la Mardi Gras in feathered masks and multi-colored, sequined costumes, playing music that riotously combines the rhythms of New Orleans brass bands with improvisation and heaping undercurrents of funk, the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble inhabits that rare musical planet on which Sun Ra, James Brown, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, and a myriad of New Orleans marching bands jointly reside. Based physically in Boston since forming in 1990, the horn and percussion-based group is led by saxophonist/composer Ken Field, who describes it as "a funk and street beat brass band, playing New Orleans and other modern improvised celebratory styles." The Snake's music is rooted in the New Orleans tradition of jazz funerals - a tradition unique to the birthplace of jazz - which began with a 'first line' procession to the burial ground, a brass band playing hymns in a funeral dirge. Afterwards, there was a celebration of the deceased's life, with a 'second line' of musicians playing up-tempo music celebrating the miracle of life. Playing Field's original compositions and rearrangements of traditional tunes, opening up new avenues for improvisation, the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble celebrates, expands, and transforms the brass band tradition - a tradition, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, that is now in diaspora.

A saxophonist/ composer/ improviser, Ken Field is one of Boston's most dedicated and versatile musicians. Since 1988, he has been a member of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, a New Music/ chamber rock ensemble that began as a spinoff from the legendary Mission of Burma. Birdsongs has recorded seven internationally acclaimed CDs on Cuneiform Records, including the recent Extreme Spirituals, which features the bass/baritone of acclaimed African American vocalist Oral Moses. Field also has an active solo career. An improviser and composer of classical/New Music, he has performed internationally and released four solo discs [Subterranea (O.O.Discs), Pictures of Motion (sFz), Tokyo in F (Sublingual), and Under the Skin (Innova)]. Field has composed music for animation, film, and video, for Bridgman/Packer Dance, and for television, including music for Sesame Street and PBS. As a performer, he has worked as a sideman with countless renowned reggae, funk, R&B, rock, jazz, and world beat artists - and performed for former President Bill Clinton. Field is also the long-standing host of The New Edge, a Boston-based weekly radio show featuring a broad range of creative instrumental music.

The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble was formed in 1990 when Field assembled an improvisational horn and percussion group with trumpeter and cartoonist Scott Getchell to entertain at a pagan women's ritual celebration. Field decided to continue the project, conceiving it initially as an improvisational group rooted in Boston's free jazz/ improv scene. But the group "soon started playing some of my original pieces, plus obscure music by John Scofield, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, and others, mostly with a New Orleans funky marching groove," recalls Field. As New Orleans brass band and Mardi Gras music began playing ever-increasing roles in the band's repertoire, the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble came into its own. Speaking of the Snake's music as though it were a bowl of New Orleans gumbo, which begins with a classic roux, critic Dan Oullette noted that it "captures the abandon of a street parade while expanding its stylistic scope...it's got the essential ingredients spiced with fresh flavors". Performer Magazine noted that the band "may operate from the traditions of New Orleans music, but the boundaries are pushed wide open when they actually play. "We mostly play from 'head' charts, where everyone has the melody and chord changes in front of them. Since there's no guitar or keyboard, the horns can not only solo, they "even alter the harmonies spontaneously," Field said. "So there's a lot of improvisation. I also conduct some of the arrangements live" For both the band and its audiences, notes Performer, "doing all of the high art ministrations of improvisation and having an audible party at the same time really is the best of both worlds."

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Album Review
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”OUT OF LEFT FIELD: The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, a writhing, horn- heavy group led by the Boston-based saxophonist and composer Ken Field, dresses in feathered masks and sequined robes and covers a broad range of funk- and New Orleans-inspired music... The group puts a funky spin on everything from Billy Idol to Ornette Coleman.” The New Yorker NIGHTLIFE PICK OF THE WEEK

“I love the disc” Scott Borne, Music Director, WWOZ New Orleans

“If the wailing vigil of Down By the Riverside doesn't rake your spine, chances are you don't have one...It's quite possibly the most convincing treatment of New Orleans by a non-native since Hugh Masakela's Goin' Back to New Orleans...If [Field]'s not re-arranging some holy chestnut, he's dreaming up freaky, wind-jamming floor monsters like The Large S.” Brendon Griffin, PopMatters

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Concert Schedule

Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

I Want That Sound!

Innova Recordings


Live Snakes

Accurate Records


Forked Tongue

Cuneiform Records


Year of the Snake

Innova Recordings


Under the Skin

From: Forked Tongue
By Revolutionary Snake Ensemble

Central Square

From: Year of the Snake
By Revolutionary Snake Ensemble



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