Review: Bad Ass Brass

Bad Ass Bras at LJF2011
Photo credit: Paul Pace


Bad Ass Brass
(The Spice of Life. 19th November 2011.Part of LJF2011. Review by Jeanie Barton)


Another sold-out gig saw some disappointed faces in the doorway of the Spice of Life for the feisty eccentric ensemble Bad Ass Brass. Jimmy Norden donned a bowler hat in Clockwork Orange fashion and pulsated the room with his drum intro, Mike Poyser, upstage left, sat coiled by his massive sousaphone, shining like a silver satellite dish as a row of horns led by front man and trombonist John Stokes filed in front to kick out Funky Mama.

Whoops and yells from both the band and the loyal audience between phrases punctuated with Pink Panther-esque trumpet squeals set this gig’s tone. The absence of a piano or guitar in the rhythm section called for fat chord arrangements by the seven brass instrumentalists. Their line up is very New Orleans and their sound is trad meets funk; I’m not aware that this has been done before but it seams to be catching on in a big way - they have sold out every gig they’ve done, in advance, since returning from the St Lucia Jazz Festival six months ago…

The band kept up the pace with Big Shake Up, but then took it down a notch with Branford Marsalis’ Mo Better Blues, his melancholy theme from the 1990 Spike Lee film of the same name. This shift towards a more reserved slow march pace featured a reflective flugelhorn solo by second trumpeter Paul Mundaywhich gave me shivers.

Their set list for this evening comprised mostly of numbers recorded on their self titled first album, which features three tracks written by trumpeter Gavin Broom. Human Traffic is about the “rules of the pavement” in rush hour; it weaves together overlapping lines and clashing harmonies like bustling bodies jostling for position. Mike Poyser took a solo wherein he used his sousaphone almost like a didgeridoo; singing down it to make a primal resonance which then evolved into a beatbox solo that accelerated to bring the full band back in - these guys sure are creative!

They continued to mix old with new in All God's Chillun Got Rhythm sung by Ivie Anderson in The Marx Brothers 1937 movie 'A Day at the Races', this more traditional sound created a Jeeves and Wooster jive, only crunchier. We got our sing along opportunity with You Rascal You, lead by John Stokes on an arrangement inspired by Nicholas Payton’s version in his tribute album to Armstrong entitled Dear Louis. High octane solos by the astounding ensemble including, Jean Paul Gervasoni on lead trumpet, Jon Shenoy on alto, tenor sax and flute and Tom Richards on baritone sax were taken on this, and indeed most numbers.

The climax of the evening came with a new groove which fit the band like a glove. A Calypso based on the St Lucian folk song “Ti Wé” again arranged by Gav and renamed “Dance of the Sugar Rum Fairy” got the crowd to their feet. I am biased to Caribbean music having been lucky enough to visit a few times and get married out there this summer; the carnival beat is infectious and I found myself dancing as well as playing my glass with my pen. Two encores were demanded, the second by the audience continuing to sing the melody at the band until they relented and played another chorus!

Badassbrass.co.uk / A second album is in preparation.

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