Michael Foster Project
Purists may have scoffed, but lovers of New Orleans's evolving music spirit rejoiced when the Dirty Dozen injected funk, R&B, and pop influences into traditional brass-band music in the late '70s. Since then that rich, party-hearty blend has been successfully exported far beyond the confines of the Crescent City.
The Rebirth Brass Band followed suit the next decade, with an approach that was even brasher and closer to the street. The format was reinvented once more in the '90s, with the advent of a movement known as brass-hop. Rap, brassy horns, and second-line rhythms mixed and mingled in the sound of bands such as Coolbone, Soul Rebels, and All That.
The Michael Foster Project (named best new brass outfit of 1999 by the influential New Orleans music magazine Offbeat) doesn't exactly throw the genre a millennial curve with Kick Some Brass, a live set recorded at Donna's, the popular Rampart Street nightspot known as the center of the brass-band universe. Still it's hard to argue with the group's infectious attack and feel-good approach.
The sextet, formed in Baton Rouge eight years ago by tuba man Foster, nods to the old-timers with gritty, reverential versions of several standards. The album closers "Down by the Riverside" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" ought to strike a chord even among those whose Big Easy experience has been limited to an alcohol-fueled stumble down Bourbon Street.
The more intriguing material, however, is right up front, with the cascading horns (do I hear Blood, Sweat and Tears?) and delirious punch of "Mardi Gras Funk" acting as a showcase for the gutbucket soloing of trombonist Frank Williams, the group's strongest and most entertaining improviser. A similarly infectious groove is at the center of the title track, a self-styled signature tune featuring boisterous unison singing.
A hip-hop thump held down by trap-kit drummer Ronald Moss provides the perfect foil for syncopated horn lines on "Big 'T' Daddy," and "Chicken Grease" slides on a soul vamp while Foster's stair-stepping sousaphone lines lift up "Cat House," which occasionally breaks open to give the drummer some. The slow-grooving "When It All Comes Together," written by Project tenor saxophonist Kier Johnson, may be the most ambitious piece here, its bebop-and-beyond textures attached to a tricky, hiccupping riff.
Kick Some Brass amounts to a neat update on a brand of New Orleans music that may resonate long into the future, thanks to the forward-thinking ministrations of disciples like Foster and Co.
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