by Roberto Curtis In their sophomore album, Alive in Richmond, NO BS! Brass Band ventures into a sophisticated territory few bands in Richmond tend go. Thoughtfully composed, recorded and mastered, the surgical precision of these songs set a bar that seems hard to clear. As if the technique of the 11-15 musicians involved (several members […]
by Roberto Curtis
In their sophomore album, Alive in Richmond, NO BS! Brass Band ventures into a sophisticated territory few bands in Richmond tend go. Thoughtfully composed, recorded and mastered, the surgical precision of these songs set a bar that seems hard to clear.
As if the technique of the 11-15 musicians involved (several members have joined or left since it’s inception almost three years ago) wasn’t something to marvel at, the funky vibe surely is. Stefan Demetriadis (tuba) and Reggie Chapman (bass trombone) hold down the low-end like an anchor, gracefully arpeggiating and bouncing around the chord changes. The rest of the agile ensemble consists of 3-4 trumpets, 4-5 tenor trombones and the eclectic Lance Koehler of Minimum Wage Studios fame on drums.
Recorded and mastered in Koehler’s aforementioned basement studio, the organic sound of the band translates wonderfully from horn to headphones, no doubt a testament to the engineer’s ability.
Like NO BS!’s debut album, Where is Stefan?, the group fronts with an array of audio gems, from the busy drum-and-bass-driven beauty of “Juniper” to the joyfully dark and venturous Mark Ingraham composition, “Lando.” The compositions seem to contain a maturity that only comes with an ensemble whose members are seasoned with each other’s presence. The coagulation throughout the sections adds a cleanliness to the album one might chalk up to studio magic, but as the back cover boasts, “Absolutely no pitch correction or beat correction was used and no animals were harmed in the making of this recording.”
The latter half of the album marks the beginning of a bold attempt at translating the art of kung fu cinematography into a suite for brass band, “Ballad of the Eagle Claw.” Inspired by the ritual of kung fu movie night where trombonist and NO BS! co-founder Reggie Pace and others gathered to watch old Shaw Brothers films, the six-part epic effectively captures the mysticism and ferocity of the cult art form.
The suite is comprised of three duels between various warriors who weave and improvise creating a violent atmosphere. Roto-toms and wily vibrato are just some of the devices used to build the intensity. Towering chords and thunderous drum-rolls are but a few of the other driving factors that make the ballad such a treat. While it would be difficult or possibly absurd for a band of Americans steeped in the traditions of funk and New Orleans-style street music to compose an authentic, oriental tribute to the Shaw Brothers, Pace’s interpretations of epic kung fu battle are both insightful and colorful.
Though the seriousness of the band is evident throughout most of the album, humor is abundant throughout, including Chapman’s “Cinnamon Girl.” Chapman’s opening statement of the bass-line is straight nasty and evokes cheers from his band mates immediately. Throughout the tune, he jives about a woman who funks him right off his feet. A closing harmonica solo adds wonderfully to the bluesy, party ambiance.
Other mood lifters include the faithful interpretation of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” and “Ain’t Even Gonna Call Ya,” a somber, up-tempo lament about a girl who has “been acting whack as hell.” The warm chords and R&B-style drumming back up the singing horn players nicely who plead with the girl, “you need to get your head right/I’m a people man.”
Indeed, the unity of NO BS! Brass is something to behold. In a city where horn players seem to be dime-a-dozen mercenaries, it’s nice to know there’s a forum where the respect transcends the boundaries of the free-lancing musician.
Download (don’t steal): “Juniper” by Lance Koehler, performed by NO BS! Brass Band.
Track listing: Landmines; Lando; Ain’t Even Gonna Call Ya; Juniper; Jackpot!; Bitch iz Beast; HH; Tom Sawyer; Cinnamon Girl; The Ballad of the Eagle Claw: Duel Pt. 1, Iron Palm, Duel Pt. 2, The Lizard, Duel Pt. 3, The Centipede/Toad=Mantis Style/Student; The Ending.
NO BS! Brass Band will perform at The Camel to celebrate the release of Alive in Richmond on Friday, January 30th. The Fall Line opens. Doors open at 8pm, tickets are $6. [where: 1621 W. Broad St., Richmond, VA 23220]