With every album, every tour, every sold out show, and every Thursday night rehearsal, No BS! Brass is finding their sound, and they might be the closest they’ve ever been on that search.
With every album, every tour, every sold out show, and every Thursday night rehearsal, No BS! Brass is finding their sound, and they might be the closest they’ve ever been on that search. The third album from the 10-man collective of brass, drums, and saxophone, No BS! represents a solidified concept and a path for growth with nothing standing in their way.
A lot of that has to do with the band maturing over time. “The music is written with the reference of everyone in the band knowing what we sound like now,” says trombonist and No BS! co-leader Reggie Pace. “We know the best way to learn the music. We know the best way to voice things.” Efficiency has cleared the trail for creating the band’s finest work yet.
It’s also a departure from the jazz- and funk-laced norm that they’ve developed, with more material leaning toward rock, punk, and pop. Drummer and co-leader Lance Koehler’s “To The Day,” relies heavily on vocals that pay tribute to Richmond, with lines like, “You know it’s crucial the way we’re living life today / Living in RVA.” Written while biking around the city’s Fan District, Pace says the band’s performance of it is indicative of how they approach the different tunes. “‘To The Day’ was written as love for the city,” he says, “and we all understand that, so the piece exudes it.”
“The tunes are all written from very different places,” he continues, “so they attack your spirit in very different ways.” Like Pace’s “Dr. Wiley,” inspired by childhood video games, or bass trombonist and vocalist Reggie Chapman’s “Hoodie,” which the composer calls a “triumph over tragedy” that he wrote during a bad summer.
Pace’s “Hadji” — named for the character on Johnny Quest — is a result of his studying African music. What began as inspiration while sitting in an Ethiopian restaurant combined with what he had learned about music from Africa and how that traced to Brazilian and Haitian music. The two parts represent that divide, the second with the energy of Brazilian Carnival.
A road trip to San Francisco and a very friendly bartender contributed to Koehler’s “Bad Sake,” which features alto saxophonist David Hood and trumpeter and tenor saxophonist Marcus Tenney, here on sax. After an evening of the free libations, Koehler and his friend were so obliterated that his friend — who had lived in the city for years — couldn’t find Chinatown from a few blocks away. Koehler’s multilayered composition represents the stumbling duo as well his and the band’s often Ellingtonian approach. “We’ve been writing songs for specific players,” he explains. “The instruments are secondary to the musicians playing them.”
Another Koehler contribution is Agent Orange’s “Everything Turns Grey,” a favorite from his teenage years (Pace notes the first time he heard the song was on Beavis and Butt-Head in 6th grade), and an appropriate addition to No BS! Koehler says, “I like the fact that when I listen to this record, I forget I’m listening to a brass band a lot of the time. It’s just a rock band!” The timbres of the brass certainly help, trombonist Bryan Hooten’s chainsaw trombone similar to his work with Fight the Big Bull, trumpeter Rob Quallich’s shredding high solo that might as well be on a guitar, and Stefan Demetriadis’s tuba buzzing like a bass on a fuzz pedal.
“I like that we don’t sound like a band from New Orleans or like a jazz band,” Pace says. “There are tons of jazz bands that play jazz better than I do, and all the brass bands in New Orleans play New Orleans music better than we do. So let’s not write any of those kinds of tunes.”
Chapman adds, “Not all of the tunes on the album were written for brass; they’re written as entities in themselves. We play them and we just happen to play brass instruments.”
They do their own thing, and they do it extremely well. Songs like “Brass Scene Kids” are staples to their live performances. Chapman’s singing and screaming through a ThunderPower megaphone is paralleled by exemplary solos and dense textures that consume the listeners, enveloping them in sound like any great rock band would.
Like their two-day CD release stint at The Camel this past weekend, they are consistently selling out their live shows to young audiences who may just want to dance and party. Or they may realize that they’re listening to some of Richmond’s greatest musicians and improvisers. Whichever it is, they bring change to a generation obsessed with what it already knows.
Personnel: Reggie Pace: trombone; Bryan Hooten: trombone; Dillard Watt: trombone; Reginald Chapman: bass trombone, vocals; Rob Quallich: trumpet; Marcus Tenney: trumpet, tenor saxophone; Taylor Barnett: trumpet; David Hood: alto saxophone; Stefan Demetriadis: tuba; Lance Koehler: drums, vocals. All: percussion.
Track listing: Brass Scene Kids, Dr. Wiley, Everything Turns Grey, Hoodie, Khan!!!, Representing, Boss Battle, Hadji, To The Day, Bad Sake, *hidden track* NO BS!