Archive for the ‘New Orleans’ Category

The ReBirth Brass Band: First-rate Second Line

February 27, 2008


ReBirth Brass Band: Ultimate ReBirth Brass Band

A QUICK UPDATE: I’ve gotten a number of comments to this post from people asking if the band is available to play weddings. Unfortunately, I have no connection to the band other than loving their music. To contact them, please visit the Rebirth Brass Band’s MySpace page.

According to the New Orleans Jazz Club, The Second Line “has several definitions. Basically, it’s the people that follow the brass bands on the street. These Second-Liners also have a special step, shuffle or dance they do when following the band. This is called ‘Second Lining.'”

Second Liners follow these brass bands for all kinds of occasions—parades, funerals and perhaps New Orleans’ defining occasion, Mardi Gras.

In this YouTube video, the ReBirth Brass Band plays for a Threadheads “patry” at the 2005 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. According to their website, Threadheads are the denizens of the chat board on the festival’s website. At some point, the word party was misspelled patry on the message board and it stuck.

The ReBirth Brass Band grew out of the Second Line tradition. Formed in 1983, they have taken the music beyond the parades and streets of New Orleans to, as their website proclaims, “theaters and festivals all over the world.” They are committed to upholding the tradition of brass bands while “at the same time incorporating modern music into their show.” Including their signature brand of heavy funk.

The fine 2004 release Ultimate ReBirth Brass Band demonstrates this blend of tradition and modern music beautifully. Although for me, the Second Line comes through strongest. The big brass sound—produced by a tuba, two trumpets, two trombones and a saxophone [technically a woodwind, I know] and driven by a bass drum and a snare drum—at times sounds like nothing so much as a marching band, albeit a loose-hipped marching band. It is parade music, but with a syncopated rhythm, and listening to it, you can’t help but move.

Besides the music’s strong, driving rhythm, the parade aspect comes through in its repetition. The basic melody is laid down right away, and the music never strays far. Ensemble playing and solos repeat and reinforce it, embellishing it, to be sure, but in the end, repetition is in the driver’s seat. When there are lyrics, this becomes even more obvious. In my favorite track on the album, Do Whatcha Wanna, the lyrics for the entire eight-plus-minute song consist of minor variations on, “Do whatcha wanna, hang on the corner,” repeated again and again and again. And it works, wonderfully.

If you’ve ever heard a marching band in a parade, you’re typically standing in one spot and only hear their music as they approach you, pass you by and then fade off into the distance. So they can keep playing variations on a theme for an ever-changing audience. For Second Liners trailing along after the band and dancing, this repetition lays down a steady groove that lets them improvise their own variations in movement.

The ReBirth Brass Band celebrates its 24th anniversary with a show at Tipitina’s Uptown in New Orleans in 2007.

Of course where the band’s music differs from old school Second Line music built on traditional New Orleans jazz [think Louis Armstrong] is in the funk. And this turns great parade music into great party and dancing music. Think of the repetitiveness of disco or house music. Now add some funk and Creole spices. One tune almost flows into the next, and the effect is stirring, uplifting and energizing. Ultimate ReBirth Brass Band is the kind of music that gets the party started or makes chores less chorelike. Or, on a winter walk to the subway with it turned up on your iPod, it makes you wish the walk were a little longer.

Neither of us even remembers now how this lovely disk joined our music collection. But what put it back into the rotation on the kitchen boombox is this: Over the weekend, Marion happened on an episode of This Old House set in New Orleans. As its website says, the show “follows stories of rebuilding and recovery in New Orleans, while helping one fourth-generation resident of the Lower Ninth Ward return home by renovating her flood-damaged shotgun single.” It also tells the story of “the building of Musicians’ Village, a Habitat for Humanity community in the Upper Ninth Ward that has affordable housing for 82 musicians and other families—conceived by, among others, saxophonist Branford Marsalis and musician and actor Harry Connick Jr.”

In other words, it tells the stories of people and organizations doing the Post-Katrina rebuilding that the government either can’t or won’t. And if that’s not rebirth, what is?