Dirty Dozen Brass Band
To describe how the Dirty Dozen Brass Band has arrived at its 35th Anniversary, trumpet player Gregory Davis employs a tried-and true New Orleans-centric analogy: “It ends up being like a pot of gumbo – you drop in a little okra, drop in a little shrimp, you drop in some crabs. Before you know it, you’ve mixed in all these different ingredients and you’ve got a beautiful soup. That was our approach to music early on and it still is today.” Baritone sax player Roger Lewis — who, like Davis, has been with the combo since its inception in 1977 — echoes that sentiment: “It’s a big old musical gumbo, and that probably made the difference, separating us from other brass bands out of New Orleans. It put a different twist on the music. We were not trying to change anything, we were just playing the music we wanted to play and not stay in one particular bag.” An appetite for musicological adventure, a commitment to honor tradition while not being constrained by it, and a healthy sense of humor have brought the world-traveling Dirty Dozen Brass Band to this remarkable juncture in an already storied career. To celebrate its 35th, the band is releasing Twenty Dozen, the septet’s first studio release in six years. The new album, cut at the Music Shed in New Orleans, reunites the band with producer Scott Billington, who helmed DDBB’s first major-label release, Voodoo, in 1989. It’s a resolutely upbeat effort that seamlessly blends R&B, jazz, funk, Afro-Latino grooves, some Caribbean flavor, and even a Rihanna cover. Twenty Dozen mirrors in flow and feel a vibrant DDBB live set. The disc reaches an exuberant peak with a medley of New Orleans staples, including a particularly high-spirited rendering of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The final track – or, as Lewis puts it, “the after-party” – is an audience encore favorite, the ribald “Dirty Old Man,” with Lewis doing an outstanding job in the title role. Twenty Dozen, says Lewis, is “classic Dirty Dozen. It’s got something for your mind, body, and soul. We’re gonna get you one way or another.”
Formed in 2008, Red Baraat is a pioneering eight-piece band from Brooklyn, New York. Conceived by Sunny Jain, the group has drawn worldwide praise for its singular sound -- a merging of hard driving North Indian bhangra rhythms with elements of jazz, go-go, brass funk, and hip-hop. Created with no less a purposeful agenda than manifesting joy and unity in all people, Red Baraat’s spirit is worn brightly on its sweaty and hard-worked sleeve. And is being returned to them in cities all over the world, as word spreads of the band’s incredibly powerful live performances.
If in theory, Red Baraat reads like some kind of ethnomusicologist’s academic dream, let’s agree that in practice, it’s a peyote dream. This is apparent from the needle drop on Shruggy Ji, [Sinj Records] the group’s second full-length studio record, released in January 2013. Red Baraat’s sound is infused with a soul and energy that bursts through the seams of its songs. “Halla Bol” is a power-to-the-people anthem sung in Hindi, literally translating to “raise your voice.” “Burning Instinct” plays like a Tarantino car chase. The title track sits as a perfect testament to the album and the band itself. Impossible to define by genre, it’s just an incredible party jam that moves your parts. The record was produced by Sunny Jain and follows the band’s 2010 debut Chaal Baby, and the digital only live document Bootleg Bhangra.
Live, these songs take on a new life. Night by night, the whip-smart, road-tested band challenges itself, dipping in and out of improvisation, teaching the audience dance moves, and visibly having a blast. Jain’s vision is on clear display - watch closely and you might see the bass horns change course at seemingly no more than the raised eyebrow of the bandleader. But there is no single front man on stage. Each player commands his own space with unique style and verve. Notice has come from high quarters, and the band has found itself in some incredible places.
Red Baraat performed their own TED Talk at the flagship TED Conference in 2012, in front of a dancing audience of thought leaders including Al Gore, Matt Groening, and David Byrne. They accepted an invitation to the White House, where an assembly of elected and business leaders expecting a string quartet were treated to a full throttle bhangra thrown-down. They were brought clandestinely to Google’s Mountain View Campus by a fan on the inside – and second-lined the joint—with Google employees streaming in from all directions as the event went from zero to viral within two songs. And were handpicked to close the London 2012 Paralympic Games in the center of Trafalgar Square.
But even as it’s clear that Red Baraat is building a startling history of performances in iconic settings, the band’s bread and butter remains the sweaty clubs, festivals, packed performing arts centers, and college auditoriums that have kept the band on the road all over the world for nearly 200 dates a year. It’s here where the band does what it does best- communing with their audience in a joyful, near hedonistic celebration of music and dance, which tellingly, draws a crowd even more diverse than the players on stage. Here, the universality of what Red Baraat does is undeniable. And this is no happy accident. It is the product of intention and design. Says Jain, “We are simple creatures that desire community. If we can unite people of all backgrounds and ethnicities to partake in the exuberance of life through the universal language of music, then life is that much sweeter.”