No BS! Brass, “Fight Song” & “RVA All Day” (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

No BS! Brass, “Fight Song: A Tribute to Charles Mingus” & “RVA All Day” (No BS Brass)

Funky brass bands, heavy on the New Orleans street beat with jazz and rock variously interwoven into the mix, have regained a degree of cache, thanks to the likes of Rebirth, the Dirty Dozen and Trombone Shorty.

Now here comes Richmond, Va.’s 11-piece No BS Brass! Stylistically a bit all over the place, the band gives jazz props on Fight Song, turning in pleasant reworkings of Mingus gems. Tuba man Stefan Demetriadis’ solo cadenza opens “Better Git Hit in Your Soul,” which trips into double-time about halfway through, wah-muted lines goose the melody of “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” and “Nostalgia in Times Square” features trombonist Bryan Hooten’s unaccompanied playing as well as Chris Bopst’s spoken-word riffing.

The band, co-founded by trombonist Reggie Pace of Bon Iver, travels further afield on RVA All Day, its punchy, cascading title track a salute to the group’s hometown. This disc, more raucous than the Mingus tribute, dips into hip-hop on “Git It Awn!,” stirs R&B vocals into jazz-rock fusion on “Love Seat” and takes on Michael Jackson with a “Thriller” that moves from brass choir to high-school marching band to big band before it’s all over. Fun ride.

The Blind Boys of Alabama, “I’ll Find a Way” (CD review)

(originally published in Relix)

The Blind Boys of Alabama, “I’ll Find a Way” (Sony Masterworks)

After the Crescent City soul of Down in New Orleans and country gospel roots of Take the High Road, The Blind Boys of Alabama enlisted Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to produce their latest album.

The durable group, led by Jimmy Carter, and including founding bass singer Clarence Fountain, still offer joyful expressions of Christian faith. That’s demonstrated by the rousing, churning opener “God Put a Rainbow in the Cloud,” which is spiked with bluesy guitar, trombone and piano declarations, the faith-forward “I Shall Not Be Moved,” and the molasses-slow “Take Me to the Water” and “My God Is Real.”

Fountain and Carter lead a moody, drums-tumbling take on Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand,” while Merrill Garbus (tUneyArDs) joins the bouncy “I’ve Been Searching,” Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) gets emotive on “I’ll Find a Way (To Carry It All)” and Sam Amidon fronts the brass-spiked “I Am Not Waiting Anymore.” Sweet salvation music.