"New Orleans (After the City)" - Hot 8 Brass Band

“New Orleans (After the City)” (PDF) from the Hot 8 Brass Band album, The Life & Times Of...
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This is not the same version as the Vicennial album, or as the soundtrack to Treme, or as part of the Smithsonian’s African American Legacy series, New Orleans Brass Bands: Through the Streets of the City, but rather the version that features a trombone solo.  Just to be clear.

It appears to be a live recording based on the somewhat audible crowd noise in the background, similar to other tracks on the album despite no mention of the performance date in the album credits.  Also unclear is whether there are one or two trombones playing this solo, Gregory Veals and/or Corey Henry, because at times it sounds like two voices playing over each other.  If so, then the trading-off between phrases is not done in the traditional manner of four-bar phrases.  Perhaps it is definitive proof of the live nature of the recording as well as a testament to the incredible sound of the Hot 8 in performance, blending bebop, hip hop, and R&B influences, both of which I have no idea how they do it.

But there’s one thing that I do know (there’s a lot of ruins in Mesopotamia): the solo(s) rely heavily on the blues scale, syncopated rhythms, and growling high notes, the three most effective techniques for generating excitement in the audience.

Here is a YouTube video of the Hot 8 doing a straight-ahead performance of this tune.

Recommended reading: Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny.  Published by Duke University Press.

"Fine Tuner" - Hot 8 Brass Band

“Fine Tuner” (PDF) from the Hot 8 Brass Band album, The Life & Times Of…
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“I’m jamming to the music of Dr. Rackle”

According to trumpeter Raymond Williams’ biography, he was given the nickname “Dr. Rackle” by his mentor Jackie McLean as a title for his group of “Sound Griots,” or musical sages, and has been an integral part of shaping and arranging the Hot 8 sound of the streets into a Grammy nominated work of art, earning himself the second nickname, “The Fine Tuner.”

I really have no idea what’s going on in the music, it’s too bebop for my comprehension.  It appears to mostly be in the key of C# minor but then modulates during the bridge section of the tune, I guess?  I settled on the changes underneath the solo to be C#m - A#m7 - E9, which makes no sense to my simple brain other than just subtle dissonance with a moving bassline.  However, I like to think of C# minor as Db minor, a half-step lower than playing in the key of D minor, or like its “grunge tuning” relative.

Trombone Shorty makes an appearance on this (live) recording.  His flashy solo utilizes the upper register to cut through the muddiness of the live band, along with a flubbed note that could not be “fixed in the mix,” Shorty’s energy propels the music without relying on the subtleties or nuances of a recording studio.  And as a result of this featured collaboration, Trombone Shorty opened the eyes and ears of a mainstream audience to the hard life and times of the Hot 8 Brass Band, mine included.

Here is a YouTube video of the Hot 8 Brass Band playing "Fine Tuner" with second line.

Recommended reading: Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny.  Published by Duke University Press.

"Steaming Blues" - Hot 8 Brass Band

“Steaming Blues” (PDF) from the Hot 8 Brass Band album, The Life & Times Of…
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The trumpet melody rattling out of the television speaker and dancing through my brain was familiar enough to cause me to set down my tumbler glass of the always satisfying, sophisticated Wild Turkey and to look up at the screen to see the impossible face of the one and only clothed troubadour, Hunter Pence, relaxing at the piano before taking the outfield for the big game.  As I was compelled to offer him the rest of my super-premium Kentucky bourbon, the all-star replied, “Alright, alright… alright.”  And at the end of the 30-second blink of an eye, a single Twitter handle appeared underneath the corporate logo to clear up any confusion: @Hot8BrassBand

In Matt Sakakeeny’s book Roll With It, he addresses the influence of corporate sponsors promoting the culture of the New Orleans.  On one hand, the financial support helps to provide a healthy lump sum of income for artists as well as for a means for social mobility within an unjust system.  The price of which, however, is that the artistic contributions tend to be consumed in the most generic media, for instance as background music or stock imagery for tourism.  In other words, rather than spending the resources to fully appreciate the complexities of a cultural voice… well, you get the idea.  Look over here!

The trombone solo is a single chorus of Ab blues which makes use of many reliable phrases.  Within the first bar, the third shifts from minor to major in order to arpeggiate up to the major 6th (F) and tonic.  In the third bar, there is a melodic dance around the b7th (Gb), 6th (F), and 5th (Eb) which creates tension going into the IV chord.  Note the juxtaposition of the IV chord over the tonic, where the b7th (Cb) is also the minor third of the key, which resolves back up to the major on the return of the tonic.  The walk down from the V and IV chords makes use of a bebop chromaticism starting on the major 3rd, up to the 5th, and then falling to the minor 3rd descending to the root, repeat in sequential manner.  For the most part, this solo works within one octave range with its singable melodies, so transpose it to all twelve keys in the practice room.

Here is a YouTube video of the Hot 8 playing this tune at Paste Magazine.

Recommended reading: Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny.  Published by Duke University Press.

"I Can't Give You Anything But Love" - Haruka Kikuchi

“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (PDF) from the Kermit Ruffins album, #imsoneworleans
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Remember songs pairings?  Like, how one popular song will answer the call of a previous song?  For instance, Mary Wells’ “My Guy” is a response to the Temptations’ “My Girl,” and Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” was franchised the following year with Chubby Checker’s “The Twist 2: Electric Boogaloo.”  Well, what if The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” was a response to McHugh & Fields’ “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”?

It’s an unlikely stretch, I admit, but the tune also served as a muse for the bebop generation who reinvented it with a profound level of dexterity.  But as wonderful as each offering is in its own right, the sum of the musical couplings is always greater than its parts.  The brilliance of Haruka Kikuchi’s traditionalist approach to this solo is that she embraces a bebop approach of linear, stepwise motion within the melodic ideas.

Over the long ii-V7 progressions, Kikuchi descends from a high F to middle C and eventually down to the middle F.  The “Sweet Georgia Brown” arpeggio then works its way back up to the middle D of the IV chord and resolves all the way down to the low C to set up the second phrase.  She goes back to the high F, this time with a gospel feel, and again comes back down to middle C.  The middle D then becomes the moving resolution for the long turnaround.  And rather than using chromaticism to construct complex intervals and melodies, Kikuchi’s passing tones emphasize the simplicity of her melodic direction.

Here is a YouTube video of Haruka Kikuchi playing at the Louisiana Music Factory from this past year.

Recommended reading: Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown.  Published by Lee & Low Books.

"Where It At?" - Trombone Shorty

“Where It At?” (PDF) from the Trombone Shorty album, Parking Lot Symphony
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Short, sweet, and in Bb minor.  Here is a Trombone Shorty solo simple enough to be memorized and perhaps even be used as a warmup exercise.  Previously, I featured “We Gonna Make You” as a solo to memorize, but the key of Eb required some dexterity.  However, “Where It At?” works within the middle octave range without pushing the boundaries of the instrument, and its phrasing could really loosen up the lips when played slowly to focus on a clear tone and articulation.

The use of the 9th, 11th, and flat-13th chord extensions add some tension to the melodic lines over the tonal chord progression.  By resolving to the Bb chord tones, the tension creates a sense of motion that shapes the phrasing.  In the 6th and 7th bars of the solo, Shorty riffs on the Gb to F resolution by using the half-step approach to the Bb (major) chord; Eb to D natural, Cb to Bb.  Again, take this solo slowly to internalize and stress the quality of the phrasing.

Here are two YouTube videos of Trombone Shorty talking about his education and musical influences produced by WWOZ and Reverb.com.

Recommended reading: Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews.  Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers.