"War Time" - Hot 8 Brass Band

“War Time” (PDF) from the Hot 8 Brass Band album, The Life & Times Of…
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The parade music of New Orleans is rooted in the war chants of Native Americans, specifically the Mardi Gras Indians, combined with the Afro-Cuban rhythms of Congo Square, and presented in the form of European and American military bands.  Add to that the economic, political, and physical violence inflicted upon the city of New Orleans and its musicians, it is understandable why the music celebrates themes of life and death.  For all the turmoil that the Hot 8 Brass Band has endured throughout its career, the fact that its musicians continue to thrive creatively only proves that they are untouchable.  Don’t mess with the Hot 8.

It is unclear as to who is playing the trombone solo, either Gregory Veals or Corey Payton, but in keeping with the war chant idiom the melodic phrasing of the solo makes use of the call-and-response technique.  Over the minor i-iv chord progression (or a ii-V7 in the key of Bb), he uses four-bar phrases to introduce a statement in the first half and responds with syncopated rhythmic patterns to create tension for the arrival of the next phrase.  As the background horns enter, the trombonist gradually builds up to the high Eb and D and screams out a battle cry amongst the chaos.

Appropriately enough, here is a YouTube video of the Hot 8 Brass Band in the street as they are interrupted by the TBC Brass Band.  Look for my TBC transcriptions in 2018!

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

"Ghost Town" - Hot 8 Brass Band

“Ghost Town” (PDF) from the Hot 8 Brass Band album, The Life & Times Of…
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In the early 1980’s, the 2 Tone ska band The Specials recorded “Ghost Town” as an examination of the economic strife throughout the United Kingdom.  A generation later, the Hot 8 Brass Band adopted the #1 hit song to rebuild the cultural voice of New Orleans, a city washed away by Hurricane Katrina.  In addition to the natural disaster, Matt Sakakeeny discusses in his book, Roll With It, the social and political violence that the Hot 8 Brass Band has endured for over twenty years, making “Ghost Town” an apt and tragic anthem that longs for the “good old days.”

According to the album liner notes, trombonists Dwaynne Finny and Jerreau Fournett are featured on this recording, however it is unclear as to who is actually playing the trombone solo.  A good guess would be that the two musicians trade the solo passages along with the sax and trumpet.

Here is the YouTube music video of Hot 8’s version of “Ghost Town.”

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

"Can't Hide from the Truth" - Hot 8 Brass Band

“Can’t Hide from the Truth” (PDF) from the Hot 8 Brass Band album, The Life & Times Of...
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Hot 8 trombonist Joseph “Shotgun Joe” Williams was unarmed when he was killed at the age of 22 by the New Orleans Police Department, an incident documented in Matt Sakakeeny’s book, Roll With It, however no reasonable explanation has ever been provided.  The album’s liner notes address the New Orleans tradition of celebrating life after death, in this case the spirit of “Shotgun Joe” lives on in Raymond “Dr. Rackle” Williams’ tune while calling out for justice and accountability.

Despite the bebop influence of “Dr. Rackle,” this tune is simply a minor ii-V7 progression.  What should be noted about either Gregory Veals or Corey Payton’s trombone solo, however, is the evenness in its playing, relying on a steady airstream for dexterity over the partials as well as for supporting the sixteenth-note patterns.  Likewise, the solid stream allows for the high notes to be played in succession without exhaustion.  Patient phrasing creates a dramatic release of tension and steam-whistle pressure in a sorrowful cry.

Here is a YouTube video of Raymond Williams & The Sound Griots performing this tune, featuring David L. Harris on trombone.

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

"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.