Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Revolutionary Snake Ensemble - I Want That Sound! (INNOVA RECORDINGS 2016)

Jazz has been declared "dead" innumerable times since saxophonist Ken Field formed the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble (RSE) in 1990. The band obviously didn't get the memo! In fact, over the years rather than playing a "Second Line" dirge for jazz's funeral, the horn-heavy sextet - inspired by the New Orleans brass band tradition - has been developing and cultivating a distinct sound critics and audiences alike hail for invigorating an illustrious musical heritage with fresh ideas, wit and spunk while in the process attracting new and younger audiences. Over more than a quarter century of touring and performing in settings ranging from clubs and concert halls to festival and parades, RSE has been evolving and refining a unique sound incorporating post-bop and avant jazz influences without ever losing its allegiance to the groove and the party spirit of NOLA. The Guardian (UK) recently celebrated the fact that over the past few years, jazz has entered a new golden age and RSE has definitely been part of the vanguard sparking this renaissance. 

I Want That Sound! (Innova 941), RSE's fourth album, celebrates the band's collective experience by providing a snapshot of where and what it is today - a tight, funky, fun and heady unit that's transgenerational in its appeal and whose music resonates with listeners on melodic, harmonic and rhythmic levels. Decked out in feathered and metallic finery that evokes Sun Ra's Arkestra as much as the Mardi Gras Indians, RSE has always honored the spirit of New Orleans brass bands that provide succor and uplift to mourners accompanying loved ones for burial and fulfilling the celebratory imperative for the promenade back from the cemetery.

This is the first album in RSE's discography to feature all original material, with all but the opening track penned by Field. "I Want That Sound! presents the band as a mature entity," he explained "We started out as a New Orleans second line brass band, copying others and performing covers. Then we put our own spin on traditional music and in the process over the years created a sound and style that's come into its own and is showcased on this record," Field continued. "The album was recorded in an amazing studio in Chelsea, MA that was formerly a Masonic Temple. In one of its incarnations it was actually called ‘The Sonic Temple.'"

The musicians heard on I Want That Sound! are Field's current working band and the RSE line-up that has played continuously together the longest. "I love the sound of multiple saxophones and I've known Tom Hall forever. He's one of those guys who intuitively listens and responds so it's a natural pairing - it's like we're sonic brothers," Field said. "I've worked with Dave Harris in a number of contexts over the years," Field continued. "He's a phenomenal trombone player and became equally phenomenal on tuba when he picked that horn up. Dave now also plays a horn called the helicon - an early version of the Sousaphone - and he just blows it out of the park." Field heard trumpeter Jerry Sabatini playing a gig with Charlie Kohlhase's band The Explorer's Club. "Jerry has an approach to music that really resonates with me and fits perfectly into RSE's sound. 

He's one of the most in-demand players in Boston and we're fortunate to have him on board." The personnel is rounded out by the solid and inspired rhythm section of virtuoso bassist Blake Newman - with whom Field has played in at least four different bands as well as on his soundtrack recordings - and the fluid and versatile drummer Phil Neighbors - who, apart from Field, has been a member of RSE the longest and has also worked with the saxophonist on soundtracks, his music for Sesame Street and other projects.

The music on I Want That Sound! ranges from the funky to the meditative. With the exception of the opening track, "Slippery When Wet" - written by New Orleans drummer Chris Lacinak whom Field calls upon when RSE is in The Crescent City - everything is penned by Field. 

Some are unrecorded pieces he wrote years ago and recently worked into RSE's repertoire, while others are quite new. "‘Discoveries' and ‘Nature' are instrumental versions of two of 10 songs featuring lyrics by my late wife Karen Aqua that we wrote for a project to teach English to Mexican kids," Field explained. "‘Higgins Hollow' is named after a back road in Truro at the tip of Cape Cod that has a spooky, midnight-in-the-woods kind of feeling to it." 

The album's title track was actually a warm-up tune played in the studio where everyone was blowing hard. "I'd told the engineer to record everything and when I reviewed the music there was some pretty great stuff in there," Field recalled. "While recording that track someone did something in the booth that made a jarring noise and I yelled ‘I want that sound!' which is how the song got its name."

"‘John's Jailhouse Blues' was written many years ago for a roommate of mine when I was studying at Berklee. John was a bus driver who went to jail because he went on strike." "Roohane," another musical tribute, was inspired by Billy Ruane, a tireless promoter of creative music in Boston for several decades. "Billy was beautiful yet troubled guy with huge ‘ears' who died in 2010. I tried to capture some of his manic nature in this tune."

"Just Walk Closer" is a different kind of Field tribute - a salute to the New Orleans second line tradition that so inspires him and so influences RSE. "Spirituals and hymns form the core of the second line repertoire," he explained, "and I've always felt that what makes this music so strong is the simple harmonies and the incredibly strong melodies. 

What I did here was take the melody of ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee' and changed the duration of each note regarding where it fell in the measure and the phrasing. Then I added some new harmonies and counterlines to it. So while I retained the exact sequence of notes from the original melody, I ended up with a different and, I think, interesting variation."