Thursday, September 07, 2006

Dirty Dozen Brass Band Going On

What’s Going On
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Shout! Factory

Few concept albums have had the enduring impact of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. In the wake of Katrina the Dirty Dozen Brass Band found fresh meaning in Gaye’s songs, reinterpreting the complete album. There is some precedent for jazz artists covering entire albums. Don Randi actually reinterpreted two Beatles albums, Revolver and Rubber Soul. Arguably jazz renditions of Hair by Barney Kessel and Stan Kenton among others fit into this tradition. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band may not perfectly fit into a jazz bag having led the revitalization of New Orleans marching bands, infusing the traditional brass band sound with funk and r&b elements. Now their rendition of What’s Going On will help revitalize the New Orleans music scene, with a portion of the proceeds going the Tipitina’s Foundation’s artist relief efforts.

Things kick off with the title track, opening with a sample from Fearless Leader Ray Nagin, leading into Chuck D’s rap, with predictably simplistic “No Child Left Behind” political lyrics. While What’s Going On was definitely a protest song, the rap here lacks the soulfulness of the original. Bettye LaVette is much more successful conjuring a Marvin Gaye vibe on “What’s Happening Brother” and Ivan Neville turns in the most soulful vocal on “God is Love,” with sanctified organ/keyboards setting the groove.

In fact, What’s Going On is best when the Dirty Dozen does what they do best on the instrumental tracks. On “Flyin’ High (in the Friendly Sky)” Kevin Harris’ tenor and Gregory Davis’ trumpet are as expressive as any vocalist could be. “Right On” featuring the low-down funk of Revert Andrews’ trombone and Roger Lewis’ baritone is the kind of fare longtime Dirty Dozen fans will eat up. The sanctified mood returns on “Wholly Holy” through Kirk Joseph’s sousaphone and the trombone of Revert Andrews.

Brass bands were not just alive and well in New Orleans before Katrina. They were vital, creatively evolving ensembles, with substantial local and national followings. The Dirty Dozen’s What’s Going On reminds us of the energy of that scene, and gives some hope it has not been washed away in the flood.