Gumbo, in many ways, is the quintessential New Orleans dish. Gumbo, like The Big Easy, is made up of many different flavors and elements: a melting plot of cultures and cuisines. It seems appropriate, then, that one of the hottest new bands out of New Orleans, the Brass-A-Holics Go-Go Brass Funk Band, takes after this quality of the city. I had the chance to interview the band in June, when they played the Hamilton. One of the main points of discussion, among other topics, was the band’s gumbo-like nature.
As bass tuba (sousaphone) player Jason “Slick” Slacks describes the band, “With the elements all put together, Go-Go, Brass, Funk: It’s amazing. You ever ate Gumbo? That’s what Go-Go Brass Funk is, gumbo.” Indeed like gumbo, while the elements/ingredients used to make the dish are very different on paper, if done correctly, they are put together in such a way to make it delicious. With New Orleans Brass Bands’ roots in marches and military music, there is already an element of openness for repetition. Add in the recurring groove ideas of funk and the never ending, or the ‘keeps on going and going,’ Go-Go beat, and you have the potent gumbo that makes up the core of the Brass-A-Holics.
However, like any good gumbo, once you have the core ingredients, you then begin adding in whatever flavors you want. The Brass-A-Holics’ site projects this message, and they proved in full force at The Hamilton Live on June 15th, as part of the DC Jazz Fest. The Brass-A-Holics promise that they are the only group in which one can “hear the influences of Miles Davis, Nirvana, John Coltrane, Wham, Cyndi Lauper, Kanye West, and Louis Armstrong all in one set?” While we did not hear all of these influences, explicitly, during the Brass-A-Holics’s three hour set, but we did get more than was advertised. Sax Man Robin Clabby gave further testimony of the band’s diverse sound, saying “You know, it’s a lot of traditions mixed up in what we do. It’s brass, it’s New Orleans street culture…there’s a lot of jazz and bop in there, but it’s also rock and pop and a whole bunch of other stuff in there too.” Part of the reason for this diversity in the sound is the diversity of the band members. In a small snap shot of the band’s musical identity: there is Keiko, the Japanese, classical trained Keyboard player, Slacks, the Church and marching band raised Sousaphone player and band leader and Trombone player Winston Turner, a man who will “listen to and try anything.”
The other part of the equation is the Brass-A-Holics’s commitment to being great entertainers. “We don’t want to entertain one type of crowd,” explains Slacks, “That is boring. I want real people, everyday people. I want a child to be able to listen to the music, and not get offended… It’s like going in Walmart. You’re not going to go into Walmart and hear ‘Shake it like this and shake it like-’ No. You’re going to hear Nirvana, you’re going to hear some, whatcha call that boy[as a post interview discussion reveals, the boy is Bruno Mars]…you’re gonna hear him too. The Brass-A-Holics proved their ability to play to any crowd that night. While most of the audience was sitting for the first hour of the show, by the end of three hours the Hamilton was on its feet: dancing and cheering. Throughout the night we heard everything from New Orleans Brass to Muddy Waters to Bon Jovi to Black Sheep, and Naughty by Nature, including a riotous brass version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Now some of you might be wondering, where does the name “Brass-A-Holics” come from? The band best explains it as a reflection of their addiction to the music they play and love, and their desire to share that addiction with their audiences. After a Brass-A-Holics’s show, the hope is that you come away addicted to the band’s music.
I admit I had no idea what to expect when the lights went down on stage that night, but I was blown away. For what seems like a somewhat unknown band, the Brass-A-Holics’s command of the audience showed that they are a force to be reckoned with as a live act. With the diversity of sound they presented they kept me, and the rest of the Hamilton crowd, engaged, energized, and wanting more and more. I will not deny it now. I am a Brass-A-Holic.
Originally recorded for WGTB Georgetown Radio, Published on 07-12-13