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‘Tombstone’ breaks new ground for the Hot 8 Brass Band

Written by  Nick Garrison
"Man it's been rough for so long, but we just keep on keeping on," says The Hot 8 Brass Band (H8T) on track one of their new album entitled Tombstone, an eerie, soulful start until the trombone tears into the groove, revving the engine, and striking the match for the rest of the disc.
The Hot 8 Brass Band has moved to another tier of musicianship by making this album meaningful to themselves. It gives the listener something more than what is on the surface. Hot 8 is about eternal life through their music. Their pain and struggles of loosing loved ones and knowing the streets all too well are represented in the album.
Though New Orleans has a colorful and positive side to the community, the city still contains neighborhoods saturated in crime. A combatant of hate, H8T writes music with purpose in the community. They bring people together during the most important times, life and death, partying and mourning. They participate in funeral parades and give themselves to grassroots projects to bring music to the underprivileged parts of town.
The Hot 8's last album, The Life and Times of..., is said to be a precursor to the newly released Tombstone. The Life and Times of... was more focused on the party scene and nightlife aspects of what brass bands are about. The music seemed to forcefully incorporate chromaticism and jazzier harmonies when the tunes didn't necessarily call for it. It just seemed a little contrived, like they had these new muscles to flex, but didn't know when to flex them. While they are still representing the 504 in the first of these two albums, Tombstone really hits the hard truths and struggles of New Orleans.

The second album of the set is a significant step forward for the band, both musically and socially. This new album is more of an introspective presentation of what is important to each member of the band. Songs like Homies, Shotgun Joe, Milwaukee Fat, and Take it to the House pay homage to fallen band members, three of whom were killed at gunpoint. Joseph Williams, known as Shotgun Joe for his trombone slide, died at the hands of the New Orleans Police Department in 2004 in a controversial situtation. Jacob Johnson, trumpet, was killed at the age of 17 inside his own house. And in 2006, Dinerral "Dick" Shavers, drummer, was shot and killed while driving his family through town. These horrific circumstances have pushed The Hot 8 to overcome struggles that many will never know in a lifetime. The band has poured their emotions into their music and written tracks that address the issues most important to them, including their friends, families, and legacy of community.
Their positivity is notable through songs like We Goin' Make It, which holds one of the catchiest melodies on the disc. They sing: "If we all just get along, together we goin' make it." The message is expanded upon in the verse, and implies community cooperation throughout New Orleans to stop violence on the streets. Moments on the album like this show how the band has grown through the deaths of its members.
Tunes have more singing, rapping, and spoken word than the last album in order to produce a clear message. Solos across the ensemble have more personal development and more of a matured emotional execution. They abandon the repetitive nature of the last album by breaking up the form with more vocals, therefore avoiding superfluous solos. This group sticks to standard NOLA drum beats and licks, and sells the blues and funk riffs that most closely identify with the genre.
The sousaphone player has breadth to his sound, heaving the group into each phrase. He knows when to play the subtle bass line and when to roar in shout choruses. Trumpets bring a flair that is expected in the brass band idiom, not to mention some truly progressive solos incorporating valve trills and tasty lip bends. The two drummers work well together on compound rhythms and keep the dance beats exciting. The trombone section is capable of facile slide work, noticeable in the background figures of Wolf Burger, and screaming solos that employ a musical vocabulary passed down through tradition.
‘Tombstone’ breaks new ground for the Hot 8 |
The instruments throughout the album are actually very exposed even though the genre is welcoming of imperfections. If you don’t have the rhythms and the harmonies in your bones, you will stick out. Though they are few and far between, the occasional reaching for notes, cracks, and splats make the recording human.
Sometimes there are words you can't really understand, but you can understand the instruments that play the same lines. They let their words and phrasing of the English language turn into music phrases. Or is it the other way around: the way they play is how they started speaking? However you want to hear it, there is New Orleans cultural significance to this band's music.
By integrating more aspects of hip hop, Hot 8 is sure to stay at the top of their class. I would hope to see some collaborations in future albums with like minded artists from related genres. Hip hop and R&B are screaming for brass band music to back them. Nobody needs MIDI keyboard sounds to simulate a band when these guys have more than enough soul for everyone.
Brass band tradition has gone through some heavy-hitter groups, but with the release of this new album, the torch has been divided and passed to The Hot 8. They keep their friends' spirits alive by praising them through the band's work and passion for making music. With hits like Big Girl, the musicians are writing the new standards of brass band literature. People are going to know these tunes for a long time to come. This is more than call and response, riff-based music. The band puts it simply, "We ain't nothing but love".

For more information about The Hot 8 Brass Band, please visit their website, Facebook, and Twitter.
Last modified on Monday, 15 July 2013
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