Lucid Culture


CD Review: The Stagger Back Brass Band

Brooklyn‘s Stagger Back Brass Band are something akin to the Spinal Tap of brass bands, the difference being that Spinal Tap’s heavy metal parody is mean-spirited. On their debut cd – one of the funnest albums in recent months – the Stagger Back Brass Band goodnaturedly spoof and steal from just about every brass band style ever invented: Balkan dances, New Orleans jazz, klezmer, ska, marching band music, you name it. That they succeed as resoundingly (pun intended) as they do here testifies to the fact that humor is a function of intellect: this is a wickedly smart crew. It’s the brainchild of accordionist and horn player Patrick Farrell, who plays in a ton of A-list New York bands, among them the somewhat similarly inclined brass band Veveritse, brilliantly multistylistic Russian/American classical/jazz string band Ljova and the Kontraband and wild Balkan party monsters Romashka. There are a total of ten players on this album, Farrell doubling on accordion and alto horn. The closest relative to this band, in spirit if not exactly in style, is the Microscopic Septet, the Spinal Tap of jazz, and yet, like this band, so much more.


The songs here are aptly titled, starting off with An Everyday Fiasco, its breathless Keystone Cops vibe setting the tone for most of the rest of the album, Farrell coming in with the accordion for a lightning-fast solo after a trick false ending. By contrast, track two, Staggercitis bounces along slowly on a fat, reggaeish tuba line playing call-and-response with the horns’ tightly staccato minor-key chart. The band give Gershwin’s Here Comes de Honey Man – the lone cover here – a disarmingly spacy, disconnected treatment.


They pull out all the stops on The Contest Song, a pastiche of every football song and marching band cliche ever invented -you know, one, two, GO YOU BEARS!!! – and then turn them upside down. When the horns are supposed to rise, one of them makes a bleat or a pathetic little squeak. And then they miss their cue to end it all. It’s all good fun. Upchuck Cocek begins with booming drums, signaling another march, but it’s a false start: instead, the band launches into a soaring 70s soul ballad riff, something akin to a brass band take on what Isaac Hayes was doing on Hot Buttered Soul. The cd’s best two cuts come toward the end: the multi-part Pandemonium Rag is the one song here that most closely resembles the Micros, leaping suddenly from the 1920s to Kingston, 1964 to something of a ska spy theme. The Tummler (Yiddish for “emcee” – in contemporary Jewish slang, the word means “ambitious guy” but also signifies “big bullshitter”) is an evocatively scurrying klezmer-inflected tune, clarinetist Greg Squared (from sizzling Balkan improvisers Ansambl Mastika) taking a wild solo that turns from boiling Ivo Papasov intensity to silly faux-theremin on a moment’s notice. There’s also a joyous cumbia, the accordion going nuts over a La Bamba riff from the horns; a couple of improvisations featuring the accordion, and then the saxes and a stately waltz to close the cd on an unexpectedly thoughtful note. The Stagger Back Brass Band play the cd release show for the new album on Jan 18 at Union Pool at 10, with Rhode Island band What Cheer Brigade opening the show at 9.

January 7, 2009 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews

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