Lucid Culture


MarchFourth Marching Band Is a Magnificent Beast

Where groups like Slavic Soul Party take brass band music to new places, Portland, Oregon’s MarchFourth Marching Band brings blazing brass flavor to funk, ska and occasionally hip-hop. Sometimes they’re sort of like a faster Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, but along with that band’s soul grooves, they also go into salsa and Afrobeat along with innumerable other global styles, with some neat dub tinges. Their latest album Magnificent Beast is party music to the extreme: catchy danceable grooves, big mighty hooks and tight, inspired playing: it’s a good approximation of the fullscale theatricality of the massive, sometimes 20+ piece band’s live show.

Interestingly, they open the album with a crunchy, guitar-driven heavy metal song set to a trip-hop beat. The second track, Soldiers of the Mind goes from funk, to reggae, to rap,with a nice soulful trombone solo and bubbly organ behind it. Delhi Belly slowly morphs into funk from a hypnotically rattling bhangra groove, with fat, noir solos from the trumpet and baritone sax. The tracks that most evoke the Hypnotic Brass guys are Fat Alberta, with its neat polyrhythms and shifting brass segments, and The Finger, a sweet, summery oldschool soul groove.

A lusciously sly oldschool salsa jam with a funny, tongue-in-cheek trombone solo, Sin Camiseta has the bari sax setting off a rousing arrangement that’s part second-line, part ska. The album’s best song, Cowbell, takes the sly, comedic factor to the next level with swirling Ethiopian horns, a smoky, sultry tenor sax solo and then finally a swirl of horns that unexpectedly go 3 on 4 on the outro. Rose City Strut reaches for lushly lurid noir swing ambience with reverb guitar and sometimes bubbly, sometimes apprehensive horns, muted trumpet and clarinet enhancing the late-night ambience in some random alley off a brightly lit avenue. A Luta Continua sets biting, syncopated salsa to an Afrobeat shuffle; Git It All, with its funky pop hook, was obviously designed for audience participation.

Another track full of unexpectedly fun changes, Fuzzy Lentil starts out like swaying, funky halfspeed ska, then takes a punk riff and funks it out with a biting brass arrangement. They end the album with the slowly crescendoing soul epic Skin Is Thin, the only real vocal track here, thoughtfully and poetically contemplating how to survive with “greedy nuts hatching evil plans” all around us – is this a time when “being a mutt is the only way to survive?” Maybe. As party music goes, it doesn’t much smarter or more entertaining than this. M4, as their fans call them, have a Dec 17 show in their hometown at Refuge,116 SE Yamhill; lucky partiers in the Bay Area can see them on New Year’s Eve at the Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 8th St. in San Francisco.

December 3, 2011 Posted by | funk music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, ska music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and McCollough Sons of Thunder at Aaron Davis Hall, NYC 3/19/09

The opening act are something of a feel-good story, sons of former Sun Ra trumpeter Kelan Phil Cohran keeping it in the family with some richly good tunes. To call the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble innovative is an understatement: there is no band in the world who sound like them. Blending elements of New Orleans marches, late 60s Hugh Masekela-style Afropop, hip-hop and, predictably, some of the more accessible side of the man from Saturn, their instrumentals manage to be as hypnotic as they are catchy and propulsive. With four trumpets, two trombones, tuba and French horn, they made it clear that they were there to bring the party and managed to energize a pretty lethargic, afterwork and after-daycare crowd. They opened with the slightly reggae-inflected Balicky Bon (a nonsense onomatopeic word that pretty much describes the rhythm) set to a catchy three-chord descending progression. The intensity in this band is tightly wound within the grooves of the music: blaring, ostentatious soloing, or for that matter much of any soloing at all is never part of the picture.


The predictably fast Fire kicked off with the tuba laying down a fat, melodic bassline, the arrangement beginning staccato and building to a big swell. Sankofa, a co-write with Fela’s drummer, brought “a little taste of Afropop,” as the band described it, one of the trumpets taking a mischievous solo mixing the feel of early 80s hip-hop feel with echoes of the Middle East. They brought back the vintage hip-hop feel on an impossibly catchy, riff-driven number: hip-hop artists in need of first-class samples need look no further than this group. They closed their surprisingly short set (they have four albums out) with a long party chant-along, one of the trombonists leading the crowd, eventually sticking his mic inside the tuba for a big blast of bass. If you’re lucky, you might catch the group playing above the downtown 6 train platform at Union Square, where they’ve been spotted on the occasional Sunday evening around six.


The aptly named McCollough Sons of Thunder headlined. Before the show got going, Elder Edward Babb, their charismatic, trombone-slinging frontman cautioned the crowd that this would be just a taste of what life was like on Sundays at their home base, Harlem’s United House of Prayer. From the first rising notes of a slow gospel vamp that went doublespeed in seconds flat, it was delirious, loosely orchestrated mayhem. Unlike the openers, they didn’t have amplification, but with seven trombones, tuba, trumpet, what looked like a sousaphone and a four-piece percussion section of bass drum, snare, cymbals (played by the group’s lone woman member) and tambourine, amplification wasn’t exactly necessary. The bass drum kept scooching across the floor of the stage. The second-chair trombonist came to the point where he slithered across the stage on his knees, so overcome by the music that he lost his place and had to take a breather. Babb worked the crowd as the band roared behind him, vamping on a single chord for minutes on end but switching into a chorus with seeming effortlessness when given the signal – this is a group that seems to get plenty of practice. Is God real? Yes, affirmed the crowd. Can I get a witness? Babb inquired with casual fervor; dozens of volunteers jumped from their seats. One impassioned concertgoer stood up, went to the aisle to the right of the stage and sang along in a voice so strong that it was as if he was onstage with the rest of the performers. Pandemonium reigned and everybody was happy.


This was one of many free “community concerts” that Carnegie Hall has been putting on across the five boroughs for the last several months; a complete list of upcoming concerts is here.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment