(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Concert review - Dirty Dozen Brass Band with the Pimps of Joytime

Thursday, 27 February 2014 (Bluebird Theater, Denver CO)

Young and old, from the hopping scene in Brooklyn to way down deep in the Big Easy: this was a great pairing to show off the range of music that can lay a claim to the funk. The Pimps of Joytime and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band are touring together, taking turns in the headliner slot. This was the first of a two night residency at the Bluebird and the Pimps of Joytime were the openers. AXS TV were on hand to film the Dirty Dozen Brass Band - I don't know if they came back on Friday to catch PoJT's headliner or if this was part of their coverage of this year's Jazz Fest. In any case, the cameras were no impediment to a wild night of dancing and celebrating the insistent beat.

075 Pimps of Joytime The Pimps of Joytime were just here this past August (review), but it was great to have them back in town again, this time at a larger, nicer venue. Bandleader Brian J kicked things off by wrenching a funk-blues jam from his guitar. After he anointed the venue with the emotional echoes of this solo excursion, the band fell into place and transformed the tune into a soul review. They followed up with another bluesy interlude before turning up the heat with "Dank Janky". The band really hit their stride with the low-down, dirty jam of "Janxta Funk". David Bailis laid down a wicked P-Funk bass line while the percussion tossed in some light syncopation.

047 Pimps of Joytime
Bailis has a pivotal role in the band, switching between bass, keyboards, and controlling the samples and some pre-recorded backing music. After he set up the bass groove, he layered in a set of keyboard loops that filled out the sound, making a much bigger sonic impression than a five piece can normally summon. Drummer John Staten, though, stole the song with his amazing drum work.

065 Pimps of Joytime
The set shifted mood when the band launched into their new single, "Booty Text". The vocals were soulful, but the heart of the song is anchored to the club dance floor. The chill synth loops channeled classic disco with an aura of electronica over a mechanical beat. Cole Williams and Mayteana Morales provided the sweet femme backing and Brian J put down his guitar to focus on crooning the lyrics. The crowd was game to surrender to the rhythm and boogie down. It was a fun interlude, but Brian J, who is normally a very charismatic frontman, seemed lost at times without his guitar. "Booty Text" transformed the set into more of a dance party than a funk-stravaganza. This meant that Bailis spent more time on the keys than on his bass guitar.

066 Pimps of Joytime
It all came back around, though. The reggae groove of "Stop Wastin' Mine" brought the bass to the forefront. It didn't slow down the crowd from dancing and it hit that sweet spot I have for the band. The groove ebbed and flowed and eventually led to "Hey Mister J", which featured a cool hippy guitar groove and Brian J's best facial expressions of the night. Closing on "Body Party", the Pimps of Joytime didn't have enough time left to perform the ritual of leaving the stage and returning for an encore, but it was a solid set and showed off the band's diversity.

091 Dirty Dozen Brass Band
It took a while to clear the stage and place all the necessary mics for the band, but the wait was worth it. Band members wandered in and out amidst the flurry of setup: Kirk Joseph organized the array of effects pedals for his sousaphone while Kevin Harris scoped out the crowd and connected with a few select people. Eventually, everyone came out and warmed up their instruments. The set opened with a free jazz exploration. Like a bubbling stewpot, the surface was in constant motion: a splash of trumpet rising for a moment before falling beneath the squonk of a baritone sax. After a few minutes of this ritual, the loose flow coalesced into a solid, syncopated groove and the show was underway.

210 Dirty Dozen Brass Band
This provided a chance to meet each of the players as they rotated their solos. Trumpeter Gregory Davis balanced his intensely focused playing with a mellow, genial stage presence. Efrem Towns (trumpet and flugelhorn) was more of ham, mugging for the audience and playing his solos with a visible flourish. Kevin Harris alternated a serious demeanor with a touch of clowning as he tore it up on the tenor sax. Completing the front line, Roger Lewis peppered his baritone sax riffs with sly knowing glances, building up for his finale.

123 Dirty Dozen Brass Band
On the back line.Kirk Joseph provided the bass support on his sousaphone, mutating the sound to pop like a funk bass with the wah-wah or warping it with flange into a didgeridoo drone. Drummer Terrence Higgins stayed locked into his drums, but his playing was transcendent. Where a traditional drum solo can often stretch the rhythm so far that the audience is lost and the interlude drifts into the weeds, Higgins could counterbalance the rhythmic exploration with a steady pulse, interjecting any number of flashy paradiddles or stutter beat riffs. Finally, the youngest member of the band, Kyle Roussel laid the rest of the musical foundation with his keys. Alternating between a standard Nord keyboard and a wonderfully retro key-tar, Roussel was shy and unassuming, but his playing was loose and natural and his solos demonstrated a core sense of jazz harmonic theory.

194 Dirty Dozen Brass Band
As you'd expect, the band has its roots in New Orleans jazz and their songs featured plenty of traditional jazz moments. But just as the New Orleans scene they come from has evolved and grown, their set branched out into a rich gumbo of genres, from nasty jazz funk slink to spicy Latin fireworks. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band's goal was to create the right party atmosphere, stylistic niches or generational stereotypes aside. Whether it was Davis leading the crowd in a call and response for "Me Like It Like That" or the blistering layered funk of the Neville Brothers' "Fiyo On The Bayou", the band worked the audience into a dancing frenzy.

220 Dirty Dozen Brass Band
By the same token, though, they had a good sense of flow, letting the dynamic drop into dreamy, meandering solos in order to make the next peak that much higher. They closed out the night with a perfect soul gem, "Dirty Old Man". Roger Lewis summoned the spirit of James Brown and flat out testified. "I'm a dirty old man and I feel like spankin' somebody." Despite his claim, Lewis showed that he had plenty of spunk to keep up with the younger crowd. By the time it was over, they had created a literal party on stage, with girls invited up to join the band and dance til the end of the night.

233 Dirty Dozen Brass Band

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