Saturday, September 17, 2011
One of the more intriguing figures on the New Orleans music scene is one Glen David Andrews. Trumpet player, vocalist, member of a number of different brass bands over the years.
Andrews had been a popular figure on the thug scene having written one of its anthems "Knock With Me" (with the Lil Rascals Brass Band). Like many he was shocked by the shooting of Hot 8 Brass Band drummer Dinerral Shavers, at the time of his death also a teacher working to get kids into marching bands and off the streets: Shavers was shot by an acquaintance of his stepson's, most likely targeting the latter and not Dinerral. Galvanized by Shaver's senseless slaying, Andrews was a key voice in the march on City Hall to protest escalating street violence that made New Orleans the murder capital of the U.S. for a while with "a per capita rate in 2006 of anywhere from 63.5 to 72.6 per 100,000 residents" (Times Picayune).
Having scored a scored a used copy of Lil Rascals "Buck It Like A Horse" I found myself oddly dissatisfied - there's certainly a lot of raucous, high spirited brass band instrumentals here -- definitely prime stuff -- but it's all overshadowed by the lead off track, the notorious "Knock With Me, Rock With Me" which is mainly group call-and-response over driving hand-percussion. Andrews has a great, gruff voice and the raw energy and excitement of the performance is thoroughly exhilerating. The lyrics meanwhile are a captivating patchwork of street slang catch-phrases like "Gimme a dime; I only got 8" that are baffling to an outsider but nonethless cause instant ear worms.
So I've been left hungry for more for a while now. Finally took a look around Amazon and the site of Louisiana Music Factory for work under his own name and grabbed the download of "Walking Through Heavens Gate" - used copies are $15, then you added $3 shipping. The other release posted at Amazon is "Dumaine Street Blues" - physical copies are $50.
"Walking Through Heavens Gate" is a total joy. With a little academic study, or just listening and paying attention you gotta know that gospel, blues, early jazz and brass band music have been inextricably interwoven all along. They each borrowed melodies, lyrics, rhythms and such from each other right from the start and throughout their history. On "Walking Through Heavens Gate" Andrews pointedly puts it ALL together in one beautifully potent, percolating package - putting his gritty, blues-drenched leads in front of a gospel choir who are in turn supported with a high stepping brass band featuring a full complement of inspired and passionate soloists, then flavoring that with hot blues guitar.
And OF COURSE it works, as any brass band worth its salt knows the hymns that are played in the funeral procession headed towards the cemetery, while the jazz tradition emerges from the lamination of ragtime playing strategies and use of layered rhythms with plangent blues tunes, which in many cases were simplifications of sacred songs. So all the relationships between these styles are spelled out, fully developed creating for an entirely explosive fusion that will kick your spirits into high gear no matter how blue or blase you might feel. If what Kanye West said about George W. Bush is true - the music on offer here would be his worst nightmare given musical form.
PS if you go to Andrews' own site - "Dumaine Street Blues" is available as a $10 download.