When he was approached about an album to represent New Orleans in the midst of its early 21st century cultural shift 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Michael White went to brass bands.
"Brass bands really kind of represent the heart and soul of New Orleans music," he says. "It's a community. We have done so for so many decades. The tradition is constantly evolving. In the next 10 or 20 years, with the changing of the city, one or two of those styles may be extinct, and the bands may end up in another direction. I wanted to document what was going on in New Orleans that you can still hear."
That album — New Orleans Brass Bands: Through the Streets of the City, published by Smithsonian Folkways and arranged and produced by jazz authority and bandleader White — spans three generations, with three groups representing the dominant trends in New Orleans brass band music. Liberty, Treme and Hot 8 brass bands all recorded new versions of songs from their repertoire at Piety Street Recording before it shuttered in 2013. The album is out Feb. 10. It's one of several albums by local artists due to drop in coming months.
The Folkways imprint was founded in 1948 to record and preserve global folk culture. Its New Orleans collection includes early New Orleans jazz and 1950s recordings from Eureka Brass Band, some of the earliest recordings of New Orleans brass band music. This entry in the Folkways catalog, White says, documents "the three dominant trends in brass band music playing today."
"They're not usually recognized as three different things," White says. "You have three very different approaches, but it's all united by the New Orleans spirit and unique approach to New Orleans rhythm and horn playing, which is individual and singing but creates a collective voice."
White founded the Liberty Brass Band in 1981 to preserve traditional brass band performance — that band contributes material from its more traditional repertoire of marches, hymns and dirges, including album opener "Paul Barbarin's Second Line" and early-1900s march "Panama." Treme Brass Band — formed in 1991 with a "transitional" style — is "a little more in the middle, and they represent a time where brass bands became a little more visible, commercial and popular," White says. Treme performs "Give Me My Money Back" and "Grazing in the Grass," by Friends of Distinction by way of Hugh Masekela. The Hot 8 Brass Band, which formed in 1995, blends New Orleans brass with funk- and hip-hop-influenced rhythms, notably in "Keepin' It Funky."
White picked the bands not only for the genres they represent, but because they're working bands. "It documents the reality in New Orleans brass bands beyond commercial settings," he says. White let the bands pick their songs ("a synopsis of what they'd play normally," White says) to flesh out the compilation's 15 tracks.
"It's important in this point in history — there's been a lot of questions about the survival and future of New Orleans traditions," White says. "It seems like the older styles are kind of dying out. There aren't younger people seriously picking up the mantle for those. It's important in this time to give a view of what the tradition is at this point."
Thou & The Body
You, Whom I Have Always Hated (Thrill Jockey)
Louisiana's bayou doom warlocks Thou teamed with shrieking Oregon duo The Body for a collaborative release (flipping the script on "split" releases) to form a massive tag-teaming metal album.
Rational Expectations (Community Records)
The anticipated album from the self- described "post-gospel" outfit promises grand-sized songs, earnest outpouring and fuzzy, starry-eyed guitar rock.
Create Your Own Mythology (Speakeasy Records)
Dave Cobb, who helmed acclaimed recent releases from Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell, engineered the upcoming full-length album from country- and folk-influenced singer/songwriter Kristin Diable. The album follows her well-received self-titled album (as Kristin Diable & The City) in 2012.
The Kid Carsons
The first full-length album from the country-folk family band follows its Opry-sized live shows and promising debut EP, 2012's Settle Down. The band recorded its new album to tape at A Studio in the Country with Ben Mumphrey.
Give Us a Raise
Twin brothers Collin and Sam McCabe front this young garage rock 'n' roll trio, which released a string of EPs and singles beginning in 2012.