1. Blackbird Special
2. Do It Fluid
3. I Ate Up the Apple Tree
4. Bongo Beep
5. Blue Monk
7. St James Infirmary
8. Li'l Liza Jane
9. Mary, Mary
10. My Feet Can't Fail Me Now
Gregory Davis - Trumpet, snare drum
Efrem Towns - Trumpet
Kevin Harris - Tenor sax
Roger Lewis - Baritone sax, soprano sax
Charles Joseph - Trombone
Kirk Joseph - Sousaphone
Jenell Marshall - Snare drum, vocals
Benny Jones - Bass drum
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band was formed in the 1970s to revive the sound of the New Orleans marching band. Although there were only eight people in the band, they took their name from the Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club in New Orleans. I expected them to play in a rough-and-ready way. However, my preconceptions were shattered by the precision which the band injects into this venerable style. Perhaps the most surprising thing is the agility which Kirk Joseph displays on the sousaphone - often a cumbersome instrument but here played with remarkable agility, laying down a nimble underpinning for all the band's efforts. Listen, for instance, to his dextrous solo on I Ate Up the Apple Tree.
The other surprising thing in this reissue of the group's first album (from 1984) is the variety of the repertoire. You would expect a band like this to play old Dixieland numbers like St James Infirmary but this group also tackles Thelonious Monk's Blue Monk and the Ellingtonian Caravan. The band has the front-line interplay characteristic of New Orleans jazz but its rhythms are often close to funk or rhythm-and-blues. The wildness of some of the music is balanced by the tight arrangements, which make the band sound more disciplined than many New Orleans groups.
The first two tracks contain some gutsy saxophone solos. Bongo Beep has that "Latin tinge" which Jelly Roll Morton loved, with some more muscular sax solos from Roger Lewis and Kevin Harris. Blue Monk is taken slowly, with an unhurried boogie-woogie beat and an outspoken trombone solo and wailing soprano sax.
Caravan returns to a Latin-American rhythm and some rather strange harmonies. St James Infirmary is given the hint of a shuffle beat as the various soloists evoke the tune's poignancy. Li'l Lisa Jane has the typical New Orleans shuffle, with call-and-response vocals. It is the sort of song that makes even the chair-bound reviewer want to get up and dance. The same can be said of the last two tracks, although the vocals are enthusiastic rather than polished.
This album changed my preconceptions - in a nice way.