I have to admit I really dig the solid, no strings-attached funk’n’horns music of the seventies. Pass the peas, baby, and whatever it is, it’s gots to be funky. With all the phenomenal fusion of sounds these days it’s sometimes hard to find a band that lays it on fat and pure, in the style of the original masters and old-school groove kings.
Enter Boston Horns. A seven-piece collection of trumpet, sax, keys, guitar, drums, bass, and congas, Boston Horns lays down a classic sound that is the pillar of all things good and groovy in today’s onslaught of fusion. Their pedigree would make most Irish Setters blush. Founded by former members of the now-defunct Heavy Metal Horns, a legendary Boston-area jazz/funk ensemble that toured with major acts like Extreme and developed strong following of their own, the band features musicians with serious experience. Co-founders Henley Douglas on sax and Garret Savluk on trumpet have reams of accolades to their names and have played with the likes of Tower of Power, the Del Fuegos, Chucklehead, Entrain, Jah Spirit, James Montgomery, Ron Levy, and Shockra.
There’s no gimmick to their sound. You will detect a hint of 1920’s big band swing, a touch of Afro-latin, and a whiff of psychedelia that diversifies the sound, but never pulls the band off their track of straight-ahead good-time energy. True to their name, the group is brass-centric, but the intense horn jams are layered on heavy-duty bass, drum, organ, and guitar. One listen to the demo CD and I was hooked – the first track, “It’s In Your Face,” comes straight out with crisp brass fury and a fat rhythm section behind it. It was reminiscent of some of the JB’s work, although edgier and mostly instrumental, with “the occasional vocal throw-down.” Having a god-honest horn ‘section’ does wonders for funk, especially on top of wa-tinged guitar riffs, the sax dropping baritone bombs into the spaces between bright trumpet hits. Drummer Jack Howard provided incredible percussion, and Guitarist Jeff Buckbridge complemented with some fiery guitar work. Heady stuff.
Their live show Thursday, with New Orleans-based openers Brotherhood of Groove, brought it all home at Johnny D's in Somerville. Boston Horns had played with the Brotherhood down in N’awlins for the Jazz Fest, and the Brotherhood were in the neighborhood for a little Cajun/Beantown reunion. It was a potent combo of funk and jazz.
The Horns started off the night with the aforementioned “It’s In Your Face,” which didn’t come out of the gate with as much chutzpah as it does on the studio recording, but it didn’t take long for the band to find their fire. From there they went into a series of smokers, each with a unique angle and jam: “Boogie Stop Shuffle,” a Mingus tune and title track of their upcoming CD; “Maybe Tonight,” a Latin Calypso flavored number sporting guitarist Jeff Buckley on timbales; “52 Megatons of Soul,” which included one of the best washboard jams I’ve ever seen; Henley’s big-baritone sax monster “Soul Avenue,” followed by “Alarm Clock Kickin” and then the most JB-ish of their tunes, “Head in the History,” a great tune with some bad, bad vocal grooves, the kind of infectious chorus that gets everyone singing and clapping and shaking like it was some kind of revival: “I got my head in the history, I’ve got my feet on the dancefloor!” Finger-licking good.
The two closing tunes really brought the groove together. Joined by Brandon Tarricone, guitarist for the Brotherhood of the Groove, the Horns pulled out two new ones, “Sidestep” and “The Skillet,” wrapping up the night with a last blast of heat. The guitars took center stage in these final moments. Brandon Tarricone applied a unique, organ-sounding effect to his axe in “Sidestep” and deftly jumped into unknown territory - gracefully at first - then tore into a powerful jam. In the closer Skillet though the two guitarists fused and traded some ferociously funky licks. All night long Buckbridge had been backing the horns with a measured amount of rhythm and jam; his sound reminded me of Grant Green, never unnecessarily complex, slightly halting, always complementary and clean. When the horns would cut and he’d be there, bearing down hard into a sound that left any notion of lounge jazz far behind. But with Tarricone antagonizing he really let it fly in the last moments and the result was a phenomenal fusion of guitar jam, horn feast, and percussion onslaught.
Keep your heads up for their upcoming CD, Boogie Stop Shuffle. They play fairly often in the Boston and North Shore area, and have a harbor cruise gig on September 21st out of Beverly which should not be missed.
JamBase | Boston
Go See Live Music!