New Orleans is a place where everything you know about the ways the universe works is flipped upside down. In this alternative world of the bayou where night is day and heat seems to flow from the ground up toward the sun, funerals are one more reason to party and parade through the streets. Bringing this notion to its newest release on Ropeadope, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band throws down a musical cauldron of jambalaya called Funeral for a Friend. Like many bands I go to see live, I'm not sure that the Dirty Dozen works best in CD format. Their music seems to necessitate that real-time connection between musicians and audience that punctuates the experience of the best live acts. Nonetheless, Funeral for a Friend does more than just a good job flattening out new additions to the Dozen's repertoire for home use... it is a definitive work of the definitive example in the New Orleans brass band genre.

The whole album is set up to emulate an actual jazz funeral marching through the streets of New Orleans: from the few weepy measures of mourning that precede "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" to start the album; to the immediate change in timbre to one of pure joy as the parade continues with glorious tracks like "Please Let Me Stay A Little Longer;" to the cemetery where an instrumentally preaching "John the Revelator" marks the graveside service with an intense dignity; finally with the closing hymn of "Amazing Grace" that signals both an end and a continuation. The songs are traditionals and familiar, but the Dirty Dozen Brass Band never just covers or does simple rearrangements, they deeply inhale the music that they have been immersed in for decades now and the result is a journey in itself. In numbers they are less than 12, but in energy they are a force of a dozen dozen. Funeral for a Friend finds the right mood in every song balancing the delicate mixture of grieving for the departed with the joy of life. Mixing it up with guest vocalists on tunes like "I'll Fly Away" or an entire choir on "Jesus on the Mainline" (the highlight of the album, it takes off at the end at a dizzying pace), the music itself takes on a larger than life quality. Anyone who has seen the Dirty Dozen knows they are the real deal and Funeral for a Friend has the makings of their opus--a quintessentially New Orleans album of the highest quality.

File between NOLA classics Dr. John's Gumbo and the Meters' Anthology Funkify Your Life.

Aaron Stein
JamBase | New York
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[Published on: 6/1/04]

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