Mighty, Explosive, Carnivalesque Brass Band Funk from MarchFourth

by delarue

How do you fit a forty-piece brass band on a boat? Better be a big boat, right? Truthfully, the version of Portland, Oregon’s mighty MarchFourth currently on tour will probably number closer to half that. Still, if energy is your thing, it’s hard to imagine anything more adrenalizing than the group’s show tomorrow night, Sept 14 onboard the Jewel for a crazy cruise of New York harbor. The ship boards at 7, sails at 8, goes out and around the Statue of Liberty and then back leisurely while the band blazes and burns. While the band’s usual onstage spectacle – they’ve been known to play with a massive troupe of street performers including cheerleaders, dancers, jugglers and pretty much any act you would expect to see at a circus or sideshow – might be a tad less radical, this will be a chance to get down with the music itself. The cruise departs from out back of the heliport at 23rd St. and the East River; $20 advance tix are available at the office next door, or at the Highline Ballroom box office for a couple of bucks extra. It’s more expensive on the day of the show.

MarchFourth made a name for themselves with their wild, stomping original Balkan, circus rock and New Orleans tunesmithing. Their forthcoming album Magic Number, recorded in a marathon ten-day session in the Crescent City, takes a hard detour into funk, although vestiges of the band’s earlier, darker incarnation remain. As you would expect from a group this size, they;’re more or less a collective: everybody literally has something to contribute. Four core members add their songs to the upcoming album. Trombonist Anthony Meade is represented by the percussive, rapidfire newschool Serbian-tinged opening track Call to Action, although he’s also responsible for Drunk Bears, a hard-hitting, surreal Balkan brass cumbia of sorts; Science (Free Your Mind), which looks back to early Earth Wind & Fire; and It’s a Trap, with its exuberant, Slavic Soul Party-style blend of Balkan minor-key intensity and devious hip-hop flavor.

Baritone sax player Taylor Aglipay, whose gruff pulse and smoky swirls percolate deep in the mix, takes credit for the album’s the best and slinkiest number, the moody Jan Jar, Bassist John Averill contributes the title cut, the album’s catchiest, with its surf guitar and echoes of cumbia. Chandler’s tunes include the guitar-fueled hard funk of Push It Back, with Stanton Moore (one of several popular New Orleans funk/jamband road warriors guesting here) on drums; The Quarter, with live hip-hop touches, like a larger-scale Hypnotic Brass Ensemble; the wry Hotstepper, a woozy blend of P-Funk, Zapp and Roger and second-line riffage; Inventing the Wheel, with Trombone Shorty and Galactic’s Ben Ellman (who also produced) making guest spots; and the gentle, classically-inflected miniature of a fanfare that winds up the album on an unexpectedly pensive note.

It’s a good bet that the band will be airing out a lot of this stuff on the boat as well as throughout their current tour. You really have to admire a group like this: with so many members, if they can break even on the road, that’s a triumph. They’re strictly in it for the music, and the party. And it’s pretty amazing how tight such a sprawling conglomerate as this can sound. Musicians on this album also include Katie Presley on trumpet, Daniel Lamb on trombone, Jon VanCura on guitar, alto saxophonist Michelle Christiansen, tenor sax players Cameron DePalma and Andy Shapiro, and Jon VanCura on baritone, and bass sax, as well as drummer/percussionists Jenny DiDonato, Cheo Larcombe, Will McKinney and Jake Wood.