Before the lockdown, Brooklyn group Nation Beat had a long run as one of New York’s top party bands, mixing up Brazilian sounds with New Orleans second-line shuffles, Americana, and in the early days, even surf rock. Happily, this rotating cast of musicians from around the world is are still together and releasing records. Their new album The Royal Chase – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most New Orleans-flavored and best release yet.
The opening number, Forró de Dois Amigo has Joe Correa’s sousaphone pulsing behind drummer’bandleader Scott Kettner’s surprisingly subtle mashup of Brazilian and Mardi Gras shuffle beats, reggae-tinged, bronzed horns, and solos from trombonist Mariel Bildstein and tenor sax player Paul Carlon. That sets the stage for the rest of the album.
Morô Omim Má has a more hypnotic groove, with resonant horns and spare guitar, Rob Curto’s organ anchoring a pensive Mark Collins trumpet solo. The album’s title track has a brisk strut: it’s practically ska, a mashup of rustic 19th century marching band music and a little dub.
They follow with a muscular, brassy reinventino of the Meters’ Hey Pocky Way with impassioned vocals and a slinky tuba solo. The group edge back toward reggae with the moodily vamping, minor-key Paper Heart, a brooding trombone solo at the center.
Forró no Escuro is a playful blend of Brazilian forro rainforest folk with bright frevo brass band flavor and more than a hint of calypso: down in the tropics, sounds get around fast. Ciranda for Lia is the album’s most lyrical number, a syncopated, pulsing ballad: it’s a song Grover Washington Jr. could have heard back in the 80s and thought to himself, “I’ve got to cover that.”
A tricky circling sax riff kicks off the jubilantly strutting, bluesy Big Chief, a launching pad for bright trumpet and suave trombone solos. With its rapidfire, icepick rhythm, Feira de Mangaio is the most specifically Brazilian tune here, although the sousaphone adds beefy flavor from further north.
Algunas Cantan has gentle Portuguese lead vocals from “Carolina Mama” over what sounds like an African balafon. The band wind up the record with Roseira do Norte, its pounding maracatu beat, jubilant brassiness and hints of vintage Burning Spear.