The Brass Monkeys, Lullabite Review
Harmony in Genres: The Brass Monkeys’ Eclectic Journey in Lullabite
by Ferell Aubre
As jazz lovers, we all enjoy the sounds of the past and the present, engaging in a ceaseless dance. Lullabite, by The Brass Monkeys, embodies the paragon of this intricate push and pull. This album, released by 33 Jazz Records, celebrates diversity, blending the wisdom of experience with the vigor of youth. It’s a sonic journey where jazz, blues, reggae, and other genres merge, creating a sound that is respectful of its roots and daring in its execution.
On trumpets and flugelhorns, we have Chris Dowding, known for his work with Natural Causes, Rude 2.0, and Moonrise Trio, alongside Charlotte Keeffe, whose contributions to the Right Here, Right Now Quartet, Sound Brush, and The Anthropology Band have been widely acclaimed. The French horn is masterfully handled by Jim Rattigan, a veteran of Pavilion, the Haden/Bley Liberation Music Orchestra, and the Michael Brecker Quindectet.
The trombone section features the incomparable talents of Annie Whitehead, celebrated for her time with Rude 2.0 and the Penguin Café Orchestra, and Kieran McLeod, whose expertise spans from Ivo Neame’s Dodeka to the Riot Jazz Brass Band and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. In the tenor saxophone department, Paul Jolly, of Sothiac and The People Band fame, showcases his resilience and skill, admirably supported by Rob Milne from Nebula Sun and Norwich Improv Mafia, who stepped in admirably during Jolly’s brief recuperation.
The ensemble is anchored by the tuba and leadership of Ben Higham, a versatile player known for his roles in Hard Edges, Arthur, and Loverly. Olly Blackman provides the rhythmic foundation, whose drumming with the Hackney Colliery Band and Quadracerotops adds dynamic energy to the group. Together, The Brass Monkeys form a formidable ensemble, merging their diverse backgrounds and unique styles into a harmonious and captivating jazz experience.
The opening track, “Sparkle,” epitomizes this synergy. It’s a piece where the ensemble’s ability to groove and their improvisational skills are showcased, unshackled yet coherent, free yet structured. The music resonates with a sense of exploration, each musician adding their voice to a collective narrative that is adventurous, comforting, and buzzing with finely played brass’s rich, warm textures.
In “Barbados,” a reimagined Charlie Parker classic, the album pays homage to jazz traditions while infusing them with fresh perspectives. The arrangement is a testament to the ensemble’s ability to reinterpret the past through a contemporary lens. Dowding’s playing, underscored by Higham’s tuba, offers a rich, warm texture, demonstrating how traditional elements can be revitalized with modern sensibilities.
The compositions “Post Poolonk” and “Dem Bones” stand out for their collaborative essence, showcasing a blend of individual creativity within a cohesive group dynamic. These tracks are emblematic of the album’s ethos – a celebration of collective improvisation and personal expression.
A noteworthy mention is the contribution of tenor saxophonists Jolly and Milne. Despite Jolly’s injury, both saxophonists add depth and versatility to the album, especially evident in tracks like “Snake Music,” where the ensemble’s improvisational prowess is on full display.
The album’s journey through various styles, from the march-like “How Long?” to the swing of “Man in Astrakhan,” and the free improvisation in several tracks, is a testament to The Brass Monkeys’ mastery of their craft. The musicians’ ability to navigate through different genres while maintaining a coherent musical narrative is remarkable.
Concluding with “Charlie M,” a Lester Bowie composition, the album pays its respects to the jazz tradition, subtly adding its own flavor to the classic. This track encapsulates the essence of Lullabite: reverence for the past, coupled with a bold, innovative spirit.
Lullabite is an album that conveys a musical conversation spanning generations, styles, and emotions. It’s a continuation of the enduring spirit of jazz and its capacity for continuous reinvention. Listeners will find this album a treasure trove of musical brilliance, a reflection of the timeless allure of jazz, and a beacon of its ever-evolving nature.