Looking for music to fit your ever-changing moods? And by “various moods”, of course, I mean “hot”, “cool”, or “‘round midnight”, because there are no other words in the English language to describe jazz music. Something to spin while playing chess? Try Dave Brubeck. A spicy selection for your next cocktail party? Count Basie oughta do the trick. How about the perfect accompaniment to a night of seduction in the candlelit confines of your brick-walled loft apartment? Duh, Miles Davis. Eager to show off your intellectual tendencies? Throw on some Thelonious Monk. That’s too brainy? Fine, Dexter Gordon.
Columbia’s Legacy Recordings, which lays claim to some of the richest jazz catalogs in print, should know better. Its color-coded Jazz Moods series (thematically assembled collections by 20-plus legendary artists) is being promoted as “the sexy lifestyle music line”. Kudos to the label’s marketing department for demoting jazz’s rich heritage to nothing more than a crass status symbol on par with a new BMW or Dolce & Gabbana clothing line. Because nothing says “sexy lifestyle” quite like underpaid musicians, underappreciated discographies, and misappropriated traditions. Forcing this eclectic assortment of jazz into preset “moods” (dig: hot, cool, and ‘round midnight, the “three dominant feelings of jazz”, according to Legacy) is insulting not only to the music, which is persistently resistant to such blatant reductionism, but to the audience as well. By assigning these stringent, three-tiered definitions, Legacy implies that the jazz appreciation community (or, more appropriately, the stylish new community it wishes to foster) is too stupid to absorb its music without being held by the hand, shown pretty colors, and telegraphed uncomplicated buzz words. Furthermore, the Jazz Moods series reinforces the ridiculous notion that jazz, when correctly placed as unassuming background music throughout the moments of a given day, increases one’s air of sophistication.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, along with all the other artists represented in the series, isn’t to blame. In fact, its Jazz Moods: Hot collection provides a fairly decent synopsis of the band’s soul/R&B/jazz brew for the curious listener. Formed in New Orleans in 1975, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band redefined the role of the brass band in the modern context, fusing the loose funk of the JB’s and the legibility of a Stax house band with the traditional elements of muggy N’Awlins jazz. The band’s effervescent, beaming sound, playfully turbulent and joyfully raucous, is characterized by Kirk Joseph’s bullfrogging sousaphone, which riffs like a bass guitar and acts as the octet’s spiritual ballast. Jazz Moods: Hot highlights some of the group’s greatest funky parade music cut for Columbia from 1989-1993, including the kingly martial strut “Snowball”, the rat-a-tat frenzy of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t Drive Drunk”, and the celebratory raunch of Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche”. The Dirty Dozen transform Parker’s delirious bop into a slice of New Orleans geography, running through its complex head in unison. Less conventional songs like “Use Your Brain” plug the band into a more contemporary vernacular, paying allegiance to the obsessive-compulsive groove above the refined parameters of tradition.
There are some notable guest appearances from the albums represented here: Elvis Costello shows up to rip through Dave Bartholomew’s swinging “That’s How You Got Killed Before” (the Dirty Dozen repaid the favor by appearing on Costello’s Spike and Mighty Like a Rose); Dr. John leads the sweaty march through the Womacks’s “It’s All Over Now”; and even Dizzy Gillespie scats and blows like some kind of fantastic happiness in “Oop Pap a Dah”. If there’s a complaint with the collection, it’s that it’s too much of a good thing; the pepper and spice and all other things nice about the Dirty Dozen eventually blurs into one giant parade that loops around a city square.
Regardless of the artistic merits of this music, the Jazz Moods series remains a transparent, quickly assembled pray-we-make-some-money-off-jazz scheme with little or no reverence for the artists represented, marketed as a fashionable accoutrement one picks up on a whim like gum in the grocery store aisle. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s Jazz Moods: Hot is no exception: besides a short biographical paragraph and songwriting credits, the collection fails to list the members of the band, offer some insightful liner notes, or even provide promotional photos (that image of the American flag/star on the cover is apparently representative of the band’s aura). And keep in mind that this is a representation of the band’s tenure at Columbia, which lasted for only four albums (the recently released This Is the Dirty Dozen Brass Band Collection [Shout! Factory] is the more comprehensive overview, as it pulls material from all nine of the band’s records). So thanks, Legacy, for tastelessly repackaging quality jazz for the masses as a sweeping, indiscriminate gesture of faceless disrespect.