Youngblood Brass Band: Center:Level:Roar
As a new generation continues to reshape traditional ensembles from big band to chamber and play it punk by adopting pop, it's useful to go back and marvel at one of the albums that truly innovated in this new-jack band geek era.
I have never visited New Orleans, and this shortcoming ranks as one of my greatest musical failures. I realize it’s the birthplace of jazz and its busking is second to none. I’ve also heard stories of the powdery sweetness of a Café du Monde beignet, or the piquant bite of a seafood po’ boy, consumed at Jazz Fest making an experience complete. All these deficiencies make me appear entirely unqualified to genuinely appreciate the visceral aspects of one of New Orleans’ greatest exports, the brass band.
But in Center:Level:Roar Youngblood goes far beyond the conservative and traditional sounds of a brass band. They march to the beat of their own drummer, notably percussionist and MC, Dave Skogen. The album finds the group dissatisfied with the solid yet modest sounds of Word on the Street and aggressively pushing the boundaries that have defined the brass band genre. The opening track, “To Come Together”, is a spoken-word manifesto in which Skogen decisively takes the lyrical reigns of the style-bending tour de force to come. Fittingly named, and establishing the rhythmic inertia that propels the album, “Round One” is thus unleashed on the listener. Soaring horns, intertwining harmonies and a cohesive tightness catapult the piece -- and the album -- forward. The syncopated rhythms tell one’s body to move, and dancing trumpet lines entice like sirens as a distant choir calls below them. The group’s sound is a distinct one of mythic proportions.
Not that Youngblood Brass Band would ever shy away from a pop hit, either. Segueing into “Human Nature Pt. 2” from another powerful and moving track, “Diaspora”, the group launches into their blazing interpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”, providing it with the energy the original lacks. In their live shows the group also regularly plays an instrumental rendition of M.O.P.’s “Ante Up”, performed debatably as hard-core as the original.
One of the most endearing features of Youngblood -- and one faithful to its instrumentations’ roots -- is their ability to overwhelm an audience with punk rock energy and sound with a largely acoustic ensemble. Devoid of all the amplification, electronics, and gadgetry that so many of today’s groups depend on, Youngblood’s raw instrumental sound and competent musicianship is a refreshing reminder of the capability of seemingly ordinary things. Whether they’re playing as a throwback to Dixieland-era New Orleans or cultivating a rogue sound, one thing is certain: never has a brass band rocked so hard.
Live at Vibraphonic 2007