SOUL REBELS BRASS BAND; Unlock Your Mind (Decca)

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The marching bands of New Orleans are one of that idiosyncratic city’s unique musical institutions. Their big, brassy sounds can go from hugely sombre to magnificently joyous in the space of just a few bars and it was in that tradition that Lumar LeBlanc and Derrick Moss got their musical grounding. They then went on to become key members of one of the Big Easy’s best outfits – Dejean’s Young Olympia Brass Band. The pair, though, also loved and wanted to play the contemporary black music they heard on the radio and in the downtown soul and funk clubs. So, they formed a new band – The Soul Rebels Brass Band – to give them the opportunity to incorporate soul, funk and rap with the old, much-loved marching band traditions. Though the purists raised the odd eyebrow, the new band was soon packing ’em in everywhere and winning loyal fans – including Cyril Neville –who guests on this new set … a 17 tracker which serves as perfect introduction to the band’s unique sound.

That sound is defined by cuts like ‘504’, ‘Turn It Up’, ‘My Time’, ‘Showtime’ and ‘I Made It’ is loose, leggy and funky; it’s big, brash and brassy… and even though it might sound off key in places it has an honest, intriguing appeal. Most of the cuts include a vocal – either sung or rapped, but one of the big instrumentals is a cover of Stevie’s ‘Living For The City’. It’s nothing like Stevie intended but I’m confident that the great man will be delighted by the way it’s transformed into a full-on march. The other big cover is a take on the Eurhythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This’. This one begins with a traditionally lugubrious funereal passage before bursting into life. Less demanding and maybe more appealing is the LP’s title cut. ‘Unlock Your Mind’ is a gentle lilting tune with just a hint of Sam Cooke about it and illustrates how ska and reggae were influenced by the music of New Orleans… quite delightful.

New York’s influential ‘Village Voice describes The Soul Rebels Brass Band as “the missing link between Public Enemy and Louis Armstrong”. You’ll need to make up your own minds about that – but their music is every bit as eclectic as that sentence suggests.

The band will be appearing at November’s London Jazz Festival.

(BB) 3/5