On Two New Albums, A Modern-Minded Brass Band Cuts Loose

Virginia's No BS! Brass Band taps into, and ultimately expands, the brass-band tradition. Whether kicking it with funk or clearing room for a screeching free-jazz solo, the group redefines what large brass ensembles can do.

Written by Jim Fusilli from NPR

Brass bands often bring New Orleans to mind. But some 1,000 miles north of southeast Louisiana, there’s a different kind of brass band at work — the No BS! Brass Band of Richmond, Va.

Since the late 1970s, the brass-band repertoire has morphed into a new sound with the addition of funk, hip-hop and post-bop jazz. With as many as 13 members, No BS! Brass Band picks up on — and expands — that new tradition.

RVA All Day, one of the group’s two new albums, is a party soundtrack with a wild and deep groove — and airtight playing by musicians who are conservatory-trained but at ease when they cut loose. The influence here may be more The JB Horns and postwar big bands, and not so much the New Orleans brass-band tradition. But when they take on Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller,” they bring it all together.

The group’s second new album, Fight Song, pays tribute to jazz master Charles Mingus, whose compositions weren’t designed for brass bands. Here, No BS! reminds us that jazz resides at the heart of all brass-band music.

I like the No BS! Brass Band either way: kicking it with funk or clearing room for a screeching free-jazz solo. The point isn’t to redefine what a brass band can do, but that’s what No BS! achieves. From Virginia comes a storm of a brass ensemble that has decided it can do what it wants as long as it does it very, very well.

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