Magnetic Ear: French Quarter Fest Focus

Magnetic Ear: French Quarter Fest Focus. Photo by Elsa Hahne.

Photo by Elsa Hahne.

Over the years, brass-driven band the Magnetic Ear has marched so far from its point of origin that it’s a wonder bandleader saxophonist Martin Krusche doesn’t change the group’s name. “At first we were known as sort of a jazz freak-out band,” admits Krusche. But even then, the Magnetic Ear’s music was much more composed and arranged-seeming than the average jazz group. The band followed Krusche’s long, wild melody lines so tightly you could tell they weren’t just improvising.

More recently, Krusche—who moved to New York from Munich, Germany in 1993 and then to New Orleans two years later—totally re-imagined and re-shaped his group into a dance-oriented “six piece pocket brass ensemble,” inspired by New Orleans-style second-line and funk, as well as African brass music, and the brass of Krusche’s European roots. Yet the Magnetic Ear avoids heavy-handed genre-hopping, instead bringing its varied brass interests together in unique original compositions.

“Coming from Germany means that, unlike most New Orleans jazz musicians who grew up here, I have no musical heritage,” he explains, almost proudly. “Because of it, I am a blank slate. It would never be my goal to move somewhere that has a rich musical heritage and learn all the standards and get lost in that type of music. Doing that is fun, but it’s not the ticket to anywhere. I have let New Orleans music influence me, but without playing ‘Lil Liza Jane.’ I can play with a trio and improvise jazz for hours and enjoy it, but enough people do that well enough that no one would need me to do it too. So I have stayed true to the idea of myself as a blank slate in order to do something unique.”

Aside from the band’s upcoming French Quarter Fest appearance, the new, danceable Magnetic Ear is best experienced on the band’s 2010 album Aliens of Extraordinary Ability. While the original song “Uncle Roger” does feature— and is dedicated to—Roger Lewis of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Magnetic Ear also goes way outside the New Orleans box for interpretations of Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place,” and an original tango tribute to recently deceased Big Star frontman and beloved New Orleanian, Alex Chilton.

At French Quarter Fest: Saturday, April 9, 2:45 – 4:15 p.m. Capital One Riverside Legacy Stage.