The track listing for Magnetic Ear’s Aliens of Extraordinary Ability is packed tight with guest appearances from throughout the various strata of the New Orleans music scene: from newcomer Sasha Masakowski to Dirty Dozen Brass Band co-founder Roger Lewis. The credits demonstrate the wide-ranging connections that Magnetic Ear’s members have made, and the music they’ve made with so many extraordinarily able performers alien to the core group itself is a testament to the band’s and bandleader Martin Krusche’s ability to bring that eclecticism together into a coherent musical statement.
The core group that makes up Magnetic Ear is a pocket brass band: two saxophones, two trombones, sousaphone and drums. Its style belongs to the brass band tradition from New Orleans and well beyond. Eastern European, Caribbean and African influences are just as prevalent as the second-line funk and traditional New Orleans jazz sounds we might expect to dominate. There are also covers of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” and Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place,” and an original tango tribute to the late Alex Chilton. The result of such a cross-cultural array is a wholly fresh and unique take on the dance-party brass sound that maintains a distinctly New Orleanian character.
The album’s groove is inevitably designed for the New Orleans dance floor, but this is no free-for-all jam session caught on tape. Aliens of Extraordinary Ability is an album for listeners. Its chief strength is its tightly arranged compositions, whose complex harmonies and rhythmic figures bring out the individual performers’ talents. The CD takes its name from a designation that allows people to cross borders; with this effort, Magnetic Ear shows how much the license to travel through styles can bring back to brass band music.