A decade ago, Martin Krusche was using his pocket brass band Magnetic Ear as a small-combo platform for his complex, brass-based jazz compositions and electric tenor sax experiments. In recent years, the ensemble has expanded to a more traditional brass band lineup, a change that’s moved their sound squarely into cerebral dance-floor material.
Recorded in October 2015, Live at Vaughan’s sees the current lineup—which features Krusche’s tenor and soprano saxes alongside Dan Oestreicher on baritone sax, Wes Anderson and Jon Ramm-Gramenz on trombone, Steven Glenn on sousaphone and Paul Thibodeaux on drums—full of fire and playfulness.
And they need those ingredients in large doses to pull off shifts from Cuban motifs (“587 Miles”) to Balkan brass jams (“Zivilkonttrolle”) to Nirvana and Prince covers as seamlessly as they do.
The loose vibe associated with contemporary parading New Orleans brass bands shines through on tracks like “Uncle Roger,” their funk-laced tribute to the Dirty Dozen’s Roger Lewis. But more often than not, it gets juxtaposed against something like the mid-song breakdown on “Virgin Murder” where the saxophones veer off from their original, tight and clean motif to something skittering and woozy that flies around driving sousaphone blasts.
The horns take unexpected routes in and out of the Latin theme on “Samba 7 4 Now,” too; although Thibodeaux’s dynamic soloing on that track makes it tough to focus elsewhere.
There’s a thrill that comes with pushing the envelope as far as possible without compromising the groove. This album nails it.