Various Artists, Through the Streets of the City: New Orleans Brass Bands (Smithsonian Folkways)

The Liberty Brass Band, Treme Brass Band and Hot 8 Brass Band are the three New Orleans brass bands featured here. They are meant to represent three generations of New Orleans revival brass bands. The original idea was a good one: assume a post-Katrina resurgence and show its multiple sides, using the music of three bands to range along a spectrum from starched-and-traditional to sweat-drenched-funky-T-shirt funky.

The packaging is spectacular, including a fat booklet with Eric Waters’ brilliant color photographs and dynamite design illustrating a long essay and track annotations by Dr. Michael White, leader of the Liberty Brass Band as well as the producer of the enclosed disk. A chaired professor at Xavier University, Dr. White is also an innovative revival-jazz composer and masterful clarinetist whose range of tone and timbre seems to grow richer with every craftsman-like solo he artfully weaves. Assisting Dr. White was Mark Bingham, ace producer/engineer and proprietor until summer 2013 of Piety Street Studio, where all the tracks included here were recorded.

A good idea, willing participants, more-than-sufficient resources.

So what went wrong? In a word, academia. If you want a CD for your next cocktail party, with loosely integrated chamber-music interpretations of wild-and-woolly New Orleans brass band music flawlessly and solemnly illustrating a carefully laid-out thesis, then this CD if for you. Honestly, it’s beautifully recorded, cleverly arranged, gorgeously sequenced. Lovely.

But that’s that not what stops me in my tracks whenever I hear a brass band playing on the street corner. I want big, loud, spontaneous, messy, passionate—hypnotic beats and hip-shaking riffs. Include another CD with an equal number of field recordings, and then you might have something.

Click to buy at the special sales price