According to Socrates (the Philosopher, not the former Brazilian midfielder) physical objects and physical events are “shadows” of their ideal or perfect forms. No one has ever seen a perfect circle or a perfectly straight line but we all understand both as concepts. Arthur C. Clarke applies this to music in The Ultimate Melody a short story from his book Tales from the White Hart. In the story a scientist theorises that a great melody “made its impression on the mind because it fitted in with the fundamental electrical rhythms going on in the brain.” The scientist then builds a machine that analyses hit songs in order to find a melody that fits in so well with those electrical rhythms that it dominates them completely. He succeeds and ends up in a coma because his brain is unable to process anything else but that melody.
Hot 8 Brass Band have perhaps achieved something close with their cover version of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. I’ve witness first hand the hypnotic siren-like effect it has on those that sail close to a dancefloor when it’s played; the pounding bass drum, the wild flailing snare and the repetitive bounce of band leader Bennie Pete’s Tuba willing on arm and limb to jerk and flex in response. The tempo is ramped up from Gaye’s end of the night smoocher and the lyrics pared back. The song isn’t so much sung as delivered as a football terrace chant from the entire band sans-Tuba which continues to pump out the driving bass line beneath it all. This somewhat changes the meaning of the song from Gaye’s slightly pathetic plea for sex into an almost life affirming demand for some good hot lovin’.
The album opens with another cover, this time What’s My Name? by Snoop Dogg with the Tuba turning the song’s main chorus into a bass line, blasting the hell out of it until the rest of the band join in. As with the rest of the album the production values are something to behold. There are inherent difficulties in recording a “live” performance by a band, especially brass, making it almost impossible to separate the sound of individual instruments from one another. Often, what you’re left with is something close to a Mono recording, the sound of the band an indistinguishable block of noise, the individual contribution of each instrument lost to the whole. On Rock With… it’s different. You become immersed in the full stereo sound of the band as though you are in the middle of a Second Line parade; the sound of trombones, tuba, trumpets and saxophones fighting with one another for your attention like excitable children high on blue Smarties.
This is most noticeable at the tail end of E Flat Blues a Cab Calloway-esque call and response number that begins with the line “a big fat woman loved me all night long” eliciting the response “don’t tell nobody” from the rest of the band. The song then ascends into another beast entirely with every instrument playing its own melody, one on top of the other with no one, not even the drums seemingly keeping the beat. It’s a mess. It shouldn’t work. Yet it does and it’s beautiful. Elsewhere, Rastafunk, We Are One and I Got You sound, in places, like theme music from an unmade US cop drama composed by Quincy Jones, all syncopated horns, wild snare and driving bass and yet throughout the whole album the instruments sound more like they are singing rather than being played. The lyrical content never strays for from a theme of the band as underdogs, being ripped off by clubs, agents and bootleggers but now and again there are more lighthearted moments such as Street Skeet where an unnamed woman is urged to “wobble that big ol’ butt”.
I could expend many more lines on this band and this album and even more time extolling the technical abilities of these great brass players (double tonguing anyone?) but such cold analysis would perhaps detract from such a soulful joyous record. Which brings me neatly on to Fly Away. This is the song I want to be played at my Funeral. Along with E Flat Blues it’s a more straight New Orleans jazz number but none the worse for it. It opens with the line “one sweet morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away” then builds into a round with band member singing on top of band member and Bennie Pete’s omnipresent Tuba bouncing underneath before everyone comes back together on the lines “when I die, hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away.” It fits the electric rhythms of my brain; it almost brings me to tears of happiness; it is my “Teenage Kicks”.
Cameron R. Black