Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Year of the Snake (2003)
Two things matter most when it comes to funk: the music has to be fun, and it can't be boring. Apply this filter and a whole lot of mass market dreck drops right out the bottom. But plenty of records pass the testfor example, Garage a Trois and Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septetand they deserve frequent, loud play. Such is the way of the Snake.
Ten years after the Revolution, this Boston group has finally found its way onto aluminumand frankly, it's been too long. Under the ostensible leadership of sax man Ken Field, the fourteen players in the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble get busy on a funk route that's serpentine indeed. Imagine a New Orleans brass band coupled to JB horns and firing off just enough improvisation to keep things unpredictable. Most of these tracks involve at least two drummers and at least three horns, with a bass anchor (acoustic or electric) keeping things tight underneath. Using that recipe, this shifting cast sinks deep into the groove and goes every which direction with harmonized horns, short refrains, and tight improvisation. Half the tunes are originals and half are covers.
The first two tracks are nice enough, but they're just an appetizer for the real meat on the grill: Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" introduces electric bassist Aaron Bellamy, front center and punching hard into the groove. Maybe it's his forward position in the mix, or maybe it's because this guy has a real talent for working a lot of notes into a compact package and pushing the groove hard. Or maybe it's because a dedicated snare drummer (Mickey Bones) has stepped into the situation. Whatever the reason, the tune cascades and tumbles through five-plus minutes of unbridled horny celebration. Pure man power here, make no mistake (percussionist Karen Aqua has stepped out). Sure enough, James Brown's "Soul Power" follows, true to the original but twisted up in New Orleans style.
Just to be eclectic, the group includes a Sun Ra's "A Call For All Demons" and John Scofield's "Some Nerve," with the idea of formally recognizing the forces at play in the Snake's twists and turns; the influences speak for themselves, more or less. Things loosen up on the Scofield tune, pure marching band (3x brass plus snare) fun. There's also a Latin-influenced dirge (think funeral march) and some post-modern jamming (think Art Ensemble of Chicago). All wrapped up in a goofy package, snake-on-snakeskin on the front and campy Mardi Gras pose inside.
So in the end, the point of this record is obvious: have a good time and mix it up. Things have certainly heated up in Boston.
Track Listing: 1. Parade (Field) (5:29) 2. Year of the Snake (Peterson/Field/Herschman/Paull/Pilkington/VanBeever) (2:22) 3. Soul Makossa (Dibango) (5:37) 4. Soul Power (Brown) (5:04) 5. A Call For All Demons (Sun Ra) (6:56) 6. Central Square (Field) (5:51) 7. Some Nerve (Scofield) (4:29) 8. El Choclo (Villoldo) (5:18) 9. Iko Iko/Aicho (Crawford/Field) (5:43) 10. I Got It (Field) (4:25)
Personnel: Ken Field: alto saxophone, percussion; Jon Fraser: trumpet; Scott Getchell: trumpet, flugelhorn; Bob Pilkington, Lennie Peterson, Brian Thomas: trombone; Mark Caughill: tenor saxophone; Derek VanBeever: acoustic bass; Aaron Bellamy: electric bass; Eric Paull, Ethan Meyer: drums; Mickey Bones: snare drum, percussion; Larry Dersch: snare drum, percussion; Karen Aqua: percussion.