Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bonerama at the Jazz Kitchen: Carrying forward the New Orleans brass-band tradition with a trombone troika

Bonerama digs into the funky side of the brass-band sound with a three-horn frontline.
Other sparks of jazz genesis have been detected well outside New Orleans, but that fabled, troubled, foundationally multicultural city still has a sturdy claim on being the place where the music burst into flame.

And a group like Bonerama, founded in the Crescent City more than 15 years ago, is a reminder that the essence of jazz in its youth and adolescence was collaborative. The great soloists stem from an N.O. native son, Louis Armstrong, and it's with mixed feelings that jazz fans tend to focus on individual giants rather than ensembles. Shared energy powered outward gave the new vernacular its currency a century ago, and remains crucial to its authentic spirit.

Bonerama, making its Indianapolis debut Saturday night at the Jazz Kitchen, is a sextet that keeps alive the legacy of bands of yore moving through the streets or playing in outdoor pavilions, always emphasizing their internal rapport in order to deliver external pleasures.

Heard in its first set here, the sextet charged through about 10 tunes in mid- to up-tempo arrangements allowing for a heady blend of group improvisation, short solos, and pre-set ensemble passages. An ex-trombonist, I got a kick out of savoring a low-brass emphasis in the brass-band subgenre, with sousaphonist Matt Perrine supplementing the sliphorn front line of Mark Mullins, Craig Klein, and Greg Hicks.  Guitarist Bert Cotton and drummer AJ Hall complete the ensemble.

A piece with a meaty low-register melody line played in unison by the three trombones featured the set's only guitar solo; normally, Cotton contributed a nimble, twangy flavor to the arrangements, with crisp figures enhancing Hall's driving, controlled detonations. 

Perrine picked up the electric bass a couple of times during the set, notably on the easygoing "Let the Four Winds Blow," featuring Klein's singing nicely backed up vocally by the other two trombonists. For the most part, he lent butter-smooth figuration on sousaphone behind the trombones. His solos took happy flight into the wraparound tuba's upper register. quoting "That Old Devil Moon" cheekily during an original, "And I Know."

An elaborate introduction by sousaphone with minimal percussion accompaniment took on a full-ensemble Afro-Cuban vibe that set up a buoyant performance of "What a Wonderful World." That's a sappy song it's easy to grow tired of, but it seemed to find new life for me in this version. A fast-moving original, "Bayou Betty," concluded the rapturously received set.

At the risk of offending players of saxophone and trumpet, I'll confess it was a relief to hear an hour-plus performance by a jazz band without either of those instruments. Trumpeters and saxophonists have a tendency to preen.  Well, Bonerama does a bit of that, too, but it's a welcome novelty to hear this sort of thing from trombonists — particularly three of them so well-schooled and exuberant.