Lowdown Brass Band to headline TACAW
An eclectic Chicago band aims to make their mark on brass music
Who: Lowdown Brass Band
Where: The Arts Campus at Willits
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
How much: $25
More info: tacaw.org
Brass bands are steeped in tradition as old as the second line, but the bands that always stand out are those that break rules and make new ones. That was true generations ago as New Orleans outfits like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band embraced the fresh sounds of funk, and as Rebirth Brass Band did with hip-hop.
And it’s true of the Chicago-based Lowdown Brass Band, which brings its genre-bending brass sound to the Arts Campus at Willits on Saturday night for a Mardi Gras weekend show.
“We want to give our version of what the next step of brass band music could be,” Lowdown’s MC Billa Camp said in a recent phone interview from home in Chicago.
Coming from Chicago, the seven-piece band — including two trumpets, two trombones, sousaphone, drummer and MC — approaches brass music from a different angle than the standard-setting New Orleans bands. But, like the many New Orleans brass bands, Lowdown gathers its influences in the streets and with an omnivorous eye on hip-hop, jazz, reggae and soul.
“There’s a ton of people that do it that are from New Orleans — Dirty Dozen, the Soul Rebels, Rebirth — and they are the best at it,” MC Billa said. “But we’ve been like, ‘How can we make our own footprint? How can we make a contribution to the genre in our own way?’ That’s been the direction from day one.”
The band is in a creatively fertile period as the coronavirus pandemic wanes and live music moves back toward fill strength in the U.S.
Through the first 18 months or so of the pandemic, they posted a series of new music videos online that they dubbed “Mini Reels,” which ended up being a creative boon and a much-needed bond for the band in what could have been a fallow period.
“We were keeping ourselves busy with the ‘Mini Reels,’” MC Billa said. “We created a new song and music video every two weeks for 20 weeks. That was us trying to keep the band alive through those hard times and propel ourselves forward for when it did open up again.”
It seems to have worked. Lowdown returned to live shows last June and this winter toured Texas and the Mountain West. Last summer, a tour brought them across the Pacific Northwest and up to Alaska.
The “Mini Reel” project kept them sharp. The band was road-ready when the live music industry reopened.
“We saved ourselves by doing that,” MC Billa said.
It also loaded them up with new music.
Along with the “Mini Reels” project, the band worked on new recordings that led to the album “Lowdown Nights,” released in early February. They finished it early in the 2020 lockdown period, but sat on the album until they could support it with a full live tour.
So as they’re hitting the road, Lowdown has a ton of new music — the “Lowdown Nights” tracks, which include “Ranura de la Noche” — a Spanish language Latin pop and EDM number — and the 20 “Mini Reels” songs.
Several “Lowdown Nights” songs were informed by the national protests and the uprising for racial equity in 2020. They added their voices to the chorus with the tracks “Wake Up” and “16 Shots,” and hope that they can be a force for good in this bitterly divided time in the U.S.
“We have white people, we have Black people, we have mixed people,” MC Billa said, “and I feel that just us being friends and pushing forward is an example of what can be possible in society. We try to live as an example and it’s icing on the cake if our records can reflect that.”
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The Aspen-based nonprofit Music Therapy of the Rockies has released a compilation of new veteran-written songs and will host a songwriting retreat for veterans in May.