MarchFourth Marching Band - Magnificent Beast - out now on March Fourth Music
MarchFourth Marching Band - Magnificent Beast
(CD/Digital) March Fourth Music, 2011-10-25
This mind-blowing new release confirms the MarchFourth Marching Band as one of the most original and powerful ensembles on Planet Brass. With heavy guitars and extra vocals, the Portland 14-piece act adds some new and powerful spices to their "Fela-meets-The Rebirth Brass Band-and-the-Shim-Shamettes-in-a-circus" sound and show: garage, ska, afro-latin, blues, jazz and everything in between. Produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Magnificent Beast is a wild and beautiful animal (but a dancing species) that can only be compared to Galactic's recent Ya-Ka-May.
MarchFourth Marching Band - Magnificent Beast
(CD/Digital) March Fourth Music, 2011-10-25
01. Lesley Metal 3:09
02. Soldiers Of The Mind 3:33
03. Dehli Belly 5:52
04. Fat Alberta 4:14
05. Sin Camiseta 4:07
06. Cowbell 4:54
07. Rose city Strut 3:41
08. A Luta Continua! 3:14
09. The Finger 6:12
10. Git It All 4:50
11. Fuzzy Lentil 4:49
12. Skin Is Thin 6:14
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Here they come! MarchFourth!
There they go, roaring through upscale plazas or past small-town gas stations, purring on stages from Denver to Philly, from Miami to DC.
Yes, that is a four-foot-tall cowbell and a bass amp on wheels. And yes, the stilt walker is crowd surfing. Dancers swing, the horns rip through punchy lines, the drums rattle out beats, and someone croons through a bullhorn. The feel mixes Sousa and Sgt. Pepper, a cheerier Clockwork Orange and Mardi Gras mash up.
The MarchFourth Marching Band (M4) wraps the pleasures of a booming brass parade in a hand-stitched Technicolor circus tent. Living and breathing DIY, they'll make up new routines on their tricked tour bus en route to their next show, or craft quirky clothes to sell at their next gig.
But their latest studio album, Magnificent Beast (release: October 25, 2011), produced by Los Lobos' Steve Berlin, hums with taught grooves that tighten the sound while defying genre: Burlesque goes to Bollywood ("Delhi Belly"), and Latin percussion and horns hit Tokyo pop ("Sin Camiseta"). The big band has grown up by slimming down, taking a relatively leaner approach - only 14 musicians! - while keeping the impromptu vibe alive, thanks in part to Berlin's creative, on-the-fly influence.
"We started off as an alt marching band. But then we took it to another level," reflects M4 co-founder, bassist, and bandleader John Averill. "We've turned into a dynamic dance band. We get the whole audience" - who sometimes arrive decked out in tutus or walking on stilts themselves - "dancing and moving like a good funk band or an energetic DJ would."
"Except we're way more mobile," adds dancer Faith Jennings. "We can get right in the middle of the crowd and really bring the music to the people."
The cowbell is no more: The albatross of a set piece was auctioned off to fund a tour in Europe. But its glory lives on (the party-hardy shout-out to Christopher Walken's Saturday Night Live skit, "More Cowbell").
And gone are three-mile parades under the blazing sun and the elaborate, venue-scaring fire shows (though M4 still features some good old fire eating).
Yet MarchFourth's original spirit, born on Portland, Oregon's bohemian streets (the artsy 'hood honored by "Fat Alberta"), remains. Improvisation is central. Boundaries and genres are irrelevant, if something works. Irreverence is encouraged.
"We used to use our middle finger to signal the ending of a song," explains trumpeter Jason Wells, recounting the tale behind the mysteriously named "The Finger." "With this one in particular, it would get faster and faster until, finally, I would stick up my finger and BAM! It would all end with a simple little bell ding."
Ambitious plans, from dance numbers to unexpected handmade merchandise and over-the-top props, get executed by band members - and lead to bold and unpredictably catchy leaps. Some of these leaps are literal. "Lots of people can walk on stilts, but not many can do splits while someone else lifts them up," explains Jennings. "That particular skill with stilts not something you see often, and it's dazzling to watch."
Magnificent Beast producer Steve Berlin performed his own feats of daring-do, using all the nooks and crannies at the roomy studio where the band recorded. "We ended up using every space in the building for something," recalls Berlin, "like a hallway for the sirens on 'Fat Alberta' or the lounge for the trombone solo on 'Rose City Strut.' It's hard to fathom how we could have done it otherwise."
When the band told him that their old friends and collaborators from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band were in town, Berlin grabbed his mobile rig. Between sound check and stage call, the No'leans elders laid down horn parts on the noir-toned "Rose City Strut."
"It blew me away," Averill recalls. "They killed it, though they had never heard the tune before. One player didn't' even get to finish his take because stage manager ran down and yanked him before the last twelve bars. We would never have gotten that, if we'd had to do it in the studio."
What the band did gain in the studio was a less-is-more power that lets the songs groove harder, often building from spare interlocking parts into full-on metal ("Lesley Metal") or funk ("Git It All," a cover of one of the overlooked 70s funk band Mandrill's feel-good songs).
"We have all the elements in place for complete chaos," Averill notes with a smile. "We're like a mini-orchestra, and we become more effective by simplifying what we're doing. So we've streamlined our sound."
"We have this energy and enthusiasm that people sense instantly," Jennings muses. "They get sucked in. We love each other and what we're doing and that's really obvious to the audience. It's not just about our dancing skills or special arrangements; it's about our very real joy."
With a rallying cry of "JOY NOW!" MarchFourth Marching Band (known as M4 by its growing legion of fans) throws itself and the audience into a swirling volcano of high-energy music and spectacle. What began as a Fat Tuesday party on March 4, 2003 in Portland, Oregon has over the last 8 years become one of the nation's best live touring acts. The band will have spent over 180 days and 50,000 miles on the road by the end of 2011 alone, and thanks to word-of-mouth will soon be graduating from "best kept secret" to a band on the brink of exploding in popularity. Whether at a family matinee in a small town in Colorado or a sweaty nightclub in New York City or a festival mainstage in Louisiana, MarchFourth wins over audiences of all ages at every occasion, and has consistently been named a "festival favorite."
Aside from the band's marching band themed costumes, percussion corps and brass, M4 is far from a "marching band" in any traditional sense (though the band has been known to parade down Main Street before taking the stage). M4 is anchored by funky electric bass, and has been evolving into a more guitar- and vocal-driven musical experience. In one 90-minute set the band will take you on a journey from the swamps of Louisiana to the gypsy camps of eastern Europe to the African jungle by way of Brazil, along the way stopping to sample the deepest grooves of the best of American funk, rock, jazz and boiling it all together in cinematic fashion with high-stepping stilt-acrobatics and sexy dancers. This genre-busting approach is usually the territory of DJs, but this band is real people making music and art in real time - and every show is different.
At the core of the band is its DIY ethic. The band has been writing and arranging all of its own material, designing and fabricating its own costumes and merchandise, developing its own choreography and managing itself from Day One. With the addition of their booking agency (Skyline Music) in 2010, M4 has been touring relentlessly. MarchFourth is akin to a team sport with a roster of nearly 30 performers to choose from, though the band tours with approximately 8 horns, 5 drummers, bass, guitar, and 5 dancers/stiltwalkers.
The first two studio albums released by MarchFourth were recorded, produced and mastered entirely "in-house." Their new release, Magnificent Beast (out 10/25/11) was produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) and features a wide array of genre-mashing groove-based material that incorporates more vocals and guitar than previous albums. Following their 2009 release, Rise Up (a tribute to post-Katrina New Orleans), Magnificent Beast has now evolved into a full-blown big-stage brass-rock-funk assault peppered with moments of swing, jazz, bollywood, ska and metal.
With so many members and writers, M4′s influences are all over the map, but fans of Sgt Pepper, Duke Ellington, Gogol Bordello, Ozomatli, and Cirque Du Soleil would likely feel at home in the audience. MarchFourth has shared the stage with a wide variety of acts, including Pink Martini, Budos Band, Balkan Beat Box, Trombone Shorty, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Beats Antique, Bassnectar, Antibalas, Melvin Seals and JGB, The Motet, Hot Buttered Rum, and Yard Dogs Road Show. The band has also been climbing the festival roster, with return appearances at Wakarusa, Bumbershoot, Voodoo Festival, Telluride Jazz Festival, High Sierra, Wanderlust, Lotus World Music Festival, and Strawberry Music Festival, as well as recently appearing on ESPN's Espy Awards (Los Angeles) and WGN-TV (Chicago).
MarchFourth inspires dancing… when the audience can tear its eyes from the kaleidoscope of visual energy (and maybe even a crowd-surfing stilter) pouring from the stage. "Part New Orleans brass ensemble, part groove-heavy rock group, and part vaudevillian circus, this group unleashes such a technicolor experience that using the word 'concert' to describe their performance falls flat" (5820 Magazine). M4 provides the opportunity to come together in joyous union with a band whose mission is to seize the moment, bring communities together, and leave everyone feeling as if the world is a better place.