Underground Horns

Big Beat
No label No #

By Ken Waxman

An unapologetic party band with brains, the Underground Horns is a melting-pot aggregation only possible in a big city. With its chief composer, reedist Welf Dorr, a Munich transplant who often participants in Butch Morris conductions; one of its trumpeters Japanese-born Satoru Ohashi, who moved to New York from New Orleans; and the other players veterans of jazz, Latin and reggae bands; this CD’s 10 selections pop with relentless rhythms. Plus with four brass players, a saxophonist/clarinetist and three percussionists, tonal inflections from the Big Easy, central Africa, the Maghreb and the Baltic states make their way into the mix.

Tubaist Nate Rawls multi-rhythmically pumps out an ostinato underneath nearly every track, although any similarity to marching bands is scotched when the soloists appear. Dorr’s obviously titled “Arabian Flavor”, for instance features snake-charmer-like alto saxophone trills mixed with a stentorian brass crescendo, plus interjections from a disco whistle and resonating Berimbau-styled scratches. . In contrast, trombonist Kevin Moehringer’s usual tailgate slurs are put aside on a tune like Dorr’s “La Luciernaga”, for a solo that’s half-Willie Colón salsa and half- Rico Rodriquez ska. Eventually the vamping theme gives way to stop-time breaks involving the drummers.

If there are drawbacks to this game plan, it’s that the constant beat is omnipresent during every tune’s exposition, turn around and finale, no matter how many half-valve trumpet solos or altissimo reed trills break it up. Perhaps the band realizes this. Although brassier and more percussive than usually played, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and Dorr’s “Tranquility” are taken mid-tempo and moderato. The latter is defined by bass clarinet growls, smears and reed bites; while the former melds tuba burbles, hand-slapped drumming and one trumpeter’s descriptive grace notes.

Big Beat isn’t the sort of CD to be intently listened to in one sitting. But heard a few tracks at a time, or used as a festive soundtrack, it’s sure to impress.

Tracks: Big Beat; Arabian Flavor; Omelette Town; Shumba; When Will We Come Together; Let’s Go; La Luciernaga*; Lift Every Voice and Sing; Big Beat (diff. groove); Tranquility

Personnel: Mike Irwin and Satoru Ohashi: trumpets; Kevin Moehringer: trombone; Nate Rawls: tuba; Welf Dorr: alto saxophone and bass clarinet; Kevin Raczka: drums and percussion; Andreas Brade: percussion and drums*; Okai djembe and vocals

—For New York City Jazz Record May 2011