"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls...All the way from the underground from the uptown back of town and downtown they've been called the top brass band of the world the cream of the crop the band that won't stop the undefeated the undisputed 20 years and running the REBIRTH BRASS BAND!"
Cut to a tight hopping tenacious and flexible group horning and singing..."Don't you wish you could be like a rebirth brother?"
Never A Dull Moment: 20 Years of the Rebirth Brass Band directed by Charlie Brown opened at the Gene Siskel Film Centre last night.
We see and hear an Emcee with a warrior style rant and rap of excitement like a boxing match or a street rumble and isn't every anthem and hymn a high fist against death and conflict and struggle? .
Bravado and competition are a mainstay of rap, hip hop and the brass bands of New Orleans. With good reason. The blues and jazz have always transformed suffering into affirmation and brass bands shared that sensibility and merged compassion and community benevolence into a sountrack for the street.
Somebody had to:
A special collaborative relationship developed between brass bands in New Orleans and mutual aid and benevolent societies. Mutual aid and benevolent societies were common among many ethnic groups in urban areas in the 19th century. After the Civil War such organizations took on special meaning for emancipated African-Americans who had limited economic resources. The purposes of such societies were to "help the sick and bury the dead" - important functions because blacks were generally prohibited from getting commercial health and life insurance and other services.
While many organizations in New Orleans used brass bands in parades, concerts, political rallies, and funerals, African-American mutual aid and benevolent societies had their own expressive approach to funeral processions and parades, which continues to the present. At their events, community celebrants would join in the exuberant dancing procession. The phenomena of community participation in parades became known as "the second line," second, that is, to the official society members and their contracted band. National Park Service
Who doesn't know about drugs and crime rate and lack of options for kids in inner cities around America?
The movie Never A Dull Moment about the brass band Rebirth opens assuming you know all too well about crack, kids and death. Oddly this sneaks up on the viewer as we are enchanted first by the early interviews of co-founders Philip and Keith Frazier as they stand outside their high school and in front of their church where the band began. They tell us charming stories of busking on the street and gospel playing in their Christian Mission Baptist Church. As the movie progresses with high school year book photos, montages of local legend Danny Barker, Mama Rebirth (mother of the Frazier brothers) and housing where the boys grew up we start to see that there is another element to this film. One of miracles and overcoming the odds manifested in redemption. Topics so well suited to art, again the themes many of the greatest popular music. Reality really starts to sink in and we realize these boys could have been dead.
One set of interviews masking as home videos again lulling the viewer has the Frazier sisters giggling and laughing at a Christmas party only to smack us that they love how funny it is there are bars and funeral homes on every corner of their hood. It's always been like that. Life is a party and in New Orleans, so is death. With faith and music: rebirth is a real option.
The neighbourhood with bars and funeral homes on every corner, Treme, snugglies and grinds right next tight to the French Quarter. The film helps us see how this proximity created a creole for these kids, a mixture that has saved some of their lives.
They know it, at one point one of the band members says "You could pick up a gun, or you could pick up an instrument."
The murder rate in New Orleans is ten times worse than the U.S. average. Before Katrina slammed the city, there were already 202 murders.
This movie is positive, self-aware and the people are not self-piying. The camerawork is streetwise and dense excellently suited to the music and most of it shot on a Canon XL1. Disc-jockey turned film maker Charlie Brown makes us feel at home while we watch the recollections of key players. These interviews include musician/historians Jerry Brock and Michael White who convey commaraderie and context within Rebirths history. Philip Frazier recalls when he heard a street band performing The Blackberry Special about 1978 and he said to himself, "I gotta do this." Kermit Ruffins adds all kinds of layers and moods to the bands history, including his own falling out with the band. My favourite talking head moment was with Mama Rebirth, Barbara Frazier, who played gospel piano in church, she says" No body plays this song "Just a Closer Walk" I taught them that way and they're playing it like their mother."
Rebirth embraces so many musical traditions and inventions and that may be it's ultimate appeal and strength. We see the Mardi Gras Indian meeting hip hop. There is a killer performance with Cheeky Blakk, and she is nasty and beautiful and her voice is so warm and powerful and plays off the band perfectly and uniquely.
This movie is everything a music freak wants and loves to hear about. Music geeks, freaks and magic and redemption. The movie has a very subtle street format about a street band. Brass bands are ultimately for the people and for the street. Brown captures this spirit even with his film style. We spoke with the director for quite a long time after the movie and I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed some of the strange angles he chose, particularily a successful sequence in the Maple Leaf Bar where the band performs every Tuesday. He also told us he modelled the vibe of this movie after three films he loves, Sonny Rollins Collosus, Gil Scott Heron Black Wax and Sun Ra Joyful Noise all tough acts to follow. Rebirth and Brown have that in common, they know where they come from and they know how to play.
As Jim Morrison said, no one here gets out alive, and sadly, there is a R.I.P. list at the end of this movie.
Without God, music and commited role models the casualties might have been higher.
I told Charlie Brown that this movie reminded me of Rize and Dogtown and Z Boys. Brown discussed the movie and New Orleans since Katrina with the few audience members for last nights screening. At least half a dozen of the audience lived or had lived in New Orleans so this made for an informative and in depth discussion. I've been to tipitina's the bar where Rebirth regularily performed so I felt really curious and really lucky to hear this group of peoples perspective on jazz and urban reconstruction. Brown said at one point, "There are 3 Popeyes left in New Orleans, that should give you an idea of the cultural reconstruction of the city."
Never A Dull Moment is showing Thursday, June 8, 8p.m. at the Gene Siskel Centre in Chicago and the director, Charlie Brown, will be available for questions. If you are in the Chicago area and love New Orleans or music you should not miss this opportunity. I hope this movie gets a good distributor and a major dvd production. I will post updates. I recommend you go out and buy one of Rebirth's recordings and give yourself a lift. Brown had a few copies of the movie for sale and I picked one up to enjoy and write this review along with an earlier project of his called Lousiana Shrimp Platter.