Friday, December 06, 2013

Brass Mask review in Downbeat - Davis Inman

Brass Mask, Spy Boy (Babel)
The debut album from this London-based octet takes New Orleans parade music and mixes it with original jazz compositions. Bandleader Tom Challenger has brought together a talented front line and an airtight rhythm section. Opener “Onnellinen” (Finnish for “happy”) has an earworm melody—a downtempo groove that would work well in a Bonobo or Four Tet song. Challenger supplements 10 of his own compositions here with three traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian tunes. “Indian Red”—which has been recorded by Dr. John, the Wild Tchoupitoulas and Donald Harrison—is given a dutifully celebratory reading. Another traditional tune, “I Thank You Jesus,” is more somber—a slow drag that explores freer terrain. The original songs have a complex relationship with the parade music that inspired the project. On “Don’t Stand Up,” horns take free-flying solos over a funky tuba bass line and crackling drums, while “Wizards” has the feel of a Miles Davis–Gil Evans collaboration. Challenger has worked on a range of other projects, including two intriguing duos that paired reeds and organ. With Brass Mask, he’s found the ideal group to explore his ideas.

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