Medicated Magic – Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Ropeadope Records 93120-2
The first time folks see the Dirty Dozen Brass Band do their thing, they
often fail to notice that there are only nine guys in the band. In
fact, there were only seven members in 1977 when the house band from the
Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club adopted that club's moniker and
marched into jazz history, but they've always had a huge sound.
Brothers and sisters, I come to preach the truth: Medicated Magic,
Dozen's affectionate tribute to New Orleans, sounds uncommonly huge. If
poverty is a condition of the soul, music this good is an
embarrassment of riches.
The record is ears-deep in guest shots from the jam world and
elsewhere. Widespread Panic's John Bell growls his way through "Walk On
Gilded Splinters," Dr. John's guided tour of the Crescent City's
barnacled underbelly; and Dr. John himself reduces his grand piano to
tinder in the rip-snorting "Big Chief". Robert Randolph, sacred steel
revivalist and adopted son of the jam scene, drives The Meters' classic
"Cissy Strut" to a furious climax, and graces an urgent version of R&B
masterpiece "Tell It Like It Is". Upstart Norah Jones lends her velvet
pipes to the Motown-tinged blues "Ruler of My Heart", and sonic
chameleon DJ Logic makes tasteful use of space in "We Got Robbed" and
the bombastic jungle funk of "Africa", proving once again that
newfangled or old, great music is great music.
You want jazz chops? Dig trombonist Sammie Williams' confident response
to Bell's seductive vox calls in "Gilded Splinters". Dig Roger Lewis'
shot on "Africa"; close your eyes and imagine exotic birds calling from
the trees at sunrise. And dig sousaphone man Julius McKee as he lays
waste to the lower registers on "Cissy". If sousaphone serves as the
bass in a brass band, Julius plays more like Phil Lesh than George
Porter, with dazzling, buoyant comp runs that tie melodic knots around
heads and solo lines. Twenty-five years later, these guys are still
shit-hot to the man.
In the end, though, it's the sound the players make together that makes
the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's music so pumping, so simultaneously
grounded and ecstatic. Medicated Magic is chock full of examples,
one in particular stands out: Allan Toussaint's "Everything I Do Gon' Be
Funky" bubbles up from silence, arriving like a jaunty second-line
marching past the front porch on a humid Sunday afternoon. As Dr. John
sings on the stoop next door, the muted trumpet of founding member
Effram Towns goes slinking by, squalking, crying, and finally fading
again into silence as the parade presses on.