Live From New York – Bonerama
The brass-fueled blast that opens Bonerama’s Live from New York is a testament to the power of a horn section, the four trombones and a sousaphone laying down a juicy Cajun theme that is fat enough to keep the interwoven soloists glued tight in the pocket. And it is immediately clear that, as the sextet claims in its press bio, ‘Subtlety was not the foundation upon which Bonerama was to be built. Instead, the band’s sound was to deliver pure horn muscle.’ But on that same opening track, entitled ‘Baronne,’ I quickly found myself wishing that that muscle was backed up by girth; the fighting power fueled by a keen game plan; the intrinsic shock value infused with instinctive complexity.
Bonerama is, of course, a band of veteran players from the sweltering musical hub called New Orleans. Trombonists Mark Mullins and Craig Klein, veterans of Crescent City crooner Harry Connick Jr.‘s big band, invited the Big Easy roster into the fold – including trombone-blowing brethren Steve Suter, Brian O’Neil and Rick Trolsen, sousaphone player Matt Perrine, guitarist Bert Cotton, and drummer Chad Gilmore – and essentially revealed a royal flush in both skill and risk. Their first album, Live at the Old Point, offered a bottled-up burst of the group’s live set, garnering regional acclaim, and with Live from New York, recorded over two nights at the Tribeca Rock Club in the Big Apple, another dose of funk has been dished to the masses.
Without a doubt, their brassy assault is impressive, with simmering song structures anchoring rollercoaster horn runs that, while often intertwined and dizzying, manage to maintain a crisp, greased separation. Whether authoritatively bounding through original numbers like the burley, thumping
"The Wizard," or through choice covers like the Allman Brothers Band’s "Whipping Post" (where a sliding trombone takes on the blues slide of the original) and Black Sabbath’s "War Pigs," there is ferocity in the delivery, yet in the interim, and during those themes make these selections songs rather than fleet-fingered horn duels, there is too much space, and the songs often seem to ramble, or more appropriately, strut just a little to long.
Bonerama is a fitting tribute to the band’s homeland, offering homage to the risk that helped New Orleans change trombone playing in the early 1920s, taking it from a more classical context into funky dance music played in the streets, into parades and funerals, and onto the back of trucks so the player had enough room to fully utilize the spectrum of sound pulled with the glide of the slide. The band does the instrument and New Orleans justice. However, despite a mixed bag of covers and originals, as well as a little help from guests Fred Wesley of the JB horns and Galactic’s Stanton Moore, the force of five blaring horns is often uneven without the support of more intriguing core song structures. Ultimately, Live from New York is a little short, like a homemade dish of ettoufe, full of flavor but short on sauce.