Opportunities to witness a large crowd dancing to a jazz band have become distressingly rare in Kansas City. The exceptional sight was on display Thursday at Crossroads KC as more than 200 people — most in their twenties and thirties — cavorted to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
By BILL BROWNLEE
Special to The Star
Founded in New Orleans 35 years ago, the ensemble has played a significant role in revitalizing the city’s brass band tradition. Upstart acts inspired by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band have since surpassed its status as the most progressive act of its type, but it demonstrated Thursday that it remains one of the world’s most resonant party bands. Operating as a sextet, the band’s inclusive sensibility contained elements of calypso, funk and hip-hop. With echoes of New Orleans greats ranging from Louis Armstrong to Lil Wayne in every song, the band’s 85-minute set offered an encyclopedic musical survey of the Crescent City.
Several selections evoked the zest of Dixieland without any of the mustiness associated with the genre. Trumpeter and vocalist Efrem Towns, clad in a Drew Brees football jersey, took a detour during an exuberant take on “When the Saints Go Marching In” to lead the audience in a “Who Dat?” chant in support of his city’s NFL team. A raw take on “My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now” was dedicated to Kansas City, Kan., native Charlie Parker.
Even as the band took complex solos, unbridled dancing and the delirious waving of white handkerchiefs never waned. Kirk Joseph’s sousaphone mandates motion. Combining the elasticity of an electric bass guitar with the resonance of a human voice, Joseph’s work allows his band to ceaselessly swing with a confident swagger.
A similar type of well-deserved confidence accompanied the opening set by Orgone. After rain pushed the start of the show back an hour, the Los Angeles-based band breathed new life into vintage funk. An appearance by Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars contained even more unadulterated joy. Victims of a civil war in Sierra Leone and given international attention in a documentary about its struggles, the band’s music is almost as remarkable as its compelling back story. The band’s approach alternated between credible reggae and intoxicatingly hypnotic soukous.
Shortly after band co-founder Ruben Koroma noted that Sporting KC player Kei Kamara, a native of Sierra Leone, was among the people dancing near the stage, he spoke of the universality of his band’s sound.
“African music is a therapy,” Koroma said. “If you dance to our music you will be well.”
Few in attendance Thursday would disagree. The uplifting performances of all three of the evening’s acts served as potent medicine.