They’ve become an appealing metaphor for their home city’s hope and vitality.
Lloyd Bradley 2012
The Life & Times Of… is the second album from this New Orleans group. Since breaking through via exposure in Spike Lee’s post-Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke, Hot 8 have become an appealing metaphor for their home city’s hope and vitality.
Hot 8 Brass Band have shifted their chosen style forward almost 100 years, from jazz to funk, at once preserving the city’s traditions and claiming them for a new generation. And what they’re doing makes perfect sense, too.
Since James Brown used his brass section as a rhythmic device, horns have been one of funk’s building blocks. Between the tuba and the cornet there’s sufficient range to carry any tune, and as a marching band, Hot 8’s approach to rhythm is relentless enough to give George Clinton pause for thought.
This beat is where everything begins, with an essential simplicity that puts you in mind of Washington go-go, leaving enough space for delicate fill-ins and strong enough to support intricate arrangements. Fine Tuner shows this off perfectly, setting up a groove with not much more than snare, bass drum and call-and-response vocals. It builds to a joyous, infectious jazz/funk master class, in which even an electric guitar isn’t at all intrusive.
It’s ingenious, almost logic-defying arrangements like this that make the Hot 8 band so special, involving the full spectrum of instruments then making sure they perform to their fullest. The brass doesn’t imitate standard funk components; instead it fully assumes other instruments’ roles, meaning you hear all the parts but not quite as they "should" be.
Of course, it helps that the group’s musicianship is such they can stir in several flavours – War Time and Let Me Do My Thing are straight up old-school funk, but Bingo Bango provides a Latin twist. New Orleans has shades of gospel, and Steamin’ Blues is (almost) straight-ahead New Orleans jazz. All are delivered with a seductive depth.
The most alluring track, though, is Hot 8’s unique take on The Specials’ Ghost Town. They move it up-tempo then supplement a plaintive wailing with a growling lower-register riff and persistently pounding drums. It’s exuberant, but never lets you forget there are two sides to the story. It’s a perfect New Orleans interpretation.