The Wit’s End Brass Band is a large community band in New Orleans “gathered and guided” by Shaye Cohn of Tuba Skinny. Founded in 2012, up to 25 musicians explore the brass music of the world, particularly of Latin America, with a special appreciation of the Cumbia music of Columbia. Because of the musicians involved, their typical appearances at street protests or parades, and this album itself being recorded in a backyard in the Holy Cross section of New Orleans the diverse sound always retains a New Orleans flair.
I loved, truly loved, their 2016 release and was very excited to see this follow-up drop in June. For a band this large it is amazing how many of the same names are involved. The main difference seems to be a more professional recording process, more strategic arrangements, and maybe some polish among the members. I recognize over a dozen names, but will include them all as you may spot people I am unfamiliar with.
The band as recorded is: Trumpets: Shaye Cohn, Misha Hell, Paxton Marler, Jenavieve Cooke, Lou Carrig, Camille Lenain. Midhorns: John Gerken, Corina Hernandez, K Laspruce, Susan Sakash. Reeds: Craig Flory, Byron Asher, Noe Cugny, Cory Diane, Coyote Anderson. Tubas: Todd Burdick, Bruno Soria. Percussion: Nathan Bergmann-Dean, Howe Pearson, Simon Moush, Carl Patrick, Elyse Manning, Magda Boreysza, Phoebe Vlassis, Caitlin Cowlen, Nicola Krebill. Wow, that is a lot of percussion!
Community spirit prevails, and I’m sure does so even more in street settings but this a professional album by any measure. The title track, written and arranged by Shaye Cohn is marvelous. There are two other originals, one by Byron Asher, and another by Ratty Scurvics, a musician and puppet artist from New Orleans not heard on the album.
Other tracks include folk and popular brass band selections, with each being worth a google to uncover the back story. For example, “Sri Nerodi,” whatever its ultimate origin, they likely heard from the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble out of NYC, the name truly describes how good that group is, it was hard to break away. Another, “Aquel Molalecito,” is a Huayno song from Peru, and you can find versions dating back decades released by Arhoolie Records among others. Just tracing the origin of these titles will fill an afternoon with delight.
While this is not a jazz album there are many truly excellent jazz solos (I wish I had a way of identifying who was taking them), and extensive jazz interplay in the mix, some of it, over that rhythm, even feeling modern, though all will appeal to our readers. Those with an interest in how New Orleans jazz has interacted with other brass music and the “Spanish tinge” will find particular joy in this album. No need to overthink it though, it is also excellent music for driving, dancing at home, or any occasion.