Concert Review: Trojan Horns @ Jazz on Jay, 06/08/2023
Of course, the Trojan Horns played “When the Saints Go Marching In” Thursday at Jazz on Jay, the almost inevitable anthem of a million brass bands – but only as an unplanned ad-lib. And Jazz on Jay fans went marching – well, strolling – into Proctors Robb Alley, many taking off the masks they’d worn outside in the smoke-hazed air.
Inside, the air soon filled with notes in the glorious happy fun of New Orleans parade chants, including “Saints,” but also surprising New Orleans-ized reinventions of pop tunes. The five players showed off crisp beats, not always on four, but always unanimous and accurate intonation. They also knew how to get loose but sound tight.
Technically, things were a bit unusual onstage: only Nicholas Dwarika’s Sousaphone was mic’d (the microphone duct-taped inside the glistening bell of his walking-tuba. And trombonist Thomas Eaton made his announcements through a bull-horn, which also carried vocals on those few songs using voices. But, somehow, the balance seemed perfect, punchy and authoritative. Proctors Stewardship and Planned Giving Director Barbara Bishop Ward heard the band so clearly from her second-floor office upstairs that she came down to check them out.
The Trojan Horns play in that upbeat portion of the New Orleans street parade tradition called “Second Line,” heading back from the cemetery to party. En route to the burial, the music is dignified, dour and downbeat. The Trojan Horns didn’t do that Thursday, except for brief tastes.
Their original “Brooklyn” opened, right at noon; a beefy blast of unified bold brass on aggressive, thumping beats. A fresh mid-tempo funk number, it burst with the ping-pong-the-lead energy of Bourbon Street. Everything fit nicely; visually reed-man Oz McClamrock dominated, playing tenor sax from his toes and dancing non-stop. He switched to clarinet in “Bourbon Street Parade” and every other tune taken from tradition. He flew fast and far over a linked riff, and earned applause for his break here, swapping riffs with Eaton’s trombone at the end.
Next, they debut’d his “Beans,” which sounded a bit familiar in a Bossa-like beat. Dwarika and Eaton took the riff for a ride before McClamrock reclaimed it at his most kinetic/aerobic. He and Eaton riffed bell to bell before a gentler bridge and all-in recap.
A curve-ball arrived via Derek Wolfe’s trumpet, intoning a stately melody alone before everybody climbed onboard. Then – could it be?! – yeah: the disco-era smash and gay-pride month-appropriate “I Will Survive.” As the first familiar pop tune to leap into brass heaven, this showed the band’s ability to find new things to say about well-known songs, speaking in the muscular, honking vocabulary of horn riffing.
Then came the Caribbean surprise of “Rasta Funk,” as reggae-beat-powered as the title suggests. This tropical tune featured soaring solo spots not only for trombone but also a gleeful clatter of Liam Fitzgerald’s drums and seismic Sousaphone as a repeating ostinato mutated into “Crazy” with McClamrock levitating off the floor in his tenor solo.
Eaton’s original “Friends We’ve Left Behind” could have come from the streets of long ago, so authentically did it riff, reverse and rocket around. McClamrock knelt to underline its elegiac message and Eaton played to both ends of his trombone’s range over a simmering riff on Sousaphone and drums.
Then it was back in history once again with “Joe Avery’s Blues,” Wolfe’s trumpet introducing this vintage number as McClamrock again switched to clarinet for a solo that alternated repetition and variation.
Eaton introduced “Crazy in Love” as a “market favorite,” referring to the band’s frequent Troy Waterfront Farmer’s Market gigs. This fanfare-then-funk tune hit hard with sky-high tenor sax before McClamrock and Eaton faced off in riff echoes.
The original “NP” offered one of few changes of pace from full-blast and flat out, with both Eaton and McClamrock soloing in the graceful way of a soul ballad.
The show’s late stretch was all re-imagined cover songs, paced well to build. They rolled in an easy flow from Maroon Five’s (!) “This Love” with its cozy stop-and-go riff. Abba’s (!!) “Dancing Queen” as a subdued waltz grew from a snappy Fitzgerald intro and solos by Eaton and McClamrock – but Wolfe was especially strong in support. “I’ll Fly Away” launched from a tight drums-and-trombone pattern and Fitzgerald got good applause for his solo here. Actually, so did McClamrock’s clarinet break and Dwarika’s Sousaphone, going all thunderstorm-dance.
After that high peak came another: the late Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” its familiar pop melody exploding in firework riffs all over the place; fresh ingredients for a well-known recipe. This was lively, lush and complex.
Warning everybody should get their voices ready for a singalong, they jumped into “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The singalong didn’t really take off, or maybe I couldn’t hear it over the proud-loud band. So over-played that New Orleans buskers charge extra to play it, this got a familiar set of variations behind the can’t miss melody that McClamrock etched in hearty clarinet clarity.
“Ode to Troy” started with the musical joke of echoing “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; Ludwig von would have laughed or plotzed at this appropriation, though it soon went other places, including a polka-like break and insistent, rocking repeats.
Recognizing they’d finished a bit early – just as they’d added “Joe Avery’s Blues” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” mid-set after looking at their watches – they didn’t have to pump the audience much for an encore.
Then they pitched another curve-ball: “Killing Me Softly” with McClamrock spicing a serious solo while bouncing in playful scissor-step jumps and everybody free-lancing around until they came together.
As the only player onstage sitting down and not armed with a horn, Fitzgerald played with secret-weapon assurance on a small kit whose snare got the most work, as in a marching band; his kick was busy, too. Dwarika dropped enough bass for several bands, including bottomless thumps a few times to cue turn-arounds. Everybody got around their horns skillfully, individually; but the Trojan Horns are all about that soaring feel when everybody gets to the same place, even without much planning. At times, they locked and linked in impromptu patterns nobody had heard before but which also didn’t need explaining; just a nod or raised eyebrow.
Jazz on Jay continues Thursday, June 15, with the Musicats.
- Bourbon Street Parade
- I Will Survive
- Rasta Funk (segue into) Crazy
- Friends We’ve Left Behind
- Joe Avery’s Blues (also called “Second Line”)
- Crazy in Love
- This Love
- Dancing Queen
- I’ll Fly Away
- When the Saints Go Marching In
- Ode to Troy
- Killing Me Softly