Almost Blue, Underground Horns
Literally NYC’s Underground Horns, these musicians began as subway performers. A potent horn section led by Welf Dorr’s alto saxophone includes Patriq Moody’s cornet, Kevin Moehringer’s trombone and Andrew McGovern’s trumpet. Drummer Kevin Raczka, djembe player Okai and tuba player Chanell Crichlow remind how exciting and integral a live rhythm section can be; they are up in the mix with a crisscross rhythmic sound, which interacts with the frontline, providing all the broad organic support that these horns need.
Almost Blue’s AfroBalkan-Creole musical core also incorporates Latin and funk with a healthy appreciation of Monk, Mingus and Miles. A revved-up “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” leads off over a pulsating African rhythm while the band also injects trumpeter Don Cherry’s “Mopti” with additional exotic cultural influences, serving as an apt closer. In between the band goes on a sonic world tour that begins with “Ethio”, a catchy melody whose hypnotic beat serves as a platform for individual soloing and Moehringer’s funky trombone.
New Orleans is visited during “Mardi Gras” with a superb Second Line soundtrack followed by “Creole”, a trip to Haiti written and sung by Okai in local Haitian patois. AfroLatin jazz is given its due with a sweet ensemble send-up of the great Ethiopian jazz musician Mulatu Astatke’s “Cha Cha”. Four originals from Dorr round out this release and stretch its boundaries: “Full Moon” is an almost breezy piece of funk; “House Song” has the band straying into an organically repetitive take on techno; “Rag A Tone” cleverly works off of a dembow reggaeton beat; and the title cut is a surprisingly elegant statement with Dorr adding bass clarinet to the sonic palate. Almost Blue, while true to the band’s formula of brassy danceable music, stretches out stylistically with excellent results.
Afropop Premiere: “Creole” Underground Horns featuring Okai
Underground Horns is an NYC-based brass band that plays in a range of styles from afrobeat to Ethio-funk to salsa. They can be frequently be seen and heard performing in subway stations as a featured band in the MTA’s MUNY (Music Under New York) program, but they also play regularly at hip NYC venues including Nublu and Drom. They play Nublu on May 2nd at 11:30 pm! Go check ‘em out!
Their new album, Almost Blue, produced by bandleader and alto saxophonist Welf Dorr (outta Germany), is a testament to the mixed-up music culture of New York City: The album opens with Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” and includes covers of Mulatu Astatke’s “Cha Cha” and Don Cherry’s rolling tribute to the Malian town, “Mopti.” The originals are just as stylistically diverse, from funk banger “Full Moon” to New Orleans-style “Mardi Gras,” to house music-inspired “House Song,” to “Ethio” (not a very imaginative titles, but they communicate the idea).
“Creole” is one of the standout tracks on the album, and Afropop is proud to premiere it! The tune features Underground Horn’s percussionist, Okai, on lead vocals, singing in Haitian Creole. Okai, who is of Haitian descent, was born and raised in Brooklyn, and became involved in music via hip-hop and djembe drumming. He is also a standout MC and percussionist in BK’s own Brown Rice Family. Okai flows over the fast-paced rhythm, bringing the track to life with lively vocals and drumming. Download it for free, limited time only. Enjoy!
From the train station to the stage, grooves keep growing
For millenia, the harrowing descent into the underworld — whether it be Egyptian, Greek or Judeo-Christian — has left mythical travelers with some infinitely valuable knowledge or possession, some new sense of truth. And while I certainly wouldn’t claim that the New York City subway turns all its resident performers into Odyssian heroes, there are those musicians whose sound, like a thick, sweeter smelling steam, rises off the platform and up through the grating in what really could be called a most holy offering to the mortal world of man.
Underground Horns, a multi-ethnic brass band who draw as much from the Afro-Cuban tradition as they do from that of New Orleans, is one of those groups that got their start — and their name — in front of subway foot traffic at Union Square or Grand Central. Now, along with maintaining that subterranean presence (generally on Friday or Saturday evenings), the group is also releasing their third studio album.
When “Almost Blue” comes out on April 4, the band will celebrate with a CD release show at Drom in the East Village — but it was actually recorded in 2012, presenting a seven-piece incarnation of the group that tears through both original material and a couple of perfectly suited covers. The 10-song release is packed with a robustly joyful spirit, which thrives on the typically soulful pairing of a persistent montuno pulse in the rhythm section (tuba, drum kit and djembe) with edgy horns (trumpet, cornet, trombone and sax) that shift between tightly close harmonies and individual flights of improvisation.
Fittingly then, Underground Horns open the album by taking jazz bassist Charles Mingus’ 1959 tune “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” — which was composed as a slow, wailing elegy to tenor saxophonist Lester Young, who’d died that year — and deftly pumping it up into a dance-inducing, second line romp. The upbeat take on that much-revisited classic comes off successfully, rather than awkwardly or insensitively, both because of the band’s respect for Mingus’ powerful melodic theme and because the start-to-finish groove laid by tubist Chanell Crichlow and drummer Kevin Raczka provides such deeply solid support for the horn solos.
Following that are a couple of nods to the group’s musical lineage, marked most directly by “Creole,” an original by djembist Okai Fleurimont that was written to celebrate his home country of Haiti. It’s another tune that will get anyone with ears and legs up and moving, while never becoming overly self-indulgent or playful, with Fleurimont also providing vocals that bounce around the polyrhythmic beat and add a passionate spark to the mix.
But the album’s top composer is, unsurprisingly, the German-born alto saxophonist Welf Dorr — who, along with contributing five tunes, ties the band together as both its leader and a perpetually vibrant, searching soloist. A good example of Dorr’s open-minded approach is “House Song,” which apparently takes its cues from the lively atmosphere of electronica, while translating those vibes into an acoustic setting that’s nicely propelled by punctuated group horn riffs. Backed by contributions from trumpeter Andrew McGovern, cornetist Patriq Moody and trombonist Kevin Moehringer, the saxophonist ends that tune with some welcome swirls of free improvisation, expanding the sonic range while never leaving the groove behind.
Later comes the intense, head nodding rush of “Rag a Tone,” another Dorr original whose emotional chorus features the horns playing in tight harmony over a pounding, rock-influenced tuba bassline. This time, the saxophonist really tells a story with his solo by striding from honks, wails and calculated dissonance all the way back to outlining the triumphant chords of the main theme.
And just as it began with a voice from the past, the album closes with another great cover. This time it’s “Mopti,” a tune by pioneering trumpeter Don Cherry, who famously began playing with free jazz icon Ornette Coleman in the late-50s and who wrote the aforementioned number after visiting an African town of that name. Underground Horns are once again able to put their own great spin on the tune, leaving some room for the individual brass voices to step out while holding true to Cherry’s stirring melody.
So, whether you want to hit the dance floor or just feast on the aural complexities, there’s going to be something for everyone when the band plays through “Almost Blue” for their release gig at Drom. And there’s even more to get excited about, as fellow funkers Brown Rice Family — another group that knows a few things about how to blend musical traditions — will be joining the show in order to launch their new music video for “Latin Goes Ska,” a remix of the original 1964 tune by the Skatalites.
Brass Clash at Brooklyn Bowl with PitchBlak Brass Band and Underground Horns
YOU NEED MORE FUNK IN YOUR LIFE! It's an undeniable fact. It's why you're so
pale and your Mom keeps calling and telling you how tired you sound. Well, worry
not; a healthy dose of righteous funk is right around the corner. Brooklyn's
Underground Horns (in the picture) and NYC's PitchBlak Brass Band are entering
the ring at Brooklyn Bowl to battle for free-range brass-fed horn-ganic superiority
in a no-holds-barred funkfest. April 12 someone's trumpet is going to explode.
Big Beat, Underground Horns
An unapologetic party band with brains, Underground Horns is a melting-pot aggregation only possible in a big city: its chief composer, reedist Welf Dorr, is a Munich transplant who participates in Butch Morris conductions; one of its trumpeters is Japanese-born Satoru Ohashi, who moved to New York from New Orleans while the rest are veterans of local jazz, Latin and reggae bands. The 10 selections pop with relentless rhythms and with four brass players, a saxophonist/clarinetist and three percussionists, tonal inflections from the Big Easy, central Africa, the Maghreb and the Baltic states make their way into the mix.
Tubaist Nate Rawls multi-rhythmically pumps out an ostinato underneath nearly every track, although any similarity to marching bands is scotched when the soloists appear. Dorr’s obviously-titled “Arabian Flavor”, for instance, features snake-charmer-like alto saxophone trills mixed with a stentorian brass crescendo, plus interjections from a disco whistle and resonating Berimbau-styled scratches. In contrast, trombonist Kevin Moehringer’s usual tailgate slurs are put aside on a tune like Dorr’s “La Luciernaga” for a solo that’s half-Willie Colón salsa and half-Rico Rodriquez ska. Eventually the vamping theme gives way to stop-time breaks involving the drummers.
If there are drawbacks to this game plan, it’s that the constant beat is omnipresent during every tune’s exposition, turn around and finale, no matter how many half-valve trumpet solos or altissimo reed trills break it up. Perhaps the band realizes this. Although brassier and more percussive than usually played, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and Dorr’s “Tranquility” are taken midtempo and moderato. The latter is defined by bass clarinet growls, smears and reed bites while the former melds tuba burbles, hand-slapped drumming and one trumpeter’s descriptive grace notes.
Big Beat isn’t the sort of CD to be intently listened to in one sitting. But heard a few pieces at a time, or used as a festive soundtrack, it’s sure to impress.
Twelve delicious acts headlining a subway platform near you
UNDERGROUND HORNS: A group of skilled musicians, led by German-born saxophonist Welf Dorr.
SOUND: Intricate funk-tinged jazz.
BEST OF THE SUBWAY “Direct feedback,” says Dorr. “If the music is happening, you get a crowd. Last Saturday, a woman came up and said that we touched her soul.” Another woman hooked them up with her sister, who was getting married in Egypt. “We got a wedding gig in Cairo from playing in the subway. It was very lavish and decadent.”
WORST “Cops can shut you down if they feel like it, even if you have a permit. And then, of course, the subway is dirty, loud, and crazy hot in summer―not the nicest place to hang out.”
Winter Jazzfest, New York City, Day 2: January 8, 2011
Underground Horns started its set with some Latin/New Orleans fusion and a Bo-Diddley beat propelling a 12-bar blues structure. Trumpeter Mike Irwin laid down a down-home funk line to a honky-tonk refrain, backed up by trombonist Kevin Moehringer. Welf Dorr then played a hot sax solo, after which percussionist Okai's djembe took over, along with Ibanda Ruhumbika's big and brassy tuba.
Uptown funk plus klezmer characterized the next number, with overtones reminiscent of John Zorn's Masada. More Latin inflections followed, bringing to mind a rainforest full of tropical fruit, an image bolstered by the tuba's perpetuated ostinato. A hard-bop trombone broke into more tropical percussion and marching band brass, like an acid-rock Big Ten halftime show. Irwin's trumpet solo was creative and filled with verve, mixing and matching curls, twists and turns. A very cool quartal vibe took the set out—and, with a few luminous, late-night exceptions, the 2011 Winter Jazzfest.
Underground Horns serve up brassy instrumental funk with an Afrobeat flavor.
Gig Alert: The Underground Horns
New York City is pulsing with brass bands these days, from Slavic Soul Party’s Balkan groove to Red Baraat’s brass bhangra to the increasing number of New Orleans-style groups playing the streets and subways. The Underground Horns, which will be releasing their second album tonight at Nublu, has forged its own way with a sound that draws from all the aforementioned brass traditions, and synthesizes them with an ecstatic, solo-oriented, almost psychedelic approach. On “Big Beat,” a hypnotizing tuba bass line underscores seven minutes of hard-driving instrumental solos.
Underground Horns: Funk Monk (2009)
Alto saxophonist Welf Dorr has spent the last several years putting his own unique spin on the brass band, an instrumental lineup that is usually found in NYC crossing jazz with Balkan music. Although Dorr does look to Serbia for part of his musical muse he also draws heavily on a host of things including Afro-Cuban rhythms, funk and Thelonius Monk; thus the title of this release from his Underground Horns.Tubaist Joe Keady, who must have listened to a lot of bassist Bootsy Collins during his musically formative years, more than makes up for the latter instrument's absence on this session with up-in-the-mix lines. Dorr draws on the power of a lineup that, along with his alto, includes drums, conga, tuba, trumpet and trombone to produce kick-ass dance music but doesn't devolve into parody. This is really wonderful new brassy jazz fusion music that even brushes up against psychedelia with the superb epic jam "Sympaticus" that features Keady, conguero Enrique Arrosa and drummer Kevin Raczka laying down a complex percussive background.
Alternate funky takes on Charles Mingus' homage to saxophonist Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," appropriately begin and close this program while the title cut achieves its stated aim as Monk's stylistic quirkiness is given a funky presentation. John Coltrane's "Miles Mode" and Monk's own "Evidence" are given similar shots of funky brass juice while the remainder of the program is stylistically diverse. "Ethio" is the most overtly Balkan sounding of the bunch and as such is an infectious charmer while Don Redman's nugget "Gee Baby (Ain't I Good 2 U)" is a slow blues burner. "Cherry" uses an infectious tuba hook to allow the musicians plenty of room to improvise and this version of bassist Tony Scherr's beautifully subtle Mid-Eastern infused "Almost Believe in Everything" amazingly maintains the tune's delicate intent.
Track Listing: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; Funk Monk; Ethio; Gee Baby (Ain't I Good 2 U); Cherry; Almost Believe in Everything; Miles Mode; Evidence; Sympaticus; Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (alt take).
Personnel: Welf Dorr: alto saxophone; Mike Irwin: trumpet; Kevin Moehringer: trombone; Joe Keady: tuba; Kevin Raczka: drums; Enrique Arrosa: conga.Record Label: Self Produced | Style: Funk/Groove