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The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble like to turn their every appearance into an event, which makes them a gift to the local scene. For their appearance at the Museum of Fine Arts’ Concerts in the Courtyard series last Wednesday night, they added a second drummer and second bassist and imported the 18-year-old New Orleans phenomenon Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews. In their first set Wednesday night, they provided the right mix of party-hearty atmosphere and inventive arrangements and playing.

With the rhythm section already on stage, the horns entered playing the traditional jazz-funeral number "A Closer Walk with Thee," appropriately stately as a bass drum began to hit two and four. The costumes were fitting for Mardi Gras, too: harlequin, Egyptian pharaoh, a long-beaked Venetian mask, capes, gold lamé — the works. Oddly enough, Andrews was the most conservatively dressed of the bunch, wearing a tan suit with a black feather boa.

His playing, though, was hardly buttoned-down. The New Orleans second-line parade rhythm is the spine of the RSE’s music, but so are the aesthetic of collective improvisation, a broad repertoire, and the wild strain of the avant-garde. So "A Closer Walk with Thee" led to John Scofield’s "Some Nerve" and then Sun Ra’s "A Call for All Demons." The latter provided the first thrill of the night: RSE’s trombonist Lenny Peterson built up a hard-riffing solo, Andrews started blowing long, vibrato-laden tones behind him, and the rest of the band began to join in. There was great, propulsive riffing, too, driving trumpeter Jon Fraser on James Brown’s "Soul Power." And on RSE leader Ken Field’s "I Got It," Andrews spat out repeated trills and riffs while digging into his articulation on longer phrases.

The band also made one of those perfect turnaround gestures on "Soul Power," with the rhythm section dropping out for some massed polyphony from the horns, then kicking in perfectly on the downbeat. They gave the right Latin licks to the standard "Goin’ Back to New Orleans," delivered Ornette Coleman’s "Guadaloupe" with a cumbia bomp, and marched off for intermission to "Little Liza Jane." It was a clear, cool summer night — but not too cool. During tunes you could hear the horns echoing off the museum’s walls, and between songs you could hear the late-August crickets chirping.


Issue Date: September 3 - 9, 2004
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