WHEN a band first attracts a lot of attention for the newness of its sound, it often takes a couple of albums to determine how much of the group's reputation is due to novelty and how much is due to quality. New Orleans' Dirty Dozen Brass Band quickly made a name for itself by boldly updating its hometown's parade brass band tradition with Charlie Parker bebop and James Brown funk. On the band's second album, "Live: Mardi Gras at Montreux," it becomes clear that this band is much more than a novelty act; it is, in fact, one of the most exciting rhythmic and harmonic units in music today.
It's not enough to say that sousaphonist Kirk Joseph is as fast and funky as any electric bassist; instead it's hard to think of any bassist who could keep up with Joseph. No longer is it sufficient to praise the Dirty Dozen for achieving rich harmonies without a single chording instrument; instead one must marvel at the superiority of harmonies woven from such strong solo lines. No longer is it enough to cite the band's unusual ensemble cohesiveness when the octet contains such exceptional soloists as baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis and tenor saxophonist Kevin Harris.
This album catches the Dirty Dozen (named for the social club that first sponsored them) in their proper environment: playing for a crowd of whooping dancers -- in this case, at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. The band touches on its major influences: New Orleans parade music (Professor Longhair's "Mardi Gras in New Orleans"), bebop (Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk") and rhythm and blues (T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday").
It's on the group's own tunes, such as "Do it Fluid/Do it Again," though, that the swirl of competing rhythms and harmonies becomes dizzying. On one rollicking jam, "The Star Spangled Banner" segues into "The Flintstones Theme" in a bit of biting satire on the current level of political discourse. DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND -- "Live: Mardi Gras in Montreux" (Rounder, 2052); playing for free Friday and Saturday at Fort Dupont Summer Theater.