KERMIT RUFFINS WITH
THE REBIRTH BRASS BAND
Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and tuba player Philip Frazier had just finished their sophomore year at Clark High School in New Orleans when they decided to form a band in the summer of 1983. A year later they made an album as the Rebirth Brass Band for Arhoolie Records, and before long, they were playing across North America, Europe, Africa and Japan. They weren't the most traditional of the city's brass bands nor the most jazz savvy, but their teenage enthusiasm and funky rhythms made them irresistible.
Ruffins left for a solo jazz career in 1992, but Frazier has kept Rebirth going through countless personnel changes. A reunion project was frequently requested and promised, and it finally happened this year with the CD "Throwback." Ruffins and his former bandmates, now in their thirties, are all better musicians than they were 13 years ago, and "Throwback" marries their old funky exuberance with greater musical control and sophistication. The trumpet section of Ruffins, Derek Shezbie and Glen Andrews is especially impressive with its punchy riffs and piercing solos. Frazier's tuba pumps out the syncopated, resonating bass lines that give the band its funk foundation.
But it's Ruffins, who has inherited a good deal of his hero Louis Armstrong's charisma, who provides the focal point for the music. A focal point is just what Rebirth needed, someone to provide a through line when the horns are bouncing off the walls, someone to lend personality to the parade shouts on "Here to Stay" and "Make Way for the Rebirth," someone to act as grand marshal on the jazz funeral number "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," someone to stamp a New Orleans feel on Ray Charles and hip-hop songs, someone to come up with dozens of witty answers for the musical question, "What Is New Orleans?"
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Wednesday at the Kennedy Center.