Ken Field’s Revolutionary Snake Ensemble (RSE) is a horn-heavy project that grows out of the New Orleans brass band tradition, but incorporates modern sounds from electric, post-bop and avant jazz without ever losing its allegiance to the groove and the collective party spirit of NOLA. The group’s elastic instrumentation and attitude have paved their way into every kind of venue: parades and clubs, festivals and concert halls.
From the first rhythm laid down by the mighty drum tandem of Phil Neighbors and Kenny Wollesen on the opening track, “Parade” (which Field composed for Sesame Street), Live Snakes makes it clear that these Boston- and NYC-based players are coming for your mind AND your body. Each subsequent track adds to the story; no two follow quite the same template. “For Karen,” dedicated to Field’s late wife, the renowned animator Karen Aqua, underlines that the RSE is also tuned in to “spirit” in all its dimensions.
As producer here, saxophonist/composer Field creates a remarkably coherent flow from four separate live performances consisting of compositions written over many years, as band music, soundtrack music and (choreographic) dance music including originals and irresistible collective takes on “Caravan,” “Rock of Ages,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “Que Sera Sera.” The album concludes with two remixes created from the wealth of recorded material Field had accumulated.
The leader’s credits include substantial work with new music/art rockers Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Boston’s punk godfather Willie Alexander, Bridgeman/Packer Dance and Accurate recording artist Agachiko. The long list of sidemen and guests on Live Snakes features Charles Neville (sax; Neville Bros., B.B. King, Allen Toussaint), Wollesen (John Zorn, Sex Mob), Josh Roseman (trombone; Lester Bowie, Don Byron, Dave Douglas), Matt Darriau (sax; Klezmatics), Tom Hall (sax; Club d’Elf, Your Neighborhood Sax Quartet), Dave Harris(trombone; Debo Band, David Byrne, JCA Big Band) and Blake Newman (bass; David Murray, Duke Robillard, Butch Morris). The vast accumulated experience of the 15 players brings a high energy yet completely relaxed vibe to the proceedings throughout.
With Live Snakes, their third release, Field and the RSE clear a path into the future for one of the oldest and most fundamental formations in jazz, the brass band.