A swinging take on Allman Brothers classics
Artist: Big Band Of Brothers
Album: A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band
Label: New West
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
It’s not uncommon for groups of different genres to do their takes on the various pop bands that have made an indelible impression with the public over many years.
The Beatles have been subjected to any number of interpretations from innumerable perspectives, styles ranging from symphonic to soul. And from soul to the Stones, there’s been no shortage of attempts to bring a homogenized sound to the mass marketplace.
Indeed, the results of these efforts are mostly a varied lot, which makes Big Band of Brothers – A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band an exemplary offering to begin with. Granted, the sound of classic southern rock as redone in a big band motif might seem an unlikely mash-up, but given the swinging groove that propelled those original arrangements, the results come across far better than one might expect. There’s some precedent here as well; it was said that Allmans drummer and percussionist Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson made a point of sharing his admiration of Miles Davis and John Coltrane with his bandmates and that Duane Allman was not only influenced by Coltrane’s landmark album My Favorite Things, but adapted it as his mantra as well. Hearing this new music in that classic context makes those connection all that much more clear.
The outfit that executes this ten song set actually includes an Allman alumnus, guitarist Jack Pearson, whose tenure with the Allman Brothers spanned 1997 to 1999. Any number of soloists are featured prominently as well. However, the album’s appeal likely won’t be limited only to jazz buffs or Allmans aficionados. With Marc Broussard and Ruthie Foster supplying the vocals on two songs apiece, the accessibility factor is ably ensured. If anything, the two singers help infuse a soulful stance, one so based in the blues that it reaffirms the influences that inspired the Allmans early on. Broussard’s turn at the mike on a swinging “Statesboro Blues” finds him helping to instill the flavor of the original, while Foster’s delivery of “It’s Not My Cross To Bear” is so eminently soulful, it transforms the song entirely.
That’s not to negate the efforts of the other nearly two dozen musicians that take part in the proceedings as well. The horn charts sound as if they were originally envisioned for this material to begin with; and given the propulsive thrust of songs such as “Hot ‘Lanta,” “Whipping Post,” “Dreams” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” in particular, the sound syncs quite naturally.
The Allman Brothers were a freewheeling and spontaneous ensemble after all, and with a blustery brass section and an ace rhythm section in tow, that effusive energy remains intact. One suspects that had they encountered these players to begin with, they might have incorporated those arrangements into the original recordings.This isn’t your daddy’s big band, but he likely would approve of all this jazz regardless.
Ultimately then, this celebration isn’t so much an interpretation as it is an opportunity to revisit the music and garnering additional appreciation. The riffs and melodies are as intact as they are indelible. So while Big Band of Brothers isn’t a substitute for the real deal, it ought to be considered a supplemental additive of the highest order.
AUDIO: Big Band of Brothers A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band (Full Album)