Rebirth Brass Band has taken the streets of New Orleans, screen time on HBO’s “Treme” and a Grammy. On Wednesday, December 2, they took the stage at Fête Ballroom.
When the crowd was asked by the band how many were hearing Rebirth for the first time, around a quarter of the room cheered. It seemed like the majority of the audience knew the band — Providence brass band aficionados and musicians happy to throw down $25 to see the NOLA legends.
The band jumped straight into their set of rhythmic grooves and high-energy horn melodies. They took more time to speak between songs at the beginning of the show, the trumpet player Chadrick Honore charming the audience with jokes and banter. In a phone interview before the show, Keith Frazier, bass drummer and original member of the band, said that the difference between playing in New Orleans and being on tour is that not everyone is familiar with their style. “People at home know what to do with the music,” said Frazier.
Two or three songs in, in the middle of “Move Your Body,” Honore smiles. “You think we’re playing a song,” he says, “but we’re telling you what to do.” After encouraging the audience to come closer to the stage, to dance, the crowd became more comfortable and the band started moving more quickly. The interlude between songs became a simple “keep the music rolling,” and that’s exactly what they did.
If you didn’t already know that Rebirth was Keith and Phil Frazier’s brainchild and life’s work of over 30 years, you would not have guessed. With only Keith’s glasses and cap visible bobbing behind the bass drum while he tapped away at his cymbal with a screwdriver, and the bell of Phil’s Sousaphone towering above the band, the Frazier brothers did not push themselves into the spotlight. Rather, the bass drum and sousaphone guide the band between songs and ground the music in steady rhythms and grooves. It is obvious the brothers are not interested in being the face of the band, but the heartbeat.
Meanwhile, other members of the band, such as Stafford Agee on the trombone and Vincent Broussard on the saxophone, took turns delivering solos. Unlike many brass bands, there was no rushing to play the highest notes as fast as possible. The solos were smooth, funky riffs in conversation with the rest of the music. The songs were largely a call and response format, moving from moments of playing in sync to layering different elements and riffs on top of each other.
While Honore swayed a little with the music, most of the band stared straight ahead, professional and focused. Even with space made for improvisation, it is clear there were no surprises. They know exactly what they’re doing. “[It’s] like getting up and going to work,” says Keith Frazier. “Work that I really enjoy.”
They played many of the songs they are known for, like “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” and a soulful “Casanova” that blended into “Do Watcha Wanna.” A cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” got the crowd moving.
The two brothers started Rebirth with trumpet player Kermit Ruffins in high school. Being too young to play in bars, they’d play on the streets of the French Quarters of New Orleans. Now, the band has become emblematic of New Orleans street brass music in their own right. Frazier says they feel responsible to represent that culture, and that they “try to keep those elements of what we played on the streets on stage.” However, in adding more more elements of hip-hop, reggae and R&B into the music, he says they are also looking to “be at the forefront” of taking the genre into new realms. “I gotta leave my stamp on this music.”