As I descended down Grant Ave from Telegraph Hill, I could see the nighttime skyline shrouded in fog. The clamor earlier in the day comprised of the odd mingling of muffled music from Washington Square Park and the hollered enthusiasm of twenty-something’s hosting parties in apartments through out North Beach. Gone were the thousands, who just hours before, were weaving their way through the North Beach Fair below. It was Sunday night and save for the walking dead gathered in front of the now tomb-like clubs on Grant Ave, there was a pall in the air. The North Beach Fair was dead, at least for another year. So it was only fitting that the remaining diehards still celebrating should have a proper send off.
New Orleans' Rebirth Brass Band led the second line from inside Mojito. Billed as "secret show" by Sunset Promotions, whose president is owner and booker for Mojito, capped the previous two night's sold out performances at SF's The Independent. The Rebirth Brass Band spelled the death shudder of the North Beach Fair, replacing it with a life-affirming hybrid of jazz, funk, and soul. The nine piece brass and acoustic drum ensemble tore through a 2hr plus show.
Tuba player Philip Frazier founded rebirth in 1982 along with his brother Keith Frazier and others from the New Orleans neighborhood of Treme. That same year they would play the New Orleans Jazz Festival and would emerge as one of the (along with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band) preeminent practitioners of a style of music called "second line". Second line has its origins in New Orleans’s funeral processions, where the dead are celebrated in music and dance as the procession makes it way through the streets. Sunday night's show at Mojito was a perfect venue for a band that still plays a regular Tuesday night gig at a similar size venue in New Orleans, the Maple Leaf Bar.
Rebirth Brass Band's sound can best be described as joyous. The aural bouillabaisse is at once reminiscent of James Brown, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis,and Nas. There are elements of Hip-Hop in Rebirth's sound but more in a periphery nod. This is "Roots" music that grows deep in Bayou Country. Frazier's tuba playing teamed with Derek "Big Sexy" Tabb's dexterous snare work make it impossible to stand still. The horn section weaves Dixieland melodies and free jazz, coalescing into tight Parliamentesque staccato punctuations. Rebirth Brass Band are clearly adept at throwing a party and do so by example. The end result is an undeniably infectious groove.
Initially, it looked like this "funeral" might be poorly attended. But by the middle of their first song, the audience had filed in off the street, gathering in tight around the band. Judging from some of the "dancing" on display several exorcisms were taking place simultaneously. An inventive re-working of Fats Domino's "I'm Walking" sent the audience into a frenzy. As I waited in line to use the bathroom (where even there, dancing was mandatory), a "relieved" attendee crouch skipped up to me. "This is what New Orleans sounds like!” he shouted, continuing his slouch dance and disappearing in to the crowd. I left Mojito with the trumpet blare now fading in the fog. The neighborhood that seemed to have flat lined on my descent, was now pulsing once again.