July 23, 2012
The Soul Rebels will blow you away, and not just because the group features six horns. Rather it’s the band’s radical gumbo of New Orleans brass band music mixed with hip-hop, soul, and funk that is lighting up all sorts of musical camps. Name another band that this year alone jammed with Metallica, Stanley Clarke, and Slick Rick!
As much as Soul Rebels love and respect brass band music, the group doesn’t want to be limited by the tradition.
“There’s no reason that a brass band shouldn’t get the same kind of attention that Justin Bieber or Nicki Minaj gets,” says snare drum maestro Lumar LeBlanc, one of the Soul Rebels’ founders.
It’s not that LeBlanc thinks Soul Rebels need to sound like anybody else on the pop charts; it’s just that a band that uses a sousaphone to hold down the low end and trombone, saxophones and trumpets to punch up the melodies and solos shouldn’t be kept out of the party just because of the instruments used in the performance.
“When we formed this band in 1991, we had to convince individuals to put microphones up there on stage. We told them, ‘We’ll let it flow,’” LeBlanc recalls when reached during a recent tour stop in Norway.
Soul Rebels certainly let it flow when last visiting Boston in February. Ripping versions of Stevie Wonder’s “Living in the City” and the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” lit up the dance floor and reshaped notions of what a brass band was supposed to be like.
“We’ve been challenging people’s perceptions from the start,” LeBlanc says. “Traditionally, brass bands have been street oriented and marching bands, and just more loose.”
But the Soul Rebels have slowly indoctrinated music lovers with the concept of a concert-oriented brass band. LeBlanc and bass drum player Derrick Moss have seen various lineup changes to the band as it has hammered out a string of independently made albums. But around the time Rounder Records came calling, the Soul Rebels were jelling into the formidable lineup of trumpeters Marcus Hubbard and Julian Gosin, trombone players Corey Peyton and Paul Robertson, saxophonist Erion Williams, and sousaphone player Edward Lee Jr. plus the two founding drummers.
This configuration of Soul Rebels recorded the exhilarating Unlock Your Mind CD released earlier this year. In addition to the aforementioned Stevie and Eurythmics covers, the album has the hip-hop inflected “Turn it Up,” reggae grooved “Unlock Your Mind” and soulful R&B of “Let Your Mind Be Free.”
“The album spearheaded everything,” LeBlanc says. And by “everything” he means having the Soul Rebels featured at such high-profile events as the Bonnaroo and Orion music festivals and popping up on the Conan O’Brien show jamming with fellow New Orleans party masters Galactic.
And with such exposure, LeBlanc says Soul Rebels “moved up a tax bracket” in terms of jamming.
With company as diverse as Pancho Sanchez, Suzanne Vega and Low Anthem around on Saturday night with Soul Rebels, the brass is going to get bent in some pretty interesting directions.
Soul Rebels takes the Copley Square main stage at 9:15 p.m. at Summer Arts Weekend. The band will also cap the after-hours show Saturday in the Copley Club.
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Scott McLennan is a music correspondent for the Boston Globe and former entertainment columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. His work as taken him from the Newport Folk Festival to the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival and many musical points in between. Scott also writes about skiing for Hawthorn Publications.
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