Though we puritanical Bostonians may not know much when it comes to partying (the Boston tea party was over 200 years ago, people!), Hub-bers always seem to raise the bar a bit around Mardi Gras. While many enjoy getting down while giving back at Shaun Wolf Wortis’ annual Mardi Gras bacchanal (http://www.mardigrasballs.com), which takes place this year on January 30 in Somerville, another mainstay of the Boston-New Orleans connection is sax master Ken Field, founder and leader of Revolutionary Snake Ensemble (http://www.revolutionarysnakeensemble.org), who will ring in Fat Tuesday with what has become the local tradition of a special show at Regattabar in Harvard Square, Tuesday Feb. 9.
Joining Field and fellow Ensemble-rs Tom Hall (tenor sax), Jerry Sabatini (trumpet), David Harris (trombone & tuba), Blake Newman (bass) and Phil Neighbors (drums) will be award-winning and acclaimed guests Jason Palmer (trumpet) and Godwin Louis (alto sax).
In addition to marking Mardi Gras, the show will also fete the Ensemble’s 25th year. Originally formed for a pagan women’s ritual, the Ensemble got its fun-filled frameworks from master musician Field and co-founder and cartoonist/trumpeter Scott Getchell.
“The material was very improvisational and the arrangements tended to be spontaneous,” Field says of the open-ended Ensemble. “I’d direct on the spot, which started as a very stressful role. Over time I learned a lot about how to do that, and it’s still the way the band works.”
Basing early charts on the works of John Scofield, Sun Ra, and Ornette Coleman, the Ensemble was always inspired by a desire to explore, and it was always infused with Field’s love for New Orleans music.
“I love the groove of NOLA brass band music,” Field explains, citing especially the “implicit” counterpoint created by multiple melodic instruments, bass/tuba, and drums, with no chording instrument, the improvisational attitude, and what he sees as “the New Orleans culture of celebrating life while acknowledging its challenges.”
The link was strengthened when, in a unique partnership with Amtrak, the Ensemble began to play annually on the Crescent train from NYC to New Orleans, bringing Boston love to New Orleans both before, and as it rebuilt after, Katrina. While in New Orleans, the band regularly paraded with the all-women Krewe of Muses.
“Doing that legitimized the band to me,” Field says, noting how many locals believed that the Ensemble was from NOLA too. “People assumed we were from New Orleans and that meant a lot to us. At the same time, we were doing something different. It gave us the experience of meeting and playing with some New Orleans musicians, and they always encouraged us to keep doing our own thing.”
As popular as they may be in the birthplace of jazz, Field and his fellow Ensemble members are just as much the rage back home. When not playing with the Ensemble, Field performs with the Chandler Travis Philharmonic, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, and many other bands. When asked how he puts it all together, Field replies that it already is together.
“It’s all one,” he observes. “My work with Revolutionary Snake Ensemble combines the groove of some of my earlier funk and R&B projects, the improvisation and melodic layering of some of my solo work, the experimental composition of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, and even some of the Balkan influences from the Armenian-American group Musaner.”
Field’s musical palette has also been emboldened and expanded by the many amazing musicians who have played with the group over 25 years, including Dana Colley (Morphine), Jesse Williams (Al Kooper/Duke Robillard), Russ Gershon (Either/Orchestra), Eric Paull (DJ Logic, Clem Snide), Jim Prescott (G Love & Special Sauce), Kimon Kirk (Aimee Mann, Session Americana), Scott Getchell (Lars Vegas, Skull Session), Dave Harris (Naftule’s Dream, Les Miserables Brass Band), and Bob Pilkington (Chandler Travis Philharmonic).
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with some of the best musicians in the world,” Field beams, thanking the Ensemble’s core members and noting that New Orleans legends like Charles Neville and Trombone Shorty have joined the band as guest soloists as well.
No matter who is sitting in or where the band is playing, however, Field maintains that the spirit of New Orleans is always pervasive and present and helps add to the musical fun.
“We’ve always incorporated our treatments of traditional New Orleans brass band music with original music and obscure covers,” he explains, noting that the Ensemble is currently recording an album of original songs. “I think the band has grown tighter over the years, though I still think our earlier CDs are pretty cool too!”
When asked what else the future may hold, Field muses that he will simply continue to follow life’s path. As for what he will do on February 9, however … “We’ll party like it’s Mardi Gras 2016.”
Starts at 7:30. Tickets: $20.
– Matt Robinson
Regattabar, One Bennett Street, Cambridge 617-661-5000 http://www.regattabarjazz.com