With more than a quarter of a century behind them, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band has achieved a brassy brilliance rarely heard in the modern age. There was a time, many moons ago, when great herds of brass bands roamed the plains of America. They practiced arts long lost to us known by strange names such as Dixieland and ragtime.
But those days are gone. The evolution of jazz and the birth of rock have driven brass bands nearly to extinction. Only a few remain to keep the old ways alive. And many of those are over-the-top, kitschy approximations, all straw hats and red- and white-striped shirts. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, by contrast, is the real thing. But don't think the group plays cheesy ragtime tunes. One would have to list early jazz genres as influences, primarily because the Dirty Dozen is a New Orleans brass band rooted firmly in bayou tradition. But that doesn't mean the group is a slave to that tradition.
Since the Dirty Dozen's debut album, My Feet Can't Fail Me Now, the group has made a career of breaking rules. Live performances and records are rollicking, extended affairs that feel like jam-band concerts with a great horn section. While the Dirty Dozen has contributed to albums by such rock luminaries as Elvis Costello, it is better remembered for its assistance to groups near and dear to the neohippie set: The Black Crowes and Widespread Panic. The Dozen even hit the road with the latter group several years ago.
The Dozen's most recent album, this year's Medicated Magic, reveals that the band has slipped into the realm of funk, and increasingly abandoned its New Orleans jazz roots. This, mind you, is not a bad thing -- the Dirty Dozen Brass Band funks with the best.