In a recent performance at jazz in the park, the Extra Crispy Brass Band staged a performance that was both mildly entertaining and, in a word, very “loud”. I feel like I am about to write the sort of review that would make metal bands, if not brass bands, feel totally stoked. As it happens, I am going to criticize “ECBB”, as they sometimes call themselves, for simply playing too loud.
But let me start with the word, “criticise”. The word has taken on a very negative connotation in recent years, so much so that, to quote Billy Joel, “honesty is hardly ever heard” even among critics. Gone are the days when a band like Led Zeppelin would make the ire of a critic the calling card of their band. Nowadays, it merely provokes discussions about sensitivity to this or that concern and to the self-esteem of the musicians. I invite the return of honest criticism and rebellion in music.
With that being said, ECBB plays too loud. Not that loudness is a bad thing necessarily, or that I am a critic who simply cannot tolerate loundness per se. The loudness that I would consider a bad kind of loudness is a loudness that distorts the music. Sometimes this is intentional. In the case of ECBB it is certainly not, but seems to be done for the sake of jazzing up the audience.
When I say they play too loud, what I mean is that they overplay their instruments making them sound bad instead of good. Brass instruments are loud by nature. When I was learning to play the trumpet, I had neighbors stop by to tell me that they could hear my playing all over the neighborhood. Brass instruments can be lound without even trying and trying to make them louder by overplaying just worsens their sound. When the overplaying is amplified it only amplifies the way the sound has been compromised.
It made me wonder why the band has the word “crisp” in their name. “What is it that is crispy about this band?”, I wondered as I stood and listened. Perhaps it is a reference to crispy fried chicken-a southern reference that might allude to a the dixie-ness of their act. The fact is that however dixie the band may be in spirit, they could use some extra crispness.
There is a line that ought to be observed between playing for entertainment’s sake and playing for art’s sake. Too often local bands get wrapped up in the enthusiasm of a crowd on a particular night and begin to play for entertainment. As a critic who appreciates artistic vision as well as talent, I can only say, “Down with entertainment; give me some honest artistic integrity”.
The line between artistic integrity and entertainment has historically been fought between musicians and record companies, with record companies seemingly always fighting on the side of entertainment, and artists always fighting for art. As a critic, I want to fight on the side of art rather than entertainment. Heroes on the side of art seemed to have reached a high point during the 60’s with musicians like Bob Dylan and Neil “stick it to the man” Young. Those musicians could look back to pioneers like Buddy Holly in the 50’s. Even in the 90’s a band like Pearl Jam was criticised on the streets for “selling out” by pricing their concerts above $20 for a general admission ticket and making music that seemed to some to betray the grunge spirit in a way that never happened with Nirvana. Lately, however, the mainstream music scene seems to have been routed by entertainment based concerns, much to the detriment of the quality of the music being produced.
To anyone playing music out there, I encourage you to rebel, and if you have some talent, I will probably support you.