Fifteen years ago, LowDown Brass Band started by paying homage to some of the great New Orleans brass bands. But the act’s fifth album, LowDown Breaks, released in January, is a throwback to early breakbeats and the beginning of hip-hop.
Trumpeter Shane Jonas says the band thought it would be good to meld the two worlds together when MC Billa Camp joined the group five years ago. “It’s the first album that’s really hip-hop heavy and exploring the way the music is evolving for the band,” Jonas says.
When LowDown was first started by a bunch of horn players working in Chicago, they shared an affinity for Rebirth Brass Band and Dirty Dozen Brass Brand and other music that came out the New Orleans street-beat tradition.
“It’s kind of crazy, because the band has evolved a lot like — not to get too historical — but kind of like the music did in New Orleans,” Jonas says, “starting in Congo Square, taking it all the way back there when slave owners were basically letting the slaves play their music and worship in the square. And that’s how the music got started.
“We feel like our music evolved the same way. We started taking it back to Congo Square with that New Orleans second-line tradition, and then over the years we realized that because we live in Chicago that we have all these other influences that we listen to on a daily basis. Being horn players, it’s like we’re always playing in different types of bands, whether it’s jazz, hip-hop, gospel, country, reggae, dub. So, everybody started bringing their influences into the brass band. All those influences kind of started to melt together and show up in everybody’s writing.”
While the new album is heavier on hip-hop, Jonas says there’s still that jazz foundation when the band plays live, where things change from night to night.
“Somebody might blow a little solo here or take a different harmony on this night than they did the night before,” Jonas says. “So that jazz element is always in there and that being in the moment and on stage, performing as a live band, that’s something that’s important to us.”
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Whatever LowDown is playing live, it’s all about the party.
“When we first started the band fifteen years ago, we were all younger dudes,” Jonas says. ‘The band wasn’t even that serious. It was just about getting up and playing music together and drinking beer and having a good time. It was probably about five or six years in that we started to realize that we had something special and something that we could market and something that the people needed. So that’s when we started to get a little more serious about it.
“The party – it’s always been about the party. We like to have a good time, and you can see that in our live shows. We’re all about partying and dancing and getting up. Sometimes we’ll play at jazz clubs, and they’re used to shushing people for the music. But we get on the mic first song and let them know right away, “Hey, this is about that party spirit from New Orleans. Don’t be quiet — get up, clap your hands. Do whatever you want to do.”