These days it seems like New Orleans funk is coming to Jackson in waves.
Big Sam’s Funky Nation played the Pink Garter Theatre, Trombone Shorty played Targhee Fest, and any number of other horn-centric funk outfits have come to Teton County over the years.
It’s not often, however, that a second-line-inspired brass band from Chicago shows up. And, frankly, the The Lowdown Brass Band, which is set to play Concerts on the Commons Sunday, is unique in its own right.
Outside New Orleans, which produced the most famous brass bands — the Rebirth Brass Band and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, among them — there are only a few prominent touring brass acts. The guys in Lowdown are certainly high on that list, riding the brass waves alongside groups like the Youngblood Brass Band (out of Oregon, Wisconsin), and the PitchBlak Brass Band (of Brooklyn, New York).
Still, David Levine, one of the Lowdown’s founders, said playing a headlining slot on the main stage at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (also known as the Montreal Jazz Festival) was a “crazy experience.”
“We played for about 35,000 [or] 40,000 people,” Levine said. “That’s our biggest crowd, for sure.”
But performing for a crowd that was five-or-so times larger than its next largest didn’t slow the band down. The members practiced, put together a 90-minute “power set” they tried out in Bend, Oregon, and, when it went well, decided to roll with it.
The night before the set, the bandmates — 11 people in the studio, but usually six or seven on tour — walked around the empty festival grounds and drank it all in. After 16 years of playing, a few lineup changes, one of which brought the band’s newest member, MC Billa Camp, into the fold, they were there. After all those years, they were ready.
“It was a nervous excitement beforehand,” Levine said, “but then that night it just changed into this kind of confidence, an agency.”
The next night they took the stage and got 30,000 people “waving their arms in the air.”
Though Concerts on the Commons is a far cry away from the Montreal Jazz Festival, that doesn’t mean the Lowdown Brass Band is out there to give anything less than its best. The members learned a key lesson that night, after all: Play what they know, do what got them there and “appreciate and respect the process.”
“We’re kind of suited for that kind of a live show,” Levine said. “We’re a party band, a dance band, you know, high-energy kind of stuff.”
But writing the Lowdown Brass Band off as a simple “party band” or a “dance band” is a bit of an understatement. The music is sure to inspire a good time, but it’s also dynamic.
The band isn’t confined to just the second line.
With a full drum kit in the background and Billa Camp as master of ceremonies, the Lowdown Brass Band brings in a bit of hip-hop, a bit of funk, a bit of soul, some Latin influences and really anything else that suits the musicians’ fancy in the studio. On their last album, “Lowdown Breaks,” released in 2018, they partnered with another Chicago-based group, The Dread, to produce a few songs.
But this wasn’t your average funk collaboration. Levine described The Dread as a “hip-hop metal punk rock group, like an art hip-hop kind of thing.” With producer DJ Alo working on the tracks, tunes like “Ghost Town” emerged that were hard to define, but worth listening to: songs that had a little bit of everything from reggae to Latin to hard rock influences.
“Lowdown Breaks” was a unique project for the self-produced band, Levine said, requiring a bit of “longer process” before the musicians were ready to “kick it out the door” and “see how it lived.”
Lowdown has a new single out, “We Dem Boys.” It’s one of a few Levine said the band was putting together as it tried to stay “nimble” and “keep giving people something new every few months.”
A new album is due at some point. In the meantime, Lowdown is going to keep bringing the party and building the brotherhood that got the band to this point, as well as the main stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
“We’re all family, and that really helps us in times like that,” Levine said. “We can just look at each other in the eyes and be like, ‘All right, let’s do this.’”