Saturday’s low temperature in New Orleans was 61, and there was no snow. The high was 65 — temperatures we won’t see here until mid-May, after Jazz Fest.
“Just for tonight, it’s Mardi Gras, in this 20-degree weather,” proclaimed trumpeter Gregory Davis, and he led the Dirty Dozen Brass Band in making it so on Saturday at the Massry Center at the College of St. Rose.
These old pros — four of the seven have played together for 36 years — didn’t take long to bring Mardi Gras to Albany. An early ten-minute roll through “Big Chief,” “Burn Down the Levee,” “Oo-Poo-Pah-Doo” and back to “Big Chief” delivered party-time spirit in a big way, with Davis whistling some verses, the groove percolating hot and solos combusting in all directions.
This veteran crew does unanimous flawlessly: The grooves were phat and fun, spicy and slick, but the solos hit hard, too — from 70-year-old baritone sax boomer Roger Lewis to 24-year-old drummer Terence Higgins, who’s younger than the band.
Davis whipped, invited or hyped the capacity audience to its feet or into claps that were actually on the beat, as well as singalong chants. Even when the mics up front failed and he shouted through cupped hands, he had the power. At the end, they invited some fans on stage to dance; some knew what to do, some didn’t — but everybody enjoyed themselves.
The band recently refreshed its setlist with new songs from “Twenty Dozen,” including the mambo “Best Of All,” which featured galloping sax by Lewis and Kevin Harris, then dissolved down to just drums; and “Git Up,” which yanked anybody still sitting to their feet.
But some of the most effective crowd-pleasers were vintage New Orleans classics. As with the early Mardi Gras medley, they Krazy-Glued tunes together at the end, winding up, of course, with “When the Saints Go Marching In” after “Big Mamou,” and flowing into a rambunctious “Who Dat?” chant. “My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now” reprised the Mardi Gras spirit, and the band left the stage to such serious jubilation that Davis and Lewis returned all alone and lit up “Saint James Infirmary Blues.” As beautifully as they’d played all night, this one was special — tremendously lyrical and endlessly sweet.
Albany’s own jazz/hip-hop hybridizers, the Chronicles, brought the heat, too, managing the considerable feat of balancing front-line solos with formidable beats from the sextet’s first-class rhythm section. “Blue Diesel” syncopated everybody, and if “By Myself” went too mellow for so early in the set, the tropical “Tapioca” brought full funk sunshine, even when they took it into the minor key.
Saxophonist Jeff Nania’s rap on jazz name-checked all the giants, a hip-hop island in a sea of smart jazz, with the horns arranged to hold animated conversations and reach spirited agreement when they fell into section riffing. Hats off to the locals — Nania, trombonist Bryan Brundidge, keyboardist Tyrone Hartzog, guitarist Justin Hendricks, bassist Daniel Lawson and drummer Andrae Surgick — for setting the table for the masters from New Orleans.
We needed a hot one here, and we got it.