Last Thursday at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, was an unusual night musically with "A Night in Treme". Treme is a neighborhood in New Orleans where a particular style of African-American music originated and continues in a series on HBO.
Soul Rebels started off the evening. This eight-member ensemble comprises of two trumpets, one saxophone, two trombones, one tuba, and two percussion players. With songs like "504" and "Turn It Up", many of these songs were reminiscent of high school jazz bands with most of the group playing a repeated pattern known as vamping while a soloist is featured during an improvisation. Their music integrated a younger type of music utilizing rap and funk into their jazz/rock beats. Each instrumentalist also sang. With each performer adjusting their own amplifiers, sometimes the balance was off since they didn't utilize the acoustics and sound system of the Holland. They did attempt some dancing moves which actually resembled those from a marching band. This group kept encouraging the audience to stand-up to clap with them, however, very few actually were comfortable with this request.
The evening changed though when Donald Harrison and James Andrews appeared on the stage. These two are both understand about how to work with an audience and how to enjoy your performance and to project that to the audience. Even though the music from Soul Rebels was from New Orleans, people expect the old blues melodies of their legendary performers.
Donald Harrison spoke with the audience about his personal identity as a big chief. He explained that much of the music of this neighborhood is based on old African-American chants set to a set of three African drums. With just is drumming he sang demonstrating this for the audience while combining a music lesson into entertainment. As a change of pace and to demonstrate the wide range of his abilities, he completely engaged the audience with his version of "What a Wonderful World" played as a jazz selection with his saxophone with Soul Rebels providing the accompaniment creating a song that was enchanting.James Andrews appeared in a suit with a bright red vest playing his trumpet in a similar style as Louis Armstrong, even inflating his cheeks as he plays. His engaging showman skills, thrilled the audience with his singing, whistling, and playing songs such as "Little Liza Jane" and to the delight of the audience, "When the Saints Go Marching In", New Orleans style even with parading down the aisle and dancing. Yes, there was an interesting traffic pattern in the aisle with the instrumentalists and the spontaneous dancers.
The audience had members of all ages, however, many older people left early. I believe these people expected the music in the second half and did not enjoy the music in the beginning. Considering how outstanding both Donald Harrison and James Andrews were as New Orleans' performers, they missed some outstanding and completely engaging music.