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Ray Anderson: A Pocket-Size Suite Makes A Huge Racket

It's tricky making a little band sound big on Sweet Chicago Suite, but trombonist Ray Anderson knows his tricks. (Jeanne Moutoussamy Ashe)

Ray Anderson's Pocket Brass Band is about watch-pocket size: With three horns and drums, it couldn't get much smaller. On its new Sweet Chicago Suite, Anderson makes what the group does sound easy. Just write some catchy, bluesy tunes and then have the band blast them out.

Brass bands are usually at least twice as big as this quartet. It's tricky making a little band sound this big, Ray Anderson knows his tricks. The loose harmonizing and rough tone suggest a blurry high-school half-time outfit; so do Anderson's multi-part tunes, which are ready-made for marching. The old Sousa concert bands featured showy brass players. Trombonist Anderson and trumpeter Lew Soloff improvise together, shadow each other and fill in the other guy's backgrounds. Nobody just stands around.

The rhythm section makes a racket, too. New Orleans' Matt Perrine plays sousaphone, the marcher's tuba. His presence is one reason Anderson's suite for his hometown Chicago — the wooden back stairs, the rowdy community meetings, the old Maxwell Street market — can sound like St. Charles Avenue on Mardi Gras. But then Chicago was the first place early New Orleans jazz players settled up north, bringing their vocalized brass techniques. And both cities love a blues mambo.

An outsize drummer will really make a compact band sound bigger, and this quartet has one in Bobby Previte. The pianist Stephanie Stone, who saw the great swing-era drummers up close, always says Previte has that same kind of big-beat charisma. There aren't so many moderns who echo Gene Krupa at the tom-toms.

Ray Anderson's Pocket Brass Band was deep into a tour when it recorded Sweet Chicago Suite in 2010 — that's partly why the group sounds so tight and revved up. But it had been playing together for 12 years by then, and Anderson wrote most of this music in 2001. It's a sign of the dismal state of the record business that it's only coming out now, but good things come to those who wait.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Trombonist Ray Anderson came out of Chicago in the 1970s playing early on with fellow Chicagoans like Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill. Anderson co-leads the trio Bass Drum Bone and his own groups include his long-running Pocket Brass Band. Ray Anderson lives on Long Island, but Chicago stayed in his blood. It's the subject of his new album. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

POCKET BRASS BAND: (Playing)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Ray Anderson's Pocket Brass Band is about watch-pocket size. With three horns and drums, it couldn't get much smaller. On their new "Sweet Chicago Suite," Anderson makes what they do sound easy. Just write some catchy, bluesy tunes and then have the band blast them out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

POCKET BRASS BAND: (Playing)

WHITEHEAD: Brass bands are usually at least twice as big as this quartet. It's tricky making a little band sound this big, but Ray Anderson knows his tricks. The loose harmonizing and rough tone suggest a blurry high-school half-time outfit; so do Ray's multi-part tunes, ready-made for marching. The old Sousa concert bands featured showy brass players.

Trombonist Anderson and trumpeter Lew Soloff improvise together, shadow each other and fill in the other guy's backgrounds. Nobody just stands around.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

POCKET BRASS BAND: (Playing)

WHITEHEAD: The rhythm section makes a racket, too. New Orleans' Matt Perrine plays sousaphone, the marcher's tuba. His presence is one reason Anderson's suite for his hometown Chicago - the wooden back stairs, the rowdy community meetings, the old Maxwell Street Market - can sound like St. Charles Avenue on Mardi Gras day. But then, Chicago was the first place early New Orleans jazz players settled up north, bringing their vocalized brass techniques. And both cities love a blues mambo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

POCKET BRASS BAND: (Playing)

WHITEHEAD: An outsize drummer will really make a compact band sound bigger, and this quartet has one in Bobby Previte. The pianist Stephanie Stone, who saw the great swing-era drummers up close, always says Previte has that same kind of big-beat charisma. There aren't so many moderns who echo Gene Krupa at the tom-toms.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

POCKET BRASS BAND: (Playing)

WHITEHEAD: Ray Anderson's Pocket Brass Band was deep into a tour when they recorded "Sweet Chicago Suite" in 2010. That's partly why they sound so tight and revved up. But they had been playing together for 12 years by then, and Anderson wrote most of this music in 2001. It's a sign of the dismal state of the record business; it's only coming out now, but good things come to those who wait.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

POCKET BRASS BAND: (Playing)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is a jazz columnist for EMusic.com and the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Sweet Chicago Suite," the new CD by Ray Anderson and his Pocket Brass Band on the Intuition label. You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org. And you can follow us on Twitter at nprFreshAir and on Tumblr at npr.FreshAir.Tumblr.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

POCKET BRASS BAND: (Playing) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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