Accurate Records to Release Ken Field's 'Live Snakes', 3/11

Accurate Records to Release Ken Field's 'Live Snakes', 3/11

Boston-based saxophonist/composer Ken Field has drawn deeply from the wellspring of the New Orleans brass band tradition since forming his Revolutionary Snake Ensemble in 1990. Using the boisterous rhythms of that tradition as a launching pad for unbridled improvisations on both original and traditional material, the band has emerged as a singular force in the music. Their third CD, "Live Snakes," set for March 11 release by Accurate Records, captures their distinctive sound in all its expressive glory.

Recorded in 2011 and 2013 in Boston, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, "Live Snakes" documents four editions of the highly mutable ensemble, with two sonically inventive remixes by Field thrown in for good measure. Adding to the deep pool of Boston talent that has sustained the RSE for more than two decades, "Live Snakes" features an extended family of players, including New York masters Matt Darriau (tenor sax and flute), Josh Roseman (trombone), and Kenny Wollesen (drums and percussion), and New Orleans tenor saxophone great Charles Neville.

A good deal of "Live Snakes"' emotional punch stems from the fact that Field's wife, the renowned filmmaker and animator Karen Aqua who often collaborated with the RSE, lost her battle against cancer just one week after the album's earliest session in 2011.

"The whole New Orleans concept of a jazz funeral, where it's very somber and moving at the beginning and then you break into celebratory uptempo grooves afterwards, really helped shape this album," Field says. "After playing in churches and at Karen's memorial it really brought home again that that's the script for how music should be. You're mourning and you're celebrating. The music encompasses these really conflicting emotions, joy AND sadness at the same time."

The heart of "Live Snakes" is the aching dirge "For Karen," a stunning group improvisation from the 2011 session at Brooklyn's 58 Northsix Media Labs. The lamentation segues into a lugubrious rendition of the spiritual "I'll Fly Away" recorded by a full eight-piece band two years later at Cambridge's Regattabar, a performance that ends uptempo as a high-stepping celebration. The entire album's sequencing follows this kind of emotional logic, imbuing "Live Snakes" with the feel of a cathartic odyssey.

Marked by bawdy humor, seat-of-the-pants arrangements, and a love of unabashedly beautiful melodies, the band is equally effective interpreting hymns, like "Rock of Ages," and jazz standards, such as "Caravan." Field closes the album with an atmospheric remix of "Cassandra 4," a tune originally commissioned by Bridgeman/Packer Dance, and a newly constructed piece "Breakdown Part One" that can best be described as Miles Runs the Voodoo Down to Basin Street. In a typically Fieldian move, he turns a live album into an opportunity for further investigation into form and texture.

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