Revolutionary Snake Ensemble

Forked Tongue

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Alto saxophonist Ken Field fronts the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, a band that has taken danceable music to both earthy and progressive levels. This CD pays close attention to the traditions of New Orleans funeral, march, and groove musics. Judging by the costumes the band wears on the booklet photos, they are also intent about putting on a stage show that would make any Mardi Gras celebration memorable. The band weaves in and out of traditional tunes everyone is familiar with, a formidable slew of potent originals, and pop tunes modified much further away from their original static arrangements. The septet does a levelheaded but exuberant version of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," and a reverent processional "Give Me Jesus," but that's where commonplace comes to a screeching halt. "Little Liza Jane" has underground vocals, balafon, and African percussion, "Down by the Riverside" is an off minor post-Katrina paean in slight tango rhythm, and "Que Sera Sera" is not the standard soppy waltz you've always heard, but a Congo Square shuffle. The funkiest number, written by Field, is "Slots" merging James Brown's strut with Lester Bowie's swagger, while "Brown Skin Girl" is a definitive calypso reminiscent of the Sonny Rollins evergreen "St. Thomas." They do Ornette Coleman's lesser-known tangential melody "Chippie" in an expansive manner reminiscent of the Either/Orchestra, and add a touch of the Wild Magnolias style onto "White Wedding," the pop tune of Billy Idol, which frankly sounds a bit odd. Field's other excellent written works add multiple wood whistles under the horn driven "The Large S," a vamp juxtaposed against jumpy rhythms with long toned horn lines during "Minor Vee," and the kinetic, layered "Under the Skin," a definitive tune for both dancing and listening. A quirky, idiosyncratic band capable of both partying and intellectual discourse (think Sun Ra,) the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble are not so much cobras or electric eels ready to strike as they are a collective of friendly but slippery creatures intent on creating fun, illusion and evasive maneuvers.

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