Album: Magic Number
Release Date: 09/30/2016
Marching bands are not something we typically cover on these pages. Okay, MarchFourth is much more than a marching band but, at 15 members strong, they have some of those elements and used to have that moniker in their name. Apparently, it might be best to characterize this amalgamation as a traveling circus or a brassy funk version of Sun Ra and His Arkestra. The comparison to Sun Ra may actually be rather appropriate given this quote from drummer Stauffer, “I always feel like we are some freaky kind of Jack-in-the-box. Put twenty of us in a 45-foot bus for 6-8 hours a day, then open the door onto a stage and watch us explode!” Stauffer says, “Old greats like Basie and the Duke were some of my first favorite jazz artists in college. I love the fact that I tour and play with all these fantastic horn players and travel around in this bus. We are very much like the big bands of old, except we also have electric guitars, stilt-walkers, acrobats, and a psychedelically wide palette of musical styles and costumery.”
The Portland, OR group traveled to New Orleans to record their fourth studio album with producer Ben Ellman (Galactic) with guest spots from Trombone Shorty, Stanton Moore (Galactic), and Matt Perrine (Bonerama). “Working with a large group of talented songwriters and musicians in M4 made the project go really smoothly. Wherever the band goes they sort of set up camp… that led to a really creative working communal environment.” Producer Ben Ellman states, “It’s always exciting to work with a band that is open to experimentation and different possibilities. MarchFourth came in wanting to expand their sonic pallet from what they’ve done previously.”
“MAGIC NUMBER represents a shift in the band’s musical evolution, featuring more vocals and guitar than our previous records.” Founding member and band leader, John Averill, who also sings and plays electric bass says, “It is also the first record by MarchFourth (we officially dropped the “Marching Band” from our name).” Consider this lineup and try to find a similar band with this instrumentation: Trumpet (2), Trombone (2), Saxophone (5), Drums and Percussion (5), Electric Bass (1) and Guitar (2). The tunes are captivating and grow more infectious with each listen. Although you can sense the fun they are having, it is also clear that these musicians have had plenty of training and formal practice. I find it difficult to compare this to anything else I’ve heard except perhaps the aforementioned Sun Ra’s unit doing their improvisational versions of traditional jazz tunes like “King Porter’s Stomp.” March Fourth, though, writes totally original material which further adds to the intrigue. You’re never sure where the song is going, but somehow the album stays focused and cohesive. There’s no filler here but be sure to listen to these two tracks; “Inventing the Wheel” (featuring a mind-blowing Trombone Shorty solo) and “Science” (featuring Matt Perrine on tuba). This is a big brassy unrelenting tour de force unlike almost anything else you have ever heard.
– Jim Hynes