Band Pres Llareggub : KurnMoPaChi Records : 2016
I started out listening to Band Pres Llareggub with a set of preconceptions about brass bands rooted in a childhood of mournful Salvation Army bands and Hovis bike adverts, only challenged mildly by the humour in the mid 90's film Brassed Off. Scratch the surface of brass band musical history and these narrow notions are rapidly dispelled. There are a host of very different traditions, and continuous fevered cross fertilisation with genres outside them - so, for example, the funk and jazz of New Orleans brass bands has been augmented by hip hop influences to produce something both radical and spellbinding - a coruscating fusion of street music cultures demonstrated in a group such as the Hot 8 Brass Band (who also have a fascinating history if you have ten minutes spare). Slightly different but related influences are found equally fully realised in the Chicago based Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.
With Band Pres Llareggub you can see a similar merging of musical forms, especially hip hop and the New Orleans brass sound, expressed powerfully and uniquely. They have a rhythm section of sousaphone, drums and percussion that unfailingly lays down the foundations, tight and exceptionally danceable grooves, and an eloquent brass section that always builds purposefully on these. Add intriguing and accomplished collaborators and you have some very fine pieces of irresistible and incomparable dance music, both when played live and recorded.
Kurn follows their first EP, Bradwr, that included the exemplary Foxtrot Oscar, and first album, a full brass version of Super Furry Animal's Mwng. Recorded at Orange Sound Recording Studio, Penmaenmawr, with Russ Hayes at the controls, it detonates immediately with the hardest edged hip hop track, Croeso, one of two to feature the exquisitely delivered Welsh rap of Mr Phormula.
After this slate hard start Cyrn Pen opens bucolically with bird song and has a sampled spoken word recording used sparingly throughout - it is a well balanced song - alternatively restrained when framing the voice then exhilarating, with great animated trombone (Owain Roberts) then trumpet (Bari Gwilliam) solos. This is followed by Mawr Mawr, which has real swing from end to end, and Anrhefn, which is a slower groove made distinctive with DJ Jaffa's scratching. Llechi comes next, with similar pace, before Cant a Mil which features Lisa Jên's (9Bach) soaring vocals underpinned by mellow percussion and framed by buoyant brass - it is a great song whatever the instrumentation.
The three songs that follow all keep the celebration in full flow: Chwithig is a jaunty piece, Ar Fy Llŵ has a muted dub reggae feel due to the booming bass line of the sousaphone and Tyfu Cyrn is short and funky with a sparkling lead trumpet solo from guest Gwyn Evans.
Gweld y Byd Mewn Lliw (Seeing the World in Colour) is a blow out finale with so much going on you lose a sense of the individual instruments. Alys Williams and Mr Phormula take vocal duties - Alys providing the gliding verse and chorus, and also twisting around Mr Phormula's lead in the middle section. Again impressively written, performed and produced - a splendid dance track that just tears along with a gorgeous vocal at its heart.
Band Pres Llareggub have taken the hip hop / brass tradition and made it into something distinct of their own by infusing it with a strong flavour of North West Wales, and quite brilliantly so.
Impossible not to love, Kurn is quite superb: exuberant, joyful, inventive and full of life.
BAND PRES LLAREGGUB I Kurn