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Pumped Up

Local party institution No BS Brass teams up with the Richmond Symphony for a twist on orchestral pops.

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No BS Brass pours everything into its big-hearted, muscular attack.

On a multi-year roll, it recently won a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation grant, an honor that puts the band in a category with such contemporary jazz greats as Jason Moran, Christian McBride and Regina Carter.

And now the big band is getting even bigger, teaming up with the Richmond Symphony for a performance that will extend its percussive 10-horn barrage with a small army of woodwinds, strings and even more horns.

The Dukes of Dixieland, who headline that Jan. 31 show, are expert re-enactors of a jaunty music from just beyond the far horizons of human memory.

Formed in 1948, when New Orleans music already was nostalgic, the band functions as a musical caretaker and recording innovator. In various incarnations and lineups, it appears on the first stereo record, the first direct to disc LP and the first jazz CD. Its lineup through the years has included jazz greats Pete Fountain and Jim Hall, and the group’s even teamed with the Oak Ridge Boys.

But the Dukes’ main form of cross-genre collaboration has been in orchestral pops concerts like the one in Richmond.

It’s professional territory that No BS Brass co-founder and Richmond musical champion Reggie Pace would love to conquer. Playing with the symphony gives his band material that could open up a whole new source of well-paid gigs.

It’s also a natural next step, he says. “It’s going to be like a No BS concert, only bigger,” Pace says. “We are not going to play over top of each other but marry the two sounds together. I get goose-bumpy just thinking about it.”

The challenge isn’t simply tamping down the music to fit into a polite classical setting, but scaling the go-for-broke attitude up to a much larger ensemble.

Pace credits the arrangements of Virginia Commonwealth University jazz program adjuncts Bryan Hooten and Taylor Barnett for not only adapting the melodies, but also translating the attitude.

“The orchestration gives our tunes a huge theatrical sound,” Pace says. “Our section of the concert is going to be through-performed, played without breaks like a concerto. We wrote out some of our improvisations for the classical players and added in some new stuff. Some of it sounds like Van Dyke Parks, some like ‘The Rite of Spring.’ We didn’t write it fluffy. It’s challenging, hard music, but that’s OK because there are some great musicians in the symphony.”

It helps that the symphony’s music director, Steven Smith, is a fan of No BS.
“I first heard No BS my first year in Richmond and loved them,” he says in an email. “I’m really excited about the combination of energy, enthusiasm and excitement that our collaboration will have.”

How will the Dukes of Dixieland match the go-for-broke ambition of their openers from Richmond? No BS Brass is, intentionally, a hard act to follow.

“That’s their problem,” Pace says mischievously. “They’re getting the headliner money.” S

Dukes of Dixieland with openers No BS Brass perform as part of Genworth Symphony Pops on Saturday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m., at the Carpenter Theatre. For ticket information visit richmondsymphony.com.

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