The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band – Slightly Concussed — Live at De Melkbus

REVIEW: The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band - Slightly Concussed — Live at De Melkbus

The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band – Slightly Concussed — Live at De Melkbus (self-released)

The latest revival of pre-1930s jazz has produced a slew of young bands. With this double-live CD, recorded over two years at a club in Holland, The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys prove they’re among the most talented of the new “hot jazzers.”

Louis Armstrong serves as the Donkeys’ chief inspiration, and the group’s instrumentation is typical for a New Orleans trad-jazz band: trumpet, trombone, sax, banjo, tuba and percussion. Two iterations of the sextet appear here, with co-founders James Williams (trumpet, vocals) and Sam Friend (banjo) plus Joshua Marotta (percussion) being the only members to span both groups. And while past revivalists have treated early jazz with a reverence bordering on religious fervor, the Donkeys’ chief aim is to entertain.

The album title, Slightly Concussed, drolly references a gruesome car accident Williams experienced in August 2016, after the music on this album was recorded. The trumpeter, who broke his neck, feared he might never play again. Fortunately, he was back performing with the Donkeys just prior to the album’s release.

With his gravelly vocals and expressive blowing, Williams is a musical clone of Armstrong. While he’s unafraid to alter lyrics to century-old songs, the band never wavers from its hot-jazz approach, even when covering Armstrong’s mellow 1967 hit “What a Wonderful World.” The album also includes a trad-jazz take on the theme song from HBO’s Game of Thrones. A previous version earned the Donkeys more than a million views on YouTube.

Hearing their raucous renditions of “Hello Dolly,” “Buddy Bolden” and “Struttin’ With Some BBQ,” it’s hard to believe that most band members are Crescent City transplants — including Williams, who hails from Tucson, Arizona.

Ever since the first early-jazz revival in the late 1930s, critics have dismissed Dixieland and trad-jazz as retro reenactment. But the fun-loving Swamp Donkeys are breathing new life into timeless music while attracting young people to jazz. Jazz can only benefit.

Ed Kopp

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