Dirty Catfish Brass Band
Ottawa Jazz Festival
OLG Stage, Confederation Park
Monday, July 1, 2019 – 6 p.m.
On Canada Day, Ottawans are in the mood for a party – and that's what they got from the Dirty Catfish Brass Band.
The New Orleans-style brass band, which hails from Winnipeg, played a hard-driving and crowd-pleasing set to close the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival. They attracted strong applause from a full house, with as many as 10 swing dancers spinning in front of the stage.
Inspired by groups like the Meters, Dr. John, and The Neville Brothers, the band has a seven-horn front line plus a rhythm section of piano and drums, which gave a strong push to their own originals and covers of pop tunes. They played rollicking music: pianist Aaron Chodirker's dramatic glissandos and keyboard pounding was matched by deep grumbling baritone by Graham Dion, and by thumping sousaphone and drums. Tenor saxophonist Kyle Wedlake and the two trumpeters (at one point the trumpeters even played each others' instruments simultaneously!) provided interlaced lines and full-out fanfares.
The music had a distinctly funky vibe, with touches of gospel and rock rambunctiousness. Lead vocalist Todd Martin belted out lyrics like “Going to see my queen/she's the prettiest thing I've ever seen” or “You wanna swim in the river / You gotta get down in it!” or “I want your body / Come on, let's party!” He jumped his voice up to an impressively consistent falsetto in “Back Pocket” and also doubled on mellophone (a cross between a French horn and a tuba) throughout the show.
The group started in 2011 when one of its members went down to New Orleans and fell in love with the music there – and persuaded other musicians that there was a gap in Winnipeg's music scene for that style of music. Since then, they've played regularly in Winnipeg and across Western Canada. Their sound was tight and the musicians could clearly play their instruments well. The brass band aspect seemed to be discounted a bit – probably because all the songs were upbeat and party-style, and missed out on much of the slower gospel and blues aspects I associate with New Orleans music. They may have been better suited to Bluesfest than the jazz festival.
But it was a hot, sweaty day and the band's vibe perfectly fit in. They reminded me of the exuberance of Doug and the Slugs, in how they shared and transferred energy to and from the crowd. By the time the show ended, they had just about everyone in the audience on their feet, dancing in place and clapping in time. They received an immediate standing ovation and demands for an encore.