by Dean Christesen
NO BS! Brass is just what its name suggests. A 12-member ensemble with a fat in-your-face sound, they play what they mean and mean what they play. The music is hard to resist dancing to, but the band makes it easy to just sit back and be impressed. Both the dance floor and the chairs will be well populated on August 1 at The Camel, where NO BS! and Jason Arce Quintet will present a night of funk and jazz.
While NO BS! often defines itself by its dance-ability, the group is marked by its high level of musical talent. Created by trombonist Reggie Pace and drummer Lance Koehler, the band contains some of Richmond’s finest musicians. Trumpets, trombones, bass trombones, a euphonium and a tuba complete the wall of brass, with Koehler and saxophonist Jason Arce adding to the mix. Koehler’s assertive drumming drives along with Stefan Demetriadis’ tuba – which often simulates the role of a bass guitar – to lay the foundation for exciting melodies, rich harmonies, and energetic improvisations in the horns.
Penned mostly by Pace or Koehler, these tunes are composed to make the listener shake it. “The idea is to write the coolest stuff we can,” says Pace. The “coolest stuff” turns out to be well-written arrangements that have both sophistication and groove. The group opens up their influences beyond jazz to draw on more modern influences like Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson and Yes. Their natural gravitation towards dance music follows Pace’s recognition: “Dance is at the heart of jazz and New Orleans music.” All band members are skilled in improv, and most are current or veteran music students of Virginia Commonwealth University.
“We made a band with the intention of not having any saxophones in it,” Pace says. When Arce first asked Pace if he could join the band, he was denied, although later an offer was extended to him. “I told Jason to play cowbell for a year, and he did it,” Pace laughs, “and we said ‘Fine, man, let him play.’”
“[Playing percussion] was a blast,” said Arce, “but I always knew that one day they would break down and let me play saxophone.”
Arce will open the show with his band and celebrate the release of his debut, Simplicity. The title track is a swinging contrapuntal venture with spun through a web of Kelli Strawbridge’s bright drumming and Devonne Harris’ and Alan Parker’s keyboard and guitar. Bassist Matt Hall firmly rounds up the rhythm section.
Arce, who will also be using the night at The Camel as a farewell before heading
to New York University for graduate studies, showcases his original compositions as well as his saxophone playing with this band. Trumpeter Bob Miller and trombonist Sam Savage will add to the quintet at the show as they do on the record.
“I really just wanted to get all of my favorite musicians in the studio and make it feel like a live performance,” Arce says. “I feel like the best music is made between friends. Luckily for me, they are all amazing players.” Indeed, there is an element of camaraderie on the disc, which often features two soloists at the same time bouncing ideas off of each other and the rhythm section. The interplay that results is wildly friendly.
Dean Christesen is a Richmond-based drummer, writer and creator of RVAjazz.com. He is currently studying jazz performance and journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University. Although not a Richmond native, he loves the city. Frequently seen performing around town, he is a member of Mason Brothers and various local jazz and free-jazz concoctions. In December 2007, he created RVAjazz in hopes of strengthening a community and unifying Richmond’s exciting under-the-radar jazz, experimental, and improvised music scene.