OK, people, the final boundary of jazz has been breached: A Billy Idol song—a Billy Idol song, for God’s sake—has been turned into a New Orleans street march. The culprit is the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, the crazy Boston-based outfit led by alto saxophonist Ken Field.
Much of the band’s second album, Forked Tongue, is made of up original compositions that sit nicely along the more familiar members of the New Orleans canon. Field’s arrangements of traditional fare such as “Just a Closer Walk,” “Give Me Jesus” and “Down by the Riverside” are eminently satisfying and invigorating. The band—which includes trumpeter Jon Fraser, tenor saxophonist Andrew Hickman, trombonist Lennie Peterson, bassist Kimon Kirk and drummers Phil Neighbors and Erik Paull—rises to the occasion, turning in some simmering work that belies its New England anchorage. But what they do with Idol’s 1980s hit “White Wedding” is beyond the pale: The tune sounds like a natural part of Bourbon Street history, three minutes of celebratory bliss, drawn from a source of complete kitsch.
Field and his out-there cadre of comrades may be known locally for their happy-go-lucky concerts—events, really—complete with costumes inspired by Mardi Gras and Sun Ra. But the music is what counts, and Forked Tongue demonstrates why the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble matters.