ALBUM REVIEW: Japan Times (Tokyo)

At the tender age of 13, Kirk Joseph was already on the march. When his older brothers’ marching band was short a tuba player, Joseph filled in, knowing the tunes from hearing his father, brothers and New Orleans neighbors play them.

That was 30 years ago, but since then, he has helped define the good-time sound of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, of which he has long been, instrumentally at least, the biggest and deepest member. His first release as a bandleader, “Sousafunk Ave.,” extends the pumping, funky DDBB sound and turns the sousaphone up in the mix for a new blend of N.O. music he calls “sousafunk.”

Joseph gets the air moving through the massive sousaphone chamber as nimbly as any string bass player. The core band is rather compact, with sax, trumpet, guitar and drums alongside his sousaphone, but he also brings in some musical ringers. Each tune features a friend: Dr. John (with super-cool vocals on “Laid Back”), jazz heavy Donald Harrison (who blasts open several jams on sax), Neville Brothers’ drummer Willie Green (who tightens up the percussion) and the Bonerama Bones (a N.O. trombone ensemble whose CDs fit right beside Josephs’ on the funky shelf).

– Michael Pronko,

ALBUM REVIEW: Dirty Hippie Radio

Did you know that Kirk Joseph’s innovative “Sousafunk” project, the Kirk Joseph’s Backyard Groove “Sousafunk Ave” LP is proudly presented in our mix at DHR?

For those unaware, Kirk Joseph, son of trombonist Waldren “Frog” Joseph, is a master sousaphone player (that’s the one that looks like a tuba), one of the founding members of the legendary New Orleans-born Dirty Dozen Brass Band, band leader of Kirk Joseph’s Backyard Groove and the 504 Brass Band, and a pioneer of Sousafunk. So, what’s Sousafunk you ask? It’s Kirk Joseph with a microphone shoved down the throat of his sousaphone, and a wah wah pedal under his foot. It’s thick. It’s heavy. It’s sweaty. It’s funky, fat-bottomed, booming, jamming, non-stop good time tonic! Oh, and Joseph’s also a personal friend of Dr. Jonh, who he simply refers to as Mac (after his more proper name Mac Rebennack). Dr. John appears on the “Sousafunk Ave” LP guesting on piano and vocals for two tracks, including lead vocal on the serenading, bluesy ballad “I Can’t Get Started.”

It’s strange to call such an occasion a pleasure, but we deeply appreciate the results of less than desirable coincidences which allowed us to meet Kirk Joseph and come to call him friend. As it goes, years ago, we DHR founders were a couple of young and eager regulars at a legendary blues, jazz, and funk venue in Hermosa Beach, CA: the one and only Cafe Boogaloo, under the direction of original owner and New Orleans transplant Steve Roberts. Boog was our sole refuge for real music, and an exclusive melting pot for art, craft beer, artisanal food, fine wine and soulful people. Exclusive, because it was the only joint in town of this nature, and it was most definitely only for those few who got it. Those floating high upon a surrounding sea of buoys and sunken vessels, as if atop a lighthouse whose beacon was way ahead of its time. A place where you could order a drink without a set of fake tits in your face. Where you could experience live music without 50 football games contesting for your attention on 20 flat screens. Where the doorman would push you across the threshold with a big paw across your back as he encouraged you to get your ass in there quick because the band was so good. Where you could honestly say you had a genuinely good time.
I digress; however, it was within this context, swirling around this sphere, that we encountered the blazing horns of The Big Easy, and the chirping, undulating, ripping guitars of the funkier side of the swamp. It was here where we encountered the sweat of Kirk Joseph’s brow.

Probably lagging ass over a cigarette, I remember walking into Boog behind some friends who’d already made it in. By the time I’d caught up, the band was on break. I asked my pal how the band was. He replied that they were pretty good. I asked if there were any horns. He thought about it for a sec, and said yeah, there were some horns. I think he was a little stony, because when the band came back on there were 2 trumpets, 2 saxophones, and after trying to figure out who was playing bass… a tuba player as well. Only, of course it wasn’t a tuba at all, but Kirk Joseph on sousaphone! A funky ass sousaphone player.

Now Steve was notorious for booking the heaviest shit in town, whether you’d heard of it or not, including major touring acts who would only stop to play his little venue because he was the one running it. Any given night, Steve would turn to you and say, “This is the real deal right here. The best shit you’ve ever heard.” Always. This kid, that kid, these guys, this gal… I honestly think he earnestly meant it every time. However, with Kirk Joseph, his Backyard Groove, and the scattered entrails of the Dirty Dozen, it wasn’t planned at all. Hurricane Katrina had hit, and blown these displaced musicians into the solace of our fantasy land beach town.

Boog acted as a resource center for Joseph and Co., facilitating living arrangements, and providing a paying place to play. We were blown out of our boots from the caliber of music brought by our relocated brothers, and we instantly became regulars of their shows. The “Sousafunk Ave” original “Laid Back” (featuring Dr. John on vocals and piano) became our anthem and number 1 encore request. All the while, they got to know our faces, our names, our dance moves, and as our proximity narrowed in that intimate venue, it was clear to see that throughout the ritualistic moments of music and joy, these fellows wistfully missed and longed for their proper home.

The band played for nights upon weeks over the months that followed, often absorbing local patron musicians on stage to join in, including Jake Eckert (of the jam-based jazz outfit New Soul Underground) on guitar and slide. Eckert, who’d also been putting Joseph up in his Hermosa Beach apartment, soon became the new sousafunk guitarist; and, in fact, it was here in our little beach bubble, during this time, that he was also officially assimilated into the Dirty Dozen Brass Band through Joseph as well. That was a cool thing to witness. The gang eventually made it home, taking Eckert with them, but the whole experience was amazing and stood as a stark reminder that hardship cannot diminish the beating flame of humanity, joy, and growth, often causing it to burn brighter.

ABLUM REVIEW: Walnut Street Gallery (Boulder, CO)

Kirk Joseph has earned his seat at the table of New Orleans’ greatest musicians and will surely claim his place in music history as perhaps the greatest innovator of his instrument, the sousaphone. For most, a mention of the sousaphone conjures images of marching bands and drum cadences. But in the hands of Joseph, the instrument comes to life in ways that its namesake, John Phillip Sousa, could have hardly imagined. During his long tenure with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Joseph developed his innovative approach to the sousaphone, replacing the instruments limits, as perceived by his predecessors, with a rich musical vocabulary. Never before had such a creative and stylistic range been demonstrated. But the new standards set by

Kirk Joseph has prompted many since to follow his lead. In between performances and recording sessions with Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Anders Osborne and a host of other locally, nationally, and internationally known artists, Joseph began working on his own material in collaboration with some of New Orleans and the countries most talented musicians. The result comes together as the KIRK JOSEPH’S BACKYARD GROOVE, an assemblage featuring the “creme de la creme” of local and national musicians. The music is a tight, rhythmic and high-spirited concoction of jazz, funk, and afro-Caribbean flavors that’s been proven to have a wide appeal. Kirk is now promoting his new album “Sousafunk Ave”, which features many special guests such as: Dr. John, Skerik, Bonerama, Donald Harrison, Charles Joseph and many others. KIRK JOSEPH MASTER OF THE SOUSAFUNK

– Bob Compton,

JAZZFEST REVIEW: Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

Rain held off at New Orleans Jazz Fest on Thursday morning, letting sousaphone star Kirk Joseph share his New Orleans roots with fans at the Acura Stage. A founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Joseph led his own ensemble, Back Yard Groove, through a program of dense, bottom-shaking funk, anchored by his big silver horn.

On Thursday (May 2), Backyard Groove ran about as deep as the Mississippi River, with two trap drummers, two percussionists, a savvy two-man horn section, and a guitarist with a taste for chunky riffs and minimalist melodic fragments. Joseph also turned the spotlight on Kyle Roussel, a young keyboard star who made waves at the Jazz Tent this past weekend.

Vocalist Leslie Smith sailed over the band like an acrobat on a trampoline — and the dancing soul diva was joined for a brief guest spot by Cue, a Treme neighborhood vocal talent.

Sousaphone star Kirk Joseph led his funk jam band, Backyard Groove, through a morning set at the Acura Stage of the New Orleans Jazz Fest on Thursday, May 2, 2013.

For anyone starting their day at the Acura Stage, Joseph’s band gave a delightful lesson in the pan-African pleasures of New Orleans music. The show was especially suited for anyone with a taste for melismatic vocal flights, driving call-and-response structures, and the extended jams of Fela Kuti and Miles Davis circa 1973.

Chris Waddington,

ALBUM REVIEW: Offbeat Magazine (New Orleans)

Sousaphonist Kirk Joseph puts his solitary mark on the hard-driving opener, “Backyard Groove.” He and guest, saxophonist Donald Harrison, who lays down his own distinctive stamp, engage in some fine bobbing and weaving with solid riffing by the horns of trumpeter Raymond Williams and saxophonist Sherik Akbar. Drummer Kevin O’Day is just all over this tune. Expect the unexpected on this package from the sousaphone master as the next voice—and piano—up is Dr. John, on the aptly titled “Laid Back.” It’s a natural to slide right into the good doctor’s easy frame mind on this relaxed number. Here, guitarist Hironari Mano gets some well-utilized solo time. Throughout the disc, there’s a bunch of mixing it up with various musicians and styles. For instance, rap meets brassy funk on “A Walker’s Groove” and a tropical sway brushes “Thinking of Her” with “Mean” Willie Green on wickedly wonderful percussion. Of course, funk is the main ingredient at the barbecue though Joseph takes advantage of the presence of Dr. John and Harrison at the roast and allows some quiet time as he thoughtfully backs them on the ballad, “I Can’t Get Started.” The Bonerama horns turn up for “Blackout” and later Theresa Andersson brings her violin and voice to join an array of other guests on the skanking “No Meat.” There’s plenty on the grill to select from this Backyard Groove bash.

Geraldine Wyckoff,