It’s been mentioned in this publication before that New Orleans has an extensive music history and is well known as the birthplace of jazz. The city’s presence in the sonic arts is rivaled by few places and it’s always branching out into different areas of the art form. A band that’s a prime example of this are The Soul Rebels, who make music that incorporate various styles into a jazz foundation within the structure of a brass ensemble. They’ve performed with a variety of legendary musicians and they can also put on a stellar show when they’re performing by themselves and fans of the genre can see it for themselves Sunday night as the band takes the stage at the Greenwich Odeum, located on 59 Main Street in East Greenwich, at 7 p.m.
I had a talk with the band’s snare drummer Lumar LeBlanc ahead of the show about The Soul Rebels’ eclectic approach to music, an incredible resume of collaborations, performing on television and radio shows and plans for the rest of the year.
Rob Duguay: The Soul Rebels stand out from other New Orleans brass bands due to their inclusion of soul, jazz, funk, hip hop, rock and pop elements into their sound. How would you describe this approach that fuses all these different styles together?
Lumar LeBlanc: I think it’s a testament to the eclectic and artistic style of music of each member. Each member has their own particular flavor, if you want to call it that, which they really like and we always blend them all together. That was the initial vibe of the group and it’s continued on to this day, some of us have more of a reggae and R&B vibe so we incorporate music that tailors to that. Others like myself gravitate more toward classic hip hop and there’s some rock music that I love as well. There’s also some classical and we even have some hints of country western whether the rest of the band realizes it or not, but jazz is always at the top.
We’re all jazz lovers, so that’s where the initial vibe comes from. As you know, jazz musicians are some of the most talented musicians on the planet so it’s no surprise that we incorporate all these different elements.
RD: This stylistic inclusion has included collaborations with the likes of Katy Perry, Metallica, Green Day and various hip hop artists including Talib Kweli, Rakim, Black Thought from The Roots and GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan among others. How have you guys gone about establishing this wide network of folks to make music with?
LL: First off all, we had to study all these different art forms to be artistically ready when the call comes. Early on, one of the first big stars who took an interest in us was Robert Plant and he’s a very versatile person. He happened to come to one of our gigs in the Tremé section of New Orleans and when he saw us, he was blown away because we were playing such a bushel of music. He then hopped on stage and he started singing with a limousine outside waiting for him. I don’t know how in the world he found us, this was before Hurricane Katrina so we were still in our infancy but he’s an example of how people gravitate to our music.
As time went on, we were able to put in a business structure that could get us to the people we wanted to get to. That’s basically how we did it, but we had to have the sound. With a lot of artists like Lars Ulrich from Metallica or Nas, we wanted to utilize them to see where we fit in. We were able to have a plan in place to make these connections, nurture a relationship in a business sense and have serious offers. Once the call came, we were ready but we had to practice a lot for Metallica but the music is so awesome, they’re awesome and we went into the studio to practice with them as well.
We were vibin’ together and it was a whole musical experience. That’s just one example.
RD: Very cool, it’s awesome that you guys got to do that. You guys have also had various media appearances by performing on CBS, HBO, TBS, ESPN, NPR and even the Discovery Channel. Are there any major differences between preparing for a performance on television or radio versus performing in front of a live audience in a venue? What were playing in these settings like for you and the rest of the band?
LL: When we go through the choreographed interview process on a show like “Good Morning America” on national TV, it’s very scripted. You have to play to the second, so we have to pick songs that can start and stop on a dime while being able to adhere to the commercial structure, when to take commercial breaks and things like that. Those particular sets, even though they’re so widely viewed while giving us the appeal that we may be seeking as far as popularity and the strength of a media platform, they don’t tend to have the same energy that a live show has. Every live show is like painting on a canvas while ending it with a climatic piece, so when we play live we’re really taking the audience on a journey, which is guided by our energy. The energy is much higher, more executed and it can go into so many different places that we don’t know what the audience is going to do.
We’ve had people do so many wild things at our shows, it’s incredible. Fortunately no one has ever gotten hurt and it’s always been fun and enjoyable, but a live show is on a whole other emotional, energetic and physical level and it goes to such different heights. During these interviews and even radio shows, we have to adhere to a stop and a start. With NPR, it’s really more like a live performance so we were able to capture a good sense of what our live performance is, but it’s not the actual stage setup where we’re able to harness the energy and have a transference between the audience and ourselves. That’s a spiritual thing for me.
RD: I can definitely see why. The Soul Rebels just performed in Rhode Island a few weeks ago as part of the Newport Jazz Festival, so how will this upcoming show at the Greenwich Odeum be different in terms of you guys performing by yourselves without any special guests?
LL: That’s another difference that occurs. The special guests are awesome because they really show their talent, they adapt and present while bringing both art forms together to give a coherent piece that’s magical. When you perform by yourself, you can dictate whatever you want and it’s obviously different when we perform by ourselves because we can pick any song. Then we can project those songs in any way we feel possible. With jazz being our foundation, it’s always different even though it may be the same repertoire that we play night in and night out.
It’s going to have a different interpretation because of the jazz spontaneity that we bring to it. We’re going to hit it hard coming out like we usually do, then we’re going to go off into such tense, melodic soloing and then we’re going to go into the vocals and the raps. It’s really something that would do well on Broadway because our shows are so eclectic, we do such a wide array of artistic expression with the jazz, funk and everything else. It’s really awesome.
RD: I’ll have to agree, especially after seeing that performance in Newport with Rakim and Talib Kweli. After the show, what are The Soul Rebels’ plans for the rest of 2023?
LL: First and foremost, we have a lot of commitments for the rest of the year as far as gigs and concerts go. That’s going to be the priority and they usually slow down around the holidays so we’ll spend a lot of time with friends and family. With making a new record, we’re always trying to create and go into the studio to have practice sessions and vibe with different ideas. One of us will have an idea, record it onto a phone and then send it to the rest of the band, so that kind of journey continues on and on. We’re also going to be doing music for movies, they require a laser beam focus for a short period of time so we can get back to the other things we do musically, so that’s kind of the agenda for the rest of the year.