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Dirty Dozen Brass Band 

Still going on

Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Local funk ensemble Children of the Horn opens
Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh
Thursday, Feb. 8, doors at 8 p.m., music at 9 p.m.
Tickets: $13 in advance, $15 the day of the show

click to enlarge The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
  • The Dirty Dozen Brass Band

At the dawn of the '70s, Marvin Gaye looked at the hardship and despair in his Detroit and asked a direct question, poignant in its simplicity: "What's going on?"

"Thirty-five years, and we're still dealing with the same social problems, just wearing a different suit," says 65-year-old baritone sax man Roger Lewis, one of four Dirty Dozen Brass Band cofounders still in the longstanding ensemble. "It all makes you wonder what's really going on. There's the natural disaster with Hurricane Katrina—what's going on with that? You just keep on coming back to 'What's going on?'"

With that question echoing daily from the surface of the Katrina wreckage and never delivering any answers, Lewis and his New Orleans bandmates took to the studio with producer Shawn Amos and revisited Gaye's 1971 classic album in its entirety. And despite the bleakness in the scenes conjured by Gaye, the Dozen manages to find the hope in the grooves. Sure, part of that springs from Gaye's own pleas: "Give out some love and you'll find peace sublime." But, even at the risk of sounding entirely romantic, the idea of relief here comes from the beauty of the Dozen's music. A world that contains sounds so gorgeous can't be completely hopeless, can it?

"There's always hope," Lewis offers. You can sense the struggle to keep that sentiment alive as he talks about his crushed city and money that doesn't seem to make it from the politicians into the hands of those who need it. "It was hell. We're still going through hell. It's a filibuster with the devil."

On their What's Going On, the Dozen acknowledges the chaos and torment, but their charged playing provides an escape from it. And their work with guest vocalists—from Bettye LaVette to Guru—taps into the same inspiring spirit of community and collaboration as the original.

"Everybody gave their all," says Lewis, with a recollection that's as simply complex as the title. "We put a lot of feeling into the music. That's why it sounds so good."

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