When listening to Columbia’s six-piece Soda City Brass Band in action, it’s difficult to believe they’ve only been together for six months. Dominated by a muscular horn section, the band is a New Orleans-style groove machine, sounding like the next logical step in a tradition that includes bands like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the immortal Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
But there’s a lot of funk in their sound as well, and it’s not the spare, sinewy funk that The Meters specialized in; it’s more like the bold, every-horn-blasting-at-once sound that Tower Of Power once rocked the house with. Onstage, the band is a real crowd-pleaser, mixing old-school Big Easy classics with their own more forward-looking originals. In a typical Soda City set, you might hear anything from “When the Saints Go Marching In” to a Trombone Shorty tune, and trumpet player and co-bandleader Mark Rapp says that’s just how they want it.
“People love to hear familiar stuff because it gives them something to grab onto,” he says. “Then they’re on board with you, and you can do something new. If it’s all just new, new, new, they don’t have a relationship with it. But give them a song they love, then put one of the originals right behind it — they’re already in the car riding with you, and they’re going to enjoy this adventure, because you’ve welcomed them in.”
Rapp spent five years in New Orleans while getting his master’s degree, and while he was there he soaked up every bit of music the city had to offer.
“New Orleans is a very soulful city,” he says. “Guys in New Orleans have a distinct sound when they play their horns. When you hear a trumpet player from New Orleans, you immediately know where they’re from, because guys are playing for their lives. A lot of these bands go out … at 9 or 10 in the morning and play on the same block till 8 or 10 p.m. They’ve been out there all day hustling.
“It’s soulful. It’s deep,” he adds. ‘I’m not sure how to explain it; you have to experience it.”
Rapp returned to Columbia with the urge to create his own band in that Big Easy mold. His longtime friend Chris Church would quickly come on board as drummer and co-bandleader.
“We’d been playing some jazz gigs here and there, and when Chris moved from Aiken to Columbia, we started hanging out more and talking about our goals,” Rapp says. “There were no bands like that in existence around here.”
Church brought along a treasure trove of horn charts for old-school jazz classics like “Bourbon Street Parade” and others.
“The big challenge in a project like this is getting all that music together,” Rapp says. “You have to write out all these sax parts, trumpet parts, and bass parts. It’s a lot of work, and now he had the music. So we put our list together of players, put the band together, and started rehearsing.”
Another one of the challenges that faces the Soda City Brass Band is respecting the traditions of New Orleans music while carrying the music forward.
“That concept holds true of jazz musicians in general,” Rapp says. “The goal is to know where you came from, and think about where you’re going. You have to know what’s happening before you innovate it.”
Soda City Brass Band
TD Stage (ScanSource Reedy River Concerts), 300 S. Main St., Greenville
Wednesday, Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m.