New Orleans is full of incredible musicians who are hardly known outside the Crescent City. One of these remarkable musicians is bassist/sousaphone player Matt Perrine. With all due respect to Kirk Joseph, etc., Perrine is my favorite New Orleans tuba player, and with all due respect to James Singleton, etc., he is my favorite NOLA acoustic bassist – I try to hear him play every time I visit the city. On my recent trip (only four days long) to New Orleans, I heard Perrine play three times. That seems about right. Perrine plays regularly with several different bands and always seems to be playing somewhere with somebody. He is a member of the Tom McDermott/Evan Christopher Danza Quartet, the New Orleans Nightcrawlers brass band, Bonerama, and the Tin Men, which of course is “New Orleans' premiere guitar/tuba/washboard trio.” As busy as he is, Perrine doesn’t seem inclined to coast - whoever he’s playing with, and whatever kind of music they’re playing, Perrine's playing is imaginative and fully involved.
About a year ago I picked up the first CD under his name, Sunflower City. The cover actually put me off for a minute – it’s features a close-up photo of a large sunflower. I thought, “Great – this is just good-time happy music.” But then I looked at the picture again, and saw that in the background, to the right of the flower, you can see an “X” and some numbers painted on the front of a house. This, of course, is the code sign used by the search and rescue teams after Katrina; the “X” shows that the house was searched, and the numbers indicate how many living people, bodies, and pets were found in the house. Perrine has explained in interviews that sunflowers were the first wild plants to grow in post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s a great cover, symbolizing rebirth and renewal after disaster.
The music is, for the most part, joyous rather than happy, if that distinction makes any sense.* There is traditional jazz, straight-ahead jazz, Caribbean music, and even a touch of avant-garde. The opening track is the most elaborate arrangement of the hoary old New Orleans warhorse “Muskrat Ramble” that I’ve ever heard. The instrumentation and color of the track is constantly changing. But it works – it's one of the most enjoyable “Muskrat Rambles” I’ve heard. Perrine plays a stunning solo on this track; the range, technique, and conception of this tuba solo must be heard to be believed. I played it for a friend who is a low brass specialist, and he was convinced that it must have been played on a higher, four-valve tuba in E flat or F. He actually wrote Perrine to ask; MP confirmed that it was played, as were all of his tuba parts, on a standard double B flat sousaphone.
I definitely recommend hearing on of Matt Perrine’s bands when visiting New Orleans. He shouldn’t be hard to find.
*To me, “happy music” is mindless music. Much New Orleans music, however, is full of the joy of life, but seems to have an underlying awareness of how short that life is.