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Tuba Skinny Bring Some Southern Brilliance to Brooklyn

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by Freya Wilcox

While it's rare to find a band that both blows you away not only with their musical prowess and presence, but also with their sheer ability to make dance floors shudder and smiles erupt on jaded faces, New Orleans jazz/rag band Tuba Skinny did just that—showing off their seemingly endless capacity to amaze.

The six-piece brought their unique and authentic brand of 1920s-style jazz and blues to a glowing crowd in the confines of Brooklyn's Barbès on Thursday night with their immaculately traditional vibe.

The venue, which was far too packed for swing dancing (seemingly the most appropriate style), compensated with a unified jive that bounced with a sincere appreciation for the somewhat primitive but dearly missed tunes of the traditional genre.

The band's sound filled every corner of the room's soundscape with inspired and remarkable rhythm; the absence of a drummer could go completely overlooked as Robin Rapuzzi's incredible ability with his washboard and Ryan Bear's hard-strummed banjo and guitar left no element of percussion to be desired.

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Meanwhile, the brass section—comprising a tuba (of course), trumpet, and trombone—staggered with arresting coordination around each other like not-so-drunken sailors in a choreographed street fight.

The thing that truly set Tuba Skinny apart was singer Erika Lewis' powerful melodies, seeming as familiar as Ella Fitzgerald or Etta James but somehow holding a strength and grace that were entirely refreshing and all her own.

Her swoon was clear and catchy, with the occasional flicker of a throaty rasp that kept every song interesting and engaging, and her casual and mostly gentle movement did nothing to distract from the immense jazz-savviness of the band.

It's undeniably clear that the band's roots playing on the streets of New Orleans has given them a sense of musical unity that is only gained through the sharing of sweat, songs, and stages night after night. They were so good at evoking a true sense of authenticity—without bringing the tactless props and outfits of other similar acts—that the audience justifiably felt a part of another time and place.

Frankly the most touching part of their stunning sound and performance was the fact that, somehow in this world, six first-rate "vintage" musicians found each other and managed to hold on to a band that clearly never fails to impress.