It’s about 6:45 on a Tuesday night. The place is Dan’s Silverleaf. The band is A Taste of Herb.
The seven-piece band is in the pocket, and the music is cooking.
And the people crowded around tables, at the bar and along the back wall are nodding along to the tribute band’s version of “Rise.” It’s one of the most famous songs Herb Alpert recorded. And it’s one of the few Alpert solo songs the band plays.
“I’ve never played in a tribute band before,” said trumpet player John Weir, who divides up Alpert’s smooth, fluent brass work with resident Grammy winner Danny O’Brien, best known for his work in Brave Combo.
The band plays music mostly from Alpert’s time with the Tijuana Brass, a corps of brass men who could do an honest-to-God mariachi flourish without losing cred when the music called for jazz.
“I’m from Arkansas, and Joe [Cripps] is from Arkansas,” said Weir, waiting on a beer after the band’s happy hour set. “I met Joe one night when I went to see this band called Mi Son, Mi Son, Mi Son. I ended up sitting in with them.”
Mi Son, Mi Son, Mi Son is a popular Denton Cuban band, and Weir showed off his trumpet skills at the gig. A Taste of Herb grew out of the gig, with Cripps doing much of the connecting.
The tribute band honors music executive, singer and trumpeter Herb Alpert, but puts its own spin on the catalog.
There’s guitarist Robert Hokamp’s funky-cool rhythm and lead guitar work, and Paul Slavens’ shape-shifting keyboards (Slavens can give it the Tin Pan Alley treatment on “Spanish Flea” and then take it to slicked-back town, lounge-hot, in “Rise.”) Revered local drummer Tex Bosley can be grooving along in the proverbial pocket and then go all pop-rock on his bandmates.
O’Brien couldn’t seem more relaxed in this collection of true blue players, and is occasionally kind of bashful when a quick-licking phrase elicits hoots and whistles from the audience.
“It’s funny how disorganized we are,” O’Brien cracks as he packs up his horn. “But it seems to work for us.”
Maybe “disorganized” is O’Brien’s code for “playing the set list as we go.” The sound at Dan’s Silverleaf is well balanced, and as the band clicks through the Tijuana Brass’ “Butterball,” the band passes around the theme. Cripps and Bosley play a rhythmic pingpong game before volleying to Hokamp and bassist Ross Schodek, who slip the song down to its sexier, baritone pulses. Slavens scats along on the keys until Weir and O’Brien take it away.
“Our whole idea was to arrange songs by the Tijuana Brass for the group, and maybe do a few of Herb’s solo pieces,” Weir said. “Herb’s sound is this beautiful sound. It’s very simple, very beautiful sound.”
Alpert brought the trumpet to a pop-rock audience during the 1960s with the Tijuana Brass, then continued to have hits on the charts in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. An instrument that seems to be at its best advantage in jazz broke into popular music.
Alpert was and is praised for his impeccable, full-bodied tone and sustains.
“He really gives the instrument a vocal quality,” Weir said.
As the story goes, Alpert was inspired by the passionate crowd response to a bullfight when he visited Tijuana, Mexico. He re-recorded a song he’d been working on, affecting the trumpet in a wailing, mournful mariachi idiom and added crowd sounds.
“He had a vision,” Cripps said.
Weir said he wasn’t familiar with the Tijuana Brass’ catalog, but learned it for the tribute band. These days, he plays like a serious fan.
“It’s such great, fun stuff,” he said.
The band decided to learn the Tijuana Brass’ Christmas music last year. The players learned it, thinking it might come in handy. The decision proved fortuitous when the Denton Holiday Lighting Festival Association invited A Taste of Herb to perform a set on the main stage. Thousands attended, and when A Taste of Herb played, the crowd shimmied and swayed.
The band has a slate of regular gigs — playing Tuesday happy hours at Dan’s and now playing every Sunday night Gerhard’s German Restaurant on Hickory Street.
This Tuesday night will be the band’s third date on the Sweetwater Grill & Tavern patio, a coveted spot for professional jazz musicians.
“The whole point is to have fun,” Weir said. “That’s what we’re doing, and it’s easy with this music.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
A TASTE OF HERB
Next gig: 7 p.m. Tuesday at Sweetwater Grill & Tavern, 115 S. Elm St. No cover charge. Dinner and drinks served on the enclosed patio.
On the Web: www.atasteofherb.com
THEY’RE WITH THE BAND
A Taste of Herb is:
• Danny O’Brien and John Weir — trumpets
• Ross Schodek — bass
• Robert Hokamp — guitar
• Tex Bosley — drums
• Joe Cripps — percussion
• J. Paul Slavens — keyboard