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The Brokedown

Lowbrow is the high life


Brokedown fixes up the roots rock

Brokedown trumpeter Jeff Sharra's horn was brokedown. Sharra is classically trained, and played in various ensembles at SyracuseUniversity before joining The Marine Corps Band. But classical music and marches didn't scratch his itch. He hadn't played in four years.

"It wasn't until I stopped playing classical music that I could actually improvise and play my own music," he says, "instead of reading what someone else wrote." Sharra messed around with a few blues bands before moving to Rochester, and that's where he hooked up with Brokedown.

Brokedown is a solid, 1-year-old roots rock outfit comprised of musicians who, for the most part, are anything but roots-rockers. Take for instance bassist Todd Krasz; he's a guitar player (formerly of Bee Eater and Black Eyed Rosie) masquerading as a bassist in a style he's only recently grown to love.

"I'm a fan now," says Krasz. "I'd always been a metal head. I'd always been a metal head with blinders on."

Krasz was doing work at Brokedownfrontman/founder Croonin' Kurt Wilmarth's Echo-Tone rehearsal studios in the South Wedge. Wilmarth mentioned that he was looking for a bassist.

"I said, 'Uh... I guess I can play bass,'" Krasz says. "I really wanted to play out. And I really wanted to do something totally different from the hard rock/metal stuff I'd done all my life."

Krasz brought Sharra into the fold. And with Eastman percussion student Andrew Barrionvevo joining on drums, Brokedown began.

Wilmarth has been a roots staple in Rochester for close to 20 years. He's wrapped his rich, honeyed baritone around rockabilly, western swing, and '50s rock 'n' roll with assorted outfits including Slippin' Slacks and The Hi-Geared Combo, and he even got a little raunchy on the honky tonk with Diesel Daddy. Wilmarth is essentially the only hardcore roots-rocker in Brokedown.

"For the most part," says Krasz, "Kurt was the only one who really knew what he was doing. As far as playing this kind of music --- roots music --- Kurt was the only one who had a clue."

"I wanted to do something more New Orleans and blues sounding," Wilmarth says. Hence the horn. Saxophone may have been more of what he had in mind but along came Sharra and his trumpet.

"I said, 'Hell, I'm game,' because I wanted to do something different," he says. That desire, along with instrumentation and musicians not typically associated within the genre, is what really makes Brokedown work. The band shines beyond these anomalies, allowing their diverse backgrounds and strengths from other styles to guide them. It's far more interesting to hear musicians getting their feet wet in previously uncharted waters.

Barrionvevo, though jazz-literate, pounds and swings with Brokedown. Rock 'n' roll's primitive drive may be a few grades shy of his sheepskin, but hell, sometimes lowbrow can be a good thing.

"Oh, it's a great thing," Barrionvevo says. "You can apply a lot of jazz influences into this kind of stuff, which actually came from New Orleans."

"Lowbrow is the high life," Krasz adds.

In their tiny rehearsal space, Krasz, Sharra, and Barrionvevo start to fool around while Wilmarth tunes up. Barrionvevo kicks off with a haphazard syncopation that waxes Brubeck cool. Krasz walks the bottom end, setting the groove just as the horn starts to wail. It lasts for about a minute.

"We should be recording this," Krasz says. But it's already in Sharra's head.

"I'll remember it," he says.

All these influences and past experiences swirling around the room get lasso'd together as Wilmarth counts to four. The music shuffles, it bops, it swings. It's edgy and tough with Wilmarth's black guitar roaring sweet and ragged through his Fender's black face. And then there's that horn, all bright and brassy, leading the charge.

This sound is getting put to tape. Fourteen new songs will wind up on the band's debut disc by the end of this year. There'll be plenty of shows around town with eyes on the horizon as things start to fall into place.

Not too shabby for a band called Brokedown.

But naturally, when you come up with a cool name, chances are others have as well. There are already several Brokedowns out there, including one in Sweden.

Rochester's Brokedowncould care less.

"Well," Krasz says. "We're not Swedish."

Brokedown plays with The Fertility Rite Brothers, Saturday, September 16, at Richmond's, 21 Richmond St, 454-4612, at 10 p.m., $4, 21+.