Listen to their debut album, And Still I Rise, or witness a live performance by the
Heritage Blues Orchestra (H.B.O.) and you’ll recognize this group as something
breathtakingly new even as they honor old African-American musical traditions.
The grit of low-down country and urban blues to the bold brass of New Orleans; the
hand-clapping, hustle and bustle of gospel to fiery postmodern, jazz-infused horn
arrangements; the haunting cries of work songs to pulsating drums that reach back to the
roots of it all—if you are lucky enough to hear the Heritage Blues Orchestra, you’ll
experience this and more.
From the first of the twelve tracks on their debut album And Still I Rise, Junior Mack’s
propulsive rendition of Son House’s Clarksdale Moan, Heritage Blues Orchestra
unapologetically stomps onto the scene and digs in with both heels—taking us from Bill
Sims’ hard-shuffling version of the immortal Muddy Waters classic, Catfish Blues, to the
solemn dirge of Chaney Sims’ interpretation of Leadbelly’s Go Down Hannah to
magnificent three-part harmonies against a slippery slide guitar in their head-nodding
version of Get Right Church.
The group is driven by the powerful rhythms of Grammy-awarding winning blues
drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith; buttressed by the churning, precise and percussive
rhythms of harmonica virtuoso, Frenchman Vincent Bucher; and ablaze with some of
New York City’s heaviest horn players who have worked with everyone from Wynton
Marsalis to Sting and Springsteen.
Heritage Blues Orchestra also boasts contributions from Bruno Wilhelm, the group’s
highly esteemed tenor saxophonist and horn arranger. A native of France, Wilhelm is
influenced by an extensive palette of jazz styles. Whether with ethereal musings or hardhitting
section work, his arrangements punctuate every song they touch.
This combined with Bill, Chaney and Junior’s collective history in jazz, R&B and gospel
help articulate and underscore the Heritage Blues Orchestra’s striking voice. At the heart
of the group is a broad spectrum of the blues and the longstanding musical mingling
between America and Europe that brings together African-American music, Modern Jazz
and Western European harmony.
Nowhere is the breadth of Heritage Blues Orchestra’s vision and reach better evidenced
than on the album’s closing piece, Hard Times. This song, in 3 movements, demonstrates
it all: the traditional call-and-response between a lone voice and guitar; a bewitching horn
composition peppered with Miles Davis’ A Silent Way; and a final transition to a roofraising
funk jam that leaps out and shoves you onto the dance floor.
This group is an inspiring testament to the enduring power, possibilities and boundless
beauty of African-American music. It drives us down Highway 49 from Clarksdale to
New Orleans, journeys across the Middle Passage, takes us from chain gangs and juke
joints, to orchestra pits and church pews, and even to back porches.
Their loving celebration of tradition gives rise to a new adventure in music with a
singular sound. Please welcome the exciting arrival of the Heritage Blues Orchestra.