Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The People’s Champs Get the Party Started

The People’s Champs are a New York supergroup composed of members of some of the best and/or funkiest bands in town: Blitz the Ambassador and Larkin Grimm’s bands, Slavic Soul Party, Meta and the Cornerstones, the Superpowers, Nation Beat and Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Together they create a unique, individual sound that mixes psychedelic funk with Afrobeat. With the songs’ intricate arrangements, unexpected changes and edgy melodies, their new ep works just as well over headphones as it probably does on the dance floor.

These tunes are a trip. The first one, Angihambe is the most traditional, Fela-style vamp here, with the horns, accordion and then guitar kicking in over a warmly circling, syncopated midtempo pulse. Guitarist David Bailis hits his repeater box and then slyly shadows the band, panning almost imperceptibly across the mix and then back as the horns break free joyously and swirly keyboards join the frenzy. They manage to do all this in about four minutes. The next track, Family (a free download at the band’s bandcamp site) is pretty straight-up funk punctuated by powerful blasts from guitar and keys together. A woman sings nonchalantly about the “daily struggle” against the grit of the tune. They take it down to a staggered beat, Josiah Woodson’s trumpet gently playing against Mitchell Yoshida’s reverberating Rhodes piano, then they take it back up again.

The best and most psychedelic song here is Keep on Coming Back. Starting atmospherically with dub elements that echo in and out of the mix all the way through, darkly bluesy guitar flings glowing shards of reverb against the murky backdrop. As the swirl rises and falls, the horns play off the guitar, followed by a rumbling dub interlude. The last song is Truth Assumption, a hard-hitting yet amusing tune blending Afrobeat with funk, with a blippy synthesizer up in the mix to raise the smile factor. Distorted, staccato keys and guitar fire punch against the warmth of the horn section, followed by a big, satisfying swell that fades out, dirty and distorted. It’s a good ride all the way through.

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May 4, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blitz the Ambassador’s Native Sun Blazes and Burns

This is the rare hip-hop album that’s as interesting musically as it is lyrically, in fact more so. That’s because Ghanian-American hip-hop artist Blitz the Ambasssador is also a bandleader, mixing Afrobeat with funk, the occasional slow jam and roots reggae for a completely unique sound. The hooks here are wicked: like Blitz’s lyrics, they come at you hard and fast. There are a lot of musicians on the album: the core band, with Raja Kassis on guitar, Ramon de Bruyn on bass and a soaring horn section with Jonathan Powell on trumpet, Ron Prokopez on trombone and Ezra Brown on tenor sax is killer, with a mix of real percussion and canned beats that sound organic more often than not.

The opening track sets the stage for everything that follows: snakecharmer flute kicks off a balmy, hypnotic Afrobeat instrumental, slinky guitar intermingling with the horns and Blitz’s rapidfire lyrics: he wants to leave no doubt that he’s arrived, “Top ten on itunes without a deal.” A love letter to Africa personifies the continent as a woman: “Most of the men that said they loved you robbed you blind,” Blitz snarls, the sway behind him building to a biting, staccato Afro-funk interlude. He delivers a couple of joints in his native dialect over catchy, Ethiopian-flavored, hypnotic vamps; the reggae-flavored Best I Can gives a shout-out to the American hip-hop artists who inspire their African colleagues, Blitz making it clear that all he’s interested in is rocking the mic, not striking any stereotypical, corporate faux-gangbanger pose.

The next track is a slow jam with a breezy sax solo, segueing into the album’s best cut, the absolutely gorgeous Accra City Blues. A lament for a lost girlfriend in both English and Blitz’s native tongue, it’s packed with delicious touches like a sax solo run very subtly through a phaser, and an eerily twangy, absolutely noir guitar outro. With its mighty horn hook, Free Your Mind is a call for solidarity against corruption and African tyrants that couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. The brief Victory is the most traditional, American-style rap number here, which segues into the bitter, knowing title track, illuminating the struggle that African immigrants face here as the band works a richly psychedelic early 70s style wah funk groove. The album winds out with a surprisingly mellow, thoughtful acoustic guitar interlude. So many different styles of music here, so many different possible fans: this guy’s no dummy. Blitz the Ambassador plays the cd release show for this one at SOB’s on May 4 at 9.

May 2, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, rap music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blitz the Ambassador Sells Out BAM Cafe

Friday night at BAM Cafe the line at the base of the stairs snaked all the way around to the front doors: those who didn’t have the presence of mind, or simply the good fortune to get to the venue by half past eight, didn’t get in to see Blitz the Ambassador and his soaring Afrobeat band. As the bartender/emcee emphasized before the show began, concerts here on the weekend tend to fill up quickly these days. Yet there seemed to be considerable extra space in the room – there was a good crowd, but by no means a packed house. Take that into consideration the next time you see something on the calendar here that looks enticing.

About the show: Blitz the Ambassador’s band soundchecked at about quarter past eight, and sounded great. As it turned out, they hit the stage a half hour late, at 9:30, undoubtedly cutting into their time onstage. The Ghanian-born hip-hop artist switched between English, French and his native patois, delivering rapidfire, smartly conscious lyrical passages with long breaks for jamming. This band is about the music just as much as the lyrics: it makes sense that he would quote at length from the Public Enemy classic Welcome to the Terrordome at one point. A little later, he asked the crowd if they’d let him play dj, then led the band – a blistering horn section plus tasty guitar, melodic bass and drums – through a series of intros and hooks to famous African songs from over the decades, winding up with a Miriam Makeba theme which resonated potently with the older segment of the audience.

He’d opened his set with a catchy, hook-driven number in his native tongue that translated as “welcome.” The most classic, Fela-style song of the night was a fervent anticorruption anthem: Blitz made no secret of having zero tolerance for that stuff. But the most vivid moment of the night was when he went off on corporate radio. “If you wanna kill the radio, we gotta take it back to the drum, back to Africa,” he insisted, throwing his djembe over his shoulder and joining the band in an insistent, hypnotic, circular groove. The audience – an impressively diverse mix of ages and nationalities – followed his words closely and approvingly.

January 18, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rap music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment