Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Burnt Sugar Play James Brown in Bed-Stuy

Most cover bands are either a disappointment or a joke. This being New York, there are actually some covers bands here who transcend the label: Tammy Faye Starlite’s brutally satirical Rolling Stones and Blondie projects; the sometimes 18-piece Main Squeeze Orchestra, who perform original all-accordion arrangements of pop songs; and Burnt Sugar. Of course, Burnt Sugar aren’t just a cover band: founder/conductor Greg Tate has been leading them through their trademark hypnotic, psychedelic, atmospheric, improvisational soundscapes since the 90s. But they’re also a mighty funk orchestra. Last night at Tompkins Park in Bed-Stuy, they played an all-James Brown program that did justice to the Godfather of Soul.

How do you cover Jaaaaaaaaaaaaames Brown without turning it into camp, or a parody? By doing the songs pretty much how he did them – and by not overdoing the vocals. A rotating cast of singers, both male and female, took turns on lead vocals (often in the same song), the main guy wearing a James Brown helmet wig. But as much fun as everybody was having, nobody went completely over the top: no cape trick, no Vegas showmanship, just a lot of good tunes and good history. The band was colossal, in both senses of the word: a five-piece horn section; five harmony singers (one of whom had to multitask on turntables, something they could have left in the rehearsal room and the music wouldn’t have suffered); three dancers, who mingled with the audience, as well as violin, keys, guitar, bass and drums. When bassist Jared Nickerson’s slinky Bootsy Collins lines were audible in the amphitheatre’s boomy sonics, it was clear that he was having the time of his life. The horns lept in joyously and disappeared in a split-second, just as Brown would have wanted, and the singers both in front and behind the band delivered the songs with a passion that wouldn’t let up. Just a few of the standouts from this particular lineup: violinist Mazz Swift, whose austere textures were a welcome anchor; Bruce Mack’s alternately funky and lush keys and organ, Paula Henderson (of Rev. Vince Anderson’s band) on baritone sax, and Imani Uzuri taking a couple of characteristically alluring cameos out in front when she wasn’t singing harmonies.

There was also a multimedia component that packed a surprising punch. A screen behind the band showed slides of various James Brown property (shades, stagewear, personal effects) auctioned off after his death, while an actor played the role of auctioneer between several of the songs or segues. The most powerful moments of the night were when Brown’s soul came up for auction, and later when the actor and the singer in the JB wig evoked the introduction of the famous Boston concert after the Martin Luther King assassination where Brown is commonly credited from saving the city from the rioting that was taking place all over the country; this particular interpretation had Brown ignoring the Boston mayor’s well-intentioned condescension with a casually stern but insightful exhortation to the crowd to chill out. Other segments played up Brown’s message of self-empowerment and defiant ambition.

And the songs were supertight: I Feel Good, Super Bad, a cheery singalong of Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud), a surprisingly upbeat It’s a Man’s World, a version of Please Please Please that played up its doo-wop origins, and a surprising amount of material from throughout his career, not just the classic hits from the 60s. Brown’s angel dust period was vividly evoked via a long, atonal instrumental – a good approximation of this band’s original stuff – backing a spoken-word piece about heroin delivered by the harmony singer/turntablist. The crowd, sparse as the sun went down, grew in numbers and enthusiasm as the night wore on, the band’s dancers getting a party going in front of the stage. They’ll be there tonight at 8 if you’re in the mood.

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June 18, 2011 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 2/28/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #701:

Parliament – Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome

Big record labels always wanted to eliminate musicians from the equation. By 1978, as disco gained traction, they were doing it with drum loops and primitive samples, and musicians were worried sick. Into the battle stepped George Clinton with this ferocious, deliriously danceable broadside aimed at the music industry and clueless listeners, personified by Sir Nose d’Voidoffunk (i.e. “devoid of funk”). Among other things, this clueless idiot can’t dance, despite the presence of some of the era’s best funk musicians – Clinton, Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel and Bootsy Collins. The album’s two big hits, Bop Gun and Flash Light, with its ridiculously catchy Bernie Worrell synth bass hook, have been sampled in a gazillion hip-hop songs. There’s also the caustic, sarcastic Wizard of Finance, the anti-consumerist cautionary tale Placebo Syndrome and the mesmerizing ten-minute title track. Thirty years later, the winner of this battle couldn’t be more clear. Here’s a random torrent.

February 28, 2011 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/27/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #794:

Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young

Here’s a band that pretty much everybody agrees on. But the two most popular “best-of” music lists up here in the cloud already grabbed One Nation Under a Groove and Maggot Brain. So what’s left? Pretty much everything P-Funk ever did. Here’s one you might not have thought about for awhile. This characteristically sprawling, eclectic, amusing, and frequently scathing 1972 double lp might be George Clinton’s most rock-oriented album, stone cold proof that these guys were just as good a rock act as a funk band. This is the core of the early group: the brilliant and underrated Tyrone Lampkin on drums, Bootsy on bass, Eddie Hazel on guitar and Bernie Worrell on swirling, gothic-tinged organ putting his New England Conservatory degree to good use. A lot of this takes Sly Stone-style funk to the next level: the fast antiwar/antiviolence shuffle You Hit the Nail on the Head; the artsy, orchestrated eco-anthem If You Don’t Like the Effects, Don’t Produce the Cause; and the vicious, bouncy antidrug anthem Loose Booty. I Call My Baby Pussycat is epic and funny; the title track is even more so, a slow stoner soul vamp with a message, an orgasmic girl vocalese intro, and a faux Isaac Hayes rap by Clinton: “Who is this bitch?” The pensive ballad Miss Lucifer’s Love predates Radiohead by 35 years; Bootsy gets down and dirty with an oldschool R&B feel on Philmore. Biological Speculation offhandedly makes the case that if we don’t pull our act together, nature just might do it for us – without us. And it’s got a pedal steel solo?!? The album closes with a politically charged gospel number, the guys in the choir trading verses with the girls. Here’s a random torrent.

November 27, 2010 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment