Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Brother Joscephus’ Live Album Reaches for the Rafters

Whatever you think of Brother Joscephus and his band the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra, you can’t argue with their work ethic: they always give 200% live. Their latest album, recorded live at the Brooklyn Bowl last year with a total of 21 players, is both an accurate representation of their ecstatic live show, and a tremendously good idea. It’s something more bands should do: live albums make great merchandise. These guys probably sell a ton of them at shows, not only because a lot of the crowd is drunk: this massive New Orleans-style soul/funk band is great fun. They’re strictly oldschool – a phat beat for these guys means a hit on the kick drum, not something that comes out of a laptop. The horn section rises and falls, the organ swells, the bass is fat and funky and Brother Joscephus’ gravelly voice and sly stage presence is hard to resist. What’s most obvious here is that their show is designed first and foremost to be a dance party – these songs are long, several of them going on for almost ten minutes at a clip.

After a long, James Brown-style intro, they launch into a lickety-split, shuffling version of the gospel standard A Child Shall Lead. The band’s signature song Revolution of Love gets a swaying 1970s style southern soul treatment, with a hint of Steely Dan, a big choir of backing vocals and a nimbly scrambling, jazzy guitar solo. They get funky on Making Love to Your Woman, lit up by the Right Reverend Dean Dawg’s swirling soul organ solo and a big crescendo with Morgan “Holy Cassanova” Price’s baritone sax. Whiskeydick Blues is a surprisingly PG-rated, coy look at a common late-night illness; this particular case has an unexpectedly happy ending. And their version of When the Saints Go Marching In is surprisingly fresh: they give it a brief, shuffling vintage soul intro before kicking it off with a soaring second-line vibe.

The best song on the album is Shine On, an original that clocks in at practically ten minutes. It’s got the best guitar solo released on any album this year. What makes it so good is that while it’s a long one, guitarist Joey “G-Note” Hundertmark doesn’t actually play a lot of notes – the way he builds tension, careening away from the center and back again, is magnetic, and genuinely breathtaking. Likewise, they kick off the ballad I Still Love You with a simple, catchy hook and build it until it reaches epic proportions – and then take it out with a trick ending. They wind up the album with the unstoppable optimism of Mighty Mighty Chain of Love (Pass It On).

Not everything here is as good as all this. Their brave attempt to make real soul music out of a campy top 40 hit by Queen falls flat: garbage in, garbage out. Their Creedence cover isn’t awful but it’s also pretty pointless – why a band whose originals are so strong would look elsewhere for material is a mystery that this album doesn’t answer. And there are some Branson moments that should have been left on the cutting room floor – the album’s practically 75 minutes could easily have been cut back to a solid hour. Still, how many bands can you name who can play a solid hour of music this good? Not many. The band is currently on East Coast tour; watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

July 17, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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 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

Album of the Day 10/24/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. We’re putting Sunday’s album up a little early since we’re going up to Graceland North for a little pumpkin picking. Back on Monday with more news and reviews. Have a fun weekend! Here’s #828:

Jimmy Castor – The Everything Man: Best of the Jimmy Castor Bunch

Jimmy Castor was cursed with a great sense of humor. Cursed, because he’s a serious musician – a classically trained pianist and saxophonist – pegged as a writer of novelty songs. He may be known as the funniest man in funk, but in a career that spans part of seven decades, from doo-wop (he replaced Frankie Lymon in the Teenagers) to go-go to latin soul (he was one of its pioneers) to his most famous period leading the Jimmy Castor Bunch in the 70s, he’s also one of the most successfully eclectic songwriters ever. A lot of his catalog is out of print. This early 90s compilation, for better or worse, focuses on the hits, most of which are as hilarious as they are boundary-smashing, incorporating elements of psychedelia, heavy metal and latin sounds into funk: Sly Stone and George Clinton had nothing on this guy. This covers the decade of the 70s into the early 80s, starting with Hey Leroy, Your Mama’s Callin’ You – the dozens, updated for the pre-disco era; the slinky, Joe Cuba-inspired Southern Fried Frijoles, and It’s Just Begun, sampled by thousands of hip-hop acts in the following decades. That’s just the beginning. There’s also the follow-up Say Leroy (The Creature from the Black Lagoon Is Your Father); Castor’s best-known funk hit, Troglodyte, and its even funnier sequel the Bertha Butt Boogie (a massive top 40 hit in 1975); along with the self-explanatory King Kong, The Return of Leroy (where finally the joke starts to wear thin), the popular and well-sampled dancefloor vamps Potential and Maximum Stimulation and a couple of throwaways among the album’s 17 tracks. Here’s a random torrent.

October 23, 2010 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lee Fields & the Expressions Bring Oldschool Soul to Williamsburg

The trendoid band who opened at the Williamsburg Waterfront Sunday afternoon were as pathetic as expected: uptight, fearful beats, inept guitar, vocals (you couldn’t call it singing) that sounded like a drawl learned from tv rather than in a part of the world where people actually speak with a drawl, and a girl on sax who made Poly Styrene sound like John Coltrane. But wait – this was indie rock. Indie rock isn’t supposed to be good, in fact it’s not even meant to be listened to at all. It’s something you’re supposed to know and take blurry iphone photos of when you see it so you can prove you’re as much of a conformist as the next bedheaded boy. Still, it’s sad that a band like the Highway Gimps were limited to tearing up the back room at Tommy’s Tavern the previous night when they or plenty of other good Brooklyn bands could have torn up a much bigger stage on Sunday, giving Lee Fields a real run for his money.

Fields is a rediscovery, one of the more recent, obscure black performers resurrected by white kids who’ve discovered the magic of oldschool soul music. He started out in the late 60s, reputedly doing a pretty solid James Brown imitation, expanding into other styles as the years went on. He never put out an album til 1979, recording sporadically in the years that followed while plying his trade up and down the eastern seaboard and in the south. Fields’ output is actually more diverse, and has changed with the times, more than was evident during his roughly fifty-minute set. This was the 60s show, and he and the absolutely killer band behind him excelled at it. They all looked sharp – the drummer even wore a tie, and didn’t take it off despite the humidity – and played as if it was Memphis, 1968, the pint-sized Fields resplendent in a white suit that probably dates from that era: stagewear is expensive, you know. The bass played sinuously melodic, fluid grooves while the guitar channeled Steve Cropper at times, augmented by a terrific, understated latin percussionist and an organist who also kept it simple and in the pocket. A lot of the faces up there looked familiar: an Antibalas ringer or two, maybe?

The set mixed long, hypnotic, JB-style one-chord funk grooves with a handful of disarmingly pretty ballads lit up with vividly incisive, jangly guitar. The band opened with a couple of tasty midtempo grooves, then brought up Fields, whose voice has taken on more of a gravelly tinge, but he still worked the crowd as if he was on his home turf – and seemed genuinely grateful for the support from an unusually diverse audience (at least in conservative, whitewashed Bloomberg-era Williamsburg). They did the bitterly defiant kiss-off anthem Gone for Good, a dead ringer for the Godfather of Soul in his classic 60s period, early on. Money Is King, a long vamp that slowly slunk along to a quick couple of chord changes on the turnaround, came across as unselfconsciously hungry and probably resonated with crowds in the 60s and 70s as much as Fitty does these days. On Ladies, an even more simple, direct groove, Fields tried engaging some of the girls in the front row, but they didn’t respond. Quickly, he made a joke out of it, reminding them how lucky their guys must be. The end of the set featured more of the slower and midtempo material, including the evocatively retro My World, the title track to his new album, which wouldn’t have been out of place in the late 60s Smokey Robinson catalog. Fields doesn’t break any new ground and doesn’t really have a signature style of his own, but he knows his history and he should because he was there – and the band sounded like they were too.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment