Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Funk Ark Put Out One of 2011’s Best Albums

One of the best albums of 2011 comes from the Washington, DC-based Funk Ark. Their new one, From the Rooftops is one of those rare records that’s just as good a listen as it is a dance mix. The 11-piece instrumental band blend elements of Afrobeat, oldschool funk, dark Ethiopique vamps and psychedelia, with the occasional clever dub tinge, into an irresistibly tuneful, original sound.

The first track, A Blade Won’t Cut Another Blade plays off one of those clubby, downtempo, trip-hop-ish beats, except that this is live, with a bit of a vintage Hugh Masekela-style tune, a baritone sax solo that kicks off with a snarl, and an unexpectedly intense, brooding, minor-key outro. Like many of the songs here, it’s got a trick ending.

Track two, Diaspora, is a hypnotic Ethiopian-style tune built around a riff from the band’s four-piece horn section that reminds of Get Up, Stand Up, with subtle, dubwise organ touches and a good-natured tenor sax solo. Funky DC is sort of a vintage 70s War-style lo-rider groove gone to Ethiopia, with a couple of hip-hop cameos to get the crowd going. The most potent track here might be El Beasto, with its hard-hitting, galloping, minor-key attack, sounding like a Mulatu Astatke classic from 1972 or so; once again, there’s a cool baritone sax solo and some edgy trading off between the organ and the horns.

Carretera Libre kicks off with a fluttery, suspenseful horn riff, hits a hypnotic two-chord vamp and then a subtly devious trumpet solo in a completely different scale than the one the band is playing in. Horchata pulls in a little Afro-Cuban rhythm, while Katifo (The Spider) goes back to the Afrobeat, with tinkly, psychedelic electric piano playing off the horns. Once this gets exposure in the hip-hop world, every producer on the planet will be sampling the title track, with its big, anthemic verse, smoothly majestic chorus and swirling, psychedelic organ. The album ends with the early 70s style psychedelic funk of Pavement and the irrepressibly sunny, blippy Power Struggle. Not one bad song here: this is top-ten-albums-of-the-year material. If you like Antibalas, you’ll love the Funk Ark.

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September 14, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/19/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #863:

Peter Tosh – Live at the One Love Peace Concert

This is the famous 1978 concert where Bob Marley, in an effort to quell sectarian violence in Jamaica, forced Presidential candidates Michael Manley and his right-wing opponent Edward Seaga to shake hands onstage. Marley’s set that night was filmed, most of it included in the documentary Heartland Reggae. Tosh’s wasn’t, but the audio was recorded and issued thirteen years after his 1987 murder on the small Jad label. With the legendary rhythm section of Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Tosh and his band deliver a long, psychedelic, absolutely incendiary set punctuated by long, foul-mouthed, stream-of-consciousness rants. “We don’t want peace, we want justice,” Tosh declared right at the start, blowing smoke from his giant spliff in the direction of the candidates. He kicks off the show with the Rasta benediction Igziabeher and then launches into one scathing number after another, starting with 400 Years, which memorializes the Middle Passage while reminding that de facto slavery is still very much alive in the third world. He opens Burial with a withering critique of globalization, follows that with Equal Rights and then a long, rambling demand for marijuana legalization that eventually leads into a ten-minute version of Legalize It and then his signature song (which Tosh actually co-wrote with Marley in the days when he was the Wailers’ bassist), Get Up, Stand Up. Tosh would be beaten within an inch of his life by thugs after the show as retaliation. No freedom of speech in Jamaica in those days. Pretty much everything Tosh ever recorded is worth owning; he may not have had his bandmate’s gift for pop melody, but his vision of liberation continues to inspire new generations around the world. Here’s a random torrent.

September 19, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rocky Dawuni Brings Relevant Roots Reggae All the Way from Ghana

On his latest album Hymns for the Rebel Soul, Ghanian roots reggae superstar Rocky Dawuni takes a fearless political stance, Peter Tosh defiance matched to a musical backdrop that falls closer to intricate, purist late-period Bob Marley soul than Luciano slickness. Like those two Wailers, Dawuni is an excellent lyricist, and his tunes push a lot further than simple two or three-chord one-drop vamps. The songs are long, clocking in at five or six minutes at a clip – Burning Spear length, tailor-made to keep a big stadium swaying all afternoon.

The opening track, Download the Revolution begins with the sound of a dialup connection (that’s how they do it in the third world). With its oscillating synths, it’s a vivid reminder that at least for now, the internet has the potential to “wipe away the music of pollution,” as Dawuni so aptly puts it. The metaphorically charged African Reggae Fever is warm and unselfconsciously catchy like something off the Kaya album, a contrast with the offhand menace of the lyric: “Music for the radio don’t take the youth no higher…where you gonna run, where you gonna hide when the music comes for you?” Walls Come Tumbling Down is a matter-of-factly optimistic tribute to persistence – let’s not forget that this guy comes from a part of the world where those who protest a fraudulent election are literally risking their lives.

Elsewhere, a flute rises playfully in tribute to “surviving the Master Plan.” The wickedly catchy Road to Destiny celebrates the exile’s life, a search for justice – as much as that struggle can be celebrated, anyway. On Freefall, Dawuni angrily evokes the old soul adage about how “those you meet on the way up are the ones you meet on your way back down.” A mighty, majestic anthem, Jerusalem comes across as sort of a cross between Burning Spear and the late, great Lucky Dube. The album winds up with a big Marleyesque ballad and a stripped-down acoustic number. Modern-day roots reggae doesn’t get any better than this.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Burning Spear – Jah Is Real

Roots reggae long ago took a backseat to dancehall, and relatively few of the musicians who still play it are Jamaican. In fact, it’s something of a miracle that Winston Rodney AKA Burning Spear is still alive at 63, long after so many of his contemporaries – Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown, Jacob Miller and others – died under tragic, often violent circumstances. It might also be something of a miracle that Burning Spear remains not only lucid (after all that ganja), but arguably still as vital and important as he was thirty years ago.

 

Throughout the decade of the 1970s, Burning Spear was one of the most popular artists in Jamaica, second only to Big Youth. While most reggae hits from whatever era you choose are party songs, Burning Spear’s work was always serious, defiant and historically aware. Like Peter Tosh, his signature songs mix frequently scathing social commentary with Rastafarian mysticism. Burning Spear’s musical style, however, is strikingly different from many of the best-known reggae acts of his era, characterized by long, hypnotic, even trancelike anthems that in a live setting can go on for ten or even twenty minutes while the band breaks them down into spacey, echoey dub. While he’s been writing, arranging and producing for himself for decades, this is his debut on his own record label, Burning Music. It’s also his best studio album in a long, long time.

 

Unlike much of today’s reggae, this album has rich, 1970s production values, layering clinking guitar, bubbling organ, bright horns and backup singers over a fat, bass-heavy groove. Grandfather, a cautionary tale, traces the history of slavery around the world and warns that “slavery coming back again.” On the catchy No Compromise, Burning Spear announces that “My music eye opener music…hail to the one who never look back in the race.” With its Afrobeat guitar feel, One Africa is a fervent, Marcus Garvey-style call for unity. People in High Places calls for accountability from politicians; Run for Your Life snidely chronicles Burning Spear’s entanglements with the record industry, and how it’s imploded in recent years: “Distribution is so desperate…without the artist there is no company…Upcoming artists should take a stand, get some understanding before you sign.”

 

Clocking in at over eight minutes long, Step It is one of the amusingly interminable list songs that Burning Spear writes every so often. This one chronicles his travels around the world, namechecking just about every city he’s ever played, obviously tailor-made to be a live showstopper with a long instrumental break that threatens to turn into dub but never does. Stick to the Plan is a call to musicians to stay independent and original: “Remember reggae music never used to play on the radio…trying to roadblock us because we so original.” There’s a happy account of an outdoor reggae festival and another happy tale, this one about a reggae cruise, along with more bitterness returns on Wickedness, another tirade against the music industry: “Since 1969 they’ve been robbing, they’ve been holding onto what is mine,” Burning Spear laments. It has the ring of authenticity: innumerable musicians from the 1970s, not just reggae performers, have successfully sued for royalties they were never paid. The cd’s high point is You Were Wrong, a caustic, minor-key anthem with the same feel of Burning Spear classics like Door Peep or Cry Blood. Any way you look at it, this ranks with the best of his studio albums, including the classic Marcus Garvey, or Hail H.I.M, recorded with the Wailers. Longtime fans will find this a delightful throwback; otherwise, this is as good an introduction as any to one of the world’s greatest reggae artists. Burning Spear plays Irving Plaza on August 31 around 10 PM, advance tix highly recommended at the box office.

August 19, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments