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.

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

Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine Find the Groove

Potently intelligent, pensively psychedelic, soul/funk band Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine’s new album The Only Way Out Is In sneaks up on you. Taken as a whole, it’s a mood piece, but it’s also a slinky dance album. What’s most impressive is how aware Rooker is. With her brooding, sometimes sultry, sometimes wounded contralto voice, her lyrics draw just as deeply from conscious hip-hop as from classic soul and funk. The band behind her plays with jazz chops, but with restraint: her collaborator Ben Tyree on guitar, Mamiko Watanabe on electric piano, Lawrence Qualls on drums, Jahmal Nichols handling most of the bass work, V. Jeffrey Smith on tenor and soprano saxes plus a number of guests including John Medeski on organ on several tracks along with Will Martina (of Burnt Sugar) on cello. The album kicks off auspiciously with What If, an existentialist’s dilemma:

What if there’s no rules
What if there’s no truth
What if all we’re believing is a story that we choose
What if what they told you
Don’t ever come true
Better come up with your own script
To live your life through

It sets the tone for the rest of the album, guitar and organ shifting over a slow, fluid, hip-tugging organic groove, with an aptly apprehensive trombone solo from Roland Barber.

The bouncy third-wave soul of Sellin Ya Soul brings back memories of acts like Sandra St. Victor back in the 90s. “I could be a pretty good plenty o’thangs but none of which could touch just being me and I’m good with that, thank you very much,” Rooker asserts. They follow that with the hypnotic I Feel Like and its dark, goth-tinged bassline: “Lord help me remember what I’m fighting for.” The next track, Play is wickedly catchy indie funk – did these guys used to go see Noxes Pond play shows around town about ten years ago? Weather offers blippy, rainy-day ambience; the big ballad Thank You is a trip back in time to Memphis, contrasting with the minimalist bass pulse of Rise and the lush balminess of the title track.

Rooker goes ballistic and straight to the target with the cinematic cautionary tale When We Gon Care, a furiously potent rant against a laundry list of evils: disinformation by the corporate media, the destruction of the environment by multinational corporations, drug companies inventing phony diseases to sell worthless “cures,” and most of all, apathy. It’s Jello Biafra updated for the teens, with better vocals. They wrap up the album with an instrumental, a James Brown-inspired number and the gospel-infused Wait in Line. Count this as one of the most kick-ass albums to come over the transom here recently. Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine play the big room at the Rockwood on Jan 23 at 8.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 12/23/10

The weeklong “let’s finish the year with a bang” project is underway and would be further along if an impromptu indoor cookout fortified with lots of B&B hadn’t interrupted us: even here in the wilderness, where we’ll be for the next few days, everybody wants to party. No complaints: it’s nice to feel wanted. To get the day started, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues as it does every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #768:

Spearhead – Chocolate Supa Highway

Smartly aware, low-key stoner funk from 1997. Brilliant lyricist that he is, Michael Franti can be maddeningly erratic, but this one’s solid pretty much all the way through, as cynically insightful as his cult-classic Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hoprisy project from five years earlier. The title track isn’t just a stoner jam: “I can’t stand the pain outside my window/Why you think so many smoking indo?” It’s a feeling echoed on much of the rest of the album: Madness in tha Hood (Free Ride) and Food for tha Masses (“Geronimo Pratt done as many years as Mandela”) hit just as hard now as they did in the last century, along with the workingman/woman’s anthem Tha Payroll. The acoustic Americana trip-hop of Wayfaring Stranger (with a surprisingly effective Joan Osborne cameo) and Water Pistol Man are more surreal; Rebel Music interpolates hits by Bob Marley and Jacob Miller; Gas Gauge assesses the future after peak oil. Keep Me Lifted and Ganja Babe are more lighthearted without losing sight of the grimness through the haze of blunt smoke. The only miss here, predictably, is the love song. Most of this is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert, rap music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gecko Turner Puts Su Alma into Soul Music

What Manu Chao is to gypsy music, Spanish songwriter Gecko Turner is to oldschool American soul. His melodies are sweet but not cloying, and have a hip-hop feel in places, for a vibe that’s retro yet completely new and original. Whichever era they happen to recall – the 60s, the 70s or the here-and-now – they’re laid-back, summery, tersely and imaginatively arranged, and pretty psychedelic in places. His new album Gone Down South begins with a Smokey Robinson-style soul piano song with some nice call-and-response between the trumpet and the horn section. Cuanta Suerte has sleigh bells on the intro (!?!) – it’s vintage Joe Cuba-style latin soul with richly chordal jazz piano that winds down to a hypnotic bass pulse and the catchy chorus hook. So Sweet is aptly titled, an acoustic southern-flavored number with watery wah-wah guitar accents.

He follows that with a funky jam that blends oldschool latin soul with reggaeton; a slow, swaying, hypnotic piano-and harmonica vamp with a lazy rap; an upbeat, Marleyesque reggae song; a circular African mbira song; a James Brown-style funk number with steel pan for a calypso tinge; a catchy wah-wah soul song that slinks along on a latin groove; an early 70s, Sly Stone-style funk tune and a brief, stripped-down stab at oldtimey swing. The only miss here is a throwaway Paul’s Boutique-style mix of loops and samples. Is there anything this guy can’t write? As with American gypsy bands, Argentinian surf rockers and Japanese salseros, musicians specializing in a style considered exotic in their native land face extra pressure to excel. Turner comes through with flying colors here.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gil Scott-Heron: A Walk in the Park

He was on time, too – well, almost. The question wasn’t how much Gil Scott-Heron had left, it was whether he had anything left at all. His shows during the early part of the zeros were a trainwreck: he needed rehab, but he got jail, more than once. Happily, tonight uptown at Marcus Garvey Park, Scott-Heron reaffirmed that he’s still got it. Like Johnny Cash, Scott-Heron is an American icon with a pantheonic body of classic songs and a history of addiction. And like Cash, he imbues his gravitas with an impish sense of humor. A little heavier on the drawl now than he was ten years ago but no less lucid or entertaining, the 61-year-old pianist/songwriter and what amounted to a pickup band drew a joyous response from an impressively large and diverse crowd on his home turf up at 124th and Madison.

He’s got a new album out, I’m New Here, a new take on the proto-rap style he mined on his classic 1970 debut Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, although he only played one song from it, a stripped-down, skeletal cover of the Bobby Bland soul/blues hit I’ll Take Care of You. Scott-Heron opened solo on his battered Fender Rhodes, taking his time: “For those of you who did not know that I played piano, you might be right,” he chuckled, slowly launching into a spare, withering version of Blue Collar, a chronicle of the down-and-out across the country that resonates even more today than during the Gerald Ford-era recession when he wrote it. All the Places We’ve Been, dedicated to Mississippi voting rights crusader Fannie Lou Hamer, got a gentle, stripped-down mid-70s Stevie Wonder-ish treatment. He then ran through a couple of verses of his classic anti-nuclear power anthem We Almost Lost Detroit before bringing up the band – Kim Jordan on keyboards, Tony Duncanson on bongos, Carl Cornwell on tenor sax and flute and Glenn Turner on harmonica and percussion.

The rest of the show was a party. Scott-Heron is rightfully best known for his scathingly witty social criticism and intricate wordplay (he’s been called the godfather of rap, or the equivalent, for decades, and although he didn’t actually invent the style, his work remains a powerful influence on every new generation of hip-hop artists). But this show focused on the more upbeat material. Jordan played the catchy bass hook to Is That Jazz on the low keys – if she sustained any lasting damage from the nasty U-Haul accident that nearly cost her a career in music, the good news is that she’s fully recovered, crashing and burning with a staccato ferocity uncommon even for her. Cornwell added several bop-flavored solos, Turner more subtle color and Duncanson – celebrating his birthday – took a very long solo at the end that might have seemed pointless at another venue, but was spot-on here, considering how vehemently (and bigotedly) the yuppies in an adjacent new “luxury” condo building have fought to kick out the African drummers who congregate in the park at night. They wrapped up the show with dynamically charged if somewhat loose versions of the harrowing Pieces of a Man, a brief version of the iconic 1978 latin soul shuffle The Bottle and encored with a slow, soulful and raptly crescendoing version of Better Days Ahead, an old song from the mid-70s. Nice to see an old favorite shake off the demons and do what he does best. Scott-Heron is at B.B. King’s on October 7 at 8 PM.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment