Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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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