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.

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

See-I’s New Album Puts a Trippy Spin on Roots Reggae

See-I is the roots reggae project of two musicians, Arthur and Archie Steele (who go by Rootz and Zeebo, respectively), masterminds of a Washington, DC reggae scene. On their debut album, they’re joined by a diverse cast of musicians from Chuck Brown’s band along with others who’ve toured with them backing Thievery Corporation. Their debut release is a clever, entertaining party mix, a smooth digital production that blends an early 90s Jamaican feel (boomy bass and synthesized brass) with neoretro psychedelic elements: wah-wah, vintage organ patches and every noodly keyboard texture available. Which comes as no surprise, considering that Rob Myers of hilariously entertaining psychedelic chillout instrumentalists Thunderball is involved with the production.

The slinky, midtempo opening cut Dangerous sets the stage for what’s to come, with plenty of dub tinges. They follow that with Haterz 24/7, vintage Buju Banton-style dancehall patois over a fluid roots groove. Dub Revolution is driven by a catchy minor-key bass hook as squiggly synth and creepy, upper register electric piano textures filter in and out of the mix. They segue out of it into Soul Hit Man, transforming the groove into a jaunty bounce with a retro 70s soul vibe. Talking About the Peace shifts back to an oldschool 90s dancehall flavor, while Homegrown 2011 is funk/reggae with some unexpected bluesmetal guitar. Blow Up is the most hypnotic, dubwise track here, with some creepily bizarre electric sitar.

The most upbeat cut here, How We Do, features a ton of wah textures beneath the deadpan dancehall chatter. It deserves its own dub version – and it segues into one, yeah mon! Soul Universe is a sleepy stoner soul vamp with a George Clinton-esque rap; they close the album with a couple of woozy trip-hop vamps and what seems like an obligatory nod to hip-hop. To fully appreciate this album, something better than an ipod is required, preferably a system that can handle all the bass here. Mi a seh it a good ting!

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