Irresistible Psychedelic Funk and Afrobeat Grooves from Turkuaz

by delarue

Bluegrass and funk are the two hardest kinds of music to write about. Bluegrass is usually either upbeat and fun – or flat-out morbid. Funk is either upbeat and fun…or else it sucks. Right? What else can you say about a good funk band, other than that they play energetic, fun music you can dance to?

Consider Turkuaz, the mighty ten-piece crew who’ve been bringing the party to New York venues for the last few years. For one, there’s no discernible Turkish or Middle Eastern influence in their music. What they sound like is P-Funk in lavish, extended jam mode, but with a lot more focus. Like George Clinton’s bands, Turkuaz has a sly, surreal side – there’s absolutely no telling what their songs are about, if anything. They’re just as psychedelic, with intricately arranged, endlessly shifting layers of horns, keys, guitars and vocals. And they don’t just play funk: they have a thing for Afrobeat and oldschool soul music too. They’ve got a new album up at Bandcamp, Future 86 (does this mean no future for you? It’s hard to tell) with all of that stuff on it, and a marathon summer tour in full swing.

The album’s wickedly catchy opening track, Bubba Slide, is a dance number. The guys – frontman/guitarist Dave Brandwein and baritone saxophonist Josh Schwartz – trade vocals with the girls – the sassy chorus of Geneva Williams and Sammi Garett. Eventually they reach a trippy interlude where the guitar pans the speakers over a wah bass riff and an oscillating synth track. They take it out with a slyly strutting series of hooks. Trippy stuff.

Tired of Talking, a scampering shuffle fueled by Craig Brodhead’s organ and Greg Sanderson’s smoky tenor sax, is even more surreal: “I hear it’s dirty when your mind is so clean, I think I’m changing for the better,” Brandwein insists. The title track sways along on an oldschool soul groove with lush organ and punchy horns, building to a slide guitar solo that adds a southern rock edge – weird, yet organic.

Club Foot reimagines Zapp & Roger with a less hi-tech feel, Taylor Shell’s fat bass and Brandwein’s skanky guitar pushing it along. TV kicks off with a vintage Motown riff and then takes it into the new wave era – it would have been a big college radio hit thirty years ago. For that matter, it could be a big college radio hit now. The band follows that with Physical Challenge, a bubbly Afrobeat groove with tongue-in-cheek talkbox guitar and big choirlike swells from the girls, bringing back memories of Labelle, or the Pointer Sisters in their early years before they got all slick.

E.Y.E. (Looking Good) is a woozy, funny, P-Funk-style number, followed by X.Y.Z. (Feeling Tough), which blends Afrobeat with a catchy early 70s Earth Wind & Fire-style bounce. With its big vocal swells from the girls, Snap Your Fingers makes psychedelia out of gospel, Chris Brouwers’ long, fluttering trumpet solo contrasting with the dirty guitar riffage underneath. Electric Habitat is straight-up Afrobeat, spikily echoing guitar up against balmy horns, dancing bass and Michelangelo Carubba’s hypnotic, loopy drums. The album ends with both full-length and short versions of the summery, fierily crescendoing Picking Up Where You Left Off, the longer one being the best since it’s got a big, soaring organ solo. Party at your place? Crank this and put everybody in a good mood. Now where are all those 24 oz. cans? Are they gone already?

By the way, here’s wishing a fast recovery to Brandwein, who suffered a fluke injury to his right hand during a New Orleans show early in May.