New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: funk music

Trippy, Texturally Luscious Oldschool Soul Jams From the Ghost Funk Orchestra

When the World Economic Forum and the Gates Foundation engineered the fascist takeover of New York in March of 2020, Ghost Funk Orchestra bandleader Seth Applebaum bunkered down, wrote and got a new album out of it. He began the project as a one-man band, more or less, but by the summer of 2019, when the group got a rave review here for a midtown Manhattan show, they’d grown into a beast of an oldschool instrumental soul band.

Their latest album A New Kind Of Love – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most psychedelic and eclectic yet. The instrumentation and production is totally classic 60s: reverb on the guitar and drums, snappy trebly bass, plus layers of organ or vintage electric piano and horns in places.

The first cut, Your Man’s No Good is an artful mashup of Isaac Hayes vintage soul sprawl, Menahan Street Band crime-soul and a little Hugh Masekela. Track two, Scatter comes across as dub Isaac Hayes: hypnotic, spare bass riffage, chicken-scratch guitar beneath lingering chords, a tantalizingly snarling Applebaum guitar solo and a trick ending.

The loopy, dubwise vibe continues in Prism, a twinkling Hollywood Hills boudoir soul jam. Quiet Places is actually anything but quiet, a swaying, brassy study in lo/hi contrasts, grim fuzztone versus starry gleam.

The album’s title track is a two-parter: Applebaum shifts between slow, slinky Quincy Jones soundtrack noir and dub-infused funk in the first, then closes the album with the second, a hazy early 60s summer-house theme with a gritty psych-soul coda.

Megan Mancini sings Why?, a hypnotically catchy slow jam, then sticks around for Blockhead, a steady, vampy groove where Applebaum flexes some judicious jazz chops in tandem with flutist Brian Plautz.

Baritone saxophonist Stephen Chen floats and bobs over the latin soul shuffle of bassist Jeremy Stoddard Carroll and drummer Mario Gutierrez in A Song For Pearl. Then the band go back to a drifting milieu with Bluebell, a pensively swaying love ballad with Mancini on mic again. The closest thing to straight-up psychedelic rock here is the Doorsy next-to-last track, Rooted. So far 2022 has been a relatively slow year for psychedelia in general, but this is one of the most enjoyably immersive records of the year.

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Darkly Propulsive, Unpredictably Cinematic Instrumentals From Under the Reefs Orchestra

One of the most enjoyably uncategorizable albums of the year is Sakurajima, the latest release from the Belgian group Under the Reefs Orchestra. The trio of guitarist Clément Nourry, saxophonist Marti Melia and drummer Jakob Warmenbol blend elements of suspense film music, horror surf, crime jazz, postrock and shadowy instrumental rock from Morphine to the Dirty Three. John Zorn’s surfier adventures also seem to be an influence.

Melia’s baritone sax alternates between melody and punchy basslines. The opening track on the album – streaming at Bandcamp – is Heliodrome. It comes across as the missing link between Friends of Dean Martinez (or Big Lazy in a slide-driven moment) and Morphine, with a careening slide guitar solo and then a propulsively smoky one from the baritone. The group join forces in an increasingly savage ride to the end.

The album’s second song, Ants, is a moody, syncopatedly vampy quasi-surf tune with a crescendo that goes from droll, to feral, to unexpectedly skronky. The trio build the album’s title track out of a steady, gloomy, Morphine-like theme to a hypnotically pulsing backdrop for Nourry’s flaring psychedelic wah-wah work and squirrelly surf riffage.

Galapagos is a cheeky, metrically tricky tropical tune with a sinister undercurrent, Nourry shifting between balmy slide and jaggedly rhythmic lines, with an elegantly baroque-tinged counterpoint as the song winds out.

How invasive is Kudzu? This is a killer plant! Warmenbol provides a suspensefully tumbling drive for a dark vamp that dissolves into dissociative psychedelia before the band get back to furtive business.

The band take a dubwise, catchy strut up to a shrieking peak in MIR and follow with the album’s big epic, Soleil Trompeur, melancholy sax wafting over spare guitar jangle. Deep down, it’s a soul ballad, with a long build to a payoff that’s too good to give away.

They close with Mendoza, an Ethiopian-tinged take on Morphine. Every single song on this record is full of surprises: this band seldom go in the direction you expect. One of the most intriguing and original albums of 2022

Colorful Guitar Icon Jim Campilongo Continues His Rockwood Residency

It took a long time after the lockdown, but Jim Campilongo made it back to one of his oldest haunts, the Rockwood, where he’s played an on-and-off monthly residency, practically since the venue opened in 2005. Revered in guitar circles, Campilongo is not quite as well known as Bill Frisell, but the two have much in common beyond erudite and eclectic chops. Each player infuses jazz with Americana and a frequent noir sensibility. And each has his shtick: Frisell with his loop pedal, Campilongo using the neck of his Telecaster for a wammy bar effect by bending it ever so slightly. His next Rockwood gig is in the big room on August 29 at 7 PM; cover is $15.

Right before the lockdown, Campilongo was spending a lot of time in low-key, intricate duo situations. But one of this blog’s favorite Campilongo albums, Heaven Is Creepy, goes all the way back to 2006 and remains one of his most picturesque releases to date. An added element of creepiness is the tragic loss of bass player Tim Luntzel, who was stricken by Lou Gehrig’s Disease and died eight years later. Like a lot of musicians have been doing, Campilongo has discovered the utility of Bandcamp as a marketing tool and has put most of his albums up there, including this classic.

The first track is The Prettiest Girl in New York, a cheery lattice of bluegrass licks and coy harmonics over drummer Dan Rieser’s shuffle beat. Track two, Monkey in a Movie is a wry, slightly skronky strut with moments for the rhythm section to gnaw on the scenery.

There are two versions of the album’s first cover, Cry Me a River. The first is an instrumental. Campilongo’s surreal, slipsliding, lapsteel-flavored licks never quite coalesce out of an increasingly agitated, psychedelic thicket, shades of Dave Tronzo, until the very end. The second, with Norah Jones on vocals, is faster and more straightforwardly haunting, even if it isn’t on the same level as Erica Smith‘s shattering version with Dann Baker on guitar.

The album’s darkest and best track, Mr & Mrs Mouse veers all over the place, from Campilongo’s bracing wide-angle chords, to horror surf, to a cynically tiptoeing cha-cha that could be Big Lazy. Then the trio bring it down with the skeletal, brooding rainy day theme Because You Like Trombone.

Hamster Wheel (Slight Return) is a swampy trip-hop theme. Menace is less outright creepy than sardonically skronky, when Campilongo isn’t leading the trio scampering through Django Reinhardt’s shadow. The album’s chromatically snarling title track could just as easily be called Creepy Is Heaven: it’s the most enigmatically ominous, disquietingly strange tune here.

Nellie Bly, as Campilongo seems to see the prototypical investigative journalist, is a Beatles fan with a vintage country streak. The final cut on the album is Pepper, part lullaby, part suspense film theme. It says a lot about how much ground Campilongo can cover in under five minutes. There’s also a brief, aptly Victorian-flavored cover of Beautiful Dreamer with Martha Wainwright on vocals.

The Zoo Berries Bring Their Slinky, Imaginative Funk and Soul Grooves to Long Island City

Have you noticed how suspiciously much the word “lab” is trending, not just when connected with things that escape or are released from labs, but in everything from rehearsal studios, to bands, to music venues? Especially the places with free shows? What’s that all about?

One of those venues, surprise surprise, is a new one, Culture Lab in Long Island City. Even so, there have been a ton of good acts playing on the back of the flatbed trailer in the parking lot there this summer. One of them is the Zoo Berries, who are there on August 26 at 8 PM.

Back in 2018, their bandleader and bassist Ayal Tsubery – also of sizzling Balkan band Tipsy Oxcart – sent over some files. Since everybody in the band had plenty of other projects going on, this group didn’t play that many shows, so those files just sat, and sat, and sat on the hard drive here. But the band’s lone studio release is good!. If imaginative soul and funk sounds are your thing, give it a spin at Bandcamp.

The first number is Back In Time, which the band build from a spare intro, to an easygoing slow jam, then guitarist Nadav Peled (also of ferocious Ethiopiques band Anbessa Orchestra) takes a machinegunning solo, and the energy goes through the roof. Soprano saxophonist Hailey Niswanger’s solo after that is just about as incendiary.

The second track is Brother, a warmly swaying 6/8 oldschool soul groove, Niswanger harmonizing exuberantly with tenor player Arnan Raz before the two diverge and go blasting through the stratosphere as pianist Daniel Meron and drummer Peter Kronrief kick in harder. They follow the same trajectory in Final Decision, an update on a classic, slinky Booker T sound, Peled’s icepick guitar anchoring the groove to where Meron unexpectedly takes it into hard-hitting jazz.

He pulls back to a moody ripple in Shir LeShabbat, a traditional Jewish melody: finally, the bandleader takes a serpentine solo, climbing and then taking the long way down from the top of the fretboard with his nimble hammer-on riffs. The final tune is Acceptance, a real change of pace with its rainy-day intro. But then spoken-word artist Kéren Or Tayar gets on the mic, and Niswanger plays gentle, sustained lines and a few curlicues, and the sun bursts from behind the clouds.

Underground System Bring Their Playful Jams to a Dance Party on the Hudson

Over the last few years, Underground System have built a reputation as a ferocious party band. Singer/flutist Domenica Fossati is every bit as tirelessly entertaining to watch dancing out in front of the band as she is on the mic. The group are bringing their distinctive, psychedelic mix of Afrobeat, hard funk and other eclectic dancefloor sounds to an outdoor show on August 12 at 7 PM at Pier 45 on the water in Chelsea. Take West 10th St. to the river.

The band’s latest vinyl album is an ep, Into the Fire, streaming at Bandcamp. The title track is a coy mashup of early 80s tech-funk – think Midnight Starr or Jah Wobble’s collaborations with Holger Czukay – with harder chicken-scratch guitar textures and spicy horns as the jam goes on. Fossati finally goes spiraling upward into the Milky Way with her flute.

Track two, He Said She Said, is harder-edged, fueled by guitarist Peter Matson and drummer Yoshio Kobayashi. Singing in Spanish, Fossati needles a dude who’s just a party-pooper: like the first track, there’s a very 80s feel to this. After that, the band get swirly and ethereal but keep the groove going just as steady in Desnuda. The ep also includes interestingly organic-flavored remixes of the first and last songs. If you have the space at your place or on your rooftop to throw a dance party this summer, this will keep everybody on their feet.

The Budos Band Bring Their Undulating Menace Back Home to Staten Island

Most bands tend to mellow out as they get older, but Staten Island’s Budos Band went in the opposite direction. They started out playing a psychedelic blend of Afrobeat with frequent Ethiopiques tinges and then brought a macabre Black Sabbath influence into the mix. They’re got a free outdoor concert coming up on August 4 at 7 PM on their home turf at Corporal Thompson Park, which is close to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. If you’re not a Shaolin resident, be aware that it’s a good half-hour on foot: hang a right, for starters, after you exit the ferry terminal.

Their latest album Long in the Tooth, arguably their most concise, catchiest release yet, came out during the dead of the 2020 lockdown and is streaming at Bandcamp. This time out the ghosts seem to be dancing in the courtyards of haunted castles on the Ethiopian coast rather than in gloomy Albion. The group open with the title track, guitarist Tom Brenneck building an ominous surf tune way down at the bottom as organist Mike Deller’s keening Farfisa lines float overhead, baritone saxophonist Jared Tankel the smoke peeling off the fire from Andrew Greene’s trumpet.

Track two, Sixth Hammer perfectly capsulizes the direction the band’s taken in the last few years: menacingly looping Sabbath chromatics over a cantering Ethiopian rhythm fueled by the funereal funk of the percussion section: Brian Profilio on drums, John Carbonella Jr. on congas, Rob Lombardo on bongos and Dame Rodriguez on everything else.

They slink their way through the tantalizingly brief Snake Hawk, which could be Beninghove’s Hangmen playing Mulatu Astatke. Then bassist Daniel Foder spaces out his boomy chords to punctuate Dusterado, a slower, organ-fueled oldschool noir soul groove.

The horns take over with otherworldly Ethiopian chromatic riffage over a go-go flavored pulse in Silver Stallion. Haunted Sea could be what an Ethiopian horn band might have done with a dark Dick Dale theme a half-century ago. Then the band shift from dark vintage soul to a brassy Afrobeat blaze in The Wrangler.

Brenneck – who sticks with a vintage, gritty tube-amp reverb sound here for the most part – kicks off Gun Metal Grey with his distortion turned up to breaking point, the horns swooping in with a brooding resonance. To what extent is there bullshit in the next track, Mierda De Toro? The joke seems to be the resemblance to a famous surf song, reinvented as a cantering groove built around a catchy descending bassline.

The most straightforwardly trad Ethiopian themes here are Budonian Knight and the closing cut, Renegade, Deller’s funeral-parlor organ and Brenneck’s icepick wah guitar building to a surreal dubwise break and then back. How great is it to have these amazing, darkly individualistic instrumentalists playing live shows again!

Wild Balkan Brass Icons Slavic Soul Party Stage a Queens Blowout

How cool is it when you find out you were in the crowd when one of your favorite bands was making a a live album? This blog was in the house on August 20, 2019 when Brooklyn’s best-loved Balkan brass band, Slavic Soul Party recorded a handful of tunes which appear on their latest concert record, streaming at Bandcamp.

What was the show like? Blurry. That was one wild night. If you missed it – or the mostly-weekly Tuesday night series in Park Slope that they played for the better part of sixteen years before the 2020 lockdown – you can hear them outdoors on August 2 at 7 PM at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City. You can take the 7 to Vernon-Jackson, walk to 48th Ave. and take it straight to the river, or take the G to 21st/Van Alst, take 45th Ave. as far toward the water as you can and then make a left.

Back in 2016, Slavic Soul Party put out a deviously erudite Balkan brass remake of Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite, and the opening number, Amad opens this record. Accordionist Peter Stan provides an intro to this version, from March of the following year, launching a suspenseful river of sound, then torrents of chromatics, then the brass kick in over the clip-clip beat of Matt Moran’s bubanj. Tapan drummer Chris Stromquist keeps a slinky groove going on as the horns pulse closer and closer to New Orleans.

Nizo’s Merak, from one of the band’s last pre-lockdown shows there in November, 2019, begins as one of the Balkan/hip-hop mashups they made a name for themselves with and shifts into bracing, chromatic Serbian territory on the wings of a trumpet solo. For a band who had so many members who play in other projects, it’s remarkable how little the lineup has changed over the years. That’s John Carlson and Kenny Warren on trumpets, Peter Hess on sax, Tim Vaughn and Adam Dotson on trombones and Kenny Bentley on tuba.

Considering how much of a party the Tuesday night residency was, the split-second precision of the horns on this July, 2018 version of Balada is pretty amazing, Stan’s liquid accordion lines holding it together. Same with the rapidfire minor-key brass flurries over the subtle side-step rhythm in Romano Pravo, from the March 2017 gig. The tantalizingly brief accordion-and-drums breakdown was always a big audience hit, and this is a prime example.

Truth is one of their rarer, slower, more balmy numbers, Stan methodically working his way from choosing his spots to his usual supersonic pirouettes. The next number, 323 is a showcase for the band’s funkier side. The three tunes from the August 20, 2019 show – Romski Merak, Sing Sing Čoček, and Missy Sa-sa – appear here as an increasingly delirious, roughly seventeen-minute suite that covers pretty much all the bases. Steve Duffy plays tuba here as the band fire off biting doublestops, enigmatic whole-note solos, and a couple of hailstorm drum breaks.

After a brief rat-a-tat “Latino Band Medley,” the band close with FYC, a feast of disquieting Eastern European tonalities with a couple of careening trumpet and trombone solos recorded in July of 2018.

Since these are field recordings that the band released as merch during the time that disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo had criminalized live music in New York, the sound is on the trebly side, although there surprisingly isn’t a lot of audience noise. At the Queens show, you won’t be able to hear any of the “amazing music that Quince puts on at the end of the night” at the Park Slope gigs, as the group mention on the Bandcamp page. But all New Yorkers will be able to see the show since the bar was weaponized to discriminate against patrons who didn’t take the lethal Covid injection.

Slinky, Sophisticated Organ Jazz That Might Have Slipped Under the Radar

Dr. Pam Popper, who has emerged as one of the brightest lights  since the 2020 lockdown, has made a big deal of the fact that no matter how disturbing the current situation becomes, we can’t afford to let our joie de vivre be stolen from us. And what’s better to lift our spirits than funky organ jazz? Jared Gold, one of the most sophisticated organists in that demimonde, is leading a trio tomorrow night, June 22 at Smalls, with sets at 7:30 and a little after 9; cover is $25 cash at the door.

Gold has put out plenty of good albums of his own: his 2012 release Golden Child is the most distinctive and in its own defiantly thorny way, maybe the best of the bunch. A record that’s probably closer to what he’s likely to deliver in a venue like Smalls is guitarist Dave Stryker‘s slinky but urbane Baker’s Circle, streaming at Bandcamp (Gold has been Stryker’s main man on organ for quite awhile). Like a lot of albums that came out during the dead zone of the winter of 2021, it’s flown under the radar, which is too bad because it’s a great party record.

The first of Stryker’s originals here is the opening track, Tough – a briskly shuffling, catchy, soul-infused Styker original full of precise, warmly bending guitar lines, bright tenor sax from Walter Smith III and subtle flashes from across drummer McClenty Hunter’s kit. Gold stays on track with the band in his solo, with his steady blues riffage.

There’s lithely tumbling latin flair in the second track, El Camino, matched by Smith’s precise, chromatic downward cascades, Stryker’s drive toward a spiraling attack and a tantalizingly brief Gold solo.

Smith and Gold harmonize tersely over the tricky syncopation of Dreamsong, the bandleader channeling a late 50s soul-jazz vibe over lurking, resonant organ. They make tightly strutting swing out of Cole Porter’s Everything I Love, with carefree yet judicious lines from both the bandleader and then Gold. The lone Gold tune here is the aptly titled, scampering Rush Hour, with rambunctious solos from Smith and then Stryker.

The quartet rescue Leon Russell’s early 70s tune Superstar from the circle of hell occupied by groups like the Carpenters, then launch into the title track, the last of the Stryker originals. No spoilers about what jazz classic that one nicks: percussionist Mayra Casales adds subtle boom to the low end.

Likewise, they play Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues as a tightly straight-up clave tune with Stryker’s spikiest work here, Gold’s edge in contrast with Smith’s balmy approach. Stryker finally goes for Wes Montgomery homage in Love Dance, by Ivan Lins. They close the record with Trouble (No. 2), a reworking of the old Lloyd Price hit that while short of feverish, owes a lot to Peggy Lee.

If you’re wondering what the album title refers to, it’s a shout-out to Stryker’s mentor and guitar teacher David Baker.

Summery Sounds From Guitarist Yuval Amihai and Pianist David Kikoski

Go to pianist David Kikoski’s discography page, and as you would expect there are plenty of albums where he’s the bandleader. Scroll down to his sideman projects and you’ll find that the very first album listed is the Mingus Big Band’s sizzling Live at the Jazz Standard album from 2010. Big surprise: Kikoski is a big reason why that album is one of the most exhilarating of the past dozen years. He’s lyrical, he has an edge and he gets a ton of gigs, which is why he doesn’t often get a chance to lead his own projects here. He’s doing that this June 11 with a trio at 10:30 PM at Mezzrow. Cover is $25 cash at the door; he’s back in that intimate space on June 25.

Kikoski is also very versatile. One new album that gives him a chance to go in a direction he hasn’t gone in much lately is Israeli guitarist Yuval Amihai‘s My 90s Summer, streaming at Soundcloud. Kikoski plays Rhodes electric piano on this one, which in general is closer to soul and downtempo music than it is jazz.

Amihai opens with the title track, a swaying, summery soul theme with a balmy horn chart: Julieta Eugenio on tenor sax, Wayne Tucker and Itai Kriss on flute giving way to carefree solos by Amihai and Kikorski and a big cheery crescendo. It sets the stage for much of the rest of the record.

The band prowl like a lynx, sleek on its feet but lethal in MEDB (Middle Eastern Desert Blues), with deliciously simmering harmonies from the bandleader and Kikoski’s Rhodes. It doesn’t sound the least bit Malian and it doesn’t sound particularly Middle Eastern either. as Kikoski winds his way through a twinkling, nocturnal solo.

Gwen’s Groove is a vampy trip-hop launching pad for bright, matter-of-fact solos from guitar and Rhodes. The band reach for a balmy, summery lullaby soul sound in Song For Sasha. They follow that with the aptly titled Smiles, Kikoski switching to acoustic piano for a typically glistening, rather impetuous interlude over the tiptoeing syncopation of bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Jeremy Dutton. It’s the best and most traditional jazz number on the record.

Amihai revisits the furtive nocturnal slink of the album’s second number, if less ominously, in Yitgaber. The album’s big epic is Coming Through, which sounds like a late 70s/early 80s Steely Dan song without words, Kikoski back on piano for an emphatically strolling, blues-infused solo. Amihai gives the record a warmly swaying coda with Saturday Afternoon.

Most of this is not heavy music, but Amihai really knows how to create a mood and keep it going. Clearly, the 90s were a happy time for him. How little those of us who were there knew how much we would eventually miss those days.

El Perro Bite Into a Classic Acid Rock Sound

Radio Moscow‘s Parker Griggs is one of a rare crop of guitarists who’s figured out a way to use Jimi Hendrix as a stepping-off point without sounding like a pale imitation. This summer Griggs is touring with a new band, El Perro, whose debut album Hair of El Perro is just out on limited edition multicolored vinyl and streaming at Spotify.

It’s an interesting new direction, a little closer to funk or heavy latin soul than Radio Moscow’s Hendrix-baked heavy psych. The lineup here includes former Radio Moscow drummer Lonnie Blanton, bassist Shawn Davis, guitarist Jaron Yancey and percussionist Tawny Harrington.

With the album’s first track, The Mould, the band work their way up from a skeletal, nimble intro to fuzzy, heavy wah heavy riffs: nothing fancy, just straight-up catchy early-70s acid funk before Griggs goes flying off the hinges.

Track two, No Harm, is closer to the group Griggs made a name for himself with: Band of Gypsys with some killer Niagara Falls barrel-rolls from Blanton and searing, speaker-panning guitar leads. Imagine early Santana with twin leads, minus the organ, and you get Take Me Away: this is one of those great songs that you don’t realize is just a one-chord jam until it’s almost over.

Griggs and Yancey ride the wah pedals, across the speakers and back throughout track three, the instrumental K. Mt. Is that a real keyboard or just a guitar patch bringing back the vintage Santana vibe in the fourth tune, Breaking Free? Hard to tell.

They hit a dirty, refreshingly noisy 70s acid rock strut in Crazy Legs and follow it with Sitar Song. which sounds like one of those ridiculous effect-fixated rare singles you find on the Brown Acid compilations.

Volume knobs, rattletrap drums and then pure supersonic venom all figure in Black Days, the delicious twelve-minute epic that winds up the record: the dip to a squiggly bass-and-drums interlude sets up a memorable duel on the way out. There’s also a bonus track, O’Grace – with riffage like these guys have, who needs chord changes?

After an insanely slow start to the year, we are starting to be deluged with new rock records and this is one of the best and most psychedelic of the bunch. El Perro’s next unrestricted show is June 7 at around 10 at Growlers, 1911 Poplar Ave. in Memphis, Tennessee; cover is $15. Hometown heavy psych band Dirty Streets headline and make a great segue.