New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: funk music

Brooklyn’s Funnest Band Put Out One of the Most Casually Creepy Albums of 2019

Hearing Things are Brooklyn’s funnest band and have been for the last three years or so. They play dance music that’s equal parts film noir, soul, go-go music, surf rock, creepy psychedelia and new wave. They’ve also been more or less AWOL lately since the core of the band – alto saxopphonist Matt Bauder, organist JP Schlegelmilch and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza – have all been busy with other projects. But they’ve fimally made an album, Here’s Hearing Things – streaming at Bandcamp – and they’re playing the release show at around 9 PM at C’Mon Everybody on May 24. Cover is $10.

Live, the band often sound like the Doors playing surf music, which makes more sense than you might think considering that Ray Manzarek got his start in a surf band. This album starts out in high spirits, gets more sardonic and ends very darkly.

The first track is Shadow Shuffle, a deliciously twisted remake of Green Onions: the band vamp out the second verse instead of sticking with a creepy chromatic reharmonization of the old Booker T & the MG’s hit. Schlegelmilch swirls and Bauder punches in alto and baritone sax parts throughout the catchy Tortuga, a go-go tune as the Stranglers would have done it.

Wooden Leg is a subtly sardonic horror theme in the same vein as Beninghove’s Hangmen, Bauder fluttering furtively in the low registers as the band picks up steam: it’s the album’s most deliciously noir epic.

Likewise, Stalefish is a more traditional, horror surf take on Turkish psychedelia, guitarist Ava Mendoza firing off slashing chords over baritone guitarist Jonny Lam’s snappy, evil basslines. Houndstooth is an evil, faux-loungey take on a blue-flame roadhouse theme, animated by irrepressible flurrying drumwork and more whipcracking from Lam.

Hotel Prison would be slyly swayng take on balmy early 60s summer-place theme music if if wasn’t just a little too outside the lines. The outro is cruelly funny. Mendoze’s echeoey leads contrast with tongue-in-cheek, blippy orgnn. goodnatured sax iand expertly flurrying surf drums n Uncle Jack. Then the band completeley flip the scirpt with Trasnsit of Venus, the band’s first and most trippily macabre adventure in Ethiopian jazz,

The abum’s most epic number, Ideomotor opens with Bauder’s bass clarinet over jungly drums, Schleegelmilch;s organ slinking between them as a brooding, dubwise Ethopian theme gains velocicy. .The album’s fiinal cut is Triplestep, coalescing into a into a menacing mashup of Ethiopiques and a death row strut. Bauder gets the alto and baritone to get the Pink Panther to cross over to the dark side, up to a defiantly soaring alto solo that makes a killer coda for the album as a whole. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2019 page at the end of the year if we get that far.

Eli Paperboy Reed Reinvents Classic 60s-Style Soul Music with a Brass Band

The idea of a soul singer backed by a brass band is less radical than it might seem, considering that so much of the style has roots in New Orleans. Beyonce may have gotten all the press for what she did at Coachella, and on one hand, in an ideal world that mighty feat would have triggered a paradigm shift. That it didn’t attests to how intractable – and cheap – what’s left of the corporate pop machine remains.

And to say that Eli Paperboy Reed is an infinitely better songwriter doesn’t mean much. But he’s done the same thing Beyonce did, if on a much less lavish scale, with his album Eli Paperboy Reed Meets High & Mighty Brass Band, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a greatest-hits collection rearranged for singer and brass. The blue-eyed crooner has never sounded more vital. and the brassy Brooklynites have never sounded so tight and purposeful. It’s a party in a box wrapped up in some of the cleverest sweetest horn charts you’ll ever hear outside of Memphis. Reed is playing the Poisson Rouge on May 2 at 8 PM; advance tix are $15 and still available as of today.

The album’s opening track, As I Live and Breathe comes across as a much brighter, brassier take on what could have been a big Wilson Pickett hit from the 60s. Interestingly, the arrangements here are more spacious than the band typically use when they’re by themselves, giving Reed – and sometimes his guitar – plenty of wiggle room.

The mashup of early James Brown and early Allen Toussaint in WooHoo is kind of awkward, but The Satisfier gets an epic, blazing chart that can stand alongside The Horse or any other classic groove from soul’s golden age – the latin percussion makes up for bass frequencies being pretty much lost in the mix. The tuba takes care of that over a slinky shuffle groove in the vintage Motown-flavored Name Calling, one of the album’s catchiest tracks.

You can pretty much tell from the song titles which ones are the ballads and which are the dancefloor joints. The band move with purist 60s-style imagination from the brisk stomp Well Allright Now – with an aggressive trombone solo – to the Lee Dorsey-flavored Walkin’ and Talkin’ (For My Baby), with its dixieland-style exchange of solos. Likewise, Take My Love With You has an oldtimey gospel arrrangement. The Motown/Crescent City mashup of Love on Top is rousingly successful, while Explosion is as rapidfire as the title would like you to believe. The album’s final track is the full-band Come and Get It. catchy vamps, guitars and all.

Durand Jones & the Indications Bring Oldschool and Newschool Soul to Williamsburg

On one hand, Durand Jones & the Indications absolutely nail a rarely-emulated style of vintage 60s soul music: the lo-fi kind. Their debut studio album – streaming at Bandcamp – looks back to the gritty sound of soul that was made in garages rather than in proper recording studios. The instrumentation is spare – purposeful, incisive organ, guitar that’s on the tinny side, impassioned vocals, Kyle Houpt’s bass way back in the mix, and drums that in this case are way too loud on the faster numbers. That seems to be an accession to 21st century production values – this band sounds like they’re great live. They’re playing the Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorow night, April 17 at 10 PM; cover would be eighteen bucks at the door if it wasn’t sold out. Pity the crowd who’ll have to find a way home without any L, G or even M train service afterward.

The album’s first track, Make a Change, has both personal and political implications – and is cut and pasted in places in the same way that samples in hip-hop get looped. It’s a production trick that’s not necessary – unlike most indie bands, this group is more than  capable of playing a bunch of verses and choruses all the way through without screwing up.

Jones comes across as a lower-pitched Marvin Gaye throughout the second tune, Smile,  drummer Aaron Frazer,’s shuffle beat spiced with Blake Rhein’s simple, staccato guitar, Steve Okonski’s smoky organ, and tight horns. The interweave of Jones’ sax with the organ in the brooding 6/8 ballad Can’t Keep My Cool is deliciously psychedelic, as is Groovy Babe, a murky, almost feral second-line funk tune.

Giving Up has sparse/swirly contrasts between guitar and organ and a slow, gospel-infused sway, but it’s dirty-minded. Is It Any Wonder is just as slinky and catchy, and gives Jones a chance to show off a strong falsetto. The album’s title track is its most psychedelic, with a long wah guitar solo that echoes Hendrix but also doesn’t rip him off. The final cut iis Tuck & Roll, a New Orleans-flavored one-chord funk jam that sounds like a more punk take on the Meters. The playing on this record is so spot-on, tastily retro and purposeful; hopefully the production next time will measure up. They’ve already made a live album; they ought to make another.

The Budos Band Bring Their Darkest, Trippiest Album Yet to a Couple of Hometown Gigs

The Budos Band are one of those rare acts with an immense fan base across every divide imaginable. Which makes sense in a lot of ways: their trippy, hypnotic quasi-Ethiopiques instrumentals work equally well as dance music, party music and down-the-rabbit-hole headphone listening. If you’re a fan of the band and you want to see them in Manhattan this month, hopefully you have your advance tickets for tonight’s Bowery Ballroom show because the price has gone up up five bucks to $25 at the door. You can also see them tomorrow night, April 6 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg for the same deal. Brooding instrumentalists the Menahan Street Band open both shows at 9 PM

The Budos Band’s fifth and latest album, simply titled V, is streaming at Bandcamp. The gothic album art alludes to the band taking a heavier, darker direction, which is somewhat true: much of the new record compares to Grupo Fantasma’s Texas heavy stoner funk spinoff, Brownout. The first track, Old Engine Oil has guitarist Thomas Brenneck churning out sunbaked bluesmetal and wah-wah flares over a loopy riff straight out of the Syd Barrett playbook as the horns – Jared Tankel on baritone sax and Andrew Greene on trumpet – blaze in call-and-response overhead.

Mike Deller’s smoky organ kicks off The Enchanter, bassist Daniel Foder doubling Brenneck’s slashing Ethiopiques hook as the horns team up for eerie modalities, up to a twisted pseudo-dub interlude. Who knew how well Ethiopian music works as heavy psychedelic rock?

Spider Web only has a Part 1 on this album, built around a catchy hook straight out of psychedelic London, 1966, benefiting from a horn chart that smolders and then bursts into flame It’s anybody’s guess what the second part sounds like. The band’s percussion section – Brian Profilio on drums, John Carbonella Jr. on congas, Rob Lombardo on bongos and Dame Rodriguez on various implements – team up to anchor Peak of Eternal Night, a deliciously doomy theme whose Ethiopian roots come into bracing focus in the dub interlude midway through.

Ghost Talk is a clenched-teeth, uneasily crescendoing mashup of gritty early 70s riff-rock, Afrobeat and Ethiopiques, Deller’s fluttery organ adding extra menace. Arcane Rambler is much the same, but with a more aggressive sway. Maelstrom is an especially neat example of how well broodingly latin-tinged guitar psychedelia and Ethiopian anthems intersect. 

The band finally switch up the rhythm to cantering triplets in Veil of Shadows: imagine Link Wray jamming with Mulatu Astatke’s 1960s band, with a flamenco trumpet solo midway through. Bass riffs propel the brief Rumble from the Void and then kick off with a fuzzy menace in the slowly swaying Valley of the Damned: imagine a more atmospheric Black Sabbath meeting Sun Ra around 1972. 

It’s a good bet the band will jam the hell out of these tunes live: count this among the half-dozen or so best and most thoroughly consistent albums of 2019 so far.

Out of Nations Add Global Spice to Their Kinetic Original Middle Eastern Sounds

Berlin-based group Out of Nations are yet another one of those fascinating bands who transcend their origins and defy categorization. The shapeshifting instrumentals of frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Lety ElNaggar and composer Khalil Chahine – who also arranged and produced the album – move effortlessly from Middle Eastern grooves, to more tropical sounds, with a fat bottom end and influences from many other parts of the globe. Their debut album Quest is streaming at Spotify: it’s one of the most entertainingly eclectic releases of recent months.

Bassist Ahmed Nazmi’s atmospheric solo taqsim opens the album’s first song, Khafif, a funky, dancing new version of a late 1800s Egyptian classic by Said Darwish. Guest oudist Hazem Shaheen – of the Nile Project – adds rustic vocals as well as a spare, spiky solo over Nazmi’s bounce, ElNaggar providing atmosphere and ecstatically dancing riffs with her ney flute and soprano sax.

Shifting from smoky, to airy, to lively, she pulls the band up from a pensive intro to a jumping soukous-style dance and then eventually a jazz waltz in Tribute to a Time, awash in Jonas Cambien’s synth orchestration.

Juan Ospina of psychedelic tropical rock monsters MAKU Soundsystem sings the lushly orchestrated, coyly pulsing Fiebre, ElNaggar building to a big crescendo with her fiery soprano lines. The album’s fifth track, titled Out of Nations, is a lushly dubby waltz anchored by guitarist Charis Karantzas’ circling, jangly lines, up to a triumphant interweave reflecting the band’s multinational background. A spoken-word interlude juxtaposing of grim news headlines with even grimmer quotes from white supremacists puts the song in context.

ElNaggar switches to flute for the album’s title track, which kicks off as a lively take on 70s boudoir funk until Shaheen’s oud punches in, followed by a bubbly Nazmi solo and then a triumphant one from ElNaggar as the string section reaches for levantine ecstasy.

Her soaring alto sax and Karantzas’ grittty, sunbaked lines contrast in Kurdmajor, alternating between driivng hard funk and a gorgeous, trickily rhythmic Egyptian-tinged theme. Feluka is a more organic, instrumental take on irresistibly swaying Omar Souleyman-style microtonal dabke wedding anthem music, pulsing along on the wings of guest Islam Chipsy’s quavering synth.

The album’s reaches a peak with Sellem, a slinky vintage 50s Egyptian anthem bolstered by a funk rhythm section, complete with guy/girl chorus, an incisive oud solo and an affecting vocal by Dina El Wedidi. The simply titled Coda capsulizes this band’s appeal, a pensive but kinetic number fueled by ElNaggar’s darkly elegant clarinet, Cambien’s somber chromatic piano and Shaheen’s oud. It’s hard to find a playlist that works this well as party music as it does as headphone record.

Sameer Gupta Keeps Taking Indian Music to New Places

Sameer Gupta is one of the prime movers of New York’s most innovative Indian music reinventors, the Brooklyn Raga Massive (whose female contingent, the Women’s Raga Massive, have their amazing Out of the Woods Festival starting next week). Gupta is typical of the members of the collective in that his musical background encompasses both Indian music and other styles. He’s jazz pianist Marc Cary’s main man behind the drumkit, but he’s also a composer, bandleader and tabla player. He’s doing double duty this Saturday night, March 9 at 7:30 PM at the Chhandayan Center For Indian Music, 4 W 43rd Street #618, first in a trio set with sarangi player Rohan Misra and then with sitarist Rishab Sharma. Cover is $20.

Gupta’s latest album A Circle Has No Beginning is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s one of the most intricately trippy, dreamlike releases of the last several months, validating the argument that great drummers have the deepest address books because everybody wants to play with them. In this case, that means Cary plus Raga Massive peeps.

The opening track, Little Wheel Spin and Spin comes across as a swirling, psychedelic Indian update on bluesy, oldtime Appalachian music. Jaunty, acerbic violin from Arun Ramamurthy and Trina Basu soar along with Jay Gandhi’s bansuri flute over Cary’s bubbly Fender Rhodes piano, with an austere Marika Hughes cello solo in the middle.

With its tectonic sheets of violin plus ripples from Cary’s Rhodes and Brandee Younger’s harp, Taiwa alludes to the Doors, the Exorcist Theme and the Hollywood hills boudoir soul of Roy Ayers as much as any classic Indian carnatic theme. A bristling nocturne, Innocence in Harlem is an intoxicating blend of echoey Rhodes, stark violin and cello over matter-of-fact syncopation and a mutedly punchy Rashaan Carter bassline. Saxophonist Pawan Benjamin fuels a big crescendo amid the growing storm.

Come Take Everything opens in an echoey haze of atmospherics, then evokes the drama and majestry of classic Bollywood, then goes all dissociative and opaque before Gupta’s flurrying drums pull a series of fluttering voices back toward a punchy, syncopated center and finally a big cinematic coda. Two Faces of the Moon is much more easygoing, bansuri and violin intertwining elegantly, with some wry wah-wah in the background.

Tyagaraja Dreams in Brooklyn is as enveloping as it is insistent, a mix of leaping bansuri and string riffs over a straightforward pulse contrasting with busy bass. Likewise, With Blessings kicks off with a bass solo punching through the haze, then the bansuri and violin build a stark but anthemic interweave. A long, shivery solo from Gandhi introduces a little Jethro Tull into the mix; Gupta’s scampering drum solo enhances the playful vibe.

Crows at Sunset slowly coalesces out of a nebulous intro, then shifts between an uneasy string theme and kaleidoscopic atmosphere that eventually echoes a somber Coltrane classic: it’s rare that so many people can be soloing at the same time yet blend as well together as this crew does. Run for the Red Fort is the band at their most squirrelly and surreal; the album ends epically with almost twelve minutes worth of Prog-Raag Bhimpalasi. It’s here that the Raga Massive’s influence is strongest, from the flickering, droning but propulsive first part to the fluttering variations on the rather stern central riff, guest Neel Murgai’s sitar and Benjamin’s sax weaving amid the careening ambience.

Whether you call this Indian music, psychedelic rock, funk or jazz – and it’s all of those things – it’s absolutely unique and characteristic of the kind of alchemy that the Raga Massive can stir up.

Multistylistic Defiance, Protest Songs and a Populist Film Score by Polymath Guitarist Marc Ribot

Once or twice a year, there always seems to be a brief series of shows aired by John Schaefer’s New Sounds on WNYC from the World Financial Center atrium where the Bang on a Can marathon took place for so many years. This year’s inaugural New Sounds theme is live film scores. The movies and music are free; showtime is 7:30 PM, but get there early if you want a seat. The first one is Jan 30 with Marc Ribot playing a live score to Charlie Chaplin’s silent film The Kid.

Ribot has toured this score before. What’s most unusual about it is that it’s solo acoustic. Then again, Ribot hardly needs amplification to validate his status as one of the world’s two greatest jazz guitarists (Bill Frisell is the other: that both are individualists who have never embraced straight-ahead postbop speaks for itself). Reviewing the score in the spring of 2015, this blog reported that “The opening theme here was a characteristic mix of jarring close harmonies and a little Americana. As the characters were introduced, Ribot hinted at flamenco and then ran the gamut of many idioms: enigmatic downtown jazz, oldtime C&W, plaintive early 20th century klezmer pop and eerie neoromanticism, to name a few. Familiar folk and pop themes peeked their heads in and quickly retreated.”

Needless to say, Chaplin’s populism dovetails with Ribot’s role as one of the most active musicians in the current wave of protest jazz. One recent album that personifies that description is his latest release YRU Still Here with his punkish project Ceramic Dog. Streaming at Bandcamp, it’s completely different from the Chaplin film score – or is it?

The album’s opening track, Personal Nancy is a mostly one-chord no wave stomp, a catalog of ways of having “the right to say fuck you.” Pennsylvania 6 6666, a vemomously cynical latin soul groove, speaks grim truth to white Christian power in the ostensibly idyllic town of Danville. And that’s Ribot on the horn solo too!

Agnes is a mashup of no wave and 13th Floor Elevators psychedelia, with a wry wah-wah interlude. Oral Sydney with a U is a wryly skronky funk instrumental with snappy bass, echoey organ and ridiculous over-the-top faux Hendrix riffage. The cynicism simmers just beneath the surface in the album’s title cut, rising to a deliciously noisy cauldron of guitar multitracks as the bluesy shuffle beat goes doublespeed.

Fueled by Ches Smith’s pummeling drums, Muslim Jewish Resistance is a broodingly anthemic, seethingly atmospheric shout-along in solidarity with both populations, equally divided and conquered by fascists over the years: it’s the album’s first moment where Donald Trump gets namechecked. Shut That Kid Up is the almost nine-minute Sonic Youth collaboration Neil Young could only dream of, while Fuck La Migra is a punk rap that needed to be written…and it’s a good thing that this guy did it, with a little Texas blues thrown in for maximum context.

Orthodoxy, featuring sitar from bassist Shahzad Ismaily (or is that Ribot playing through a sitar patch?), is the missing link between Kraftwerk, Ravi Shankar and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Freak Freak Freak on the Peripherique – a snarky over-the-shoulder look at Ribot’s Live in Japan disco album with Mary Halvorson – might be a shout-out to the Gilets Jaunes and their struggle to depose their own Trumpie president. The album’s closing cut is a ridiculous, barely recognizable psychedelic remake of Rawhide, complete with vocoder, keening funeral organ and a 80s guitar interlude nicked from Public Image Ltd. Say it one more time: this guy can literally play anything and make it interesting.

Epic, Fearless, Funky Orchestral Jamband Burnt Sugar Celebrate Twenty Years at Lincoln Center

Burnt Sugar hold the record for the most performances at Lincoln Center’s atrium space, impresario Jordana Leigh enthused moments before the mammoth ensemble took the stage there this past evening in celebration of their twentieth anniversary. “I can’t think of a band that more encapsulates New York…and the talent, and the energy, and style!”

“If you’ve seen us before, you know that we alternate between the raw and the cooked,” founder and conductor Greg Tate grinned, referring to the band’s penchant for swinging wildly between reinventions of others’ music and their own serpentine, tectonic, often thunderous mass improvisations. If memory serves right – there were a LOT of people onstage – this version of the collective had four singers, four guitarists, a horn section, rhythm section and keys in addition to plenty of beats and maybe atmospherics stashed away in somebody’s pedal.

From behind his Strat, Tate directed rises, falls, signaled for solos and for specific groups of instrumentation to punch in or out, in the same vein as the inventor of “conduction,” the late, great Butch Morris. The evening’s sprawling opening instrumental rose and fell with all sorts of sudden shifts, punchy and lyrical solos from JS Williams’ trumpet, V. Jeffrey Smith’s alto sax and Paula Henderson’s smoky baritone sax.

With former member Rene Akan’s Wretched of the Earth, Page 88, they made squalling, careening, Rage Against the Machine metalfunk out of a grim account of a city under fire in Frantz Fanon’s classic antiglobalist manifesto. This may be the performance where Burnt Sugar set another record, as the loudest band ever to play this space, a possibility reinforced by another Akan number that sounded in places as if the Bad Brains had cloned themselves.

“Rome burned while freedom lurked, masquerade and misdirection, incantations hide intentions,” singer Lisala Beatty mused over Leon Gruenbaum’s percolating, slinky Fender Rhodes groove a bit later in the set. It was akin to symphonic Gil Scott-Heron: “Young, black and vague, now you gotta ride the future shock wave.”

Smith’s disarmingly beautiful sax swirls spun over a slow, hypnotic beat as a wryly funny duet between Beatty and fellow vocalist Mikell Banks got underway – it could have been a joint homage to Sun Ra and Prince. The vocal version of Chains and Water – the opening track on Burnt Sugar’s 2009 album Making Love to the Dark Ages – had a subdued, hypnotic sway that masked its ferocious look back at the legacy of the Middle Passage, at least until the guitars flared up. They took it down with a rather chilling chain gang-style contrapuntal vocal outro.

Smith and bassist Jared Nickerson dedicated Naomi, a tender yet lively duet, to Nickerson’s aunt. It brought to mind Kenny Garrett back in the 90s in a particularly sunny mood. Then the group completely flipped the script with Ride Ride Ride – complete with sarcastically loopy faux-anthemic organ and a singalong chorus that went “Ride ride ride, everybody gonna get gentrified.” Henderson’s snarky, honking, repetitive solo offered momentary relief from a scenario where everyone’s “Homeless and boneless, your judgment an eternal curse.”

Tate might laugh if he heard this, but at this show he was the best guitarist onstage, plucking out sparse, enigmatic chords that resonated far more than any Eddie Van Halen squeals and divebomb effects could have. The group wound out the night with a nebulous backbeat-driven examination of racism in the early Bush/Cheney war era, an oldschool disco tune, and a gritty, atmospheric, Nina Simone-tinged ballad sung with considerable gravitas by Meah Pace.

Burnt Sugar are at the Brooklyn Museum on Jan 31 at 7 PM; cover is $16 and includes museum admission. The next show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is Jan 17 at 7:30 PM with the amazing and only slightly less epic Black String, who blend stormy art-rock, mesmerizing Korean traditional music, opera and hip-hop. Get there early if you’re going.

Slinky, Eclectic, Unpredictable Psychedelic Grooves from International Orange

International Orange are one of the most distinctive, unpredictable instrumental jambands out there. In a single, expansive tune, they can shift between Afrobeat, oldschool soul, psychedelic funk, gutbucket organ grooves and Bahian-flavored beats. Pretty much everybody in the band writes.Their latest album A Man and His Dog (For Gaku)  is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing at 11 PM on Dec 30 at Offside Tavern at 137 W 14th St,

While their music is hardly melancholy, there is a sad backstory. The group lost their bassist, Gaku Takanashi, who appears on half the tracks here: this would be his final recording. Guitarist David Phelps’ tune Keep the Blue Side Up opens it with an upbeat, catchy soukous guitar flair, then Dan Stein’s organ solo takes the music toward gutbucket organ groove before Phelps returns to with a metal attack. Meanwhile, the rhythm section – Takanashi’s bass and Todd Isler’s drums – follow a carefree tropical shuffle. 

Olinda – by Isler and Fender Rhodes player Adam Morrison – is a starry boudoir soul jam with more than a hint of roots reggae, Phelps’ slide guitar adding unexpected Hawaiian flavor as Leo Traversa’s hammer-on bass riffs weave through the mix. How I learned Not To Worry, another Phelps tune, is a syncopated oldschool soul song without words, with more of that keening slide guitar and Takanashi’s bass percolating over the organ.

The lively Strut Orange brings to mind steel guitarist Raphael McGregor’s adventures in instrumental southern rock. Freight Liner, also by Phelps, is a more tipetoeing, New Orleans-flavored strut, Phelps’ exchanges with Morrison’s organ bringing to mind vintage 60s Mulatu Astatke Ethiopian funk before the guitar goes in a shreddier direction.

Maracuja, an Isler tune, has a catchy oldschool soul melody over an animatedly shuffling maracatu groove, Phelps’ hard funk lines and detours toward metal flaring overhead. Sookie’s Rhumba, by Traversa, keeps the soul ambience simmering as Isler flits along on his rims, Phelps adding warm, Smokey Robinson-esque lines until the bass signals a shift into bubbling West African territory. 

Their take of Pat Metheny’s Sirabhorn is part twinkling Hawaiian seascape, part Carnaval them, another showcase for Phelps’ sunbaked slide work. His original The Penguin comes across as Peter Gabriel-era Genesis motoring through an oldschool soul groove with unexpected, tongue-in-cheek success: imagine a more original, focused Dopapod.

First Principle, by Stein is a dub reggae jam as organist Brian Charette might do it, with a little Beatlesque psychedelia thrown into the mix. Phelps’ solo guitar tribute to his bassist friend Gaku, A Man And His Dog closes the album on a steady, warmly reflective, pastoral note.

Mavis Staples Throws a Party For Our Right to Fight at Lincoln Center

By the time Mavis Staples had launched into her second catchy, singalong soul groove at Lincoln Center Out of Doors last night, she was already referencing economic deprivation and political exploitation. At least half of the crowd were on their feet, dancing and swaying. Her voice has weathered over the years, but her message and presence have not. The heir to a seven-decade, politically fearless soul music legacy is as relevant today as she was in 1962, when she marched throughout the South with the family patriarch, Pops Staples, and put her life on the line.

One hand, she’s a friendly, down-to-earth Chicagoan. On the other, she carries herself with the gravitas but also the optimism of someone who won a lot of battles back in the day and remains an inspiration to this generation’s freedom fighters. “We live in troubled times,” she mused soberly. But then she grinned. “I’m thinking about going down to Washington,” she announced, to wild applause. “But I’m not going alone. I’m not stupid. I’m bringng my posse!”

“But they’d just throw me out. ‘You’re not from here, you’re from Chicago, go home.’” No doubt that was the reaction of the rednecks who jailed her alongside Martin Luther King, and her dad, who wrote the gospel call-and-response of Freedom Highway for those marchers. Staples sang that one midway through the set, backed by a tight, terse five-piece band with guitar, bass, drums and two passionate, purposeful harmony singers.

They opened with Are You Ready and its “come go with me” mantra, which came across as more of a challenge to join forces against oppression than simply with the rest of the choir. She evoked a similar call-and-response a couple of songs later: “Don’t rock the boat – who told you that?” The line that drew the most thunderous roar from the crowd was when the gentleman on harmony vocals sang, “Take the sheet off your face, boy, it’s a new day now.”

The rest of the set ranged from comfortable 1960s-style two-chord soul/gospel jams, to more energetic funk and some nifty, shifting tempos in a couple of tunes. Along the way, Staples’ alluded to more contemporary issues including but not limited to the blitzkrieg of gentrification and the war on immigrants. At the end of the set, they finally vamped their way through a joyous singalong of the Staples Singers’ 1971 hit I’ll Take You There.

Throughout the show, the band were tight and purposeful, with a couple of surprisingly volcanic, noisy guitar solos from Telecaster player Rick Holstrom, a little snap and pop from Jeff Turmes’ bass toward the end and some acerbic cameos from both harmony vocalists.

Joe Henry opened. He’s a very serious guy, choosing his words carefully as he addressed the crowd. “Every song I write is part Amazing Grace and part Let’s Get It On,” he explained. That description held up throughout his roughly forty-five minutes onstage: he’s the missing link between Leonard Cohen and Wilco. Another reference point was Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, which kept popping up tunewise throughout the show. Playing acoustic guitar, using both standard and open tunings, he led his six-piece band through a breezy set of slow-to-midtempo parlor Americana ballads. It would have been a treat to be able to hear the great Cindy Cashdollar’s diverse lapsteel textures, which more often than not were drowned out by Levon Henry’s sax. More often than not it takes somebody the caliber of Bob Wills to get horns and country-influenced songwriting to work together. 

Lincoln Center Out of Doors winds up tonight, Aug 12 at 7 PM with another collaboration with the Americana Music Association, featuring sets by guitarslinger Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and country-soul chanteuse Margo Price.