New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: funk music

Fiercely Danceable Guinean Feminist Rock on the Library Steps in Brooklyn

What is the likelihood that a woman from a remote Guinean village, where child brides are routinely taken by older men, would go on to become one of the most popular hip-hop artists in Africa and then a feminist rock bandleader?

In an era where unlikely heroes are busting out of the least expected places, singer/guitarist Natu Camara is paradigmatic. At her show on the plaza at the Brooklyn Public Library Wednesday night, she led a versatile, slinky band through a catchy, high-voltage mix of politically-charged songs and wound up an increasingly ecstatic show with a dance jam that went on for well over half an hour.

The steady upward climb to that final, sprawling, soukous-flavored outro was as provocative as it was fun. As the sun sank behind the library, the crowd was sluggish. “What’s up, you didn’t have enough coffee?” Camara laughed. “You afraid of corona? OK, then stand behind the line!”

That was the only time she touched on that issue, but she pushed a lot of other buttons that would have gotten her in hot water or worse where she grew up. The former member of the first Guinean all-female hip-hop group, the Ideal Black Girls, spoke truth to power, stepping in place and whirling in front of the band when she wasn’t fingerpicking her big sunburst Gibson guitar.

She began Momi Hidda, her broadside against young girls being married off, in the gentle imploring voice of a child speaking to her parents, before picking up at the end with a righteous wail.

The band behind Camara shifted gears seamlessly through a wide swath of genres. Bassist Kayode Kuti played fat downtuned lines, bent notes and bubbling vats of tarpit melody, often in tandem with the vocals. Drummer Oscar Debe kept the labyrinthine rhythmic shifts on the rails, abetted by a nimble percussionist, while keyboardist John F. Adams moved from lushly orchestral string patches, to reggae organ, phantasmagorical jazz piano and some wry P-Funk style portamento synth. Lindsey Wilson added soulful, often impassioned vocal harmonies; there was also a lead guitarist who played loopy phrases, or simple accents to bolster the beat.

Camara went into brisk late 60s-style rocksteady for Arrabama Di (What Are We Going to Do About It?), a cheerily insistent tune sung in one of seven languages. Her English is strong, and she’s funny. “What is a monster?” she asked the crowd. “You give him your heart, and he squeezes you!” And with that she launched into a vengeful minor-key vamp, soaring up to the top of her register at the end.

Likewise, Wa (an onomatopoeic word – it means “cry”) grew from a muted, gentle couple of verses to a scrambling, triumphant dance tune. My Hiding Place, she explained, was meant more as a metaphor, a philosophical home base as a place of refuge. The best song of the night might have been White Bird, a brisk, resolute dance-rock anthem inspired when a bird landing conspicuously on her windowsill. She took that as an omen, walked away from her dayjob, and the rest is history.

The dance numbers after that offered tribute to Miriam Makeba: Camara had seen her in concert at an early age, had an epiphany and decided to defy the authorities and make music her career. It goes without saying that at this point in history, we need more performers this outspoken and fearless.

Lauren Anderson Airs Out Her Powerful Pipes on Her Sizzling New Album

Lauren Anderson has one of those rare, arresting voices you only hear once every ten years or so. She can belt the blues, implore heavenly intervention with a gospel song and channel any kind of soul seduction you could possibly want. Her new album Love on the Rocks is streaming at Soundcloud.

Anderson is a one-woman choir, busting out her most exalted, indestructible gospel intensity for the album’s tantalizingly brief opening track, Keep On, a real showstopper with a 19th century chain gang feel.

The album’s title track, a seduction anthem, shifts between noirish oldschool soul and a big bluesy chorus with a spot-on Bessie Smith reference. Jimi Greene’s searing guitar layers over Hutch’s growling, downtuned bass match Anderson’s potency as the song winds out.

Guest Mike Zito joins Greene and Anderson in supplying simmering, gritty guitar layers over drummer Matt Doctor’s loping groove in Back to Chicago, Anderson delivering a bitter breakup tale in an understated gospel-infused voice, finally reaching for the skies at the end.

The Way I Want is an aphoristically lyrical blues, but with more than a hint of a 70s disco pulse. Organist Kiran Gupta and the string section of Jon and Liz Estes give a stark Indian flavor to Holdin’ Me Down, a trip-hop tune, Anderson channeling the frustration of a claustrophobic relationship.

Greene opens Just Fucking Begun with a nasty pickslide: it’s an insistent, Stonesy stomp with a powerful message about ageist stereotypes, and how women suffer disproportionately as a result. Then Anderson reaches for vintage Tina Turner-style defiance over chicken-scratch funk and then a stomping vintage soul groove in I’m Done.

Stand Still is an unexpected departure into Celtic balladry, Anderson capturing the isolation and desperate need to escape it that’s pervaded these last seventeen months.  Your Turn is the album’s big orchestral ballad, Anderson’s emotionally devastated narrator out on the highway, driving through a haze of wine and tears: “Every time I’m close, the world turns cold, it yanks me back to the starting line.” There are many high points on this album but this will give you goosebumps.

Revisiting a Legendary New York Band From the 90s at Drom’s Summer Jazz Festival

It’s Saturday night in the East Village. Drom isn’t packed wall to wall like it was Thursday night for the Mingus Big Band, but there’s a healthy crowd, and it’s growing. Co-owner Serdar Ilhan takes a moment to reflect underneath the gorgeous sepia profile of the Galata Tower in Istanbul just to the right of the stage that greets customers as they walk in.

It’s the most metaphorically loaded, timely visual in any New York club these days: a fifteenth-century edifice, with a synagogue, a mosque and a church visible faintly in the background. Next year, Drom will be celebrating fifteen years of more US debuts of artists and bands from around the world than any other New York club can boast over that time. When did the club open? April of 2007? “I can’t remember,” Ilhan laughs. Then he goes over to the stage and gooses the smoke machine.

That seems a play to signal the band that it’s showtime. On one hand, it’s weird to see Groove Collective onstage, and a room full of people sitting at tables. But this isn’t the Groove Collective that used to pack the Mercury Lounge back in the mid-90s. Frontman and irrepressible freestylist Gordon, a.k.a. Nappy G flew the coop long ago. Not all of the core of the original band remain, and they aren’t the ubiquitous presence they were on the New York club circuit twenty-five years ago. But they’re just as original, and uncategorizable, and over the years have grown closer to being a straight-up jazz band. Which makes sense, considering that this show is part of Drom’s ongoing summer jazz festival.

And it’s date night, and maybe 90s nostalgia night too. There are a group of dancers gathered by the bar as well. The band find new ways to make two-chord vamps interesting, usually involving rhythm. The turbulent river thrown off by a sometimes four-person percussion section: drummer Genji Siraisi, conguero Chris Ifatoye Theberge, multi-percussionist Nina Creese and guest Peter Apfelbaum – contrasts with the often hypnotic insistence from Marcio Garcia’s piano and organ, and the looming ambience of trombonist Josh Roseman and saxophonist Jay Rodriguez.

What becomes clearest is how much the latin influence has come to the forefront in the band’s music. The clave goes doublespeed or halfspeed, Creese often serving as mistress of suspense. Apfelbaum teases the audience with a keyboard solo, running through a bunch of electric piano and organ patches, then switches to melodica for a deep dub breakdown before the groove is relaunched.

Rodriguez shifts between alto, tenor and flute while Roseman serves as co-anchor along with a new bassist, who has the circling riffs in his fingers. Meanwhile, the beat morphs from salsa to funk to trip-hop, a current-day dancefloor thud, and then a shuffling oldschool disco beat at the end of the night. Rodriguez ends up opting to cut loose with his most interesting, energetic riffage of the night early; Roseman, and eventually Apfelbaum on his usual tenor sax, do the opposite.

The next concert in Drom’s ongoing summer jazz festival is August 19 at 7 PM with a killer twinbill of double-threat Camille Thurman – who’s equally dazzling on the mic and the tenor sax – with the Darrell Green Trio, and also trombonist Conrad Herwig with his Quintet. Cover is $30; there’s also an absurdly cheap five-day festival pass for $100 available.

Fun Brass Band Sounds in Park Slope This Weekend

If you’re in Park Slope this Saturday evening, July 31, you can catch a free outdoor show by irrepressible, all-female street band the Brass Queens at 5th Ave and 3rd St., a barely ten-minute walk from the Atlantic Ave. subway.

There are three singles up at the 7-piece group’s Bandcamp page. Casanova is in the same vein as the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble‘s hip-hop/New Orleans second-line mashups, Bad Brass Bunnies is a funny trip-hop groove with some absolutely luscious harmonies on the high end.;

The latest single is Love How You Wanna, which comes across like an oldschool 70s soul ballad with a bright, increasingly animated interweave of voices and a solid, slinky sousaphone bassline. Catchy sounds, sophisticated arrangements, and you can dance to all of this.

A Sizzling, Cutting-Edge, Wildly Funky String Jazz Collaboration in Long Island City

It’s impossible to think of a more capsulizing moment for music in New York in 2021 than the concert in a Long Island City parking lot last Sunday. Overhead, the skies blackened, but on the ground, string quartet the Lotus Chamber Music Collective and jazz quartet Momentum joined in a wild, ecstatic collaboration that spoke to the indomitability of New York musicians creating the newest sounds around.

Lotus’ charismatic cellist, Sasha Ono, didn’t bother trying to hide how amped she was to finally be able to play her first concert since last year’s lockdown. The electricity shared by all eight players – perched on the back of a trailer and the bed of a battered 1963 Ford pickup – was pure unleashed cabin fever. This crew had obviously been playing and refining their chops during the time live music was criminalized here. And a big crowd had come out for the fireworks, defying the thunderclouds overhead.

The quartet – which also included violinists Tiffany Weiss and Emily Frederick alongside violist Gizem Yucel – opened with a mixture of lushness and groove, Ono and Momentum bassist Isaac Levien doubling up on the fat low end riffage throughout most of JJ’s Dance, by drummer Elé Howell. It was a slinky, shapeshifting number that gave the band a long launching pad to rise through a blend of Afrobeat, trip-hop and psychedelic funk that drew a straight line back to Roy Ayers. From the back of the truck bed, guitarist Quintin Zoto drove it to a searing peak with a long, feral but erudite solo, capped off with some savage tremolo-picking.

Cultural Appropriation, by Julia Chen had a coy calypso bounce fueled by Howell’s loose-limbed clave, with a similarly slinky Levien bass solo, vibraphonist Grady Tesch rippling through what the clouds overhead were foreshadowing.

Ono told the crowd that she’d been inspired to come up with her arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s La Paloma Azul as a reflection on the South American refugee crisis, the strings introducing its lustrous initial theme followed by the rest of the ensemble’s lilting, bittersweet, Mexican folk-tinged rhythms.

The most ambitiously symphonic interlude of the afternoon was when the two groups mashed up Swing, Low Sweet Chariot with themes from Florence Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint for String Quartet (her Symphony No. 1 was the most-played orchestral work by any American composer in the 1930s). Ono and Tesch had come up with that idea after doing a webcast focusing on Price, whose gospel and jazz-influenced music is getting a long-overdue revival. The highlight was Yucel’s stark viola solo amid the polyrhythms and the constant dynamic shifts.

The eight musicians closed the first set with a determined, lavishly funky take of Shunzo Ohno‘s Musashi, debuting string parts which the jazz legend had written for this performance. It was akin to a particularly energetic segment on the Crusaders’ live album with B.B. King, switching out King’s string-busting bent notes for a torrentially icy guitar attack channeled through Zoto’s chorus pedal. Welcome to the future of serious concert music in New York, 2021: if this is any indication, it’s going to be a hot summer.

The more-or-less weekly outdoor series in the parking lot out behind Culture Lab, 5-25 46th Ave in Long Island City continues at 5 PM tonight, July 24 with careening, microtonally-tinged electric blues band Jane Lee Hooker. The space is just down the block from LIC Bar, further toward the water; take the 7 to Vernon Blvd.

One of New York’s Most Riveting, Entertaining Guitarists Makes a Triumphant Return to the Stage in Bed-Stuy

What James Jamerson was to Motown, Binky Griptite was to the Dap-Tone stable of artists. Jamerson was a bass player, arguably the main architect of the groove that transformed pop music in the 60s. Griptite was lead guitarist to Sharon Jones and most of the rest of New York’s best retro soul acts of the zeros and teens. After that, he maintained a cult following through an endless series of small-venue gigs around town, which ended with the lockdown. This brilliant sideman is also a bandleader, and he’s bringing his Binky Griptite Orchestra – a rotating cast of similarly sharp oldschool soul, blues and funk talent – to Bar Lunatico on July 5 at 9 PM.

This blog has been in the house at many of his gigs, most recently a searing set with gonzo gospel-funk personality Rev. Vince Anderson’s band a few months before the lockdown. The last time anyone here caught him leading a band was over the course of a week in the winter of 2017, when he played a sizzling, frequently psychedelic show at Union Pool and then a much more low-key, slinky set at Threes Brewing in Greenpoint. Both shows featured the amazing, similarly soul-inspired Moist Paula Henderson on smoky, serpentine baritone sax.

Onstage, Griptite is a cool, suave force of nature. The most adrenalizing moments of the Union Pool show were when he slowed down for some eerily crescendoing Chicago blues, an expansive platform for him to show off both subtlety and speed. You could hear the influence of B.B. King, but ultimately Griptite is his own animal. From carbonated James Brown-style bounces to lengthier jams, he chose his spots to get wild.

The Greenpoint gig was 180 degrees the opposite. This one was all about sultry ambience to warm up a cold evening, heavier on the ballads and slower on the tempos, with a lot of input from Henderson. Whichever mood you catch this guy in, it’s always worth seeing. And this intimate venue is a good one for him. Open the door at Lunatico and the first thing you notice is how good it smells (they serve crostinis and such).

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog Put Out an Irrepressibly Funny, Wise, Intense New Album

Marc Ribot‘s credentials as a guitarist were firmly ensconsed in the pantheon decades ago. But he’s just as formidable a composer and songwriter. As an incorrigible polystylist, he’s done everything from searing, noisy jazz (check out his Live at the Vanguard album if raw adrenaline is your thing), to one of the alltime great film noir albums, to one of the best janglerock records of this century (Tift Merritt’s Traveling Alone). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in a career that goes back to the 80s. Ribot’s latest release, Hope – streaming at Bandcamp – is a characteristically all-over-the-map mix with his Ceramic Dog Trio, which includes Shahzad Ismaily on bass and Ches Smith on drums. In an era of lethal lockdowns, and now Cuomo’s sneaky attempt to establish apartheid,, Ribot’s irrepressible sense of humor is more welcome than ever.

The opening track, B Flat Ontology has a withering cynicism matched by an underlying heartbreak. Over a loopy minor arpeggio with just a few turnarounds and tantalizing flickers of wah, Ribot mercilessly pillories all the wannabes in this city. Trendoids, noodly Berklee guitar types, phony poets, performance artists and others get what’s coming to them. Singer-songwriters in particular get a smack upside the head: “Each one more earnest than the next, slip off layers of pretention til there’s nothing left.”

The album’s second track, Nickelodeon is a reggae tune with wah guitar, organ and a lyric as surreal as anything that came out of Jamaica forty years ago. The instrumental Wanna very closely approximates a big Bowie hit. Ribot then takes aim at limousine liberal yuppie puppy entitlement in The Activist, a hilariously verbose parody of cancel culture set to a bubbling, looping 90s trip-hop groove.

Ismaily’s jaunty, loose-limbed bassline anchors Bertha the Cool (gotta love this guy’s titles), a spoof of guitarslingers who worship at the feet of Wes Montgomery. They Met in the Middle has shrieky sax, a tightly clustering English Beat-style bassline and a subtle message about doing your own thing.

The Long Goodbye is a ten-minute epic, Ribot’s austere rainy-day intro finally giving way to Ismaily’s looming chords, then the guitarist hits his distortion pedal for the blue-flame savagery he may be best known for. Maple Leaf Rage, the album’s centerpiece and longest track, is a diptych, slowly rising from his spare, lingering  figures over squirrelly drums to a march, the guitarist’s smoldering lines expanding to another one of his signature conflagrations. If you want to introduce someone to the Ribot catalog, this is as good a stepping-off point as any.

The trio wind up the record with Wear Your Love Like Heaven, a slowly vamping, jaggedly pastoral tableau. And it’s available on vinyl!

Hard-Rocking Balkan Brass, Romany and Indian-Flavored Sounds From Black Masala

Black Masala‘s 2016 album I Love You Madly made the best albums of the year list here; at the time, this blog equated them to a Washington, DC counterpart to Slavic Soul Party. The Washington DC group’s most recent album, Trains and Moonlight Destinies – streaming at Bandcamp – rocks harder, with more of a roaring punk edge, through a typically diverse mix of Balkan, Indian and hard funk themes.

The album’s title track is closer to Gogol Bordello than the Slavic Soul guys, layers of guitars beneath the blazing brass of trumpeter Steven C and trombonist Kirsten Warfield, pushed along by Monty Montgomery’s oompahing Balkan ska sousaphone. The band’s axeman Duff Davis contributes a slashing doubletracked guitar solo.

Percussionist Kristen Long takes over the mic, adding a sultry edge to the dramatically pouncing Midnight Bhangra. Again, there’s as much guitar roar as biting brass here, like Red Baraat at their most rock-oriented. Above the Clouds could be a majestic early 70s Earth Wind & Fire hit…with a sousaphone.

Drummer Mike Ounallah hits a strutting minor-key Balkan reggae groove with Tell Me Again, Davis slashing through the mix when he isn’t doing droll chicken-scratch accents. The party anthem Empty Bottles shifts between brassy rocksteady and ska; then the band mash up New Orleans with Bo Diddley in Whatcha Gonna Do,

The kiss-off anthem Big Man is a mix of Balkan brass, hip-hop and punk rock, trumpet and trombone duking it out from opposite channels. The band wind up the album with the deliriously blasting Romany dancefloor stomp Chaje Shukarije.

Wild Indian-Flavored Dance Tunes on Sunny Jain’s Eclectic, High-Voltage New Album

Sunny Jain‘s new album Phoenix Rise – streaming at Bandcamp – isn’t just a good dance album. It’s a fun guessing game: trying to figure out who’s playing on what tracks is not easy, considering how many people play on them, but their very distinctive, individual voices sometimes give themselves away. Jain being a multi-percussionist – the dhol player and leader of Red Baraat, but also a first-class jazz drummer – the focus of his music is always the rhythm. As you would imagine from how eclectic the projects he’s played in over the years have been, the music here is just as diverse.

That’s definitely Malik Work out in front of the band on the vampy, opening hip-hop tune saluting the world’s everyday heroes. The calmly impassioned voice on the mic in the undulating, qawwali-inflected Where Is Home sounds like Arooj Aftab – and is that Rini on the slashing, carnatically-inflected violin? It could also be Raaginder – or, conceivably, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino’s Mauro Durante, who’s known for more tartantella-flavored sounds.

The vocals on Say It, a soul-infused, trip-hop-ish number, sound more like the misty, alluring Shilpa Ananth; the slithery bass is probably Snarky Puppy’s Michael League, but Devon Gates, Bubby Lewis and Endea Owens are also on the album somewhere.

I’ll Make It Up To You is one of the album’s most surreal numbers, a snarling Stonesy slide guitar rock tune: that has got to be Grupo Fantasma’s Adrian Quesada on guitar – or is that Jonathan Goldberger or Pete Eide showing off his secret inner Keith Richards?

On Pride in Rhythm, a swirly, hypnotic synth-and-percussion number – that’s got to be Rachel Eckroth playing keys – is followed by the album’s title track, a bracing action movie-type sequence with a sax duel at the center. Guessing that’s Pawan Benjamin on the edgy alto and Lauren Sevian on the smoky baritone.

Wild Wild East, an earlier track, gets reinvented in a storming electric bhangra version with carnatic singer Ganavya over a searing electric guitar-driven backdrop. Kushal Gaya’s wildfire vocals on the edgily modal Ja Ja Re Apne Mandirwa, a high-voltage jazz reinvention of a traditional Indian tune, are electrifying: and that has to be Goldberger on guitar here.

They close the album with In and Out, the album’s most traditional tune, at least until the beat goes halfspeed and the roaring electric guitars kick in, take your pick from above for the cast of characters. That sounds like Ganavya and Gaya on vocals again. Damn, this is one of those albums that must have been as fun to play on as it is to listen to – or dance to, for that matter.

A Tight, Focused, Psychedelic Album From the Brooklyn Funk Essentials

The two hardest styles of music to write about are bluegrass and funk. There are basically two types of bluegrass: fast dancey stuff and slow morose material. The job gets even harder if the band only plays the fast kind because the slow kind tends to have interesting lyrics about murder and misery and such.

What can you say about a funk band? That you can dance to them? If you can’t, either you or the band have a problem, and usually it’s the band. Then there’s the Brooklyn Funk Essentials, whose signature sound is a psychedelic yet very tightly focused kind of funk. Over the years, they’ve played just about every sweatbox venue across the borough. Their latest album, Stay Good  is streaming at Soundcloud.

What’s amazing about the title track, which opens the record, is how little there actually is going on in it – and that the band can make what’s mostly a one-chord jam interesting for almost seven minutes. They do it with Lati Kronlund’s dubwise bass, Iwan VanHetten’s wah keys, Desmond Foster’s chicken-scratch guitar, spare horns, a brief Anna Brooks alto sax solo and a good lyric from frontwoman Alison Limerick: the point of the song is that not everything sucks.

The rest of the record is just as imaginative. Hux Flux Nettermalm’s drums get your head bobbing and the little touches make it spin, from the hints of reggae and echoey electric piano in Ain’t Nothing to the squiggly portamento synth in No Strings.

The band build Watcha Want From Me around a catchy Rick James-style bassline and take a detour toward moody but bouncy tropicalia and then dub with Miss Mess, Limerick doing a little lively scatting. Just when you think Keep the Love is going to be a slow, dubby jam, they take it doublespeed. The rhythm section really pushes the beat in the oldschool disco tune Funk Ain’t Ova.

They stick with a slow jam all the way through Breeze on Me, over a spare reggae bassline with the wah open just a little bit. Bakabara has a gritty oldschool 70s edge, while the skeletal strut Y Todav (La La Quiero) is a platform for a low-key, dancing sax solo. They wind up the album with the slow, hypnotic Steps and then the oldschool disco groove Where Love Lives. Great dance music? That’s a no-brainer. Good head music too.