It was fascinating to see some of New York’s most transcendent Indian music talent onstage at Prospect Park Bandshell last year, joined by harpist Brandee Younger and other jazz artists playing austerely enveloping new arrangements of politically-fueled John Coltrane classics.
It was maddening not to be able to hear much of the music, considering how bad the sound was. To make matters worse, these concerts used to be free for everyone, but now the venue is selling the seats closest to the stage. As usual, they were mostly empty, but remained roped off to anyone who didn’t pay the cover charge but might have really wanted to hear what the group were doing. During the set afterward by sax legend Pharaoh Sanders and his quartet, the sound was just as bad, bass and drums jacked to ridiculous extremes. It didn’t take long for word to get around: the sound here sucks!
But it didn’t used to. If the organizers would axe that bozo white kid from out of town who obviously grew up on phat beatzzz and thinks that Eminem is the epitome of sonic excellence – and then replaced him with a competent sound engineer – that would be reason for Brooklyn to celebrate. Because the lineup of free shows at the bandshell this year is really excellent, as enticing as it was last year.
One excellent Brooklyn band on the schedule who really need a good sound mix are the magically swirling Combo Chimbita. If they’re amped properly, as they were while playing to a packed house at Barbes back in April, they’ll build as wildly kaleidoscopic a sound as you’ll hear this year. If they aren’t, their set there at around 8 PM on July 12 will be a muddy mess.
Combo Chimbita are a supergroup of sorts who went through a long dormant period, so it’s good to see them playing out again. Frontwoman Carolina Oliveros keeps busy leading ancient-sounding, hypnotically raucous Afro-Colombian trance-dance ensemble Bulla en el Barrio. Drummer Dilemastronauta also plays psychedelic tropicalia with his own project, Los Sabrosos Cosmicos. The rest of the group includes guitarist Niño Lento – who is neither a kid, nor is he slow – and bassist/keyboardist Prince of Queens,
Their Barbes set was as hypnotic as it was short – under an hour, very brief by this band’s standards. The beats were slinky and constantly shifted, sometimes toward tango, other times toward reggae, and finally a more or less straight-up Colombian cumbia strut about 40 minutes into the set. There was a mixing desk in addition to the keys – whether the extraneous squiggles were coming from there or from the guitar pedal was impossible to tell because the room was so packed. A lot of Spanish was being spoken – it was a smart, young, energized crowd, a welcome change from the rich white kids from out of state who’ve blighted Park Slope so badly in recent years.
Niño Lento flung stinging minor-key guitar chords and chordlets into the mix, sometimes to linger and spiral around, other times to slash through the constantly shifting textural wash. Out in front of the band, swaying and scraping her guacharaca, Oliveros channeled otherworldly menace with her raw, throaty delivery. She has a background singing metal and this project really gives her a chance to go for the jugular. As a bonus, Antibalas will be playing after Combo Chimbita on the 12th in the park: the long-running Afrobeat revivalists are as strong now as during their long residency at the old Knitting Factory in Tribeca 20 years ago.