New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: funk

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.

A Raucous, Redemptive Return For Gospel Wildman Rev. Vince Anderson at Union Pool

On Monday night Union Pool was packed with an energetic, characteristically diverse New York crowd who’d come out to dance to Rev. Vince Anderson’s distinctive, unhinged blend of oldschool gospel, funk and what could be called psychedelic soul. “How many of you are seeing live music for the first time since last year?” the wildman pianist asked them.

Only about half a dozen people raised their hands. Either this was a shy crowd, or New York is in a warp-speed operation to get back to normal. Obviously, we have to brace ourselves for the toxic schemes the lockdowners are cooking up in the lab for when cold and flu season gets here. But this show seemed to be a very good omen for the rest of the summer, at the very least.

Anderson’s weekly Monday night residency with the Love Choir, his rotating cast of some of the funkiest players around, ran almost totally uninterrupted from the summer of 2008 until the lockdown. Before then, there was a long run at Black Betty, and a couple of residencies at Pete’s. And in between, at Swift’s in the Village, and the dreaded Pianos, with brief stops at the Williamsburg Publik House and the Metropolitan. All that takes us back to around the turn of the century and Anderson’s legendary, marathon performances at the old Stinger club on Grand Street.

These days the show starts a little earlier, at nine sharp, and the party doesn’t go all the way until closing time. Anderson has had formidable chops for years,, but it was obvious from this one that he’d spent plenty of time at the keys during the lockdown. He opened the show quietly and then slowly picked up the pace until he’d raised the old hymn Precious Lord, Take My Hand to the rafters. He had his core players with him: baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson, trombonist Dave “Smoota” Smith, guitarist Jaleel Bunton and drummer Chad Taylor along with a bassist who was chilling on the back in a chair when the show started but quickly rose up to fuel the slinky groove.

Like so many other performers, Anderson had turned to social media when live music was criminalized, and one song that had grabbed him during the lockdown was Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again, No More. He did that one after Fallen From the Pray, an anthem for apostates that sounded a lot like Dr. John – minus the New Orleans accent – this time out. Anderson was especially on fire for Get Out of My Way, the careening minor-key gospel anthem he’s used to open innumerable shows, finally bringing it down to a rapt series of solar-flare chords before the band stampeded out.

Meanwhile, the dancers moved further and further toward the stage as the crowd grew. In between songs, Anderson did a wry Q&A with the audience, revealed that it was edibles that got him through the lockdown, and put on a wildly applauded demo of yoga for people with a little junk in the trunk.

Then midway through Come to the River, an undulating midtempo number, he got serious: after everything we’ve been subjected to over the past sixteen months, this is our chance to lose everything that doesn’t work and start over, he reminded. And then baptized himself with a pint glass of water, shook it off into the crowd and the party started up again with a high-voltage singalong of This Little Light of Mine. Henderson channeled deep blues, Smith right alongside her while Bunton made it clear that Anderson wasn’t the only one onstage who’d been shedding these songs during the lockdown. Taylor is one of the most sought-after drummers in jazz, but luckily for Anderson he seems to have Mondays off.

Anderson’s weekly Monday night Union Pool residency continues on July 26 at 9

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.

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.

The Nile Project Reinvent Undulating, Mesmerizing Nubian and Ethiopian Grooves

The Nile Project use Nubian traditional songs and proto-funk as a stepping-off point for lavishly colorful, frequently hypnotic jams. There are all kinds of influences here, from Egypt to Ethiopia, Mali and points further south, not to mention American psychedelic rock This blog gave their 2015 debut album Aswan a big thumbs-up. Their 2017 follow-up, Jinja – streaming at Bandcamp – picks up with much more of a darkly vivid Ethiopian tinge. With this band’s vast stash of instruments, they must have a huge tour van.

The first track, Inganji begins with Mohamed Abozekry’s skeletal, skittish oud riff, then Steven Sogo’s guitar kicks in over a circling, hypnotic Malian groove. There’s a very assertive call-and-response at one point between frontwoman Sophie Nzayisenga and the other women in the group.

Allah Bagy sounds like a mashup of a majestic Nile valley anthem and a briskly circling Malian theme, spiced with a rapidfire web of stringed instruments and Jorga Mesfin’s honking baritone sax. You want psychedelic? Ya Abi Wuha follows the same slow/fast formula, with more of an Ethiopian tinge and rippling proto-blues guitar riffage.

Dawit Seyoum’s krar harp delivers hypnotic, rapidfire volleys in Omwiga – it gets joyous when Ahmed Omar’s bass and Hany Bedair’s drums kick in, moving in more of an ellipse than a circle. With Nader Elshaer’s leaping flute over a percussive gallop, Unzi Nil could be a prototype for a brooding Bob Marley anthem. The more distinctly Egyptian-flavored epic Dil Mahbuby gets a long, percolating oud intro, a lithely slinky groove, a plaintively expressive Arabic vocal from Dina El Wedidi and yet another doublespeed romp.

Tenseo is even longer, more than twelve minutes of suspensefully fluttering fretwork, Selamnesh Zemene’s dramatic melismatic vocals, and an undulating, broodingly chromatic groove that could be Mulatu Astatke.

Swaying along over a spiky oud loop, Marigarita has a fervent Ethiopian tinge. Biwelewele is a big, catchy, undulating anthem over a bluesy minor-key bassline. The album’s final, benedictory cut is Mulungi Munange. To say that this careening ensemble are the sum of their parts is actually high praise.

Slinky Lynchian Hustles in Central Park

The Dark Sky Hustlers got the short end of the stick here, competing for sonic space with an amazing jazz quartet who earned a rave review for their show in Central Park a few weeks back. But the Hustlers hustle for their space: they’re an excellent band, and you should see them if you’re in the park anytime soon.

They’re a duo: a ponytailed guitarist with a bottomless bag of classic funk riffs, and a drummer. Their webpage doesn’t identify either by name. They like to play the mall, south of the 72nd St. entrance on the west side. Thursday evening they were at the statue at the southernmost end where the mall deadends into an east-west roadway.

You should have heard the applause springing up from pretty much everywhere within earshot after they’d finished a haunting, practically 25-minute long, often outright Lynchian jam, the high point of who knows how many sets they’d played that day. Their shtick is loopmusic. The guitarist will lay down a rhythm track over the drummer’s steady beat, then he’ll play a long, crescendoing series of leads over it. Sometimes there will be more than one rhythm track, or lead track. This particular one was built around a a bunch of minor seventh chords, more complex than the hypnotic two-chord jams the two often fall back on. And it was a lot slinkier, and more unexpectedly low-key and sometimes sinister, than anything else they played during about an hour worth of music. Who knew they had it in them? Maybe everybody who’d seen them before here.

The other instrumentals were good too. They ventured from pretty straight-up, strutting hard funk to more undulating, soul-infused, Booker T-inspired vamps and then back. They will probably be back there the next time you’re in the area, Saturday afternoon is pretty much a guarantee unless it’s raining. .

Who knew that in the spring of 2021, Central Park would turn into the Village Vanguard, Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall combined? Such is the state of live music in this city at the moment. The arts, and the economy in general are booming in states from Florida to Idaho and many points in between, but here in what used to be the intellectual capitol of North America, they’re on life support. We will need an impeachment of Andrew Cuomo, or some other end to his regime of terror and dictatorial whim, in order to find a way back to this city’s former glory as a magical musical melting pot. Thanks to the bravery of bands like this, and the passersby who support them, live music is still theoretically alive here.