New York Music Daily

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Tag: funk

Above the Moon Steals the Show at Marcus Garvey Park

Sunday afternoon at Marcus Garvey Park, it was validating to watch Above the Moon take over the big stage like they owned the place. The last time this blog was in the house at one of their shows, it was a weeknight at a hideous little Chinatown mob joint where frontwoman/Telecaster player Kate Griffin’s vocals weren’t even in the mix. Which was a crime, because her voice will give you chills. Still, good things started happening: all of a sudden, the band were headlining Arlene’s on Friday nights, and they’ve released a series of excellent ep’s. The data-mining dorks at the big corporate venue chains don’t get it, but Above the Moon are proof that there’s still a massive market for smart, fiercely tuneful rock.

Their sound these days is tighter and harder than it’s ever been, a lot less jangly. Griffin played her usual uneasy mix of roaring, distorted major and minor chords punctuated by Shawn Murphy’s gritty, new wave-ish bass and Strat player James Harrison’s terse, incisive upper-register chordlets and simple, jagged blues leads. Drummer John Gramuglia provided a relentless, colorful stomp, using his whole kit, not just the kick and the snare like a lot of bands with this kind of sound.

Likewise, Griffin uses every inch of her mighty voice’s register, from ominous lows to wailing highs, leaping and bounding effortlessly. The high point of the show was when the music came to a sudden stop after a chorus, but Griffin kept wailing for a couple of seconds of raw adrenaline until the band jumped back in again. There’s always been a restlessness in her songwriting, and the new, angrier edge is a welcome development. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. The band are about to record yet another ep, and the new material is more punk and new wave-influenced than ever. Songs ended sudden and cold, and the final, slowly crescendoing anthem brought to mind a Buzzcocks epic from the 80s.

The rest of the bill was a mixed bag. The last band opened with what sounded like a loud guitar version of a Madonna hit from the 90s and got really cheesy from there, with a goofy ha-ha presence and lazy, inept Pearl Jam-style open chords. After Above the Moon, Mojo & the Mayhem were as lame as their name, which was sad because they have really good songs, and a strong frontwoman who has the timing and the flair to go deep into the group’s attempt to work an oldschool soul vibe. It’s rare to see a band with such purist, catchy material looking so lost onstage. Maybe they’d get somewhere with a different lineup (and a different name – ouch). The horns were ragged, and the guys in the group should know better than to try to upstage a good lead singer on the mic – or, for that matter, to take a halfhearted stab at fake ebonics at a Harlem show. That was shameful. And the bassist and guitarist looked like mercenaries, bored out of their minds, phoning it in and then overplaying when they finally got to take centerstage.

Cosmonaut Radio, on the other hand, do one thing and one thing spectacularly well: psychedelic funk, with a little oldschool 70s disco in places. They were literally as tight as their drummer. And they have a sense of humor; “We’ve got one more for ya. That’s the name of the song: ‘One More For Ya,’” one of the group’s two Telecaster players explained to the crowd – and then treated them to at least another half-hour of groove. With chicken-scratch rhythm, wah-wah lead guitar, smoky organ, a fiery two-man horn section, wryly processed bass and a high-voltage soul chanteuse out in front, they did their best to get a sleepy indian summer crowd on their feet. But it was a hot day; people seemed more interested in sipping Hennessy and smoking weed than moving around much.

The Ghost Funk Orchestra Materialize at Bryant Park

The Ghost Funk Orchestra was originally a one-man band studio project. Then word started getting out about how incredibly fun – and psychedelically creepy – Seth Applebaum’s oldschool soul instrumentals were. All of a sudden there was a band, and then songs with vocals, and now there’s an album, A Song for Paul, featuring the whole crew. This past evening they played the album release show to a huge crowd spread across the lawn at Bryant Park.

Applebaum turns out to be a beast of a lead guitarist, switching from evilly feathery tremolo-picking, to enigmatically sunbaked, scorchingly resonant lines, incisive funk and even some icily revertoned, surf-tinged riffs. The horn section – Rich Siebert on trumpet, James Kelly on trombone and Stephen Chen baritone sax, the latter being the most prominent in the mix – were as tight as the harmonies of the three women fronting the band with an unselfconscious, down-to-earth passion and intenstiy. Lo Gwynn, Romi Hanoch and Megan Mancini twirled and kept the groove going on tambourine as they sang, while second guitarist Josh Park played purposeful chords and oldschool soul licks on his Gibson SG, often trading off or intertwining with the bandleader and his Strat. Bassist Julian Applebaum and drummer Kyle Beach handled the tricky rhythmic shifts seamlessly.

The best of the songs was the darkest one, possibly titled Evil Mind. There were a handful with a galloping Afrobeat rhythm, another with a qawalli-inflected, circling pace and plenty with a swinging straight-up psychedelic funk groove. With all the textures simmering onstage, they didn’t need a keyboardist. Not much chatter with the crowd, no band intros – for all we know, the lineup could still be in flux – just one hypnotic, undulating, sometimes cinematically shifting tune after another. Their next gig is this Halloween at 9 PM at Rough Trade; cover is $12.

 

Yet Another Grim, Brilliantly Lyrical, Oldtime-Flavored Album From Curtis Eller

Charismatic banjo player and bandleader Curtis Eller is yet another first-class songwriter who got brain-drained out of New York by the the real estate speculators’ blitzkrieg. But he’s never stopped writing dark, witheringly insightful, brutally funny folk noir songs. His latest album A Poison Melody – streaming at his music page – is his hardest-rocking record yet, and it’s as grimly relevant as ever.

The title track, Radiation Poison sets the stage. Don’t let the bluster of those of jump blues-inspired horns fool you: this is about an invisible killer. Eller’s references may be Nagasaki and the New Mexico atom bomb tests, but in the post-Fukushima era, the song has even more relevance. “Everybody’s been exposed,” Eller warns.

Eller introduces the dirty-water garage rock stomp of No Soap Radio as “A no-bullshit story about what happened in ’63 – how come it’s always Texas when there’s a murder on tv?” William Dawson’s vibraphone lingers in the background with the torchy harmony vocals of Dana Marks and Stacy Wolfson on the album’s title cut, a doomed soul ballad.

Jack Fleishman’s loose-limbed drums propel Union Hall, a New Orleans-spiced romp alluding to the 1968 Detroit riots, but with current-day irony:

I’m gonna call the police on my neighbor
I’m gonna take my pistol downtown
The Constitution said I can shoot what I want
Everybody get down

Nobody is surprised by the die-off in These Birds, a stark eco-disaster parable. Pay the Band, a big audience favorite at shows, has gospel piano from Tom Merrigan. As Eller sees it, money is like “morphine on the front line.” And, “You gotta pay the band if you wanna watch those losers dance.” It gets even better from there: the punchlines are too good to give away.

The gospel atmosphere is more subdued and elegaic in Lenny Bruce. Cowles plays flute over Eller’s spare, steady, ominous banjo in Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, a caustically aphoristic World War II basic training parable in period-perfect blues vernacular.

After that, Eller does a diptych about a riot; the sly introduction signals the twisted jubilation of the second, a cynical reminder how calamities are always heaven for profiteers. He winds up the album with the sobering No Word to Choose, Hugh Crumley’s steady bass holding the center amid subtly tricky syncopation, up to a final conflagration. In the post-3/11, post-9/11 era, we need clear-eyed guys like Eller more than ever.

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.

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.

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.

A Passionate Lincoln Center Debut By Charismatic Detroit Singer Thornetta Davis

What better place than Lincoln Center for Thornetta Davis, “Detroit’s Queen of the Blues,” to unveil her new horn section? “I just learned about her a year ago and had the great fortune to see her at B.B. King’s,” explained Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez, who programmed Davis’ impassioned, sweaty, unselfconsciously workmanlike performance this past evening.

Since the 80s, Davis’ career has taken a slow, steady upward tangent, to the point where she’s just as popular in Europe as she is in her hometown. Not bad for a woman who, as a single mom back in the 80s, considered herself lucky to be pulling in a couple hundred bucks a week singing with Motor City group the Chisel Brothers. Fronting her eight-piece band –  guitar, five-string bass, keys, drums, congas, tenor sax and trumpet – she put a fresh spin on a popular old sound. 

In just the first two minutes of the opening instrumental, the group swung their way from gritty Fender Rhodes funk into sunnier, trumpet-spiced soul ballad territory. Regal in a sparkly all-black outfit and a serious mane of an afro, brandishing a witchy peacock-feather fan, Davis took the stage with a cool but insistent take of I Gotta Sing the Blues, a pulsing vintage Tina Turner-style anthem. Guitarist Carlton Washington took a jaggedly tasty, clanking early-70s style solo before Davis drove the music upward, cutting loose with her vibrato.

Washington’s lingering chords against the steady thump of the congas lent some noir latin flavor to A Pretty Good Love, Davis reaching to the bottom of her formidable low register at the end. The band hit a no-nonsense vintage Chicago-style blues shuffle in That Don’t Appease Me, Washington’s purist riffage again matching Davis’ defiant delivery. Then his spare Smokey Robinson-like lines mingled with keyboardist Phil Hale’s spare gospel lines in the gorgeous vintage 60s-style soul ballad Am I Just a Shadow.

Hale’s scampering Rhodes added extra funk to When I’m Kissing My Love. “I wrote this song because this brother kept calling me, messing with my head,” Davis explained as the band launched into the slow, simmering blues ballad I’d Rather Be Alone. “That key in your hand don’t unlock my door,” she cautioned, building to a slow, impassioned peak along with the horns, Hale’s slinky, purist electric piano. and Washington’s shivery vibrato-toned lines. She brought it down at the end with a sly series of disses for a guy who’s too full of himself for his own good.

They got funky again with I Need a Whole Lotta Lovin to Satisfy Me – by this point, the dancefloor in front of the stage had filled up, kids on the Broadway side of the room, oldsters closer to the doors on Columbus Avenue. The the group ripped through the blues classic Further On Up the Road, Washington bobbing and weaving between the horns. 

Washington saved the night’s most intense pyrotechnics for a long solo in the lush ballad after that. “We need prayer every time we can get it in, especially these days,” Davis mused, introducing an elegantly fervent version of the B.B. King classic Please Send Me Someone to Love. She shimmied and took a couple of leaps to kick off the swinging shuffle Get Up and Dance Away Your Blues. After a Memphis-tinged take of Honest Woman, the optimistically swaying title track from her latest album, she closed with I Believe, a simmering, slide guitar-driven roadhouse blues.

In an era where the blues has become a legacy style, like bluegrass and roots reggae – and a lot of bands play it like it’s an artifact in a museum – Davis and her band are a blast of fresh air.

One particularly enticing, upcoming free concert at Lincoln Center’s atrium space just north of 62nd St. on Broadway is on May 31 at 7:30 PM with charismatic crooner Zeshan B “doing Memphis blues with a little Pakistani feel,” as Benitez put it. Get there early if you’re going.