New York Music Daily

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Tag: Gintas Janusonis

Cousin From Another Planet Bring a Whole Funky Universe to Lincoln Center

The undulating performance by multi-keyboardist Aaron Whitby’s Cousin From Another Planet project at Lincoln Center this past evening attested to the psychedelic power of good funk music. It’s rare that an audience comes to listen to funk; then again, this was an unusually textured sonic confection.

Whitby brought an allstar cast of New York soul, funk and jazz veterans: Charlie Burnham on electric violin, Keith Loftis on tenor sax, Fred Cash on bass, David Phelps on guitar and Gintas Janusonis on drums. They opened with Escape Route, a  twinkling Hollywood hills psychedelic bourdoir soul tune from the new Cousin From Another Planet record. Burnham’s wafting wah-wah riffs contrasted with Loftis’spare, incisive lines over Whitby’s echoey Fender Rhodes cascades.

Whitby’s wife Martha Redbone and actor Rome Neal joined the group for Sleeping Giant, a mighty, populist psych-funk anthem. “Wake up from this endless bigotry,” Redbone encouraged, then capped off a big, booming crescendo with a searing wordless vocal. Whitby’s chucka-chucka clavinova solo and Burham’s rapidfire lines wound up the song optimistically.

Walking with Z was a picturesque musical account of what it’s like tryng to get a hyperkinetic gradeschooler to his destination on an early morning in downtown Brooklyn. This time it was Whitby who had the wah going on, Loftis blending determination and wry wariness: somebody keep that kid out of traffic!

Eye of the Hurricane was New Orfleans through the prism of classic P-Funk: bracing violin/sax harmonies over a fat, distantly second line-tinged low end. Whitby is a funny guy: he explained that a new number, The Inverse of Nothing, was inspired by mishearing “the universe of nothing” on a youtube physics podcast. He kicked it off gracefully with gorgeous, Mad Men-era solo piano, then the band swung their way into saturnine midtempo funk with some oscillating Bernie Worrell keys from the bandleader.

Redbone returned to the stage for a vigorous, solo-centric detour into the classic 70s playbook: Whitby immersed himself in the stuff under the guidance of longtime P-Funk musical director Junie Morrison, so he knows where all the pieces go. For awhile, he blended with Phelps’ devious, tongue-in-cheek lines, then opted to just let the six-stringer shred.

The band went back to starry, nocturnal mode for a number where Whitby credited Redbone for having saved it from sad ballad territory. She did a good job: it wasnt’ sad at alll, with a series of playful echo effects filtering among the various voices. It was no surprise that Whitby would offer grateful payback with Mrs. Quadrillion, a snappy, no-nonsense strut.

Afer a lively detour into bubbly, classic 70s style clave disco, they closed with Make Somebody Happy, shifting subtly from a boombastic, Clintonesque groove to a spiky, West African-tinged melody fueled by Phelps’ bright, jangly lines., This wasn’t P-Funk, but in their own surreal, imaginative way, Whitby’s irrepressible crew of improvisers turned out to be just as full of surprises.

The next free show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is next Thursday, Sept 12 at 7:30 PM with Texas-Colombian bandleader Kiko Villamizar playing oldschool 60s Colombian cumbia plus more psychedelic, electric sounds. People will be there to dance; get there early if you’re going.

The Revelations: Cashing In or Pioneering a New Soul Sound?

As Elvis Costello asked, have we come this fa-fa-fa to find a soul cliche? Three decades ago, being on a label was an imprimatur that implied, if nothing else, that a band was at least popular enough to get signed. After all, what label would invest in a band that didn’t have any shot at earning a significant audience? Today, we know that most of those bands never had any following to begin with, one reason why so many of them got dropped. There’s no little irony that these days, being on a label is immediate cause for suspicion, the implication being that you’re working for the man, willing to cede creative control and street cred and probably the lion’s share of whatever money might be coming in. Soul-funk band the Revelations may be on a label, and their new lead singer, like their old one, may come out of a corporate background, but damned if the band doesn’t establish itself as an interesting and ultimately fun group with an original sound, mashing up retro and current-day styles with an energetic expertise. You can see how well this works live when they play a free show at BAM Cafe on Saturday night, Nov 22 at 9 PM.

Their latest album The Cost of Living is streaming at Bandcamp. It kicks off with Mama, which sets oldschool soul tropes – a big suspenseful build at the beginining, echoey Rhodes piano, slinky wah guitar and big jazzy chords – to a hip-hop beat with lyrics whose feminist POV isn’t exactly convincing. Why When Love Is Gone takes a hard-hitting mid-60s pulse and turbocharges it with Wes Mingus’ growling, distorted guitar and hot brass from the Royal Horns. Higher is another solid track, hitching an ornate early 70s-style ballad to an irrepressible vintage disco groove with gospel tinges and bluesmetal guitar.

It’s OK opens with Ben Zwerin’s growly bass and Mingus’ eerily tremoloing guitar – it’s noir soul as written by guys who grew up with the Wu-Tang Clan rather than Little Milton. Money Makes the World Go Round blends gritty funkmetal, noir soul, hip-hop and straight-up heavy rock. The band goes back to 1973 or so for The Game of Love, fueled by Stax-Volt vet Charles Hodges’ organ and a delicious horn chart. With its slinky sway, jubilant horns and dancing wah guitar, This Time goes back another seven years or so. The album ends with a rocking Isley Brothers-inspired take of the Gladys Knight hit I’ve Got to Use My Imagination, Mingues capping it off with a searing guitar solo. It’s too bad that in an age where most of the best lyrics in the world are coming out of hip-hop, the ones here barely rise to the level of generic, and the vocals aren’t much better. It’s testament to how good the music is that this album succeeds as as well as it does: fans of acts like Black Joe Lewis ought to check it out.