New York Music Daily

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Tag: hypnotic brass ensemble

Funkrust Brass Band Release Their Mighty Debut Album on the Year’s Best Triplebill in Brooklyn

Funkrust Brass Band are one of the relatively newer bands in New York’s surprisingly vital Balkan music demimonde. Venues keep closing and working class people keep getting priced out of town, but it seems that at least half of the good horn players who are still here are in this band. They’re definitely the largest one of the bunch, sort of a Brooklyn counterpart to MarchFourth.

Ellia Bisker, who leads the lyrically excellent soul/chamber pop band Sweet Soubrette and is also half of menacing murder ballad duo Charming Disaster – who also have an excellent new album out – fronts this mighty crew. Their debut album Dark City – streaming at Bandcamp – is a party in a box, and a good approximation of the band’s explosive live show. For a release party, they’re headlining at around 10 PM on what might be the best triplebill of the year. It starts at 8 PM on May 19 at Matchless with guitar band Greek Judas – who make careening heavy psychedelia out of crime rhymes and hash-smoking anthems from the Greek resistance underworld of the 1920s and 30s – followed by the similarly explosive Raya Brass Band, who would probably be the best band in town most anywhere between the Danube and the Black Sea. Cover is $10.

Funkrust Brass Band waste no time opening the album with their signature song, Funkrust. Catchy tuba bassline underpinning its rat-a-tat trombones, cinematically rising trumpets and undulating groove, this mashup of Balkan brass and American funk sounds like an even more epic version of iconic Brooklyn band Slavic Soul Party.

Elevator begins as a vintage soul strut with an enigmatically bubbling trombone section; then Bisker gets on her bullhorn and all of a sudden it’s a hip-hop brass number that brings to mind the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Zoology opens with a little latin percussion, a catchy tuba-funk bassline and some high-voltage call-and-response from high and low brass; then Bisker gets on the bullhorn again to encourage everybody to find their inner animal.

The title track, with its uneasy chromatics and tightly crescendoing swells, is the album’s most cinematic and distinctively Balkan number. Swamp Samba is the most original of the tunes here, an unexpected mashup of Balkan brass and Brazilian frevo. As with many of the cuts, Bisker has a good time poking fun at obsessions with technology.

The album’s most incongruously successful mashup is Catch Yr Death, which blends Balkan and Motown dance sounds: “They say it’s not gonna kill you, but they don’t feel like you do,” Bisker wails through a wall of trebly distortion. They wind up the album on a high note with Riptide, a blazing, ominously cinematic Hawaii 5-0 style theme with global warming allusions.

Like many of the Brooklyn Balkan contingent, Funkrust Brass Band has a revolving cast of characters. Co-leader and composer Phil Andrews plays trumpet along with Eva Arce, Andrew Schwartz and John Waters. Their all-female sax section comprises Cassandra Burrows, Anya Combs, Perrine Iannacchione, Danielle Kolker and Melissa Williams. Trombonists include Elizabeth Arce, Sherri Cohen, Phillip Mayer and Cecil Scheib. Matthew Cain and John Lynd play tuba; the percussion section includes Allison Heim, Francesca Hoffman, Monica Hunken, Alex Jung, Seth White and Josh Bisker.

Original Funky Psychedelic Sounds from Jesse Fischer and Soul Cycle

Jesse Fischer and Soul Cycle have been one of Brooklyn’s best party bands for a long time. Their latest album Retro Future is aptly titled: they take a sound indelibly associated with the 70s – jazz-funk with electric keyboards and guitar – and update it for the present. But not in a cheesy way, with autotune and samples, or in a dorky way, with the studied awkwardness and ineptitude of indie rock. This time around, they bring echoes of Ethiopian and Balkan music along with more straight-up jazz than their previous albums.

The first thing you notice about Fischer is that he’s fast. Whether whirling through a Bernie Worrell-style portamento solo, hitting a crashing series of piano chords or rippling through the highs on Fender Rhodes, Marc Cary style, he has ferocious technique. But he doesn’t overdo it: those simply serve as high points in the lush, psychedelic, atmospheric arrangements, this time out alongside David Linaburg on guitar, Solomon Dorsey on bass, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s Gabriel Wallace on drums, Brian Hogans on alto sax, Jean Caze on trumpet, Corey King (of Esperanza Spalding’s band) on trombone and Shawn Banks on percussion.

The dancefloor thud that opens the album is a trick. Titled Tanqueray and Tonic, the citrusy ambience creates a party, and within a minute Wallace has a funky swing going, Fischer’s spinning synth solo echoed memorably by Hogans (whose razor-sharp, smart solos are the high point of this album). Moon Ship takes an easygoing mid-70s Crusaders groove and gives it a big cinematic arrangement with rippling trumpet and a pulsing, suspenseful interlude with the electric piano mingling hypnotically with the sax.

One of the best tracks here is Digital Savanna, which with its enveloping atmospherics and reverb-toned, glimmering upper-register Rhodes evokes a 70s Roy Ayers’ soundtrack piece. Then suddenly it goes doublespeed and segues into Cyberphunk, a trickily rhythmic number (these guys have no fear of “odd” tempos) that hits a high point with a biting, searingly crescendoing Hogans solo. Hogans also wails memorably against the late 70s Weather Report-style ambience of Gotham Underground and does that yet again on the album’s best song, Midnight Dancer, a brisk Ethiopian-flavored romp. The last of the originals is the incisively bouncy Keep the Faith: if you can’t smile at the sheer ridiculous fun of Fischer’s frenetically tone-bending synth solo, you have no soul.

There are three covers here. Age of Aquarius, with Rachel Eckroth taking a breezy, low-key turn on vocals, gets a stoner trip-hop arrangement. To the band’s credit, they don’t try to outdo Hendrix on a similarly low-key, more funky take of Electric Ladyland. The album ends with a mashup: just as you notice that, wow, they’ve just made Radiohead funky, that nauseating Fleetwood Mac song that every first-year guitar student knows enters the picture. Aside from that, it’s all good here. Oh yeah – everything here, you can dance to. There’s also all kinds of free goodies and live tracks up at their Bandcamp site.

Mucca Pazza: Fun First, Safety Fifth

Mucca Pazza aren’t the only brass band who’re famous for putting on wild live shows, but they might be the most explosive of all of them. Their latest album Safety Fifth lists a total of 33 band members including thirteen horn players and eleven percussionists, plus a cheer squad whose job it is to round up any stragglers who might somehow have escaped being drawn in by the band’s mighty sound. They’re playing Public Assembly in Williamsburg at around 9 on June 14: it promises to be a crazy night.

Most of the tracks here are pretty short: it’s amazing how much fun they can pack into three minutes or less. False endings, unexpected twists and turns, a sense of suspense and drama are everywhere, sometimes rising apprehensively with a noir edge, sometimes with biting gypsy tonalities, other times with a deadpan Keystone Kops bustle. The album kicks off with Boss Taurus, a funky hip-hop-flavored feast of blazing minor-key brass, wry baritone sax and tuba, like if you cloned Hypnotic Brass Ensemble several times and then added that monster drumline plus an unhinged lead guitar. Monster Tango opens with surf drums, a playfully creepy spy theme spiced with comedic Spike Jones style blips and bleeps. Touch the Police moves quickly from Ronnie Kuller’s scurrying accordion and Jeff Thomas’ warily jazzy guitar to reach towering, cinematic heights, while Rabbits and Trees works an anxious, bittersweetly catchy Balkan vibe. Last Days mines a dynamically-charged Russian vibe, murky intro and balalaika-like mandolin break contrasting with towering, majestic horns.

Sexy Bull takes a ferocious, chromatic Serbian-style theme and makes it into monster surf rock; the tricky Marcia Anormale could be about a girl who’s definitely unbalanced…or just a twisted march theme. Opening as a twangy guitar lament, Tube Sock Tango adds flavors from Hawaii and the Balkans along with an anguished Greg Hirte violin solo.

Hang ‘Em Where I Can See ‘Em is the creepiest and best track here, an atmospheric spaghetti western horror movie theme that wouldn’t be out of place in the Beninghove’s Hangmen catalog. The album ends up with Mawi Wawi 5-0, a playfully explosive early 70s style detective theme and then Fanfare, which comes together slowly and enigmatically as a reggae tune. It’s hard to imagine a more eclectically entertaining band than these people – all three dozen or so of them.

MarchFourth Marching Band Is a Magnificent Beast

Where groups like Slavic Soul Party take brass band music to new places, Portland, Oregon’s MarchFourth Marching Band brings blazing brass flavor to funk, ska and occasionally hip-hop. Sometimes they’re sort of like a faster Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, but along with that band’s soul grooves, they also go into salsa and Afrobeat along with innumerable other global styles, with some neat dub tinges. Their latest album Magnificent Beast is party music to the extreme: catchy danceable grooves, big mighty hooks and tight, inspired playing: it’s a good approximation of the fullscale theatricality of the massive, sometimes 20+ piece band’s live show.

Interestingly, they open the album with a crunchy, guitar-driven heavy metal song set to a trip-hop beat. The second track, Soldiers of the Mind goes from funk, to reggae, to rap,with a nice soulful trombone solo and bubbly organ behind it. Delhi Belly slowly morphs into funk from a hypnotically rattling bhangra groove, with fat, noir solos from the trumpet and baritone sax. The tracks that most evoke the Hypnotic Brass guys are Fat Alberta, with its neat polyrhythms and shifting brass segments, and The Finger, a sweet, summery oldschool soul groove.

A lusciously sly oldschool salsa jam with a funny, tongue-in-cheek trombone solo, Sin Camiseta has the bari sax setting off a rousing arrangement that’s part second-line, part ska. The album’s best song, Cowbell, takes the sly, comedic factor to the next level with swirling Ethiopian horns, a smoky, sultry tenor sax solo and then finally a swirl of horns that unexpectedly go 3 on 4 on the outro. Rose City Strut reaches for lushly lurid noir swing ambience with reverb guitar and sometimes bubbly, sometimes apprehensive horns, muted trumpet and clarinet enhancing the late-night ambience in some random alley off a brightly lit avenue. A Luta Continua sets biting, syncopated salsa to an Afrobeat shuffle; Git It All, with its funky pop hook, was obviously designed for audience participation.

Another track full of unexpectedly fun changes, Fuzzy Lentil starts out like swaying, funky halfspeed ska, then takes a punk riff and funks it out with a biting brass arrangement. They end the album with the slowly crescendoing soul epic Skin Is Thin, the only real vocal track here, thoughtfully and poetically contemplating how to survive with “greedy nuts hatching evil plans” all around us – is this a time when “being a mutt is the only way to survive?” Maybe. As party music goes, it doesn’t much smarter or more entertaining than this. M4, as their fans call them, have a Dec 17 show in their hometown at Refuge,116 SE Yamhill; lucky partiers in the Bay Area can see them on New Year’s Eve at the Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 8th St. in San Francisco.