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.