New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: Monica Hunken

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.

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Rev. Billy Brings His Infectious Environmentalist Punk Gospel to an Old Haunt

For the past several years, Billy Talen has been a thorn in the side of the robber barons, the banksters and their schemes to transfer income up from working people to the one-tenth-of-one-percent…as well as speaking truth to power as far as how global chains are destroying the individual fabric of communities worldwide. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Talen became an even more committed environmentalist. Since then, he’s given the bozack to rapacious mountaintop clearcutters, agribusiness and their frankenseeds and frankenfood. He’s got a new book out, The Earth Wants YOU, and an album of the same title with his mighty punk gospel group. Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir‘s new record is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing the album release show at a familiar haunt, Joe’s Pub tomorrow night, May 10 at 9:30 PM. Cover is $12, or $10 with code “Earthalujah.”

The group are sort of the gospel version of the Clash. Depending on where they’re playing – bank headquarters, ATMs and Starbucks are where Talen and his activist crew typically get cuffed by the cops – they often number more than forty people. The core of the band comprises pianist/musical director Nehemiah Luckett, bassist Nathan Stevens and drummer Eric Johnson. As befits a democracy, singers from throughout the choir get plenty of chance to show off their chops. Soprano Laura Newman is more or less the main soloist, and contributes many of the songs as well: if Rev. Billy is the group’s Joe Strummer, she’s their Mick Jones.

The album opens with Flying, its 70s latin soul groove anchored by an understatedy ominous eco-disaster theme and “circle around” vocal riff. Newman’s powerful soprano fuels the swinging, antique-flavored gospel anthem Fabulous Bad Weather: when global warming really gets out of control, “What will you do?” Newman  calls to the choir for an answer.

Revolution is a ferociously relevant mashup of latin soul and hip-hop, referencing Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood while making the connection between the prison-industrial complex, eco-disaster and the destruction of individual cultures around the world. Another edgy latin soul groove, Monsanto Is the Devil calls bullshit on the dangers of GMO seeds: “The devil must be slain,” the choir roars.

Talen makes his first appearance out in front of the group in The Human Blues, fervently pondering how so many of us got lost and switched out community for apathy. The Man Down offers swaying, towering encouragement to “get home safe,” commemorating the murder of innocent victims from Trayvon Martin all the way back to Emmett Till.

Climate Change Blues and Gratitude, both oldschool gospel tunes, take a more personal view of activist commitment. Newman immortalizes the Declaration of Occupy Wall Street in the massive epic We Are The 99%. The brief Cops & Bankers reminds that cops on the beat and people who work in banks are 99-percenters just like us…and that we ought not to jump to conclusions about them.  The album winds up with the snarky, satirical Shopocalypse, a throwback to the irresistibly fun, funny anti-consumerist anthems of the band’s early years. A towering triumph for the entire crew, including but not limited to singers Lillian Ball, Jess Beck, Gusti Bogok, Mayfield Brooks, John Carlin, Sierra Carrere, Molly Chanoff, Katie Degentesh, Dragonfly, Ben Dubin-Thaler, Gina Figueroa, Christopher Beck, Donald Gallagher, Yvonne Gougelet, Amber Gray, Gaylen Hamilton,  Pat Hornak, Monica Hunken, Lizzie Hurst, Sarah East Johnson, Denice Kondick, Barbara Robin Lee, E. Katrina Lewis, Chantel Cherisse Lucier,  Laurie Mitttleman, Shilpa Narayan, Onome, Sylver Pondolfino, Susannah Pryce, John Quilty, Shuhei Shimizu, Ashlie Lauren Smith, Dawn Stewart-Lookkin, Catherine Talese, Theodros Tamirat, Travis Tench, Chideo Tsemunhu, Danny Valdes and David Yap.