Pangari & the Socialites are probably at the top of the pool of New York bands most likely to change their name. They’re a bunch of up-and-coming jazz types playing ska…just like the Skatalites were doing fifty-plus years ago. While this roughly ten-piece ensemble isn’t mashing up calypso, jazz and early 60s American soul music and inventing a brand new style like Lloyd Knibb, Don Drummond and the rest of that iconic Jamaican crew, they do justice to the group’s classics and also some obscurities. And just like the Skatalites would do in concert, they really stretch the songs out. Their next gig is at Barbes on April 26 at 8 PM.
They played Barbes back in January. Bandleader/bassist Ari Folman-Cohen kicked off the uneasy, minor-key opening number in tandem with the pianist, trumpets punching in and out in tight harmony as the trombones loomed overhead. Since these songs are mostly instrumentals, most of them pretty famous – at least in the ska demimonde – the group didn’t bother with intros, just launched into one jaunty skank after another, usually with a tasty one-drop flurry on the turnaround..
The band tackled the songs more expansively as the set went on, keeping things short and sweet in the beginning. Solos were generously and evenly distributed among the band. One jaggedly edgy alto sax ended with a menacing chromatic run down the scale; another built achingly intense ambience with a series of long, sputtering blue notes. Elegantly resonant trombone backed away as frenetically shivery trumpet and then a spine-tingling, Balkan-tinged alto solo took centerstage.
The pianist added latin flair; the guitarist went for 60s-style psychedelic soul. The most ambitious soloist was baritone sax player Maria Eisen, whether grounding a lush, airy chart with smoky, rapidfire, bluesy lines, or spiraling to the top of her register with an irrepressibly hard-edged attack. Midway through the show, they brought up a singer and took a turn into balmy rocksteady – Turn Your Lamp Down Low, and Jackie Edwards’ Tears Like Rain – before picking up the pace again.
After the show, one of the band members took the singer aside. “You know, if you learn all of this stuff, somebody is going to offer you a gig someday, and that’ll be money,” he confided. Words of wisdom, As long as there are high school kids just getting a taste of punk rock and everything related to it, a ska gig will always be a good one.