New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: psychedelic funk

Playful, Gently Trippy Dance Tunes and Neosoul From Kalbells

Kalbells play psychedelic funk and neosoul. They’re a road-warrior supergroup: Rubblebucket’s Kalmia Traver fronts the band with her cheery, chipper vocals, alongside Okkervil River keyboardist Sarah Pedinotti, Angelica Bess of Body Language and drummer Zoë Brecher of Hushpuppy. Their new album Max Heart is streaming at Bandcamp. This stuff is all about trippy textures and messing with your head: airy highs, reverb and uncluttered dance beats all figure into their web of sound. This is a good party record but it works just as well as chillout music.

Lush string synth joins the twinkly electric piano, Bernie Worrell-esque keyb flourishes, and fluttering flute in the opening track, Red Marker, Traver’s bandmates’ harmonies wafting behind her vocals. The song seems to be about picking up the pieces and moving on.

Traver testifies gently to the therapeutic effects of blowing some notes out into the street in Flute Windows Open In the Rain, exchanging phrases with thoughtful sax over an altered oldschool disco groove. Purplepink has a muted but resolutely funky strut and a slit-eyed, sunbaked guitar solo.

Twinkling keys return over a spare, steady beat and increasingly lush keys in Poppy Tree. Dancing along over some catchy bass octaves, Hump the Beach is just as hypnotic as it is catchy.

Pickles is the album’s funniest track: without giving anything away, it’s metaphorical and features a cameo by hip-hop artist Miss Eaves.

Brecher supplies an elegantly rattling Afrobeat rhythm to anchor the blippy, playful textures of Bubbles. Big Lake is closer to four-on-the-floor, with a catchy, leaping bassline and enveloping harmonies.

Diagram of Me Sleeping is a slow jam that gets funnier the more closely you listen to the lyrics – although that whistling is annoying. The band wind up the album with the defiantly anthemic, whimsically ornamented title track.

Catchy, Purist New Orleans-Tinged Funk and Soul From Will Bernard

The reason why you see so little guitar jazz on this page is that so many guitarists go into jazz as an excuse to noodle. On the other side of the equation, there are a few guitarists like Will Bernard, who ended up in jazz for the sake of additional opportunities to entertain, and have fun, and express a devious sense of humor. His latest album Freelance Subversives is a killer party record: you can fire it up at Bandcamp and dance to everything on it. As it goes along, it gets more psychedelic.

This time out Bernard breathes new life into a well-loved style: timeless, vintage 60s New Orleans funk. The album opens with Pusher Danish, a tightly clustering, catchy Meters-esque tune set to the punchy quasi-Motown beat of bassist Ben Zwerin and drummer Eric Kalb, Eric Finland’s swirly B3 organ and starry Wurlitzer overhead along with the bandleader’s lingering soul licks and purist Jim Hall riffage.

Back Channel comes across as a turbocharged Booker T tune, Finland’s torrents behind Bernard’s gritty, distorted, sustained lines and slinky wah-wah rhythm. Raffle has biting twin guitar leads, a terse, straight-ahead funk bassline from Jeff Hanley, plus sly, smoky tenor and baritone sax from special guest Skerik.

Blue Chenille is a vampy blend of Hollywood Hills boudoir soul with echoes of Pink Floyd and Angelo Badalamenti, Ben Stivers’ B3 organ and Rhodes overdubs twinkling beneath Bernard’s judicious slide work. How gunky is the album’s fifth track, Gunk? Bernard’s hazy layers of overdubs over a tongue-in-cheek, growling wah bassline from Zwerin could qualify; Jay Rodriguez reaches for the sky with a brief tenor sax break right before the end.

Driven by Moses Patrou’s clip-clop percussion, Clafunj is a psychedelic latin lowrider soul groove with tasty, crescendoing gospel organ from guest John Medeski. Bernard sticks with the latin soul for the album’s strutting title track, its hints of Shadows space-surf and Floydian galactic drift.

The lowrider groove won’t stop with Lifer; Stivers’ keening Farfisa and Bernard’s Beatles allusions add a devious Chicha Libre psychedelic cumbia feel. The album’s most psychedelic nugget, Garage A comes across as a mashup of Booker T and a classic Peruvian chicha group like Los Destellos taking a stab at a War tune.

The group move back toward New Orleans with Skillset, fueled by Finland’s torrential organ, Rodriguez’s sax and Bernard’s sagacious blues phrasing. They close with We the People, mashing up the Meters, Pink Floyd and the space side of the Ventures into a go-go theme. Bernard has played on an awful lot of good records over the years and this could be the best of all of them.

Witheringly Smart, Cynical Oldschool Soul, Gospel and Funk From Fantastic Negrito

Multi-instrumentalist Fantastic Negrito a.k.a. Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz has been pumping out fearlessly populist, cynically amusing, pro-freedom songs that span the worlds of oldschool soul, hard funk, hip-hop and gospel music since the zeros. His deliciously layered, often witheringly lyrical latest album Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? is streaming at Spotify. It’s funny, it’s sharp, it’s a clinic in vintage soul music, the layers of guitar and organ are killer, and you’ll see it on the list of the best albums of 2020 here at the end of December. If you miss Prince, this guy picks up where he left off.

The first track is Chocolate Samurai, a gritty ba-bump roadhouse blues theme mashed up with some psychedelic hard funk and swirly gospel organ: a sly message to free ourselves from mental slavery, as Bob Marley put it.

I’m So Happy I Could Cry is a similarly high-voltage minor-key gospel hip-hop number complete with passionate guest vocals from Tarriona Ball of Tank and the Bangas. How Long? is next, a brooding, savagely wise soul tune in a bluesy Gil Scott-Heron vein:

To alll the baby Al Capones
Out there screaming all alone
Full of shit, full of hope
Holding on
We can repeat the same old lies
That make us feel all right
Try to escape
But but we gotta fight the scary ones
…moving so fast, spitting out hashtags
But the lynch mob’s ready to kill

The saturnine guitar solo midway through packs a wallop.

Searching For Captain Save A Hoe features golden age Bay Area rapper E-40, in a darkly organic, soul-infused reprise of his surreal, sarcastic 1993 stoner classic. Your Sex Is Overrated is more subtly amusing than you would think – and the expertly guitar-infused, darkly jazzy early 70s soul ballad atmosphere is spot-on.

These Are My Friends is a strutting, gospel-tinged chronicle of the shady characters Fantastic Negrito surrounds himself with. “Things that don’t kill you in this lockdown will only make you stronger,” he reminds. Easier said than done!

“You want me kissing your ass and you know I never could do that,” he explains in All Up In My Space, an eerie mashup of noir 60s soul and hip-hop, with a slithery organ solo. He brings in a harder funk edge in Platypus Dipster, the album’s most psychedelic number – the ending is priceless. He winds up the record with King Frustration, blending vintage soul, searing Chicago blues and early 70s Stevie Wonder in a fervently detailed message to the masses to wake up. We’ve never needed music this good as much as we do now. 

Eliza and the Organix’s Psychedelic New Album Was Worth the Wait

“You can dance to them, but they also have flashes of psychedelia and a vintage punk fearlessness. They’re funky, but their sound is uncluttered and gritty,” this blog enthused in 2017 about Eliza and the Organix’s debut ep Present Future Dreams. It’s taken them three years, but they’ve come up with a conclusion to that playlist, Present Future Dreams II, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a lot more psychedelic, less dance-oriented and just as edgy. Frontwoman/guitarist Eliza Waldman’s instrumental chops and vast expanse of guitar textures are even more interesting this time out.

The first track is Road Home, an easygoing, cantering Afrobeat groove fueled by sax player Kristen Tivey and guest trumpeter Evan Lane that picks up with punk fury as the chorus kicks in. Waldman really cuts loose with her axe at the end, drummer John Gergely taking it out with a crash.

Jason Laney plays soulful organ in Sally Gave Me a Dollar, which shifts between loping psychedelia and straight-ahead backbeat rock, Waldman and bassist Will Carbery doubling each others’ riffs. They take a detour into a surreal early 80s-style mashup of reggae and no wave in The Perfect Fit: “I’ve been a wastrel on my knees,” seems to be the key line here.

There are two versions of Broken Sky here. The first clocks in at about seven minutes and is one of the best songs of 2020, a toweringly overcast, Pink Floyd-ish anthem, with Waldman’s most intense vocals, lyrics and a memorable duel between guitar and sax. The short version is a radio edit missing most of the fireworks.

The final number, Present makes a great segue, like the Doors with a woman out front and another tasty, trippy guitar/sax interlude. Good to see this band taking their individualistic sound to the next level.

Slinky, Purposeful, Enigmatically Shifting Grooves From Trombonist Reut Regev

Trombonist Reut Regev may be best known for her work with irrepressibly exuberant New Orleans-flavored oldtime blues jamband Hazmat Modine, but she’s also a bandleader in her own right. Her own compositions span the worlds of jazz, dub, psychedelia and downtempo music. Her latest album with her group R*Time, Keep Winning, is streaming at Bandcamp.

The Bumpy Way, a tune by her husband and drummer Igal Foni has a playfully circling, undulating groove matched by bassist Mark Peterson beneath guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly’s minimalist skronk and chicken-scratch funk, the bandleader carving a way amid the potholes along the path.

The Last Show is an imaginary swan song performance, and the funniest song on the record, a Keystone Kops mashup of all the styles a trombonist is typically expected to tackle over the course of a career. Regev admits that even if she was to officially play a farewell gig, there’s no way she could quit music.

Up in the Sky, a surreal, bracing mashup of funk, uneasily percolating psychedelia and looming atmospherics, is a dedication to Regev’s brother Sharon, killed in a car accident at age six. As she reminds, the trauma of losing a sibling at a young age still resonates, no matter how much time goes by.

Moovit is a slinky, rhythmically shapeshifting number that harks back to the careening, often joyous haphazardness of her debut album, Exploring the Vibe, a milieu they stick with throughout the tightly swinging, noisily entertaining title track.

With a Smiling Voice is the most dubwise and also catchiest number here, Regev shifting from the terseness of vintage rocksteady to allusive Middle Eastern chromatics as Foni rumbles and then brings the song up to a wry trick ending.

The version of War Orphans here – a tune which Ornette Coleman composed but never ended up recording – draws on the Don Cherry version, a series of spacious, rising, increasingly acidic riffs. Inspired by Regev’s young daughter, Hard to Let Go explores the way children hold fast to the day as it winds down, a slowly unwinding experience with plenty of rough but also comedic moments…as any mom knows.

The album winds up with Foni’s quite possibly cynical, soca-tinged, turbulent Beware of Sleeping Waters, inspired by a bad experience at a gig in Paris. Lots of flavors and thoughtfully inspired playing here, as you would expect from Regev.

A Slyly Cinematic Instrumental Album and a Rockwood Residency From Henry Hey

Multi-instrumentalist Henry Hey may be best know these days for his David Bowie collaborations,  notably as musical director for the stage productions of Lazarus, but he somehow finds the time to lead his own band. The latest album, simply titled Four, by his Forq quartet with guitarist Chris McQueen, bassist Kevin Scott and drummer Jason Thomas is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s their most colorful and cinematic release yet. Hey has a weekly 9 PM Monday night residency this month, with special guests at each show, at the small room at the Rockwood, where he’ll be next on Nov 11 and you can expect to hear at least some of this live.

The album’s first track is Mr. Bort. a ridiculously woozy Bernie Worrell/P-Funk style strut employing a slew of cheesy late 70s/early 80s keyboard patches – it sounds like a parody. The second track, Grifter is an epic  – it shifts from a techy update on early 60s samba-surf, to slit-eyed Hollywood hills boudoir soul, Tredici Bacci retro Italian cinematics and finally a noir conversation between twelve-string guitar and synth.

M-Theory is sternly swooshy outer space drama in an early 80s ELO vein, followed by Duck People, a return to wry portamento stoner funk with a jovially machinegunning faux-harpsichord solo out. Lullabye, the album’s most expansive track, has loopy faux-soukous followed by Hey playing postbop synth over a long drum crescendo, then a startrooper theme and a bit of second-line New Orleans.

Likewise, Tiny Soul morphs into and out of hard funk from a chipper, Jim Duffy-style psychedelic pop stroll. The band go back to brightly circling, buoyantly orchestrated Afro-pop with Rally, then bring back the wah funk with EAV.

After a brief, warpy reprise from Lullabye, the band channel Rick James with the catchy Times Like These. The last track is Whelmed, a funny riff-rock spoof: imagine what Avi Fox-Rosen would have done with it if he was a weedhead. Somewhere there is a hip-hop group, a video game franchise, an action flick or stoner buddy comedy that could use pretty much everything on this record.

Fun (or not so fun) fact: Hey takes the B.B. King memorial ironman award here for most macho performance while injured. Two sets of jazz at the piano with a broken thumb, lots of solos and not a single grimace. Can’t tell you where or with who because the injury could have been costlhy if anybody had known at the time.

Multistylistic, Psychedelic Dance Grooves and a Midtown Release Show From Dawn Drake & ZapOte

Dawn Drake & ZapOte are a blazing horn-driven band who play just about every style of dance music you could want. Afrobeat? Check. Salsa? Doublecheck. Hard funk? Word. Ethiopiques? Kind of. They’re as psychedelic as they are stylistically diverse, and frontwoman Drake is the rare bassist across all those styles who likes incisive lowdown riffs and makes those notes count without overplaying. The band’s new album Nightshade isn’t out officially yet and is due up momentarily at her Bandcamp page They’re playing the release show in a more sit-downy place than usual for them, Club Bonafide, on Nov 8 at 10 PM. Cover is $15.

The album opens with Oya de Zarija, Mara Rosenbloom’s langorous electric piano over a trip-hop sway and elegantly layered polyrhythmic percussion: a stoner soul jam, more or less. The first of the Afrobeat numbers is Shoulda Never, a miniature that the band reprise toward the end of the record. Chi Chi’s Afrobeat, the album’s longest joint, is especially catchy, with a tantalizingly brief Maria Eisen sax break and dubby keys.

Ethwaap is just as anthemic, a vampy minor-key tune wryly flavored with P-Funk psychedelic keyb flourishes and a spiraling flute solo. Zim ta Tim is a slinky slice of tropicalia, kicking off with surreal, baroque-tinged vocal harmonies.

Drake mashes up cumbia with soca in Salon de Coiffure (i.e. Hair Salon), with a thicket of bright Eliane Amherd guitar multitracks. Likewise, the kiss-off anthem Judgment Rumba is part roots reggae, part oldschool salsa dura. The album’s best track is the East African-flavored Puriya Makuta, with a Bob Marley Exodus pulse, brief, purposeful solos from Eisen’s sax and Jackie Coleman’s trumpet, and the group’s dubbiest interlude.

Bunny’s Jam turns out to be a return to concise Afrobeat – imagine that, wow! The group stay on the Afrobeat tip to wind up the album with the Wake Up Remix, a fiery, organ-driven, apocalyptic cautionary tale. Great party record; play it loud.

 

Above the Moon Steals the Show at Marcus Garvey Park

Sunday afternoon at Marcus Garvey Park, it was validating to watch Above the Moon take over the big stage like they owned the place. The last time this blog was in the house at one of their shows, it was a weeknight at a hideous little Chinatown mob joint where frontwoman/Telecaster player Kate Griffin’s vocals weren’t even in the mix. Which was a crime, because her voice will give you chills. Still, good things started happening: all of a sudden, the band were headlining Arlene’s on Friday nights, and they’ve released a series of excellent ep’s. The data-mining dorks at the big corporate venue chains don’t get it, but Above the Moon are proof that there’s still a massive market for smart, fiercely tuneful rock.

Their sound these days is tighter and harder than it’s ever been, a lot less jangly. Griffin played her usual uneasy mix of roaring, distorted major and minor chords punctuated by Shawn Murphy’s gritty, new wave-ish bass and Strat player James Harrison’s terse, incisive upper-register chordlets and simple, jagged blues leads. Drummer John Gramuglia provided a relentless, colorful stomp, using his whole kit, not just the kick and the snare like a lot of bands with this kind of sound.

Likewise, Griffin uses every inch of her mighty voice’s register, from ominous lows to wailing highs, leaping and bounding effortlessly. The high point of the show was when the music came to a sudden stop after a chorus, but Griffin kept wailing for a couple of seconds of raw adrenaline until the band jumped back in again. There’s always been a restlessness in her songwriting, and the new, angrier edge is a welcome development. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. The band are about to record yet another ep, and the new material is more punk and new wave-influenced than ever. Songs ended sudden and cold, and the final, slowly crescendoing anthem brought to mind a Buzzcocks epic from the 80s.

The rest of the bill was a mixed bag. The last band opened with what sounded like a loud guitar version of a Madonna hit from the 90s and got really cheesy from there, with a goofy ha-ha presence and lazy, inept Pearl Jam-style open chords. After Above the Moon, Mojo & the Mayhem were as lame as their name, which was sad because they have really good songs, and a strong frontwoman who has the timing and the flair to go deep into the group’s attempt to work an oldschool soul vibe. It’s rare to see a band with such purist, catchy material looking so lost onstage. Maybe they’d get somewhere with a different lineup (and a different name – ouch). The horns were ragged, and the guys in the group should know better than to try to upstage a good lead singer on the mic – or, for that matter, to take a halfhearted stab at fake ebonics at a Harlem show. That was shameful. And the bassist and guitarist looked like mercenaries, bored out of their minds, phoning it in and then overplaying when they finally got to take centerstage.

Cosmonaut Radio, on the other hand, do one thing and one thing spectacularly well: psychedelic funk, with a little oldschool 70s disco in places. They were literally as tight as their drummer. And they have a sense of humor; “We’ve got one more for ya. That’s the name of the song: ‘One More For Ya,’” one of the group’s two Telecaster players explained to the crowd – and then treated them to at least another half-hour of groove. With chicken-scratch rhythm, wah-wah lead guitar, smoky organ, a fiery two-man horn section, wryly processed bass and a high-voltage soul chanteuse out in front, they did their best to get a sleepy indian summer crowd on their feet. But it was a hot day; people seemed more interested in sipping Hennessy and smoking weed than moving around much.

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 Ghost Funk Orchestra Materialize at Bryant Park

The Ghost Funk Orchestra was originally a one-man band studio project. Then word started getting out about how incredibly fun – and psychedelically creepy – Seth Applebaum’s oldschool soul instrumentals were. All of a sudden there was a band, and then songs with vocals, and now there’s an album, A Song for Paul, featuring the whole crew. This past evening they played the album release show to a huge crowd spread across the lawn at Bryant Park.

Applebaum turns out to be a beast of a lead guitarist, switching from evilly feathery tremolo-picking, to enigmatically sunbaked, scorchingly resonant lines, incisive funk and even some icily revertoned, surf-tinged riffs. The horn section – Rich Siebert on trumpet, James Kelly on trombone and Stephen Chen baritone sax, the latter being the most prominent in the mix – were as tight as the harmonies of the three women fronting the band with an unselfconscious, down-to-earth passion and intenstiy. Lo Gwynn, Romi Hanoch and Megan Mancini twirled and kept the groove going on tambourine as they sang, while second guitarist Josh Park played purposeful chords and oldschool soul licks on his Gibson SG, often trading off or intertwining with the bandleader and his Strat. Bassist Julian Applebaum and drummer Kyle Beach handled the tricky rhythmic shifts seamlessly.

The best of the songs was the darkest one, possibly titled Evil Mind. There were a handful with a galloping Afrobeat rhythm, another with a qawalli-inflected, circling pace and plenty with a swinging straight-up psychedelic funk groove. With all the textures simmering onstage, they didn’t need a keyboardist. Not much chatter with the crowd, no band intros – for all we know, the lineup could still be in flux – just one hypnotic, undulating, sometimes cinematically shifting tune after another. Their next gig is this Halloween at 9 PM at Rough Trade; cover is $12.