New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: underground system review

Underground System Bring Their Trippy Afrobeat and Dancefloor Sounds to Two Hometown Gigs

Underground System are one of New York’s funnest party bands. They blend original Afrobeat jams with hard funk and psychedelia along with tinges of tropical and Mediterranean sounds. Charismatic frontwoman Domenica Fossati adds flute and percussion to the mix, and her allusive lyrics often tackle important sociopolitical issues. The band’s debut full-length album What Are You is streaming at Bandcamp; They’re at Bric Arts on March 7 at 8 PM, opening for mesmerizing Palestinian hip-hop/dancehall reggae/habibi pop band 47soul; advance tix are $15 and available at the front desk for those who want to avoid service charges. Underground System are also at C’Mon Everybody on March 22 at 11 for five bucks less.

The album’s opening number, Three’s a Charm has a loping goove, Peter Matson building contrasting layers of gritty guitar and sleek synth over a loopy, punchy backdrop supplied by drummer Yoshio Kobayashi and bassist Jonathan Granoff. They follow a brief, swirly flute-and-synth intro into Go, a hypnotic escape anthem for the dancefloor

As she does in many of her songs, Fossati codeswitches between Spanish and English in the sarcastic, confrontational Rent Party, Maria Eisen tossing in some extra spice with her baritone sax over a catchy, psychedelically looping bass riff,. The album’s title track has more pillowy ambience over a stabbing Afrobeat drive, Eisen adding a sailing, echoey solo overhead.

They keep a hypnotic disco pulse going throughout Just a Place, an organic take on EDM with loopy chicken-scratch guitar and allusions to the disorienting, displacing effects of gentrification. Fossati  swittches to Italian for over a looped Afrobeat bass riff in the brief Sebben (La Lega), followed by State of Mind, a return to the gritty/slick dichotomy of the album’s opening number

If New Order had a thing for Afrobeat back in the early 80s, they would have written something  like What’s It Gonna Take. The album’s final track is Nmani, a surreal mashup of synthy laptop pop and what sounds like Congolese mbira music. If you’re in the mood for psychedelic sounds that also move your feet, or party music that entertains your brain, this is your jam.

High-Voltage African and American Sounds From Central Park to the River

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80.’s first song this past evening at Central Park Summerstage was Expensive Shit. As a literal, graphic condemnation of wretched capitalist excess and status-grubbing, it has few equals. Fela Kuti’s son and principal heir to the family Afrobeat legacy probably spat the word “shit” more times during the roughly ten minutes it took for the band to bubble and rise and finally bring the relentless underlying vamp to a close, than any other act has done at this venue in many years.

Kuti has been fortunate to sidestep the kind of brutal repression his father faced, but he’s no less fearlessly political. His second song, a defiantly triumphant pro-ganja anthem with a fervent refrain of “Lemme see your lighters,” was a red herring. The younger Kuti shares his dad’s withering sarcasm. He welcomed the audience into the era of fake news – “News that’s for profit,” he explained – by reminding that Nigerians knew all about it before it became part and parcel of White House correspondence. A little later on, introducing African Dreams – a broadside against western cultural imperialism – he snidely commented that “Conscious capitalism doesn’t exist.”

Leading an endlessly undulating fourteen-piece band, he took a quick turn on piano and then showed off a bracing, bitingly metallic tone and a no-nonsense, modally tinged sensibility on alto sax. The percussion section emerged stealthily from a quiet thicket and grew toward a stampede as the brass blazed, the electric piano rippled and the two guitars – one a tenor model for extra upper-register tingle – ran jaggedly circling melodies along with a similarly purposeful bass player, throughout what would become an unexpectedly abbreviated set.

Many people in the crowd – especially those who showed up to see the advertised headliner and consequently missed the guy they came for – were surprised not to see Roy Ayers headlining. He’s certainly earned that respect. He also didn’t get much more than three quarters of an hour onstage, leading his four-piece band through expansive takes of Red, Gold and Green, Everybody Loves the Sunshine and finally, Searchin’.

While he saved his most high-voltage playing for a long solo with Kuti’s band, the iconic vibraphonist who more or less invented noir psychedelic soul put on a clinic in purist, seat-of-the-pants tunesmithing, whether with endless volleys of bluesy triplets, rapidfire chromatics or playing against the beat. His band stayed pretty much on low-key, glimmering point, although they lost the crowd when they went off into warpy keytar spacerock and a snapping, popping, faux Bootsy bass solo. They won them back again with a tight drum solo where the guy behind the kit played the whole thing one-handed, then with both sticks behind his back, finally flipping them forward over his shoulders, and kept going without missing a beat.

Hometown opening act Underground System justified the ambition of sharing a bill with two more-or-less iconic acts through the afternoon’s longest set, a mix of original Afrobeat with a more straight-up funk tune or two and also a whirling Italian womens’ rights anthem. Frontwoman/flutist Domenica Fossati really worked up a sweat with her dance moves; if she was a sheik, her last name would be Yerbouti. Guitarist Peter Matson and keyboardist Colin Brown pinged and rippled and threw off a few clouds of toxic noise, drummer Yahoteh Kokayi and percussionist Lollise Mbi held the beast to the rails while the horn section – including baritone saxophonist Maria Christina Eisen and trumpeter Jackie Coleman – smoldered and sputtered and bassist David Cutler ran simple, emphatically circling riffs that would have made Fela proud. Their high point was the brassy Rent Party, something Fossati said the band knew a little something about. From there they segued into their most ominous, dynamically shadowy number of the afternoon.

Afterward, many faces n the crowd went west to the Hudson, where Innov Gnawa – the only Moroccan drum-and-bass trance band in this hemisphere – played what amounted to the afterparty. In more than ten years of concerts at Pier One at 70th Street and the river, it’s impossible to think of another show that had so many people dancing, from toddlers to oldtimers.

And they did that to ancient animist and Muslim themes originally dating from thousands of years ago in sub-Saharan Africa, sung in Arabic to the hypnotic pulse of sintir bass lute and cast-iron qraqab castanets. This was a slightly smaller subgroup of the band, Moroccan master Hassan Ben Jaafer taking turns with his similarly agile protege Samir LanGus riffing on the low strings. Some of the songs worked a tension between octave notes, others bounced and swayed along with crescendoing call-and-response choruses. As the night went on, Ben Jaafer subtly introduced all sorts of tricky polyrhythms and suspensefully allusive chromatics hinting but never quite crossing into Egypt.

Qraqab player Amino Belyamani sauntered into the dancing melee midway through the show and taught everybody some snazzy moves, complete with a split-second squat in the middle – and by the end of the show, a lot of people had all that pretty cold. Innov Gnawa’s next gig is at Prospect Park Bandshell this Friday night, July 21 at 7:30 PM where they’re opening for wildly popular, microtonal psychedelic Malian band Amadou & Mariam. The next show at Summerstage is tomorrow night, July 17 where 90s noiserock icons and occasional cinematic soundscapers Yo La Tengo hit at around 8. Be aware that there’s an opening act; doors at 6 for those not willing to take chances.