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    Masterful Grooves from the Mastersounds at Bear Creek 2011

    2011 - 12.01

    And now, onto my favorite guys!

    When the New Mastersounds took the stage on Saturday night, Simon announced he was “rather cross” that they had just arrived that afternoon, missing out on the previous 2 or 3 days of the fest. He almost seemed worried like the action had been going on without them, going on to say, “well, there’s really only 24 hours left, we’d better make the most of it!”  Maybe this contributed to the sense of urgency, as the fellows from Leeds proceeded to deliver an excellent performance that night.

    But, as I’m terrifically excited to tell you, you don’t have to take my word for it!

    As a public service reminder, remember to hit 1080p to see all the nose hairs and sweaty follicles in their unbridled-tears-of-joy-inducing-funky-ass glory.  Yessir, I filmed all that, edited it, and synced it up with the audio captured by a sweet taper who goes by the handle “kluyfrtliu”, as available for your own listening pleasure here.  The audio in here also has my own little secret sauce on it, because compressors.  QED.  There may be more on the technical side of compiling all of this in the future…  But for now, onto the music.

    One thing that took me off guard about the Mastersounds–even despite the fact that I’ve seen them, I don’t know how many times now, more than ten–was that Pete Shand’s bass playing seemed positively fast and ferocious. Maybe it was the soundsystem at Uncle Charlie’s Porch Stage? As a side comment, I have to note, this stage is one of the best-sounding stages I have ever listened to, indoors or outdoors, anywhere. I remember in 2010 being completely blown away by the sound quality there. This year it seemed absolutely top notch, but maybe not quite as good as last year? Perhaps high expectations took something off the top?

    On Sunday evening’s show Simon Allen was wearing silver shirt covered in sequins and skintight shiny gold pants. Pete Shand was wearing jeans and a navy blue sequin-covered tube top. Perhaps he had lost a bet or something?? (Or maybe Simon just gave him that and said here, wear this. Those guys are silly guys.) Joe Tatton had on a sparkly silver cape with a little red top hat and Eddie Roberts was dressed curiously normal.

    Marco Benevento came up for a rawkus guest appearance on the organ, in which he pounded on the keys with hands raised high, doing some neat rhythmic comping and trading solos back and forth with both Eddie and Joe who came back on stage towards the end of Marco’s stint. I’d give that my vote for best guest appearance of the fest, just for the fact that he came on stage and just *took over* for a good 5 minutes or so with that wildly energetic outburst. When the tune had finished Eddie leaned over to the mic and opined, “That was fairly ridiculous.”

    The tunes from their new album “Breaks from the Border” incorporate a lot of group vocals, and work well at the live show; better than they do at home on the stereo I’d say. They played an extended and enjoyable version of “Can You Get It?” which felt great when the refrain came back in at the end. I was hoping for the afrobeat-flavored “Walk in These Shoes” but no such luck. It would have been cool to see Eddie take that afrobeat-style solo in which he uses this crazed, thin-sounding guitar tone, typical of afrobeat but out of character for Roberts. Maybe they used special equipment to achieve that sound, and avoided it in concert for lack of the right gear.

    I admit, sometimes I wish they would throw me for a loop more often: by putting in a key change at the peak of a solo, or slipping in more choreographed, seamless transitions between their songs, or by changing up the form and adding new sections to their old compositions, or just by crafting compositions that are slightly more complicated. I do have to be careful what I wish for here though: The Mastersounds sit on an excellent piece of real estate between the extremes of “soulful” and “cerebral”. They’ve got plenty of little syncronized rhythmic toss-ins and unison hits to keep the structure comfortably away from a bland 12-bar groove formula (maybe I take these for granted, simply because I know when they’re all coming?) but they keep things playful and simple enough to just relax and enjoy, rather than overly-complicated phrases of through-composed musical pedant-ery that practically require drastic musicianship on behalf of the listener to really even grasp–that’s the cerebral extreme, as embodied by any number of advanced jazz cats. There’s absolutely a place for that in my music collection. But I GET the Mastersounds. I can explain what they do and my ear can follow right along as they go. That’s part of the appeal. There’s no musical snobbery here , but neither is it pedestrian. Thinking myself through it out loud here (and guilty of indulging in exactly the kind of pedant-ery I was just disparaging!), that’s pretty much right where I prefer my tunes.

    In any event, I’d say the Mastersounds still retain their crown as my favorite band, and this two-night performance was another reaffirmation of their excellence. Their silly stage banter remains endearing, Eddie’s vintage-sounding guitar tones range from smooth enough to groove mellow on “Fuji Rock” yet boisterous enough to get crazy at the apex of “Thermal Bad” while his wah pedal wizardry, improvisational dexterity, and unique picking style provide plenty to study; Joe’s Rhodes and DL4 spaceouts put me in a blissed out mood, while bursts of quick finger work on the B3 can perk up my ears to dig inside those dense phrases; Pete’s bass playing is speedy and right on time, providing some infectiously danceable breakdowns when guitar and organ drop out; and Simon has an impeccable sense of swing, coupled with a deep bag of catchy fills and relentless reserves of energy to keep driving the jams ever onward.

    *  *  *

    Thank you for perusing!  If you enjoyed this review, there is a high probability you will also enjoy this mix of semi/obscure 70’s funk I made from old records I found at the local store.  Alternately, check out all posts tagged “funk” for more Bear Creek and music coverage.

    Style Points: Eddie Roberts & his handlebar moustache

    2011 - 11.29

    “Style Points” is an idea I love: that in any activity involving a numerical score, additional points are awarded not just for accomplishing the stated objectives, but doing them with panache.  I think this notion applies here.

    In preparing my photos for the upcoming post on The New Mastersounds show(s) at Bear Creek, I felt this one deserved its own post.  Man, every time I see this guy it seems like he’s moved on to the latest new facial hair fashion.



    The glorious horns of Bear Creek

    2011 - 11.26

    Although Denson played two nights at Bear Creek, his first performance was on Thursday night, so us ‘standard’ pass festival attendees missed out on the first one. Sadly he had another show to play in Asheville NC on Saturday, so we never got to hear any Karl Denson sit-ins. That is a very sad thing indeed. We had riffed that these guys should all just block off their entire weekends for this festival. It’s like a whole crowd and place that is entirely celebrating what it is that you do. The crowd is sprinkled with t-shirts from Ubiquity Records and plastered everywhere are multicolored stickers reading “I wants to get funked up!” This time and place is one huge homage to the heavy-groovin side of the jam scene.

    One topic that got a lot of conversation was, ‘what makes a great horn solo?’ With the kinds of rhythm sections that play at this fest (all those Royal Family guys) it’s almost like the backing band is really what sends the wave crashing over the seawall when you hit that peak in the energy, rather than the soloist themself. You may think you’re listening to the solo, but it’s really the steady swelling of energy in the rhythm section that fires up the crowd when the climax of the solo arrives. It’s tough to find a horn player who can actually ride ON TOP of that wave as it reaches its zenith. That is to say someone who can, at the very moment of apogee, pull out some phrases other than a long held note, that really pull your ear and keep you locked on what the soloist is doing. Bennie Maupin from Herbie Hancock comes to mind. Out of the Bear Creek horns, Karl Denson probably does that best.

    While we were listening to him solo with Lettuce, Bill made the excellent observation that a lot of the time, sax player Ryan Zoidis is practically a part of the rhythm section when he gets his chance to blow. His style of playing often sees him laying out long passages where he plays the same note in various syncopated placements, as opposed to cascading lines or melodies. We had been discussing the various sax players who were familiar faces at the fest, among them Ryan Zoidis, Skerik, Sam Kinninger, and Karl Denson. Bill placed them in that ascending order for his enthusiasm. I think I might agree with him, possibly swapping Kinninger and Skeik, depending on the night.

    But all this is some deeply heady nitpicking. Make no mistake, these guys are all giant badasses, and you’d have an awfully rough time coming up with dudes who can do what they do.

    During the Dumpstaphunk performance at the close of the festival on Sunday night Ivan Neville went to announce their horn section and due to it being fairly dark back where they were standing, he yelled out, “We got COMPLICATED stars on the horns back there! …It’s a sick horn section! Sam Kinninger, Ryan Zoidis, Skerik, and Rashawn Ross” Bill and I looked at each other and said at the same time “That ISSS a sick horn section!!” Haha!

    The last group I’ll point out, which I will be talking more about later, is the Snarky Puppy horn section.  Out of all these guys, the SP horns were definitely the most ‘jazzy’.  I greatly enjoyed listening to this section, particularly some creative solos that were busted out.  More to come on that.

    The Highlight of Bear Creek 2011: Lettuce 11/13/11

    2011 - 11.24

    Lettuce is like funk made with unlimited resources. Take the hardest-hitting drummer who plays the most bombastic fills, the top guitarist who solos with soulful yet jazz-infused quick fingers, a bassist who plays exceedingly fast and clean, an organ player who’s always holding down those high notes and banging on the clav with hands raised above his head, and a horn section of two shredding saxes with a trumpeter who could shatter glass with his high notes–that’s Lettuce. If Lettuce were a recipe, it would just say “EVERYTHING. And double of it.”

    Walking out of their show on Sunday night I said to my buddy Bill, “Honestly, if god himself made a funk album, I don’t think it could be any harder-hitting, or bigger, or nastier than Lettuce.” He erupted into laugher, thought about it for a few seconds and said, “Yeah, I think you might be right.”

    The performance itself on Sunday night was top notch.  Their Saturday set saw them coming out guns blazing, but after the first maybe 4 songs, I felt like the setlist delved into their B-catalog to fill the time.  Not the case on Sunday though.  They dropped a bevy of new tunes which were monumentally brazen in attitude and cleverly composed orchestrations for the large ensemble.  One particular highlight for me was their relentless version of Squadlive; a favorite tune of mine as I used to play in a band that covered it.

    If the band does miss one thing, it would be dynamics. True they do play some tunes that bring the energy way down low, but it’s almost like those sections are there purely to enhance the all-out full-tilt onslaught of sound when it hits again. They could use a couple numbers like “Happy Friends” by Greyboy Allstars or “Road to Fuji Rock” by the New Mastersounds. Or maybe they’re not even capable of a mid-level grooving-yet-relaxed type of jam? Nothing about Lettuce is really relaxed. For that reason I don’t think I’d ever call them my “favorite” band.

    And yet, their Sunday set was probably the highlight of the fest, simply because it was an extreme; they came out raging so hard it was not really possible to sit and passively take it in. You HAD to get up and dance, you HAD to be knocked over by their deluge of everything. Bassist Erick Coomes wore a tall wizard hat with stars and moons on it, along with a pair of those gigantic joke sunglasses. His clothes were both an both an artifact of the absurd carnival-esque ambiance of a music festival like this, and maybe a winking self-parody of the musical sworcery occurring onstage. There were a few sections where he and Eric Krasno doubled each other on some stupidly fast phrases that raised my eyebrows and dropped my jaw. It’s undeniably impressive to watch a finger-style bass (as opposed to slapping or picking) player like Coomes who can move with such speed and dexterity.

    It was a pleasure to watch Deitch in action on the drums as well. That guy is like some kind of prodigy. I really don’t understand how he kept up the schedule he did at Bear Creek either. Especially on Saturday where he performed at 2pm with Chapter 2, 8pm with Lettuce and then again at 3:45AM with Break Science (plus whatever sit-ins inbetween). Power naps, perhaps? You can tell he’s just one of those guys who has it naturally. A lot of musicians have to work hard and ‘woodshed’ to get to an impressive place. Seems like Deitch is the gifted type who just hears it and plays it. It’s entertaining to watch him when he gets the chance to take a drum solo–at first he seems relaxed and casual, but as he goes on you see this look of determination come over him, as he turns off the autopilot and starts figuring out what he wants to do with his own personal space.

    Listening to the Lettuce horns is also a treat, particularly the bombastic Rashawn Ross on trumpet. Dude’s got some serious skills when it comes to power in the upper register. I saw him years ago in Chicago and since then he’s lost a very significant amount of weight, like at least 50 pounds. Although he’s a much smaller guy now (I even wondered, is that HIM!) he has retained his powerful and cutting sound. When he solos, it’s essentially a slow build toward a climax of high notes, which does leave something to be desired in terms of clever phrases, although it certainly succeeds in getting the crowd fired up. When the horn section comes together on some tight phrases, Rashawn’s searing brass on top of the whole ensemble definitely makes the hairs on my arm stand up. In all the right ways!

    I do have one more video of these guys to share, which I captured on Sunday night. As a reminder, hit the 1080p option if your internet is fast, it makes a big difference.  Enjoy!

    Interview with Eric Krasno

    2011 - 11.21

    Last week I had the good fortune of being able to do an interview with Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno via telephone.  Our discussion is reprinted below, with my questions in black, his responses in red.  I’d like to specifically thank Kevin Calabro for getting this arranged.  I’m a pretty tremendous fan of this guy so it was a special treat to ask him about all things musical!

    *   *   *

    I want to talk about; musicianship, specifically about improvisation to start off with. Over the course of the last, idunno, seven years or so, I’ve caught many of your performances. Out of my favorite musicians who form the contemporary funk scene, I think you in particular seem like your approach to soloing has consistently and considerably been evolving. Every time I see you, I feel like you’ve gotten more and more in touch with whatever it is that sends the listener “over the edge” during a solo, so to speak. Can you talk about how your improvisation has changed over the years?

    I guess it’s about having more tools to expand. I listen to a lot of different stuff, a lot of singers, I listen to a lot of different types of music, I try to add to my toolbox I guess you would say. And I try not to think about it while I’m actually performing. I’d say most of the stuff that I play, I didn’t sit necessarily down and learn note for note off of something, but I’ve probably absorbed it from somewhere. As I evolve as a musician I get better at hearing things and translating them into my own language. Also just being around great musicians, and seeing their approach to things—I’ve been lucky to be around a lot of great musicians and see them in action. Every time I play with somebody great I feel like I catch a little bit of what they’re doing and try to hold on to it.

    Can you speak a little bit about what you do to shape your solos? Is it through dynamics, and the density of notes, or are there other things you’re concentrating on? How do you guide the intensity level of a solo?

    I mean that totally depends on the moment. That’s really a hard thing to explain. It has a lot to do with who I’m playing with, and people listening to the vibe of the moment—not to sound too cosmic—but it is kind of a cosmic thing to a certain degree. I’m very much affected by my environment. If the band is playing really loud, and the people in the audience are loud, talking or raging or whatever they’re doing, then I’ll just start from a higher point and go from there. There’s not maybe as much to go. Whereas if the band has much more of a dynamic sense, they’ll know certain times when I want to start really soft and slow and minimal and take my time building it.

    But I do feel that I’m usually anxious to build it in some way or form. Whereas some guys if they’re not feeling it they won’t do it at all. Which I’m starting to do more of. I’m starting to be a little more picky, and certain times if I’m not feeling like being completely aggressive, I’ll just stop before I get there. Although I’d say 90% of the time I get fairly aggressive at some point in a solo.

    But again, it depends on what’s happening underneath and what the groove is. If someone’s pushing me to take it there then I will.

    What is one thing that you’re working on right now that you want to improve upon in your playing?

    Seeing people like Scofield—I actually just watched this video of me playing in 2001 with Mark Whitfield and it was really interesting to watch what I was playing, and then what he was playing there. He was just killing this bebop stuff. I’ve never been a jazz, jazz player, but I feel like there’s certain elements of that I really dig. The way he was moving around the chord progressions was really interesting to me. For a long time I’ve been more into playing more like rock and roll and blues. Weaving between that—bebop and Stevie Ray Vaughn-like type of blues. Developing more of a combination of those things, being able to blend them together without being too obvious about it.

    Kind of a balance between the soulful and the cerebral then?

    Yeah, yeah, exactly, without overthinking it. That part of me has evolved, but there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement and finding new ways to do it.

    What were the most valuable things you did to get to the level you’re on today? Like practicing certain phrases in all 12 keys or transcribing solos that you really dug? Or was it simply playing as much as possible with the best musicians you could find?

    I would say that most of it is playing with the best people and playing as many shows as I can. Definitely sitting through and thinking about chords and combinations of notes. Being able to play the pentatonic in every key, in every position, is really important. And just to know where you are at all times and what’s possible. The way I think is less in terms of modes and scales, and more in terms of pentatonics as the home base and then all of the different ways to go off—there’s only 12 notes, really 11. You can simplify. I feel like a lot of people overcomplicate things, when really it’s all about hearing how each note feels against a particular chord.

    I guide myself by using pentatonic. Honestly a lot of the time what I’m playing is pentatonic. What I’ve worked on is knowing which notes within that will feel a certain way. I know where the pentatonics are relative to whatever chord that’s going on at any time; that’s what you gotta do. From there you play with tensions. And see how they feel against what you’re doing, and hope that other people hear it and respond.

    Do you have some favorite ways of doing that, playing with tensions?

    I do it differently all the time. When I practice, which honestly isn’t enough—Most of the time I’m playing I’m either rehearsing something or writing something—but when I do practice, I try different tensions and see. There’s no real format to it. Sometimes I like to take a chord and play triads against that chord, up and down the neck. That’s an exercise I like.

    Take the chords of a Lettuce song like “Breakout”, and play a triad at any position that works over those chords and never stopping with 8th notes or 16th notes—not stopping. Another good exercise, if you have someone who can play chords with you, is to have them change those chords, and you try not to stop. That’s a good exercise for your ear, to play 16th note arpeggios, never stopping and keep moving with different chords. It makes your ear work.

    That was one thing I noticed listening to that video where I was ten years ago: I was playing a lot more notes than I do now. At the time I thought I was gonna cry, because Mark Whitfield had played the best solo. Then I watched myself and thought, oh wow, I’m playing a lot of good stuff, but I’m not listening the way I listen now. You know, I was just playing as much stuff as I could, probably because one of the greatest guitar players in the world had just played and I had to play next. So part of me was anxious play a lot.

    I was honestly playing more proficiently than I do now, which is a little scary, but I listen a lot more now, and I’m a lot more choosy with my notes. I think that’s probably age. You watch BB King now and he plays like three notes, but they’re all very tasteful.

    I am not a religious man, but there is something undeniably spiritual about this music; where does that come from, or what is the root of that?

    I think it’s meditation. Some people go to church, and some people pray, and some people… play music. I think it’s a vibration thing. You connect with a certain vibration. Some people are more instantly in tune with that than others. When you vibrato, whether you’re singing or playing a trumpet or a saxophone, you connect with certain sound waves or vibrations that are around you—it’s powerful! People feel it. It’s definitely spiritual, but it’s somewhat scientific as well. There’s vibrations surrounding us at all times.

    What does it mean to “have soul”? It’s more than just playing with emotion—it’s also about connecting with your audience as well, right? What grants that label: soulful?

    I think that everyone’s soulful. Some people have more ability to communicate that soul. Or a way to kind of ride that. A lot of times it’s coming through whichever person. And they just have this skill or… the channel—that they can tune into that thing. Everyone can feel that. I don’t think anyone can deny that when Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Jimi Hendrix played, they were channeling something bigger than themselves. Some people are more in tune to it.

    I was watching John Scofield play, and his drummer Sandy Powell. And all weekend he had been watching all these drummers rip, playing all these notes. He got up there, and he was playing the most simple. Groove. Each thing he was played had such power to it. It wasn’t power like he was hitting hard—he felt every little thing he was doing. I think that’s partly him doing it, and I think it was him connecting, in a certain way. Like you said before it’s somewhat spiritual. Some people just have it. An innate ability.

    What’s the best way for younger players, coming up, to get in touch with that?

    A lot of it is just listening to what’s out there. That’s the thing about right now, you can go on YouTube and watch so much amazing stuff. That’s part of it. Part of it is playing. Singing what you play. That’s what soulful is to me—you sing what you play. I don’t mean physically singing it, not making notes with your voice, but rather than playing arpeggios and scales… that’s important, but when it comes down to it, that’s never made me a better player. It’s given me more technical proficiency, which allows me to have more vocabulary when I’m speaking. It’s really about playing as much as possible, with people.

    Or whatever your thing is. If you’re a person who plays by yourself, go play by yourself every day. If your thing is playing with a band, go play with your band every day. Or play with different people every day. My thing, I like writing, performing, composing, and producing with people. I can play by myself but that’s not my thing. So what I’ve been able to do is play with so many different people that now when I play with someone, I’m ready. I’m used to this, I’m used to feeding off of other people or supporting them when I need to or vice versa.

    I’d like to riff on the topic of ‘jams’ for a little bit. Both this year and last year I saw you sitting in at the late nite treehouse pick-up session at Bear Creek. I personally find that really inspiring; to see these extremely successful musicians still passionate about jamming; or more specifically, passionate about the magic of what happens when a hot jam slides “into alignment” if you feel what I’m saying—I mean that’s what got all of us into improvisational music in the first place! Right?! Can you talk a little bit about what motivates you to keep on jamming?

    That’s moment by moment. If there’s something going on right then that I feel like, “oh yeah, I can do something with this, I can really add to this right here!” I always want to do it. I don’t care if it’s people I know or not! And then there’s times when I feel like I’m gonna add anything. The jam this year, there was so much going on, that there was only a couple moments when I really wanted to play. Not putting down what was going on, it’s just there was so much going on. That it was like there was no open spaces. I like open spaces, that’s my thing, man. If I hear a groove that’s got a lot of open space in it, I’m gonna jump in there.

    So yeah! If you lose that—if you lose that then you’re kind of screwed! You gotta always wanna play, you gotta always want to play! Music is all about playing. It’s all about jams. For what we do, it’s all about that spontaneous moment. Even when we have songs—when Soulive performs we have tons of songs, and sure you like playing the songs—the fun part is when you find something new that’s never happened before. So when you’re in a room with guys playing that’s all there is—finding something brand new. And I’ll say whenever Lettuce performs, it’s all about finding those moments that are brand new. Whenever we show up to jam sessions and guys want to play songs off our record, I’m always like no way, man, that’s why we did that. We did that at the concert, now let’s just play. Let’s find something real.

    You can’t really force a hot jam. By that I mean, you can’t sit down your favorite musicians and say “right, we’re going to have a jam here, and it’s going to be the sexiest, phattest jam any of us have ever had.” That doesn’t work. What is it that makes a session come together?

    It’s gotta just happen. There’s so many elements. The comfort level, the respect for one another. It’s different every time I suppose, what makes it happen. Whatever makes up that moment. It definitely has something to do with who’s playing, their level, and their ability to listen. I think a lot of it is your ability to listen to what’s going on. At the level of the people who were at the Bear Creek festival it was pretty easy, because everyone’s on that level. All those guys have jammed together so many times, or if not together with so many other great people. Put those guys in a room—it’s gonna be great.

    Switching gears: recently you’ve taken some forays in to the world of DJing; what prompted this?

    Really it was the discovery of this program Ableton Live. I’ve been kinda DJing for a while, but more just like hanging around doing stuff. I’ve been producing beats and making hip hop for a long time, so I always had a turntable and a sampler and all that type of stuff. But then when I got into Ableton I was like ‘oh wow’, I do a lot of my own remixes and stuff, I need somebody to hear this! I’m not gonna put it out, because it’s someone else’s music essentially; I’m just taking the vocals and remixing it over different beats. So then I was like, oh I’ll start playing it out. Eventually I actually put a mixtape out. Which was a combination of some of my favorite music, all across the map: hip hop, rock, funk. People started hearing me do it and they were like, oh you should do that! I started doing some shows, opening for Soulive, then people heard the mixtape and started booking me for festivals and stuff. So it’s something I’m just totally doing it for fun, I’m not like extra serious about it, but it’s fun, ya know? I’m having a good time.

    What records would you say really influenced the way you want to play guitar? What did you hear made you say, I wanna sound like that!

    The first thing ever was Led Zepplin. Led Zepplin, Jimi Hendrix, then eventually Stevie Ray Vaughn. Led Zepplin, Jimi Hendrix was what I grew up upon, really inspired me to play guitar. The first thing I ever learned was Zepplin. Over the Hills and Far Away, I think that was the first thing I ever learned. From there, that was it.

    Who out there is doing it right for you? Not people that you’re working with, but people that are inspiring you?

    As guitar players, definitely John Scofield, and Derek Trucks, there’s a guy named Gary Clark Junior who I love. He’s amazing. Definitely people are going to be hearing about him, for sure. There’s a group out of New York called the London Souls, amazing band. I’m always looking for new stuff.

    I mostly listen to songwriters. I do a lot of songwriting for other people and stuff. When I’m not on tour, I’m generally in that mode.

    How did you guys settle upon the name Royal Family for your collective of musicians?

    I don’t really know! When I was putting together a band with Nigel, which ended up being Chapter 2, we were going to call that Royal Family. As I started thinking about it I was like, oh, that’d be better for the collective, for the whole crew. We have so many musicians and bands in our crew, we needed an umbrella, so people knew where to find out what’s going on.

    I don’t remember exactly how I came up with that name, but it was when I was here—I’m in Florida right now. This is where I was when I thought of it. I used to stay at a different apartment and I was riding my bike past there with my girlfriend yesterday and I was like, oh that’s right, that’s where I was when I came up with the idea! I don’t know where exactly it came from, to be honest. It was like, Royal Family, that’s it!

    You guys have got your own festival now, the Royal Family Affair. That’s pretty rad. What do you hope that fest will grow into, or be known for in future years?

    Part of it is to make it a family vibe, people sitting in with each other. In the same way that Bear Creek is. I want it to be very unique from other festivals in that there will be a lot of collaboration going on. It’s also got an educational element to it, there’s going to be a lot of workshops, where people talk about their craft and their music. It’ll be like the fans’ portal into the world of these musicians to a degree. It’ll be more intimate than going to a big Bonaroo or something like that. We don’t want it to get that big, we just want it to be a real music-lovers’ festival, for the real music-heads.

    It bums me out that I was not there to witness those workshops, and I’m certain there are many others who feel the same. Are there any plans to document these workshops and make them available either on DVD or online for those who couldn’t make the journey?

    We documented these last year and we’re going to do it again. We’re already putting the ideas together for next year. I’m really looking forward to where it goes from here. I’ve been watching different edits of it, and hopefully we’ll have soon. In the next few months we’re going to be putting out pieces of it as promotional material for the next year’s festival. We’ll be dropping each segment throughout the next coming months.

    You play in billions and billions of different groups; what’s one recent gig that stood out in your mind as particularly enjoyable, for you personally?

    I really enjoyed Bear Creek. The Lettuce set—I mean, The Chapter 2 set actually on Saturday was awesome because Lewis was there and I haven’t been able to play with him for a while. So that was really great. And that was kind of a reunion because Nigel’s been on tour with Warren Haynes and Lewis has been on the road with Marcus Miller, so the four of us with Adam Deitch came together, hadn’t seen each other in a long time, got together and just… right off the top it felt amazing.

    That version of “Get Back” was just awesome. That finale with the half time swing; did you choreograph that in advance, or did that just kind of happen?

    Yeah! That’s happened before, but we didn’t talk about it that day. I remember getting to that moment—oh I remember we used to do this! I think we had done it at gigs in New York or something.

    Last question: You’re a driven man. What is it, when you wake up in the morning, that makes you keep saying to yourself: I wanna do this again, I wanna get up there tonight and I wanna make that funky shit happen! What is it about this music that keeps you always wanting more?

    At this point, I don’t know anything else!

    *   *   *

    To watch Sir Eric Krasno in action, taking a solo with Lettuce at the Bear Creek music festival, check out the footage I captured in the previous post.

    To read more about Bear Creek 2011, or read about FUNK music in general, check out the funk tag.

    Krasno, doing what he does so well

    2011 - 11.20

    As some of you may already know, I will soon be publishing an interview I did with Soulive/Lettuce/Royal Family guitarist Eric Krasno.  I’ve been watching this guy ply his trade for many years now and he never ceases to entertain.  But don’t take my word for it.  Check out this footage I caught while hanging out in the photo pit at Lettuce on 11.13.11.

    I wish I were able to film more of this stuff.  Because it’s freaking awesome.  But I only had three songs to take pictures before the security guys will kick press members out of the pit, and I wanted to get still images too, so you get the highlight of the song on video, rather than the whole number.  There is a second installment of this which will be posted in the near future, showing a good portion of the second track they played.  You’re witnessing the ending of their opening number here.


    Tough Calls in Funk City

    2011 - 11.16

    As I mentioned in my first post about Bear Creek, the Purple Hat stage was outdoors instead of inside the giant tent like it was last year. This resulted in the nice side effect that we were able to hear that stage loud and clear from our campsite, as it was pointed almost straight at us. Being able to sit down and chill out at the camp for a bit, while still being able to enjoy the music was definitely a nice thing. The schedule for Bear Creek being as relentless as it is, sitting down and resting for a while isn’t something that can happen all that much! From the campsite we listened in as Ivan’ Neville’s Dumpstajam threw down a tasty version of the Sly and the Family Stone classic “Take You Higher” as well as Tower of Power’s “What is Hip?” featuring the horns from Lettuce. Those were both great picks for covers.

    Continuing on the topic of relentless schedules: in order to catch Snarky Puppy, we had to skip out on the Lee Boys, which was one tough decision to have to make. Likewise Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was performing at the same time as Medeski, Martin, and Wood! We started out listening to Medeski and the band was heating up the place with a groovin set (Medeski can get overly avant/abstract when they want to). When the time came for KDTU we had to tear ourselves away from some awfully sick jams, with Bill commenting, “man, I really didn’t want to walk away from that!”

    I’ve seen Karl Denson in many formats, including his trio, the Greyboy Allstars, with a version of the Headhunters, and sitting in with many other groups, but I’d never seen KDTU before, so I was anxious to check them out. Maybe we missed the badass opening number, or maybe they had worn themselves out performing on Thursday evening, but we stayed for about three songs before tossing up our hands and giving a collective “…eeeeeehhhh” So far the set was all slower numbers with no real moving solos or hot horn section passages. I was colored shockingly ambivalent, especially considering what a complete badass Karl Denson is. At any point he could explode the scene into masterful sax utopia if he wanted to, but he just… wasn’t doing it. At that point we marched back over to Medeski–who was still raging it!

    That’s just the thing at Bear Creek: you gotta bring your A game at this fest. There’s no time for muckin around with slow folk tunes. Someone else next door is bringing the noise on another level at any given moment. It’s kind of almost silly that as a fan you start getting hypercritical, thinking that hey, I don’t have to sit here and listen to something that I think is only okay; I can shoot over to the next stage and they might be melting people’s faces off. It’s almost like you get musical ADD after a while. That’s both a blessing and a curse! There’s a blatant overabundance of sweet jams going down, but at the same time it almost makes it tough to be present where you are because you’re worried about all the other stuff you’re missing. Such are the internal conflicts of a groove junkie in funktopia.



    Orgone: The Grand Finale That’s Actually an Intro

    2011 - 11.15

    Out of the many excellent bands on the contemporary funk circuit, I personally think that L.A.’s Orgone is one of the greasiest and most underappreciated groups doing it today. Each one of their albums is heavy-laden with meaty cuts that you might swear came from 1977 if you didn’t know better. I’ve been evangelizing about this band for a while now to anyone who will listen, and was anxious to see their deliberately crafted retro sounds in motion again.

    Orgone played twice last year at Bear Creek, although the first show seemed under-attended and the second was early in the afternoon. That being my first time seeing them, and knowing full well the extensive size of their catalog of gems, I was quite cross to find that they actually repeated maybe three to five songs between their two sets at BC’10–a big no-no for back to back festival performances! Don’t get me wrong, their performance was excellent, but it just wasn’t…. what I knew it could be!

    This year, on the other hand, was exactly the Orgone show I’d been waiting for. They dropped a great mix of new tunes and old, with a ferocious amount of energy on stage. Unlike last year this set was outdoors after sunset, and a giant, enthusiastic crowd had gathered to move to those west-coast grooves!

    Their keyboard player, whose solos really did a number on me at their previous shows, never really quite stepped up to the intensity level of which he is capable. But as seen in the photo collage above, artist at large Robert Walter stepped in to provide that B3 hotness.  The horn section certainly was as powerful and brazen as ever–a central component to the signature punch Orgone delivers. Being partial to brass horns, these guys with their tight articulations and well-crafted harmonies are an inspiration to behold. Seeing their trumpeter and trombonist work together is a treat.

    There’s been some personell changes since I caught them last, although from the looks of their website I think the band may just have several players who swap out depending on availabilty. That makes sense since these guys have a positively brutal touring schedule. If you get a chance–and you will–go check them out. Seriously. Top shelf grooves, this stuff.

    It was certainly great to get in the crowd and feel the energy their music was stirring up amongst the people. When the performance ended in a climactic frenzy, Bill commented “That felt like some kind of grand finale.” to which I roared with excitement, “And this is literally just the very beginning of the must-see shows at this fest!”

    Finito at BC’11, deluge of photos in 3, 2…

    2011 - 11.14

    Just caught the late night jam session at the treehouse at Bear Creek and almost ready to turn in.  The last 2 days have been an utter onslaught of funk.  I was intending to blog more as we watched the music, but there was just way too much awesome to really tear my eyes/ears off of.

    Lots of opinions and pics over the next weeks!

    And the beat goes onnnnn

    2011 - 11.12

    Bear Creek continues to deliver! Just finished watching the new mastersounds, who were in excellent form.  Guest appearances by Robert Walter, Skerik, Roosevelt from the lee boys and more.  Pete’s bass playing was fast and furious tonight, and Simon played those drums with aplomb. 

    Highlights of yesterday were Orgone, who put on the best show I’ve seen from them yet (I’ve seen them 4x), Soulive, and Medeski, who threw it down pretty funky.  Sometimes Medeski can get too avant/abstract for my tastes, but not last night!  Awesome set.

    Galactic had some nice crowd pleasing moments, and Stanton Moore never seems to disappoint, although their sax player still just doesn’t cut through to me.

    Eric Krazno and Chapter 2 tore it apart this morning, including an incredible rendition of the Beatles “Get Back” which culminated in a half-tempo swingin version of the refrain.  That was a treat.  Anxious to listen back to the recordings on that and tonights mastersounds.

    And there’s still more.  Egads!