Old School Funky Family & Mulvey’s Medicine – The Finsbury – August 19th

It takes something pretty special to get me dancing like a crazed maniac on a Monday night. In fact, I’m hardly known for my weekend strutting and so the sight of me bopping like a bad one early in the working week would have filled the casual bystander of a friend with all sorts of confusion. Fortunately, for me at least, I’m pretty sure that there is no video evidence of my flailing and failing extremities. And besides, it would have looked odder not to be dancing at the Finsbury to the French funk of Old School Funky Family. The whole room was up and at it. It was contagious.

Old School Funky Family are on a short UK tour. You can see that they’ll go down exceptionally well at festivals and it should be of no surprise that the good people of Chai Wallahs have snapped them up for Green Man last weekend and Shambala this. In between, they’re playing shows across the country. Go and see them if you’re going to Shambala or living in Bristol. They will not disappoint. 

In any other town, you’d pay good money to see musicianship of this quality. London continues to confound and delight in equal measure. I realise there’s a ton of competition out there every night but quite how this can be put on as a free show is anybody’s guess. “You’d be happy paying £15 for that”, says a punter, slightly gobsmacked by what he’s just witnessed. And he’s quite right as well.

There’s eight of them crammed onto the Finsbury stage. Brass heavy and brass led, it’s instrumental funk with more than a sprinkling of jazz. They’re from deep in the South of France – and it’s perhaps appropriate, given the nationality, that bass duties are not taken by a guitar but by a French horn. Between each song, one of the troupe takes a microphone and introduces what’s coming next.

At different times in the set, each member of the band gets to delight with an extended solo, to show off their musical pedigree with a spotlight slot. Other members of the band give way sometimes leaving the stage to signal what’s about to occur. In the hands of lesser musicians, such interludes might become little more than elongated wank-fests. But these guys are so talented that it’s always astonishing to watch. The clarinet player particularly impresses in his solo. It begins all seedy, backstreet nightclub (slow and languid) and ends with fireworks (explosive and illuminating). 

Whilst the core of this is jazz-funk, Old School Funky Family can also mix it up. They play a cover but mostly it’s their original compositions. They draw on their proximity to North Africa to charm snakes in one piece and take us on a tour of EDM styles in another. My short attention span never once wanes whilst my legs move; the dynamics on stage providing just enough to maintain interest.

Support act for the night, Mulvey’s Medicine, could learn from this. Indeed, I’m sure they are for many of their seven-strong number are lapping Old School Funky Family up dancing in the front row. Mulvey’s Medicine also indulge in instrumental jazz-funk and do so with fine musicianship. To move on to the next level, I’d politely suggest that they now need to give some thought to their stagecraft. They jam well – and it’s by no means boring to watch – but what might their gimmick be that can set them apart? 

The night (and probably the week) belongs to Old School Funky Family. This was no typical Monday.

Bernardo – The Waiting Room – April 29th 2019

It’s a Monday evening and this week’s Airbnb is south of the river. I’m tempted to stay here and chill for it is quite a trek north to Stoke Newington’s Waiting Room. I’ve been meaning to get there for some time but gigs I’ve been keen on have clashed with others; there’s rarely a shortage in this town. 

Tonight though Bernardo plays a free show at The Waiting Room in celebration of the release of her Panic Prayers EP. The EP has come out on cassette format. For a fiver, it clearly represents something of a bargain even if I’m pretty sure that I no longer have the technology on which to play it. 

Bernardo’s on-line profile is growing if not fully-formed. I’m guessing that Bernardo is a surname; searches suggest that the confident, enticing individual who takes to the stage in a ‘Betahoven’ T-shirt with a Fender Jaguar guitar to play a jazz-pop opener is called Sonia. “The band have decided to sit this one out”, she declares.

Bernardo’s band duly join her from the next number; there’s four of them (five if you include Alfie, the excellent trumpet player who joins a couple of songs later). They’re a confident bunch, clearly well versed in jazz and funk progressions. In the ‘brand new one’ which might well be called ‘Almost A Mother’, they’re given space to wig out with solo endeavour. Bernardo is impressed. “I often just play alone and it’s great to have this band“, she acknowledges.

It’s hard to get away from Winehouse comparisons. Bernardo’s vocal occupies a similar space and the songs appear to toy with heartbreak and the darker side of love. Bernardo is compelling to watch on the stage. She rolls her eyes , the lids of which are painted in a pinky red shadow, towards her hairline in playful pose whilst smiling and connecting with her crowd. “We’re going to jazz it up a bit now“, says Bernardo before launching into a version of ‘One Inch Punch’. Truth is that proceedings had already been a tad jazzy prior to that.

Just as this short show began with a solo song from Bernardo so it ends in similar fashion. The band leave the stage and two stripped-back tunes bring things to a close. ‘Sunday heartbreak matinee’ stands out, a chilled comedown of a track after a more urgent weekend.

There’s little doubt that Bernardo is one to watch – and I’m glad I made the effort to head north to do so. 

Hailey Tuck – Alcohol/Junk

Until yesterday, Hailey Tuck was a name that had passed me by. Maybe I’d seen the label ‘soft jazz covers’ and thought that her music wouldn’t be for me. But how wrong I’ve been? 

 

She’s been around for a while, an American still in her 20’s who has spent the best part of a decade living in Paris and reconnecting with a time that was altogether more glamorous. Sporting a beautiful bobbed haircut and giving the impression that she means every syllable that she purposefully utters, it was the video to a track from her forthcoming (and debut) album, Junk, out in May that got me foaming at the mouth. 

I’m a fan of The Kinks and firmly believe that Ray Davies is a songwriting genius. It’s fair to say though that his tune, Alcohol, from the Muswell Hillbillies album might never be considered a classic of their catalogue. However, Hailey Tuck has scrubbed the song down, added extra clarity to the slightly muffled vocal of the original and come up with a tune tinged with beautiful sadness. When she sings ‘who thought I would fall a slave to demon alcohol?’, you believe her every word. 

I had to get a copy of the album and promptly requested a preview copy. 

‘Why don’t you shut the door and close the curtains?’, asks Jarvis Cocker in Pulp’s fine tune, Underwear. In their version, it’s the sound of a seedy Sheffield, bedsits off Bramall Lane. But Hailey transforms the song and its meaning into a slightly skewed but perfect love song. Her voice is truly to die for.

 

Underwear falls towards the end of this most astonishing of listening experiences. I’ve never really been one for cover versions or tribute acts but on Junk, Hailey (and her fine band of jazz players) take us through an eclectic mix never once dropping a beat. From soul to folk originals, she turns Solomon Burke into Peggy Lee and Broadway musical-tunes into heart-wrenching ballads that you want to hear again and again. 

‘I fought against the bottle but I had to do it drunk’, sings Hailey in the opening track of the record, her cover of the Leonard Cohen song, ‘That don’t make it Junk’. Battles against addiction do surface from time to time, perhaps nowhere more so than in her exquisite cover of Colin Blunstone’s ‘Say You Don’t Mind’. Hailey knows that the word ‘wining/whining’ has double-meaning when she pleads to be forgiven for her wrongdoing in this classic. 

Ultimately, this is an exercise in taking old tunes from a range of genres and finding something new, immediate and exciting within. Her art form (soft jazz covers) might be as old as the hills but Tuck breathes and invigorates new life into it.

We’re at the final track of the album – a cover of Paul McCartney’s Junk. ‘Something old and new, memories for me and you’, sings Hailey and you suspect that sums up her modus operandi. 

Make no mistake though – this record is far from junk. 

 

The Robocobra Quartet – Correct

If you’re told that a gig is lasting from 6 until 9 in an evening, what time would you turn up? I thought I was being a tad over-eager to show my face at 6.45. But, the truth is that I’d been looking forward to seeing The Robocobra Quartet upstairs at Nottingham’s Rough Trade since I’d chanced upon their music and sneaked an advance copy of their forthcoming album, Music For All Occasions. It truly is an album of the year, which oddly is also the subject of the final tune (and stand-out track) on it.

Thanks for being a decent audience. We’ll sign stuff at the merch desk but we’re in a massive rush to catch the boat back to Belfast”, says Chris Ryan, drummer and vocalist. “This is our last tune.” And the realisation sinks in. I’d missed out on this by being too casual. I still hadn’t had my tea.

I saw enough to know that The Robocobra Quartet are incredibly important. Post-rock, down tempo jazz influenced angst has hardly been something I’ve given much consideration towards in the past. Truly though, I’m not sure I’ve really heard much like this before. Unique and inventive whilst remaining accessible, it’s intensely satisfying stuff. The spoken word lyrics seem to make sense over the woodwind and bass even though the reality is that they’re fragments of nonsense on repeat. 

The final tune, the one I hear, is Correct. This was the piece that had initially drawn me to the Robocobra Quartet. It’s delivered with intense panache in this live setting. Drummer Chris loses himself amidst the staccato sax as he spits and sweats his way to the conclusion. The band leave the stage. I shake their hands and commit to seeing a full set very soon. 

Later, as I drink another pint, I spy others entering the venue expecting to see a band in full flow. They’re already on their way home. The disappointment is tempered by the knowledge that these guys will be back. They’ll make 2017 interesting. 

 

King Capisce – Never Spoken

My review from last weeks Spring Off The Tracks festival is complete and published here.

I’m on the festival treadmill now, running ever faster to keep up with the demands of pretty much doing one a weekend throughout the summer. Later today, I head across to Cheltenham for the Wychwood festival.

If Off The Tracks taught me anything (I think I was aware of this anyway) it was to not be fearful of jazz-rock experimentation. A few years ago, a band described in a programme in such a way would have had me running for the hills afraid that I had finally lost my marbles.

But, Sheffield- based, King Kapisce are described as jazz-rock and they were one of the OTT highlights. To call them jazz-rock omits the other influences that mix into this cauldron. It was impossible not to tap a foot, to shake a head or to stroke a beard (I don’t have one but the man sitting behind me didn’t seem to mind) over the sounds they created.

They normally have two sax players to pump stacks of soul over a complex mesh of drum and guitar-led sound. But at OTT, they offer humble apologies for one of the band has left them for a holiday in America. We didn’t need to know this. There’s enough going on without needing more.

King Capisce make instrumental music. Their new record is ‘The Future Cannot Be Born Yet, It Is Waiting For The Past To Die’.

Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast might have noticed that I’m somebody who often gets excited about lyrics. The fact that King Kapisce are completely instrumental is not a hindrance. I closed my eyes during their set and let my imagination run wild. I climbed that tree and jumped across the tops. I threw myself from that plane and flapped my arms like an eagle with wings. I surfed on that wave until it washed over me.

Try it out yourself. Where might this take you?

 

 

Low Leaf – Rise Up

This is a blog that’ll never become a jazz mag. 

Just to clarify that, this is a blog that’ll rarely focus upon tunes with a jazz tinge. Largely, that’s because I don’t get it. It would be like Beatrix Potter writing about Quantum Mechanics. 

But I concede that there’s more than a jazz tinge to Rise Up by Low Leaf. It’s jazz of the tropical variety though, a very worldly jazz. It’s a track that with slightly different production wouldn’t look out of place on a new Noisettes album. It could quite easily sit on an MIA album. There’s something about the crackle and hiss that’s within this track that gives it oomph. And I’m quite captivated by it.

It’s got a simple, uncomplicated positive message of peace. “People, how we gonna rise up?” Sings Low Leaf, rhetorically. She doesn’t leave us thinking long before suggesting that we “be a peaceful people”. Nothing wrong with that sentiment.

I guess what I’m saying is that this definitely isn’t jazz wank.

 

Low Leaf has her roots in the Phillipines but is now living in Los Angeles. Rise Up is a track from her forthcoming album, Akashaalay. I’ve no doubt that it’ll deal with some serious themes and awakenings. She’s quite a multi-instrumentalist, citing piano, harp, machine and voice on her Facebook page. This video of her playing the harp live is pretty wonderful. One for Womad?