Monthly Archives: June 2013
Though the origins of the William Thompson Funk Experiment are low-key and comical, there’s nothing to laugh at with this solid, grooving outfit. Though the band maintains a laid-back attitude, it is a tight, expressive funk band that draws on lots of styles – both the expected and unexpected – to create a sound rooted in the traditions of funk and reggae, but cognizant of present styles, too.
The band, says guitarist Nick Sergeant, started out in the suburbs of Worcester as WTF, or “What the Funk,” and was long referred to by various plays on those initials. They had their eventual name handed to them at a Tammany Hall show a while back when a friend spontaneously announced them to the audience as the “William Thompson Funk Experiment.” The band rolled with it, and it’s been their name ever since.
William Thompson Funk Experiment brings its alternative, psychedelic funk to Tammany Hall in downtown Worcester for one of only a few area shows on Saturday, June 8.
Sergeant says that the band members bring a lot of variety to the stew. Though, he says, their collective favorite groups are Deep Purple and Ween, he also notes the influence of funk bands, like Lettuce and Parliament/Funkadelic, as well as cerebral rock groups, like Pink Floyd and Tool. Then, there’s the jazz background of the two members who attended Berklee. Last, he says, front man Nico Ramey brings some hip-hop and R&B flavor.
“Ocean Jam,” from last year’s “Shine Time,” sums up the band’s approach pretty well, bookending a rocking funk jam with a chill, ambient groove. Guitarist Nick Sergeant negotiates each vibe, offering ethereal whale calls and glistening, chorused chord fills in the mellow jam, and a balls-out wah-wah solo in the funk portion. Keyboardist Justin Bradley demonstrates high-level chops and intimate familiarity with vintage keys sounds, laying down chunky, spaced out Rhodes and wild synth pitch bending, with tones right off of ’70s records, by the likes of Pink Floyd, Herbie Hancock, or Weather Report.
Combined with Elote Villanueva’s soaring soprano sax soloing, and the faraway, freakout lyrics of front man Nico Ramey, twisted with digital delay, the tune really cooks, with great band interplay, big chops, and wide dynamics. It is a sonic delight.
The rhythm section of Adam Casten (bass) and Tim Hetu (drums) is just what you’d expect – and want – from a funk band: tight, dynamic, and potent.
The live act is a stoner party on stage, with steady dance grooves and a broad sonic palate of horns, keys, guitar, dubstyle rapping, and plenty of histrionics and ear candy, perfect for club music and perfect for the dancing Tammany throng, which loves WTFE.
It’s no surprise that the band has made its biggest impact in front of festival crowds, and has become a three-year regular at the Strange Creek Festival in Greenfield, Mass.; last year’s Open Road Festival in Worcester; and the Camp Cold Brook Festival in Barre (the band plays it on June 21).
Sergeant says that the band does best in front of the varied crowds that festivals tend to draw and that they’ve picked up lots of fans in that environment. It’s easy to see how someone who might not be attracted to funk per se might hear things to enjoy in WTFE’s sound, which, as Sergeant says, mixes reggae, hip hop, metal, and jazz, among other things. Musicologists, as well as dancers looking to be swept away, might both enjoy the heady, yet sophisticated blends.
“Make Choices,” for instance, has a soundscape akin to “Ocean Jam,” but with Nico sounding more like Sublime’s Bradley Nowell rapping over a mid-tempo funk groove, hating on haters. Sweet swelling horns polish the arrangement, which mixes loads of ear candy, chunking and wahing guitar and steady, percussive Rhodes over high-watt, walking bass and complex, but meaty drums.
Sergeant says that the band broke out several new songs at the recent Strange Creek show, which fans can expect to hear at Tammany, too. The band, he says, which makes the rounds of southern New England venues, is conscious of overplaying the Worcester area, and books their dates carefully. In fact, the Cold Brook Festival is the last event they have booked at the moment, so, get out and hear them when this opportunity arises.
Catch WTFE live on Saturday, June 8 at Tammany Hall, 43 Pleasant St. at 8 p.m. The band’s album “Shine Time” is available online at cdbaby.com/cd/williamthompsonfunkexper and at shows. You can learn more and stream tracks at reverbnation.com/williamthompsonfunkexperiment.
Back when I used to work in musical instrument retail at the Worcester branch of a New England chain, a kid in his late teens came in and started fiddling with some guitars. Seeing that he had chosen a nylon string classical-type, I opened my pitch with, “So, are you looking to learn classical guitar?” I was wholly unprepared for his response, which was, “Well, I mastered jazz, so I thought I would take up classical.”
I decided to leave him alone to master classical on the showroom floor.
Listening to the most recent release by the Galindo/Phaneuf Quartet, I now have that too-late response to that innocent youth’s comment: “Mastered Jazz? Okay, then, listen to this!” The Galindo/Phaneuf Quartet is what mastery of jazz sounds like, though the musicians here play with pious and disciplined seriousness and an absence of hubris and cliché that only a lifetime of devotion to craft can teach.
“Talkin’ Horns,” released this year, is a 12-track exploration of modern jazz in its totality, the type that emerged post-World War II, when the music transitioned from hot to cool, no longer acting as motivation for dancers, but as serious concert music.
Shockingly, the CD, recorded at Wellspring Studios, in Acton, Mass., was captured in one evening – nearly one and a half hours of really sophisticated stuff!
“Basically we ran through it in one night,” says Galindo by phone last week. “Every tune we recorded, except one, were all first takes. We usually did two takes of everything, but when we went back and listened to the stuff, we found the first take had the most fire and was overall the best.”
This is a startling revelation, considering the complexity of the work, both in terms of its intricate bebop heads and intuitive and dialedin free-jazz improvisation, which are balanced perfectly throughout.
“I mean, everyone can play well and knows the kind of material. There’s a lot of compositions, but there’s also a lot of improvisational interplay happening within the album,” says Galindo, “and these guys are some of the best at it.”
Indeed they are. These are musicians at the top of their field, a rarefied air of outrageous technical, historical, and intuitive musicianship, honed over decades in clubs, studios, and big stages around the world. Galindo alone, in addition to working on the Berklee faculty, has played with a who’s who of popular and jazz artists far too numerous to begin to name here.
“Talkin’ Horns” brings the combo to life with stunning fidelity and dynamics. The performances sound gorgeous, with lots of air and room. Over the mostly-original dozen tracks (except Duke Ellington’s “Angelica” and Bill Warfield’s “Kill Flow”), the quartet plays “Real Book” jazz, setting the tone with complex bop heads and then clearing space for wild improvisational jaunts that bring to mind the buoyancy of Charles Mingus and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the modal complexity of Thelonious Monk, and the hot and cool, but always risktaking soloing of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane.
The latter is thanks to Mark Phaneuf’s alto and soprano sax work, which shows a generous Bird influence, and the killer rhythm section of John Lockwood, on acoustic bass, and Bob Gullotti, on drums, who swing hard, create beautiful bridges between head and solo, and continuously pave an extraordinary road over which the horns solo. The interplay is phenomenal, the instruments intuiting and coalescing serendipitously in spontaneous composition.
Overall, it hearkens to the classic small combos that dominated the ’40s and ’50s. With liberal use of big intervals, a wide range of pleasant and jarring tones, and time-bending segments that evoke a ’60s film soundtrack for episodes of psychosis, the band paints with a broad palate, always executing with mastery, precision, knowledge, and sensitivity to the composition and the other instruments.
Jeff Galindo’s trombone work adds a refreshing, warm and playful sound, as an instrument that has been essential to jazz history, though not often in as central a role as heard here. Galindo really explores the full range of the horn, from the woozy, boozy passages in “Sola Power” to the blazing runs and elephant roars in “Broadway Excursions.”
The tenor sax work of George Garzone, who appears on five tracks, adds warmth to the rich horn blend, creating further harmonic complexities that bring to mind Miles Davis’ Gil Evans’ arrangements.
This is heavy jazz – really serious music. Lovers of Michael Buble and Kenny G need not apply. This is the hard stuff, for jazz fans, not tourists.
Galindo, the recipient of a 2013 Worcester Arts Council grant, hopes to use the benefit to bring more of this kind of important jazz to Worcester. Despite a rich music scene, he says, jazz is hard to find around town. He plans to change this by bringing some of these top-shelf musicians to Worcester, such as the group’s performance last week at Volturno Pizza, in the old Edward Buick building on Shrewsbury Street.