|Before I begin, allow me to extend love, strength and healing to all Americans and people worldwide to help ease the horrific aftermath of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks. Still overwhelmed, numb, and shaken by the reality my two friends are still unaccounted for, hopefully recalling the last hours of blissful existence in New York City will be cathartic for both you the reader and myself the author.
Oblivious to the horror that was on the way, curious and excited as to what was to be unveiled, I arrived at the sold-out Hammerstein Ballroom for the Jamiroquai “A Funk Oddessy” NYC record release party. The appearance was the band’s only United States performance amidst a string of similar release party dates in Europe and elsewhere. As JK (vocalist/songwriter/leader) has set a precedent for, the scene was a fashion bazaar complete with supermodels and b-boys and heads intermingling. Jay was wearing some cool turquoise B-Boy gear and kicks, with a large, feathered buffalo-man headpiece about which he frequently complained and joked. This aura, combined with the Renaissance-era paintings adorning the ceiling and swirling theatre-like balcony made it seem like a cross between the Lenny Kravitz “Are You Gonna Go My Way” video and Jazzfest gigs at the Saenger Theatre.
After about fifty minutes of a groove and disco friendly DJ DZire warm-up set, JK and company blasted onstage in a blaze of glory with the raging “Twenty Zero One.” Keyboardist/Songwriter Toby Smith immediately reconnected with a rolling Juno-bassline complemented by the locked rhythm section of drummer extraordinaire Derrick McKenzie and bassist Nick Fyffe. More peculiar, yet equally tasty, were the fuzzy Fender guitar licks emanating from this particularly rocking tune. I made a mental note that this simply couldn’t be Simon Katz, who has been a force on the last three albums, albeit a humble one. Later, JK introduced the new axeslinger Rob Harris to a raucous applause. His vibe and influence was heard on new cuts like the driving drum and bass tune “Stop Don’t Panic” and the booming house jam “Main Vein.”
Also convincing those with tuned ears was bassist Fyffe, who replaced the inimitable virtuoso Stuart Zender in 1999’s Synkronized and subsequent tours to mixed reviews. His fluid lines and enormous, warm bottom end allowed McKenzie to drive the grooves home with a relentless bass drum and rapid-fire snare and tom rips. Percussionist Shallah Akembala complemented the organic-electro grooves with subtle yet tasty additions, and DJ DZire, along with a second keyboard player (whose name I lost in Jay’s nervous British mumble) layered the sounds and samples accordingly. The normally audible and visible Toby Smith was kind of a background factor, which was disappointing; so was the absence of the three horn players and didgeridoo master Wallis Buchanan. The didg and brass were mainstays through Jamiroquai’s career thus far, but were replaced by three female backup singers, enhancing the house-disco-soul vibe but somewhat derailing the funk factor.
The sound of Jamiroquai has evolved since the music world was paved a new road by their debut record, 1992’s Emergency on Planet Earth. Themes of righteousness, peace, the environment, and love have always been the thread that has sewn together an eclectic stew of rare groove, modern British acid jazz, new soul, and folky R+B. A Funk Oddessy revels in late seventies disco a la Synkronized’s “Canned Heat”, which was dropped amidst the new debuts, and the album and new sound owes a debt to Donna Summer, which was delivered in the form of a sexy cover of “Bad Girls.” Once again omitting anything from Emergency (same as Roseland ’99), JK and co. unleashed a classic “Return of the Space Cowboy” from the 1994 album of the same name, and pulsating versions of “Cosmic Girl” and “Alright” from 1997’s platinum-selling Travelling Without Moving. The highlight of the evening in my most humble opinion was the ominously foreboding “Deeper Underground” from the Godzilla Soundtrack, a heavy, dark minor stomp which contains what were soon to become eerie lyrics:
Wow! I have this song just replaying in my head, the foreshadowing lyrics and dark, brooding bass rumble shaking my skeletal structure both then at the show and still today.
After ranting in typical British rock star fashion about how now US radio gives him little airplay, he announced he would not be doing “that bloke rock star thing” and would wrap up the show rather than leaving and returning with an encore. The last song turned out to be the remix of “Little L,” the new single, the only problem being he already played the album arrangement as the third song of the show. We all could have used a “High Times” or “Blow Your Mind” as opposed to the same tune twice, so at the end there was a bit of a letdown. JK soaked in a little more of his fans’ adulation while promising to be back in March (which in all likelihood means July!).
We left the Hammerstein and made our way over to what could unfortunately be the last show at the Wetlands, Project Logic. We caught the tail end of the first set with special guest guitarist Stanley Jordan, and the house was packed with jam scene celebrities like Cactus Mike Gordon, Warren Haynes, and Hope Clayburn from Deep Banana Blackout. After Jordan delivered an exquisite “Freedom Jazz Dance”-based solo excursion, Gordon and Haynes joined the Project for an extended “Superstition”-jam and nearly a half an hour of relentless grooving. Haynes and Jordan remained onstage dueling with each other, Logic, and utility-wunderkind Casey Benjamin, the Black Joe Craven, who dazzled with electro-reeds, vocoders, Fender Rhodes comp, and other assorted tactics.
One Love to all those who perished or were injured in the attacks, their friends and families. Our world, lives, and safety will forever be changed, and the losses forever mourned. Strength through unity and compassion.
[Published on: 9/13/01]
- PHIL LESH AND FRIENDS – MA & CT Summer 2001 (B.Getz on JamBase)
- JANE’S ADDICTION- PHILLY SPECTRUM 10/3/01 (B.Getz on JamBase)