Words by: Alex Borsody | Images by: Robert Chapman
Eric Krasno/Joe Russo/Andy Hess/Erik Deutsch :: 02.28.09 :: Sullivan Hall :: New York, NY
Another night at Sullivan Hall in NYC (Formerly the Lion's Den) and I was surrounded by down to earth, smart people who know their music. The line stretched down the street with people waiting to see the first time pairing of four veteran NYC musicians: Eric Krasno (Soulive) on guitar, Joe Russo (Benevento/Russo Duo, American Babies) on drums, Andy Hess (ex-Gov't Mule and Black Crowes) on bass and Erik Deutsch (Charlie Hunter Trio) on keys. This expanded circle of players is part of the new generation of jazz-funk and experimental musicians in NYC, following in the tradition of Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock and Medeski Martin & Wood. This lineup brought back memories of the many collaborations I witnessed at the Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival last November, which featured combinations of Lettuce, Soulive and a host of NOLA bands. Sullivan Hall is known for showcasing the top NYC funk-jazz artists while also being a regular stop for the best New Orleans bands, such as anyone with the last name Neville, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Papa Grows Funk.
Krasno/Russo/Hess/Deutsch :: 02.28 :: NYC|
Another pattern at Sullivan Hall is the booking of musicians' different side projects, for example, Michetti of RAQ, Blues and Lasers (aka most of The Nocturnals without Grace Potter), as well as side groups for Russo, Krasno, Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers) and Gene Ween. These acts may do well at this venue because the people it attracts are the kind that read the fine print and are interested in the big picture of good music, rather than only the big names.
Though this was a first time pairing onstage it was obvious that the musicians had practiced together before. This show was an example of true musical talent and hard work. Like a band that's been playing together for years, these musicians have that telepathic connection that comes with experience. The highlights of the night included tightened up, soulful, instrumental versions of Hendrix's "Manic Depression," The Beatles' "Get Back," Steve Miller's "Abracadabra," Zeppelin's "The Ocean," Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Done Nuthin'" and Booker T. & The MG's' "Hip Hug Her."
Andy Hess :: 02.28 :: NYC|
The set kicked off with a lively version of "Manic Depression" (a similar version of which can be heard on Kraz's MySpace). The moment Krasno motioned for the soundman to turn Hess' bass up, things really started to take off. Hess floored me with his syncopated, melodic basslines, almost in the same class as legendary Motown bassist James Jamison. After playing the verses and chorus, looks were exchanged and Krasno went into his solo. It started off slow, sparse funky notes with room to breathe, and then progressed into full-on legato shredding. Krasno's style is unique in that he can play funky and rhythmically but also shred with the best of them.
The cover of Zep's "The Ocean" brought on an interesting moment. People were singing along the whole evening to the all-instrumental versions of tunes they knew so well. During the part of "The Ocean" were the music stops, the audience spontaneously started singing in unison, which was a fun dynamic to have audience interaction of this ilk.
This show was in the tradition of great classic R&B artists like Herbie Hancock and The Meters; capturing the essence of unforgettable instrumentals like "Green Onions," "Chameleon" and "Cissy Strut." The collaborative sound produced by the four musicians seemed to be particularly influenced by the pioneering music of Booker T., who played lots of the same kind of instrumental covers in the '60s and '70s.
During the set break I slipped through a side door marketed "EXIT," then wandered down a steep flight of stairs and a narrow hallway. Pretty soon there were these weird stone walls and loud house music blasting. I found myself in a packed dance club with metrosexuals and hair gel as far as the eye could see. I stumbled outside and found myself right next door to Sullivan Hall. Up until then I had heard of the secret passage but never looked for it. I pass this info on to you so you can have the same surreal experience.
Krasno & Russo :: 02.28 :: NYC|
Back in the Hall, Deutsch often took a back seat to Krasno's guitar solos, though he knew exactly the right time to play, adding background harmonies, elementals and long lingering notes that were reminiscent of MMW improvisations. When he did take a solo it really brought things together as authentic sounding organ jazz. Of course, the success of jazz and funk ride on the back of the drummer and there is no better guy for the job than virtuoso powerhouse Joe Russo. Russo controlled the whole performance from behind his kit, giving cues for changes and choosing when to really take the energy up another level.
As the night turned into day, I reluctantly left with soulful music still ringing in my ears. I highly recommend that if you're in the NYC area you check out some of these fine local musicians performing their various side projects.
Check out Eric Krasno & Chapter 2 featuring Adam Deitch Nigel Hall & Louis Cato at Sullivan Hall on March 26 for their post Allman Brothers show.
And be sure to read up on Russo in our recent feature Joe Russo Can't Be Stopped.
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