Music is the great translator, the grand interpreter, and no other language has been more successful at conveying the global necessity of mutual understanding than the humble alphabet of beats and grooves. Sounds and styles merge, blend, and become one as though they had been born together.
Fusion. It has been much celebrated, but as of late it has been much criticized. Many roll their eyes when they imagine pure lineages of music converging into some sort of bastardized genre. I'm guilty myself at times. But music, unlike rivers and roots and branches, is more of a weaving. It's like tissue, growing back into itself as conditions favor. So where the hell is all this going?
The B-Side Players. That's where this is going. This is a fusion of sounds that works where others fail. Their music is woven of many fibers, and they have crafted a sound that comes from the blood like the color of eyes or the lines on a face. The seven core musicians are based in San Diego, and their heritage is in the music. It's a select blend of choice flavors: a Latin-backed slam-funk groove that simmers effortlessly with natural additions of reggae, soul, scratch, and vocal with rap tendencies. They've got Chicano swagger and style, but the music reaches deep, over the borders. Not surprising then, that besides having tons of groove, the music is conscious.
Their latest release, Movement, on Surfdog Records, is a tribute to this blend of style and message, and proof that music can benefit from selective cross-pollination. The opener, "Souldier", blossoms with echoing samples that lead into a crisp Cuban son beat. Bam! You're hooked before the supple scratch is even laid down over aqueous guitar bursts. The vocals kick in with shakers, a cowbell beat, and rapid fire drumming. Subtle touches of horn and a tasty groove carry the listener relentlessly towards the happy place, but it's not just the rhythms that grab your attention. It's the message in the lyrics. Throughout the album there are references to revolution, resistance, conspiracy, freedom, and positive-ness. We're not talking dense political narrative here, nor is it frivolous neo-beatnik babble either. It works, and you're eating your cake.
The album evolves as a varied composition, and the shifts in style - from funk to salsa to reggae - are seamless, all hinging upon the authentic, meaty backbone that the percussion section lays down. There are gorgeous moments: amidst the otherwise disco-funked "Puro Feeling", an acoustic guitar solo emerges, richly scented with Flamenco, and a bright flute jam follows like a Andean dream. Then suddenly you're into a bad-ass B-3ish rip and shaking boogaloo. There's a slick version of Eric Burden and War's classic rendition of "Spill the Wine", and the vocals shift from English to Spanish - Tira el vino, toma la perla! - giving the tune brilliant new life. There is the super smooth, lounge jazzy "Baila" (Dance), with its intonations of tenor sax and trombone, that kicks down double-speed halfway through into congas and shekere and Caribbean gusto. There are nasty nasty funk riffs and complex rhythm changes, deep soul and R&B, and vintage horn solos. The changes are relentless and exuberant, and crave some serious shaking.
The rich texture of each song allows personal connections all over the map. I was feeling the Latin Brothers and South American bus rides in "Cocodrilo Jodido." I caught a whiff of - get this - Thai pop in the opening synthesizer on "Movement", which then trips into a warm reggae number that reminded me of Nigerian superstar Majek Fashek's work.
It takes a few listens to get a handle on the various sounds and appreciate the layers, but when it sticks it goes deep. A word of advice: if you think the stuff sounds good at home, check it out in the car. For whatever reason, it all comes together when you're cruisin', windows down and doors rattling. I can only imagine that the band's rep for feroucious live performances is fully warranted. You can almost hear it in the speakers: the tunes are begging a stage, lights, stacks and bodies.
This is the stuff of the New America - the mighty sound of the convergence of cultures, taking its place upon the rock with the rest of history's etchings. Once the Beach Boys defined the sound and scene of Southern California, all bleach blonde and happy-go-lucky. But those days are long gone. Now, the B-Side Players are making music that on a certain level is the soul of SoCal, and the beat of an emerging America.
Jambase Boston Correspondent