I've been hearing good things about Netwerk: Electric for about two years now and was real excited to learn that I would be reviewing their new album, expression sessions, for this beautiful website of ours, JamBase.com. I was familiar with their guitarist, Jason Concepcion, from his work in the Santa Cruz Hemp All Stars. I was fully expecting an electrified, techno-ish, STS9 type album and was very surprised when there was virtually no techno on the album. What I did find was a futuristic funk album for the space age that makes for a very enjoyable listening experience that you can repeat over and over again.
The first track starts out with a slight intro that segues into the first song. At first it seems as if we are listening to someone change the stations on a radio, reminiscent of the beginning of Eazy-E's 1988 classic "Radio." Finally a station is found that is suitable, and a few sound effects later, we have the beginning of a very funky track. The music starts off with the bassist Dave "Sweets" Menez and Mike Jaramillo on drums and what seems to be effects from keyboardist Justin Fagnani. Then Jason Conception starts in with his part, a very funky and widely used guitar riff and we are in full blast. This opening track, called "Tune In," is straight funk and very refreshing. There is obviously a huge movement in the jazz/jam world going on right now with Soulive, Galactic, Robert Walter, The Slip and many others, but Netwerk: Electric provides their own original funk style. I had heard so much about Concepcion and his fantastic playing that I expected the album to be a showcase for his talents. However, keyboardist Justin Fagnani does his share of soloing, as well, and is fantastic. All the musicians on this album seem to be on top of their game.
The next track, "Count Chocula," is a very jazzy track with Concepcion laying down some real colorful chords, almost reminiscent of Brad Barr (The Slip). The drummer and the bassist work very well together on the rhythm, constantly changing tempos and beats. The keyboardist is once again on point with some sick solos. This track is very mellow and chill, kind of like the Count himself.
The third track, and my personal favorite, "Lifted," features sax virtuoso Karl "The Godfather" Denson. He brings in his expertise and provides exactly the new sound this track needed. This song brings the funk and these guys can really bring it. (I was so pleasantly surprised with the funkiness of the album. I really can't wait for Netwerk's first national tour.) Karl goes off on a few solos of his own and proves why he really is the premier sax player on the scene. This track kind of centers around Karl's playing and it really works. I guess these guys were familiar with each other as Jason had joined Karl and the Tiny Universe on their tour of Japan.
I was especially looking forward to track 5, "Broke Beat," because I expected it to be just that - break beat. When I think break beat, I immediately think Zach Velmer. But once again this song brings the funk. Like I said earlier there is virtually no techno on this album at all. There are plenty of spacey sound effects and each player gets some really cool sounds out of their instrument, but the drummer never really lays into the techno beats at all. I guess in my mind I had grouped Netwerk: Electric with bands like Sector 9 and the Biscos, but I was glad to see they have a style all their own. And they bring many styles to the table, funk, jazz, jam and even some Latin elements, especially in track 6, "Spy Girls," where once again the keyboardist is fantastic.
Anyone who is familiar with the band should definitely check this album out. My only knowledge of the group is this album, and having never heard them live I'm sure I have a very different point of view than all the lucky West coast heads who get to see these guys jam all the time. I'm definitely looking forward to my first Netwerk: Electric show. And to all the fans of Netwerk: Electric, definitely get to your local store and buy the album and help support the homegrown funk.
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