The Concept
BB King’s Blues Club, NYC | September 26, 2002

Casey Benjamin | Sax, Fender Rhodes
Eric Krasno | Guitar
Ivan Neville | Hammond B-3, Clavinet
George Porter, Jr. | Bass
Bill Summers | Percussion
Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson | Drums

Uh. Get back.

Put these names together and you have the timeline of Funk. It begins with George Porter, Jr., Bill Summers and Ivan Neville, goes on for years and currently stands in the year of Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, Eric Krasno, and Casey Benjamin. In their own styles, the latter have built upon the monuments constructed by their forefathers, adjoining hip-hop elementals and expanding the possibilities of the movement.

Living up to the hype-othesis, The Concept repped the ill nah nah rotation of funk history, dropping timeless arrangements from the books of the Meters, the Headhunters, and Sly and the Family Stone, taking things way out at times showing us that this funky drummer has got more than just mad beats up his sleeve.

Things might have gotten off to a shaky start as one might expect, but when the wheels got a-rollin’, the soul train was off and running. Drummer/Producer/Philly Iconoclast Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson controlled the stage as he called the breaks for the Meters classic “Funky Miracle,” taking a tight breakbeat solo mid-song as Bill Summers colored with some tasty conga work reminiscent of some Eric B beats on wax. Eric Krasno was so fired up about things that he broke a string before things got hot, but was back in action in time to hit on the head of the famous “Cissy Strut.” Dueling on the ivories, Ivan Neville and Casey Benjamin, working the B-3 and Rhodes, respectively, brought the energy way up and as things were on the verge of explosion, the band broke back into the Strut’s head with ease. With lesson one complete and the early kinks worked out, it was time for Bill Summers to take us to the ghetto and beyond.

Photo by Howard A Gitelson
“El Barrio (Soul of the City)” brought a lesson in ghetto education to Times Square taught by professor Summers using the Soca rhythms of Spanish Harlem as the basis for his curriculum. He and ?uest worked beautifully together, bringing the tempo of the Latin rhythms up for four bars then back down for sixteen as Kraz ripped it up, adding some caliente Spanish flavor to his playing. Out of the ghetto and onto Africa, Summers was our ethnological travel agent once again, this time introducing Juju rhythms into the mix. ?uest held it down in seven with some audience soul-clap participation. Reaching for his Coors Light (this is certainly not a plug), Summers hit on the one and only intro to the Headhunters’ “Watermelon Man” and the band soon followed suit making their way into the cooled out number. ?uestlove took control again showing his amazing rhythmatic prowess as he called for the band to drop out, flipping some tight solo breaks, bringing it way down and then tore through a thunderous solo, leaving many in the room with the “When did money learn to rock like that?” look on their faces. Wanting to join in the fun, Porter comped licks from Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” during his solo section and then lead the band back into the smooth groovin’ flavor of song’s head.

Without a doubt the most complex arrangement tackled by the band on this evening was the multi-faceted composition “Sly” from the Headhunters record. The boys hit each part with the same tight precision found in the original recording and ?uest added some Afrobeat sensation to the middle section allowing Bill Summers to once again add percussive color to the mix, as Porter dropped some heavy bombs under brother Ivan Neville’s scatty clavinet solo. Ending on that note, set one was a blazing display illustrating that tonight, these cats were the hottest, funkiest band in the land.

During the pause for the cause, it was clear that even though these cats were not reaching next-level heights in terms of creativity, they were bringing out the best in each other and the best in the music that had brought them together for this session. The quintessential head-bopper and VW pendant rocking ?uestlove was moving like never before, holding it down in the back, changing tempos and moods with sheer confidence in a domain stylistically apart from that solid backbeat found in his work with the Roots and D’Angelo. As ?uest directed the rhythm section, Ivan Neville took hold of the front belting it out the Motown way and working beautifully with Casey Benjamin’s dexterous reed and Rhodes work as neither were guilty of playing too much or too little. George Porter, Jr.’s low-end maintained as the driving force of each movement no matter where it may lie and Eric Krasno’s unselfish compliments and propelling solos brought the band’s energy levels to the fierce heights greatly appreciated by an audience bent on shaking it all night long. The personality and talents of Bill Summers added succulent rhythmatic pieces to the Concept puzzle, enhancing standard funk with the cultural identity of its predecessors. Set two was about to begin and the audience was yearning for more reasons to move and they got it old-school style.

Hitting on the Impressions’ “Check Out Your Mind,” the bombastic dance party was underway once again as Casey Benjamin’s bright, tasteful sax lines took things out a bit but not too far from home. The Meters’ staple and Eric Sermon sampled “Just Kissed My Baby” followed opening the door for Kraz to tear things up. Teasing the celebrated “Look-A-Py-Py,” the band dropped out and let Bill Summers have the floor in a display of percussive brilliance that can only be described as so. ?uest joined Summers for a little drum slam with hints of old break records percolating in the air. Falling back into “Look-A-Py-Py” the band continued stirring the sauce that had been simmering so far.

Taking a page out of the book of Sly Stone, Porter welcomed the straight stomp of “If You Want Me To Stay” as Ivan Neville’s voice penetrated the heart, got hips-a-moving and voices-a-singing as Casey Benjamin took a hot Rhodes solo. Very fired up about the feelings going around, Ivan Neville took some time to introduce the band, simply saying in the straight gruff NOLA style, “How bout this shit?”

The Meters’ “9 ‘til 5” followed, but with some trouble. The band just could not get the changes together and at times had trouble finding where they were. Porter took over as he and ?uest rocked an open groove on the two and piped some heat into a cold situation. Kraz took over with an extended, heavily noted solo as the energy reached summits similar to the rest of the evening’s open sections.

As the band returned for their encore, one thing was missing; the token number that everyone knows and loves. Well, it did not take long for these cats to fill that gap as the first notes of “Chameleon” radiated throughout the room. The final cut of the evening took on psychedelic qualities and pushed with dynamic authority and consistency, a fitting conclusion to the session held by this assemblage of the funky foundation for ferocity.

Although words like groundbreaking and revolutionary may not be prevalent in reference to The Concept experience, one can still define it as introspective, compelling, and most of all fun. The grooves were heavy, tight and laden with positivity, a true testament to the doctrine that brought these musicians together.

This might not be the last time you see this collection join forces. As the New Orleans JazzFest becomes more of an open musical forum, the possibilities of a diversifying lineup are increasing. As groups like Soulive and Project Logic have taken direct influence from the hip-hop movement, it only seems natural that The Roots would soon be taking part in the Spring festivities. Who knows, maybe a Roots show at the fairgrounds and evening gig pairing them with Soulive might be a ceremonious welcoming of the hip-hop movement to the world of the New Orleans JazzFest. Things going as well as they did in New York, one can be sure that New Orleans resident rockers Porter, Neville and Summers are pulling for this gig to go down in their part of town and if ?uest can talk Tariq, Kamal, Hubb, Scratch, and the crew to head down for some jams and crawfish bread, things gonna be bangin’. Keep your head up.

Robert Krevolin
Photos By Dino Perrucci | Unless Otherwise Noted
JamBase | New York City
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[Published on: 10/4/02]

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