By Robyn Rubinstein
Breakestra with Cut Chemist :: 12.16.05 :: DNA Lounge :: San Francisco, CA
It's time for Rubi's vocabulary lesson of the day: (from dictionary.com)
"Onomatopoeia" – The formation or use of words such as buzz or murmur that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.
I freely admit that I'm a big semantic geek. It's the little things in life that bring the most joy, and I get a small rush of linguistic pleasure using words like "squish," "whomp," and "thwack." They roll off the tongue with a satisfying sense of adept description, portraying exactly what it feels like to get thwacked in the head or what a whomping bass line sounds like. Here's a new one to throw into your musical vernacular: Breakestra. This LA-based funk outfit is exactly what the name sounds like – an eight-piece ensemble playing the hottest breaks from the classics of funk that have become the backbone of hip-hop. Instead of a funk DJ with crates deep enough to burrow in, picture a live band, playing an uninterrupted set of raw grooves so thick you'd have to be comatose to not at least nod your head.
Breakestra began as the brainchild of bassist/guitarist/upright cellist/producer Miles Tackett. "Tackett fell in love with hip-hop after hearing Ultramagnetic MC's Critical Beatdown in the late 1980s - the era during which tons of dusty drum breaks and funky samples first saw the light of day via enterprising hip-hop producers such as Paul C., Pete Rock, Large Professor, and DJ Premier. 'In retrospect, I see that I gravitated towards hip-hop because of its roots in funk music,' Tackett told URB Magazine in 1999. 'Now I realize that hip-hop is the only music keeping funk alive." (Ubiquity Records)
Though the cast of players has changed often over the last decade, the band has always been comprised of LA's best funk/soul/hip-hop underground. The current players, including founder Tackett are Mix Master Wolf - "soul shoutin' and sangin" Pat "The Snake" Bailey - guitar (also the guitarist for The Rebirth), Shawn O'Shandy - drums (from Plant Life and Orgone), Dan Hastie - Fender Rhodes & organ (also from Plant Life and Orgone), Greg Velasquez, or Chuck Prada - Percussion, James "The Penguin" King - saxophones & flutes (Dakah, The Keystones),
Devin Williams, or Todd Simon – trumpet.
Their sound and style has been aptly described as the fusion of the essence of the breakbeat, the apex of a funk song that when looped together by pioneering DJ's in the South Bronx in the 70's became the foundation upon which all hip-hop was constructed, and Sun Ra's Arkestra, which injected funk and musical exploration into the traditional concept of a strait-laced orchestra. His vision was to assemble a band that could seamlessly rock the essential breakbeats to the supreme satisfaction of every rap aficionado, vinyl archeologist, and b-boy and b-girl who was listening. They have shared the stage and collaborated with such hip-hop luminaries as Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, and DJ Shadow. Their first album, The Live Mixtape Vol 2 (2001) put the band on the map as a prodigiously talented cover band paying homage to the old-school sound. With their second release, Hit the Floor, (2005) Breakestra took the natural evolutionary step and produced an album of all original material that hangs tough next to the classic funk tunes that were their inspiration.
Their recent gig SF's DNA Lounge was a marathon of music that began with a DJ set by one of the kings of the crates, Cut Chemist of J5 fame. His selections were predominantly deep funk tracks, and while they were solid choices, they were largely overshadowed by the live instrumentation that was to follow. In retrospect, it would've been more interesting to hear a classic hip-hop set, with staples like Big Daddy Kane, Brand Nubian, Gangstarr, Eric B and Rakim, and Tribe Called Quest whose careers were built on sampling funk breaks. A backwards timeline of hip-hop deconstruction would've been fiercely compelling.
While Cut Chemist's set was undeniably solid, it paled in comparison to the power of live musicians. Breakestra presented a fluid hour and a half of ground-shaking funk that rang familiar and fresh simultaneously. There was no pause in the groove. The turntables gave birth to a band that, in some ways, rendered the ones and twos obsolete. By playing the pinnacle moments in funk, seamlessly flowing from one break to the next, Breakestra built a crescendo of energy that culminated in a near sonic maelstrom around 3:30 a.m. It seems like a simple cover band concept, but the passion imbued in those 15 seconds of each song interpolated and strung together by live musicians far surpassed a basic cover band. Their originals were equally as fierce with superlative musicianship throughout. Breakestra is among the handful of bands putting funk back on the map as true soul music.
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