Kung Fu | Brooklyn | Review

Words by: Chadbyrne R. Dickens | Images by: Mark Dershowitz

Kung Fu :: 04.09.12 :: Brooklyn Bowl :: Brooklyn, NY

Kung Fu by Mark Dershowitz
As I walked into my favorite familiar haunt, the magical musical venue Brooklyn Bowl, I held out hope for the best. Despite having never heard a note of the headlining band, Kung Fu, prior to that evening, I wasn’t worried. Many friends I respect had repeatedly sung the praises of the band about to commence the first of numerous successive Monday night gigs in a rare Bowl residency. In America the obvious connotation for most when one hears the words ‘Kung Fu’ is images of Bruce Lee kicking ass in Enter the Dragon. However, ‘Kung Fu’ may also be used in a manner unrelated to martial arts, as a reference to any skill or accomplishment attained after long, hard work. After developing a thick sweat from many hours of grooving around the vast concert space, on the relatively quiet first night after Easter, I soon realized the band Kung Fu - for a moment in space and time - had captured my mind, body and soul.

Kung Fu consists of professional players Tim Palmieri (guitar), Rob Somerville (tenor sax), Todd Stoops (keyboards), David Livolsi (bass guitar), and Adrian Tramontano (drums/percussion). With no preconceived notions, I was simply not expecting what the band delivered with authority commencing with their first note after storming the stage. The quintet - the pride of Connecticut - took control of a Brooklyn Bowl crowd eager to rage after the conservative Easter Holiday, though the audience was already whipped into a small frenzy from the opening acts. After the first bars of “Do the Right Thing” permeated the airwaves, Mr. Somerville took over, manipulating his saxophone to display showmanship, talent and a gift for pseudo-hypnosis, which quickly mesmerized those in attendance and won them over for the night in a flash. Immediately reminiscent of parts Lettuce and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, I settled in, ready to wade into this foray of funk fusion!

Tim Palmieri by Mark Dershowitz
With their ticketholders bouncing in the palm of their hand, Kung Fu continued to jam consistently for an hour and half without interruption. The free-form jams were so complex and intense that I heard more than a few patrons exclaim, “I’m going to the bathroom, I need to take a break from this…It’s so intense.”

The seasoned musicians displayed their mettle best when alternating solos during a euphonious riff trade-off jam, and remained most adept at effortless collaboration alternating the sax, keyboard and guitar throughout a comprehensive improvisation session. I enjoyed watching the two guitarists whispering and laughing in one another’s ear during the peak of an adventure, obviously discussing what they planned to tackle next. Fortuitously, I witnessed the brilliant idea manifest itself. Call and response, when done right, can often be the most memorable moment for the concert goer and Kung Fu did not disappoint.

Despite being a team of musicians, bonded together without a weak link, the stand-out of the performance was clear. Tim Palmieri, formerly of The Breakfast, displayed subtle nuance when appropriate, despite often playing with the speed of Eddie Van Halen, intuitively knowing when to hit his spots for a long solo or simply fill-in in order to catapult the energy within the Bowl’s walls to the next level. Although veterans, with a legion of credits and experience, it was still surprising to witness the level of musicianship and cohesion demonstrated from a band only two years in existence.


Kung Fu w/ Hartswick & Cressman by Mark Dershowitz
Some Kung Fu fans were overheard discussing the experience, “They are too good,” and “They always go right to the jam.” They were almost dismissive, similar to those who love reggae but claim it all sounds the same. I disagree. Although they often found themselves back in a comfortable session of a symphonic congruence of sounds that was satisfactory as a jam groove, they varied the mood, tone, primary instrument of focus, and vibe throughout the concert experience.

About three quarters through the show, they invited Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman onto the stage. If you have been lucky enough to catch this duo as part of the NY Hustler Ensemble or as part of the Trey Anastasio Band’s brass section you would not be surprised at their powerful addition to the proceedings. Whenever I hear their trombone and trumpet infiltrate a setting such as this one, far removed from a traditional classical or jazz scenario, I am moved by the rare air they breathe into the environment. It is a nouveau take which provides a fresh palette of sounds unfamiliar to the average person’s ear. Hartswick and Cressman opened for Kung Fu with the energetic Nu Disco master Wyllys, who continues to revolutionize the genre while dropping surprises each time I see him perform. Hartswick, as known for her powerful singing as much as her trumpet skills, has been a respected force in the scene as a bandleader for years. As an ideal mentor, she has clearly harnessed the seemingly effortless performance of 20-year-old Natalie “Chainsaw” Cressman (this moniker blessed upon her by Anastasio, who claimed she looks like she is starting a chainsaw when blowing her horn). Cressman will be dropping her debut CD, Unfolding, in August and it will mark her initial experience as a bandleader.

Kung Fu w/ Hartswick & Cressman by Mark Dershowitz
Although there was not a weak song in the setlist on this night, I concluded, based on audience participation and applause, that a highlight was the cover of Steely Dan’s ‘Kid Charlemagne.’ No rational person would juxtapose it to the original, but Mr. Stoops utilized clear vocals to effectively steer the signature Donald Fagen classic. Multiple kaleidoscopes of pin-wheels silhouetted the flowing curtains behind the drum kit as the lighting flickered from overhead on to the bastion of young fans dancing to the kinetic energy flaming from the song’s quick-tempo beat. However, again it was Palmieri who stepped up, ripping it up on his axe as if the song were a showcase to show off his chops and thus make sure everyone would remember his name. I know I did.

This experience left an indelible mark which will serve as an impetus to voyage on the L train for a plethora of Mondays to come.

If one can’t make the upcoming Monday gigs (which continue through the end of April and promise to include many guest starts including Barber of Disco Biscuit fame), you can also share in the Kung Fu groove at Gathering of the Vibes or Camp Bisco in July.

Setlist
Do The Right Thing, Rocks, You Know What I Mean %, Belatone, S'all Good **, Kid Charlemagne **, God Made Me Funky **, Chakrabarty Overdrive **, The Ventriloquist, The Hammer. Encore: You've Got The Love **

% with Rob Compa
** with Jen and Natalie

Kung Fu Tour Dates :: Kung Fu News

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[Published on: 4/17/12]

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