Last night was marked by party music of all kinds. I kicked off my evening with LA-33, a band from Colombia best known for their viral YouTube hit "La Pantera Mambo." I had written them off as one of those YouTube joke bands like Pomplamoose, but boy was I wrong. This crew delivered some of the grooviest, funkiest salsa I've heard live in a long time. Rooted in the classic Fania records of Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe, with a modern funk and hip-hop edge. Their covers are totally kitschy - "Roxanne," the aforementioned Pink Panther theme - but musically they work.
Then it was off to Slavic Soul Party. I've been meaning to see this Balkan brass band of Brooklynites for years, and they pulled no punches in their 9 pm set. Furious amounts of energy, tremendous precision by the trumpeters in their ornamentation, and the loudest tuba I have ever heard, played by the mohawk-sporting Ron Caswell.
Last night was also my first time seeing Dave Douglas' Keystone live. Playing music from the new film collaboration with Bill Morrison, Spark of Being, two things struck me immediately: 1) the absence of DJ Olive (on parental leave, and being subbed by Jeff Countryman behind the scenes); and 2) the similarity between Keystone and Dave's quintet. The instrumentation, obviously, is remarkably similar - Marcus Strickland on tenor, Adam Benjamin on Rhodes, Brad Jones on Baby Bass, and Gene Lake on drums. It's the slight differences in the players from their counterparts in the Quintet that really mark the two bands apart - Strickland has more air around his sound than the razor edge of Donny McCaslin; Benjamin processed his Rhodes with filters and delays that allowed him to be the glue between the band and the sound design; Jones' Baby bass has a hollow sound (and unfortunately wasn't working for most of the show); and Lake is an entirely different beast on kit. But it seems that Douglas' compositional voice is now cohesive across his many projects - the Quintet, Keystone and Brass Ecstasy are all quintessentially Dave.
Based on Morrison's film, which is itself based on Frankenstein, the opening themes had that quality of unpredictable ascension that only Douglas writes. The recurring themes often featured repetitive motivic figures, in one tune sounding like an air raid siren. The repetition of repetition led to a couple of "Epistrophy" quotes - how very meta. In other places, it seemed that Douglas has been checking out J Dilla and Flying Lotus, Lake delivering powerful beats that had Douglas and Strickland in full-out headnod mode. At times it was truly difficult to tell what was Benjamin's processed Rhodes and what samples Countryman was triggering from the stage, and that was truly important: the samples were truly integrated into the band sound. Lake used his powers of chops and gear for good and not ill - there were some pyrotechnic rolls but they were at the service of the music, and very few have a groove as deep. He absolutely nailed the unique swing of Dilla and post-Dilla experimental hip-hop, the Afro-Cuban 12/8 feel that popped up a few times, and the swampy funk and shuffle of the encores.
The first few pieces of Spark of Being were delivered continuously, and I think the music may have even been more effective delivered as a continuous suite or even screened with the film. Even without that, Spark of Being is compelling music and perhaps the most seamless integration of electronics in Douglas' career.