Alice Smith, Citizen Cope, George Porter Jr., and Billy Martin Elevate Bowlive to New Heights
Photos by Dino Perucci
Over the course of a ten-night residency, the law of averages suggests that at least one of those nights will be a cut above the rest. The eighth night of Soulive’s run at Brooklyn Bowl threw down the gauntlet challenging the next final two nights of Bowlive to top what may have been the high point of the two-week event. Announced guests included singers Citizen Cope and Alice Smith, as well as veteran jazz-funksters Billy Martin (Medeski Martin & Wood) and George Porter Jr. (The Meters), and resident Brooklyn Bowl DJ Questlove (The Roots). The evening also boasted surprise sit-ins from previous guests Kofi Burbridge and Skerik.
The night kicked off with a set from Royal Family regular Alecia Chakour Band. The band features a number of talented musicians including Neal Evans, James Casey, and the young phenom Miles Arntzen (Antibalas, Superhuman Happiness). Chakour delivered a set of her signature r&b inflected soul to a responsive crowd, and welcomed the first guest of the evening, with Burbridge adding flute to the song “Surely.”
Soulive hit the stage shortly after Chakour’s set, launching in to a strong rendition of the live staple “Dig”, with a solo from Neal Evans that teased Leon Haywood’s “I Want’a Do Something Freaky To You” and Lettuce’s “Mr. Yancey”. Unlike previous nights, this was the only “solo” Soulive performance of the evening, as Burbridge was invited back out to battle Krasno on the vintage Soulive gem “Shaheed”. The winds kept blowing as Burbridge made way for the Shady Horns (comprised of Casey, Eric Bloom, and Ryan Zoidis) to beef up the arrangement on “El Ron.” The set then switched gears in to “singer mode,” with the first announced guest of the evening, Citizen Cope, joining the trio for a pair of his own songs, with a “brand new song” tossed in between. Cope and Soulive were then joined by Alice Smith, who duetted with Cope on the last of his tunes for the night, “107 Degrees.” Smith remained onstage as Cope vacated the spotlight for the evening, delivering a powerful rendition of Cee-Lo’s “Fool For You” that managed to overcome the singer-unfriendly sound mix. The Shady Horns returned to take Smith’s place, for a burning “Tuesday Night’s Squad,” featuring extended solos from Zoidis and the combo of Neal Evans and Nigel Hall, to close the set in furious fashion.
The second set is where things took a turn for the supremely funky, kicking off with guests Porter Jr., The Shady Horns (plus Burbridge and Skerik), Questlove, and Martin joining Krasno and Neal Evans through a slamming version of The Meters’ classic “Just Kissed My Baby.” At this point, Krasno suggests that the setlist is being thrown out, as an obvious spur-of-the-moment decision is made to have Martin replace Questlove on the drums (Al Evans came on stage at this point, initially intending to take his throne behind the drums, but instead opting to add some Telecaster to the mix) as Porter launched in to another Meters standard “Hey Pocky A-Way,” which subtly segued in to a take on “Funkify Your Life.”
The band stripped down to just the trio with Martin and Porter for more Meters jamming, leading in to a Hall-assisted take on “Africa”, during which Skerik rejoined the group for a noticeably funky solo incorporating bits of his own “Nalgas Sin Carne” (which exists in recorded form on Stanton Moore’s All Kooked Out). Another “stripped down” jam followed, with a bass solo from Porter teasing “Purple Haze,” before morphing in to a jam on James Brown’s “Ain’t It Funky Now” to close out the set. In lieu of an encore, the band turned the night over to Questlove for his regular Bowl Train DJ night, on this occasion featuring a set of exclusively “dark era” James Brown tunes, responding to a challenge issued earlier in the evening by Hall, and egged on via Twitter by jazz bassist Christian McBride.
The penultimate evening of Bowlive III is tonight, with scheduled guests Ledisi, George Porter Jr., Nigel Hall, and Alecia Chakour.