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Published: 2005/06/26
by Randy Ray

Baraka, McDuffy’s, Tempe, AZ- 6/17

Baraka The Tale of Two Stages Tempe, AZ – 4/29 & 6/17/05

TLG: Set 1 was so strong that during the break, I almost forgot Tea Leaf Green would play a second one. I felt greedy in a way. Ran into the guitarist from Barakaan acid jazz comboand promised to come see his band later in the next month or two. He wrote his band’s website down on the back of a flyer and I stuffed it in my pocket. I love this scenepeople know the only thing that matters is the music and if you stay awake long enough, you just might hear a few tunes you wouldn’t expect a little After Midnight. Who said the world came to an end with Phish at Big Cypress?

STS9: The Apple Computers came out in full force at this point as the Rise and Rise of the Sound Tribe Sector 9 Empire resembled some sort of weird triumphant band of Alexander’s finest entering Egypt. Keys waltz this mix downwards, as Phipps steadies the ride back to Earth Proper. The 2nd set ended. I looked around at the euphoric masses. Tai Chi began again. Hey, we had an encore coming up. "Baraka" was played in a wonderfully synchronistic nod to the great Arizona acid jazz band of the same name all of the members were in attendance on this evening. Thoughtful motif – patient journey-forward jam – hyperspace-asunder in a tension-and-release tapestry straight out of nowhere…yesh.

Two separate reviews, the first about Tea Leaf Green's Tempe Sail Inn appearance on 3/2/05; the second, STS9's 4/12/05 stop at Tempe's Marquee Theatre. Both had Baraka moments that would expand into a time when I would catch the band on two separate occasions in two different performances presenting two exciting points of view that rarely occur for a music journalist covering many shows over a short period of time.

Baraka 4/29/05 Sail Inn Tempe, AZ
Notes from the front of the stage. Rotating cat near drum set. Purple lights on the body, orange lights on the claws, green eyes, white teeth. Hey, the cat brushes. Stickers on the drum kit: Ear, Drunken Immortals, Delta Nove, The Noodles, Mojo Farmers, Particle, Marley, The Motet, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Gelatinous Groove, Signal Path the band has opened for both Particle and Signal Path during their visits to the Sun Devil State…

"Knight Rider Theme" is rolled out with a short, spacey funk wind up. I never thought I'd think this piece of music was cool, but they've made it swing. Nary a sighting of David Hasselhoff or Kit, mind you, just plain old funked up chicken shack groove. "Hollywood DC" had a rolling stiletto reggae feel that you really can't hear anywhere else but within the Baraka matrix. Ditto the extraordinary lines of "D-Jam" featuring Brendan Shannon on loops, samples, noises and manipulations as he played a very elastic, sexy and warm guitar with a unique tone that is enhanced by the expert interloping bass notes of Jelani Canser. Marc Gunn played the drums as if he was directing the band while the other two bounced in and around a very intoxicating melody. The drums sank inwards touching the beat, moving it forward and paralleling the driving sounds of guitar and bass – the type of groove you wish would last 45 minutes…"D-Jam" a masterpiece of controlled tension, trance development and jam-funk dichotomy.

"Himalayan Funk" would move the trance to a heavy dance vibe that went down very well. Canser whipped out a hyperspace-fast bass-driven funk monster that dipped down a notch into a free form jam based on both his speed and Shannon's guitar licks. Amazing. Shannon patiently arced more notes into the sonic conversation with a super whiplash guitar sound that escalated into a fantastic jam. Drums, hot; bass, consistent; guitar, incredibly inventive. Canser finally sat down on a chair so he could hit as many notes as possible. The whole funked-out trip teleported everyone into a euphoric state that somehow touched down into a drums & vocal performance from Gunn with a cool little righteous hip-hop toaster. "Ricky's Theme" closed the First Set with echoed guitar, plucked & curt bass notes and steady drums, as always. By the end of that set, I was wondering how long I would get to see these guys in such an intimate setting. Same vibe I felt as TLG. Completely different style of music, but the feeling was that these cats were offering something original, played with great passion and only needed to find a wider audience. It was at that point, I made a mental note: hmmm…wonder if these guys can consistently pull this sort of thing off…

Second set began with 21st Century porn soul and some great buttery guitar lines on "Lotus." Shannon's got me hooked. Best guitarist I've heard in quite a while. Why? Because he's having an exciting conversation with his guitar, the band, himself, the audience and the chick across the way and he never once interrupts anyone elsea wonderful tone that warms while challenging me to get off my ass and dance.

Fuck the notes. Let's party.

The closing "Soul Commotion>Sex Machine>Super Bad (I Got Soul)" features Canser, Shannon and Gunn playing really tight rhythm and funk as James Brown speeded up to a punk epiphany that is just gorgeous. I wrote TIGHT-TIGHT-TIGHT' across the last page of my notebook as I raced across the visual floor trying to keep mental time with the trio. Solid show by a band worth following just about anywhere.

So I did. Onwards…

Baraka 6/17/05 McDuffy’s Tempe, AZ
I had just got back from Bonnaroo and I was a little worn out after the 24/7 wall-to-wall onslaught of glorious music from the 4th Annual Festival to End All Festivals. Furthermore, I didn't think I'd have the energy to focus on another set by anyone. Better be a damned good reason to leave the house. Funny how reality adjusts perception, eh?

Baraka opened up with a very cool "Intro Groove" which also happened to serve as a sound check. This initial vibe seemed to dominate the entire show. Unlike the non-stop JB on an expanded Soul Train Midnight Special feel of the April gig, the McDuffy's twin sets defined patient, open communication that focused on mature, twisting directions that were intriguing and mysterious. The party got a little more serious, but I felt like they had made a giant leap forward in just two months.

The "Knight Rider>Something Reggae>Tell Me Something Good" opener was a bit more elastic as the band seemed to take turns echoing the notes played seconds before. Fascinating how each member would turn a phrase, never treading on the other's thoughts. Whereas Shannon appeared to dominate in a subtle way in April, now he was much more willing to become even more elusive within the mix. The notes were surprising; played again with a nod to deep focus and experimentation welded together with a hell of lot of talent. Canser weaved notes into a jazzy drums 'n bass feel throughout especially on the "Superstitition>Jay-Z" combo. "What'd I Say" segued into Primus' "Beaver" into "Rose Rouge" which featured another new direction for Baraka as they curled around a smoky groove laid down by Shannon. "Jam #1"an untitled new songoffered tasty riffs which bumped into the ecstatic textures of "Himalayan Funk": fast, aggressive, I wanna drink & screw' music. Baraka at its best.

And drink they did. Set break after the fantastic melancholoic grooves of the initial hour, the band sank a shot down their throats as I looked on…oh what the hell, I was completely sober at Bonnaroo, I took a shot too as my T-shirt barked out an expletive. (Black Tee with Trey flipping the bird at the camera while the name WILSON is emblazoned across his shirt. Sort of a sick joke after his Roo appearance).

The Second Set featured more of a new Baraka sound that had an interesting synthesis of futuristic ambience, space music, porno funk, acid jazz, subtle melodies and Brian Eno meets Curtis Mayfield audio architecture. "Intro Groove>Ricky's Theme>If You Want Me to Stay>Hollywood D.C." kicked off the set as the band dialed the deep groove into the speakers and took offif you were not along for the trip, you were coming anyway: another ecstatic stowaway kidnapped for a night of Funk-a-licious Tone Explorations.

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