Wicked Knee, Sullivan Hall, New York, NY – 5/11
A band over a decade in the making took the stage for the first time ever at New York City’s Sullivan Hall on Wednesday May 11th. With sheet music in hand and crash course huddles in between songs, the new to the scene Wicked Knee proved that this band is not just a side project. With all the pre show chatter it was apparent that most people in attendance were drawn to the show because of Billy Martin, and although Billy was in fine form and on point as always, it was Steven Bernstein on trumpets, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone and Marcus Rojas on the tuba that stole the show.
Starting the set with “Congo March” off their new EP, Wicked Knee brought a bit of Mardi Gras to New York City with Billy Martin laying down a steady groove on the snare as the horns blared with that New Orleans flare. On the next tune Marcus Rojas showed that on the tuba, he rivals any bass guitarist as he played a funky bass line that just opened the door for Billy to jam off. With Marcus and Billy feeding off one another in came Curtis Fowlkes with a squealing trombone solo that you’d swear was a trumpet.
The next song began with a quick and deliberate roll on the snare before opening up into the classic Fletcher Henderson tune “Sugarfoot Stomp.” Featuring a very smooth trombone solo by Curtis and a general laid back swing, the popular tune was executed with perfection and proves that some things are just timeless.
Playing in a style that many in attendance were accustomed to hearing, Billy began “Cry” off their new EP with some imaginative off-time drumming that led into a slow New Orleans crawl. Halfway through, the tune settled down and had that New Orleans drawl going to a tee. Taking everyone by surprise Marcus began playing a spacey solo where he sounded as if he was growling into his instrument almost as if he was playing a didgeridoo; throughout the night Marcus continued to show what an accomplished and experimental artist is capable of doing with the tuba, truly eye opening. After a quick verse of “Happy Birthday” to his wife, Billy explained that the next tune was selected as a result of her opening his ears to new music. With Billy banging out the distinctive drumbeat, Steven, Curtis and Marcus handled the guitar line of “The Hardest Button to Button” by the White Stripes.
With a nod to Jimi Hendrix, one of the highlights of the show was “Manic Depression.” As Billy laced into the drums he set off a call and response type of section between the horns that settled into the main groove of the song. As Steven Bernstein showed his chops on the slide trumpet, Curtis joined him as they laid down the signature “Manic Depression” riff; the crowd showed their appreciation by screaming the riff back in full force. To ease things down a bit next they offered their take on “Yasisa Bambuta” which Billy cited as being a classic Congolese song. The song was absolutely beautiful as it had a very soft sensual sway and featured some of the coolest trombone played by Curtis all night.
All along throughout the night Billy would stop in between songs and explain the history of how the members of the band knew and worked with each other in various formats. As the saying goes, some things get better with time and perhaps the many years these talented individuals spent as musical acquaintances playing here in such acts as the Lounge Lizards, Sex Mob, MMW, Spanish Fly and elsewhere here and there served them best. When the people onstage appear to be having just as much fun as those dancing their hearts out in the audience, you know there is something special going on.