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Kamasi Washington, Trombone Shorty and George Clinton Kickoff a New Season of Outdoor Music


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The New York City summer music season kicked off with a series of extravagant concerts that turned out large crowds to the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park and Central Park SummerStage presentations. The comfortable temperatures and low humidity created perfect conditions for outdoor events. Perhaps, the crowds were also buoyed by a collective sense of the need to get out and experience live music after two years of living with greatly diminished live music opportunities. The BRIC series opened with a free concert featuring jazz titan and crossover artist Kamasi Washington (June 8, 2022). It attracted an overflow, mostly young audience to the Brooklyn Bandshell. Ravyn Lenae, a young R&B singer-songwriter, opened the show. Lenae is an engaging performer who draws on both old-school soul, and contemporary r&b.

Kamasi Washington is an imposing figure with his large physical stature, ornate flowing African-style robe, thick beard, and a large expansive mane of hair. He can craft ferocious sounds on tenor that conjure up latter-day John Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders and play melodic soul jazz and more modern-day fusion. He appeared with his touring ensemble, including two drummers, his father Rickey Washington on flute, Dontae Winslow on trumpet, Miles Mosley on bass, Brandon Coleman on keyboards, and Patrice Quinn on vocals. The group consisted of outstanding like-minded musicians who followed Washington down various paths or create their own. The set opened with an extended scorching, 15-minute version of a new single, The "Garden Path." The recorded version places greater emphasis on vocals, but the live version featured blistering solos by Washington and other ensemble members. The song would not have appeared out of place on his brilliant and sprawling three-CD debut, The Epic. It was a fitting beginning to a promising concert season.

The SummerStage concert series opened with a performance by [[Herbie Hancock}}, which I was unable to attend. This was followed by an event billed as Trombone Shorty's Voodoo Threauxdown (June 14, 2022). The Threauxdown featured five bands from New Orleans spanning generations headlined by Trombone Shorty. I caught the last two acts, including Tank, led by the indefatigable vocalist Tarriona "Tank" Ball and an excellent and versatile supporting cast. Their music is mostly grounded in modern r&b but also draws on the New Orleans and old-school soul traditions. Ball is a dynamic and immensely charming vocalist. Big Freedia, an innovative New Orleans rapper was a special guest. He introduced a style of hip hop called bounce which involves a call and response. The exchanges with Ball were great fun.

Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, is arguably the hardest working man in showbiz, garnering comparisons to James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. Shorty is a superb trombonist, trumpeter, and vocalist. Above all, he is an electrifying performer with boundless energy and athleticism that is just astonishing. His intensity and energy are matched by his band, most notably excellent tenor saxophonist "BK" Jackson who previously played with Prince. Shorty has also evolved as a songwriter and musical artist. Lifted, an album released in 2022, is arguably his best thus far. The set drew on all phases of his career and included some covers, most notably by influential New Orleans band, The Meters. The music fuses forwarded looking r&b, classic soul, New Orleans brass band, and rock. The performance was spectacular, capping a great night of music.

George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic (P-Funk) brought the One Nation Under a Groove Tour and some heavy-duty funk to Central Park (June 16, 2022). The event was part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival. The headliners were joined by four other bands. I arrived in time to see The Motet featuring guest vocalist Shira Elias, Josh Schwartz (baritone saxophone), and Chris Brouwers (trumpet) from New York-based funk band Turkuaz. The two bands have a history of working and jamming together. The Motet played its own unique brand of "Denver-via-Brooklyn Soul Stew." To paraphrase the late great King Curtis (Curtis Ousley), the stew requires a pint of bass, a pound of fatback drums, four tablespoons of grooving horns, and a pinch of keyboards. Place on the burner and bring to a boil. The Motet cuts a deep groove propelled by outstanding bassist Garrett Sayers and drummer Dave Watts. Schwartz, Brouwers, and saxophonist Drew Sayers give shape to a Tower of Power-like horn-driven funk. Elias can sing in a silky-smooth voice but can also bring the funk.

Blu Eye Extinction is a hardcore funk, hip-hop, punk, metal, and free jazz group led by front man, rapper, vocalist, and trombonist TJ Johnson. They performed an incredibly high-intensity high-energy short set that just killed.

There is no worldly experience like a P-Funk All-star spectacle. At the height of their popularity in the 1970s, a performance may include as many as 40 musicians on stage, resulting in barely controlled chaos and, often, musical brilliance. On this night, they included a comparatively modest total of 15-16 musicians on stage. George Clinton and Parliament's history dates back more than 60 years. The current incarnation of P-Funk includes approximately four generations of the band and three generations of Clintons. Clinton, who will soon be 81, came out of retirement to relaunch the Mothership. He was in great form, running around the stage, cheering on the soloists, urging the crowd, and singing some of the time. He also narrated We-Funk radio ("P-Funk (Make My Funk the P-Funk")) to hilarious effect.

There were at least five dedicated vocalists, and all the other musicians sang, creating a joyous noise. The music incorporated rap and more modern r&b elements. But the sound was squarely rooted in 1970s funk that Clinton and P-Funk were instrumental in inventing by adding a dose of psychedelic rock to soul and jazz-tinged Afro-futurism. In an interview in Nuvo, Clinton is quoted "Me and [[Sun Ra}} and Jimi Hendrix we were eating at the same lunch counter." P-Funk has produced innumerable sampled funk beats that have served as the "DNA of hip hop."

On stage, their signature sound was propelled by hard-driving rhythms, jazz-inspired horns, and a multitude of voices. The performance was characterized by constant motion, passages of instrumental brilliance furnished by the horn section, guitarist Michael Hampton (a P-Funker since 1975), and others, as well as endless audience sing-alongs ("we want the funk, give up the funk") and punctuated with occasional hilarity. There were stretches where the groove meandered for too long and too many crowd exhortations to "make some noise." But most of it was just fantastic. They played a greatest hits show with many highlights including, "Flashlight," "P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)," "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off this Sucker)," and "Up for the Down Stroke," which were all superb. They had been playing "Maggot Brain" (a great psychedelic classic from 1971) on this tour but did not play it last night.

SummerStage has a strict 10pm curfew and P-Funk's nearly two-hour set had to come to a halt. The ending of the concert coincided with a fabulous (unrelated) fireworks display in the distance. It was a fitting end to a magnificent night of great grooves and soulful rocking music.
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