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Hard Proof: Stinger

Joe Gatto By

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Hard Proof tightly fuses sounds from sub-Saharan Africa with adventurous Jazz and deep Funk to stimulate your brain and move your feet. This Austin, Texas based ten-piece collective began by studying the blueprint of Fela Kuti's Africa 70 band, as well as Funk and Jazz from the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. And yet, they're a totally American band—raised on Jazz, Soul, Funk, and Rock music in the USA.

You get to hear all these influences in full force on their superb 2017 record, Stinger, on Modern Outsider Records. Nine furious tracks take you on a rockin' trip around the world musically. Stinger never lets up! Its high-energy vibe will keep you moving—body, mind & soul.

Hard Proof's 100% analog 45rpm LP, The Public Hi-Fi Sessions is easily one of the best albums of 2016. It's a funky Afrobeat adventure that makes you want to go shake your ass with them in a wild Austin music joint.

Stinger picks up right where they left off. And, manages to raise the energy level a couple notches.

The title track sets the standard for things to come. It's an aggressive, genre-bending jam that features stunning baritone sax, and a rocking rhythm section that succinctly leads off the record, letting you know it's going to be a crazy ride.

Next up is "Men Of Trouble," my favorite track because of the funky flute solo followed up by a killer guitar solo to juxtapose the beautiful with the furious. It's like several songs in one—it starts out hinting to a little Ethio-Jazz Funk with an Afrobeat bottom, and Blacksploitation wah-wah. Moody keyboards and tight drumming keep you enthralled throughout.

"A.R.A.S." is a mad-wild percussion & feedback interlude that leads into "Incendiary," which is a brash, brass-based Afrobeat tune. The baritone sax on this one is stunning! Beautiful keyboards restrain the brass heat a little, while the drum & bass carry the groove forward at warp speed. The bold brass on this song will surely light a fire under you.

"Trickle Down" follows it up, and they almost mellow out...until a rip-roaring Rock-based guitar solo adds fuel to the Afrobeat fire. Drums & percussion follow hard, and then their almighty horn section carries you away, grooving on top of the bad-ass beat.

"Boss" is an animating Afrobeat groove that stays closer to the roots of Afrobeat, and yet, they still put their unique stamp on the genre with a resounding, reverby guitar solo, and jazzy horn lines.

"War Gin" is another genre-defying jam with an Afrobeat foundation that they're quick to jump off of. More Rock style guitar soloing reminds you that these guys come from a city famous for phenomenal guitar players. The band grooves so hard that hard Rock sounds never overpower the song, and just serve to take the tune to new heights.

"Lots" shows off Hard Proof's Afro-Funk chops with sublime syncopation and more baritone brilliance. It simply sounds like a tune that must pack the dance floors of Austin when they break this one out.

My other favorite song on Stinger is "Soul Thing." If you've ever imagined what it would be like if Isaac Hayes and Fela Kuti had collaborated on a song in the early 1970s—it would have sounded like this. It's more Stax than Afrobeat, and yet, the West African groove is still in there, with gorgeous trumpet dancing all along, plenty of wah-wah, potent percussion, and Hard Proof's distinctive jamming.

If you like Antibalas, Bixiga 70, Snarky Puppy, Ikebe Shakedown, Jungle Fire, Zongo Junction, The Funk Ark, and Polyrhythmics...you'll love Hard Proof!

Founded in 2008, Hard Proof is a super-group featuring members of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, The Calm Blue Sea, Cougar, Ocote Soul Sounds, the Echocentrics, and several other notable Austin acts. As if they weren't busy enough between Hard Proof and their other bands, the Hard Proof Horns have found work as sidemen with notable acts such as Spoon, Antibalas, Gary Clark Jr., Broken Social Scene, the Walkmen, Dave Matthews Band, Band of Horses and others.

2017 is already shaping up to be a stellar year for eclectic, funky music from around the world. Stinger is starting the year off with a powerful jab of too-cool-to categorize music that will be a valuable addition to any adventurous music lover's vinyl collection.

Track Listing: Stinger; Men Of Trouble; A.R.A.S.; Incendiary; Trickle Down; Boss; War Gin; Lots; Soul Thing.

Personnel: Aaron Sleator: guitar; Derek Phelps: trumpet; Gerardo Larios: guitar, keyboard; Jason Frey: tenor saxophone; Joe Sokolik: bass; John Branch: guitar, keyboards; Joseph Woullard: baritone saxophone, flute; Stephen Bidwell: drums, percussion; Tony Cruz: congas; Tommy Spampinato: percussion.

Title: Stinger | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Modern Outsider


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