Front Page Reviews & AIR
Soulful Funk in the City
On a sultry summer night in late June the hot funk-soul-jazz ensemble band Breakestra laid down some heavy classic soul tracks as well as a few of their own. The eight or nine members of the band (it was hard to keep track) didn’t disappoint, dishing out the two-stepping goodness and Motown vibes throughout their energetic set. At first, Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, New York seemed an odd venue to be letting loose to the band’s funkadelic jams. However, the former-iron-foundry-turned-bowling-alley, concert venue, and restaurant, with its exposed brick walls, open floor format, and all the bathrooms a girl can hope for, turned out to be the perfect place to encounter Breakestra’s eclectic sound for the first time.
Based out of Los Angeles, the band formed in the late 90s. A cover band then, Breakestra got their start playing soul, jazz, and funk from the late 60s and 70s—music that the Golden Age of Hip Hop sampled in the 80s and 90s. But the band was less Public Enemy than Sly and the Family Stone, and they began laying down their own tracks on the 2005 album Hit the Floor, with Ubiquity Records. In 2009, they released Dusk Till Dawn.
Only two original members (“Music Man” Miles Tackett and vocalist Mixmaster Wolf) still tour with the band, but longevity isn’t the reason most musicians have joined Breakestra. Instead, playing with the band is described as obtaining a “degree in funk”—a tenure, if you will, that often launches members into other star-studded projects. As the band’s bio notes, “Original members of the Breakestra have gone on to either play or write songs for/with the Black Eyed Peas, Macy Gray, The Rebirth, Dakah, [and] the list goes on.” A graduate program in funk-form, Breakestra exudes a free-form, organic style. Their music is infectious: you can’t stop dancing once Afrodyete “the african goddess of funky soul & love-vocals & percussion” gets up on stage and starts to beckon.
With a crisp flute overlaying a fine funk jam (which included a jazzy drum solo) “Burgundy Blues”—off Hit the Floor (2005)—encouraged upbeat grooving with a touch of mellowness necessary in the early summer heat of New York City. But perhaps the most feel-good moment of the night came when Breakestra returned to their cover band origins with a version of Charles Wright’s sensational “Express Yourself.” With its rhythmically swinging horns, optimistic lyrics, and Afrodyete’s soaring voice, “Express Yourself” encapsulates Breakestra’s commitment to funk: to make “Joyful Noise,” as one song off their latest album Dusk Till Dawn (2009) suggests.