WORDS BY CHRIS ARWADY | PHOTOS BY FASSBINDER PHOTOGRAPHY
Attention shoppers: this past Black Friday was your chance to get up and get down. On a twin bill juxtaposing the hard-hitting contemporary dancehall funk of Turkuaz and the laid-back grooves of the New Mastersounds, Chicago’s Park West crackled with electricity. Those attending filtered in slowly as they shook off the holiday’s tryptophan overdose, but livened up quickly and filled the venue nearly to capacity by the end of Turkuaz’ 90-minute set. Gaining steam throughout the night, the crowd remained through the night until the 1:30am encore, which featured members of both bands.
Turkuaz started off the night hot and only got hotter, dazzling the audience with intricate horn arrangements, 70s-soul synchronized dance moves, and a raucous, ass-shaking rhythm section that featured percussionist Nate Werth of Snarky Puppy alongside bassist Taylor Shell and drummer Michelangelo Carubba. The up-and-coming Brooklyn-based nine-piece has been billed as the leaders of a new funk revolution, alongside Pimps of Joytime, Escort, and co-headliners the New Mastersounds.
Turkuaz is far beyond a typical funk band (if such a thing exists) – the group is loaded with accomplished musicians led by singer-guitarist (and tonight’s birthday boy) Dave Brandwein, who looks like my accountant but growls and purrs like a mountain lion in a turquoise blazer. Heavily influenced by both the past and present, Turkuaz’ output, including the newly-released Digitonium, incorporates elements of Sly & the Family Stone, the Talking Heads, War, and Parliament-Funkadelic, among others. With a setlist heavy on new tunes, plus a couple of covers – Hot Chocolate’s “Everyone’s A Winner,” sung by the magnetic duo of Shira Elias and Sammi Garett, and Joe Cocker’s take on Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright,” performed by Josh Schwartz, who put down his bari sax for a tune to nail not only Cocker’s gritty vocal, but also his idiosyncratic flailing dance moves – Turkuaz set quite a high bar for the evening.
Not to be outdone, the New Mastersounds took to the stage at around 11:30 and eased the crowd into a steady, simmering groove. The UK-based Mastersounds, a quartet of jazz stalwarts with the rhythmic flexibility and capability of the Meters and Galactic, are elder statesmen on the neo-funk scene and widely respected throughout the industry as “musician’s musicians.” Guitarist and bandleader Eddie Roberts guided the band with flawless tone and technique through a review of the group’s extensive catalogue, complemented by the virtuosic Hammond B3 organ of Joe Tatton and a hard-hitting rhythm section featuring Pete Shand and Simon Allen, who are so deep in the pocket with one another that they might honestly be sharing a brain.
Later in their set, the New Mastersounds called up various members of Turkuaz as well as Chicago’s own Parris Fleming of The Heard to sit in on an eclectic array of covers. Included among these was Shira Elias, who returned to the stage with the Turkuaz horn section to nail “Never Did I Stop Loving You,” a barnstorming Alice Clark deep cut from the early 70s that left me shaking my head in pure bliss. Josh Schwartz also took the mike on Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles,” a personal favorite of mine that kept the crowd on their feet and bouncing in time.
Closing the all-night affair, both bands returned to the stage for a 1:30 AM encore, performing a pair of collaboratively-written tunes, “On The Border” and “The Rules.” The former, with a catchy call-and-response refrain, evokes “Mothership Connection”-era P-Funk, while the latter feels more like a tightly-constructed Meters tune, down to the mid-verse stop-times and a bass line that doesn’t so much walk as it sashays up and down the neck.
All night long, both Turkuaz and the New Mastersounds rocked the Park West, giving life and new meaning to the glittering disco ball suspended from the venue’s elegant rotunda. In an unpredictable world, these two bands are modern funk evangelists, and the people are listening.
Percy Thrills the Moondog
Everyone’s a Winner
Gogo Mr. Dodo
Looking Tough, Feeling Good
New Mastersounds Setlist
Take What You Need
Made For Pleasure
You Got It All
Never Did I Stop Loving You
It Ain’t Fair But It’s Fun
Will It Go Round In Circles
One Note Brown
On The Border