Antibalas Get By with a Little Help from Their Friends

Posted on Thursday March 10th in

Photos courtesy of Pat Tabb

Antibalas are inspired by Fela Kuti and the Afrobeat sounds he made so beloved, but “inspired by” in this case is way more important a distinction than “sounds like.” If you listen closely to all the musicians weaving in and out of their vibrant fabric, you hear very New York City flavors of experimental music. You hear ageless funk, you hear snatches of ideas from all walks and different corners of the avant-garde, from around the world — and you’re once again consumed by that universal idea that groove-heavy music with ace musicians ready to serve that groove and take it in interesting directions is something that’s nourishing, something loved from Brooklyn to Tokyo and Lagos to Paris.
Antibalas :: 2016.03.09 :: Brooklyn Bowl

Antibalas are the ideal band to hold down a regular residency at Brooklyn Bowl. It’s not just a reliable experience, this once-per-month thing, it’s also reliably different, in that you know you’re going to get fully fleshed-out versions of Antibalas staples and also new ideas or not-much-played selections, and that you’re going to get interesting guest musicians who usually begin by pulling the Antibalas collective into their orbits but then yield to the tidal wave–strong power of the ensemble, fitting what they do in as one more collaborative spirit. Or, put another way: When you’re stepping onstage with an ensemble of more than a dozen musicians ready to groove, bounce ideas off one another, and improvise both within and apart from the groupthink, you have no choice but to fit in. And that’s how it went last night, which began with four roiling Antibalas originals, including “Dirt and Blood” and “Dirty Money,” and then added Steven Bernstein and, later, Brian Jackson to further shake up things. Bernstein, a legend of experimental jazz in NYC, not least with Sex Mob, split his time between conducting the ensemble and coloring its music with his own slide-trumpet invocations.
Antibalas :: 2016.03.09 :: Brooklyn Bowl

The result, including on Bernstein’s “7 Bars” and Sex Mob chestnut “Mothra,” was a union of Afrobeat, downtown jazz, worldly fusion, and, as the ensemble whipped into a sonic paroxysm — horns battling guitars, wading in organ and keyboard effects, all underpinned by drums, percussion, and bass — something even close to noise rock. (The effect following “7 Bars,” which, built layer by layer like someone gradually yelling louder down a wind tunnel, was an audience bursting into spontaneous applause, suitably blown away.) Jackson’s injection — he came on late in the second half of the two-hour set — was potent in both similar and different ways. Positioned at the front of the stage with his flute, Jackson, who is best known for his association with Gil Scott-Heron, coaxed beauty and portent out of a series of collaborations with the broader band, including Antibalas’ own “Tattletale.” By then it was one more a welcome strand of a shared, connective tissue: sounds that shouldn’t just announce themselves and be pleasant but serve as provocations, fiery and interesting. And if that’s the group’s M.O., “guests” fade away. They’re all Antibalas. —Chad Berndtson | @cberndtson

(The Antibalas Brooklyn Bowl residency continues on April 20th, May 18th, and June 15th.)


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