Blue Beat is a new music venue I've been eager to inspect. Gang Of Brothers gave me just the excuse I needed to head down to Double Pay. A civilised and sensible 10pm kickoff meant I was even able to make an appearance at a friend's jazz gig on the other side of the bridge beforehand. First up, Blue Beat doesn't disappoint. It has a degree of sophistication, while being surprisingly short on pretension. It even has a degree of DB heritage values: the banquettes running along the length of the space are redolent of the scarily cacophonous rampage of the 50s espresso machines that dominated the aural landscape of the Hungarian restaurants of my childhood.
I went to see Gang Of Brothers on the strength of my exposure to the Martinez brothers. Well, not just the brothers, but their father, Victor, too: progenitor of multiple musical genius. Martinez (Akustica) is, I suppose, the format I'm most familiar with; one which, typically at least, is comprised of Victor and elder sons, Dauno and Andro. It's a lineup that pays homage, albeit through ostensibly original material to their Chilean roots and Latin American flavours in general.
For some reason, I was expecting Gang Of Brothers to retain some of that piquancy, but the truth is GOB is an out-and-out funk band, comprising the entire complement of Martinez male siblings: Andro, Dauno, Fenix and Banel, along with Buddha-like drummer and lead vocalist Buddy Siolo, Brazilian-born percussionist Sandro Bueno, Grace Senituli on vocals and songwriter, keyboardist and vocalist Lionel Cole (yes, one of THE Coles, who's worked with Mariah Carey, among others, and now graces our shores).
GOB is a full-scale assault on the senses and resistance to dancing is practically useless. And you don't have to be a funk afficionado to relate: their set comprises highly-recognisable tunes from the quality commercial end of the spectrum. In any case we're not talking puritanical funk, as the band crosses over comfortably into the realm of hard rock (witness Andro's blistering, Hendrix-like guitar solos), in the way of Kravitz, Prince, Living Colour; even the Isley or Neville Brothers. All-in-all, the parlance might be passé, but, as they themselves say, their music is seriously phat.
Buddy Siolo sits at the centre, dimpled and smiling, keeping it tight and singing up a storm. it's not so very long since I was privileged enough to catch one of the definitive funk bands of all time (or, as Jagger described 'em, 'the best motherfuckin' band in the world'), in The Meters, featuring Art Neville and George Porter, Junior. So it's definitely a compliment to observe that GOB loses little, or nothing, in terms of the authenticity of their sound, to that immortal, iconic group.
Siolo, alone, is a sensational singer. (We won't mention his boy-band background, with Native Soul, in NZ. Oops!) No, I mean truly sensational, inasmuch as making you feel the sensations of the song as much as he does. He has that invincible, burly sound; the kind that one associates, at the raw, gutsy end, with James Brown, Bootsy Collins, or the aforementioned, but he and GOB have particular affinity with smooth 70s and early 80s sounds: Mighty Fire; Earth, Wind & Fire; Wacko Jacko; et al.
On this particular night, as mentioned, the band were graced by royalty: Lionel Cole. Wikipedia tells you all you need to know to fall to your knees in homage. Pianist (or, more generally, keyboardist), songwriter, composer, editor, supervisor and public speaker! He's toured with Rickie Lee Jones and Mariah Carey (for whom he's co-written at least one chart-topper) and, perhaps, even more famously, has partnered Malcolm-Jamal Warner, to create jazz-funk outfit Miles Long, whose first album, The Many Facets of Superman, featured En Vogue's Cindy Heron and soul sister Teena Marie.
Not bad, eh? And, in case you're wondering, he's the son of renowned, Grammy-nominated jazz singer, Freddy Cole; cousin of Natalie; nephew of Nat.
Better yet, Cole is at least as powerful a vocalist as Siolo, which is saying something. There's no reticence, no backwards in coming forwards, from either and it's almost a healthy competition as to who will blow your mind first.
Bueno certainly makes his presence felt on congas; easily distinguished, despite the onslaught of sound that comes from such a competent, confident octet. Likewise, Senituli is a lovely singer and, for those of us not always entirely disciplined by political correctness, lovely to look at as well.
Underpinning all this stardom, however, are the many Martinez brothers. Andro, pulling it all together, on rhythm guitar which, every so often, explodes into stinging, whiplash lead breaks. Also on guitar, Banel, cutting his swathe, by no means in the shadow of his brother. Fenix fronts up on keys and is soberingly skilful; not least in filling in the bass parts, due to Dauno's lateness. he's worth the wait, though, and as soon as he's plugged-in, he bonds with Buddy to form a watertight, ground zero rhythm unit.
So, what's the material? Platinum-plated, real deal, heart 'n' soul, rhythm 'n' blues classics, sung and played with gusto and belief. If you're into it, you'll swoon at GOB's renditions of Al Green's sublime 'Let's Stay Together' and Marvin Gaye's (speak of the angel-voiced) immortal 'What's Going On?'; ideal companion-pieces that feature all three of the band's vocalists. Attempting such exalted songs would be a fraught business if Buddy, Lionel and Grace weren't so damn fine: pitch-perfect; power-packed; husky and honeyed. It not only works, but thrills. They don't waste time or insult themselves, Green, or the rest of us by trying to be him. Their take is respectful, but their own. Good call.
Tweet won't, perhaps, mean much on paper to you, but her song, Boogie Tonight, is bound to jog your memory if you're, say, latter-day GenX. It's a song definitely rooted in reinvented RnB, with its deep, dirty bass and party-hard sentiment. It grooves and grinds like an X-rated bedroom scene, prefiguring to some extent, your LMFAOs. GOB segue unselfconsciously from baby-boomer classic to neo-classic, making one sound utterly compatible with the other, thanks to their taut, cohesive sound. Grace's vocals lose nothing to the sweet Tweet's either.
Where Do You Want Me To Put It keeps Buddy front-and-centre, singing lead on Solo's 1995 reversion to old-school, with its gospel-like backing. It's the essence of funk, without any affectation. The title might sound crass, but it actually comes across as sexy and loving.
Buddy fronts up for Terence Trent D'arby's Dance Little Sister too and with this, the band really shows what it's made of which is grit, grunt and granite, because they're stone-cold rock-solid and on it. And what better song to follow than Prince's 1999, which still sounds futuristic, even if the date has long since past.
The Isley Brothers' It's Your Thing had me pretty GOBsmacked too (there's your first album title, brothers): not quite the razor-edged rawness of the original, perhaps, but it's up there, out there and down there, where it really counts. Between Fenix and Cole, they even had the brass covered, albeit via keys. Again they've made it their 'thang' and Buddy really punches it out. In terms of prodigy, of course, there's a definite parallel 'tween the Isleys and Martinezes too.
Who remembers Cheryl Lynn? Mmm. I can't see many hands up. But practically everyone (at least those who lived through the 70s) will know To Be Real when they hear it, a tune that could veritably have the legless up and getting their groove on. Grace was up to the task of emulating Lynn's sassiness. And then some.
Again, a blast from the art to the here and very now, in Gynuwine's Pony. Arguably, Buddy does it better.
And that was just the first set. I'd had a big week and wore out early. But, next time, I'd rather fair dinkum forego sleep altogether than miss GOB's other well-chosen and lovingly-crafted material, which includes homages to everyone from Brother Ray (as Jackie O used to call him) to Lucy Pearl; SWV to Stevie; R. Kelly, Snoop and Shaggy.
And you can't just sit back and listen. Lace your dancing does on tight. It's gonna be a big, big night.
Gang of Brothers
Venue: Blue Beat | 16 Cross Street, Double Bay, Sydney
Date: Friday 20 April 2012
Bookings: www.bluebeat.com.au | 02 9328 4411