If you are a Leisure Chief fan, or a Tanqueray’s fan, or a funk jazz fan, and you are anywhere near Orlando, you had better get your bad self to Tanq’s tonight (Thursday, June 23). This is the last night of Leisure Chief’s long Thursday night residency, and it promises to be special.
The LC boys tore the figurative roof off the Blueberry Patch last night. It was a Wednesday, but the Patch was slammed, and people were riveted by the two great sets of music they played last night. I often complain about audiences not paying enough attention to what’s happening on stage. That was NOT the case last night!
PK said it best: IT WAS ORGASMIC!
It was truly great seeing the crowd react so positively to a jazz show with funky overtones. Here’s betting we’ll see more jazz there in the future. They jumped out immediately with a straight-up jazz number, “Glide,” followed by a pair of Lettuce covers, both really chunky funky. Jordan Garno, the “new kid” on guitar, had a great solo, as did Christian Ryan (alto sax all evening), and Keegan Matthews, this time on organ. Jordan threw out some great spacy guitar in at the end.
The next couple of songs penned by drummer Derek Engstrom required him to sing. Despite being under the weather, he handled “Weekend” and “Annie” well. It certainly didn’t affect his drumming one bit. Matthews had a great outing on synthesizer.
The band is a study in contrasts. Matthews and Ryan are fairly stoic, while Engstrom and bassist Chris McMullen are dancing all over (yes, Engstrom dances in his kit chair). For Garno, this was his fifth or sixth performance with the band, so he was a bit less animated than when he plays with Serotonic and with The Third Kind.
When I reviewed the band’s recent album King of Nothing (read it here), I was not able to listen on a quality stereo or good headphones. I commented that McMullen is a great player, even though I had less to say about him than the rest of the band. Last night, however, he was MVP, one badass bass player with a huge grin. He lit up every tune, as he did on the band’s shortened Purple Hatter’s Ball beach set (I missed the long late-night jam).
After “Annie,” they played one of my favorites of the evening, “Afroesque.” This was fitting, as it was the last tune at PHB before the lightning interrupted. Ryan had a great solo, Matthews and McMullen bubbling underneath. McMullen took a great solo, the kind I like: within the context of the song, Ryan on percussion. Matthews went wild on the synthesizer for the coda.
A Vulfpeck cover, “It Gets Funkier III,” was met with great applause. An excellent Rhodes solo led to an extended solo from Ryan using his effects pedal, giving the alto that Eddie Harris effect, electrified magic. Garno’s solo included a “Jessica” tease.
In the album review, I struggled to define the band’s sound, but I suggested it was Steely Dan-type jazz. How fitting then for them to cover “Black Cow!” They close set one with a new tune, “Saturday,” featuring Engstrom’s vocals, similar in vibe to “Weekend.” Ryan and Matthews added great harmony vocals.
Another of their monster tunes is “Grandmaster,” and it was clear that set two would eclipse the first, Matthews with a fine Rhodes solo. He soloed on Rhodes and synthesizer on his composition “Solitude.” “Reinvent” was a really uptempo tune sung by Engstrom, whose drumming was so on point, and that segued into “Barcode.”
“This Here” was another straight-up jazz romp, with Ryan and Matthews on organ soloing, then Matthews and Garno wrangling, and finally an Engstrom drum feature, again tasteful and in the context of the song.
They whipped out an old Buster Keaton tune they often play, “Curves,” with concise solos from Ryan and Matthews (synth). The vocal chorus was reminiscent of Gil Scott-Heron’s “B Movie” vamp. They closed with “Ghost Peppers,” Garno getting the last word with a fine solo.
The band plans some heavy woodshedding after tonight’s show at Tanqueray’s in order to allow Garno to get more comfortable with all of the band’s material, continue to write new music, and proceed with the plan to become a successful touring band. BE THERE.
Of course, I didn’t go home right away. The early curfew for electric music at the Patch demanded that I head down to the Ringside Cafe to check out Funk-Shui. It was absolutely the right decision. The quartet has three Ajeva boys: Mark Mayea, keyboards; Taylor Gilchrist, bass; and Travis Young, drums; along with Elliot Dickinson, guitar and vocals, playing (per Taylor) “your favorite old-school funk/soul/R&B booty-shaking tunes!”
Which was accurate. They were knocking out “September” as I arrived. Next up was a nice long version of “Long Train Running” with a nice guitar solo. Gilchrist and Young make a superb rhythm section. Young certainly has great flair, but some of these tunes required the simple approach, and that’s exactly what he took.
Reed Skahill plays in Ajeva and commented that he rarely gets to “hear” these guys when they play together. We marveled at Mayea. I am convinced he can do anything, perhaps the most talented keyboard player in the area along with Matt Giancola (OK, and Bryan Lewis and Jon Richardson). We are so blessed in this area and in Florida.
There were some more recent tunes I didn’t know that they played well and were well-received by those in attendance, but the single tune that stood me on my ear was a dynamic, uptempo reading of Miles Davis’ “So What.” WOW. WOW. WOW.
The set also included “Boogie On, Reggae Woman,” “I Got You (I Feel Good),” and “Move On Up.” Dickinson has a chameleon-like voice, not unlike Skahill’s, able to hit that near-falsetto when needed, very effective. I also loved their hard-charging version of “Cissy Strut.”
Catch Funk-Shui every other Wednesday at the Ringside (the next two would be July 6 and July 20). Just plain fun. Bring your dancing shoes!
[LEISURE CHIEF 1: Glide, Break Out > Relax, Weekend, Annie, Afroesque, It Gets Funkier III, Black Cow, Saturday; 2: Grandmaster, Solitude, Reinvent, Barcode, This Here, Curves, Ghost Peppers]
Photographs by kind permission of Kelly-Ann Garno and Kari Cat