Archive for July 28th, 2008
The year is 1970. James Brown has just released his single “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine.” One year earlier, Sly and the Family Stone changed the funk world forever with their masterpiece Stand! It feels like funk is on the verge of being the soundtrack to solve all of the world’s ills, a reminder to keep strong and keep optimistic in an era of increasing national unrest. Along comes Breakestra, the natural culmination of the urgent need to combat despair through music.
Wait. That’s not it.
The year is 1993. This “hip-hop” thing is emerging from a street undercurrent to a prominent social and political voice. Groups like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest are pushing hip hop forward as a true art form and a forum to combat the negativity and violence prevalent in American street culture, with language steeped in both fire and love, and a gave both forward and backward to the funk forebears to whom they derived philosophical lineage. In the midst of this changing musical landscape, Breakestra emerges, melding the best of funk optimism with a very 1993 hip-hop sense of beat dynamics.
That’s not it either.
The true story:
Breakestra was formed in 1996 as a jam session by leader Miles Tackett, and released their first full-length, The Live Mix Part 1, in 1999. The child of a shared love of aforementioned early 1990s hip-hop and 1960s-1970s funk, their second album, 2001’s The Live Mix Part 2 captures both sounds completely and effortlessly. So-named for its hybrid production featuring live intrumentals performed by the band, sampled and mixed and then retranslated for live playing to capture both the breakbeat, sampled concepts of their hip-hop heroes along with the soul inherent to live funk. The album starts off with a 9-track break mix sampling the varied talents of Herbie Hancock and Jimmy Smith among others. The mix takes on a life of its own, and if I may indulge in a blasphemous moment of hyperbole here, manages to exceed the sum of its prestigious parts (no small feat). The rest of the album plays largely as a best-of set of funk covers, reinterpreted here for a post hip-hop generation, but maintaining the raw soul of the original compositions. While this could have easily resulted in the kind of underwhelming triteness seemingly inherent to a “covers” album, the tracks take on a life of their own in this context, momentarily making you forget that these aren’t original works through the earnestness of the performance. Truly great funk of this magnitude hasn’t come around in a very long time, and The Live Mix Part 2 will make you believe in 1970. Or 1996. Or 2001. Whatever.