Aug 25, 2010

The Budos Band III - A bunch of reviews


You gotta be careful around snakes. The cobra poised to strike on the cover of The Budos Band III signifies that they are nine bad-asses and they have made a spooky record. But at a recent outdoor performance in Chicago sponsored by the Old Town School of Folk Music, the between-song stage patter about the snake they found in their van nearly sunk the show. Meandering and bereft of punch lines, the un-jokes made you wonder if the backstage consumption of leafy greens had gotten out of hand. Of course, all would have been forgiven if the music had connected, but it took them way too long to settle into their groove, which is a deadly thing when you’re a groove band.

So how come this album, which was recorded live in the studio and whose songs featured prominently at the concert, works so much better? It may sound paradoxical to say so, but good production is the answer. Engineer Bosco Mann’s work here exemplifies the principal that it’s better to capture the sound right than to try to fix it in the mix. Then you can spend the mix getting the balance right, making some sounds stand out and others blend just right.

Such is the case here; this record simply sounds right. It’s hard to deny the sensual pleasures of “Black Venom,” the baritone sax edges just a hair ahead of the rest of the horn section, and the haunted house organ hangs in the background, ready to grab a moment of space and say “gotcha” like your old buddy did halfway through that tour of the haunted house back in eighth grade.

A peek at the Budos website shows that they wanted this to be a doomy record, and also a more self-referential one that sounded more like the Budos Band and not so much like variations on the equation Mulatu Astatke + the Daktaris + Booker T and the MGs. They failed on the latter count; should you play “Nature’s Wrath” and not think Ethiopiques, there’s either a problem with your record collection or with your associative processes. But the tune’s minor key moodiness and the liberal echo placed on the brass sounds eerie enough that it might earn a late night slot in your DJ’s Halloween party mix, so give ‘em a mission accomplished on the spooky count. And for old-time Budos appreciators, there are other tracks, like “Mark of the Unnamed” and “Rite of the Ancients,” where the band mixes up the listening and grooving elements so that they’ll sound as good on the dance-floor as on your hi-fi.

By Bill Meyer

Predictability is underrated. Just about every band we love eventually undergoes a transformation-- sometimes it excites us, sometimes it pisses us off. And when a band covers the same ground repeatedly on their first few albums, sometimes that's a blessing, especially if what they were doing on their debut was invigorating right out the gate. The Budos Band are one of those groups. Their 2005 debut plied a particularly up-front take on retro funk, one that compacted Afrobeat, Latin soul, and James Brown into brief but highly danceable instrumentals. So did their second album. And so does their third. You could throw The Budos Band III in with the band's previous two LPs-- titled, with a convenient uniformity, The Budos Band and The Budos Band II-- and come up with 32 songs that all sound like they could have been cut in the same session.

Fortunately, that theoretical session makes up one of the more ferocious bodies of old-school funk revivalism in the last few years. Maybe it's the stark imagery of their album artwork at play here-- this is their second sleeve in a row featuring a creature name-checked in Five Deadly Venoms-- but the Budos' music often has this undercurrent of cinematic martial artistry to it. They keep everything tight, showing brutal knockout efficiency that thrives on limber call-and-response riffs and unceasing percussive motion. If you're out walking and you throw on a cut like "Unbroken, Unshaven" or "Golden Dunes" you'll find yourself stepping up your pace to meet it. And then you might find yourself wanting to do something with your hands-- attempting to punch through marble, for instance, or carrying 50-pound jugs of water up six flights of stairs. This is a band so tight and in tune that they've basically become this telepathically-communicating instrumental hydra that ambushes you into moving your body on its terms.

It's a fine balance between playing to your strengths and recklessly charging ahead on familiar instinct. A couple of tracks wind up sounding like vague rewrites; "Nature's Wrath" in particular has a marked melodic similarity to The Budos Band II highlight "Origin of Man". But other times, they come up with something even more interesting when they go back to their idea well. There was an inside-out twist of the Temptations' "My Girl" on II that turned a breezy love song into a minor-chord skulk that rode on tension, moodiness, and implicit jealously (hence the new title-- "His Girl"). Here, they pull the same stunt with "Reppirt Yad" (read it backwards), though turning circa-1965 Beatles into weaselly, blade-flashing kingpin theme.


Brooklyn’s Daptone Records usually signs acts that mine American funk of the mid-’60s to early ’70s, but Staten Island 10-piece The Budos Band steeps itself far more in ’70s African funk-rock. On The Budos Band III, Jared Tankel’s baritone sax and Andrew Greene’s trumpet (along with guests Dave Guy on trumpet and Daisy Sugarman on flute) frequently adopt the smoky tonality of the grooves found on Buda Musique’s Éthiopiques compilations, dominating cuts like “Raja Haje” and “Budos Dirge.” (The latter’s title belies its dramatic forward motion and cutting brass.) Budos doesn’t skimp on percussion, either: There are four cowbell-conga-etc. players alongside trap drummer Brian Profilio, and together, they add extra layers to a sound already thick with horns and rollicking roller-rink organ, which sets the scene on “The River Serpentine” and “Crimson Skies.” Whoever has the spotlight at any given point, III is The Budos Band’s most confident-sounding album, like a soundtrack to a Shaft In Africa if it were actually made in Africa.


The Budos Band are an entirely instrumental group fluctuating between ten and thirteen members on any given day. But onstage, at least, baritone sax player Jared Tankel plays the de facto frontman by frequently addressing the audience in between songs. And homeboy drops F-bombs to such excess (e.g. “our new fucking record has a big motherfucking cobra on it!”) that one gets the impression that he’s either a) purposely performing a send up of unbridled rock and roll machismo, or b) just really, really stoked to be a member of the Budos Band.

The latter seems more likely, if only because the brothers Budos are on a serious roll right now. They’ve just released their third and most confident album to date, and might even be threatening to eclipse Sharon Jones & the Dapkings as Daptone’s most reliable go-to for retro soul awesomeness. (The two bands share members; it’s a friendly competition). The safest description of their self-categorized “Afro-soul” is to call them the soundtrack to a blaxploitation film crossed with Fela’s brand of Afro-beat—and there is nothing wrong with that. Both of these things are universally accepted as awesome, and the Budos Band are wise not to mess with the winning formula that drove the previous two (excellent) albums: oodles of Latin percussion driven by fiendish bass lines and a tremendously tight horn section. They don’t attempt to add vocals or electronics, and their beards are not worn in the name of throwback Americana. They are very aware of their strengths, and play to them.

To their credit, they also don’t make you wait for the goods. After a vaguely Steve Miller Band-ish blast of farfisa organ, “Rite of the Ancients” immediately deposits the listener into the thick of a high speed car chase through ghetto streets, driven by a fiercely pulsating guitar line and lead trumpet melody that will lodge in your skull for weeks. “Black Venom” maintains this intensity via an ominous, four note descending bass motif that runs throughout the song, and a phenomenal opening trifecta is rounded out by “River Serpentine.” This one is less cop-movie and more soul ballad, akin to the soundtrack from the original Rocky, or like something from comparatively mellow Daptone label mates Menahan Street Band.

The majority of Budos Band songs keep to a time-honored formula: a solitary guitar line kicks things off, followed by the percussion section, and then the horns carry the melody and proceed to level everything within a city block. But both the tempos and levels of spookiness are varied enough to keep things interesting, and on “Raja Haje” it even sounds like the guitar and drums are operating in two entirely different time signatures (nice false ending, too). Unlike on Budos Band II(2007), there’s no noticeable drop off in quality between the first and second halves of the album, and III even gives a closing glimpse at the band’s sense of humor on the mysteriously titled “Reppirt Yad,” a very stoned cover that sounds like it was unearthed from the ganja-charred remains of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark Studio.

Like every act on their parent label, the Budos Band aren’t so much breaking new ground as simply playing the hell out of their chosen genre. They know they’re at the top of their game, and have no qualms about flaunting it. They’ve rapidly become the standard bearers for the funkiest of instrumental soul, and III suggests they could keep doing this thing for several albums before it even begins to approach boring. We should all be as similarly stoked.


Holy afro-soul-pysch-funk! Or, something like that. Staten Island’s resident afro-beat funksters, The Budos Band, have returned for their third full-length installment, appropriately titled The Budos Band III. It’s rather difficult to classify the brand of music that The Budos Band creates, as the ten-plus musicians foray into nearly every musical territory possible. Although the music is sprawling, it is nonetheless fascinating in every sense – relentlessly begging its listeners’ ears for more attention.

One thing is for sure. As anyone who has followed the career of The Budos Band will know, this group loves its horns, especially trumpets, and this album is no exception. It may be said that the true root of this music lies in its rhythms (punching basslines and crafty drum sequences that openly invite world influences), however the music here is actually driven by the melodies from the horn section.

The reliance on horns is quite bold, and it also acts as a gift and a curse. Upon first listen, the not-so-subtle melodies make the music at once catchy and memorable. It wouldn’t be a stretch to find yourself humming one of the 11 tunes somewhere away from the record. However, the insistence on blaring horns also poses limitations. At times the horns become such the forefront of the music that the deeper percussive sequences – which are at times astonishingly brilliant – may be lost without detailed listening. The Budos Band is at its best when it finds a healthy balance between its melodies and percussive instruments, or even when it substitutes trumpets for a saxophone, which lends a jazzier feel to the music (see: “Unbroken, Unshaven”).

Despite its short playtime (38 minutes), The Budos Band III, fulfills most of the listeners wants. Keeping the album on the shorter end is a wise choice here, because it ensures that the music does not become trite and redundant, which may be a possibility had it gone much further. That said, The Budos Band III is a remarkably cohesive album, and despite the lack of surprises, it’s one tremendously enjoyable listen.


After two well-received full-lengths and an EP, Staten Island's Budos Band return with III in 2010. The group's first two recordings walked a loose tightrope line between the modern jazzed-up Afro-beat sound of Antibalas and the soulful good-time funk groove of Sugarman 3. It's also true that while they fit the Daptone label's groove-centric aesthetic, III reveals a new direction, offering the view that they are also something other. This 11-song set, recorded in 48 hours, offers a darker, more spacious tinge. Elements of psychedelic, Middle Eastern, and even Latin sounds have entered their mix, without sacrificing their dance party cachet. The opening "Rite of the Ancients," "Black Venom," "Unbroken, Unshaven," and "Mark of the Unnamed" all feel like they could have been instrumental interludes in a '70s blaxploitation flick, but are fully developed harmonic ideas instead of simple vamps. The horn chart on the latter track is a monster, with popping three-way dialogue between baritone saxophonist Jared Tankel, Farfisa organist Mike Deller, and all four percussionists. Also noteworthy is guitarist Thomas Brenneck's reverbed surf sound that introduces the darkly compelling "Nature's Wrath." The horns -- Tankel and two trumpets (tenor man Cochemea Gastelum is absent this time out) -- punch up a minor-key vibe that unwinds around a tense film noir chart and a mariachi melody. Then it gets decorated by Daisy Sugarman's ghostly flute, as the percussionists play around all dimensions of kit man Brian Profilio's breaks; it creates a more spaced-out set of atmospherics without losing the groove -- Deller's organ enters in the final moments as icing on the cake. Other tunes with a more sinister, moodier vibe include "Golden Dunes" and "Budos Dirge," but they too give off plenty of heat and crackling energy. There's a Malian tinge in the Budos' Afro-soul on "Raja Haje," led by Brenneck's guitar. The closer, "Reppirt Yad," is the Beatles' "Day Tripper" given inside-out, upside-down funky treatment in a slower tempo with out atmospherics. "River Serpentine" and "Crimson Skies" are breezier in comparison to the rest and more traditionally Budos, with plenty of butt-shaking WHOMP. This third chapter in the Budos Band's legacy is a giant step forward. That said, for band and listener alike, nothing is lost in this gambit; everything just gets deeper and wider and the payoff is nearly immeasurable.


While the group may not be that creative when it comes to naming their albums (their first record was called Budos Band I, their second was Budos Band II), The Budos Band is quite a bit more adept when it comes to creating killer instrumental grooves. Like on past records, here the ten-piece Staten Island, NY outfit combines elements of Afro-beat and highlife, R&B, ska, and surf-rock into something wholly unique and captivating. Recorded at the Daptone House of Soul studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, the album is thickly layered with all the components of the band’s repertoire — multiple drums, horns and guitars, and an underlying whir of synthesizer — coming together to make a sound that’s as distinctive as it is reminiscent of big bands of the past like the JBs, Egypt ’80 and Orchestra Baobab. On songs like “Golden Dunes” and “Mark of the Unnamed,” the funk the band emits is every bit as nuanced as it is soul-kissed, with guitar reverberations melding with bass thumps, Wurlitzer whines, horn punctuations, and an air of intrigue. It’s this last component that perhaps really sets The Budos Band apart, marking them as men of mystery as much as groove curators.


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