By way of introduction, Alex Tyshkov, guitarist, singer, band leader said, “We’re Kiwi. We play ska, reggae, R&B, funk, rock steady, roots music.”
The quintet – also including bass, drums, trumpet and saxophone – then immediately rolled into a totally engaging, ska-a-fied version of Night Train, the southern soul horn riffs blending astutely with the Caribbean rhythm. Ska and Reggae may come from an afro-Caribbean place but those musicians were also influenced by the Soul and R&B classic sound of the 50s and 60s. Kiwi reminded us that the genres are kindred. All tributaries flow from one great muddy river.
The band was tight, laying down fat grooves for a set that was an exhilarating exhibition of sheer exuberance. The music had a bounce that was as optimistic as it was irresistible. Real high level of musicianship, but the expertise never overshadowed the grooves, which is how it should be.
I recognized Alex and Matt Maley, the baritone saxophone player from the One & Nines, J.C.’s rock & soul band (where Alex played bass), blogged about here. The trumpet player was playing the first gig with the band. I was unable to remember his name, or the names of the bass player and drummer and couldn’t seem to ascertain them via their website, sorry. Alex said that some of the band mates hadn’t made it so maybe the ensemble is larger than five.
The set was heavy on reggae, but veering away from the redundancy the genre can be prone to. They were not Jamaican traditionalists. The guitar playing had a jazzy lilt. The horns mixed it up. The Jamaican dance hall rhythms may have dominated, but there was some fun to be had in straying from form. The jams included interludes of intricate improvising that would not be out of place in jazz.
Reggae covers – obscure ones I couldn’t immediately identify – were followed by the Gershwin standard, “You Can’t Take That Away From Me,” claiming this old piano bar chestnut for the Caribbean. The trumpet player’s solo here was exceptional. A memorable, highly imaginative rendition that made your hands clap, your lips smile and your hips sway.
Later in the set, the ska-a-fication movement continued with Mona Lisa, the Conway Twitty classic whose best known version is the ultimate make-out take by Nat King Cole. Here, the dance-ability was heightened with tropical-infused grooves.
Throughout the set, audience members moved to the music. Ska-Reggae-R&B – the whole Rock Steady family of song – may be about love, liberation and liberty – but its main mission is to move the body. After a romantic song sung in Portuguese, the final song was a reggae cover –Chatterbox. Hot but not humid, red streaks of sunset faded into night as the set concluded on the last act of this week’s Groove on Grove. More and more people were dancing in the space in front of the stage. Some couples in embrace others folks just solo bopping and gyrating. Bustin moves they call it, or at least used to. As folks lost themselves to their own glee, it looked like a mosh pit of Muppets. Responding to the beat, physically melding with the groove, moving just for the pleasure of moving. Dancing for the sake of the dance.
How can you not do what your body asks when the warm air is so filled with rhythm?