This fall, the UK-based modern-day legends of funk known as The New Mastersounds have been teaming up with Turkuaz, a Brooklyn-based nine-piece funk machine that has been garnering growing praise every step of the way.
Both bands are cresting on the waves of their latest discs. The New Mastersounds' is called The Nashville Session and was released earlier this year, Turkuaz dubbed their 2015 effort Digitonium.
The tour kicked off the first week in October with several nights in Colorado, and they have been on the road since. In fact, even at 35 shows in two months they still have 15 shows in December before their massive 50 date run is completed.
A handful of shows featured only one of the two acts such as Turkuaz’ October appearance at Hillberry Music Festival and the select Texas dates surrounding the Arkansas fest. But for the most part, every night has been an onslaught full of unique collaborations, reinventions of classic funk gospels and an all-around good time.
For (nearly) the entirety of November, the two bands actually came up with a scheme to increase the average amount of funk delivered to your soul on a nightly basis with the special guest addition of percussionist Nate Werth of Snarky Puppy.
Falling right in the middle of the three-month run, over the weekend of November 11 and 12, the show returned to the San Francisco Bay Area for a show at the new UC Theatre in Berkley and an appearance at the legendary Fillmore. The last time these two bands were in California was over the 4th of July weekend for the 26th High Sierra Music Festival. The bands found time on that trip to make it into an Oakland studio where they tracked a special edition 7-inch vinyl to be made available on tour. The two-track disc features the bands covering one of the others’ originals.
On November 11 in San Francisco, the crowd had a high-energy bubble that murmured and grew until Turkuaz took the stage shortly after 9PM. The set opened with “20 Dollar Bill” and “Chatte Lunatique”, a pair of tracks from their 2011 self-titled album, Turkuaz, before tapping their most recent body of work with “Percy Thrills The Moondog” from 2015’s Digitonium.
By the fourth song in the set, Turkuaz (holding down a roster of 10 including Werth on percussion) welcomed famed Talking Heads keyboardist and guitar player Jerry Harrison and his daughter Aishlin on stage for a funkified, high-octane and nearly ten minute take on the Talking Heads’ 1978 tune “Take Me To The River” from the album More Songs About Buildings and Food.
“Coast To Coast” was an appropriate tune to move into, celebrating their third trip to the West Coast this year. The tune came ahead of “Future 86”, the title track from the 2014 album of the same name. One of the best parts about getting funky with Turkuaz is that there is never a guarantee that the crowd is having the most fun – all nine members of Turkuaz have an infectiously upbeat chemistry with one another and it is clear that they wouldn’t trade what they do on stage for anything and the fact that it is so visible in their faces makes it extra easy to pick up what they’re laying down.
They took their time to really layer the groove in every song, giving each member an opportunity to have a say before moving onto another section and by the time they returned to Digitonium for a triple-threat combination of “Digital Love”, “The Generator” and “Nightswimming”, The Fillmore was dipping and swaying as one unit as baritone sax vocalist Josh Schwartz channeled his inner Joe Cocker for a jaw dropping steal of the spotlight.
Bassist Taylor Shell dominated the second cover of the set, Hot Chocolate’s 1978 funk track “Everyone’s A Winner” from the album of the same name. That was followed by two Turkuaz OG barnburners to close the set. “Lookin’ Tough, Feelin’ Good” from Zerbert kicked off with a slow, nearly sinister melody fit for the next Bond flick. A flurry of descending keyboard melodies between Chris Brouwers and Brodhead a la Ray Manzarek took the jam into a new space as a furious jazz-laden guitar showcase from Craig Brodhead launched the 12-minute track into full swing.
For the final song of the set, “Monkey Fingers”, Dave Brandewein and Werth traded intense start-stop sections with the vibrant horns. Spot on choreography and timing, including freezing in place or jumping in unison, ensured there was never a single dull moment onstage no matter which of the ten people you attempted to focus on.
At 11:15 sharp, 45 minutes after Turkuaz ended, The New Mastersounds took the stage and launched into a heavily-themed California setlist, beginning with “Way out West” from their 2012 album Out On The Fault Line. They moved into two selections from their 2015 release, Made For Pleasure: the title track, and the celebratory party-themed boogie “Cigar Time”.
A half-hour and 3 songs in saw the quartet move into a pair of tracks from 2009’s Ten Years On and really loosen things up. A nearly ten-minute “MRG” entered familiar territory and drew on “Fly Like An Eagle” layering of synth sounds.
Nate Werth returned to the stage for the next few songs: a funky take on “Dusty Groove” and “Take What You Need” from 2011’s Breaks On The Border. Watching the mastery of each musician as they poked and prodded each other to take the spotlight was truly special to watch.
After Werth left the stage, drummer Simon Allen engaged in a bombastic assault of a drum solo on “The Vandenburg Suite” from the second volume of An Introduction To The New Mastersounds before they moved into the next West Coast love song, “San Frantico”.
“You Mess Me Up” from Fault Line was one of the last tracks of originals in the set and also the last song they played without a sit in from members of Turkuaz or Werth, starting with The Fabulous Originals 1971 single “It Ain’t Fair But It’s Fun” featuring Schwartz, Brouwers on trumpet and tenor saxophonist Greg Sanderson.
Turkuaz’s yellow-clad vocalist Shira Elias joined the ensemble to do justice on Alice Clark’s “Never Did I Stop Loving You.”
Each of the guests left, except for Sanderson. He stuck around to lend his saxophone skills to the 1981 tune “All Wrapped Up” by The Evasions. The New Mastersounds’ guitarist Eddie Roberts and Sanderson kept trading each other solos note for note in a furiously squeal laden battle.
Following the heat was a track that appeared on The New Mastersounds’ 2000 disc, Live At La Cova: “You Got It All” and drummer Simon Allen relinquished his throne to Turkuaz’ Michael Carubba for the tune. For the closer, the band re-assembled, all the horns came back out and Werth moved to his percussion set up for “Nervous” – the same track that closes The New Mastersounds’ Live in San Francisco disc from 2009.
Unfortunately, the band did not return for an encore, ending the three-hour party just before midnight. Not even an hour later they had what was essentially a third, late-night collaborative set across the street at The Boom Boom Room – a venue that is not afraid to keep the party going as late as 3AM – especially when it’s the kind of party Turkuaz and The New Mastersounds throw.