Shark NATO on a Plane
Funk Shui NYC is a 15-piece ensemble led by co-leaders trombonist Rob Susman and bari sax/flutist Dave Morgan. They are ostensibly a jazz unit but it’s their wide-ranging repertoire that sets them apart. The five tunes composed by band members here ring with funk, classic rock and film music influences as do the span of covers with songs by George Harrison, Cream, George Gershwin, and Allen Toussaint. It’s a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s all about creating unbridled energy and fun. Even the weird title would indicate that this is anything but conventional big band fare.
Susman and Morgan offer commentary on each track beginning with the opening pun laden title track. Inspired by Hollywood film comedy horror, its content is exaggerated until it reaches a farcical climax. The 1950’s style radio jingle theme rhythmically turns on itself. The groove blends Latin, Rock and odd street beat rhythms. It’s like Bo Diddley playing a Greek Wedding. This is a danceable tune if you don’t think too much. Dave Morgan on baritone sax and Rob Susman on trombone are the soloists.
“July Groove/September Funk” is co-written by guitarist Noel Cohen and Dave Morgan co-authored this tribute to the slick funkiness of the seventies. Building from an easy rhythm section groove featuring Noel’s sly guitar to a trombone/tenor tune, “July/September” reflects on the lazy days of summer meeting the first coolness of autumn. Bryan Davis’ fiery trumpet and Charles Lee’s soulful alto solos light up the track.
“What Barney? (The Barney Miller Theme)” contains the melodic line that has long been one of the most iconic themes for electric bass players, although it bears a striking resemblance to a riff at the end of James Taylor’s “Rock and Roll is Music Now”. Set to a hip-hop beat, the material has been inspired by “Barney” and also by brief quotes from Miles Davis’ trumpet solo from ‘So What’. The soloists, Dave Morgan on baritone sax, Noel Cohen on guitar, Stan Killian on tenor sax, and Seneca Black on trumpet gradually take the feel from Hip Hop to Rock to Jazz to…something else?
Gershwin’s “Summertime” may be one of the most covered tunes of all time because it lends itself to so many interpretations and different kinds of arrangements, whether done vocally of instrumentally. Naturally, Funk Shui NYC puts an interesting spin on it. Trumpeter Chris Anderson arranged it starting with a Santana style Latin Rock beat that morphs into a traditional Conjunto. John Isley plays the tenor solo followed by Chris Anderson on trumpet. The rhythm section shows off some Latin music street cred as well.
“Into the Fourth Dimension” is a double entendre, conflating the musical interval of a perfect Fourth and the notion of traveling to another element of time and space. Are those two things really that different anyway? Rhythmic rigidity and free Jazz went on a blind date. Composer Rob Susman originally wrote this is as an homage to mid-century sci fi movies and television shows but is also a vehicle for trumpet soloist Seneca Black and the dynamic rhythm section.
“Professional Development” opens with a Dan Asher bass solo, It’s a conversation between varied combinations of the horns, punctuated by Peter Grant’s sizzling snare and Noel’s infectious groove. Stan Killian’s muscular tenor sax and Jordan Hirsch’s plunger trumpet solos are featured. The tune features angular lines and concludes with saxes melting down.
“Rock Bottom” is another co-write from Cohen and Rob Susman. The Edgar Winter ‘Frankenstein’ inspired opening, hard driving main riff and Allman Brothers influenced Afro-Cuban rock section exist in a marriage of Noel’s gift for melody and Rob’s skills as an arranger and orchestrator. Chris Hemingway on alto sax and Noel Cohen on guitar are the soloists.
We all recall George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” from The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour. As expected, the band has tons of fun with this one, blurring the lines between major and minor chords and channeling the psychedelia. Susman’s arrangement features a trumpet solo by Chris Anderson, a funky lounge groove, Hindustani tablas, and of course some haziness. Susman is the trombone soloist.
You’re likely curious as to which Cream song would be fit for a large jazz ensemble. The band goes to the first Cream album for “I Feel Free” as a tribute to Ginger Baker. Morgan arranged this ‘live” crowd pleaser, creating the setting for Seneca Black’s lyrical lead trumpet playing and combustible dialogue of dueling alto saxes Chris Hemingway and Charles Lee. It opens with Dave’s bari sax groove and closes with a short vocal.
Another familiar tune is Allen Toussaint’s “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky.” Sussman creates a retro lounge inspired arrangement, plays the catchy title chant on trombone and is soon joined by section mate Scott Burrows. After a conversation between the two trombonists, Rex Benincasa and Peter Grant show off their funkiness on percussion and drums respectively.
Again, we’re indebted to Sussman and Morgan for the notes about each tune. Funk Shui NYC is danceable, creative, and uplifting. The familiar covers may even draw those who are not typically big band fans. It’s all about having fun via dazzling musicianship.