On a cold but beautiful Saturday in the one and only Williamsburg of NYC, Brooklyn certainly came alive. Maybe not so visibly from the street view, but within the walls of The Hall at MP, the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and the Brooklyn Bowl, over 50 artists joined to form over 15 collaborative sets of jaw-dropping music for the indoor music festival on October 22, Brooklyn Comes Alive, which ranged from some of the finest funk, to sharp hip-hop, dance rock and more.
Holly Bowling opened up festivities at The Hall at MP. There is literally nothing quite like Bowling’s musical project, as she transforms jam favorites from the likes of Phish and The Grateful Dead into breathtaking piano pieces. A favorite for many listeners of her set was the sweeping, segued versions of “Birdsong” into “Piper.” Towards the end of her performance Bowling dove into some grittier, bang-out playing of “The Other One,” then chilled it back out eventually with “The Squirming Coil.” To close out the first set of the day, she brought up Elise Testone, an on-the-rise singer with a gorgeous growl of a voice, to sing on an ultra-charming “Sugaree.”
Those that raged yesterday’s monumental day of inter-dispersed jamming know that, in great part, keys were the name of the game. Many sets happened to feature multiple keyboardists playing simultaneously on stage together, all to awesome results. But the first band of the day to let this particular instrument wail was Organ Freeman, a group freshly new to the scene that has nonetheless been charming ears for sure. As people were finishing up their breezy brunch-time meals in The Hall at MP, this power-funk trio raised the energy level to an immediate high with some heavy but suave grooving. What they also demonstrated well was something characterizing a lot of the event’s collaborative efforts: that, in a great jam session, individually, more freeform playing can shine bright when paired musically with other freeform playing (rather than just squaring themselves into the typical positions of a rock band).
DJ Logic put together an interesting group of players, with phenom keyboardist Steve Molitz, former Dopapod drummer Scotty Zwang, and Lespecial bass-wiz Luke Bemand forming his band. It was an interesting set because of the way they paired disco-oriented funk with a heavy, almost garage rock sound. Bemand in particular was shaking the walls of the Music Hall with his super-heavy bass. DJ Logic fit in neatly, especially beside Motlitz’s keyboard work that seemed to channel the feel of their grooves.
Having played a few shows now, the incredible and unique musical concept known as Electric Beethoven have quite a buzz about them, and they stole the early afternoon with a resoundingly strong set. That was the agreed word around the streets of Brooklyn, at least. The project, founded and lead by bassist Reed Mathis, interprets the classical masterpieces of Beethoven into funky and explorative live jam sessions. Though this Brooklyn set waged a much bigger and heavier feel than previous performances, it retained a very uplifting, happy sound to it, in part due to the dreamy way Mathis explores his way up and down the bass. Jamming on the composer’s 3rd and 6th symphonies, they took a few of the improv-laiden areas into really celebratory territory. Jason Hann, who would help close down Brooklyn Comes Alive with his own drum-centered jam out, Rythmatronix, sat in here as a cool surprise, and helped drummer Jay Lane create a nicely percussive background.
Mathis gave a brief explanation of what this new group basically does—it was no lecture on classical music theory, but rather an awesome, inspired sentiment about what enjoying and interpreting music to one’s interests and one’s own vision means, as well as a plea to “take music back for ourselves again.”
The tribute to producer and rapper J Dilla also, by the word around, far exceeded people’s expectations with some ultra smooth, and at times emotionally rich, interpretations of this legend’s body of work. Featuring members of Lettuce, along with trumpeter Maurice Brown and Break Science DJ and keyboardist Borahm Lee, the band cemented a nicely rounded out sound for itself. Vocalist Chauncey Yearwood took helm here and rapped in fine form on many of the tracks.
Brooklyn, was obviously getting one-of-a-kind supergroups left and right, but the act that could really claim the term legendary brought two and two brothers, Alan and Neal Evans alongside Oteil and Kofi Burbridge, in one monster band. Called the All Brothers Band, the result of this matching up was improv-loaded jams that veered far and between what was sometimes the smooth and delicate touch of jazz and other times a crazily psychedelic sound. Dual keyboardists Neal Evans and Kofi Burbidge bounced different tones and licks off one another, while their respective brothers tunneled in the rhythm section at breakneck speeds. Their set-ending jam was some the purest, truest funk to be heard.
Down the street at the Brooklyn Bowl at the very same time, four other household names were laying down some equally formidable music: Joe Russo, Scott Metzger, Andy Hess, and Robert Walter joined up to play a rocking set, that found its appeal in an immaculately clean and polished feel. So polished that one might believe they perform together all the time. Russo and Metzger’s combining styles brought a noticeable JRAD sound, but Walter’s jazzier work on keys help to round it out for something unique. A high point of the entire day had to be this act’s huge crowd chorusing The Beatles’ “Daytripper” while the band jammed on it instrumentally.
Another group that was no-doubt facing some lofty expectations was Breaking Biscuits, featuring Aaron Magner and Marc Brownstein of the Disco Biscuits with Adam Deitch and Borham Lee of Break Science. Their jams, while riding some seriously danceable rails, also ran deep and explorative, without ever losing their cohesiveness. At points, Magner and Lee traded off some of the crispiest keyboard playing to be heard the whole night. This performance channeled one of the beloved things about Biscuit material, and found in their jams something very similar to the Beethoven set: uplifting, feel-good music.
Earth, Wind and Power, the largest supergroup of the day, conjured up what looked like the largest crowd of the event, with the Brooklyn Bowl inviting in a massive audience that filled all the space from the stage rail to the front door. Based on the dancing that broke out immediately, it was easy to see that the crowd was satisfied in full. Nth Power’s lead singer Nick Cassarino shone in particular on both vocals and guitar, throwing his ebullient personality into the mix for this tribute to one music history’s great bands. A stellar horn section, consisting of Lettuce’s Ryan Zoidis and Eric Benny Bloom, Natalie Cressman, and sax guru Skerik had a huge task, but melded together to do it up right.
Written by Miles Hurley
Photographs by Daniel Stein