Photo by Andy J. Gordon
When Brooklyn’s Turkuaz and Leeds, England’s New Mastersounds, two of the most compelling funk bands playing right now, announced a co-headlining tour back in August it was a save-the-date event that comes around a couple times a year. In Turkuaz you have a nine-piece powerfunk ensemble that hits fast and hard, the spirit of Sly and The Family Stone and Parliament/Funkadelic coursing through its veins. The New Mastersounds land on a different side of the musical die, delivering smooth R&B and jazz laced instrumentals that fall in the same sonic sphere as Wes Montgomery and The Greyboy Allstars. For the people who filled the Crystal Bay Casino along the shores of Lake Tahoe it was a night of music that lent itself to the proverbial pinches to make sure you weren’t dreaming.
The first band to take the stage was Turkuaz, though consume is probably the more appropriate term. Each of its nine members were decked head to toe in a different color and together they looked like they were off to a technicolor 80’s party in New York City. The already large group had a tenth member with them in Snarky Puppy’s percussionist Nate Werth, priming the set for a definitive one-two punch of incendiary music.
With its arsenal of guitars, keyboards and synths, horns and singers Turkuaz unleashed a multi-faceted funk assault on the eager crowd filling the dance floor. They drew a lot from the brash rhythms and flirty aesthetics of 80’s funk, while also incorporating agile melodies and soulful muscle reminiscent of Sly and Tower of Power. “Gremlins” was a fierce show of dancing force and “Monkey Fingers” had celebratory swagger as keyboardist Chris Brouwers, guitarist Dave Brandwein and guitarist/keyboardist Craig Brodhead all traded solos with each other.
The band was precise in its execution and each member’s contribution was as distinct as the colors popping off their bodies. The latter quality was particularly apparent in the dense tracks they pulled from their latest album Digitonium. With its pedal to the metal, Turkuaz tore through a sinisterly thrilling “Murder Face” as layers of synths, guitars and the riveting harmonies of Brandwein and singers Sammi Garett and Shira Ellias sped by in an intoxicating blur. A similar tone was reached in the Parliamentesque “Percy Thrills The Bird Dog,” with Taylor Shell holding down an elastic rhythm with sturdy finesse that the rest of the band rode with ease.
The highlight of the set came in an exploratory “Future 86.” The juggernaut beginning slipped into a vast jam that led with a crisp guitar solo from Brodhead, eventually giving way to a white-hot part from Brandwein that started as a flicker and ended up bringing the fire back to the rest of the band. It was capped by an exhilarating tit-for-tat percussion battle between Werth and drummer Michaelangelo Carruba that pushed each other into a frenzy. It was a bold set that demolished the crowd into a mass of sweat and smiles.
On most nights that would be enough to hang your hat on. But the New Mastersounds were next in the chamber and drummer Simon Allen, guitarist Eddie Roberts, bassist Pete Shand and organist Joe Tatton fired off a slick set of grooves like a bunch of smooth criminals. Their aura on stage was that of relaxed determination; we’ve done this thousands of times, but damn if we’re not going to tear you up tonight.
That they did. Roberts was as sharp as his perfectly fit suit and matching pocket square, dicing up the frets on “Carrot Juice” as Tatton put his Midas touch on songs like “Treasure” and “Give Me A Minute.” Tatton also led the band in a lively cover of Phish’s “Cars, Trucks, Buses” with Nate Werth joining in on the roundabout commute. Allen and Shand were locked in all night and the way they floated the rhythms to Roberts and Tatton to dance on again proved they are one of the most cohesive rhythm sections in music.
The essential core of this collaboration and tour between Turkuaz and The New Mastersounds was captured towards the end of the Mastersounds’ set. Members of Turkuaz sat off to the side and absorbed drummer Carruba and saxophonist Greg Sanderson jamming with their touring partners on stage. Allen, who had gladly lent his kit to Carruba, stood with a drink in hand and nodded along in the crowd as people danced around him. Everyone was taking in the moment and letting it be ruled by the music. They understood what an opportunity it was to be playing with and admiring such inspirational musicians. It certainly wasn’t lost on the crowd either.