Michael Jackson Afrobeat Tribute
Featuring Ben Darwish, Commotion, and Excellent Gentlemen
The funk of forty thousand years wafted through Holocene last night, as Commotion revamped their Afrobeat Tribute to Michael Jackson. With an ensemble of ten talented musicians from around the world, the result was nothing short of a respectful shout out to some of funks most celebrated figures.
Opening last night’s funk proceedings was none other than Portland’s own Excellent Gentlemen. Originally from New York, this five-man troupe consists of Jefferson Sechs, Steveland Swatkins, David Valentine, Dominic Phenomenal, and PJ Snaxx.
Influenced by East coast neo-soul and hip-hop, Excellent Gentlemen sound like the love child of Zapp, Chromeo, and Prince. Just take a listen to tracks like “Get Down Baby,” and witness old school funk at its finest. Note the use of the Heil Talkbox; the very same vocal effect that was made popular by Zapp, and Peter Frampton in the seventies and eighties. The result is nothing short of a throw back to “More Bounce To The Ounce”.
Ben Darwish is something of a musical genius. After receiving academic awards ranging from “Outstanding Undergraduate Performer in Jazz Studies,” to “ASCAP’s Young Jazz Composer Award,” Darwish moved to Portland with the intention of developing as an artist. Subsequently, he has done just that with the formation of Portland’s most incendiary funk band, Commotion.
Drawing inspiration from hip-hop, soul, funk, and most notably afrobeat, Commotion has fused the afro inspired rhythms of Fela Kuti with pops most well known songs: those of the late, great Michael Jackson. It should come as no surprise then that the music of both these incredible artist should complement each other so perfectly, as both share inherent qualities to which make them so damn good: funky bass melodies on top of syncopated rhythmic structures.
Both Tahirah Memory and Gretchen Mitchell accompanied Darwish on vocals last night; and in the spirit of all things Michael, these ladies paid homage to the king of pop with expert renditions of “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” and “Thriller”. With their soulful vocal performance this diva duo brought with them a lascivious, feminine swag that incited inhibited bouts of dancing, coupled with wild fits of jubilation.
Funk is all about foundation, and Commotion has created a sound foundation upon the instrumental prowess of Sam Howard on bass, Cameron Morgan on guitar, Neindow Mashud on percussion, and Ji Tanzer on drums. It was a common expression last night among attendees that Commotion “was in the pocket,’ to which admittedly they were. For all those unaware of this esoteric term, just take a listen to “Sippy Cup” from their March performance at Goodfoot.
Fortunately for Ben Darwish, Portland has no shortage of talented horn players, to which on any given night Darwish culls from the cream of the crop. Last night’s performance played host to Brooks Barnett on trumpet, Tim Willcox on sax, and Mary Sue Tobin on baritone sax. With such talent punctuating every accent, and accentuating every melody, it’s no wonder Commotion has garnered the reputation of best funk group in the city.