EMFfringe wraps up its 2010 season with a blast of funk

by Ryan Snyder

It should come as no surprise that the last weekend of July is the hottest of the entire summer, but a pair of scorching bands from the Big Easy hit Elm Street to bump the Mercury to Orleanian levels. The Eastern Music Festival’s increasingly popular offshoot EMFfringe wrapped up its eighth season on July 30 and 31 with the Joe Krown Trio and Bonerama. They’re two distinctly different bands at their core, but both are devout catalysts of the sounds of the greatest musical city in the world.

How great is it? It’s a city where worldclass musicians hang out on street corners busking for change and the Maple Leaf charges eight bucks a head to see the pure fire laid down at the Joe Krown Trio’s weekly Sunday night gig. Not only do you get an evening of some of the finest jazz, soul and R&B there, but it also includes “free boiled shrimp and exotic meats” on top of it. While barbeque and gumbo wasn’t on the menu for the trio’s show at Triad Stage that Friday evening, a completely unpredictable set was.

Sharing the stage with fellow New Orleans luminaries Russell Batiste, Jr. on drums and singer/guitarist Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Krown directed his unit through all corners of the funkosphere.

In an opening set that started with a stripped-down version of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” that featured a wicked kick from Batiste, the Trio went soul-heavy down the stretch with Johnny Taylor’s “My Last Two Cents” and Sam Cooke’s “Steal Away,” both of which marvelously mixed Washington’s gravelly, sonorous voice with periods of funky instrumental improv.

The greatest thing out this trio is not simply the absurd amount of talent between the three players, nor their impeccably tasteful selections, but how they communicate with each other on stage. Krown is the pivot point, no doubt, but Batiste and Washington always know exactly when to both assert themselves and let their bandmates do the talking. Krown softened his wizardly right hand while Washington crooned out Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” though his lefthanded bass accents were still there giving the piece the necessary groove.

The ever-eccentric Batiste was given the floor a couple of times in the second set to pound out a pair of drum solos that veered into hard rock and back to funk the moment he deftly toggled his grip mid-beat. He addressed the crowd through a good dose of helium, insisting the indolent crowd get to their feet for the show closing “Hokey Pokey.” They complied, but only proved to be the single most embarrassing group of dancers outside of a dozen Kate Gosselin clones.

The footwork was decidedly better the following night, however, as power brass ensemble Bonerama (pronounced bone-uhrama, sickos) displayed a decidedly different face of the Big Easy’s preservational spirit. Former Harry Connick, Jr. trombonists Craig Klein and Mark Mullins can play trad with the best of them — their harmonies on “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Down By the Riverside” were sublime — but it’s the way they can interlace Ernie K-Doe’s “A Certain Girl” with Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean” or Chris Kenner’s “Something You Got” with the Beatle’s “Helter Skelter” that makes them such a marvelous live act. The cumulative volume of Bonerama’s triple-trombone attack can generate as much sheer volume as Edgar Winter’s “Frankstein” and Sabbath’s “The Wizard” needed, but the voices of Mullins and Klein lent an entirely different dimension in their own regards. With distinct similarities to that of Robert Palmer and Huey Lewis respectively, their lilt on the aforementioned K-Doe cover completely took the room back in time.

The band was cooking, indeed, which made it a bit of a faux pas that chefs from Bin 33 decided to set up shop in the back of the room, passing out free samples from the perpetually-being-built restaurant’s menu. The ribs were nice and juicy with an Asian zing, but the mussels weren’t given nearly enough time in the pan and the butter-drenched toast points were thoroughly unappetizing, in case anyone is wondering. In any event, none were really worth the unnecessary distraction from the show.

With scuttlebutt circulating among veteran Eastern Music Festival volunteers that many in the festival’s classical camp decrying the existence of EMFfringe, you have to wonder whether fringe isn’t to be progressively splintered from the parental organization in future editions. It’s far too great of an event with too many excellent bookings to go away entirely, but classical music simply adults in the future, EMF’s bread and butter doesn’t have the audience it used to have. is going to be in band’s like the Joe Krown Without an increasingly unlikely revival of Trio and Bonerama. The sooner that’s real- interest in chamber and pops among young ized, the better it will be for all of us.