Music News

Sample and Hold

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So you might be maddened by the fact that none of the tracks are credited, and no source is given for that 12-second sample you remember from some Tribe Called Quest record, and leave it at that . . . or you can grab that DJ buddy of yours, the one with the crate of obscure 45s under the bed, and go find out where the hell it came from. As with most worthwhile knowledge, familiarizing oneself with Breakestra's brand of funk costs time and effort, but the payoff is sweet and long-lasting.

Miles Tackett should know. "This kind of stuff was never the mainstream," he says. "Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown . . . those guys were popular, but mostly this kind of music never got big in the general culture."

Not until the b-boys and DJs picked up on it, that is. Until South Bronx stylists started cutting and reinventing those old sides at house parties and club dates in the '80s, most of the funk dusted off by Breakestra on Live Mix Part 2 was preserved, when it was preserved, on out-of-print or hard-to-find vinyl.

Those were the days when DJs used to obliterate the labels on their records, so the competition wouldn't know what beats they were ransacking. In a gleeful shout-out to that tradition, Breakestra actually released its first recording in 1999, an original composition on (get this) an honest-to-God 45 called "Getcho Soul Togetha." And if all the above isn't cool enough, can you dig that Side A of that 45 was the vocal mix, and Side B delivered the instrumental version, just like an old Funkadelic single. Both sides are collected as tracks 28 and 29 on Live Mix Part 2, providing listeners with a little taste of where it all began.

Or rather, where it all started when Miles Tackett's initial idea found realization in the hands of some true believers. Tackett on bass and Wolf on vocals are joined by Carlos Guaico (organ), Josh Cohen ("an incredible drummer, who shouldn't have to still be working a day job," in Tackett's estimation), Dan Ubick (guitar), Dan Osterman (trombone), Paul Vargas (trumpet), Geoff "Double-G" Gallegos (sax, flute, and brass what-have-yous), Davey Chegwidden (percussion) and Todd Simon (trumpet on the "Getcho Soul Togetha" two-shot).

"These musicians [in Breakestra] all bring their musicality to the table, no question," says Tackett, who begins to get tongue-tied when he attempts to articulate his admiration. "They're all . . . I mean, they . . . these are my favorite musicians to play with, ever, that I know of. I'm blessed, obviously. I'd shared my record collection with most of these guys years ago, like they'd shared with me. I mean, everybody has to be turned on to good music. I had people turn me on years back. So I was making these breaks tapes, sample tapes, with jazz and groove and funk and all these songs for my friends. But of course a lot of these musicians were educated on all of that already. Carlos, for example, is very knowledgeable about that funk history. So first and foremost, really, you have to give it up for the guys who were doing the original work, the James Browns and the Meters and all that."

True enough; and though the individual breaks on Live Mix Part 2 are uncredited track-by-track, the thank-yous and shout-outs on the inside cover are a rogues' gallery of "original beat makers," damn near 300 of them. With entries ranging from Fred Wesley and Bobby Byrd to KRS-One and Dilated Peoples (with whom Breakestra has performed on several occasions), you can't say that Tackett and company don't give due props.

Discussion of James Brown's second Live at the Apollo album, from 1967, leads naturally into Breakestra's copious debt to the Godfather -- a debt shared, of course, by virtually every funk and soul performer who came after him.

"To me," Tackett says, "James Brown was probably the first musician to really incorporate the concept of the breaks into his songs . . . those quick riffs that took the music to another place. It's tough to say, you know, whether the b-boys and DJs who first started using that music as the base for their own were consciously picking up on it, doing the same thing. But there's no doubt that the influence was there. I just wanted to make this album sound like it could all be a single performance that went through all those different changes and still sounded live, still sounded coherent." On that level, Breakestra's new joint succeeds with a vengeance.

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Eric Waggoner