Brooklyn must have an incredible music scene because so many great bands from there are going national lately (including my favorite, Earl Greyhound). The latest one I've heard is the Pimps of Joytime (PoJT). My friend Brent texted me from a Michael Franti show to tell me about them and a quick search delivered the party to my ears.
High Steppin' is a couple of years old, but I also got a chance to hear three new unreleased tracks that I'll talk about at the end of the review.
First of all, Brian J and the band have studied under the masters. You can hear the inspiration of Sly, Stevie, George, and Carlos from song by song. The PoJT are products of their generation, so the sound is updated a bit with some samples and rap. And although there's a hint of Prince's falsetto vocal style on High Steppin', they've got their own take on classic funk and soul. They like to toss in some Latin beats to keep it interesting and their jam band party feel makes them a joy to listen to. I really need to catch them live to get the full effect, I think.
High Steppin' kicks off with PJT's High Steppin', an old school album intro track. They use a looped set of spoken samples to set a beat, which the band formalizes. Scratching samples, funk guitar, and other instruments come in to built a groove.
With the intro out of the way, the album slides into it's strongest song. My Gold uses complex poly-rhythms and a repetitive guitar figure to set up an Afrobeat feel. The falsetto vocal adds a touch of Prince or Sly Stone. By the time the song hits the solo, it can't quite decide whether to be Afrobeat, funk, soul, or psychedelic jam. It's all of those things together, swirling in a hypnotic stew. The PoJT effortlessly slide between genres, while maintaining the African foundation. This version is just under four minutes, but it's easy to imagine a 10 or 15 minute live version.
Another strong track is Bonita, which takes a Santana style groove and kicks it into modern Latin dance pop territory. The percussion and horn stabs are note perfect. While the guitar is keeping, it doesn't dominate the way Santana would, which gives the piano and horns more room to run.
The rest of album is pretty tight, from the Stevie Wonder feel of She-Do to the P-Funk keys and horns of Workin' All The Time. There are three tracks that seem out of place: the toasting DJ and solid reggae of Tea Time, the early '60s revival ballad of We Can Find a Way, and the odd mish mash of Hey, Mr. J. The first two aren't too jarring but the last one bounces between new wave, soul, Adrian Belew style pop, and a Latin section. It's the only distraction from a finely crafted album.
So, if that's the Pimps of Joytime from 3 years ago, how are they now? There are three unreleased tracks all available on their MySpace page. Janxta Funk is a hopping party funk groove, with a tight, P-Funk, Up For the Down Stroke feel. It's very danceable. Blues Wit You hits that Santana space again (think Oye Como Va), with some great lyrical flow. There's a lot going on in the underbrush: free floating, jazzy flute and solid bass licks. Finally, Pimpin' Music starts with a scratched loop, club beat intro and delivers another booty shake, sounding like classic soul dressed up for the disco.
The Pimps of Joytime are a great funk/soul band. They seem to bounce between the East and West coast, so catch them live if you can. In the meantime, grab High Steppin' from ITunes or Amazon. I'll toast Brent with an Anchor Liberty for turning me on.