A Night of Neo-Soul With Brownish Black

While it could be quite the challenge to develop your own sound within the lexicon of classic soul and r&b, Brownish Black seem both worthy and excited about the task at hand. Formed in 2010 the band has been growing in numbers and evolving their neo-soul sound that could easily be found on NYC goldmine label Daptone (home to Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Charles Bradley etc). With a slender and soulful white male leading the raucous r&b they could also be mistaken for pop soul darlings Fitz & the Tantrums. Yet comparisons aside Brownish Black are unique to Portland and are striving to forge their own path.

Given the somewhat challenging position of filling an empty dance floor with Portlanders who just finished a workweek, Brownish Black brought their high energy and infectious rhythms to the opening slot Friday night at the eclectic (read underrated) Star Theater. Seattle based psyche-afro-funk outfit Polyrhythmics were headliners.

Playing a mix of music from their previous EP’s as well new material Brownish Black sounded tight throughout. Performing new single “Life Lessons” lead singer M.D. Sharbatz was vocally strong although slightly distracted by the harsh lighting directed on stage. During a mid-set exit, Sharbatz returned with a black cap covering his eyes, which provided reprieve but perhaps distanced himself from the audience. While a stoic looking horn section successfully focused on taking care of business the bongo/conga player was focused on starting a party. The show continued, the floor filled, and the crowd released their weekday worries. Incorporating a cover of Portland’s very own Exploding Hearts “I’m a Pretender” along with a Brownish original entitled “Rock n Roll” as a tribute to blues legend BB King (who passed away that day) the second half of their set was climatic and cathartic.

It would be difficult not to mention the lack of female lead singer Mz. V (Vicki Porter), a once integral member and wonderful counterpart to Sharbatz’ vocals and energy, who recently left the band for other pursuits. While Porter is featured on the new album she certainly will be missed and the band is planning rotating guest appearances as they move forward with their first full-length release next month under Breakup Records.

With a charismatic, feel-good, neo soul sound Brownish Black have the talent, energy, and possible ambition to grow beyond Portland and the Northwest.

See them for their record release of Life Lessons at the Goodfoot Lounge on June 11.

-Greg LeMieux


Polyrhythmics: Live From The Banana Stand

Portland’s most beloved underground house venue and record label has released another fantastic live recording to its ever growing collection. Banana Stand Media has been hosting and recording local bands in their basement studio for several years, documenting the continuously evolving landscape of the music scene. The newest addition to the Banana Stand archive of live recordings features the instrumental funk arrangements of the Polyrhythmics.

Polyrhythmics are an insanely talented eight-piece band with a massive sound blending funk, jazz, and soul melodies that are carried out by afro-beat rhythms. Through a main framework of funk, the songs progressively extend as seasoned musicians transition in and out of solos with each other. If you like funk music and long technical arrangements, then this is the Banana Stand album for you. Here’s the breakdown.

It opens with a hard-hitting number set in a mildly high tempo and plays a true representation to what the Polyrythmics do as a band. They are horn heavy but in a subtle way. The trumpet is in front of the music but the trombone keeps it from taking over. This first track, “Labrador” features a long and impressive saxaphone solo that smoothly works it's way back into the rhythm. Changeing the pace slightly, the next song “Le Hustle” is a slower funk groove that is brought alive by a vibrant horn section and prominent bass tone. While it’s well known that songs in any subcategory of funk are heavily bass driven, halfway through the album, the songs reach a high level of bass-driven-ness. Let’s just say that if the bass on "The Octagon" were a chicken wing sauce at Fire On The Mountain, it would rank in at El Jefe. Which is fitting because the final track on the album is called “El Fuego.” There is a definite mariachi influence on this one with bright use of trumpet and a weirdly driving rhythm.

A polyrhythm by definition is more than one rhythm working together within a single beat. It’s a part of music that often gets lost in the art of songwriting when things get too overly simplified. Polyrhythmics have not let go of the little technical things when making their music, and when executed perfectly like on this record, you come away with some of the best genuine art. Not only that, this band, and their time capsuled recording from the Banana Stand will make you move a little to boot. Also check out the video for "Labrador" shot during the set! 

- Colin Hudson

Polyrhythmics - "Labrador" from Banana Stand Media on Vimeo.