Concert Review: Turkuaz & Zongo Junction with Will Magid Trio

This is my first time trying to review a live performance. I'm going to go for more brevity than my album review. Let's give it a shot!

Where: Slim's SF
When: December 30, 2011
Who: Will Magid TrioTurkuazZongo Junction

Disclosure: Will Magid is a good friend of mine. My primary motivation for attending this show was that his new band was playing a set.

Picture of the Will Magid TrioWill Magid Trio (WMT)

WMT is best described as a funky experimental-electronic-horn-drum trio. A more descriptive label for their sound escapes me, but I believe that this is part of their appeal. They put on a great show, and I look forward to this band's future. Will Magid is on vocals/horn/loops, Paul Oliphant is on drums, and Kevin Wong is on keys.

WMT showed off its agility in this show, covering a wide range of musical styles, while still retaining something fundamentally their own. Without a doubt, their first piece "Living Outside the Box" was their strongest and funkiest song; it warmed the crowd up nicely, and set high expectations for the rest of their set. Also worthy of note was WMT's "Tropi-Cola" that incorporates on one of my favorite songs, "Águas de Março" by Elis & Tom; they used just enough of the song's vibe to take its energy and mix its samba with their own electronic funky trumpet. A few of the songs introduced other great feels, like house, and salsa, which started the crowd moving, but was never enough to break into dance.

One sore spot for me was their last song, "Brown Paper Bag", which did not play to WMT's strengths; the piece was light, slow, repetitive, and heavy on vocal work. Given the other bands that night, it would have been better to put this song in the middle and build to a high energy level by the end of the set. The piece felt like it is still under development, so I hope that improvements are forthcoming.

I have been to shows where Will has played trumpet, and ones where he has handled keys/Ableton. Over the years he has developed his technical proficiency to the level that makes a project like WMT possible. Perhaps even more important than technical skills, Will has come a long way in his on-stage presence. Rather than simply 'being' on stage, he is truly 'performing', and entertaining the crowd in a way that a recorded performance cannot; I consider this critical for any band which incorporates keys and loops, which can otherwise be boring for the audience (see: chiptunes). At the same time, WMT suffered from an element of disconnection from the world and the audience from Will's trance-like state during much of the performance; given that he is singing, playing trumpet, and triggering loops, the need for concentration is understandable, but detracts from the quality of the performance. Also, as much as it conveys his energy, his excessive head bobbing was definitely distracting.

Turkuaz

Turkuaz was clearly a more polished band that has found its niche and filled it well. They've been written about before, so I won't go into too much detail.

As far as music, they demonstrated a consistent style with good technical proficiency. Their songs all start with brass lead-ins, with rare exception. This is, in my opinion, a jam band; jam bands are great, except when their jams start to draw on too long and spin in circles without incorporating any new ideas. With two scantily-clad women playing tambourine, doing some backup vocal work, and hopping in place, I felt like I was being pandered to with eye candy, but that was neither here nor there. Overall, Turkuaz has a well-developed stage presence, and it is great to see musicians really get into their music and have that reflect in the energy of their on-stage performance. At this point in the evening the crowd was dancing with fervor, and I probably was, too.

I want to call out their bass player (who was usually relegated to the back of the stage), as being exceptional in both skill and presence. Also, my friend and musician Ben Altieri described the Turkuaz guitarist as "white George Clinton", and I consider that an accurate assessment.

Zongo Junction

Zongo Junction was the headliner, and the reason for that was clear - their performance attracted the largest crowd and was by far the most professional.

Some of ZJ's songs would build up for too long, and ultimately lose the crowd's energy about halfway through. The use of woodwind for color added more variety to their sound, and the saxophone soloist did an incredible job of seizing the stage; the joyous trombonist also helped with this problem. The call-and-response style of play makes sense for a band of this size, but would have been impossible to pull off without their great on-stage presence.

Was their exceptional presence just because of size? No. Though it is a large group, the camaraderie that these musicians have with each other was strong enough to be felt by the entire audience. We were watching old friends perform together; even those of us that hadn't heard of Zongo Junction before that day felt like we were always life-long fans.

Closing Thoughts

This show was a wonderful way to see three bands in three different stages of their life. I typically do not care for brass instruments in music groups, but Will Magid Trio, Turkuaz, and Zongo Junction have changed my mind with their skillful and innovative use of instrumentation. I encourage you to check all of them out at the links at the beginning of my post, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

If there is anything you would like to see more of (or less of) as I continue writing music reviews, drop me a line!