Tuesday, August 11, 2009

August 11: Breakestra, "Hit The Floor"

Artist: Breakestra
Album: Hit The Floor
Year: 2005
Label: Ubiquity

Truth be told, aside from a handful of acts, the hip hop genre has become a monotonous and disappointingly uncreative genre for the better part of the last decade. With artists simply trying to make a single hit, the overwhelming majority of performers in the genre are just clones of one another. Standing in stark contrast to this sad reality, Los Angeles based funk/hip hop pioneers, Breakestra, are by far one of the most uniquely intriguing acts in modern music. Brilliantly blending soul, jazz, and hip hop, all around a funky groove that hasn't been heard in ages, their music is truly one of the hidden gems within the current music scene. It is very much through the amazing sound of Breakestra that one can clearly hear the musical lineage from funk and soul that created the hip hop genre. Led by the vision of one man, funk and break fanatic, Miles Tackett, the group features amazing live horns and some of the finest musicians on the planet. After releasing an album of fantastic funk covers in 2001, Breakestra dropped their second record, containing all original material, in the form of 2005's up-tempo masterpiece, Hit The Floor.

Though the group didn't release a formal album until 1999, Breakestra had been a force within the Los Angeles club scene for years. Their live shows were legendary, and groups like Jurassic 5, DJ Shadow, and Dilated Peoples made regular appearances during their sets. Through their sensational sound and energy, the group is able to move past being a "nostalgia" act of sorts, and they truly represent a new wave of funk music. Invoking the spirits of groups like Tower of Power and The J.B.'s, Breakestra treat the listener to a glorious wall of sound that is beyond refreshing within the current state of overly stale music. Every song on the album is wonderful in its own right, as some swing, some groove, and some are breathtakingly soulful. The group also takes a moment to spotlight their undeniable musical talents and range, as they present the blistering jazz-funk instrumental, "See Sawing" as well as the spacey, almost trip-hop sound of "How Do You Really Feel?" Even with this wide range of diversity in styles, the songs all fit together perfectly and Hit The Floor is truly one of the most amazingly addictive albums to come out in years. This fact is due to the undeniable music prowess of each of the many musicians, as well as the overall brilliance of Tackett.

The fact of the matter is, with their funky dance tunes, Breakestra almost sounds as if they'd fit better in 1975 as opposed to 2005. The grooves are all amazingly deep, and the urge to get up and get into it is almost completely irresistible. Bringing to mind the great horn sections of James Brown's bands, the trumpet trio of Mick Bolger, Todd Simon, and Devin "Panda Bear" Williams bring a bright and bouncing mood to the songs. Aiding the trio are multi-instrumentalists David Ralike and James "The Penguin" King, as the pair each play at least three instruments from flutes to trombones to both tenor and alto saxophones. Both Jimmy Ruzumna and Marshall Thompson contribute work on Fender Rhodes keyboards, and it is often their playing that gives the grooves their depth. Drummer Pete McNeal, and percussionist Davey Chegwidden are absolutely on fire throughout all of Hit The Floor, and whether it is a light, backing rhythm or an all out percussive explosion, they are nothing short of perfect. The bands' sound ranges from the smooth and soulful "Hiding" to the all out party jam mood of "You Don't Need A Dance." Each member of the group is obviously having a blast playing the songs, and the joy they find within the music comes across clearly and is nothing short of intoxicating. Simply put, Hit The Floor is the ultimate classic funk dance party, with an amazingly modern mood.

Orchestrating the genius of Breakestra is music fanatic and band founder, Miles Tackett. Having honed his skills playing cello and bass for artists like Blind Melon, Black Eyed Peas, and B.B. King among others, Breakestra was formed out of Tackett's shows in small coffee houses in the mid-1990's. On Hit The Floor, Tackett plays various keyboards, organs, and percussion, alongside the bass and cello. His bass work is easily the funkiest sound heard in years, and it is clear that he is a true master of creating perfect grooves. While Tackett contributes a large amount of backing vocals, pushing the sound over the edge is lead vocalist, Mixmaster Wolf. Perhaps better known as Peanut Butter Wolf (owner of Stone's Throw Records), his vocals are simultaneously inspiring and captivating. While his shows his vocal range on songs like "Recognize," Wolf is ready to incite a riot of dance and joy with his yelling and call and response vocals on songs like "Stand Up!" One of the most amazing tracks on Hit The Floor is the song, "Family Rap," where Breakestra is joined by Chali 2na and Soup of Jurassic 5, as well as Double K from People Under The Stairs. The resulting track one of the funkiest and most addictive hip hop tracks ever recorded. The sound that Miles Tackett crafts with the wide range of musicians within Breakestra is nothing short of stunning, and it is a testament to his true brilliance as a composer and musician.

A celebration of pure musical joy, Breakestra's Hit The Floor is, in many ways, the ultimate party record of the last decade. The songs overflow with positive energy, and the combination of jazz, soul, and funk has not been done this well in recent memory. The brainchild of music fanatic, Miles Tackett, the bands' sound transcends formal genre barriers and is truly an album that will be enjoyed by fans of every style of music. Due to the sheer talent of all of the musicians, there is no style, sound, or genre fusion that is off limits, and the diversity in moods found on Hit The Floor is truly awe-inspiring. From the high-impact party anthem "Stand Up!" to the meandering jams of "How Do You Really Feel?" there is not a moment on the album that is anything short of perfect, and this is truly a record that everyone should experience first-hand. As one of the most highly held bands of the Los Angeles club scene, Breakestra approach the hip hop genre from an angle that has never been so fully and skillfully explored, and the results are true musical bliss. While their debut album of funk covers is fantastic in its own right, it is Breakestra's 2005 follow-up, Hit The Floor, that stands as their finest achievement, and it is easily one of the most original, talent-packed, and outright fun albums to be released in years.

Standout tracks: "You Don't Need A Dance," "Family Rap," and "How Do You Really Feel?"

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