September 3, 2009

Live Review | Pinot | The Key Club | Aug. 13, 2009

When vocalist, dancer and showman extraordinaire G. Curtis Jr. asks, “Y’all ready to get funked up tonight?” the crowd at Hollywood’s Key Club responds with tepid murmurs to the affirmative. After all, Curtis’s band, the funk-tastic Pinot, hasn’t launched into their first song yet; the audience doesn’t know what’s coming. But after blast-off opener “30th Street Riot,” Curtis declares, “We about to make love and do funky things to you” – and the crowd is ready for Pinot.

In a sense, Curtis as a figurehead sums up the best of the band: he looks, sings and dances like a wunderkind hybrid of the late greats Michael Jackson and James Brown, sporting two pairs of suspenders, zoot-suit pants, a snazzy skinny tie and even a single glove for his left hand in tribute. Throughout their performance, Pinot treads the musical heritage of these two figures with fast, hard grooves on one side and slower, baby-making soul on the other (even covering a mellow rendition of Jackson’s “Get on the Floor”).

Moving forward, Pinot performs mostly originals to showcase the band’s versatility, tightness and virtuosity, plus Parliament’s “Mothership Connection.” They include a few more soulful numbers like “Don’t Hold It Back,” but they prove they can also get down with the best of them, especially in the aptly named instrumental groove, “Oh Shit, The Jam!” The band builds its intensity slowly, but surely, peaking late in the night with Pinot’s instant-classic, instrumental original “Alabama Slamma’,” when guitarist John Schroeder unleashes a rip-roaring, genre-crossing guitar solo worthy of the best.

Backing up Curtis’s stellar skills as a frontman is a relentlessly sharp cadre of eight: Sam Brawner on drums, Nick Klingenberg on bass, Schroeder on guitar, Dennis Hamm on keys (subbing for Brandon Coleman), Jumaane Smith on trumpet, Patrick Keller on alto sax, Robby Marshal on tenor sax and Justin Kirk on trombone. From start to finish, the nine of them play like a family, a metaphor which becomes even truer when Curtis’s father (Greg) and brother (Dre) come up for the set’s last song, the hip-hop inspired “Gamechangerz.” Throughout the night, each band member has his chance to shine in the solo spotlight, but, more importantly, they consistently groove together as one collective, as the best funk bands do.

As a genre, funk has the danger of stagnating in its own age and illustrious history, but Pinot – despite (or perhaps because of) its members’ relative youth – manage to bring a creative touch to the old and just enough spice to the new.

-Words and photo by Dean Schaffer

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