Music: Review: Mohawkestra, LeftBank

Tony Benjamin, December 4, 2016


It’s always a buzz when a band seems to step up a gear and, thanks to a recording deal with Reed Records, that’s clearly what happened to Mohawkestra. The band is one of countless descendants from the mighty Edenheight collective that brought a unique combination of funk, jazz, soul and hip-hop to Bristol’s live scene over many years. While other spin-offs have pursued space-funk or hip-hop styles, however, the Mohawkestra quintet has settled on a refreshed revival of a 60s sound that became known in the States as ‘the British invasion’. This progeny of R’n’B and electric blues (with influences of boogaloo and soul) effectively created the melting pot for rock music and the band have wisely plundered some of the best tracks for their instrumental set.

It was impressive how quickly the room filled with dancers once they start, people whisking in from the cold, caught by the infectious rhythm shuffle of Ed Dallimore’s drums and Pedro Alves’ congas and bassman Marcel Osborne’s solid foundation. Tracks like the Stones’ Paint It Black got instant recognition thanks to Joe Wilkins spirited guitar intro, with Ev Newman holding things down on Hammond organ and those congas lifting the beat. It was a very authentic sound – keyboards and guitar careful to avoid modern electronica as befits a band that records directly on to reel-to-reel tape and edits with a razor blade – yet the disciplined tightness also had a knowing ‘retro’ feel, in the way that Mark Ronson’s production can.

It was a hit filled set – albeit other people’s – with highlights including The Yardbirds’ psychedelic-leaning Heart Full of Soul, Spencer Davies’ I’m A Man and Cream’s rare singles chart-troubling moment I Feel Free. But where these might, in the day, have led to lengthy live frenzies of self-indulgence Mohawkestra kept it close and maintain a cool effortlessness throughout. Solos are clever and to the point, percussion breaks plentiful and great for the dancing, but all put together with an economy that befitted the material. Indeed their 7” vinyl records run out at under three minutes, the classic singles length of the era they evoked, and the just-released I Feel Free is a mere 144 seconds long. This was the live equivalent of a very tasteful DJ set, filtered through the band’s own sound, and a warming blast of cool on an otherwise chilly night.

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