(5 / 5)
Not much of a fan of live albums, as most are a let down and rarely sound as good as studio stuff or if/when I have seen the band or artist in concert.
So, I receive the latest batch of music to review, sent by the editor, and spot this live album. Oh dear…..Three discs too and by a band I have heard very little music by, to be honest, other than a few singles/tracks on movie soundtracks and on “by various artists” compilations.
I dive in, not expecting much, especially when I read the PR bumph and see this is a concert to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary. I braced myself….
Good job I did. Boy oh boy. This is bad. B. A. D. But before the band and their reps sling a writ my way, I’ll clarify. I use the word Bad as in when hip youngsters say, “man, that’s bad”, and they mean “that’s good!” “Sick”………..OK?
This band are on fire on this two CD + 1 DVD set. A dozen cuts on disc # one and 10 on the second disc, plus 146 minutes on the DVD.
The famed Tower of Power Horn section almost singe your eyebrows, they are so hot. The rhythm section is to die for and the latest of many lead singers, Marcus Scott, is a star.
Here though, there are various special guests from the band’s alumni over the years, adding value.
The material is superb and after initially going into this with trepidation, I come out the other side their newest fan, with a desire to dig deep into their back catalogue.
This band may well have formed some five-plus decades ago (53 years ago as of 2021), but they sound as relevant in 2021 as they would have done back in the day. Truth! If in-yer-grill funk and soul are your thang, then this really is for you.
Tower of Power has been a funk institution since 1968, knocking out hits like “What is Hip,” “So Very Hard to Go,” “This Time It’s Real” and “You’re Still a Young Man” while lending their soulful sound to collaborations with Santana, the Grateful Dead. Huey Lewis, Elton John, Justin Timberlake and many more.
Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group deliver this sparkling live album and video in style, reminding us all of the much-missed live music experience amid this drawn-out pandemic.
“50 Years of Funk & Soul – Live at the Fox Theater”, captures their storied career with no-holds-barred victory lap concerts in Oakland, CA, performing their full spectrum of life-affirming funk and soul hits to sold out audiences in 2018.
Released as a triple-LP set, a double-CD/DVD combo, a standalone DVD and on most digital platforms, the production values are spot on – Joe Vannelli and Emilio Castillo jointly produce – and put us slap bang inside that hot and sticky venue over the two nights back in 2018.
Tower of Power supplemented the core 10-piece band and its iconic horn section with additional horns and a string section. These historic performances include alumni special guests Chester Thompson, sax’ star Lenny Pickett, the late and great bassist Francis ‘Rocco’ Prestia, Bruce Conte and Ray Greene.
In the original and current lineup are bandleader Emilio “Mimi” Castillo, who plays 2nd tenor sax and sings some lead and background vocals, Stephen ‘The Funky Doctor’ Kupka on baritone sax and legendary drummer David Garibaldi.
Long standing members are: Roger Smith on keyboards and background vocals, Tom Politzer on 1st tenor sax and BVs, Adolfo Acosta on trumpet, flugelhorn and BVs, Jerry Cortez on guitars and BVs and Sal Cracchiolo on trumpet, flugelhorn and BVs.
Newest members are lead singer Marcus Scott who joined the band in 2016, and Marc van Wageningen on bass, who replaced legendary bottom end man Francis ‘Rocco’ Prestia. Along with drummer David Garibaldi, Marc was hit by a train outside an Oakland, California venue before a T.O.P. gig in January 2017, and both miraculously survived.
Former members on this recording are Lenny Pickett on tenor sax, Chester Thompson on Hammond B3 organ and clavinet, Bruce Conte on guitar. Plus Ray Greene on trombone, Melanie Jackson and Tony Lindsay on background vocals and Dave Eskridge on keyboards and horn/string arrangements.
This outfit are tighter than the Chancellor of the Exchequer come budget day! Drums and bass alone are to marvel at, while those horns send shivers up and down the spine. Not a dodgy track, song or performance throughout this amazing set. The editor of this magazine is actually a big fan of this band, and he tells me he’s seen them countless times and has all of their albums, since he discovered them in the mid-70s.
The big tunes are all here, such as “Soul Vaccination”, their evergreen ‘theme tune’: “What Is Hip?” and the stunning ballad “You’re Still A Young Man” (the horns are magnificent on this track). A later cut, “Soul With A Capital S” is cool, as are the ‘in-the-pocket’ “On The Serious Side” and the uber-fabulous instrumental “Squib Cakes”. If neither of these two tracks have been sampled by rap and hip artists yet, they are missing out.
Other goodies include “Can’t You See (You Doin’ Me Wrong)?”, “Maybe It’ll Rub Off”, “Don’t Change Horses”, “Diggin’ on James Brown (medley) and “So Very Hard to Go”.
I am a picky old sausage when it comes to my music, and it’s a rare thing for me to fall deeply in love with a band, artist and a recording on one listen. And also not to have any constructive criticism to offer in my review. So if this piece comes across as gushing, I make no apo0logy. Credit where credit is due……They really are TOP!
By Jay J.
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’