If I was a mad scientist trying to perfect the formula for what all good times would look like from here on out, I’d be hard pressed to come up with anything close to the double-bill of Con Brio and Mamarazzi that was unleashed upon Mercury Lounge recently. It was as if the mud of the Mississippi delta, the legends passed down by the griot, a dash of Little Richard’s DNA, and too many influences now lost to legend were given life and told to groove like it was the last day on Earth.
If Mamarazzi hadn’t filled the stage with their eight musicians, their jazzy afro-funk would’ve filled in any leftover space. Every song comes at you in a full-frontal assault. Percussion, sax, drums, guitar, horns, and more, in a unrelenting wave. And just when you think you they can’t possibly throw anything more at you, Tavi Fields gets up, grabs the mic and begins to spit out hot-fire.
But this isn’t a band that’s designed to make one person stick out. This is the kind of band where everyone in it is having a blast and sharing their musical gifts with each other, and the audience. It’s not really fair to call Mamarazzi a band, it feels more a like a family. From Andre Belfiore on the drums to Sam Barthick on percussion (and M.C. duties) to Tacuma Bradley’s saxophone-fueled hip gyrations, everyone in the band is smiling and giggling with one another – almost as if to say, “How lucky are to be doing this right now?”
There’s not really a better way to explain what Mamarazzi is than to point you in the direction of one of their live shows. But be forewarned, you’ll be in be venturing into a genre-melding, rule breaking, shake every part of your body kind of night.
And that’s exactly what kept coming once Con Brio took the stage. Con Brio didn’t quite have Mamarazzi’s eight people – they only had seven – but they brought an explosive soulful sound, filled with a seductive joy and some dance moves you’ll never forget.
Con Brio frontman Zeke McCarter can best be described as the living embodiment of James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Yeah, at this point you’ve probably stopped reading in disbelief. But once you see him glide across the stage, do the splits more times than I count, and hit those high notes while his eyes go from wild joy to come hither glances, you’ll know McCarter is the real deal. He’s got passion, smiles, and moves that feel like they must be so rehearsed and yet totally spontaneous at the same time. You’ll be trying to move your legs like his – in a way that only higher groove-filled powers can bestow – while muttering to yourself: “This is the frontman we’ve been waiting for!”
And while your eyes will get perpetually drawn to McCarter throughout a Con Brio show, your ears will be constantly following a steady stream of funky soul-filled beats the band produces. Jonathan Kirchner’s basslines send tingles up and down your spine and Benjamin Andrew’s guitar riffs have that bluesy funk sprinkled all over them. The horns section seems to have energy to go for days. Especially trumpeter Brendan Liu, the one member who seems as revved up as McCarter, and as ready to tango.
This is a party-band for sure. Infectious at its core and designed to swivel the hips of every audience member out there. You’ll want to dance. You’ll want to sing. You’ll want them to keep playing past closing hour. And you’ll want to see them over and over.
Con Brio is what much modern R&B has been lacking. From a killer lead singer bringing an edge with him (who doesn’t feel like he’s just copying what came before him) to a full fledged soulful sound machine roaring all around him – this is a band that’s ready to be mentioned with the best live bands out there.
*Note, the author/photographer is friends with a member of Mamarazzi, and went to school with both the sister and the wife of a member of Con Brio*
Article: Omar Kasrawi