Review by Fred Rudofsky
The heat wave in upstate New York began with the arrival of the Soul Rebels, who brought their high-energy New Orleans mixture of funk, soul, hip-hop and jazz to Club Helsinki on a Friday night. Hell was reserved only for those hapless few who had no one to dance with while cool heavenly music played for over two hours – it was all good for the body, the mind and the soul out on the floor.
Founded over 20 years ago – only two members, Derrick Moss and Lumar LeBlanc, remain from the original incarnation that rocked the gazebo at SPAC back in the mid-1990s – the eight piece band of virtuoso brothers played to the high standard (“the Rebel Zone,” as they put it) expected from those representing the 504.
Tenor saxophonist Erion Williams prefaced the show like a good-natured, off-duty fire marshal: “Chairs are okay, but tonight, Hudson, the dance floor is wide open! This is a New Orleans party, you dig what I’m saying?” Drummers Moss and LeBlanc laid down the beat, and the band took off for the promised land. Two trumpeters (Julian Goslin and Marcus Hubbard), two trombonists (Corey Peyton and Paul Robertson), and a mighty Sousaphonist (Edward Lee, Jr.) kicked in the fourth wall and a few dozen dancers heeded Williams’ advice and crowded the lip of the stage during “I Got the Power.” During “Who Got My Back?,” the cry of “We need more on the floor!” produced the desired effect. Goslin freestyled a bit over the irresistible
groove of Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky,” and several of his bandmates took the microphone for some toasting and boasting on the anthemic “Funky Rebels.”
The exodus from the floor during “Showtime,” a sweet brass hop tune from 2012’s excellent Unlock Your Mind, perturbed several in the band, who gibed at the exhausted dancers, “Where are you going?” The next song, a remarkably fresh take on Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” pulled the crowd back to the floor like a sonic magnet. From there, the band and the crowd and the venue were one.
The Soul Rebels brought the democracy of jazz to their solos, with each musician getting ample time to express himself. Dialogues happened spontaneously during many of the songs; sometimes, one man’s riff got three others to reply, and the rapping that hit the mic was often echoed in hearty choruses from the audience. “I Made It”, an original from their recent album, incorporated Jamaican cadences and segued perfectly into Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved?”, which took the energy up another notch. “Show Me What You’ve Got” and the jam that ensued for the encore had young and old waving their hands high and jumping in time with the band. It’s safe to say that the dancers got in their week’s worth of cardio, burning calories and working muscles that they never knew they had.
To paraphrase the song that closes the Soul Rebels’ album, the dancers in the house let their minds be free.
THE SOUL REBELS SET LIST
I Got the Power
Who Got My Back?
Touch the Sky
Roll Rebel Roll
I Made It
Could You Be Loved?
Show Me What You Got