Polyrhythmics are an eight-piece group with impossibly tight grooves and virtuosic musicianship. They released their fifth studio album, Man From The Future on May 8th. It’s hard to believe they’ve been around for 10 years and I just first got to see them live perform a scintillating set at Suwannee Hulaween 2019 in Live Oak, Florida. That set was transcendent and many who saw it said it was the best of the fest.
The group was started by Ben Bloom (Guitar) and Grant Schroff, (Drums) and originally drew heavily on Afro-beat from such notables as Fela Kuti and The Budos Band. Since then, they’ve broadened their style tremendously to incorporate aspects of funk, soul, psychedelic rock, R&B and progressive jazz. I also hear some bits of Lettuce for the funk in the mix and even a bit of Lotus for the electronica aspect. The group is in a class of its own with its mix of multiple music styles — Afro-funktronica?.
The album was recorded at Studio Aleph and engineered and mixed by the band’s bassist Jason Gray at Blue Mallard Studios. It was then mastered by Doug Krebs of Doug Krebs Mastering and is released on the Color Red record label and music platform founded by Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds.
Here’s my track-by-track rundown of this terrific new offering.
- Yeti Set Go – The start with that funky bass line immediately draws you in followed by some extra funky guitar. The muted trumpet comes in with a sort of “spooky” feel and we’re off on a ride through the desert. Then there is a terrific bright key solo. The horns come in full force and the rhythm section keeps it tight. The ping pong between the trombone and trumpet left to right and back is a nice touch. Then the plinking and bluesy guitar solo is carrying us through with some supporting horn riffs. The head bass line comes back with a jazzy horn line — the head horn line is distinctive and memorable as is the keys break that follows. This is one I can definitely have on repeat a lot and sets the stage for the whole disc.
- The Cutdown – After the drum intro, The Cutdown starts with a great bass and guitar line with the horns coming on for an engaging launch. Then the horns break down into a nice riff with trombone taking the lead. The bridge is a bass and guitar section that definitely draws from Lettuce’s Shmink Dabby for a dreamy sequence when the horns are pulled in. Again, the break comes back with the stellar trombone lead.
- Digital Cowboy – The choppy opening on this one is cool just for the spacing of guitar, horns, and percussion. It shows the precision of the group that’s been working together for going on 10 years. The lush horns that come in after the opener are a smooth sharp contrast before it returns to the head. The bass bridge with some sustained guitar plucks have a psychedelia feel and this leads into a jammy guitar solo by Ben with the horns riding back in at the end. It comes back to another slowed down mellow section with some nice synth work from Nathan Spicer.
- In the Trees: I can only see this one as a soundtrack for a gunfight in a Western movie. The two gunslingers square off at either end of the street and then they draw – think Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. It’s so provocative and heavily features Ben Bloom on guitar. Come get me.
- Chelada: This one kicks off with a very Eastern European flair and the muted trumpets strike an eerie backdrop continuing on the “danger” feel from the previous tune. This is the third pre-released single from the album. The trombone solo midway through from Elijah Clark is so greasy and nasty. The bridge from Ben on guitar and Nathan Spicer on keys is pure suspense build up. The array of percussion is comparable to Snarky Puppy on their Lingus or Xavi tunes. Spicer’s keys solo is cosmic, and the rhythmic backdrop presages the reentry of the horns coming back to the head for the full-blown ending crescendo.
- Man from the Future – Recently, Ben Bloom said in an interview with Eddie Roberts that the drum beat for this one was an homage to Tower of Power’s “Man from the Past.” As a long-time Tower of Power fan and aficionado, I’m surprised I didn’t pick up on that. What did hit me hard is the opening sound similarity to “Theme from Shaft” – another man from the past. The heavy organ opening sets the stage for the cha-ching of the guitar and bass opening that echoes funk era of the 1970s. This is followed by a nice trumpet clarion call before the tune picks up pace with the full horn section and a very funky guitar sequence. The keys single note accompaniment halfway through is a cool touch. The tenor sax solo that follows does take me back to the halcyon days of ToP with Lenny Picket blowing horn. The closeout is a very catching full on funky build up.
- Corpus Colosseum – This one opens with a full band chorus that breaks down to a funky world music feeling groove with the guitar sounding almost like a kora. There’s some excellent percussion work by Karl Olson. As usual, the horns have some real spicy licks here before the main line comes back and it is immediately catchy. Then there’s slick percussion/cowbell part which gives way to a dreamy sequence with a soothing bass line. The main horn melody returns right to the end.
- Man from the Future Largo – As expected, this one is somewhat of a refrain of the title track primarily with a catchy guitar-bass-percussion before the keys kick in. It is notably one of only two tracks on the album without any horns and a slick way to close out.
Ben Bloom, Guitars
Grant Schroff, Drums
Nathan Spicer, Keys
Karl Olson, Percussion
Jason Gray, Bass
Scott Morning, Trumpet
Elijah Clark, Trombone
Art Brown, Sax and Flute