This bicoastal double bill brought together L.A.’s Cody ChesnuTT and New York’s Sugarman 3, two unrelated artists with minimal fan crossover in what seemed, at first, to be a disparate paring. Each has a new record: ChesnuTT’s proudly lo-fi debut “The Headphone Masterpiece” (Ready Set Go) is a bedroom-recorded double-disc set influenced by hip-hop and garage rock; Sugarman 3’s recent release “Pure Cane Sugar” (Daptone) continues the band’s tradition of paying homage to Hammond-organ jazz-funk. But both artists are tied together by soul, though they disagree on what body part is essential for it to work. For ChesnuTT, it’s all about the heart, while Sugarman 3 concentrates on the butt.
ChesnuTT and his band often evoked Jimi Hendrix and his Band of Gypsies. ChesnuTT led the way with tuneful, clean-tone guitar picking and spaced-out digi-delay vocals, while drummer Craig Waters and bassist Aaron Roy beefed up his arpeggios. But Hendrix wasn’t around for hip-hop; when ChesnuTT beat-boxes in between verses, it’s clear that he’s not just a throwback.
His charisma is undeniable; even when he’s singing straightforward verses that equate erections with God, the effect is not humor but goodwill. But ChesnuTT needs his band to temper him — his music becomes too lazy when he’s playing solo and his between-song rants teeter-tottered from interesting to pretentious. Still, ChesnuTT’s got soul in the place that often gets overlooked; his raw talent has a still-untapped potential that could mean great things down the road.
Raw is the last word that could be used to describe Sugarman 3, whose crisp, funky sound follows a decades-old recipe: Throw together Hammond organ, horns and wah-wah guitar, stir slowly, and serve hot. Like Blue Note’s Soulive, Sugarman 3 isn’t interested in innovation — the band just wants to boogie. Guest vocalist Lee Fields, who was making his Los Angeles debut, added a much-needed front man to the ensemble; his James Brown impersonation was extraordinary and spot-on. Soul, to this band, is about packing the dance floor, and with Fields at the helm and Neal Sugarman as musical director, that was easily achieved.