Old-school funk hasn’t exactly disappeared from the post-millennial musical lexicon — clever hip-hop samplers have ensured that innovators like Charles Wright remain anonymously alive for modern listeners. But the ranks of live-action torchbearers have grown ever thinner, making Brooklyn’s Menahan Street Band all the more welcome a presence.
At this perf, a release party for their full-length Denham/Daptone debut “Make the Road by Walking,” the combo settled into a low-slung, summer-night groove redolent of classic sides by Herbie Mann and Jimmy Smith — but with an ever-shifting backbeat that ramped up the body-moving aspect noticeably.
The band, a collaborative effort between members of the Sharon Jones-led Dap Kings and several other outfits from the borough of churches, used a spare rhythmic framework as a foundation for songs as varied as the rocksteady-infused “Montego Sunset” and the new disc’s warm, horn-driven title track (a melody that reached millions of ears when Jay-Z sampled it on “Roc Boys”).
Theirs is a decidedly sensual sound, but rather than simply get down and dirty, the band engaged in a sort of sonic foreplay, with Leon Michels’ flute providing feathery fillips that skittered across the measures of steamy pieces like “Going the Distance.” The mostly instrumental perf heated up palpably when singer Charles Bradley — a vastly underrated growler whose vocals recall the best of Syl Johnson, or James Brown in his mellower moods — for a moving version of “Heartaches and Pain.”
While a few of the more languid numbers were probably better suited to a fireside cognac-sipping session than a night on the town, the Menahan Street Band ignited often enough — especially on an extended “Esma” — to make aud members throw their hands up without a bit of prompting.