|Tower of Power at the Roundhouse
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved
Tower of Power
(The Roundhouse, 15 October, 2017. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
“Tower of Power brass, this is the pièce de résistance … but Tower of Power runs on this world-class rhythm section,” confided Emilio Castilio, as he ran through the credentials of each band member, spotlighting bassist Rocca Prestia and drummer David Garibaldi (incidentally making his first appearances after a bizarre railroad accident in January), both founder members of the band along with Castilio and baritone sax maestro, Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka.
In a band whose exceptional personnel have remained pretty well constant for several years, Castilio also focussed on their most recent recruit, vocalist, Marcus Scott – “one of the best vocalists we’ve ever had!” How right he was. Scott is not only a great vocalist with an extraordinary range, drawing on his Memphis soul roots, but he is a showman, too, who makes an essential, and rare, connection with musicians and audience alike. Somehow his presence has galvanised the band to get into another gear with arrangements sharper than ever, and a rich, brassy sound that gave added zest to best-known songs from their repertoire.
There’s something in the band’s DNA that makes the toughest, tightest arrangements flow with deceptive ease – the synchronisation is impeccable; their feel for the soul and funk traditions is continually refreshed and revitalised. The emphasis on ‘Power’ was the keynote with their supercharged interpretations of their classic numbers through a weighty sound system that settled well after a couple of numbers in the Roundhouse’s not-always-kind acoustics.
Guitarist Jerry Cortez and lead tenor Tom Politzer stretched out with artfully controlled abandon in several solo spots. The twin trumpets of Adolfo Acosta and Sal Cracciolo played tag with the three saxes to firmly put the stamp on Tower of Power’s trademark brass signature, underpinned throughout with great subtlety by Roger Smith’s elegant keyboard work. Not forgetting great backing vocals and harmonies supplied from all round the stage – true versatility.
Scott really got down with the audience, spending several minutes singing from the front rows with false endings and a gospel feel to passages in Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of the Stream), segueing in to This Time It’s Real which had Kupka turning on dance steps to the delight of the house.
In over an hour and a half they covered the full gamut, from Ain’t Nothin’ Stoppin’ Us Now – which is what they set out to show as they approach their 50th anniversary next year in rude musical health – to a slow, soulful You’re Still a Young Man, right through to an awesomely tight Very Hard to Know, the anthemic What Is Hip? and their encore, Soul with a Capital S, which had the audience chanting along with them, not for the first time in the evening.
In his closing remarks Castilio also announced that the band has just signed a deal with the classy Mack Avenue label, a real endorsement, and have many new numbers in the bag in time for that special anniversary which will be celebrated on their home turf, Oakland, California!
In support, Cymande, originally formed in the early ’70s and reunited recently, put in a finely balanced set of lightly-toned funk – catchy tunes and riffs with a hint of Frankie Beverley’s Maze in their loose yet tight approach. Keen organ licks from Adrian Reid, neat, precise drumming from Sam Kelly, complemented by Pablo Gonzales’ percussion were just part of a well-paced presentation from this seasoned ten-piece which set up the main act very nicely.