Fred Wesley & The New JBs - photo by Michael Sherer
Trombonist Fred Wesley got his big time start playing with James Brown’s group in ‘69, and remained through ‘75. This was a golden era for Brown, but more importantly for Soul and Funk music at large. Wesley’s precise, powerful and tasteful playing and solos have always been a distinguished and recognizable part of the sound of the many artists he’s played with, ranging from Count Basie to Parliament-Funkadelic.
Wesley’s had a solo career since ‘74, coinciding with the artists he’s played with as a sideman. At 78, Wesley doesn’t tour much. But he and his fine band treated the intimate audience at BRIC’s three night concert series with a closing out performance this past Saturday. BRIC, which stands for Brooklyn Information and Culture, focuses on gathering interesting and diverse artists, and this festival is one of their annual highlights.
It was a cozy and casual setting, with cushions on stadium seating rows on the floor. I’d estimate that the room, called the Gallery, holds less than 200 people at full capacity. The sound was good and bright, as were the sightlines. Wesley sat in the center and led the band. They’re all fine musicians that consisted of Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, Reggie Ward on guitar, Bruce Cox on drums, Dwayne Dolphin on bass, Jay Rodriquez on saxophone and Rose Ann Dimalanta on keyboard. The band sounded rehearsed yet loose at the same time.
They played a mix of tunes, some of their own and some James Brown classics that Wesley played on and was a part of. Also included was the classic ‘My Funny Valentine,’ the 1937 Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart composition from the musical Babes In Arms, which has since been performed by over 600 artists and has appeared on over 1,300 records.
The band was having much fun, as was the audience. As Wesley, who was raised in Mobile, Alabama might say with a drawl, a good ol’ funky time was had by all. And this New Yorker is glad that I was there for it.