All-star band brings James Brown back to life

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The funk goes on: James Brown in 1987. Wikipedia.
The funk goes on: James Brown in 1987. Wikipedia.

Although James Brown passed away nearly a decade ago after 73 funky years on earth, the Godfather of Soul’s immortal music remains.

James Brown is, to me, the quintessential funk,” said Adam Chase, a Baltimore native who now lives in Asheville, N.C. “When it comes to [funk], there’s no better than James Brown.”


Chase, along with his older brother Matt, renowned Baltimore singer-songwriter Cris Jacobs and an all-star cast of seasoned musicians will pay tribute to Brown this weekend when the James Brown Dance Party comes to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., on June 19 and 21, respectively.

“It’s kind of like a dream cast,” Matt said.

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The Baltimore and Washington shows — the dance party goes to New York in between — feature Robert “Mousey” Thompson of the James Brown Band on drums, Cris Jacobs, formerly of Baltimore legends The Bridge, and Matt Chase on guitar, Jennifer Hartswick of the Trey Anastasio band on trumpet, Scott Flynn of Pretty Lights on trombone, James Casey of the Trey Anastasio Band on saxophone, American Idol contestant Elise Testone on vocals, Anthony Wellington of the Victor Wooten Band on bass and Adam Chase on drums and percussion.

Special guests in Baltimore include keyboardist Josh Thomas of Soul Symphony and bassist Freekbass of the Bootsy Collins Band. In Washington, keyboardist Mary Frances of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band joins the party.


“It’s gonna be killer. Super funky,” Adam said.

Jennifer Hartswick of the Trey Anastasio Band
Jennifer Hartswick of the Trey Anastasio Band

He and his brother, who play together in the Phish tribute band Strange Design, are heading up this project. They did a “soft launch” in South Carolina to try it out, played a sold-out launch show in January in New York and brought the dance party to New Orleans for a jazz fest after party this past spring. Those shows put the project on the radars of a variety of professional musicians and opened the doors to getting a lineup like this weekend’s together.

While artists such as The Meters, Sly and The Family Stone, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic brought funk to new heights, there’s something special about that James Brown flavor of funk.

“It’s funk in its very basic form, but it falls into almost an Afro-Cuban style of music,” Matt said. “Each musician has its own part. The negative space is almost as important as the positive space.” His comment beckons the jazz adage that it’s the notes musicians don’t play that matter the most.

Cris Jacobs, who has spent the majority of his musical career as a bandleader and frontman, first in The Bridge and now in the Cris Jacobs Band, said he was relishing the opportunity to play some rhythm parts that are “so tight and funky.”

“Some of that guitar stuff is just so well placed, and it’s sort of like Afrobeat music in a way. You’re just finding your little spot and staying there the whole time,” he said. “I love how all the instruments work together.”

Adam said tapping Jacobs was a no-brainer.

“While a lot of people associate him with a folk-Americana sound, when he started The Bridge it was super funky,” he said. “He’s got the funk in him and he’s a tremendous guitarist.” Jacobs is also a core member of Neville Jacobs, a collaboration with New Orleans funk musician Ivan Neville, the son of Aaron Neville.

The three Baltimore natives agree growing up in the Jewish community helped foster their connection to music.

“In the suburbs of Baltimore and the Jewish community there was a really strong musical community that my brother and I and Cris Jacobs were a part of that spawned Black Eyed Susan [the Chase brothers’ old band] and The Bridge,” Adam said. “Music was an outlet for so many young people in the Jewish community in Baltimore to express themselves and keep themselves busy through their adolescence. When there was trouble to get into, a lot of us picked up our instruments.”

The James Brown Dance Party comes to Baltimore Soundstage, 124 Market Place, Baltimore, on June 19. $20. Show starts at 10 p.m. Visit baltimoresoundstage.com. The June 21 show is at The Hamilton, 600 14th St. NW. $25 to 35. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Visit thehamiltondc.com

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