Photo Gallery: Sophistafunk / Ill Funk Ensemble @ The Hollow, 03/18/2023

It was a busy Saturday night in downtown Albany, with lots of choices for musical entertainment. Those who chose live music at the Hollow were rewarded with two hip-hop/neo-soul bands who easily got the audience on their feet, swaying to the irresistible beat and groove.

Sophistafunk is Syracuse based but has a strong national presence from their constant touring and now being the house band for Guy Fieri’s Food Channel game show. Although by all means contemporary, their sound clearly echoes the past jazz fusion, funk, hard rock, and soul ancestry of hip hop.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Charismatic emcee/frontman Jack Brown stalked and dominated the stage much like what Mick Jagger would do in the rock world and rapidly fired his rhymes, expressing their meaning with wild, exaggerated motions and keeping the audience engaged. The band’s lyrics could be said to be progressive yet personal. Jack Brown’s poetic rhymes were as important to listen to as the grooves the band was churning out. His Number 40 Seattle Supersonics jersey spoke to the band’s indebtedness to the sounds of the 90s.

Emmanuel Washington’s powerful and creative funk drumming always hit on the one. It occasionally varied the pattern on the other beats to keep things interesting, much like many of the great funk drummers of old.

Tommy Weeks on wind instruments provided funky accents and effects to the band. Dueling with the keyboards to provide eerie effects. He was at times the visual center of the show or shared this with Jack Brown, prancing around the stage and dancing much like in a NOLA brass band.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Adam Gold was a keyboard wizard. 4 separate keyboards were in his arsenal. Among them was a clavinet that gave the feeling of old-school ‘70s souls and fusion. There was no bass player, with the exception of a single # where a guest satin. Gold’s old-school Moog bass was more than an adequate substitute and actually added character and resonance to the band’s bottom.

Songs like “Give Me Some Space” cried for personal freedom to make the right decisions, and “Make Em Clap” was a call to political activism. In case anyone was in doubt, Brown’s emphatic line “I’m not a rapper, I’m an activist” says it. The plaintive cry for “ No More War” was the band’s entire message.

Albany-based Ill Funk Ensemble opened the night’s festivities. They were more R&B based than Sophistafunk, and a lot of old-school hip-hop was also in their sound. Jermaine’s “A Tribe Called Quest” t-shirt also paid tribute to the progressive hip hop of old. Jermaine Wells’s “Summertime” was a welcome respite from the snowstorm earlier in the week. References to summer vacation make one think of those summer songs that can be heard blasting from car radios during summer road trips. “ I See You” featured BJ Fitzgerald singing in unison with his guitar. His snarling, screaming lead guitar provided flavor much like the guitar of Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers.  Bass player Justin Metz and drummer Anthony Deso were truly in the pocket. Metz also provided background vocals. Tommy Weeks sat in on tenor sax for one of the numbers.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Another great night for partying at one of Albany’s finer small music clubs. Thanks to Greg Bell for pairing these two bands!

Sophistafunk

  • Adam Gold-keyboards, beatbox
  • Emmanuel Washington-drums vocals
  • Jack Brown-Front man, guitar
  • Tommy Weeks- horns

Ill Funk Ensemble

  • Jermaine Wells- vocals
  • BJ Fitzgerald- guitar/vocals
  • Justin Metz- Bass, backup vocals
  • Anthony Deso-drums

Photo Gallery of Sophistafunk by Rudy Lu

Photo Gallery of Ill Funk Ensemble by Rudy Lu

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