Two generations of music virtuosos performed back to back at Wednesday night's Red Bull Music Academy event.
A quartet fronted by Indy funk legends Lester Johnson (Ebony Rhythm Band) and Steve Weakley (Funk Inc.) kicked the night off, followed by California-based hip-hop producer Exile, known for his prodigious performance skills on the MPC sampler.
Those in attendance who expected a night of danceable, club-friendly, funk and hip-hop grooves were seriously disappointed, as the evening's entertainment was far more nuanced.
Johnson and Weakley started off strong, opening with the Funk Inc. classic "Kool is Back." But their set quickly veered off into smooth jazz territory, leaving much of the young audience disinterested. Occasionally the group came roaring back to life, revisiting the hard funk grooves that Weakley and Johnson built their reputations on. A solid rendition of the The Meters' anthem "Cissy Strut" was a highlight.
Exile also struggled with dynamics. The producer's introductory DJ set was overloaded with atmospheric, downtempo instrumentals that failed to capture crowd's attention. In contrast, his masterfully frenetic improvisation on the MPC sampler elicited a big response from the packed house.
Overall, it was a fun night, despite the inconsistent pacing. It would be great to see more events like this paying tribute to the pioneers of funk. After all, it's their breaks and beats that provided the foundation on which hip-hop was built.