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The True Groove All Stars At The Cutting Room, Tuesday, March 11th, Reviewed

Tomas Doncker And The True Groove All Stars

Tomas Doncker And The True Groove All Stars

Tomas Doncker has so much presence he overwhelms every stage he is on and last night the True Groove collective of like minded funk and soul cats had their benevolent despot center stage, directing the band, and directing the the cavalcade of stars, with the stamina and sure handedness of a cross between a traffic cop and a Gulf State Potentate.  For two hours, Doncker showed us what he had created and man was it good. Kevin Jenkins segued from ambience to soul, Marla Mase mashed up elements from her catalog, Lael Summer, Natalie Smith and Heather Powell all pulled out a hit from their catalog, Sam Claiborne explained the elements of peace,  so even if the night belonged to James Chance and Charlie Funk, it was a blast getting to them.

Chance And Doncker

Chance And Doncker


True Groove’s latest signing is the legendary and soon to be expanding on his legend James Chance. While it is true that Chance has never really left the scene, the “No Wave” master of skronk and funk hasn’t  had a band with the power of the All Stars behind him before and while everybody who heard the James Brown cover on yesterday’s rock nyc (it is here if you haven’t) was expecting big things, and while as a good friend of Doncker’s I’d been privy to excited phone calls after band rehearsals extolling Chance’s performance, I was taking back by James. On a two song mini set, Chance blew me away, vocally the man sounds better than he ever has and his sax blowing can move from skronking jazz wilderness to no nonsense funk. The two songs performed, “Sax Maniac” and “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I’ll Get It Myself)”, were such full on energetic blasts of power funk, this 90 minutes into the set, it makes you wonder if Chance can sustain it over a full set. Nothing was left on these two songs, the sheer overwhelming power swept the audience away.

But James Chance I knew, Charlie Funk?  Doncker introduced Funk as one of his oldest friends so maybe that’s why he got to stop the show dead in its tracks for the wild and joyful funk of “Sexy Cutie” -a song so sweet and sexy it came with a band warning to all the women there! Sly Stone could use that song.

Doncker himself opened the proceedings with the exultation “Brooklyn2Ethiopia” and “Peace” (he had us throwing up peace signs for that one) and closed it with a singalong to “Lucky Day”. The True Groove All Stars recorded the performance for a future album release but the rearrangement of “Lucky Day” saves one of Doncker’s greatest songs from the sweet soulfulness of its second in command position on Small World, to an all hands on deck blast of joy on stage and compassion.  The only thing missing was “We’re A Winner”.

The band itself is just superb. David Barnes harp solo on “Shook Down” was irreproachable, Doncker, who bristles at guitar heroes he considers fakers, is himself one of the greatest guitarist out there, especially trading licks for harp blasts with David. But the young guitarist from Finland was pure style and sound on pedal steel guitar and the drummer? Jahn Xavier’s claim mid set that you can set your watch by him was proven true.

Any complaints? Of course, though none of them are musical.

1. The segue between featured singer to featured singer kept killing the momentum.

2. Enough already, I want to hear a full Doncker performance. I would love nothing more than to see Doncker carve through his astounding catalog on stage.

But once you’ve said that you’ve said everything and whatever caveats I might have about pacing, the packed out the Cutting Room didn’t seem to share it. Unlike the stuffier Blue Note gig last year, the audience let its hair down and Doncker had them snapping their fingers and stomping their feet throughout the show. A master master of ceremonies, Tomas directed the full stage (five brass players at one point) with a sure handedness that soon transcended to rock star cockiness.

Nobody who was there at the Cutting Room last night had any doubt that True Groove Records has arrived. Grade: A-

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