Author's Note: This article appeared in the November 13, 2008 edition of Fredericksburg's titan of news and information, The Free-Lance Star. In a follow up to the story, I learned that the funk's mother was worried sick about , and since being returned by the Third Stream Giants, the funk has been grounded for three weeks.
The link to the original article is in the title, so click if you'd like. Otherwise, enjoy.
Third Stream Giants have brought back "the funk." It's about time.
The up-and-coming octet plays funk and soul like the titans of old, with thick grooves and horn blasts aplenty. The band matches the soulful baritone of Anthony Campbell--the 2003 winner of the "Today" show's "Superstar" singing competition--with slickly executed horn licks and groove-oriented compositions, many of which are arranged by guitarist Matt Montoro. What results is a spirited collision of funk, soul and R&B that can adapt to various styles and genres.
The band will hand out fistfuls of funk at Washington's The Red and The Black this Sunday. Local fans who can't make the D.C. gig can burn off Thanksgiving calories with the Giants on Saturday, Nov. 29, at The Loft--or ring in the new year with them on Wednesday, Dec. 31, at Brock's Riverside Grill.
Their flexibility of styles means that, in addition to original compositions, the Giants can put their own spin on a wide range of songs.
"It's about playing the music that inspires us," said Montoro in a recent phone interview.
From Outkast to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," they try to integrate "all different types of music" into their particular style of funk, said Montoro.
While the band started as a jazz-fusion group in 2006, this far more funky incarnation has been playing together only for about a year. The current lineup features Campbell on vocals, a three-man horn line, keys and a tight rhythm section--creating a sound that's more akin to the hip-shaking style of Morris Day and the Time than the jazz heroes Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.
This fat sound and lineup carry over into the group's live shows, and while Montoro joked that they were not yet up to the Morris Day standard ("We're not at the point where we have uniforms or our choreography down pat"), the performance element of their shows is crucial, he said. "Going in, it's really just about connecting with the audience, whether we're playing in a large place or a small club where there might be 50 people out. We are definitely an audience-participation-type act."
What sets Third Stream Giants apart from your standard "let's get together and jam on some oldies" bar band is that they are unnervingly good. Their songs boast intricate and complex arrangements, and their players are more than capable of producing tight, well-crafted jams.
Montoro--who said that the band rehearses constantly to add new material to its set list--thinks it's the high-caliber musicians that draw people to their shows.
"Whatever style of music you listen to, I think most people can appreciate musicianship," he said.
With the recent rise of artists like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings rekindling the fires of funk and soul, it's almost hard to believe that a band as talented as Third Stream Giants has not broken out beyond being a regional band.
But since all the band members have day jobs (several are teachers, and Campbell works at the chamber of commerce) getting everyone together is logistically difficult, and the band won't release its first album until early next year.
The band has also suffered a loss--21-year-old Mike Smith, the original drummer, died in a car crash in July 2007. Montoro and Smith were good friends who had reconnected through the band, and Smith's loss compelled the group to do some "soul-searching" before moving forward.
"We had these big plans, and then tragedy struck," said Montoro. "I wish he was here and enjoying it with us."
In spite of the challenges, the Giants move forward--and Montoro is optimistic about what lies down the road.
"I see us being able to play at a lot of these great venues around here--The Birchmere, State Theatre--places that you can pull in a couple thousand people, but still have that intimate vibe," Montoro said. "I'd hate to lose that."