By Joel Francis
The Daily Record
The covers of the three albums released by the ten-piece instrumental ensemble the Budos Band depict a volcano, scorpion and cobra. In other words, objects that are fascinating, even mesmerizing, from afar, but deadly serious up close. Like those totems, the Budos Band’s music can be appreciated, but rarely trifled with.
It is fitting, then, that the ensemble came together at the turn of the century during the Afro-beat revival lead by the New York-based combo Antibalas. Although inspired by – and sharing musicians with – Antibalas, the Budos Band developed a distinct voice.
“After a year or so of playing Afro-beat we refined our sound, brought in funk and soul influences and tightened things up,” said Jared Tankel, baritone saxophone player in the Budos Band. “That Afro-beat influence is still there, but our sound has progressed in different ways.”
While the band’s 2005 self-titled debut was a jumping off point from Afro-Beat to soul, Tankel said their second album – “Budos Band II,” released in 2007 – shows the emergence of Ethiopian jazz influences. That growth continues on this summer’s “Budos Band III.” The album’s darker and heavier undertones hint at the band’s rock and metal influences.
“It’s not explicit, but I think the undercurrent of that influence is there. It might influence our arrangements or approach,” Tankel said. “It’s still heavy funk and soul, but there is a darker influence.”
Although the textures and arrangements vary, Budos Band songs come together in a pretty straightforward process. Guitarist Tom Brenneck or bass player Dan Foder come in with a rhythm bed, or Tankel and trumpet player Andrew Greene develop a melodic horn line.
“Tom and Dan are in lockstep communication at a very high level,” Tankel said. “Whether they are coming up with something or building off it, a lot of ideas come from those guys.”
After the quartet refines the idea, it goes into rehearsal, where drummer Brian Profilio listens to the parts, suggests transitions and helps develop an arrangement. The song is then presented to the other half of the band – the percussion section.
“They really know how to keep in the pocket of the song,” Tankel said. “They’ve been playing together for so long they can really fall in together and give it the texture that makes it a Budos Band song.”
Just don’t expect that process to include a vocalist any time soon.
“That’s something a lot of people ask, but I feel we’re big enough with 10 guys (in the band),” Tankel said. “I feel this third album is our truest voice of what we have going on right now. I’m not sure a vocalist would fit. We’re having too much fun right now visiting all these exciting places musically on our own.”
Like every other album released on the Daptone label, all of the Budos Band’s output was recorded at the label’s House of Soul studio/headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. and produced by Gabriel Roth, aka Bosco Mann, leader of the Dap-Kings. As the band behind Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Daptone flagship artist Sharon Jones, the Dap-Kings have become a hot commodity.
“There is some competition between us and the Dap-Tones, but what we each do is different enough that the competition is somewhat limited,” Tankel said. “They’re on the path to stardom. We kind of enjoy being the scrappy little brother, still playing smaller size clubs and bars.”
The true competitive spirit lies in the band’s roots with Antibalas. The groups’ shared musicians over the years have lead to a healthy level of one-upmanship.
“At this point I don’t know if there are any shared musicians simply because both bands have become busy enough guys have had to decide,” Tankel said. “We’ll definitely hear something great Antibalas or the Dap-Kings come up with and want do it even better.”