by Jeff Niesel
The Cleveland Museum of Art bills its annual Solstice concert as “Cleveland’s signature summer event,” and this year’s gala, which crammed some 5,000 people into the museum’s courtyard where food trucks and satellite bars awaited, certainly lived up to the hype. Last night’s concert featured an eclectic mix of bands that you could loosely describe as world beat. But that certainly doesn’t do the complexity of their music justice.
The evening began with Debo Band, a Boston-based ensemble that plays old school Ethiopian funk. The band featured a vibrant horn section that was more than capable of playing both obscure covers and originals – the guys promoted the forthcoming release of their debut for Seattle-based Sub Pop Records, the label most famous for delivering grunge rockers Nirvana. The Debo Band’s smooth polyrhythms and good vibes provided the perfect beginning to the concert that would slowly evolve into a dance party.
Steve Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra followed Debo Band, and Bernstein, the band’s enthusiastic front man, had one of the best lines of the evening as he said, “You can get free pickles at Corky and Lenny’s; can’t we get some free love here in Cleveland.” Bernstein, who fondly recalled spending some time in Cleveland as a youth, energetically led his big band of players from New York’s trendy downtown jazz scene as they ripped through Sly and the Family Stone covers such as “Stand” and “Everyday People.” The band also played an old jazz number in honor of the opening of the new CMA exhibit Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, which patrons could view while at Solstice.
A psychedelic rock act out of New York, Gang Gang Dance turned up the volume with its experimental music that started strong but became a bit too atmospheric and droning by set’s end. That certainly wasn’t the case with Bostich + Fussible, two DJs from a Tijuana-based collective called Nortec. Making their Ohio debut, these guys hovered over a control box that looked like something out of the old Star Trek TV series as they played traditional Nortegna ballads and added electronic beats. Wearing big black cowboy hats, they danced in front of a large video screen that mixed images of low riders with street scenes from their Tijuana home. Accompanied by a tuba player and accordionist, they started with a strong groove and never let up.
Peru’s Novalima brought the energy level down a bit as their take on traditional Latin American music was tempered by a strong soulful vibe. Nevertheless, it provided a nice ending echo to Debo Band’s opening set.