Like kaleidoscopic sardines they crammed themselves onto the tiny Beachland Tavern stage and fired up a marathon set of dirty, dirty funk. Each musician was decked out in a solid-color jumpsuit. Singer/guitarist Dave Brandwein wore baby blue. And as he threw down slick six-string melodies alongside the rest of the band's multifaceted groove machine, he often leaned into the microphone and belted soulful screams that signalled to the increasingly excited crowd that Turkuaz, this strange funk hydra from Brooklyn, does not mess around.
That was sometime last summer or fall, when Turkuaz last played Cleveland. They'll post up in the Ballroom Thursday night, which will afford both their sound and their physical bodies a bit more wiggle room. To be clear, wiggle room is good for funk.
And Turkuaz thrives on the slinky bass lines and hyped-up vocal stylings of their funk predecessors.
The band's latest album, Future 86, comes as a the result of long stretches on the road, guitarist Craig Brodhead says. More than anything, the album reveals how cohesive Turkuaz has become over the years. Examples abound in each song, from opening track "Bubba Slide" to deeper cuts like "T.V." and "X.Y.Z. (Feelin' Tough)." The latter track features a stunningly tight guitar riff over exotic percussion. It's the sort of worldy composition that Turkuaz might not have written in the past; the song has a very full sound to it (note the explosive chorus). And that song comes after its complement of sorts, "E.Y.E. (Lookin' Good)," which places horns front and center. For a 10-piece band, they need to take any chance they get to flesh out new tunes and rehearse. The road presents an ideal venue.
"It's very hard to rehearse," Brodhead says. "And when we're back in New York, obviously, we all have jobs. When we get back that's just what we do. So a lot of it happens through demos. We come up with little ideas and then send them around. If someone comes up with a groove, someone will write lyrics over it, and we'll all be kind of aware of this material that we're trying to work on.
"It's a very collaborative process," he says. "We have a trust in one another as far as how we're going to interpret various parts - especially the horns."
The story goes that Brandwein and bassist Tyler Shell were cooking up tracks together as roommates at Berklee years ago. They were really into Sly and the Family Stone. Fresh, in particular. They still are. After a while, though, they had a nice batch of songs that they informally referred to as their funk record.
Well, a friend who worked at Berklee's label, Heavy Rotation Records, sent their funk record in as a submission, unbeknownst to them. The label approved it, and, as part of the approval process, set them up with a show at the Berklee Performance Center. All of a sudden, Brandwein and Shell had a show coming up that necessitated some sort of 10-piece funk band that they hadn't yet assembled.
They pulled it off: Horns, keys, female singers and all. Of the 10 who played that gig, five remain as members of what we know all call Turkuaz. After they moved to New York and began settling in to this newfound musical identity, everything about the sound and the band members began firming up.
Along with others, Brodhead joined with a few years ago; he had moved out to New York after studying at Berklee and, earlier, growing up in Pepper Pike. Here in Northeast Ohio, he played shows at the Grog Shop, Peabody's, the Odeon. "It was a really great community I had to just be creative," he says, referencing the musicians he met at alma mater Gilmour Academy and nearby Orange High School.
Eventually, though, he landed in Turkuaz, and the result has a been a steadily growing wellspring of funk. The natural offshoot of that funk, of course, being the live show, which arrives neat and possibly jumpsuit-clad in Cleveland this week. (Brodhead notes that, with respect to the jumpsuits and the other apparel they don at various times, they've gotta remind themselves and the crowd that life can't be too serious all the time. Enter the funk.)
Turkuaz with The Mucklebuck 8:30 p.m., Thursday, May 29. Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $10 ADV, $12 DOS, beachlandballroom.com.