By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the key players in the 1990s revival of gritty, instrumental funk, the Sugarman 3 brings its eminently jazzy, danceable sound to the Brick and Mortar Music Hall in San Francisco for two nights this weekend.
Saxophonist and band founder Neal Sugarman got his start playing tenor with a variety of punk bands in his hometown of Newton, Massachusetts, before pursuing a career in jazz with stints in New York City and New Orleans (where he worked with onetime Herbie Hancock trumpet player Eddie Henderson). It was in 1996 that he founded the funky group that bears his name.
Working steadily back in New York City with Hammond organ player Adam Scone and drummer Rudy Albin, the threesome mined a classic style of hard-grooving jazzy boogaloo that was perfected during the ’50s and ’60s by such organ greats as Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff while also throwing in a dose of sinewy funk influenced by James Brown and the Meters.
A popular club act around Manhattan, Sugarman and his crew (often augmented by an additional guitar player, horn player or vocalist/percussionist, despite the number suggested by their name) would connect with other like-minded retro soul players on the New York scene like bassist/producer Gabriel Roth (aka Bosco Mann), eventually founding the Desco Records imprint to put out their own 45s, records and CDs of the Sugarman 3 as well as tracks by powerhouse vocalists Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley and Lee Fields — the latter pair who the Sugarman 3 would eventually end up collaborating with in the studio.
While Desco would eventually fold despite garnering considerable critical acclaim for the raw fiery funk sides the label produced, it taught some important lessons to Roth and Sugarman that they would apply to their next venture, the still thriving Daptone Records empire.
In addition to tracking the group’s own recordings for the label like the blazing 2002 collection Pure Cane Sugar, the members of Sugarman 3 would become absorbed into the Daptone Records house band, the Dapkings. The musicians stayed busy recording and touring with the label’s flagship performers Jones, Fields and Bradley as part of the Daptone Super Soul Revue, the stylized, high-energy stage show modeled on the classic ’60s package performances presented by Motown and James Brown.
While the Sugarman 3 have not put out a new album since What the World Needs Now five years ago, the Bay Area’s knowledgeable funk fanatics are still sure to turn out in droves for a rare chance to experience the tenor player and his incendiary band live onstage at the intimate Brick & Mortar Music Hall for two nights this weekend. In addition to a couple of members likely performing double duty by spinning records as the Daptone DJs, the shows will feature local luminaries the Jazz Mafia Brass Band (the talented SF ensemble led by bassist/trombone player Adam Theis) supporting Friday night and compatible old-school Bay Area funk foursome the M-Tet warming up the crowd Saturday.
The Sugarman 3
Friday-Saturday, Nov. 3-4, 8 p.m. $17-$20
Brick & Mortar Music Hall