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Album Review

It won't take long — maybe ten seconds into the first cut — to know that the Meters are a primary influence on the U.K.'s New Mastersounds. The opening title track is such a ringer for "Cissy Strut" that you may check your CD sleeve to see if the discs weren't accidentally swapped. As the album unwinds, though, the all-instrumental quartet reveals more of its own identity: a sort of acid jazz mixed with crisp early-'70s funk grabbed from New Orleans' finest. Certainly drummer Simon Allen has been practicing to his Zigaboo Modeliste records, and it's his attack that principally drives the sound. The interplay between organ and Eddie Roberts' guitar carries the melody, but this band's motor is powered by its formidable rhythm section. Despite the Meters fixation, the New Mastersounds marry a somewhat retro approach with a contemporary spin that makes this fusion perfect for Austin Powers lovers. There is no denying that these guys bring the Southern funk, but the mix of their Brit jazz sensibilities and chops fine-tuned for maximum danceability spins the music in a unique direction. There's also more than a little Booker T. & the MG's here, especially in guitarist Roberts' sparse, choppy leads that echo those of Steve Cropper. What's most impressive, though, is how the band locks together. No member hogs the spotlight as these 14 tightly arranged zingers, most of them hovering just over three minutes, trim off the fatty jam tendencies that often sink similar combos by concentrating on compressed licks that kick out of the speakers with terse precision. The group shifts into pseudo psychedelics on the closing "Paranoid (Is It Any Wonder?)" as Roberts approximates a Cream-era Clapton-styled distortion that doesn't entirely resonate but at least shows a willingness to experiment and push boundaries. A few stabs at a lounge style also come up rather short, but the snappy funk is never more than a track away. Guest reedman Rob Lavers adds some old Crusaders-type horn work on a few songs, assisting a band that's already as in the pocket as they come.

Biography

Formed: 1999 in Leeds, England

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '00s, '10s

One of the cornerstone acts of the U.K. retro-soul scene, the New Mastersounds play taut, old-school instrumental funk with a contemporary energy and an enthusiasm that has earned them rave reviews and led them to collaborate with a number of major acts in Britain and the United States. The New Mastersounds were formed in 1999 by guitarist Eddie Roberts, who was DJ'ing at a weekly club night in Leeds devoted to classic soul and funk. When the event moved to a new venue that covered two floors, Roberts...
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