Forever Funky

NYC's Turkuaz explores its '80s influences on Digitonium

click to enlarge Some see Turkuaz as a jam band, but they're mighty funky, too. - DANI BRANDWEIN PHOTO
Dani Brandwein photo
Some see Turkuaz as a jam band, but they're mighty funky, too.

Turkuaz didn't always play such long songs on stage. In its early days — not long ago, 2008 to 2011-ish — the Brooklyn-based nine-piece generally played 25 tunes in a night, three to four minutes each. This was lean, efficient funk rooted in the tightly wound traditions of James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone.

Then in 2012, Turkuaz hit the road in earnest. The band began to evolve, often out of necessity.

"We'd show up at dive bars and they'd say, 'Hey, you all need to play for four hours.' So we'd be like, 'Uh, we should add some other solos to this song. Extend this section. Put a bass solo there,'" says band leader Dave Brandwein in an interview from Colorado. "Luckily, we have a lot of really great instrumentalists, so it came naturally to kinda open things up and extend them and jam a little bit more."

Indeed, seven out of the nine members of Turkuaz attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Brandwein founded the band with bassist Taylor Shell. (Brandwein also met his wife, Spokane native Dani Barbieri, in Boston. She oversees all of the band's visual elements, such as photos, wardrobe and merch.)

For those unfamiliar with Berklee, that means these folks can play. Which is, no doubt, one reason Turkuaz plays jam-friendly festivals and does well with the country's legion of jam-band fans, who love displays of instrumental virtuosity only slightly less than noodle-dancing.

But that's live. On its most recent full-length album, Digitonium, Turkuaz is a buzzy, synth-soaked, '80s-influenced funk monster. The idea going in, Brandwein says, was to explore a wing of the band's influences it hadn't really explored before.

"Back in the early days when we started playing, that wasn't the era of funk that we ever listened to," he says. "This was everything from Talking Heads, Genesis and Peter Gabriel to Zapp & Roger, Morris Day and The Time, Prince, stuff like that ... but with a pretty hi-fi, modern digital sound."

Brandwein and Shell stumbled into what's now their career almost by accident. As friends at Berklee, the two dabbled in a number of different projects, bouncing from genre to genre. When it came time to try their hands at disco and funk, they made a demo, which found its way into a school-sponsored contest. They won, which meant they had to play a showcase. And that meant putting together a band.

Five of the nine people who'll play with Turkuaz in Spokane also played in that showcase way back in 2008, Brandwein says. They knew even then that they had something.

"It really caught on, and we decided we wanted to stick with it after school," he says. "We were like, 'Man, I think this has potential. I think people dig this.'" ♦

Turkuaz with Tone Collaborative • Fri, May 13, at 8:30 pm • $15-$50 • 21+ • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague • • 244-3279

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