The Tomás Doncker Band - Power of the Trinity...A Slight Return | Album Review | By Volume

Holding on too long is just a fear of letting go, because not every thing that goes around comes back around, you know. QOTSA - ...Like Clockwork

The Tomás Doncker Band

Power of the Trinity...A Slight Return

Turn up the Funk.

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Author: on November 4, 2013
True Groove Records
September 11, 2013

Funk and jazz, especially Afro-centric funk and jazz, would be the last genres I think of as apolitical. While I normally like thinking about and digesting my art without much biographical concern (whether this is right or not can be argued for, but that’s something for another day, another article), it’s hard to ignore the issues of civil rights in America and mass systems of global imperialism and colonialism throughout the world when listening to artists like Fela Kuti, Funkadelic, or Dizzy Gillespie, to name just a few. It’s no surprise, then, that Tomás Doncker and his band turn to Afrobeat funk and jazz to meditate on Abyssinian Emperor Haile Selassie I — an iconoclast of sorts who, at least in his more positive depictions, sought internationalist ideals in order to overcome a destructive culture of European expansionism — on their newest release, Power of the Trinity…A Slight Return. Perhaps what is surprising, though, and it is not so much surprising in relation to the historicity of artists in these genres and cultures of music, is the sheer positivity effervescing from each groove, solo, and chorus that The Tomás Doncker Band pull together. One of the more whimsical lines on the album comes from the opener, “Brooklyn 2 Ethiopia,” where Doncker manages to sing “shimmy shimmy cocoa puff / fuck yeah Abyssinia you just don’t stopwe’re here to make you move / to the groove inside the groove,” and not sound totally ridiculous. Clearly, Power of the Trinity is only really concerned about a pure positivist meditation of Selassie’s ideals; there is an idealism to the album that flows through its compositions.

And that’s always been the thing I’ve liked about funk. Me, the white suburban kid who couldn’t dance to save his life: funk is an interactive form of music that issues any philosophizing and culture critique through a deeply kinetic mantra. This mantra is the kind of thing Tomás Doncker brings out in spades. This is some groovy shit, but Power of the Trinity is also varied in its grooves; the kind of quality that defines the best funk records (and all sorts of various subgenres), like Maggot Brain. Of course, Tomás Doncker and his band of fine New York jazz, funk, and rock musicians (as well as Ethiopian guest singers Ejigayehu “Gigi” Shibabaw and Mahmoud Ahmed) are not aiming for quite the same thing as Funkadelic or other bands from that particular era of aggressive funk, rock and jazz. Doncker, a veteran of New York’s influential No Wave scene from the 1970s and 1980s, has put together a globalized soul/funk record that has trimmed rough edges into something streamlined and sleek. It’s a sound that suits these polished and talented craftsmen well; these are well trained musicians who have the kind of chops to make pretty much anything sound effortless. In turn the steady, percussive grooves, worked so well by Josh David’s bass lines and the tandem Daniel Sadownick and Damon Duewhite on percussion duty, flitter out over melodic keys and guitars, including contributions from the wonderfully talented and nimble Ethiopian guitarist Selam Woldemariam, which flex and change throughout Power of the Trinity.

Opener “Brooklyn 2 Ethiopian” slowly burns out of the gates as a bit of introductory fare. It’s not the highlight track on offer here, but it kind of unfurls as an overture of sorts. But instead of melodic intent, mood and philosophy are put on display: Doncker’s smooth baritone vocals whisp out into the track while some wonderful horn arrangements and a nice keyboard solo give the song shape and thrust. Although there’s not much in the way of a true showstopper here — the grooves and jams are too steady for such extreme highs or lows—the closest we come to a standout highlight is the stuttering “Habesha Girl” featuring Betty G and Juggla, who’s rapping verse adds a different texture to the proceedings—it’s something unexpected and ultimately delightful. This is probably why it’s a bit disappointing to follow up “Habesha Girl” with “Happy”; if “Habesha Girl” offered something a little unexpected, “Happy” does the opposite. It’s a late album comedown that seems to be there for the sake of that aforementioned groove variety. Hardly a deep misstep (remember I also said that there were no extreme lows), “Happy” is mostly disappointing because it’s the only track that really doesn’t lend to the flow of the record. In an otherwise well sequenced album, “Happy” feels a little bit like an afterthought.

But Power of the Trinity…A Slight Return redeems itself with closer “Adet Gurage 2013,” which is the kind of standard funky album closer that’s more of an extended jam session than a cohesive song. That, of course, is meant to be a compliment: there’s a fine line between jam-band tedium and playful jamming. “Adet Gurage 2013” offers us a final wave hello from a group of fine musicians making a short but impactful contribution to the world music scene. It’s a fun listen, which gives credit to its positivist philosophy. And if fun listen sounds patronizing, that would belittle the point of funk and Afrobeat as genres in the first place: this is communicative music, giving music; the kind that is meant to be interactive, celebratory, and inviting. In Power of the Trinity, Tomás Doncker has provided a welcoming invitation to his mantra. He has a version of social critique that puts a little more faith in humanity than we might be used to these days — and in this climate that’s a good thing.

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