Quantic Soul Orchestra, Phi-Life Cypher and Digitek

By Max Leonard

Anticipation was high this weekend as Brighton's favourite sons came to play at the town's favourite venue. Warming up on the decks was Rob Luis, mixing reggae in with forthcoming Tru Thoughts tunes, the standout being a syncopated, heavily funky version of the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army, replete with elephantine horns, by Nostalgia 77. The Soul Orchestra were preceded on stage by the formidably tall and skinny Phi-Life Cypher. Draped in their favourite ghetto fabulous styles, herbaholics Life and Si-Philly were both high and mighty as they hyped the already expectant crowd into a frenzy with a selection of favourites from Millennium Metaphors, as well as newer tunes taken from Higher Forces, their second LP, and first on Brighton-based Zebra Traffic. Ably backed by DJ Nappa, they cemented their reputation as being one of the best live crews around, with surefire freestyling and their unforgettable singalong chorus (à la Jimmy Cliff): 'I can see clearly now the crack smoke's gone'. Bizarre, maybe, but they know how to put their message across, and such weed-tinged moral rectitude went down a storm.

After a short hiatus during which a small battalion of microphones and amps were liberally distributed across the stage, the eleven-strong Orchestra took their places and launched straight into one of last year's bangingest 7s, the uplifting Pushin' On'. Alice Russell, guest vocalist extraordinaire, took control of the mic and treated the audience to her soaring voice, clearly stolen from a 70s soul diva, and which she doubtless has trouble containing within her relatively diminutive frame, such is its size and power. Rumour has it that she has made a Robert Johnson-style pact with the devil in return for her talents, but this is surely belied by her angelic appearance and cannot be substantiated. Disappearing after the first song, she let the orchestra proper take centre stage, which they duly did with aplomb. Suited and zooted, fresh from a triumphant appearance at London's Jazz Café a couple of weeks ago, they clearly relished the opportunity to play a more familiar – and bigger – venue. Super 8, their first single, came early on and set the tone, giving the rhythm section the opportunity to improvise, which the crowd lapped up; the Soul Orchestra's music is firmly based in the raw funky sounds of yesteryear and the records, though vital, rarely capture the energy and spontaneity of the live sound. John Hughes multitasked stage right, variously adding vocals, guitar and flute to different tunes, while Will 'Quantic' Holland hung back to the left, playing an assured rhythm guitar, allowing individual members of the band to showcase their own skills while discreetly directing the proceedings. All was presided over by Russ Porter, Limp Twin and QSO compere, who provided vocals, quadrophenic insouciance and a dapper little shuffle as he boogied to the groove created by those around him. The crowd followed suit, but needed little prompting as the music took over.

Proud of their Brighton roots, the band showed their mod influences, but also gave us a funky taste of the West Midlands, where many of them originally hail from, in a more reflective, slow burning number that gradually increased the vibe, driving the crowd ever wilder. Alice then reappeared to belt out Sunshine Anderson's Heard It All Before, as redone by the QSO on a cheeky little white label that is now rarer than hen's teeth. By the time they played the entrancing afrobeat-influenced Take Your Time, Change Your Mind the funk hung so heavily in the air that you could cut it with a knife; and, after introducing each member of the band in order that the audience could properly show their appreciation, Russ Porter led them offstage to huge applause. 4hero's Hold It Down was produced as an encore; stripped of the lush production of the original the QSO made it their own and then departed, leaving Digitek, Zebra Traffic's newest signing, to wrap the evening up.

Here at the Concorde 2 on Madeira Drive, the Quantic Soul Orchestra were playing to a partisan crowd, preaching a funky sermon to the converted. But as they have demonstrated at Cargo, the Jazz Café, and around the country, they are one of the best live acts around. Next stop, the Brighton Jazz Bop: catch them if you can.

 Picture showing Quantic Soul Orchestra.
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