Ashley Parent, Arts Editor
On Wednesday, October 26, I had the pleasure of spending my evening immersed in the sounds of the SUNY Oneonta Funk bands at the Black Oak Tavern. I had pretty high expectations before the first band took the stage, as both bands are under the direction of music department Professor Jeremy Wall, a Grammy nominated composer and keyboardist. I left the Oak after hours of well spent grooving to sublime music put on by some of the most talented musicians on campus.
Wall’s Funk bands are recognized, credit-bearing ensembles within the college’s music department. They require an audition to ensure the members’ playing abilities exceed the expectations demanded by the musical repertoire they sample. The Funk bands selected their setlist from a variety of genres; they tested the waters of modern Jazz-fusion, Rhythm & Blues, classic Funk, and other niches. The members of these bands are certainly deserving of their roles as they play close to the level of Wall.
The first group to play on this night had six members, featuring Gabrielle Feliciano on vocals and saxophone, Matt Horne on trombone, Derek Moss on guitar, Mike Rotunno on bass, Ben Rudolph on drums, and Wall on the keys. This group primarily played a funky, Jazz-fusion filled set, and the music had a similar sound to the band Snarky Puppy. It was clear that the students enjoyed jamming together, especially alongside Wall, who once played music of a comparable color in the 1970s Jazz-fusion band Spyro Gyra.
What I found particularly striking about the first band was the virtuosity evident in each musician’s playing style and how each member was able to shine both independently and as one solid unit. As the band’s front-person, Feliciano seemed completely at home on stage; she offered a one-two punch with her soulful singing and practically gleamed on when she played her sax. Derek Moss offered his own impressive guitar solos with devil-may-care showmanship that seemed to elate not only the audience but also the band. Each instrumentalist worked together on their improvisations; they were a gem to behold as soon as they hit the stage.
The second band displayed the talents of Cat Schaum on vocals, Rob Ayala on trumpet, Jacob Toher on saxophone, Zach Gainey on trombone, Nick Viglucci on guitar, Gianni Pietroboni on bass, Mike Sanbeg on drums, and Jeremy Wall again on keys. This group played a set with more popular Funk-based tunes. What I enjoyed about the second set was that I knew some of these songs and could sing along, and it fit that this band played later in the night at the bar when of-age customers were presumably a little more loose. This band played pretty straightforward Funk pieces, which was more of what I expected for the night. The entire brass section was the cream of the crop; I reveled in the fact that they played more integrated parts than the previous act. While the first band created a surreal atmosphere that transcended average bar music, this group seemed to emit more of a party vibe in playing their funky music.
From an audience member’s perspective, it was exciting to watch fellow students play alongside the esteemed and fervent Jeremy Wall. Every person in these bands had talent that seemed to be brought out by Wall himself; he did not outshine the other musicians but instead inspired them to play harder, better, and with heart. Wall tickles the ivories with a great amount of energy and spirit—it’s enthralling to be in concert with such an accomplished artist.
The Funk bands created a certain ambience at the Oak that was less college-town bar and more late twentieth century dance party. Everyone on stage and in the audience was grooving together, sharing their love of music. Jeremy Wall’s Funk bands are groups that exude good vibes and unmatched musicianship when it comes to our college’s bands. Funk nights at the Oak should be on every student’s college to-do list; the shows are accessible as they are open to anyone over 18. The music they play is high energy, great to groove to, and is pleasing to even the most one-track-mind genre-locked listener.
The Funk bands offer a far-out experience because they surpass any and all expectations for a college band that plays within the bar scene. Take some time this semester to check these bands out—their next gig is at the Black Oak Tavern on Wednesday, November 16!