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New York Funk Exchange & Otis Grove at Red Square in Albany, March 5, 2011

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New York Funk Exchange & Otis Grove Play Albany’s Red Square: Music Review

Serene Fortier, NY Funk Exchange“The New York Funk Exchange doesn’t curse,” explained singer Serene Fortier before their show Saturday, March 5th at the Red Square Saturday, in Albany.  “We play for everyone,” she added, “our music is about having fun – party songs people can dance to.” And dance, they did. A fair number of coeds with the tell tale X on their hands didn’t need booze to boogie to the seven piece ensemble’s rhythm and blues. Standing at a voluptuous 5 foot 2 without heels, Fortier has a larger than life presence with a sultry voice straight out of Motown.

She got the crowd moving, asking “don’t you want to shimmy with me?” with original tunes “Shimmy” and “Read Between the Lines” – a funky song about listening to your heart. By the time the band started the first familiar chords of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” the crowd was salivating for more old school funk. The band did not disappoint, playing a mixture of covers “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” “Cruisin,” and new songs that you could swear were straight out of another decade, such as “Look What You Started,” featuring an amazing saxophone solo.

NY Funk ExchangeThe group has been together since 2007, when Fortier and former Brooklyn roommate Jamey Zebrack (keys, vocals) brought together their fellow Berklee College of Music alum, Matty G (guitar) of Albany, with Ray Holman (drums, vocals), Matt Fox (bass), and the Wall Street Horns Nick Martino (trumpet), Mozard Pierre-Jacques (trombone) and Mike Farrell (sax). Self-described “weekend warriors,” the group maintains their day jobs while racking up as many gigs as they can on the side, including a West Coast tour in 2009. Fortier’s day job comes in handy, working at Avatar Studios where the band is currently recording their next album to be released this summer.

The Funk Exchange is no stranger to upstate New York, having performed locally on RPI’s campus television station and at Troy’s Revolution Hall. In 2009, they were chosen as the Sonic Bid’s performer at Camp Bisco 8, the annual music festival for the Disco Biscuits held in Mariaville. This summer, the group looks forward to bringing their positive vibes to The Big Up festival in Ghent in August.

Otis GroveEarlier in the night, the Red Square also played host to three other Berklee alums in the form of the Boston based funk trio Otis Grove, also known as the best band you haven’t heard of…yet. On only their second visit to Albany, the trio got the crowd dancing early, setting the tone of the evening with their combination of rock with organ jazz funk known as “The Runk” (also the tile of their latest album released by indie label Ropeadope). Opening with the rhythmic and energetic tunes “The Grind” and “Bobby No Sox,” both featuring long guitar jams, the band switched to rock melodies next, paying homage to their hometown with “Rock City” which is featured on its current album.

The band fluidly switched from jazzy funk with “Going Places” off their first album, featuring an organ solo, to a Jimi Hendrix medley consisting of “Little Wing,” Purple Haze,” and “Third Stone From the Sun.” The cosmic “Revenge of Dr. Fantastik” was an aural delight before the trio capped off the performance with a righteous cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.”

Grove features Sam Gilman on a 1970’s relic Hammond B-3 organ. Weighing 250 pounds, the organ was originally used by the band Kansas – a fortuitous craigslist find. The group also consists of Blake Goedde on the drums and Tyler Drabick on guitar. After meeting at Berklee the three began jamming together in 2004, inspired by their favorite bands Soul Live and Led Zeppelin. Signed by Philadelphia based Ropeadope Records in 2008, the band plays in and around Boston, with an upcoming show at the legendary Nectar’s in Burlington, VT on March 18th. They are excited to bring their runk to the crowds of the mega music and camping festival, Nateva this summer, held in Oxford, Maine.

–Stacey Stump is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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