Adjustin Loose: Brown goes for minimalism on record, maximalism on stage.  Loose: Brown goes for minimalism on record, maximalism on stage.
Adjustin Loose: Brown goes for minimalism on record, maximalism on stage. Loose: Brown goes for minimalism on record, maximalism on stage.

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“Won’t you get down to this funky stuff?” Ledisi asks. She has the appealing but somewhat generic voice of a modern R&B diva, but the clanging cowbell and clipped rhythm guitar behind her make the invitation quite inviting. At the minute mark of “Funky Stuff,” she chirps, “It makes you feel real good,” and the song’s actual author, Chuck Brown, makes his entrance with a purring baritone drawl—“Good, y’all”—as if he were arriving from a different world and a different century and bringing Duke Ellington and James Brown with him. It only takes two words for the go-go inventor to inject sex, Southernness, and a one-of-a-kind personality into yet another dance-party song. At age 73, Brown is all about distilling his music to its essence. On the five new studio tracks that open his new three-disc set, We Got This, he is singing fewer words, but those raspy syllables brim with such confidence and nestle so neatly into the go-go groove that they count for more than all the needless embellishments that clutter today’s R&B. The grooves themselves are similarly distilled, reducing the typically sprawling go-go band to a small, tight combo. The fact that those five new tracks occupy an entire disc is another kind of distillation, I guess, but it’s a disappointingly meager offering, considering that it’s been three years since Brown’s last album. On the other hand, all five tracks sound like catchy singles, from the bottom-heavy, call-and-response “All for You” to the Latinized “Senorita.” Like many aging stars, from Carlos Santana to Ralph Stanley, Brown tries to revive his career by bringing a bunch of guest stars on board: Ledisi on “Funky Stuff,” Jill Scott on “Love” and bassist Marcus Miller on “All for You.” But one personality dominates every track. Still, this is a weird package. The five-song EP is followed by a 22-track audio CD from a typical Brown live show at the 9:30 Club. That’s followed by a DVD of the same show. The 22 songs, presented as one continuous medley, include some of his biggest hits: “Bustin’ Loose,” “Woody Woodpecker,” “Wind Me Up,” and “We the People” (but not “We Need Some Money” or “Block Party”). There is less distillation on stage, where the four horns, five-member rhythm section, and too many guest singers crowd Brown. The DVD version captures the give-and-take between Brown and his audience but is marred by too many jarring zooms and pans. (Of the many Chuck Brown live albums, my favorite is still the first: 1986’s Go Go Swing Live.) As always, the highlights of the live set are Brown’s arrangements of jazz standards like Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” Lionel Hampton’s “Midnight Sun,” James Moody’s “Moody’s Mood for Love,” Earle Hagen’s “Harlem Nocturne,” and Louis Jordan’s “Run Joe.” Here is proof positive that young working-class audiences will still dance to jazz and sing along if you just give them half a chance.