In torn jeans and fedora, guitarist Vernon Reid faced a sparse crowd Saturday at North Star Bar, but he played with undiminished energy. This was Yohimbe Brother Number One.
Across the stage, DJ Logic (Jason Kibler) manned turntables, shoring up the rhythms, layering samples and effects. According to the band introductions, this was also Yohimbe Brother Number One.
No hierarchies here.
With two albums (Front End Lifter and The Tao of Yo) and a new DVD (Freedom Now) to their credit, the Yohimbe Brothers have taken stock of crumbling genre barriers in their effort to crumble them a bit more.
Although the project involves a full band, Reid and Logic are co-instigators, with eclectic resumes and an interest in soldering heavy metal, hip-hop, dub, funk, dance music and ethereal electronica into something personal and relentlessly current. It's a junkyard aesthetic, girded by an ironic sort of precision.
At North Star, bassist Jared Nickerson and drummer Don McKenzie brought hammer-like force and focus to shifting beats. On keyboard and laptop, Leon Gruenbaum fleshed out the harmony but also joined Logic in an abstract, textural role.
Maya Azucena, the statuesque front woman (and self-described Yohimbe Brother sister), was in confident voice, swerving from the rapid-fire rhythmic punch of "Shine for Me" to the shout-along chorus of "More From Life" and even the Spanish-language reggae of "No Pistolas." Gaston, from the rap group Us3, broke in with rhymes on several numbers.
The songs had a certain improvisational give-and-take, giving Reid ample opportunity to shred on guitar, injecting tart blues phrases, metal hyperspeed picking and jazz-inflected atonality into the picture.
Even if small, the crowd was dedicated and ready to dance, meeting the question "How you doin' out there?" with determined, affirmative shouts.
With the band Living Colour, Reid came as near to rock stardom as a disciple of Ornette Coleman and James Blood Ulmer probably ever could. Logic has pursued an analogous course, bringing turntables into jazz and rock environments (Medeski, Martin & Wood, Uri Caine, Wallace Roney). The common denominator? Pushing black music idioms into unforeseen, experimental spaces, a process somehow radical and traditional.