Up for the down stroke

A while back, I had this weird dream where I was thumb-popping wicked Bootsy Collins and Bernard Edwards bass riffs onstage somewhere, in a funk band. We were playing an arena because, in the parallel universe of my dreams, the band had a No. 1 record—a nasty little Meters-style instrumental funk number I’d penned, titled “Double Flusher.”

Occasionally, vestiges of that dream resurface, and they either propel me into loading bad ’70s funk jams into an iPod playlist or slouching toward a grail quest of finding some new band that might be right at home rolling around town in a deuce-and-a-quarter (that’s a Buick Electra 225) blasting “Rollercoaster” until dawn. I remembered Brother Nefarious as being that kind of a combo, so when a notice popped up on MySpace (see www.myspace.com/brothernefarious) touting a Thursday-night gig at The Distillery, I made a point to get with it.

Now, Brother Nefarious still serves up main ingredients of the funk, but the band has changed drastically. The new lineup, a five-piece, is what East Coast chin-scratchers might describe as “rockist.” Translated, it means that Brother Nefarious sounds like a collision between the 1970s edition of the Isley Brothers and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. One reason for that is drummer Joe Palermo, whose driving, animated skin-bashing recalls Mahavishnu’s Billy Cobham. Bassist Ryan Fruchtenicht certainly has the boo-tay bass thang down, but he and Palermo don’t lock grooves the way, say, the Meters’ bass-drum combo of George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste do, or likewise with Booker T’s Duck Dunn and Al Jackson Jr.

But it’s all good. The sparse crowd at The Distillery seemed to feel the music, and a majority of it was dancing by the close of the evening. A focal point was guitarist Kazutoshi Haji, who seemed more partial to shredding like John McLaughlin than riding a ninth-chord vamp on his Gibson SG, typically a metal guitar—although he did work his wah-wah pedal a bit. Abraham Engel’s keyboards sometimes got buried in the mix, and he sang a few tunes. Frontman Yossarian Bowens, who didn’t play an instrument, seemed subdued during the band’s first set, but after a short break he really cut loose, as did the rest of Brother Nefarious—which used the gig as a lab to try out some new material.

If there was a weak point, it was in the songs and riffs, which could use a little help in the hook department; it’s what separates, say, Living Colour from the Isleys. Nevertheless, a band that can play this well has plenty of room to grow and time to find that killer groove. And if Brother Nefarious can consistently deliver the kind of set it finished with last week, it’s definitely worth watching.

Rosemont rib joint Boss Hawg’s may not be serving barbecue anymore, but a jazz club occupies that space now, at 9657 Folsom Boulevard, a little west of Bradshaw Road. The allegedly posh Yunece 61 doesn’t have a Web site listing information yet, but the bistro—an all-ages venue—gives displaced jazz fans a place to go. And it serves ribs, too, in addition to “Asian fusion” cuisine; owner Yoon Hee Cho is Korean, a nationality famed for its four-alarm cooking. For info, call (916) 361-2014.