Music is a vessel, hollowed and filled with the libations of words and sounds poured over the world to leave behind a legacy. Music is forever.
“Let me run these rhymes
through your brain
And jog your memory.
Remind you that I’m better
than I think I am.
Yeah, you’re gonna remember me.”
— JB! aka Dirty Moses
John Brown composed those words for “God Self Icon,” a track that appeared on his 2019 album Libations and comes back to life on Victory Soul Orchestra’s latest video through Foster House Studios.
The Albany rapper’s name, known on the stage as JB! aka Dirty Moses, has been linked with the funk and soul band for two years. He’s the gent in the New York Yankees ballcap gesticulating on its Facebook cover picture captured at Lark Fest. He’s been lending words to the voiceless troupe since they crossed paths on the stage one night at Savoy Taproom.
The cocktail bar and restaurant holds the torch for a Lark Street music scene once held by Justin’s. Some people lament the loss of the latter, a classy jazz joint with renowned chef Ric Orlando in its kitchen, as the end of the neighborhood’s Golden Age. However, today’s generation sees places like Savoy and Lark Hall bookending a neighborhood culturally diverse with choices for cuisine and art. It represents the ebb and flow of life.
Savoy’s modest stage was hosting the biggest names in the scene for its first birthday that night. Names included Girl Blue, Ryan Leddick Trio, Jeff Nania and many others. Brown recalls how he was on stage with DJ Trumastr when Victory Soul Orchestra started setting up behind him. Regardless of its size, there’s no hiding a nine-piece band with a horn section as it prepares to play.
There’s usually a break in the music as one band breaks down to make room for the next. Brown’s instrument is his voice, and Trumastr has his turntable. Maybe some assumptions were made, or maybe times were crossed between bands, but a line was crossed somewhere.
“I looked back. Gave them the evil eye. They looked at me. Gave me the evil eye,” Brown said. “Joel [Yannuzzi] and I are too old to do anything stupid.” But, there was some “negative energy” generating between the two acts. People picked up on it, as did Jason Pierce, Savoy’s owner. He approached them both to suggest playing a set together. And, just like that, another birthday was established.
Victory Soul Orchestra adds a different flavor to Brown’s hip hop style. It sounds fresh. Knocks you in the knees to where you think it’s different. Old school rappers laid down words in front of backbeats and melodies captured in songs from the past. A blast from a good horn section is powerful. It worked out alright for Jay-Z and Kanye West not too long ago, but watching an emcee work in front of a live band is a dance worth seeing.
“Basically we wanted to record live with video,” Yannuzzi said, describing something out of MTV’s past. He wanted to capture the energy of a live performance surrounded by an audience. That sparked a conversation with Josh “Mirk” Mirsky at Foster House Studios.
Mirsky has lent a hand to Yannuzzi and the band before. When the band dropped Astrobeat last January, it prepared to hold a release party at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen. When the band got up onto the stage to play its set, they discovered the struck head had punched a hole through their kick drum. A few minutes later, the band takes the stage and starts to play. Mirsky is standing in the VIP section babysitting the fresh bass drum he just brought over from his studio. Our music scene is family. Snap back to this January, the band was recording in that same studio atop Washington Avenue Armory.
Mirsky said he always wanted to do a “Live at Foster House” series. He’d host a band and record the audio tracks while a videographer comes in to capture the visuals. There was another idea to produce the production like a silent disco, supplying the audience with headphones to hear the mastered product.
“We filmed it. … It doesn’t sound like a live album. It sounds like a studio album,” Mirsky said. “It really came out awesome.”
Jamel Mosely of Mel eMedia produced the video, which was released on YouTube last month. It features the JB and Victory Soul Orchestra surrounded by about 30 friends and family dancing or swaying in their chairs with their headphones on. “He was a quiet presence the whole time,” Yannuzzi said of Mosely. “He’s a great observer.”
The four-song video opens with “Suspension of Disbelief” before the band goes full throttle with “Shoot Your Shot.” The only track off Astrobeat that features Brown on the record, it carries the inspirational message to go out and grab your dream. Mirsky calls the Victory Soul Orchestra video the “maiden voyage” to his idea of producing similar video-recording packages for a Foster House Studio series that will feature local bands. Capturing the energy of a live performance while not compromising sound quality on a monthly basis, he said, would be ambitious.
“If I can apply that and get enough people interested it would be one of the more fun things I’ve done for my studio and in my studio in a very long time,” Mirsky said. “I really enjoyed it.”
A libation is a ritual that serves to honor the dead. It involves the pouring of a valued substance, often the product of one’s hard work — wine, olive oil, rice, honey. It’s a practice that extends back to antiquity throughout several cultures including those in Africa.
Brown’s libation was an offering through music. “God Self Icon” served as the final of four songs on the video, but the band continued to play a concert afterwards to entertain the audience, many of whom helped fund the video and recording; passing on the gift of music.