SXSW Live Shot: Kashmere Stage Band Thunder Soul Orchestra

Houston funk juggernaut meets the godfather of soul

In its original late-Sixties/early-Seventies incarnation, Houston’s Kashmere High School Band was begun by visionary music teacher Conrad Johnson, who sharpened the students into a crack ensemble whose brawny, fluid, big-band sound was as powerful as those of funk’s best-known pioneers.

While Johnson’s influence changed the lives of his students in ways that went far beyond music, the orchestra released LPs that eventually fell into the hands of modern DJs, hip-hop artists and R&B fetishists. The resurgence helped spawn an unexpected rediscovery that became 2011’s inspirational documentary Thunder Soul, and sparked a rebirth for the now branded Kashmere Stage Band’s Thunder Soul Orchestra as a live act featuring alumni of the original group.

Photo by Sandy Carson

On Sixth Street Wednesday night, the descendent outfit’s joyous, rousing, mini-revue proved the current lineup to be more than capable of carrying the original group’s mantle. A well-oiled 12-piece including a six-man horn section, the crack unit radiated effortless charisma, ingratiating showmanship, old-school audience engagement, and a volcanic instrumental rapport that was equally impressive in its heavy funk originals andnods to P-Funk, Public Enemy, and James Brown.

The musicians were particularly impressive in acing an extended medley of Brown tunes, stamping their own personality on the material while negotiating the songs’ rhythmic challenges. They demonstrated a confidence and expertise that belied the band’s non-pro origins and an elemental sense of uplift instantly disarming whatever cynicism might be ingrained in any music festival.

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Kashmere Stage Band Thunder Soul, SXSW Music 2014, Conrad Johnson, James Brown

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