Break. As in “breakbeat.” That ten second slice of percussive magic in the middle of a funk song that, when looped together by progressive South Bronx DJs in the 1970s, became the basis of the hip-hop movement. Arkestra. Out-there jazzer Sun Ra’s funkafied concept of the stuffy classical orchestra. Flip the script and you wind up with a unique definition of the 10 piece, Los Angeles based ensemble known as The Breakestra.
The Breakestra was born as the result of a vision by bassist/guitarist/upright cellist/producer Miles Tackett. Tackett fell in love with hip-hop after hearing Ultramagnetic MC’s’ Critical Beatdown in the late 1980s – the era in which tons of dusty drum breaks and funky samples first saw the light of day via enterprising hip hop producers such as Paul C., Pete Rock, Large Professor and DJ Premier. “In retrospect, I see that I gravitated towards hip hop because of its roots in funk music, “ Tackett told URB Magazine in 1999. “Now I realize that hip hop is the only music keeping funk alive.”
In 1996, Tackett more actively embraced his role as cultural preservationist. As part of the original crew that produced LA’s weekly coffeehouse series The Breaks, Tackett spun records by The Meters, Kool & The Gang and The JB’s. But he was a musician before he was a DJ. Why not assemble a band to rock the breaks he loved? A band that could interpolate and interpret that glorious funk for the hip-hop generation? Led by Tackett, the band that became The Breakestra came together: Josh “Wallet” Cohen on drums, Geoff “Double G” Gallegos and Tim Orngreff on sax and flute, Todd Simon and Paul Vargas on trumpet, Dan Osterman on trombone, Carlos Guaico on keys, Davy Chegwidden on percussion, Dan Ubick on guitar, Soulsister Demya and Mixmaster Wolf on vocals and Tackett himself on bass, upright cello and vocals.
The Breaks has since morphed into a Thursday night extravaganza called the Root Down, in reverence to organist Jimmy Smith’s classic. Tackett and The Breakestra perform regularly to capacity crowds along side hip hop luminaries such as Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, Black Eyed Peas, Freestyle Fellowship, Company Flow, Cut Chemist, Nu-Mark and DJ Shadow. And Tackett has transformed from a hip hop fan into a respected hip hop producer. Alongside producing T-Love’s acclaimed “Return of the B-girl” EP and supplying tracks for Cut Chemist and Rakka of Dilated Peoples, he’s also written songs for Macy Gray’s debut LP.
The world got a taste of The Breakestra flavor when the band dropped their debut 7” “Getcho Soul Togetha” on Stones Throw Records in the summer of 1999. Deep funk DJs like England’s Keb Darge and Ian Wright and NYC’s heavy-duty soulster Kenny Dope quickly picked up on the accessible slab of JB-tinged excitement – on which the multitalented Tackett plays drums, bass and guitar!
And The Breakestra has earned the respect of the funk artists whose music inspires them. They’ve played with The Arkestra. At a recent show in Nashville, Tennessee they played alongside legends Galt MacDermot, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and Wilbur “Bad” Bascomb. MacDermot, composer of the musical HAIR, gushes “These guys do have it together… they’re solid.” And Weldon Irvine, the seminal soul jazz pianist sampled by A Tribe Called Quest and KRS-One amongst others, proclaims “The Breakestra is really my kind of vibe.” No doubt! The Breakestra invigorate the breakbeat veteran and even pave the way for the funkily naïve to embrace the rhythmic revolution that James Brown kicked off more than thirty years ago.