Q: What is hip?
A: A crowd of music lovers gathered here at MPAC in Morristown, NJ this Sunday, November 3, 2023 to help the Oakland, CA R&B/funk group, Tower of Power, celebrate its 55th season as a band.
A fanfare plays and music lovers cheer as musicians Tom E. Politzer on sax, Adolfo Acosta on trumpet, Dave Richards on trumpet/trombone, Jerry Cortez on guitar, Roger Smith on keyboards, Marc Van Wageningen on bass, and Mike Jerel on vocals/keys — along with long-time members David Garibaldi on drums, Stephen “Doc” Kupka on bari sax, and Emilio Castillo on tenor sax — take the MPAC stage.
“New Jersey, how are you all doing?” asks vocalist Mike Jerel as he and Tower of Power launch into the funky “We Came to Play.”
Singing, “Do the get down, play that funky sound,” Jerel gets the crowd clapping along to the groove as the rhythm section percolates and the horns blare.
The audience cheers, and the group segues into the fast and funky “Soul with a Capital ’S’,” where the horn players vocalize along with Jerel, “Sweet soul music, that’s the best/Soul with a capital ’S’.” Concertgoers join in singing and Jerel responds, “I know we’re in New Jersey, but can we take these people back to Oakland?” as the precision TOP horn section punctuates the rhythmic groove.
Music lovers dance at their seats on the funk/disco number, “You Ought to Be Having Fun,” enjoying the party atmosphere and clapping along to the rhythm as lights flash to the beat.
Jerel asks, “New Jersey, are you having a good time?” before adding, “We’re so happy to be on the East Coast celebrating 55 years! Now we’d like to get funky like a bow-legged monkey!” Staccato horns and tight rhythmic licks create a soulful groove on “You Got to Funkifize,” and the crowd dances under flashing lights as Tom E. Politzer plays a funky sax solo.
The crowd hoots and hollers, and Jerel announces to the women in the audience, “Gorgeous ladies, let me hear you scream!” warning them not leave their men as he and the band gallop into “Don’t Change Horses (in the Middle of a Stream).” Jerel plays keyboard on this slowed-down funk tune which has the audience happily joining in on the song’s catchy “Giddy-up, giddy-up, hi-o silver” refrain.
Jerry Cortez plays a searing guitar solo, the saxes sway as they play, and Jerel scat sings and riffs before Roger Smith improvises on the organ in a call and response with Jerel that elicits enthusiastic applause from the crowd. After segueing into James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World,” Jerel and Tower of Power circle back to “Don’t Change Horses” with Jerel ending the number soulfully wailing on his knees to cheers and a standing ovation.
TOP founding member Emilio Castillo greets the crowd saying, “How are you all doing? It’s nice to be back in Morristown!” prior to inviting the audience to get up and do the ’70s dance, the bump, on “Down to the Night Club.” Concertgoers move at their seats and in the aisles as they join in singing with Jerel on the memorable “Ooh, the people be bumpin’ (at Bump City)/The joint be jumpin’ (at Bump City)” bridge of this rhythmic funk tune.
Castillo says, “We’d like to slow it down for a Tower of Power love song,” as the band performs the R&B ballad, “You’re Still a Young Man.” Rich vocal harmonies ring out on the “You’re still a young man, baby/Don’t waste my time” lyric on a dynamic arrangement which features high horn playing from trumpeter Dave Richards.
A happy-go-lucky groove has the horns bopping and Jerel scatting fast and loose on the swinging “This Time it’s Real,” after which Castillo acknowledges, “We were shuffling off to Buffalo on that one, and it felt good!” Then, Jerel invites the audience to stand, clap, and dance as the band lays down the groove for “(To Say the Least) You’re the Most” before the crowd happily joins in on the song’s snappy “You’re the most/From coast to coast” lyric.
On this rhythmic number, long-time band member Stephen “Doc” Kupka is featured on a low and funky baritone sax part and the horn line sways as they play. Roger Smith’s organ calls and Jerel responds vocally before David Garibaldi on drums, Marc Van Wageningen on bass, Jerry Cortez on guitar, and Smith on keyboard each take a turn in the spotlight and Jerel picks up a trumpet and joins in on the fun.
Castillo introduces his fellow band members and the musicians slide into a smoldering rendition of “Diggin’ on James Brown.” Castillo is the featured lead vocalist on this fast and funky number singing with enthusiasm, “Ya know the more things change/The more they stay the same/It may be a different age/But I’m on the same page/Cause one thing that I’ve found/I’ll still be diggin’ on James Brown.”
As the audience dances, TOP performs a medley of James Brown tunes like “It’s a New Day,” “Mother Popcorn,” and “There It Is,” after which the group jumps back into “Diggin’ on James Brown” to mighty cheers and applause.
Backed by the tight rhythm section and rich horns on the soulful R&B number, “So Very Hard to Go,” Jerel’s voice impresses on an arrangement which also features a smooth Adolfo Acosta flugelhorn solo.
Concertgoers cheer, and Jerel exclaims, “The clock on the wall says we got to go!” as the band sails into its final selection, “What is Hip?” Music lovers happily sing along on the number’s funky “What is hip?/Tell me, tell me if you think you know” refrain as they dance to the tune’s infectious uptempo rhythm.
Music lovers echo Jerel’s “Soul power!” chant, Politzer plays a funky tenor solo, and Jerel instructs to crowd to “Say Tower of Power!” as the music builds to a frenzy under flashing colored lights. Cheers emanate from the roaring crowd as Jerel concludes, “We are Tower of Power! We love you! God bless you!” to a standing ovation before the group leaves the stage and returns for a sizzling encore of “Souled Out.”
As concertgoers make their way out of the MPAC auditorium, they comment on tonight’s performance by Tower of Power. Declares Heidi from Califon, “I thought the show was awesome — this was the first time I’d ever seen them and they were great!” Explaining, “I came tonight because my friend had an extra ticket, but I’m leaving as a fan,” Heidi reveals, “Watching all those musicians made me want to play an instrument — they were all so inspiring!”
Jeff from Mahwah recalls, “This was the third time I’ve seen Tower of Power, and I thought they were incredible! They’re super tight and the sound was mixed really well. They’re not just a horn band — the rhythm section is crucial to their sound — and you could hear everything perfectly. I also appreciated how energetic they are. They put on a really good performance!”
Mike from Tenafly acknowledges, “I’ve been a fan for about 52 years. I’ve seen Tower of Power three times over the years and they never diminish!”
Amanda from Basking Ridge agrees, insisting, “I thought they were great! I was really impressed, especially for how long they’ve been touring — it’s hard to believe it’s been 55 years!”
Lastly Mark from Smithtown, NY asserts, “I’m a huge fan! I love Tower of Power, and they more than exceeded my expectations tonight! They’re so tight — so soulful — and it’s so uplifting to hear them play with that wonderful large sound,” before concluding, “They make your heart burst with joy!”
To learn more about Tower of Power, please go to towerofpower.com. For information on future great performances at MPAC — including The Temptations and The Four Tops on December 7, Dionne Warwick on February 16, and The Simon and Garfunkel Story on February 23 — please go to mayoarts.com.
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