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Band Hip Hop R&B


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Live funk and soul with a dose of hip-hop lyricism are a few elements you’ll indulge in when catching a Vertikal show. Not to be pigeonholed as a Roots-like hip-hop band, Vertikal’s refined instrumentation and mature vocals will leave a unique and lasting impression on any first-timer. They’ll be performing at Morseland on the last Wednesday of every month, but be sure to catch them early so you can brag to your friends how you were hip to them way before they were. (J. Min) - JMIN of Centerstage Chicago


Demo2DeRo: Vertikal

If you’re looking for a Chicago analog to Okayplayer—the loose-knit, Philadelphia-based musical community centered on the Roots but also embracing Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and many others—the nine-piece band Vertikal is a strong contender. Founded by local guitarist Anthony Allamandola and featuring a DJ, a three-piece horn section and two diverse front people with the sultry-voiced Stacy Rene and the spoken-word artist Ben Butta Jones.
Dedicated to bridging the gap between hip-hop and jazz but also incorporating elements of funk, neo-soul, Latin, rock and blues, the mixed-gender, multi-ethnic band nonetheless churns out some surprisingly seamless and very accomplished grooves on tracks such as “Ready or Not” and “Time Chasin’,” currently streaming from its Web site,, and definitely in need of wider release. Jim DeRogatis, Chicago Sun Times
- Chicago Sun Times

"Neo-Soul Band Takes Soul to New Heights"

This eight-piece band takes neo-soul to new heights.
Friday Feb 06, 2009. By Jeff Min Music Feed

Like a fine wine paired with a gourmet meal, jazz and hip-hop are both unique flavors that demand years of understanding to ensure a seamless fusion. It boils down to the balance of ingredients, quality of product and execution, and in Vertikal's case all three seem to come together for one savory experience.

Founded by Chicago guitarist Anthony Allamandola, Vertikal is an eight-piece band that combines elements of soul, funk, rock, reggae and hip-hop into a warm groove that would slap a smile on any soul enthusiast. The group has performed capacity shows at the Metro and Double Door, and in 2007 it was voted audience favorite at the Emergenza national finals competition. Centerstage caught up with members of Vertikal to see how it all began and when its album will finally drop.

Who are the members of Vertikal and what are your respective instruments?
In alphabetical order: Anthony Allamandola – guitar, Justin Boyd – drums , Anthony “Bruno” Bruno – saxophone, Lorin Cohen – bass, Raphael Crawford – trombone, Tobias Kaemmerer – trumpet, Stacy René – vocals and Shasa “Ben Butter” Ward - vocals.

How did all of you meet?
Raphael: Tobias and I played in another band, Orquesta Ranura, and he was roommates with Anthony at the time. Anthony was looking to start a jazz/neo-soul project, and Tobias and I both had separate experiences with such projects, so we joined forces. Tobias brought Bruno into the fold, and I knew Lorin from the jazz scene; Anthony pretty much pieced the rest of the band together.

Justin: I met Anthony through a singer that I went to high school with.

Butter: At my high-school reunion I bumped into an old friend who attends Anthony’s church, she learned he was looking for musicians and gave him my info. Anthony was still interested in having another vocalist. I had met Stacy at an outdoor arts festival a couple months before, knew she was a singer, and invited Anthony to an upcoming recital that she had. The rest is history…

Now I’m sure you’ve been endlessly compared to contemporary hip-hop fusion acts such as the Roots, Erykah Badu, Black Star, but what, in your words, best describes your sound?
Justin: I think Vertikal's sound is different from the groups listed, due to the horn section and we don't have any keys happening.

Raphael: Clarity in sound and song form.

Butter: People often remark that it surprises them that they could understand every word when I rap, so definitely clarity. We’re a mix of jazz, which is our foundation, and hip-hop, R&B, funk, house or any style that sounds and feels good. It takes so long to always say that, so “acid jazz” is usually my cop-out answer. Unpredictable and always fun live. Music both you and your grandmother would like.

Clearly I can hear elements of soul, funk and R&B. Run through some classic musicians from the past that have helped inspire you along the way.
Justin: As a drummer I listen to ?uestlove because he is the textbook definition of classic hip-hop/R&B drumming. Chris Dave on the other hand fuses all styles of music when he plays and often drags the beat to create a different kind of pocket. Last but not least is Gerald Heyward; he is the happy medium to me between Quest and Chris. He has a phenomenal pocket and great chops.

Butter: Bobby McFerrin, Stevie, Ella & Louis, doo-wop harmonies, ska harmonies, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang, the JB's and 80s R&B and pop just to name a few. The way artists like James Brown gave the audience a “show” alongside great musicianship set a huge precedent for bands like us.

Anthony: For me a pianist from Chicago named Lenny Tristano.

Stacy- All the ladies of jazz, as well as Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, but also current artists like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Amel Larrieux, Ani DiFranco, Lauryn Hill...a little bit folksy and a whole lot of neo-soul.

Raphael: Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Herbie Hancock, Incognito. Newer artists, too, like Roy Hargrove & RH Factor, D'Angelo and Outkast.

Fusing the “old” with the “new” and still remaining progressive is a challenge unto itself. How does Vertikal approach that dichotomy?
Tobias: I think what makes our music unique and progressive is the fact that we feature a considerable amount of improvisation in our songs. In the past, most of the types of music we work to blend together and augment have been played without that much emphasis on improvisation i.e. hip-hop, R&B, soul, etc. Our compositions borrow elements of these various styles, and our approach to them always includes giving our musicians room to invent on the spot. We have an edge in this area because many of our members are seasoned jazz musicians and improvisers.

Break down the song “Ready or Not” for me.
Raphael: In my head, I had the concept of an intense, up-tempo, seriously minor jungle beat. The punchy bass line locks with the drums, the staccato guitar part fills out the harmony and the horns give the song some fire. Stacy listened to the music and put the words to it.

Stacy: “Ready or Not” is about my personal search for spirituality and my struggle with organized religion as it intersects with faith. Even though the song is about many conversations I've had with my mother on my choice not to go to church and my qualms with Christianity, it's really about our common struggle to find what we believe and a community of people who believe the same as you. I'm still searching each day, struggling to be good and stay strong-ready or not.

Butter: Many of us are frustrated with injustices, with government, with media, etc. I'm trying to be a disciple of Jesus, and while on this path, I, too, am searching for answers. So for me, it's a song about us needing to search, being guided by our faith, acknowledging the problems and working together as communities while each of us searches on our own paths.

Mainstream hip-hop can be very stale at times. What’s Vertikal’s stance on this?
Tobias: Yes, it can. Any type of music can be made stale and mainstream hip-hop has a particular vulnerability to this staleness, due to its simplicity. We try to take hip-hop out of the realm of repetitive beats and not-so-interesting messages, and mix it into a world of tasteful harmony, live instruments and purposeful story-telling.

Butter: Given that we make this music first for love and not money, it’s music-driven. And I think each of us likes to impress the rest of the band, so members are constantly bringing fresh styles, arrangements and ideas to the table.

Raphael: We try and avoid this by writing tunes with harmonic and rhythmic depth, and multiple sections i.e., verses, choruses, hooks, horn solos, etc- thereby keeping it musically interesting and minimizing over-repetitiveness.

I once interviewed Count Bass D and he said that true “soul music” comes from the church. Thoughts?
Raphael: True, but it also comes from blues and jazz. There's always been a marriage between jazz and soul; back in the day, even jazz greats like John Coltrane and Clifford brown regularly went on the road with R&B and early soul acts.

Butter: Ha ha...I recently wrote a song called “Yeah, We’ve Got Soul,” an attempt to capture the evolution of modern music from blues, and there’s a line in it”: “Gospel—she had a younger, sec-u-lar bro/and you could bet-he-would-grow/the ‘Go was nam-ing-him “soul”/music by reg-u-lar folks/Etta and Ni-na Si-mone/records in ev-e-ry home/before the cell-u-lar phone.” Are we “soul”? Some call us “jazz,” some “R&B” others “hip-hop” and even “neo-soul.” Regardless, soul and gospel are definitely closely related, in that the Black church was an integral part of Black life in the '40s, and it reared many singers who later decided not to sing songs about God.

Justin: There is definitely a lot of soul in church music but not a lot of God in soul music, you feel me?

I do. Any albums in the works?
Raphael: Planning to go into the studio sometime this year. Look for a release in late '09/early '10.

Justin: Yeah, but it'll take two years to record, due to eight people and busy schedules...hahaha.

What are some things about Chicago that inspire your music?
Justin: City life is an inspiration in itself.

Butter- The beautiful and talented people in this city, and the variety of scenes and diversity of cultures, despite not always being mixed together.

Stacy: Wintertime. We’re all survivors of this frigid cold which inspires creativity. I think we’re forced to get really intimate with ourselves and others as we hibernate in our small spaces for months on end trying to get warm. It creates tension and togetherness with loved ones. And in a way, although it seems like Chicagoans are a bunch of haters, I think we are actually quite connected- the Chicago community as a whole because of this unique experience. And of course the pretty lake and late-night tacos help to inspire me all the time.

Any favorite spots to perform?
Stacy: Martyrs' has great sound and wonderful staff!!

Justin: Anywhere that’s comfortable with a good soundman.

Raphael: Metro, Double Door. Otherwise, like Justin said: anywhere with a good room sound and competent sound guy.

Butter: Larger venues with larger stages and capacities are definitely great. At the same time smaller venues like Subterranean with friends and fans and strangers all smooshed together have been great. I'll have to agree with Justin, too.

- Chicago Centerstage Interview


3-song demo with one bonus live track



VertiKal is an 8-piece neo-soul/band ensemble that integrates improvisational and harmonic elements of modern jazz with new interpretations of hip-hop and soul. While carefully considering a positive message and striving to deliver GREAT music with integrity, they attract diverse groups of listeners in the Chicago live music scene, drawing larger crowds with each gig. In 2007, VertiKal won crowd favorite and second place in the nation-wide Emergenza Batttle of the Bands music competition. In the short life of the band, Vertikal has played at Chicago's hottest music venues--including Metro, Martyrs, and Double Door--multiple times and across the entire city. The trait that most distinguishes Vertikal from its contemporaries is the exceptional caliber of musicianship among its individual members. In addition, Vertikal's members' résumés include being featured in the prestigious Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition and touring internationally with performers such acts as Monty Alexander and R. Kelly.