Music Review: At Bogart’s, Beast Wellington served fresh weekly

Mark Robinson
Staff Writer

Whether you order or not, every Wednesday night at Bogart’s means a healthy serving of funk in the form of Beast Wellington.

The 8-piece group is a weekly attraction at the hidden gem on the 1900 block of W. Cary Street. Beast Wellington’s infectious energy hypnotizes restaurant and bar goers into a head-bobbing groove that lasts well into to the late-night hours.

The group was founded by Richmond based musician and VCU alumnus, Mark Ingraham, in August 2009. Part-time trumpet extraordinaire, part-time energetic tambourine player, full-time beast; Ingraham is the epitome of smooth. His casual demeanor bleeds charisma – an effect that only intensifies when he plays.

A slew of VCU students and alumni join Ingraham in Beast Wellington: the all-girl horn line, dubbed the Femme Fatale horns, includes Suzi Fischer on alto sax, Mary Lawrence Hicks on trumpet, and Maureen Wisniewski on trombone. Collectively, they provide the flash and flare that have led Beast Wellington’s style to be compared to that of Earth Wind and Fire.

The rhythm section is anchored by senior jazz studies major Devonne Harris on drums, guitarist Chris Ryan and bassist Derrick Englert. Samantha Hewlett’s soulful vocals and stage presence solidify the group.

A classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, started last week’s show off right. The crowd appreciated their first taste of Ingraham soloing before their attention was grabbed back by Hewlett’s chilling vocals on the reprise.

An up-tempo Amy Winehouse number, “No Good,” is a staple in the group’s set list – a solo by Hicks jump started the crowd early in the show and lured dancers onto the floor.

“Do y’all think she sounds good tonight?” Ingraham asked the crowd, referring to Hewlett. “She’s got a brand new mic!”

Hewlett responded to Ingraham with improvised the lyrics of “Tyrone” by Erykah Badu, saying, “You ain’t never buy me s***… except for a new mic every now and then.” Mischievous looks were exchanged before the song continued – these types of interactions were prevalent throughout the three-hour show.

Guitarist Chris Ryan often takes the liberty to turn his designated solo spot into a full on extended feature. Like clockwork, his fast-picking runs inspire Harris to adjust his laid back approach on drums and take a more active, hard hitting role.

This effect turned the middle section of “Give it To Me,” a piece with hip-hop influences, into a rhythm section showcase incorporating Englert on bass. The sequence definitively demonstrated the fusion element of the group’s style.

The second set opened with a Beast Wellington original “Brown Chicken, Brown Cow.” The instrumental arrangement featured the horn lines best work of the night and a drum solo from Harris. Another instrumental, “Room 103,” brought a big-band sound to the small venue. Ingraham’s best solo of the night – and it should be noted, there were quite a few – came during “Big Meanie.”  His growling trumpet crescendos cut through the rain that beat on the roof of the club with clarity and ease.

Hewlett returned to the stage to front the group on a number of unexpected covers that ended the show. An interesting take on Rick James’ “Super Freak” excited the crowd and was followed by a rendition of “Foot Loose” by Kenny Loggins. The song reenergized the audience and demonstrated the group’s versatility.

“Working Day and Night” paid homage to one of the groups major influences, Michael Jackson. It marked the end of the nights work for the group who bowed amidst mass applause.

If you want a taste of Beast Wellington, go to http://www.myspace.com/beastwellington, or www.BeastWellington.com. The group performs free of admission at Bogart’s on 1903 W. Cary St. every Wednesday night.

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