Music Review:
Jazz fusion band gets audience going
Posted May 18, 2007

With the semester coming to an end, plenty of people will want to celebrate summer and the wonderful carelessness it brings.

One of the best bands to usher in that festive and free feeling is Upstart, a jazz, funk, soul fusion band based out of Long Beach.

The band performed at the Continental Room in the SoCo district of downtown Fullerton last Friday.

The Continental Room is a bar but it has a lounge-like feel with its dim lighting, old style bar booths and friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

Upstart’s funky blend of jazz music fit perfectly into the Continental’s environment.

Not only was it fun to sit, sip a cool martini and watch the band, but it was absolutely awesome to get up and lose yourself in the wonderful combination of trumpet, saxophone and keyboard.

The band consists of five crazily talented musicians.

Michael Cartwright is the group’s curly haired trumpet player and lead singer.

Tony Hundtoft is the energetic and outgoing bespectacled drummer.

Jarod Sheahan plays the piano and keyboards with the finesse of Mozart and the style of Prince.

Brad Babinski is the bass player with a quiet brooding style, and Josh Bachman is the group’s loud, masterful saxophonist.

Coming together from all across the United States, and even from London, the group has formed a friendship and bond that is evidenced by the music they create.

Gaining notoriety in 2002 for their jazz-funk fusion performance at another gig in Fullerton, the band has been on the rise ever since.

Their strong stage presence and finely tuned music, along with their elegant style, make their smartly written lyrics and friendly personalities a rare find.

The band is just at home on stage as they would be in their own living rooms playing for fun.

The band took the stage around 11 p.m. and played for almost an hour.

After a short break, they returned at a little after 12 a.m. to top off the crowd’s excitement.

Throughout the show, the band played some of their more well-known songs, inciting the crowd to sing along and dance with abandonment.

With an avant garde, almost improvisation style, “Might Sound Crazy” is a catchy piece with a slow roll.

Lyrics are sung like spoken word, while the instruments reinforce the song’s “you and me tonight” mood.

Babinski’s soft and simple bass line added a romantic tone to the flowery song, giving couples a chance to move dreamily about and for singles to relax and think about a special someone.

“Feel Good” is loud and intermittent with Cartwright’s full voice and Bachman’s brilliant saxophone filling in the gaps.

The lyrics “I wanna feel good when I wake up” moved the crowd to close their eyes and shake their heads and hips.

The song is quick and upbeat at times, but for the most part it flows and feels like a disco-jazz parade.

Another perfectly composed song, “Flow” plays like a Coltrane, Benson and Ellington collaboration.

It starts off with Cartwright’s beautiful trumpet work and slowly turns the smooth melody into a crooning of the lyrics “The worst day of my life could be your best.”

Huntoft’s drumming is a distinct slow beat, but his slight, soft work matches the song’s groove.

The band dives into its music with passion and creativity, playing not only for the audience’s enjoyment, but also for their own personal pleasure.

It’s easy to see that the group loves the music they play and the atmosphere it creates.

Along with playing many of their own jazzy funk, almost disco, compositions, Upstart even covered an Earth, Wind and Fire song.

Another popular soul song by the Average White Band was also covered.

Fans of various styles sang along to every song, belying their obvious hip-hop, rock or classic jazz appearance and coming together under the funky jazz umbrella of Upstart’s punchy soul music.

A fun, comfortable combination of music and flare, the members of Upstart always look their best, with each musician well-groomed and friendly.

Despite the Continental’s small stage area, Upstart used it to their advantage and made the performance even more intimate.

Cartwright spoke to the audience, sharing that his family was at the performance to celebrate his recent graduation from the University of Southern California and Hundtoft and Babinski each played a creative and wild solo.

The group’s loyal and ever-increasing fan base cheered and danced, talking to the group on stage whenever possible.

With so many excited, nicely dressed fans, the Continental’s small bar area got rather cozy very quickly, but there were no worries.

At an Upstart show, everyone is a fan, but everyone is also a friend.

People dance, sing, laugh and come together in a way that is rarely seen.

It’s quite a surprise to this writer that the band is unsigned.

They play with such professionalism and pizazz.

The mood is light, the music’s colorful and the band is always a stunning combination of jazz, rock, hip-hop, soul and funk.

Without distancing fans of each genre, Upstart is able to play their music and satisfy even the harshest critic.

Upstart will be playing again at the Continental Room on Saturday, June 2.

For more information about Upstart, visit or

Lilia Cabello can be reached

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