When we were going over the setlist for their Key Studio Session, PhillyBloco leader Michael Stevens pointed out that none of the songs from the set were their own; “We’re strictly a cover band,” he told me, but just looking around the room, I knew that this was a dramatic understatement.

For the past six years, the 20-piece ensemble modeled after the bloco Brazilian-dance tradition has been rallying audiences at venues from the TLA to World Cafe Live, getting a tremendous rep particularly for their annual New Year’s Eve throwdown at the latter venue. The band takes songs originally performed by some familiar names (Galactic, James Brown) along with lesser known artists from around the world (Jorge Ben Jor, Clara Nunes) and spins them in their own arrangements that blend samba, funk and rock sounds. When I say “lesser known,” though, I (unfortunately) mean lesser known to North American ears. But that’s part of the band’s mission, as our Sameer Rao pointed out in his New Year’s profile interview with Stevens and the band:

For the probable majority of their audiences, PhillyBloco might be their first exposure to this rich musical tradition. They needn’t be concerned, since samba’s percussive base sits comfortably alongside the reggae, New Orleans second line, and funk that PhillyBloco also incorporates into their music. They’ll recognize songs from folks like James Brown, and hopefully this unique spin will get them interested in digging further into something unfamiliar.

Call them musical ambassadors. Or just call them an incredibly tight band. As you can see from the photos in the gallery above, their numbers are huge, but they were remarkably efficient. Along with their regular sound engineer Craig Kaufmann, who did a remarkable job mixing this session, the band settled in our studio and plowed through a feisty set with ease and energy. The songs you hear below, in their original format, were done by (in order) Daniela Mercury, Galactic, Nunes, Jor and Skank, and PhillyBloco has more jams just like them in their repertoire. Listen to the set. Turn up your headphones. Dance around your desk if it suits ya. And consider taking in the full-on PhillyBloco experience at one of their upcoming gigs: Ardmore Music Hall this Friday the 13th of June, or over at World Cafe Live on the 9th of August.