Thursday, March 22, 2007

"The New Funk... The Brand New Funk - Part One" - Pat. James Longo a.k.a Primitive Sound System

Written for Raw Wax Records (UK) magazine The Vault

Somewhere around 1991 or so I met Phillip Lehman while he was trying to convince Robert Cohen (the owner of Finyl Vinyl in NYC) to carry his compilation, "PURE!" Phillip's knowledge of Soul and Funk was beyond impressive and he had the collection to back it up. After a while his compilations plus the Break Downs, Vinyl Dogs and The Sound of Funk series on Goldmine became checklists for me. I had been collecting Funk / Soul and Jazz since the mid-80's but who knew that so many small batches had been brewed up in every corner of the States. A few years passed and he began to record his own bands trying to pass them off as original artists, claiming them as unreleased sessions recorded in the late 60's early 70's. He once told me he never thought anyone would take the music seriously if they saw him first and then listened to his music. He needed to get his message to the people and then bring them to his house. Well, fake names aside and despite their belief that they actually sounded as good as the JB's, these guys weren't half bad. There was something really appealing about them playing out live and they began playing regularly at the Lounge at CBGB's. I had already been going to Giant Step events and to see current Acid Jazz and Soul Jazz shows (including seeing Neil Sugarman at Windows on The World before he and Phillip met). Weirdly the raw and unpolished sound the Desco crew (Phillip's newly formed label) were putting down was far more appealing than anything I heard prior in the unchartered terrain of new funky sounds. Acid Jazz was becoming exclusively a slick affair so someone needed to crawl back into the cave.

I started buying singles by bands not part of the Desco / Soul Fire stable. To this day releases come out fast and furious and it's getting harder to keep up. Impressively, the quality is going up with each new release from labels like Tru-Thoughts, Tramp, Freestyle, Raw Wax, etc... Bands like The Calypso King and The Soul Investigators seem truly unstoppable and are by far and away the most creative of the genre. Their Keep Reachin' Up LP is nothing short of brilliant and has a maturity associated with the house bands of say Stax or Muscle Shoals. Creatively, look no further than the amazing Didier's Sound Spectrum LP on Lifesaver. Didier is the multi instrumentalist and house producer of the prolific Timmion Records (based in Finland) for whom The Soul Investigators record. The Didier LP is an experimental outing that holds a groove and never seems forced. Similar releases have come out of Chicago from Directions in Music (Bundy K. Brown), Tortoise, Isotope 217, Euphone, 5ive Style, Denison / Kimball Trio, etc... Want to talk about perfection then check out the Little Barrie LP, "We are The Little Barrie." Think Tony Joe White, Faces, Rolling Stones, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (and the obvious influences that come with that comparison), even early G. Love and The Special Sauce, and a heaping bucket of pure Funk all simmered slowly to create their own incredible sound. After almost five years The Bamboos form Australia have FINALLY released an LP. Their debut 7" "Eel Oil" has been in constant rotation since its release in 2001. Luckily for those who do not have the 7" it is included on the LP; UNFORTUNATELY for me I feel I am owed two more songs... I'm waiting, no hurry just send them to me when you are done. The point to all this is that I realized something very important to this record collecting thang. My passion for Punk came from many sources but the one that now seems most important is the fact that the music was current. Produced, written, performed distributed by people like myself. Buying the records and going to the shows meant we were sharing the experience. So, being able to find new Funk and Soul records had the same excitement to me as those early Punk obsessed days. Picking through the multitude of releases and bands to find the ones that really touch my soul keeps it all interesting. Here are 12 new Funk records that are all must haves and unlike a rare, $100 record most of these are still currently available.

In NO particular order:

1.) The Other Side - "(Don't Look Back) Behind The Shack" (Desco cat. DS-LP-001)
When Phillip Lehman gave me the final mix / promo cassette of this the band was listed as The Funky Pack. Wow, that is a horrible name. Luckily the music on the tape and subsequently the released LP was so great it could have been called anything. In retrospect, it is apparent where many of the later New Funk releases faltered; they assumed as long as you have the beat right (or break beat) the rest of the song doesn't matter. The Other Side LP is complete with arranged compositions, soulful grooves, inspired soloing and stellar musicianship. The LP flies by leaving the listener wanting more. Gimme some mo'!


The Other Side - "Diggin' In The Yard" (Desco cat. DS-1003)
The Other Side was one of Phillip Lehman's first forays into the world of New Funk. Phillip was so set on making people believe these tracks were old unknown or unreleased tracks that he would out and out lie in every conversation we had to the point where it became comical. Like all musicians, Philip was proud of his drumming and every now and again would slip and say so. I don't believe this is Lehman on drums on the Other Side only because they seem far more polished than his style. The Other Side The JB's with early Kool and The Gang and comes out sounding pretty tasty and unique. "Diggin' In The Yard" sounds just as good today as it did when I first heard it sometime in the 90's. Pumping organ, smooth bass, ensemble horn lines, steady drumming and a wonderful trombone solo keep this cut just diggin' in any yard.

2.) Ravi Harris And The Prophets - "Path Of The Blazing Sarong" (Gemini Records cat. 13005)
When Phillip first brought these into Finyl Vinyl he really tried to convince us that these were old. There was something about the sound that just didn't sound old to me and then I noticed that the United Pressing number was not that far off from the one recently issued to my bands 7". Phillip was bummed that we figured him out. One day he brought a few boxes by and I helped him dirty up the covers by stepping on them and rubbing them on the disgusting carpet of Finyl Vinyl. Perception is everything and people believed these were old store stock. The sound here is very simple and tastefully done. Combine equal parts James Brown, Ananda Shankar and Sound Library music and you get one hell of a Lounge Funk record. Years later when I worked for Grooovy Sounds Unlimited (of "Grooovy Sounds Unlimited and Mr. Fine Wine Presents Vital Organs: Volume One" fame) this got a whole lotta spins at our weekly "Air India" party where it shared the tables with the aforementioned Mr. Shankar, Asha Puthli, Ravi Shankar, Dave Pike, R. D. Burman, etc, etc...

3.) Sugarman Three - "Funky So-And-So" (Daptone Records cat. DAP-1003)
Not wanting to seem too anxious Mr. Sugarman waited until Daptone's 3rd release to strut his stuff; Daptone was of course his new venture with former Desco partner Gabe Roth and this was their second attempt at getting everything James Brown...DOWN. The Sugarman Three are hugely talented and would sound amazing playing nursery rhymes. Here they go for a bit more Southern feel in the guitar and organ while the drums pump as if the life of the band depended on it. A slightly New Orleans groove is especially noticeable on the breaks. As would be suspected Mr. Sugarman grabs a grooved solo before the drums get one more break on the fade.

4.) Calypso King and the Soul Investigators - "C'mon Boot-It" (Jive cat. ????)
This mid-tempo stormer, comes out of Finland. Calypso King? OK, if you say say. What this really is, is hard as nails funk and it is played so beautifully it should be included on any list of top Funk 45's regardless of recording date. "C'mon Boot-It" opens with a deep plucking guitar that is anchored by solid drumming from start to finish. The organ takes a very note heavy, rolling solo that double times the rest of the instruments but some how never disrupts the pace. This was only the second outing for the Soul IG's and it was obvious that these guys were destined for greatness. Like the Other Side, The Soul Investigators seemed less worried with trying to imitate the James Brown sound as much as it was just one of many, many influences. Since this release the Soul Investigators have put out one great song after another.

5.) The Whitefield Brothers - "In The Raw" (Soul Fire Records cat. SF-018)
OK, most people would disagree with me but The Whitefield Brothers are better than Poets Of Rhythm. No contest. The Poets can be a little too slick for my liking and that too often "wimps" up their groove. The Whitefield Brothers on the other hand brought to Soul Fire what Phillip Lehman had always been searching for; raw, slamming heartfelt late 60's Soul/Funk. "In The Raw" starts as if the band needs to be wound up before being able to play. The song is bloody red raw with a tight small group sound made up of guitar, drums, organ and congas. The organ solo is one of the few "old" sounding organ parts on any of the New Funk records. How they got this amazing sound is beyond me but I am very grateful they did. This is so heavy and so big that I picture The Flintstones pounding the hell out of massive, oversized instruments made of stones and fallen trees and grinning ear to ear. This ranks in the top 5 of my favorite New Funk records and probably ranks pretty high against the forefathers as well. Slow, tight, dirty and mean. (The LP by the same name is just as great.)

Poets Bonus Beat...
The New Process - "Freedom" b/w "Bus People Theme" (Tramp Records cat. TRI 1001)
Originally recorded in 1993 but not released until 2003 this slamming little slice of funkiness best anything I have ever heard from The Poets Of Rhythm. Maybe it's the raw tin can sounding drums or the over modulated bass but whatever it is, it's raw and I like it. Both sides are hard and genuine.

6.) The Bamboo's - "Eel Oil" (Bamboo Shack cat. BR-001)
There are few records I try not to play. I am terrified something will happen to this and then I'll have to replace it which could prove to be very difficult and possibly very expensive. At one point in every band's career they hope to write that one song that both defines them as well as stands the test of time. Imagine doing that on your first release and better yet they apparently had NO IDEA when they recorded this how good it was. Talented and humble. I have no idea what the uses are for "Eel Oil" but I do know it burns very hot. A break heavy intro leads off this affair and is soon joined by guitar and organ. The instruments communicate with what seems to be a secret language that keeps things flowing and heavy. Each player gets a moment in the spotlight including an inspired guitar solo that sounds straight out of Memphis. The organ buzzes along with the drums in a very Meters fueled sound but one that never imitates. This is one of the Modern classics that can fool the ear of even the most seasoned connoisseur de funk. Schooled by the land down under.

7.) Breakestra - "Getcho Soul Togetha" (Stones Throw cat. STH7002)
The Breakestra have a very tough sound that puts much of the emphasis on the "break" half of their name. Breaks are something that that they take very seriously but they do specialize in fully fleshed out compositions which are punctuated with sharp horns, organ and very tasty guitar. More so than many of the modern Funk outfits this group knows how to Swing, Swang, Swung. The band has improved steadily over the years but that is not to say that their debut "Getcho Soul Togetha" has not remained one of my favorites. The intro sounds like it is shot from a cannon; the band wobbles its way to the first break (of which there are many) before the organ gets everyone in line and focuses the action. Guitar riffs capture the rhythm and lead the horns into the mix with bright bursts and lyrical passages. An extended break introduces the horns once again and the band falls back into the pocket. One thing is for sure, Breakestra came out of the gate a winner and have lead the pack ever since.

8.) Soul Snatchers - "Get Yourself Together" b/w "Sniffin & Snatchin" (Social Beats Modern Stereo Recordings cat. Social701)
Both sides of this thing are MONSTERS. Side One takes off at a pretty fast clip. Drums are off and in the pocket right from the start making everyone else's job that much easier. Our man on the throne rules with a steady beat so if you can't keep up get the fuck out. The horns go from deep soul lines to in sync ensemble horns reminiscent of a much bigger band. Bass and drums dog it out for king of the hill but the horns refuse to be left out. The whole thing is amazingly sharp and well rehearsed throughout. Side Two gets a bit more deep with a groove that would be right at home as the intro to an action film. The drums are way out front again and breaking like crazy. The other instruments seem fearful of tangling with them and choose to poke in and out of his devastating beat. WEIRDLY and what I think is a perfect choice... flute takes a go at it and although the drums never let up the effect is really tasty. The next challenger is the organ who can definitely hold his own against the beat but the man at the throne is relentless. Great work all around and a great two-sider if there ever was.

9.) Speedometer - "At The Speakeasy" (Freestyle Records cat. FSR7004)
Speedometer have quite a lot of releases under their belt spread across many different labels. Any one of those releases could have been listed here including an amazing 10" released on Kennel Klub. "At The Speakeasy" is a very deceiving title. I expected something a bit Jazzy and even mellow Loungey. Oh, how wrong I was. "At The Speakeasy" slams open with an interplay between the band and the guitar which is eventually used as the theme throughout the song. After the brief opening the doors are thrown open to reveal quite a party going on. Drums push along the horns in a tight groove complimenting the steady bass and powerful organ as the percussion holds everything together. They revisit the theme very soon to remind us where it all began and suddenly we are off again. No complaints here because not only are we treated to a great sax solo but a quick interplay between drums and congas gives the whole thing an extended feel before a partial stating of the theme.

10.) The New Master Sounds - "Better Of Dead" (Cooker Records NMS7002)
That electric sitar thingy is one cool sounding instrument. Here The New Master Sounds make great use of it over a very funky backing. The coolest thing about this track is that they don't seem concerned to make the track sound even the slightest bit Eastern. They are using the electric sitar as the lead throughout most of the track and it makes quite a racket. Only during the fiery organ solo does it take the back seat but does pop in at the very end just enough to remind us of the the bizarre trip we just took. I wish I had purchased every New Master Sounds record but money and timing can some times be a bitch.

11.) The Baker Brothers - "All Baked Out" (Peddler cat. PDLR001)
Damn I can't get enough of The Baker Brothers. Adding Modern/Acid Jazz touches to their 70's funk sound has them standing just left of center of the other progenitors of late 60's early 70's funk. "All Baked Out" is no exception. The Brothers push snapping drums, stylish guitar and searing sax to the limit on this mid tempo head bobber. The recording quality on The Baker Brothers material is a real pleasure. Talented mothers if there ever was.

12.) Clarence Foster and the Internal Revenue Service - "Fry Chicken In Your Hot Pants" b/w "Dunk It Down Chocolate Thunder" (Freestyle cat. FSR7014)
Damn fast drumming leads off the oddly titled "Fry Chicken In Your Hot Pants" and never lets up for one moment except to break the hell out of the groove. Each instrument tries to subdue the slamming beast but none are able to tame this manic player even for a moment. The bass tries to throw a blanket of warm tones over our man but he aint having it. The whole thing cuts off quite abruptly most likely to let our man on the throne catch his breath. I have played this three times in a single night... no one ever complains. "Dunk It Down Chocolate Thunder" pays homage to one of my favorite athletes of all time. Sixers center, the one and only, Darryl Dawkins. Our manic drummer is back out front again but this time he lets the others play along with his heavy ass, raw drumming. The recording has a very 60's quality to it with separation between instruments and a raw live feel and sound. "Dunk" is raw and funky with scratch guitar, bass and an odd sounding keyboard mixing it up and throwing it down. There is not much variety in the groove on this side but again... no one is complaining.

No comments: