Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Various Artists; Pow Wow (Jazzman)

Jazzman are one of the best regarded reissue labels among funk fans. They put out excellent 7" singles of forgotten funk nuggets, well-remembered rare nuggets, and some fine c.d. compilations to boot. This collection is culled from the last bunch of 7" records released by Jazzman. The only superfluous cut is the collection's opening song "Hercules". Of course it's a funk classic, but so is "Sex Machine" and we don't need to see that on another compilation again, either. Now if it had a hot B-side that only a lucky few have been aware of... that would have been fantastic. However, anyone buying this compilation surely has a copy of Aaron Neville's "Hercules" somewhere in their collection already. Given this is the only over-exposed song on Pow Wow, that is easily forgiven. Jazzman's latest crop of re-pressed rarities includes some hardcore funk.
Carla Whitney's "War" is a rare side of Toronto funk, released by Attic Records in 1975. It is not a cover of the Edwin Starr hit, but rather it is a bubbling few minutes of funk with some heavy, rumbling bass. Too bad the album featuring this song sank without a trace, as Carla seems to have long disappeared from public.
Bajka's "The Only Religion" is a 1990's recording, despite it's Earthy, almost folk sound. There are a few cool instrumentals along the way, but the funkiest boogaloo jam I've heard in a long time is from Manny Corchado. It this compilation's namesake, "Pow Wow". The faux-Native motif might seem bigoted with it's asking Kemosabe to share his smoke, but I can't help but assume Manny meant no harm on this 1967 tune (although I can not understand the other words on this Spanish song, either) .
Elsie Mae's "Do You Really Want To Rescue Me" is an answer to the Fontella Bass' hit, but Elsie's response is slow and brooding rather than upbeat like "Rescue Me". Apparently this former James Brown back up singer only cut a couple of singles. This one was issued by King Records in 1966, and fits right in with James Brown's music from that era.
The Jonathon Richman cut "Egyptian Reggae" looked like an odd selection until hearing this 1977 track. A throwback for the disco era, this instrumental sounds more like a pre-Ska era instrumental from the Jamaican Count Ossie. The percussion is quirky, rattly and still funky. The final track is the only strange sounding piece of music on here. The Modern Egyptian Dance Band cut sounds like someone who enjoyed "Flight of the Bumblebee", and decided to try something more percussive, with sci-fi effects periodically beaming through a keyboard. A quirky end to a funky disc.

C.D. Review- Various Artists- 45 Kings Volume III (Fat City)

Various Artists; 45 Kings III (Fat City)
This is the third volume in this particular series from Manchester's Fat City label. Apparently many of these songs are remarkably rare, but I still have a hard time accepting this 41 minute release as a double album. I still don't understand why compilations pulled from a wide assortment of 7" records covering multiple musical genres should have short running times. If there was a mind-blowing sonic improvement that only wide vinyl grooves could transmit, there might be an argument in favour of such short records, but repressing old vinyl singles can hardly justify the sonic-superiority argument.
With that aside, there certainly are some rather compelling tracks on 45 Kings III. The opener, Jimmy Gray Hall's "Be That Way" is a gently upbeat song that isn't exactly soul, but sure is soulful in it's resigned delivery. More conventional disco-funk comes through on "Crescent Boogie" by Soul On Delivery. Mike Harper lays on a thick, dancefloor-cut slice of soul with his "Lay It On Me Baby".
"Wanderin' Soul" is a gospel-sounding number from Gary Atkinson, who sounds a bit like Arthur Prysock on here. John Fitch's "Romantic Attitude" is a cynical anti-love song which should probably have been titled "I Don't Care".
Another fine cut is Estelle Levitt's "All I Dream" is a hauntingly groovy pop song that sounds like some forgotten movie theme with the strings and rhythm interplay backing Estelle's moody vocals. Lilly's "Starin' At The Wall" is a good funky blues song a la Denise LaSalle, while a few tracks end the album in a quirky mood. Nino Nardini is probably the best known artist on this collection- he contributes a suspenseful instrumental that sounds like it could have been recorded for the 1980's "Knight Rider" t.v. series about a technologically advanced car and the crime fighter who drives it. Nardini recorded music for French television, so the premise is not without consideration. The spare, bassy and synth-heavy arrangement moves along for almost three minutes, bringing this short collection to a close.
Despite the appeal of many of these rare songs, there are barge loads of great long-forgotten old 7" singles. Given 45 Kings III seems to have been compiled without rhyme nor reason, there is no theme that would have been compromised by tossing a few extra songs on here, or leaving it as a single l.p. It's an interesting collection, but there are plenty of those around, so I would hesitate to implore anyone to run out and get this one.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

C.D. Review; Nomo- New Tones (Ubiquity)

Following in the wake of Antibalas' success in importing a convincing Afrobeat sound to an American band, groups like Toronto's Mr. Something Something and Ann Arbor's Nomo have embraced the sound, and play unabashed Fela Kuti inspired loose jams played over tight rhythm sections.
Nomo is led by saxophone player Elliot Bergman, and consists of 8 core members along with sundry guests at live appearances. This is their first release on San Francisco based funk revivalists Ubiquity Records and it came out last spring. It came to my attention around Christmas, but then there are only so many hours in a day and not even all of those can be spent listening to music.
The disc runs for close to an hour and provides an enjoyable sojourn into a mix of Afrobeat and more techno- influenced elements like the ever present but always subdued bass lines that characterize much of New Tones. This release consists of 11 instrumentals, although some, like "One to One" sound like they could sound fantastic behind the right singer.
While the Fela Kuti and Africa 70 influence is obvious, the horn lines are often more subtle and sound more like earlier jazz arrangements that inspired Fela himself. In fact, Nomo sound more like Fela's drummer Tony Allen's seventies albums recorded with the same band (Africa 70). Allen’s efforts feature tighter arrangements than Fela-led songs with the band, but more restrained riffing. As far as the horn playing sounds on New Tones, Coltrane and Sun Ra are invoked as much as Afrobeat. Some tracks like "Hand and Mouth" have a free jazz vibe like some of the seventies records by Detroit's Tribe collective.
The band adds a few home made percussion instruments to their rhythm section, which worked well enough for Kinshasa’s various Congotronics groups. Indeed, the Congotronics effect is heard in full on this c.d.'s opening cut "Nu Tones", with its distorted finger piano leading the charge on this fast paced tune. The snappy "Fourth Ward" has a dirty-funk sounding introduction which belies the very approachable horn lines that lead the tune, which at under three minutes is the shortest cut on New Tones.
The next couple of tracks feature some elegant harp playing while Nomo continue their Americanized repatriation of African jazz, adding to the loop of each continent influencing music in the other. The meandering horn solos held tog by an unwavering groove give way to some quirkier, more aggressive horn bouts on the fifth track, "New Song" (another instrumental despite the title's implications).
"We Do We Go" adds some flute and a larger dose of Erik Hall's guitar playing. The omnipresent rumbling bass playing gets a little louder at times, but it never predominates on any track, sounding more like an approaching storm that never quite passes right over the listener's head. The album closes with a meditative track, featuring one last return to the band's gamelan set, as it backs the horn charts' final tribute to John Coltrane.
New Tones is too jazzy to be a dance-funk album, although some cuts might work on some dance floors. The Afrobeat definitely takes a side seat to post-Bebop American jazz, and the techno-sounding production adds a cold sound to this c.d. The playing is great, the music is compelling, but it sounds like something to wind down with, or to play while in a contemplative mood. New Tones is certainly compelling listening, but I suspect Nomo's live performances are more entertaining.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Concert Review; Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Tuesday January 23/07 A.C.C. Toronto

Bob Seger represents many things to many people. To plenty of rock fans, unfortunately, he penned the theme song for Ford, heard regularly in commercials for about twenty years now. To others, Bob recorded more than his share of classic rock n' roll, and enjoys one of the most loyal fan bases in the business. To others still, Bob Seger is some old rocker who gained success from Hollywood in the 1980's when two of his songs were featured in immensely popular movies ("Old Time Rock n' Roll" in Risky Business, "Shakedown" in Beverly Hills Cop II, not to mention songs in a few non-blockbuster movies). The Harley Davidson and Jack Daniels t-shirts adorned by so many fans at his concerts can't do much to dispel people's conceptions about Bob Seger, favourable or not. On the cover of the new c.d. Bob is on a Harley under an open Midwest sky. On the other hand, Bob Seger rarely sings about getting drunk, and he doesn't have many songs about riding motorbikes either. In fact, Seger's back catalogue has a high proportion of songs about failed relationships. To borrow from one of the few covers he played at the A.C.C. Tuesday night, "You Never Can Tell".
To those fans of Bob Seger before "Like A Rock", the man and the Silver Bullet Band have always represented musical integrity, and hard working live gigs to cement the faith. Bob's two double live albums are testaments to the energetic shows he was putting on for many years. The touring dropped off as the eighties wore on, and Bob Seger has toured about once a decade since the mid 1980's. This might be his last road trip, with Toronto the only Canadian stop.
"Face The Promise" is Bob's first new c.d. in many years, and several of its songs have caught on. The disc is selling well, so the A.C.C. was predictably full. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band must have been thrilled by the nearly full house, after so many years off the road. They hit the stage shortly before nine o'clock.
"Roll Me Away" kicked off the show, but it was marred by a poor sound system which muffled Bob's singing and at other times drowned out Alto Reed's baritone saxophone playing. The sound improved marginally over the next few songs until it finally sounded alright.
The second song was a tried and true crowd pleaser, "Trying To Live My Life Without You". The band started to sound better over the course of this song, but they were still searching for the knock-out punch quality of their live records. The Silver Bullet Band has a few additions, too. Bob has had the same back up singers for decades, and veterans Chris Campbell and Alto Reed are still around. Don Brewer (fellow Michigander and ex-Grand Funk Railroad drummer) is back on the road with Bob. Guitarist Mark Chatfield is another relative newcomer, as is Jim "Moose" Brown, who is helping out with guitars and keyboards. The live arrangements were fairly straightforward. Alto Reed played the solos on "Main Street" faithfully to the record, but the band did get to stretch out on occasion. Reed was augmented by the four piece Motor City Horns. Bob still alternates between playing guitar and piano on some songs, like "We've Got Tonight". For some reason, the guitar technicians in charge of having the correct guitar tuned and ready for the next song seemed to take an unusually long time to exchange instruments with the Silver Bullet players. The show continued with a mix of new songs like "Wreck This Heart" and "Face the Promise" and vintage Seger standards like "Old Time Rock n' Roll" and "Betty Lou's Getting Out Tonight".
As the band slowly loosened up, Bob delivered an excellent rendition of "Turn The Page" before wrapping up with the "Travelling Man" and "Beautiful Loser" medley that is on "Live Bullet".
There was a brief intermission before the band resumed with some new material. Bob introduced the next song as dating from 1968, which of course referred to his first hit, "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man". That got the audience on its feet, although the song's pounding organ wasn't loud enough in the A.C.C. mix. The next song was a Chuck Berry cover; many long time fans were probably expecting to hear "Let It Rock" which the Silver Bullet Band has played for many years, but surprisingly the band burst into "You Never Can Tell". There were a few more new songs featured during the second set, along with "The Horizontal Bop" and "Katmandu". The band left the stage, but there was no doubt encores were certainly pending. Many of Seger's best loved tracks were played, but of course some omissions were certainly missed. "Like A Rock" was conspicuously absent from the set list, but fans of Seger's older material probably didn't mind. As predictable an encore as it might have been, Seger played older favourites "Night Moves" and "Hollywood Nights" instead. After another brief pause, the final two encores played were "Against The Wind" and the particularly appropriate "Rock n' Roll Never Forgets", with its topic of simultaneous aging and rocking. The concert ran for a couple of hours, and the Silver Bullet Band was in fine form by the end of the show. Unfortunately the sound problems at the start of the show did nothing to help the band relax and gel. Bob still sings much better than one would expect of a sixty year old, long semi-retired rocker, and his back-up singers have held up well over the decades as well. The Silver Bullet Band took a while to find their groove but once they did, they reminded the audience why Bob Seger's live output rivals his best studio work. This is probably the last chance fans will have to catch Bob Seger in concert, so check him out if you can.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Review; Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal (Compilation c.d./l.p.) (Numero Group)

This one came out last fall. Numero Group has released a lot of soul and funk that was previously beyond obscure; some had not been released at all, while the other tracks the Numero Group has dug up were so rare, few collectors were even aware of them. Their collections culled from studios in Columbus, Chicago, and Detroit have brought a generous helping of funky new nuggets to current fans of the genre. The music on their compilations is easy to enjoy, and one doesn't have to be obsessed with rarity or recording studios to enjoy the grooves spread through the Numero Group's c.d.'s. With this in mind, that one doesn't have to be a connoisseur to enjoy Numero Group releases, one certainly doesn't have to be an evangelical Christian or even religious to dig the rich, thick soul on Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal.
The music on this collection was recorded between 1968 and 1980. The disc runs just under an hour, but the 18 tracks on here are so enjoyable the length of the c.d. is less of an issue than collections that are short and padded with tracks the consumer is certain to have in their collection already. This is one compilation that is highly unlikely to contain anything the listener already owns.
As the liner notes mention, funky gospel was not a movement within either funk or gospel artists, but many gospel acts had the odd slice of funk in their repertoire. One studio in Ecorse, Michigan yielded no less than three heavy sides of funk on this c.d. from as many acts. Detroit's 20 singer plus one manic drummer ensemble the Voices of Conquest round out the south Michigan contingent on here.
The starter, "Jesus Rhapsody (Part 1)" by Preacher and the Saints sounds like an early seventies Curtis Mayfield track, with Edwin Starr singing. The low budget, somewhat muddy but ever funky mix between the vocals and music sets the tone for the rest of this disc. It is followed by a gospel take-off of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" called "Bad Situation", with new words that would have fit right in on Stevie's original.
"God Been Good To Me" sounds like the late sixties Temptations backed by Sly and the Family Stone. This is the first of the Ecorse Michigan songs recorded at Revival Studios and unearthed for this release. The next one is a Sam and Dave style shouter "I Thank The Lord". There are a few other obvious inspirations coming from well known soul hits, like "Shaky Ground" (check the Modulations'"This Old World Is Going Down") and "Love and Happiness" laid the ground work for "Childhood Days" by the Universal Jubileers. James Brown's singing style is naturally emulated on a few cuts, which makes sense given the gospel fervour James Brown injects into his own rather secular minded songs.
Detroit's Voices of Conquest's drummer Benjamin Wilson pounds away in His name, while the choir's haunting delivery of "O Yes My Lord" is reminiscent of Missa Luba, the Congolese opera, which must have been one of the first non-Miriam Makeba African music albums that sold well across Europe and North America. An intense slow-burner called "Jesus Will Help Me" by the Gospel Comforters follows.
Trevor Dandy's "Is There Any Love" features a spare keyboard arrangement in the spirit of Timmy Thomas' 1972 hit "Why Can't We Live Together?" which keeps with the low budget sound of this whole album.
A dose of fire, brimstone and rolling percussion wrap up the c.d. The song features a lonely Satan, in Hell of course, reminiscing about how popular the place used to be. The parties, the hedonism... LaVice and Company sound quite fond of the whole scene. This track apparently comes from a musical performed in a church basement. For some reason, neither LaVice nor his company double checked their spelling, but the song "Thoughs Were The Days" (sic) is a great, final dab of murky soul that ends the collection on a questionable high note- if people are no longer going to Hell en masse, as the song laments, are things not expected to have improved on Earth? Regardless of what theological arguments one might bring to the table, the music absolutely kicks on this disc. There are a couple of soulful gospel compilations that have come out in the last couple of years, but Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal easily sounds the most raw. This one is highly recommended, regardless of one's religious beliefs or doubts.

Review; Antibalas - Security (Anti)

The new Antibalas album is ready for release, although the band seems to be waiting a little longer before sending out their latest missive to the world. The seven tracks on Security run for about 55 minutes. It could perhaps have used a little trimming, at least on some of the slower, more atmospheric tracks on here, but overall this is a strong addition to Antibalas' discography. On their new outing, Antibalas have signed with the Anti-label which teamed them up with producer John McEntire. The 12 piece band spent a month recording the album in Chicago last year, and they continue to live up to their self-designation as an Afrobeat Orchestra. Celebrity producers certainly can't guarantee success no matter how much they change a band's sound to something deemed more accessible. Despite being concerned about Antibalas' sound getting watered down to something like Stereolab with horns, John McEntire let Antibalas do their thing. Some cuts sound a little soft for a 12 piece band that has rocked concert stages everywhere for hours on end, but Antibalas are still pumping out Afrobeat sounds like few bands can. The c.d. is funky, the arrangements spare, and the smoothness comes naturally on Security.
The first track, "Beaten Metal" has a rather symphonic sounding introduction, with a single horn heralding the first movement. The instrumental develops slowly, with the percussion slowly building before the bass and guitar creep in. Keyboard player Victor Axelrod gradually takes over until he duels the horns for space by the end of the tune.
The second song, "Filibuster XXX" finds Amayo singing about typical Antibalas fare, which has a catchy 'tic tack toe' motif, but the Dick Cheney reference will date this song the way Reagan songs characterize so much 1980's punk music.
"Sanctuary" has the band returning to their Fela Kuti-inspired roots, with a brooding introduction featuring a relentless bass line punctuated by blasts of brass. Amayo doesn't start singing for some six minutes, but then belts out the words about heading for the hills. The fourth track does bring us near Stereolab-territory, with its soft, ephemeral arrangement combined with the most subdued vocals on the disc. Antibalas return to the Afrobeat style at which they excel for much of the disc, combining it with the almost classical style horns of "Beaten Metal" on the instrumental "I.C.E." The brooding stops abruptly, and the band kicks back into Afrobeat mode for the last part. The final track "Age" concludes Security on a jazz tip which end the disc on a particularly mellow note for Antibalas.
This c.d. certainly sounds like the band is looking to expand its sonic horizons beyond Afrobeat, funk or the Latin sounds they have been laying down for a few years now. Antibalas live dates later this year should be interesting if they decide to test their more subdued new jams on the road. They have great stamina on stage and can be counted upon to put on an excellent show, so watch for tour dates if you like Fela Kuti-inspired extended Afrobeat jams.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

New Reissue; Mustafa Ozkent ve Orkestrasi; Genclik ile Elele

This Turkish album first came out in 1973. The zany cover art (a monkey messing around with a reel to reel tape recorder) suggests this is a lighthearted endeavour, but the album contains some serious funk that holds its own against the relentless grooves of American funk gods like the Meters. Despite this release being so funky, this decidedly western-sounding record never strays too far from Mustafa Ozkent's Anatolian musical heritage. The guitar player started performing in Ankara in 1960 and was a well respected musician by the time this record came out. It apparently didn't sell particularly well, but Andy Votel at the Finders Keepers label was sufficiently knocked out by a copy he found that his label has recently reissued this lost slice of Eastern funk.
The record is just over half an hour long and there are no extras on this package. Ten brief instrumentals cram as much funk as possible into a half hour on wax. From the opening cut, the upbeat, almost Surf-like "Uskudar", through merciless drum breaks on tunes like "Dolana" and the pounding percussion throughout the record, the funk comes on relentlessly. Psychedelic guitar licks abound, but they never hide the Turkish roots of Mustafa Ozkent's music. The bubbling organ playing through out the record sometimes comes close, infusing a sixties Go-Go feel to the record, but Ozkent manages to gel east and west like few musicians. The last track fades out during a pounding drum solo, leaving any funk fan hungry for more. This album is well worth checking out.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Review; Various Artists; New Testament of Funk Volume 5 (Unique Records)

This is the fifth volume in a series started in 1999 by the Dusseldorf-based Unique club label. The twelve tracks on here run for almost an hour, with the majority of the songs on here being released for the first time ever and three others having only been available in limited vinyl pressings until now.
Few new funk acts can pull off that classic American soul sound, especially now that quality vocals are all but an afterthought on most new recordings. The music on here sounds pretty slick, and as funky as it sometimes gets (the "Apache"-inspired Soul Snatchers' "Sniffin' and Scratchin'" comes to mind), it seems soul singing is almost a thing of the past.
The tracks on The New Testament of Funk Volume 5 all sound pretty smooth and tight, and some are particularly derivative, hook-by-hook. The first song starts off as a run through of "Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself" with a chant of "Burning Down The House" in the background. Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up" provides much of the inspiration for another song, "You'll Never Know What You Can Do". The use, or re-use of such well known samples and riffs works better on the Malente song "For The Revolution", whose hook comes from a Doors song.
The songs all work well enough as background music for any party filled with groovy people, but it's hard to imagine someone packing a dance floor with anything from this collection. Bandura's "Lost Luggage" and Tim Wood's "Birdy Nam Nam" are examples of music on here that sounds like it was recorded specifically not to be turned up too loud.
The strongest cuts besides the Soul Snatchers instrumental are Boca 45's soul-shouter "Makes No Sense" the Sweet Vandals' "Do It Right". Naturally, they are also the best vocal performances on the collection. The Go-Go Hammond organ on the latter track suggest the Sweet Vandals are one of the most promising acts on the Unique label. This compilation seems like it was geared to be played in restaurants at least as much as in any dance club or party; if that's your thing, it is sure to please. Folks who like their funk harder and deeper will probably not be overwhelmed by this one.

Review- Ultimate Brazilian Breaks and Beats (Murge Discos) -Compilation l.p.

This is a hot collection of Brazilian funk. Named after a mountain in Rio de Janeiro, the Sugarloaf Gangsters put this record out, and they apparently limited the record to 1000 copies. Whether it's samba like ("Batucada Tropical" by Brasil Tropical), Tropicalia, or Bossa Nova flavoured (like "Sultana" from the Aquarius Band), the music is jumping and every cut on this record is funky. Some tracks are definitely more American flavoured than others. There is the "Kool and the Gang" cover (the instrumental by the band of the same name), along with the cut "Big Splash" by Sos, which is clearly influenced by The Meters.
The opening song sounds like a "God Made Me Funky" era Headhunters jam, until the Portuguese vocals and background party sounds kick in. "The King's Bounce" is described as a supremely rare B-side from the Free Som Orchestra, and it's one of the more bass-heavy tracks on this collection.
The raunchy funk classic "Jungle Fever" is featured here, but more likely for it's rarity; this cover doesn't top the original, but it's a credible rendition which kicks off the second side of the record. The final non-"bonus" cut on the record is "Melo Do Mao Branca", a mid-tempo dance-floor groove, complete with telephone calls and sirens, along with those casual outbursts of laughter that pop up on many Brazilian dance records.
There are three bonus cuts all credited to 'Unknown' which seems a little suspicious in and of itself, but they at least bump the record's duration to a shade over forty minutes. The first bonus track is an instrumental, disco-fied variation of "Mas Que Nada", titled "Disco Chuva" on here. This version is highlighted by some pounding drums. The second is a brief snippet that's catchy enough but happens too fast, at 22 seconds. The final 90 second 'Bonus Track' (titled simply "Guitarra" on the record, even though the keyboards are at least as prominent here) sounds like a funky t.v. show theme that Banda Black Rio or early Azimuth might have put out.
Notwithstanding the needless gaps in the information availed with this compilation, Ultimate Brazilian Breaks and Beats' is a seriously funky record.
Studio One Rarities Volume 2- C.D. compilation

This is an excellent mix of popular songs by legendary toasters like Dennis Alcapone and rarities alike. The old Trojan collection "Dee Jay's Choice" started the tradition of compiling work by various deejays singing over other artists' records, often referred to as "sing-jaying". This disc features more from Clement "Coxsonne" Dodd's enormous stable of talent, and features hard to find songs by the likes of Jah Jesco and Little Joe along with rare pictures and an essay by English reggae expert Steve Barrow.
All the tracks on here are strong, making this an appealing collection for serious reggae fans and newbies alike. They also left the legendary U-Roy off of this compilation, as if to reinforce the rarity element here. This makes "Studio One D.J's -Volume 2" a particularly successful Soul Jazz collection; the label's releases are often short (this one being no exception, running at a little over an hour for a c.d. or double album), which can be infuriating when contemplating a promising new Soul Jazz release, which is padded with material easily found elsewhere. With Trojan practically giving away their enormous back catalogue in the form of really cheap box sets, it is hard for a premium priced label like Soul Jazz to justify putting out tracks like "Phoenix City" for the hundredth time on any of their compilations. This collection also uses a decent variety of musical backing tracks; they are a healthy mix of familiar seventies 'riddims' and older ska sounds punctuated by some lively horns on cuts like Jah Jesco's "West Gone Black".
Prince Jazzbo's "Crab Walking" and Lone Ranger's "Keep Coming A' The Dance" are both extended versions. The former is an upbeat number about dancing to upbeat tunes, using the well known "Skylarking" record, including its chorus, in this re-take. It is edited to include the instrumental version before the vocals return for the last two minutes of the song. Lone Ranger's second cut on this disc, "Keep On Coming a the Dance" ends this compilation. It too is edited to segue into itself. Given the plethora of available tunes for these collections, and in light of "Studio One D.J.'s Volume 2" clocking in at less than sixty-five minutes, Soul Jazz ought to add a few more songs to these releases. It's an excellent package, but it would be easy to make it better; about twenty- five percent better, for running time, would be great.

El Michels Affair- Cream B/w Glaciers of Ice -7" Single (Now and Again Records)

El Michels Affair- "Cream" B/w "Glaciers of Ice" - 7" Single (Now and Again Records)

This is a funky pair of instrumental covers from saxophone player Leon Michels' band. Based in Brooklyn along with everyone else keeping classic funk alive these days, El Michel's Affair have been around for a few years. More recently, they teamed up with Wu Tang Clan, adding a deeper funk dynamic to the 'Clan and apparently improving their live appearances according to people who have witnessed the pairing in action on stage.
The A-side, "Cream", is a slow, simple but brooding jam highlighted by some tasteful keyboard licks.In fact, horns practically take a back seat on both of these jams. The bass line is a little heavier on the "Glaciers of Ice" B-side. It's a little faster than the A-side too, but the murky, almost trance-like sound of both these cuts must have knocked out the Wu Tang guys. This single is definitely worth grabbing whether you dig funk or if you're a hip hop head. Let's see who's the first to slap their own rap on one of these tracks.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

DVD Review- Funkadelic- Live, Fall '79 Uncle Jam Tour

This DVD comes from a well known bootlegger who inserted his name and e-mail address on the screen for the duration of the whole DVD. The bootlegger distributed a previously unknown P-Funk DVD from a 1978 show in Passaic, New Jersey and once again the material on this DVD hasn't been around most collectors until now. That said, this review is not meant to encourage bootlegging, but simply to comment on a newly unearthed vintage P-Funk performance. The only easily available footage of the late 1979 Uncle Jam tour was a half hour of mediocre (for a boot, no less) quality video which was ostensibly from Houston. I haven't double checked, but I am quite sure the previously available video was in fact from Washington D.C. because the familiar looking portions on this new DVD like "Sadie" resemble the half hour that has been floating around for years. The band repeatedly refer to "D.C." and "Chocolate City", before the source changes to a completely different performance which is definitely from Houston. The segment that die-hard fans already had is now twice as long; there is almost an hour from this performance, which has its lulls ("Sadie", "Uncle Jam") but also features some stellar moments like "Red Hot Mama" and a terrific Bernie Worrell solo before a hot version of "Maggott Brain" which fades out while the DVD cuts to the Houston concert from the Uncle Jam tour.
The Houston portion of this DVD kicks off with a twenty-three minute blow-out of "Knee Deep" before the band launches into comparatively short versions of "One Nation Under A Groove" and "Flashlight". Maceo Parker leads the Horny Horns through some blazing jams in both the Houston and D.C. clips. The "Mothership Connection" encore is pretty hot, and the Houston show ends. The house lights are turned on and we see the audience leaving before a montage of stills from the performance are displayed while the studio recording of "Freak of the Week" plays. The Houston segment is about 45 minutes long.
Gary Shider and Philippe Wynne lead the band through most of these performances. George Clinton is on stage as the Washington D.C. gig cuts in during "Night of the Thumpasaurus People", wearing his blond wig. This is about all we see of him in this DVD. Once he leaves the stage, though, the band takes direction from Gary or Philippe. Of course Gary was a veteren of Parliament-Funkadelic by the end of the seventies, but Philippe Wynne seemed to have been a sudden and awkward fit. He didn't tour with the band again. Presumably, the ex-Spinner's solo album produced by George helped land him a spot on the Uncle Jam tour, but his Spinners stage attire (a dark suit) looks as odd on a P-Funk stage as "Sadie" sounds when played by the band that just finished a searing blow-out of "Red Hot Mama".
The DVD starts off with some amusing promo-spots for Uncle Jam related product; albums from Parliament, the Sweat Band and the afore-mentioned Philippe Wynne l.p "Wynne Jamming", which are interspersed with a funny clip of Wynne, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and Maceo Parker being interviewed at a hotel in Houston on the Uncle Jam tour. The band clowns around in the hallway while a rather energetic and fast talking George Clinton tells the interviewer he's not really Uncle Jam at all, but rather Sir Nose. A telling moment, indeed.
As far as the quality, this DVD is for serious fans only. Regardless of what one thinks of the Uncle Jam tour, there are better quality videos of P-Funk in action.
For some reason, Houston and Washington D.C. are a great couple of cities when it comes to finding unreleased videos and DVDs. Performances of Prince, Kiss, the Who and P-Funk going back to 1975 have been floating around collectors' circles for years, while there are also a number of videos of P-Funk from the Washington D.C. area recorded over the years. It seems the DVDs and videos of these shows were taken from whatever would have been shown on a large screen inside the venue. Such is the case with many well known videos of 1970's concerts, like a Springsteen show on his birthday in 1978 when he marvels at the size of the screen in the Capital Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey. While collectors routinely refer to these as 'pro-shot' performances, there doesn't seem to be any consensus as to how these documents started making the rounds. Of course, nobody is complaining either. Sonically, the DVD is a pleasure over all, but the sound levels fluctuate noticeably between the left and right channels. The image is decent, but pretty dark, with the clarity level comparable to previously circulating VHS tapes of this footage. In fact, the DVD even has the same diagonal lines streaming off at the top of the screen as my old video tape copy, which could probably have been cropped out, but the guy who compiled this was too busy making sure his name and contact information was on-screen to try improving the image of these performances. The Houston footage looks a little more grainy than the Washington D.C. portion, and the image is a bit shaky sometimes, especially if anyone on stage is moving quickly. It's still watchable for a boot, and certain to be a welcome addition to any die-hard fan's P-Funk collection. This performance has been uploaded for free on-line more than once, so it should be easy enough to find without having to pay for a copy.

Vinyl Review; Bronx River Parkway- "La Valla" -7" single

This is one promising slice of wax, apparently taken from a forthcoming album from this Brooklyn-based eight piece Latin band. Bronx River Parkway have captured that classic seventies/ Fania record label sound in a way that too few Latin artists seem to care to re-visit. The group has been together for about six years, but so far they have only released a few singles. New York City based Truth and Soul Records have put this record out and will presumably release the full length debut from Bronx River Parkway in the near future. As of January 14 (yesterday) the full record had not come out yet.
The A-side "La Valla" was recorded in early 2006 in Puerto Rico, and features Jose Parla singing in front of some deep Latin grooves. It's a little harder than the B-side, which sounds like it could have come from on of those Fania All Stars live albums. The casual flow of the music and lyrics should make this one a warm weather favourite. Tito Cruz sings on this one, called "Nora Se Ve". This single has whet my appetite for a full album from these guys, and one must give credit to Truth and Soul Records for doing their part to keep current funk and other organic party sounds alive for current users.

C.D. Review; Bosporus Bridges; Turkish Jazz Funk 1968-78

Bosporus Bridges; Turkish Jazz Funk (1968-'78) (TWIMO 001)

I have read more than one person suggest this album might be a bootleg. The cover art certainly looks like a boot, but this is a well compiled collection. The record sides split the funkier cuts from the more jazz oriented tracks. Lasarus and Roskow have done a commendable job of collecting some serious rarities and adding information that plenty of collections do not bother providing. Of course, at a shade over forty minutes, the album could have fit an extra track or two, but the material on here is strong, and "Bosporous Bridges" doesn't overlap with existing collections. This one came out in early 2006, following on the release of a few exciting compilations of Turkish recordings like the "Hava Narghile" set, featuring a decidedly West-meets-the-Mid-East hybrid sound.
The opening cut by Emin Findikoglu is a flute-led slow cooker of an instrumental which wouldn't sound out of place on a Bluenote compilation. The next few cuts get funkier, until the sixth tune which is devastating, with it's unrelenting bass line and some sirens thrown in to boot. Surprisingly, this piece of music, ("Bermuda Seytan Ucgeni"), performed by the Aksu Orkestrasi comes from a Turkish television special on the Bermuda Triangle, and it is the thickest slice of funk on "Bosporous Bridges". It is followed by a track by one Ferdi Ozbegen which starts with a psychedelic moment that sounds like the beginning of the Temptations' "Cloud Nine" before the Turkish singing starts.
Other songs like Erkin Koray's "Karli Daglar" feature that soaring, Middle Eastern singing style, which serves to remind the listener this music is from Turkey, after all. Unlike many Latin and Brazillian compilations feature songs in English mixed liberally with those in Spanish or Portuguese, but I have yet to hear a Turkish compilation featuring any songs in English.
The jazz-oriented B-side of this album has some rather ordinary sounding tunes like Erol Pekcan's "Senlik", along with spacier efforts like the Okay Temiz track "Denizalti Ruzgarlari" which sounds like something Jean-Jacques Perry might have recorded. Overall, this is a great record, but it might have worked even better if Lasarus and Roskow split their funk and jazz picks over two whole albums, instead of encompassing such a wide array of music on one record. It is still well recommended to those with a musical sense of adventure.

2006 Reviews- Last Call, Part 1

I want to collect and post a few reviews of various discs released in 2006 while the year is still sort of fresh. Some of these c.d.'s are well known among music nerds, but most of them cover sounds only ever heard off the beaten path.
I also want to mention we should be in for some good times in the world of vintage soul re-releases. I believe Concord, having taken over Fantasy Records (including Fantasy's most soulful asset, the Stax back catalogue), is planning to reissue quite a few lost gems.
The releases being reviewed here are in no particular order, and I hope they bring something new to the attention of discerning listeners! Once again, I might as well point out my role in the music business is purely altruistic; I host a radio show on the non-proffit, left end of the f.m. dial, but I do not receive anything from record companies.