Here’s my favorite funky music of 2011:
1. DENNIS COFFEY: Dennis Coffey
Any way you slice it, funk guitar master Dennis Coffey has put together the best jam session the year. Coffey’s mastery of pocket and groove, his nasty nasty high energy chops, his choice of killer guest musicians and badass songs to cover, all put together to smack the lightweight funksters off their perch. The hooks on tracks like “Space Traveler” and “Plutonius” just can’t be touched. So so many people are trying to do some 60’s retro (see Raphael Saadiq) and in some cases pulling it off, but 70’s funk retro is the hardest sheet to hit with. Dennis Coffey sounds like he did in 1972 with “Scorpio,” only better! No wasted tracks, no shallow detours. Thru and thru the best funk record of 2011.
2, BOOTSY COLLINS: Tha Funk Capitol of The World
We all know Bootzilla the most talented funky brutha alive, and the undisputed Number One Funkateer of All Time Baba! And he has produced a masterpiece that will stand the test of time. Some of the songs, like “JB-Still The Man,” and “The Jazz Greats” are incredible. His new album is a brilliant montage of music lessons and clean pockets of funk interspersed with vocal vamps from the likes of Dr. Cornel West, Samuel Jackson, Al Sharpton and others. That’s the only problem with this disc. As a “funk lesson” it is one of the most important recordings of the century (do not sleep on the Jim Henrdrix tribute “Mirrors Tell Lies”), but as a free-flowing funk spectacle you can listen all the way thru, it feels too standardized and market driven. Where’s the “Sloppy Seconds” funk blowout ? We know Bootsy can do this because his holiday album Christmas is For Ever from 2006 is a freeform Rubber Band ripping funkblast, not a tamed hip hop hopeful overproduction that this new disc often gives the taste of. But you still gotta love it. If this disc gets Bootsy onto Letterman, on the X Factor, on 106th & Park, onto Sesame Street as a household name, then it will be all worth it…My question is this: does this disc get Bootsy closer to hosting a Super Bowl halftime show? Yeah I said it.
3. ORIGINAL 7VEN: Condensate
The Original Seven here are the original Morris Day and The Time! Yes I mean THE originals, that means Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Jesse Johnson, Jellybean, Jerome, the whole band bringing it all back! Prince owned the name, but he couldn’t contain the funk in this set. The band provides a mastery of all those Minneapolis sounds, the two-stepping pop, the nu-wave rockin’, the nasty ballads, the lean and slick strutting funk jams, and Morris’ over the top ego tripping are all in the finest form – in years. My only issue is that some of the grooves are so tight that I’d like to hear one of those 8, 9, ten minute versions. Morris Day and the band hasn’t changed, and you can take that for what it is. They bring their flava back in full glory.
4. PTFI: Who The Funk is PTFI?
Who is PTFI? Phil Jones is Phil The Funky Instrumentalist, and he has been laying down some of the thickest funk tracks around the Bay Area for years. His work on the Zootzilla album P’n All Over the Place, and Dr. Illinstine’s CD last year Listen While I Tell You Of The Clones made it clear that some serious phunk in the bay is getting some serious production quality to boot. Check out "Beware of the Sample Troll" and "Everywhere there's a lack of funkin'" and you'll get it. Phil the PTFI has produced tracks for the new Ronkat and the Katdelic album, which is going to be one of the major funk releases of 2012. But until then, this thumpasorus set will put The Funk straight.
5. ZIGABOO MODELISTE: New Life
Far and away Zigaboo’s best solo album, and he’s had some good ones! Legendary New Orleans funk drummer Zigaboo Modeliste combines some great Mardi Gras jammies with some brick-cracking funk tracks that all tell a story in Zig’s patented soulful way. “New Life,” “Human Race” and “Keep on Groovin’” let the world know that Zig is as fresh as ever, and his great ballad “Holiday Kiss” shows he’s still got the sentimental chops. But what really kicks this CD over the top is how often and how well Zigaboo features his own phenomenal drumming on the tracks. On earlier records Zig was emphasizing his songwriting, but he has finally broken out with a true solo album from The Meters drummer we always wanted to hear.
6. OSAKA MONAURAIL: State of The World
A straight up deep JB’s pocket is what these Japanese bruthas bring once again on their latest. But these pockets are killer, deep funk grooves that would make Fred and Maceo proud. Their sense of style and appreciation for the JB’s entire presentation is evident here, and on covers like “Mother Popcorn” and “Ain’t it Funky Now,” but the real meat is on their own compositions like “The Archipelago” and “Syrinxology” that just hold it and hit it the way it is sposed to be done. Recorded and released in Japan, presumably since the terrible earthquake/tsunami/radioactive disaster there, this funk packet can only help folks there and everywhere get over the hump.
7. CHARLES WRIGHT: That Funky Thang
My homie the legendary Charles Wright gets back to business as only he can, with some sloppy stanky irrestible freestyle funkin’ all his own! A set of delicious dance grooves with CW’s own silly lyrics and stoney delivery make the entire record a delight. This is what people love about the funk, but have long forgotten how to get there. Charles Wright never left, and he will take you there if you follow him.
8. BIG OL’ NASTY GETDOWN: Volume 1
One of the most diverse records on the list, the Big Ol Nasty Getdown features big helpings of southern fried funk, with some deep ballads and crazee rapping tossed in. Their meat is the monster funk riffs on “College Funk,” “Room 2012” and “Platinum” but the band has an indescribably delicious self made sound, that one can feel across a multitude of styles, from metal funk blasting to laid back balladeering. This is no gimmick. They are big, they are nasty and they get down.
9. HEADHUNTERS: Platinum
Drummer Mike Clark took the name and produced his own very entertaining trip through jazz funk and hip hop crossover. There are a few “remakes” of classic Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters era material, like “Palm Nut” and “Salamander” that give the sound some familiarity while moving the jazz-funk fusion flavor into the future. Some guest rappers include Snoop Dogg, who vamps on hanging in the San Francisco Bay Area on “D-Funk (funk with us)” The mix of rap and slick jazz funk has its moments, and is worth a listen but this might be one of those CD’s you pluck the grooves you want and skip the others. Usually those releases don’t make my list, but the music is so strong you won’t be able to ignore it.
10. GOAPELE: Break of Dawn
Bay area soul vocalist put together her tightest, strongest and funkiest album so far. An ethereal sound permeates the music here, as her band captures an exotic, futuristic yet deeply soulful atmosphere for the gifted singer to explore. Goapele digs deeper and and delivers with more passion than on any of her earlier albums, and she kicks up a dance groove on more than a few of them. It is a self-contained slice of Bay Area soul genius that one should not pass up, whether a funk fan or not.
Other interesting music this year: Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s brilliant Weather, Raphael Saadiq’s Rolling Stones homage Stone Rolling, Martin Luther’s self released disc Extra Terrestrial Brother Vol. 1, (you gotta go to martinluthermccoy.com to find it), Steve Arrington's work on Stone's Throw (where's the album?!), and my homie Bobby Easton’s band Delta Nove, Imaginary Conversations. There was a time when some hip hop made my funky top 10 list, maybe that time has passed.
One thing I noticed about these releases is that they generally stick to around 10 tracks, sometimes less. They can make their point and not overload their listeners with a sense of quantity over quality, and I think other artists should heed this. Make sure the music you are doing is the best it can be, not simply as many tracks as you can muster. There are also a lot of O.G.’s on this list. They are showing up and representing, showing the young bucks how to do it, and I hope more will do just that. As for the P-Funk, there is a taste of it from PTFI, and Dennis Coffey does a couple of mean Funkadelic covers, and you can get some Pee from the Bootsy album, although he’s clearly trying to reach other audiences beyond the Maggot Brains that inhabit that zone of zeep funk.