Friday, August 15, 2014


The August 1, 2014 release of the James Brown biopic Get On Up has been a long anticipated event for many music fans and people that grew up with Soul Brother Number One as an integral part of their lives.  The film has been praised by mainstream critics and ripped by many who believe it did a disservice to one of the greatest African Americans that ever lived.  I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Many of Brown’s closest supporters such as Bootsy Collins and Charles Bobbitt have stated that while flawed, they enjoyed the film also. 

If nothing else, the release of the film has given many of us “insiders” into the discourse of soul music a reason to publicly reassess the narrative of the most important black musicians - and black people - of our generation.

While Chadwick Boseman’s role as James Brown has been universally praised, and the producers have delivered an entertaining treatment of Brown’s rags to riches story, there are some omissions and issues of emphasis that stand out more and more as sins of omission, particularly when the subject matter is one of the Greatest African Americans that ever lived.  There has been strong criticism that of all the writers, producers and directors associated with the film, none of them are African Americans.  This is not a reason to avoid the film, but it is one reason why I was trepidatious when I went to see it.  One should approach the film more accurately as "Mick Jagger presents Get On Up" and the perspective will become clear.  Jagger, lead singer of the Rolling Stones, is a very sympathetic and strong supporter of soul music and the legacy of black entertainers in his work and of Western popular music in general.  He and the other producers are nevertheless coming from an outsider's perspective and it is revealed in the film in many places.

Here is a - pared down – list of sinful omissions from the film:

1-Emcee Danny Ray does not exist in the film, yet Danny Ray was with James Brown longer than Bobby Byrd was, and was the reliable voice introducing “Mr Dynamite, Mr. Please Please Please himself…”  at countless concerts and events for over 40years.  Danny Ray also donned the cape on Mr Brown during the shows and was integral to the stage act for decades.  During music performances, the film shows numerous times when the cape is placed on Mr. Brown but the cape holder is conspicuously anonymous.  This is inexplicableto any JB fan.  Why his character was omitted is unconscionable.  Similarly, longtime (black) business manager and confidante Charles Bobbitt was eliminated from the film altogether.  There were many backstage scenes in which Bobbit’s sage council and trustworthiness could have been shown, however briefly. Bobbitt’s loyalty was and is legendary, and for it to be rewarded by his omission is also unconscionable.

2-Fred Wesley does not exist in the film.  As Mr. Brown’s bandleader off and on from1969 to 1975, Wesley was responsible for such classics as “Get On the GoodFoot”  “The Payback,” “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” and “Mother Popcorn”  all of which    were heard or referenced in the film, yet Wesley is nonexistent.  Further, Maceo Parker’s character was playedby a heavy set, comic actor Craig Robinson that resembled Fred Wesley bothvisually and in terms of temperament. Robinson did not in any way resemble or reflect the smooth, slender dark chocolate hued Maceo.  Essentially Fred and Maceo were fused into one person. This was unforgiveable.  (It is plausible however in light of the fact that Fred Wesley was among the first of the sidemen to pen his own autobiography which delineated the trials andtribulations of working for the Godfather of Soul.  It is possible that the family members that “approved” the script were petty enough to request that Fred Wesley be removed from the story line)

Many of us music collectors figured that once the JB reissues came out in the 1980s, with liner notes from Cliff White and later Harry Weinger, that the days of ignoring the genius of the James Brown bandwere over… but with the omission of Fred Wesley from this film, they are back again.

Further, during Brown’s 1971 Paris concert, his last great one in the timeline of the film, there are cutaways to the white bandleader (David Matthews most likely) that night.  This was a subtle nod to the worldliness of James Brown, and a subtle erasure of Fred Wesley once again.  This was troubling to me because it reflects once again an outsider’s view of Brown’s music which ignores the genius of Fred Wesley in the creation and maintenance of the JB’s funk sound of the early 70s.

3-The women are all cardboard cut-out characters with lines thata film school intern could have written, and probably did.  They were dimensionless tragic victims of Brown’s ambition, without any complications, back stories or personality.  Viola Davis’ role as Brown’s mother was particularly troubling, not because she can’t act, but because we’ve seen that act so many times before.  Almost no references to who these people were and how they dealt with life as black women during Jim Crow, was consistently troubling.

Furthermore, there were many other important women in Brown’s life and career, such as Anna King, Martha High, Lyn Collins, Marva Whitney and Tammi Montgomery a.k.a. TammiTerrell, which the movie chose to wipe away from the narrative. 

Brown’s third wife Adrienne was left out of the film, as was Brown’s companion Tammy Ray at the time of Brown’s death.  These were white women that Brown was passionate about and should have been seen.  While the chronology of the film did not make a necessity of their roles, their absence denies a particular element of Brown’s racial ideology that is more complex  - and reflective of the complexity of blacklife in America - and deserved to be seen as such.  This leaves little doubt that the film was from a white Brit’s viewpoint of blackness. In the absence of these women, Brown is seen as a racial simpleton, a victim of the binary logic of Jim Crow and little more.  He was far more than that.

4-The film re-creates absurd encounters with white pop culture such as the “Ski Party” sequence in great detail.  However Brown’s encounters with radical black leaders, while well documented in the literature on Brown, were only mentionedin passing.   Brown writes in his autobiography of a face-to-face meeting with black radical H. Rap Brown on the Harlem streets.  This would have been a priceless encounter and priceless opportunity to educate the audience, black white and other, of Brown’s steadfast positions on black pride and black power.  This was clearly a dimension that the (entirely white) team of writers and producers were not equipped to develop with any authority. 

Further, the only references to Brown’s relationship to black power were portrayed in the context of his revealing to his confidante, his white manager Ben Bart.  It is an incongruity that would only be generated by a writer/producer with more affinity with the white manager than to the brother from the block.  This is where the ‘center’ of the story gets lost.  James Brown is a product of America to be sure, but he is first and foremost a product of Black America, and the film lost touch with this point just as the racial consciousness of the nation was on the rise, compelling Brown to remain in touch with his people in ways he saw fit.

5-The film could have dealt with Brown’s visits to Africa –his trip to Nigeria in 1971 when he and his band witnessed the genius of “The African James Brown,” Fela Kuti, and most importantly, his 1974 performance in Zaire ahead of the Muhammad Ali – George Foreman fight, the “Rumble in theJungle.”  This was a true cultural moment appropriately named in the 1996 film WhenWe Were Kings.  The filmmakers chose not to emphasize Brown’s worldwide impact as a musician and cultural icon of African / Black identity.  

6-The encounter with Brown’s recording of “Say it Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud” while exciting, was unsubtle and cartoonish.  Out of the blue – and inconsistent with the plot up to that point - the characters were dressed in African garb and natural hair.  Then just as quickly, that moment ends and the story moves on.  As if Black Power – and Brown’s popularization of Black Power came and went in a whiff, yet it is perhaps Brown’s most lasting contribution to the world.

There are any number of live performances on tape that could have been re-created to show Brown’s towering stance in the community at that moment.  Cutaways to the 1968 Olympic games,with the triumphant black power fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos could have been shown, as “Say it Loud” was the #1 R&B song on the radio at that very moment.  Visual images of the Black Panthers, of Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver, Ron Karenga and others that represented what “black and proud” meant to the black community and the world community could have been shown.  This is the singular moment where James Brown did not simply cross over to the mainstream as a black artist, he made the mainstream cross over to black.  This is perhaps his greatest accomplishment, and the greatest omission from thefilm.

The cutaway from the gleeful chorus of “I’m Black and I’mProud” in the film to Brown’s character shoveling dirt on a casket with aJewish symbol is the most jarring and incomprehensible edit in the film.  This is a moment when a sensitive director (of color?) would have embellished the “Say It Loud” moments with cutaways to Brown’s influence on black popular culture, fashion, language, style and identity.  A few seconds would not have been difficult to produce, but instead a moment was cut off, crushed in orderto emphasize Brown’s sentiment toward his white manager -deliberately identified as Jewish – just as the film was embellishing Brown’s blackness.  It was an inexplicable jump cut from a filmmaking perspective, and a racially insensitive one.  It is hard to imagine an African American director making that kind of edit on this film, in that moment.  (Furthermore, the son of manager Ben Bart contends that Brown did not even attend Ben Bart’s funeral….)

7- The film could have easily referenced a young (black) Michael Jackson doing the “James Brown moves” as part of the Jackson 5 audition for Motown.  Mick Jagger was not the only superstar transformed – note for note and move for move by James Brown.  During a lifetime achievement award for Brown on BET in 2003, Michael Jackson emerges (at the peak of his popularity) to introduce his mentor James Brown and to educate the mass of MJ supporters where he got his funk from.  This is on tape and could be reconstructed like the other Jim Crow era events on tape.  The King of Pop’s profound debt to James Brown could have been mentioned in less than one sentence but was omitted.

8- The final performance sequence in which Brown walks to a stage and sings “Try Me” with Bobby Byrd and Vicki Anderson in the audience was given a deliberately intimate feel.  But anyone that saw James Brown in the years after his prison release in the early1990s saw a spectacle of a stage show, with tall glamorous dancing girls and a sprawling stage set reflecting the scope of Brown’s triumphant return.  This final scene implied that Brown was a shell of his earlier star power, which was not the case. 

Further, the decision to render the climactic scene of Brown’s triumphant life to a forlorn Jim Crow era ballad speaks volumes about the orientation of the all white, predominantly British filmmakers.   This did not reflect the triumphant natureof the man’s life.  The previous scene,in which Brown is seen as a young boy, still wearing the painted number one on his chest (from one of the few illuminating scenes about the racism of JimCrow) speaks to the camera and says “I paid the cost to be the boss.”  That would have been the proper moment to end the film.  On the undisputed triumph of Brown’s life.  Period.

9.  The film harps on Brown’s isolation and loneliness in the years from the death of his son Teddy in 1973 until his arrest in 1988, as if those intervening years were not relevant to his life.  Only to outsiders to the black experience would this be plausible.

The narrative should have continued until The Payback in1974, and should have featured Browns’ dominant presence on Soul Train, and his strong relationshipwith Soul Train host DonCornelius.   A behind the scenes dialogue between Brown and Cornelius about the state of black people and black music would have been priceless.  But apparently this was “not important enough” in this film about yet another self-made Jim Crow survivor. 

In addition there exists footage of a young Al Sharpton on Soul Train during an interview giving Brown a “Black Record” (a prize for having the best black song of 1974, “ThePayback”).  Sharpton would go on to become a “surrogate son,” stand-in for Teddy, and an important part of Brown’s self-recovery.  But the producers chose to simplify Brown’s loneliness, as if he was in a death spiral for 15 years and not a single event was worthy of inclusion until 1988.  And yet to these filmmakers the entire comic-tragic highway chase was worthy of detailed reconstruction on film.

10.  James Brown, through his raw Soul Power in the late 1960s and early 70s, taught us how to frame our blackness.  Perhaps more than Malcolm, more than Huey & Bobby, it was Soul Brother Number One that gave us the fuel for our emerging black identity. During the first half of the 70s with songs like “Get on the Good Foot,” “Make it Funky,” “Hot Pants,”  “Doing itto Death,” “Funky President,” “My Thang,” “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,”  “Take Some, Leave Some,”  “Mind Power,”  Lyn Colllins’ “Think,” Fred Wesley’s “Damn Right I Am Somebody” and “The Payback” all helped us define our “blackness” in a certain way.  This film completely missed a means of truly bringing that to light. A quick passage to a deejay in the mix, or a montage of rappers sampling JB, might have illuminated this essential aspect of the great man’s life.

The entire creation of hip hop should be seen as an outgrowth of this fact, yet the fact that hip hop has taken over the world, andis STILL and FOREVER based on the work of James Brown was barely even mentioned. 

Having said all of this, I truly enjoyed the film and would recommend that people go and see it while it is in the theaters.

People should realize that it has been many years since we have all been able to see a truly impactful performance of The Godfather of Soul.  He was performing up to his death in 2006, but those later shows were relatively mild showcases of a pop superstar rather than a burning beacon of black self-awareness.  This film brings back Soul Brother Number One in many entertaining ways despite all of its flaws. 

There have been complaints of "why can't black filmmakers do projects like these" and that white film producers have such privilege they can just peruse wikipedia and stumble on a black cultural icon and get a film green-lighted about them.  It is not that simple.  The Ray movie took years to get approved, and it was produced by Taylor Hackford, a white man.  I also noticed with chagrin that at the peak of the popularity of black film makers in the 1990s with Spike Lee, the Hudlin Brothers, John Singleton, Mario Van Peeples, Oprah Winfrey and others, I don't remember any of them seriously taking on a biographical project involving a black musical icon.  So stop hating on this very thoughtful and professional production and Get Up Offa That Thang and do something to change this situation!

Get On Up should open the door for other films to focus on more events in Brown’s life with greater detail, emphasis and affection.    It is a good first step, on the goodfoot…

Sunday, February 9, 2014

10 classic albums that sound different on CD.

For a lot of us crate diggers, the transition to CD in the late 1980s was both a blessing and a curse.  The convenience of the CD format made it easier for some people to get an entire listening experience, especially when double albums like Funkadelic’s “America Eats Its Young” or the Crusaders “Southern Comfort” are finally easy to play in sequence.

But the CD thing also made listening to the album a more rewarding experience, from the great visuals of the album art, to the extra sparkles that came from the lp sound, not simply from the scratches on the disc.  Often the sound is still brighter on my lps than the CD’s.

After years of listening to some great funk & soul in both formats, there are a few tracks that are glaring in the contrast from lp to CD, both good and bad:

Here are the most memorable to me:

1) Parliament Live: P-Funk Earth Tour (1977).  When the 2lp came out when I was in high school, I was thrilled, only to discover that the mix was hella murky on lp.  It would be another 15 years before the CD reissue would “fix” the sound and deliver a much brighter mix.  You can finally hear the Mike Hampton guitar solo on “Dr. Funkenstein” live.  This is one instance when the CD was an upgrade sound wise from the lp.  But you don’t get “Fantasy is Reality” on the CD, so you are missing something.  And of course you don’t get the crazy Dr Funkenstein poster and Iron on T-Shirt Transfer!

2) Similarly, I always tripped on how murky Stevie Wonder’s 70’s albums sounded.  Particularly Fulfillingness First Finale and Songs in the Key of Life.  But the 2000 remaster of “Songs …” (thanks Harry Weinger) brings out all kinds of new layers on songs like “Another Star” and “All Day Sucker” that I never heard before on the album.  In this case, the CD is a great new treat.

3) Brick “Good High”  (1976) This was always one of my favorite creative funk records back in the day, and I had to wait a hella long time for the CD reissue on Wounded Bird in 2011.  Unfortunately by then I had already converted my lp to an mp3 album – And that still sounds way brighter than the new CD.  That was a big downer.   I don’t know what was missed but something is flat on all the tracks.  You can compare the versions from the Greatest Hits versions of “Dazz” and “Good High” to that disc and it won’t feel good.

4) Collectibles has always had a shaky reputation when it comes to putting classic soul on CD.  Maybe it is because other labels will remaster tracks and Collectibles appears to just take a tape and put it directly to CD.   That was the case when they did Slave’s two albums “Hardness of the World” and “The Concept,” two of the wildest funk albums ever created, put on one CD.    I really wanted The Concept so I could put all 9 glorious minutes of “Stellar Fungk” on the radio with all the spacey sounds (and Steve Arrington’s other-worldly percussion!) nice and clean for a change!  But no, the sound is gloomy and murky to the point where I’m still playing my lp or mp3 from my lp on the radio.

The tough part with this is that Rhino did a best of Slave featuring Steve Arrington that really brought to life “Stellar Fungk” and “The Party Song” – but cut them way down to fit single versions on the CD comp.  So you can easily see how hot the Rhino mix is versus the Collectibles mix.  So I’m still pining for a sparkly clean version of Stellar Fungk.

I wasn’t impressed with that 5CD Album Series release either.  Coulda given a mug some sparkle on their funk.

5-6) Earth Wind & Fire: Gratitude and That’s the Way of The World.  Somehow the CD manufacturers just don’t know what to do with EWF and their style of putting silly interludes all over their albums.  Do we track them as individual tracks?  Or blend them into main tracks, therefore messing them up for those of us making mixes.   Or do we just delete the sounds altogether?

On “Way of the World” on both my CD’s the first piano interlude in front of “All About Love” is gone altogether.  Just like it never happened. WTF?  That song is magic, for a reason, because of Larry Dunn’s weird piano/synth tripping, the lovely song enjoys a special place “inside” EWF’s jazzy world, but not on the CD.   Poof.  Some industry hack just distorted the vision of Maurice White.  Also, the 2 minute piano/synthesizer vamp at the end is stuck on the track, so if you only want the ballad, too bad, you get: no mellow intro but you have to get the long outro. 

I have an old version of the “Way of the World” CD that put the piano/synth intro to “All About Love” at the end of the previous track “Happy Feelin’” which meant that Happy Feelin’ in a mix would go into a piano ballad before the track ends, making a mess of the mixes I was trying to make with that song.

Gratitude was almost as bad, as the intro to “Sun Goddess” is messed up.  Most of us OG’s love hearing the nice intro:  “Right now, we have a special song for you, a song we recorded with Ramsey Lewis…”  and then it kicks into the jam.  That is one of the most memorable moments of a legendary live album.  For the CD the track kicks in right on the song, and the dialogue is stuck at the end of “Devotion.”  That means, if you want to play “Devotion” live in a mix, you also have to listen to the Ramsey Lewis intro before the song cuts out. 

They did put that crazy riff that comes just before “Cant Hide Love” on the last side of the lp, on the CD and it is tracked by itself, which was a good idea.  An idea that should apply to all EWF interludes; make them all separate tracks, period.

7) “Aqua Boogie” on Motor Booty Affair.  When I came across “Motor Booty Affair” for the first time in 1978 it was one of the greatest surprises!  I didn’t know Parliament was coming out with something new, and I was still swimming in the P, with One Nation Under A Groove and Bootsy’s latest “Player of the Year” still making noise.  So I copped that disc and ran home and played the whole thing!  I couldn’t believe how trippy, liquefied and stanky the album was, and Aqua Boogie was just on another level, with the final ripping groove turning a mutha out!  But dang it faded out hella quick!  As it turned out, the lp LISTED the song at 6:43 but it was about a minute shorter.  It always bugged me out.  Nevertheless the song was psychedelic p-funk perfection, so I wasn’t trippin’…

But when the CD came out in 1990 I was stunned to hear the final minute of Aqua Boogie in all its super stankiness, and sloppiness.  I figure it was faded on the lp because that underwater bird (performed by who?...) kinda lost his breath in that final minute, and the perfection of the arrangement is somewhat lost.  Maybe that was the case, maybe it was just a ghost in the machine…

8) Spider on Herbie Hancock’s “Secrets” album.  This has always been one of my all time favorite jazz funk albums, and “Spider” is to me a masterpiece of precision stank funk hiding on a jazz album.   Herbie’s ability to put a serene sheen on the gangly spidery groove has always been hypnotic to me.  The ending, in a splash of synthesizer splatter is also a memorable jazz funk legendary moment.  But when I rushed out to buy the first CD reissue, there was a “glitch” in the end of Spider, as if the “tape” had folded as it was being digitized.  A funk buzzkill if there ever was one.

So I figured it was just a bad CD, and I bought another one, same glitch.  Dang.  Glad to know that used CD’s are always being bought & sold, but I really wanted that Spider to come out clean.  Many of those mid 70s albums have been remastered and completely upgraded sound wise, but not Secrets.  Still waiting.   Fortunately one can download “Spider” from itunes from a “Greatest Hits” and it sounds fine.  Or better yet, crank the original album!

9) Sometimes CD reissues come with sound that is way too hot & loud, like my best of the Emotions, and my best of Mother’s Finest.  Sometimes CD reissues come in way too low, like for some reason a lot Al Jarreau, my Gil Scott Heron “Pieces of a Man” comp, and my Quincy Jones “Mellow Madness” CD from Japan.  For a long time there was no real standard for what level to put the lp out on CD.  Drove me nuts trying to make a radio mix.

10) Does anybody else remember when CBS messed up and put the “alternate” Fresh album by Sly & the Family Stone out?  That was a trip.  Apparently it was murkier and trippier than the album most of us knew and loved anyway.  I believe it is what Sly gave originally to the label, and somebody decided to mix it again after Sly handed it in.    

Any other big surprises?

10 Excellent takeaways from Undercover Presents Stand!

10 Excellent takeaways from Undercover Presents Stand!

On Sunday January 19th, over 100 musicians gathered together at the Independent in San Francisco for the finale of three nights of a presentation of every track of Sly & the Family Stone’s groundbreaking 1969 album Stand! I was honored to be a part of the festivities, giving some Sly knowledge, hanging with the brilliant and buoyant musicians, and acting a fool during the finale on stage!

There were so many awesome elements to this experience, for instance:

1. Multiple generations of musicians got to not only perform Sly Stone’s music, but to immerse themselves in the prophetic visions and the stylistic range of Bay Area legends Sly & the Family Stone. Each act, each collective on stage was able to process and express Sly’s vision of a "Love City" that took on but went beyond the racial & gender divides of the times, and took us towards a true global love community!

2. The once revered epiphany of the album listening experience was brought back with a vengeance! The entire night was designed for the audience to witness the range, depth, funky thump and cumulative optimism of the entire 1969 Stand! record, which was attained with spectacular results. This will have folks flocking back to the original album all over again - for the first time!

2. Everyone in the place got to witness nine separate finales, as each act just took their sound and Sly’s vision to a Higher level, bringing down the house again and again! So much talent! So much funk! So much love in the house!

The true genius of Sly Stone was revealed by the fact that his work was accessible to musicians from nine different genres, musical worlds, tastes and musical scenes.
They were each reflecting Sly’s vision that "Everybody is a Star," and celebrating "Everyday People" with Different Strokes for Different Folks!

4. The final night was a clean technical sweep, as very few sound problems or glitches delayed any of the sets or transitions. Truly a feat of wizardry from all involved. The Independent never sounded so good! (and I’ve seen some legendary shows there)

5. Original Family Stone members Rustee Allen (bass) and Greg Errico (drums) appeared onstage and not only got the love they deserved, but were clearly moved by the experience, and in no time they FUNKED UP the place with their musical mastery!

6. Dave Moschler’s indomitable genius of drawing together artists from disparate genres into one project - one vision and one creation - was simply a divine stroke. The diversity and the unity all over the building was a soul penetrating experience! So many of us were able to meet and to learn about each other’s works and start new funky networks of our own. Thank U Dave!

7. The Awesome Orchestra Collective’s opening “Stand!” performance was thunderous, while the exhilarating sounds of Soprano Lauren Woody, pianist JooWan Kim and two rappers doing “Don’t Call Me Nigger Whitey” are still in my head; The unforgettable Energy of Zakira Harris’ Afro-Cuban dance ensemble ripping “I Want to Take You Higher” is still bouncing me around; the exquisite polish of Tiffany Austin’s vocals and upright bass player Marcus Shelby’s rendition of “Somebody’s Watching You” was masterful; and the all-consuming, explosive Latin hip hop in Bayonics’ thunderous rendition ‘Sing A Simple Song” was enough to satisfy any music fan – and that was only Side 1 of Stand!

8. The hypnotic, dreamy soul country flavors of the Tumbleweed Wanderers (with Jeremy Lyon channeling Allan Gorrie of AWB) was utterly haunting as they revitalized “Everyday People” in a way that tapped into all of the energy in the room. The disparate spirits became One as they gave love to America’s vast expanse of the human heart; The highlight of the show for many of us was Con Brio’s lead singer Ezekiel McCarter, who channeled a passionate Marvin Gaye on “Sex Machine” and made it his own, while celebrating the original 13 minute masterpiece with a rendition that you never wanted to stop! The increasing funkativity was not lost from Will Magid’s wickedly funky keyboard & trumpet work on “My Brain (Zig Zag)” with bass from Family Stone O.G. Rustee Allen. The party was rocking off the chain when the Jazz Mafia – featuring Greg Errico on drums brought down the house with “You Can Make it If You Try” – and Uriah Duffy’s channeling of Larry Graham to punctuate the ultimate Funk of the whole thing!

9. The all hands - all bands - on deck finale was as transcendent a moment as Bay Area music can deliver! The chaos, the pure joy, the elevated spirits and thunderous funk was a living Monster! That was truly Love City!

10. The heavy lifting of Lyz Luke to bring together the musical talent, the promotional efforts, the venue operations, the merchandizing, and a thousand logistics while remaining cool, calm, lovely and funky onstage and everywhere else set the tone of this unforgettable set!

11. Sly Stone would be so proud of this!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


It has been a strange year for funk releases. A number of Funk MASTERS released music this year, but their spins on the Glorious Funk Vibe have gone well out on eccentric Plutonian orbits, while a lot of us are still hungry for the gravity of a fat gas giant Jupiter-sized scoop of funk right about now. 

The best of the Masters’ work include: Bernie Worrell, BWO is Landing; Jerome Brailey and Mutiny: Funk Road; and Danny Bedrosian: Songs for a Better Tomorrow. Each of these carries the weight of P-Funk legacy and a serious dose of funk mastery, yet each also reminds us of how disembodied the entire P-Funk Nation has become. 

Working with a band of talented younger players in his Bernie Worrell Orchestra, Bernie has found a niche that truly showcases his unique genius. At it’s best (on songs like “Double W”) the BWO band shows us what the next generation is capable of, and how satisfying their sound can be. But there is always the specter of standard vs stank with younger funkers. Though it is wiggly and wondrous - and Bernie turned out the Long Beach Funk Fest with his BWO - one always feels the tug of The P with Bernie…as if the next collaboration will bring back the Super Groovalistic Prosifunkstication.

P-Funk drummer Jerome Brailey brings the dirty south Uncut Funk vibe on his spectacular Funk Road. Jerome goes everywhere here, from Latinized Florida funk, to raw country funk and dirty funk-rock riffing that he is the master of. The band and the sound goes everywhere, and BigFoot doesn’t cut corners, he splatters with his patented percussive, polyrhythmic, relentless beats. The only drawback is that he goes so many places that the overall experience loses focus, which reminds us of how far out of phase our collective notions of The Funk are becoming.

Current P-Funk keyboardist Danny Bedrosian can always be counted on to bring the comic splatter-funk adventures. On Music for a Better Tomorrow, he’s really working on doing a focused funk project here, but his wit and wackiness just takes over and the record jumps around like a monkey in a cage. Not that that’s a bad thing! 

The hungry upcoming funky bucks kept it going in 2013: Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band delivered Onward!, a crazy party session that upholds their growing reputation with an unstoppable southern funky vibe. West coast baby O.G’s Weapon of Choice came back with Really Relevant and features Lonnie Marshall’s silly groove style back in total effect. From Europe, original Rubber Band vocalist MudBone is featured prominently on the very thunderous Who’s Cooking by Grand Slam, maybe the best of the polished contemporary funk releases. The New York based United Funk Order continues to bang out delicious soul-inflected funk, but only released a 3 song EP this year. (check out Crackpipe!)

My favorite of these about-to-be O.G.’s is Detroit based P-Funk drummer Gabe Gonzales’ super-stanky Intergalaxative. This mash-a-mug is nearing that magical mix of crispy clean and down & dirtay at once that all great Funk aspires to. Gabe is well on the dirty side, but this is a much sharper effort than his Negative Nuisance from a couple years back. If you want and need that hard hitting dirty dog thumping Funk and no filler, you can start with Intergalaxative.

Two of the most mindblowing releases come to the funk from a wider, righteous angle: Kentyah Presents: Evolutionary Minded -Furthering The Legacy Of Gil Scott-Heron is a completely mind blowing righteous treatment of jazz, funk and revolutionary rap from M1 of Dead Prez, and producer Kentyah Fraser (who brought us the Headhunters’ Platinum a couple years back) all in the vein of a Gil Scott-Heron type production. Gil’s homie Brian Jackson is on a lot of the production, as are superstars such as Blackbyrd McKnight, percussionist Airto, drummer Mike Clark, Juma Sultan, bassist Paul Jackson, Martin Luther and the voice of Bobby Seale. 

The other mind bending funk-jazz excursion is the return of Kelvyn Bell’s Kelvynator: Funk 4 Wha Cha Know. Kelvynator was a rowdy 80’s funk fusion act that stood strong in the mix of alternative ass-kicking radical jazz-funk acts like Defunkt and Jean Paul Bourelly. His new music is as strong as any of his earlier work. Kelvyn Bell’s radically offbeat thumpasorus humps, chords and grooves are an intoxicating radioactive mash of stank, that dares anyone from the funk or jazz worlds to reach them at the crossroads. 

Then there are the funk redux sounds of Aurra, Global Noize and the latest from Earth, Wind & Fire: Now, Then & Forever. Steve Washington was “rediscovered” in a sense when producer Daniel Borine located the lost tapes of a 1984 Aurra album done without Kurt Jones & Starleana Young but with Bride of Funkenstein Sheila Horne and (Chaka’s brother) Mark Stevens. The crazy legal mess with the original Aurra has passed 30 years later, but the grooves, remixed by state-of-the-art producers on the new release Satisfaction sound badass, ole school and brand new all at once. The hype has also helped inspire Steve to break out with Kurt Jones again and start on some real new Aurra music too!

Earth, Wind & Fire came back yet again with their patented sound of horn driven positive R&B. This time they brought back in the fold original keyboardist Larry Dunn, and as a result their sound is more satisfying than it has been in years. Some of these O.G.’s are really trying to bring back that REAL black music, they just need our support cause the industry will try to make them all disappear!

A massive collaboration of artists led by producer Jason Miles put together Sly Reimagined, yet another spin on the Sly Stone catalog, that brings even more fresh flava to the insastiable positivity of Sylvester Stewart’s work! With contributions from the likes of Maya Azucena (singing lead on “Fun”) Will Bernard on guitar and original Family Stone drummer Greg Errico on most of the tracks, the feel is rich, fresh and funky yet again.

Sly & the Family Stone really got the repackaging treatment this year. Get On Down released a deluxe repackaging of There’s A Riot Going On, and Epic/Sony Legacy finally got off their asses and produced THE Sly box set airybody’s been waiting for, Higher! The 4 discs of hilarious unreleased gems, classic masters and alternate takes makes for an intensely uplifting experience, and the massive MASSIVE book of photos and memorabilia make the project the definitive treatment!

But there is more, Dutch collectors extraordinaire Arno and Edwin Konigs finally completed their giant picture books of the music of the Sly & the Family Stone and one on the music of George Clinton & P-Funk. These coffee-table sized labors of love are as satisfying as any music reissue to come along, and are welcome additions to the ever growing multi media recognition of the legacy of The Funk!

One should not sleep on the funkativity of our European funk head friends, with Rony Playstation (Funkadelian Johnson), Tiny & the Underground Funk Squad, P-Theory, Bobby Soul, Octave Pussy, Seven Eleven (featuring Dodge) and many others producing tracks, their albums are regularly at the top of my Best Funk of the Year lists. One should peep the tracks posted by Heavy Baby Makers, a collaboration of many Euro-Peein’ Maggots I’ve listed!

It was too hard to make a straight “top ten list” of funk releases this year because so many artists spun around a funk orbit but didn’t spend enough time in that “ habitable zone.”  We keep hearing rumors about new funk albums from giants like George Clinton, D’Angelo, and the Prince/3rd Eye Girl/Ida Nielsen confab, but fo real, put something out already! Here’s hoping that 2014 will be the year that we get The Funk Over The Hump!