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!