Sunday, July 8, 2012

Concert Review: Osaka Monaurail at The Great Hall

Osaka Monaurail & Souljazz Orchestra
The Great Hall
Toronto, ON
July 6 2012

In their first ever North American concert, Japan's "#1 funk orchestra" Osaka Monraurail, wowed a modest crowd friday night at The Great Hall in West Queen West. Put on by World Famous Music, a Canadian promoter known for organizing shows featuring highly talented funk, soul, jazz and electronic artists, the night was an absolute feast for aficionados of international interpretations of funky grooves from the late 1960s and 70s.

Opening for the Japanese funksters was Souljazz Orchestra, easily the most talented afrobeat band to ever emerge from Ottawa, Ontario. Souljazz has gained international recognition for creating catchy, lengthy singles like "Mista President" and "Freedom No Go Die" that are reminicent of the music of Fela Kuti and other popular 1970's West African afrobeat artists. Their live show was almost an exact replica of how I've often imagined afrobeat shows unfolding in a busy Nigerian bar: Intensely sweaty, funky and kind of transcendent, albeit without a bevy of semi-nude Nigerian dancers and the grand political statements that were an integral part of Fela Kuti's shows.

The Great Hall filled up quickly (with mostly Japanese Canadians, ex-pats and funk nerds like myself) as headliners Osaka Monaurail, an eight-piece band uniformly dressed in early 1960's style big-band suit jackets, took the stage, subsequently launching into instantly satisfying, funked out opening workouts of The Temptations "Get Ready" and Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."  Charismatic frontman Ryo Nakata took the stage in classic band-leader style, almost a full half-hour into Monaurail's set and jumped right into a Maceo Parker-era James Brown flavored jam.

The 39-year-old Nakata attended high school in Alberta and moved back to Japan shortly after, starting the Osaka-based band in 1992. And impressively enough for a Canada-educated Japanese funk musician, his stage presence and vocal twang is eerily similar to Southern soul singers of the late 60s, evoking nostalgic dreams of a time when funk and soul frontmen like James Brown ruled black music in America; when Nakata growls "we'd like to go back to the sixtaaaays", I am placated and content.

The rest of the band can be aptly described as virtuosically talented, even though their sound is wholly limited to funky nostalgia. Drummer Soki Kimura plays with a subtle, yet extremely refined funk technique, employing precise ghost notes in his almost Dennis Chambers-like grooves with a tight swing-jazz touch in his cymbal work. Tenor Saxophonist Shimon Mukai is another standout, sounding like the long-lost Japanese son of Maceo Parker

On the whole, Osaka Monaurail plays with a tightness and a ferocity that pays tribute to James Brown and the subversively-funky past of Motown, Stax and the American South. An indicative moment comes when Nakata begins taunting the band, saying "y'all look like 1986...I want to go back to revolutionary times." Mid-set, Nakata announced that the band was celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, despite having never played a show in the U.S or Canada. Nostalgia for funkier times has always been a good business (especially in Japan), so much so that tight, popular funk bands like Osaka Monaurail consistently guarantee themselves a long musical shelf life. The soul of the Godfather of Soul lives on.

Note: DJ General Eclectic, a member of the well-respected Toronto DJ collective Foot Prints, supplied a welcome serving of rare-soul and funk tunes in between and after sets.

All photos © Corey Caplan 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Funk Friday - Spotlight on Snarky Puppy

In 2004, bassist, composer and producer Michael League formed the jazz-funk ensemble Snarky Puppy at the University of North Texas College of Music in Denton, TX; a hot bed of musical talent in a city that is self-described as a "stomping ground of Jazz musicians and enthusiasts." The band, which operates as something of a collective with a revolving array of nearly 30 musicians, is on the cutting edge of both funk and jazz music. Today's Funk Friday is all Snarky Puppy and you should be very, very happy about that.

Michael League grew up in Texas, in the American South and this is important. Jazz was born in the South and since its ascension to the mainstream in the early 20th century, it has continued to be defined and shaped by Southern musicians. Texas borders Louisiana, a state whose largest and most cultured city, New Orleans is the ultimate mecca for big band style jazz-funk, which I like to call NOLA Funk music. Here's a great performance from Snarky Puppy that takes the NOLA style and slowly builds a steady groove until hitting a climax that almost literally explodes with sound.

This Wednesday I had the glorious pleasure to see Snarky Puppy play live at The Rex, arguably the finest bar in Toronto to take in a show by local and international jazz artists. Playing to a packed house of mostly jazz-hungry teenagers and early twentysomethings, the Snarky Puppy live experience is something of an intense, but inclusive, accessible and wholly memorable trip:  jams happen slowly, starting from basic melodic themes that eventually build their way into satisfyingly heavy grooves provided by League and his tighter-than-tight rhythm section. League and Snarky Puppy's addictive blend of jazz, funk and hip-hop has cemented them as an inventive, powerful force to be reckoned with. I for one will be on my toes to see where they go next.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Funk Friday - Bonnaroo! - June 1st 2012

In a few days I leave for Bonnaroo. It is my third American music festival in three years and I can reasonably predict it will by all respects be the most musically satisfying and physically arduous aural journey I will have embarked upon. Held at the same 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee for the past 10 years, the first Bonnaroo in 2002 saw 70,000 people, selling out the festival far in advance. Today, it has evolved to become one of the, if not the most high profile annual American music festival.

Mostly known for a wildly diverse slate of musical acts and the blistering Tennessee heat of the campgrounds that has effectively killed a handful of attendees in years past, Bonnaroo takes its namesake from New Orleans legend Dr. John's 1971 Meters-backed funk/R&B album Desitively Bonnaroo.

1. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Mellowship Slinky in B Major

The anchoring headliner at Bonnaroo 2012, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, formed in 1983 by vocalist Anthony Kiedis and Michael "Flea" Balzary are in my view, the most successful, prolific funk rock band of all time. Rooted in Parliament/Funkadelic funky guitar rock and the fun, aggressive California punk rock of the late 1970s and early 1980s, RHCP have consistently maintained a broad, strong following for almost three (!) decades.

While the hugely successful 1999 release of Californication saw the band finally reach a decidedly mainstream audience with a new, more mature sound complete with soaring, anthemic hooks and instantly replayable singles, 1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik stands as an unheralded funk rock masterpiece. This is my favorite cut off that album.

2. Darondo - My Momma and My Poppa

In the early 1970s, William Pulliam recorded a slew of enjoyably sublime soul singles in the San Francisco Bay area as "Darondo" for Music City Records, a locally popular label that due to distribution problems, had never left California. After having been unearthed by British DJ Giles Peterson, the 1973 single "Didn't I" caught the attention of modern Californian groove label Ubiquity Records and Darondo's complete discography, which at that time had only been treasured by dedicated collectors of rare funk and soul records, was very quickly re-exposed to modern listeners.

Known to have only actually released three singles and played four shows in the 70s (including one opening stint for James Brown), Darondo disappeared from the music business for over 30 years; it is widely rumored that Pulliam created a life for himself as a pimp, but had been known to host local Bay area television specials, including "Darondo's Penthouse After Dark." Darondo's upcoming gig at Bonnaroo will certainly be his most substantial yet in this, the second stage of his musical career.

3. Dr. John - (Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away

I think there is a good reason why Bonnaroo takes its namesake from Dr. John and The Meters' 1971 funky blues classic Desitively Bonnaroo LP. The factually obvious reason is that "Bonnaroo" is Ninth ward NOLA slang, encompassing the French word "bon" meaning "good" and "rue" meaning "street." Taken literally, we would have the phrase "the best on the streets." According to Dr. John, "desitively" is a simple mash-up of "definitely positively."

Beyond etymology though, I think what music festivals, and specifically what Bonnaroo offers is a brief escape from everyday reality. A lot of the preconceived notions about music festivals involve a sort of survivalist, too-drugged-out-to-function atmosphere, but this could not be further from the truth: The music festival is a place of unbelievable positivity; where the capacity for a truly shared kinetic experience is as close to realized as we can get. If the objective of Dr. John and The Meters and the soul of NOLA funk music in general is to invigorate listeners with "the best on the streets" then we should only hope that we get a little "Bonnaroo" before our time is up.   

Friday, May 18, 2012

Funk Friday - Oliver Wang's Soul Sides - May 18th 2012

I have been completely obsessed and devoted to being something of a student and purveyor of The Funk and soul music for only a couple years now, but to the best of my recollection, it has always rested deep within my psyche; a long dormant beast cultivated throughout my almost 15+ years of being a musician, only now fully realized as a natural extension of my musical being. But there are many others that I myself look to whom are heavyweights in the writing, research and historical exploration of the genre.

Lately I have been increasingly drawn to Los Angeles writer Oliver Wang's spectacular blog Soul Sides. Wang is a prolific music journalist, academic and renowned crate digger who has written extensively about hip-hop and its historically associated groove genres since the early 1990s. I personally look to Soul Sides as a modern voice in the restoration of legendary funk and soul artists from decades past and have discovered quite a few spectacular records and cuts, a few of which I'd like to share for today's Funk Friday.

1. Eugene McDaniels - The Parasite
("Soul Sides: "Side Bar podcast #27")

 "Goddamn it! / Tryin' to make it real compared to what."

Gene McDaniels is something of a revered figure in the league of professional musicians spanning across multiple genres. Most famous for writing the above lyric in the consistently relevant protest song "Compared To What", the late McDaniels emerged from his Nebraska upbringings with a head full of jazz and a heart brimming with the gospel music of his youth to become a relatively popular pop-soul musician and songwriter, following the path of many African American musicians in the 1960s.

In 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, a radicalized McDaniels left the United States in a self-imposed exile to Denmark and Sweden, eventually returning to America in 1971 to record his most famous record, "Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse", a visceral, politically liberated LP that spanned the soul, funk and folk genres, with many tracks decades later by hip-hop artists like Pete Rock and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest. "The Parasite" is one of the most epic cuts of soul I have ever heard: McDaniels' soaring, sometimes guttural musings on the violence of America's past, backed by the laid back blues guitar of Richie Resnikofff and underlined by Alphonse Mouzon's kinetically satisfying grooves. 

2. Dizzy Gillespie - Matrix
("Soul Sides 04/19/2012: "Naturally Good: Perception and Today Records")

There isn't much that needs to be said about Dizzy Gillespie that hasn't been repeated ad nauseum, but why the hell not. One of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time, Dizzy Gillespie, was instrumental (pun kind of intended) in pioneering and exposing listeners the world over to bebop and injecting Latin rhythms into his playing, effectively creating the afro-cuban genre. Gillespie's contribution to the evolution of funk music, or even perhaps the more focused jazz-funk genre are relatively limited, but we can reasonably say that come the 1970s, most popular jazz men (names like George Benson, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis come to mind), had tried their hands at the increasingly lucrative funk scene in America.

Gillespie's 1971 "The Real Thing" LP is much more than the trumpeter attempting a stab at jazz-funk. Released by New York's Perception label, known for its soul and R&B records, the album, written mostly by Gillespie collaborator and pianist Mike Longo, is an example of groove-heavy, melodically dynamic jazz-funk; a sound that given Gillespie's genre defining career, is simultaneously refreshing and comforting. "Matrix", undoubtedly one of the most sampled and therefore pop culturally recognized Gillespie cuts, is a ridiculously catchy blast of signature Gillespie-style bebop and just plain infectious funk rhythm. 

3. Lionel Robinson - Steppin Out
("Soul Sides 04/11/2012: "Slapping Down 7"s")

 Finally, the most obscure of the musicians profiled in today's post, Lionel Robinson was discovered in 1967 singing on a street corner in New Orleans by a member of NOLA local band The Blue Pearls and shortly after landed an opportunity to record with producer Traci Borges of Knight Records, who would go on to sign Robinson to a record deal and write the first of Robinson's (now rare) EPs. Robinson would eventually leave Borges' label (now famous for rare funk/soul cuts by Jean Knight and Eddie Bo) to perform with other well-known NOLA soul performers though the years, but has never pursued other solo work to date.

"Steppin' Out", as Oliver Wang describes it, is "super-solid early ’70s gutbucket funk with an opening breakbeat...and slick bass work." Indicative of the developing NOLA funk style in the late 1960s and early 70s, popularized mainly by The Meters, with Robinson echoing James Brown gospel-style vocals, this is a raw, addictive cut that belongs on the dance floor and a must-listen for old school NOLA funk fans.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Funk Friday - Funk (also hugely infuential jazz) Artists - March 30th 2012

Usually when we think of the most influential funky jazz artists, we think of names like Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and Roy Ayers; cats whose versatility and comfortability in their jazz roots allowed them to smoothly crossover into commercially and artistically successful careers in multiple genres, especially with the rise of funk music in the 1970s, which allowed traditional jazz artists to stretch out their rhythmic songwriting chops and enter into the pop blood stream.

Today we'll look at a few artists that are labeled and recognized in music circles as "jazz" artists, but in my mind are important contributors to the history and development of well-composed, infectious funk music. Two of them also worked with the man: Miles Davis, one of the undisputed legends of the fusion of jazz and progressive funk rock music.  

1. Every Little Step I Take - George Duke (1979)

Keyboardist George Duke, known for his jazz pedigree and work as a session musician, has played and collaborated with Miles Davis, Jean-Luc Ponty, Frank Zappa and Parliament/Funkadelic's George Clinton. Having attended a life-changing Duke Ellington concert with his mother at the age of four, Duke's awakening to jazz came very early in life, eventually leading to a Masters degree in music composition and a brief teaching stint at a junior college in Oakland. But it was the gospel music in the Baptist church that taught Duke the roots of Black music, informing the funky soulful sound that would manifest itself in his solo work. Duke says that "art has to have something to communicate" and this cut off his 1979 LP Master of the Game is a taste of the outwardly funky but inherently jazz-oriented work found on many of Duke's albums released during the golden era of 1970s funk music.

 2. Norman Connors - Stella (1979)

A classically trained percussionist and drummer, Norman Connors met his idol, Miles Davis at age 13 and in middle school got the chance to sit in on drums with John Coltrane in place of the legendary Elvin Jones. Connors would go on to study his craft at Juilliard and like Duke, try his hand at session playing after receiving his degree, playing on records with names like Herbie Hancock and Pharaoh Sanders. Connors released a number of jazz/R&B LPs under his name after obtaining his first record deal, but it was only after Connors signed a deal with mainstream label Arista that he would find his funky sound. Off of his debut LP with Arista This Is Your Life, "Stella" is a soulful, danceable love song, representative of the funky R&B elements of his late-seventies jams that still inspire funk fans and collectors today. 

3. Stratus - Billy Cobham (1973)

Billy Cobham is known as one of the best jazz, fusion and funk drummers of all time, full stop. Most well known from his work as a permanent member of Miles Davis's band and The Mahavishnu Orchestra, part of what makes Cobham special has nothing to do with his lightning-fast chops, chameleon like versatile yet unmistakable style, or even his impressively precise dynamics. Cobham's true genius for funk enthusiasts in particular, is his songwriting ability. His LP A Funky Thide of Sings in particular is an absolute blast of intricate, uptempo funky rock-fusion, but this particular cut off his first release as a solo artist called Spectrum was a grammy-winning sensation and regarded in the fusion and drumming communities as a game changer. It's dark, viscerally funky stuff that also completely rocks.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Album Review: Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

Steadily over the past decade or so, it has become clear that the UK has developed a knack for producing some of the most powerful and popular voices in the pop-soul/jazz scene heard round the world; names like Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Lily Allen and of course newly-crowned pop heavyweight Adele come to mind. New to the genre, quickly making a name for himself opening for Adele during her 2011 tour and winning the BBC's Sound of 2012 poll over such recognizable names as Skrillex and Frank Ocean, is Michael Kiwanuka, who released his wonderful debut LP Home Again in early March of this year.

Kiwanuka's brand of soulful jazz-pop has been compared to a bevy of singer/songwriters from decades past including Willie Nelson, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and my favorite soul singer/songwriter of all time, Bill Withers. The Withers connection has been made in every piece I've read written about Kiwanuka thus far, and from my view, it is an apt one: the lead track off of Home Again called "Tell Me a Tale" showcases Kiwanuka's propensity for 70s style swingin' soul-jazz rhythms and a lyrical tenderness (Lord I need lovin' / Lord I need good, good lovin') that is positively Withers-esque.

But while Kiwanuka certainly shares a meaningful amount of stylistic similarity with Withers, to me he sounds like the second-coming of Willie Wright, an only recently embraced soul-folk artist from the late 70s, whose LP "Telling the Truth" was released by the Numero Group in March of last year. Wright's brand of deeply felt soul - soft, delicate rhythms that maintain a melodic grace and palpable swing, is a departure from the kinetic funk of Bill Withers and more closely resembles the style that informs the bulk of Kiwanuka's album.

Like Wright, despite what Kiwanuka's first batch of songs perhaps lack in sophistication and versatility, the sheer listenability of smooth, infectiously lovable songs like "I'm Getting Ready", "Bones" and the melancholic title track ultimately make Home Again an impressive debut for an artist that is on the cusp of solidifying a place for himself in the pantheon of beloved British soul artists.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Funk Friday - The Chicago Sound - March 16th 2012

1. We Ain't Free - Boscoe

 The south side of Chicago produced many soul / funk superstars but is also known in funk circles as one of the beating hearts of American funk in the early-to-mid 1970s. The golden era of funk music was born out of the... need for a rougher, tougher sound evolving out of the popular soul music of the early 1960s and into the angry, violent mood in America, especially in low-income African-American communities beginning around 1967. Coming straight out of the south side, the self-titled album by Boscoe, discovered and re-released by the always reliable Numero Group in 2008, is a slice of virulently political funk that explicitly skewers American policy, while pushing through tremendously infectious funk grooves and melodies. "We Ain't Free" is the best example of the band's fearlessness, starting off with a dissonant blast on the Star-Spangled Banner then morphing into a delicious groove with the protest-worthy "Can't you see / We ain't free" chanted in sparkling harmonies throughout. 

2. Black Enuff - The Pharaohs 

 Before Maurice White formed the pop-funk behemoth known as Earth Wind and Fire, he was a session drummer from Chicago working for the legendary Chess records, having recorded tracks with the likes of legendary artists ...like Etta James. But before EWF, White put together an 11 (!) piece ensemble band with a percussion section led by White and Derf Reklaw, who would go on to become one of the most respected names in the world jazz genre. Their first album "Awakening", which Allmusic called "absolutely one of the finest funk albums of the early 70s, and one of the most unfairly neglected" is an impressively mounted LP that lays down complex horn arrangements on top of gritty afro-funk rhythms and a rowdy, free-flowing lyricism in tune with black protest rhetoric of the early 1970s. Easy to see early elements of EWF in this cut, called "Black Enuff".

3. Help Somebody - Earth Wind & Fire

Probably the most successful funk group ever, Earth Wind And Fire is founder Maurice White's crowning achievement and the truest expression of the Chicago funk sound. Formed in 1971 by White, their first, self-titled... album stood out in the increasingly crowded pantheon of funk groups of the 1970s with a decidedly eclectic sound employing afro-funk style grooves, heavy use of African percussion, White's complex horn arrangements (honed his time with The Pharaohs), and progressive, positive lyrics. EWF would go on to record seven top-10 albums, influence more popular musicians than appropriate to name and play for President Obama at his administration's first social event. "Help Somebody" is the first cut off their debut LP.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Funk Friday - NOLA Edition - February 17th 2012

Hey Y'all!

In honor of Mardi Gras next week I've decided to dedicate this week's Funk Friday to New Orleans-style funk music: A big, raw, noisy and sustained genre of The Funk that is characterized by its loyalty to the very roots of the New Orleans Jazz scene, specifically its use of brass instruments and band leaders that simultaneously front and orchestrate a league of backing musicians.

The NOLA style's unmistakable swing and overtly rhythmic sound have allowed for an international appreciation of artists like The Meters, The Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint and Eddie Bo. I've featured The Meters & Eddie Bo in the past, but here's a great rare-funk track from some NOLA style all-stars and a couple from the new heavyweights of the genre.

1. Earl King - Tic Tac Toe

This is a delicious piece of New Orleans-style Funk from NOLA R&B legend Earl King. King, better known for his compositions covered by popular musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, recorded this rare 45' from 1970 with the help of producer Allen Toussaint and The Meters as his backing band. Drummer Zigaboo Modeliste and guitarist Leo Nocentelli's funky fingerprints are all over this track; a simplistic but noteworthy collaboration from the libraries of Toussaint, The Meters and King.

2. Soul Rebels Brass Band - My Time

Continuing the tradition of the New Orleans Brass band into today's decidedly amorphous musical environment, the Soul Rebels Brass Band employ a cutting-edge version of the NOLA style, meshing Funk, Jazz, Hip Hop and R&B, making for an eclectically explosive listening experience. Since Katrina, the band has garnered international attention for bringing awareness to the devastation of their hometown, with appearances in HBO's NOLA-based "Treme" and Discovery Channel's "After the Catch" and a full touring slate including a set at the 2012 Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tennessee.

3. Big Sam's Funky Nation - Big Ole Booty

Big Sam Williams is a true ambassador for NOLA style Funk the world over. Having seen him twice, once at Austin's SXSW music festival and most recently this summer, headlining the Toronto Beaches Jazz Festival, Big Sam and his Funky Nation are the undisputed champions of the hard working funk band. His shows are big, loud, long funk parties, the way that NOLA style funk parties should be. Here' s one of the better examples of Big Sam's sweat-drenched, booty shaking jams.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Funk Friday - February 10th 2012

1. Esperanza Spalding - Black Gold

You might recognize Esperanza Spalding as the winner of the Best New Artist award at the 2011 Grammys (beating out Justin Bieber and Drake). What you might not know is that she is a highly accomplished musician and academic, having taught at the Berklee College of music and travelled all over the world with four albums under her belt. Oh yeah, and she's only 27 years old. This is her latest single, a funky slice of neo-soul off her upcoming album "Radio Music Society".

2. BADBADNOTGOOD - Electric Relaxation

Toronto Hip-Hop Jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD have been steadily building buzz and an intensely loyal fan base for themselves ever since posting a cryptic but headbangingly-original Jazz-Funk cover of a track from the now infamous Hip-Hop collective Odd Future back in April of 2010. Comprised of three friends from Humber College's Music program, BBNG have found themselves mentioned in the same sentence as big names like Flying Lotus, at the forefront of the post-modern Hip-Hop scene in North America. This is their silky, funky, dark cover of A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation". Addictive stuff.

3. Eddie Hazel - Physical Love
A spacey, jammed out track off of legendary Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel's 1977 LP "Game, Dames & Guitar Thangs." Up there with Hendrix as one of the greatest black lead guitarists ever, Hazel is known for his explosive work with George Clinton and the P-Funk gang, but this album in particular showcases Hazel at his best, layering tight grooves on top of wild, facemelting guitar work. A fantastic LP, especially on Vinyl.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Funk Friday - January 27th 2012

1. Funk Power - Creative Funk

In 1971 a group of friends between the ages of 17 to 21 from Queens, NYC got together to start their own DIY record label and release some tunes in their neighbourhood, grassroots style. The A-side of their first record "Ready Made Family" sold over 25,000 units in the NYC area. This track is the B-side of the same record, a hard-grooving funky bomb called "Funk Power".
2. Eddie Simpson - Big Black Funky Slave

A very rare track most famously sampled by DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist on their also rare album, "Product Placement". I wasn't able to dig up much about Simpson, other than he was a little-known artist on Duke Records out of Houston. Duke was one of many southern R&B/Soul labels that proliferated in the 60s and 70s, cranking out funky EPs that were mildly popular at the time, eventually fading into obscurity until discovered by today's crate-digging DJ crowd.
3. Motherlode - When I Die

 Coming straight out of London, Ontario, Motherlode are generally known as one-hit-wonders with the pop-soul track "When I Die." With a huge smooth hook and tight rhythm section, the song made it to #18 on the U.S Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1969 but the band was never able to stay in the pop charts, only releasing one subsequent album after their 1970 debut LP. The song was resurrected in the popular consciousness by the late, great Hip-Hop producer J-Dilla, who sampled the track on the intro to his LP "Donuts."

Funk Friday - January 20th 2012

1. Haruomi Hosono - Bara to Yajyu 

An intensely heavy piece of rare groove all the way from Japan. Haruomi Hosono, known in Japan as a member of influential folk-rock group "Happy End", had one of the songs he wrote for the band featured in Sophia Coppola's "Lost in Translation".
2. Hilton Felton - Bee Bop Boogie
Monstrous jazz-groove track from another highly prolific, extremely versatile jazz pianist/organist. Hilton Felton toured with George Benson, founded and managed his own record label and scored his biggest hit from the "Man for All Reasons" album, a prized rare jazz-funk album being reissued sometime this year. 
3. Steam Heat - Funk 'N' Roll
Steam Heat's "Austin Funk" LP is currently out of print on vinyl, with only 1000 copies ever pressed, making it a really tough-to-find gem even for Austin locals. A track so funky it might tear your head clean off.

Funk Friday - January 13th 2012

1. Brass Construction - Get Up

This fantastic Soul Train rendition of a hit by popular late 70s' Disco-Funk band Brass Construction is a testament to the musicianship that remained in Black music while popular radio went mainstream with repetitive, overproduced Disco-Dance singles.
2. The Meters - Cissy Strut 
(08/12/11: Outside Lands - San Francisco, CA)

The Meters are simply the most influential workout-funk band of all time. After breaking up officially in 1977, spawning offshoot bands that some of us may already know and love (Neville Brothers, The Funky Meters, Zigaboo Modeliste Band), the so called "Original" Meters reunited last year to play a few select shows. Here's a decent clip of the Original Meters performing a jammed out version of "Cissy Strut", easily my favorite workout-funk song ever. 
3. The Meters - Here Comes the Meter Man
Here' s a great example of "workout-funk" from the Original Meters. Workout-funk is basically a really spare and stripped down sub-genre of funk that is entirely instrumental, with tracks usually no longer than five minutes given their simplistic song structures. The Original Meters are the undisputed kings of the genre.

Funk Friday - January 6th 2012 - Funky Hip Hop

1.The Roots Ft. Big KRIT - Make My

The Roots are one of the most socially and philosophically thought-provoking hip-hop groups ever. Their latest album "Undun" is a concept album told from the perspective of a dead hustler looking back on his life. This is my favorite track off the LP, one of the most gorgeously written and performed hip-hop tracks of 2011.
2. Kero One - Fly Fly Away

Kero One is an independent hip-hop artist out of San Francisco that has released two very dense, very funky and very jazzy records. He has been compared to Kanye West and Q-Tip in his use of real instruments and vocalists in his production.

3. Alpha Noise - New Girl

Tight beat on this track from independent Hip-Hop crew Alpha.Noise. Early 90's style jazz/funk production here. A timely song for me personally, but don't take the lyrics too seriously. Whenever I end a relationship with a girl this is really my go-to track. The MCs alternate between desperate, egotistical and downright cool on this one.

Funk Friday - December 30th 2011

1. Johnny Guitar Watson - Ain't That A Bitch

 Man has got "guitar" in his name. Song's called "Ain't That A Bitch." If both those things don't scream of The Funk, then I don't know what does.
 2. George Duke - Funny Funk 

An infectious fusion-funk workout with some pretty mind-melting parts from keyboard virtuoso George Duke and legendary drummer Ndugu (Leon) Chancler.
 3. Betty Davis - If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up                                                            
 Betty Davis (2nd wife of Miles) is the undisputed queen of Hard-Funk Rock music. Legendary bassist Larry Graham (of Sly Stone & Graham Central Station) on here.

Funk Friday - December 21st 2011

1. East of Underground - "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below

A raw and heavy version of a classic Curtis Mayfield track. Taken from the recently released 3-LP "East of Underground", a compilation of music made by members of a U.S army funk band during the height of the Vietnam War, this track is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices of the American soldier. Timely, given the pullout of soldiers in Iraq this week.

2. The Stovall Sisters - Hang On In There

The Stovall Sisters toured with some of the biggest names in funk & soul (Earth Wind & Fire, Al Green, Bobby Womack). A fantastic piece of jammed out gospel-spiced funk from their 1971 self-titled album. 
3.  KC Roberts and the Live Revolution - Sexy And I Know It (LMFAO cover)
KC Roberts and the Live Revolution are hands down the funkiest outfit operating in the greater region of the city known as Torontonia (or Toronto, for short). Here's a super-funky cover of a pop song that most of us either dislike or secretly listen to late at night when everyone's asleep.