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.

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