10 essential Jazz Funk classics Part 2… Like always, a selection is per definition limited, and God knows how the groove would definitely not have sounded the same without the regular experimentations which have paved its way… Such as back in the 70’s when Jazz came to integrate Funk, Soul or Disco along with analog synthesized sounds. As a result, many are the gems we couldn’t talk about here, even though they would definitely have deserved a mention.
You obviously enjoyed our part 1, which we deeply appreciate. Here we go then with its follow-up. No need to say how, as usual, this selection is way from being exhaustive. Most likely due to find a third round when the right time comes. Nevertheless, you should find thereafter a pretty much illustrative sample of highly energetic jams where the infectiousness of the groove predominates.
Wishing you’ll enjoy the ride as much as we did, while putting this together for you. With your feedback, and a mention of your favorite song more than welcome.
Gotta pay my props to my childhood brother – a drummer – who got me into Jazz/Funk and, in the meantime, into reading the rhythms. Back then, he suggested me a whole bunch of artists to check. From Freddie Hubbard to Billy Cobham and Stanley Clarke. Not to mention Weather Report. An obvious wink to famous NYC Jazz club of the likes where Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker was a regular headliner… ‘Birdland’ is the group’s biggest classic ever. With Jaco Pastorious responsible for a one of a kind bassline. And Wayne Shorter at the peak of his art on sax.
‘Rock Creek Park’ is not only the famous urban park that bisects the Northwest quadrant of WDC. It’s also one of the Blackbyrds‘ biggest classics ever along with ‘Walkin’ In Rhythm’. The Blackbyrds obviously inspired British Jazz/Funk acts such as Light Of The World and Hi-Tension. Meanwhile ‘Rock Creek Park’ was to find a reference on many artists’s repertoires. From De La Soul to Massive Attack and Nas among others who sampled it. It’s also one of the highlights of the soundtrack to Isaac Julien‘s 1991 film ‘Young Soul Rebels’ along with its title track by the likes of Mica Paris.
Most likely remembered as one of the inventors of the Smooth Jazz, Saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. reached one of his peaks back in 1975. He then released no less than 2 albums. One being ‘Mister Magic’ and its title cut which we included in our first series of selected cut. And the other, ‘Feels So Good’, featuring the magnetic ‘Knucklehead’ along with top notched musicians. From Bob James on piano and synths to Eric Gale on guitar. The whole over an infectious bassline by the likes of Gary King.
Speakin’ of this gem, Dexter Wansel said on Youtube…“0f all the songs I wrote/produced/arranged for MFSB, this is for me the most different. I think it’s an experiment in rhythmic, soft sonic synth and live string and harp combinations.” And the fact is we find the Philadelphia International Records collective of backing musicians in a quiet unusual vibe. Blending deep symphonic vibes over a killer funk-bass driven rhythm part courtesy of Alphonso Carey.
As far as I can remember, I’ve always found a fascination in trangression musicwise. From the Rolling Stones‘ ‘2,000 Light Years Away From Home’ to Carl Craig‘s ‘Bugs Ine The Bassbin’ under his Innerzone Orchestra guise. In other words, in people who left their comfort zone to open new boundaries. Therefore, Detroit, MI Jazz harpist and composer Dorothy Ashby certainly makes no exception. 47 years – could you believe it? – have gone since the release this gems from her ‘The Rubaiyat Of Dorothy Ashby’. And feels like this was yesterday. A quick listen to ‘The Moving Finger’ suffices to realize how it was so ahead of its time. Blending World Music with psychedelic vibes via incredible arrangements. I wouldn’t be surprised that Grover Washington, Jr found some inspiration in it when recording ‘Knucklehead’…
Some people tend to think music can be a therapy. Meanwhile Eddie Henderson would make his life both as a musician and a psychiatrist. A Jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player, he came to prominence as a member of Herbie Hancock‘s band. Although he scored his biggest classic in the U.K. with ‘Prance On’ 1978, my preference goes to ‘Say You Will’. An infectious gem which he released the year before showcasing his undeniable talent. With Patrice Rushen on clavinet and strings. But also Lee Ritenour on guitar and Philip Bailey on congas and bongos. Not to mention James Mtume who composed it, on piano…
Guitarist Melvin Ragin got his nickname – Wah Wah Watson – from his incredible skills with a wah-wah pedal. The opening track to his 1976 ‘Elementary’ album standing as the best illustration he could give. Seeing him takin’ the centerstage while goin’ psychedelic along with other cats such as Louis Johnson on bass. But also Ray Parker, Jr. on guitar, Aaron Smith on drums and Joe Sample on piano. Quite surprisingly this would be his one and only album. Ragin nevertheless collaborating with countless other artists. Beginning with The Jackson 5 on ‘ABC’ back in 1970. Then with Marvin Gaye, Love Unlimited Orchestra, Herbie Hancock and Rose Royce to name but a few.
Soul City Orchestra remains quite an enigma on many aspects to me. Firstly, because deeper research on Google doesn’t bring that much. And also because their positioning happened to be so hazy. A quick look at Discogs sees them as a progressive Rock act. Going further way and you’ll be said SCO is the reunion between British bassist Frank McDonald and guitarist Chris Rae. Two guys who mostly delivered library music along with producer James de Wolfe, eventually releasing 8 albums between 1977 and 1984. Meanwhile, havin’ a listen to ‘Soul City Drive’ gives a the feeling of an unlikely cinematic version of Love Unlimited Orchestra. No wonder how they ended up remaining so underrated. You don’t wanna miss this piece!
Hailing from the suburbs of Manchester, Martin Almond (Keyboards), Joe Botham (Guitar) and Chas Morrison (Drums) gave birth to one of the most exciting Latin Jazz/Funk bands in the mid 2000’s. Its name: RSL, who only delivered one album – ‘Every Preston Guild’ – back in 2005. Mostly remembered for ‘Wesley Music’ which US label Giant Step licensed with an edit courtesy of Danny Krivit. Although ‘The Mast’ is certainly their best track ever, with its Latin flavored vocal interpretation along with firing horn parts. All in all, RSL beautifully embodies the undeniable know how of the Brits in terms of live feel…
Here we go as well with one of the most underrated acts of its generation. I mean Manzel. An instrumental Funk band from Lexington, KY, which formed in 1973 and disbanded 5 years later. Manzel Bush (keyboards), John L. Van Dyke (guitar) and Steve Garner (drums) only recorded a few gems at the time. But they would gain recognition years after with their music sampled by countless artists. From Grandmaster Flash to De La Soul. Not to mention Eric B. & Rakim to name a few. Unsurprisingly Kenny Dope came to rework a few tracks of theirs as a part of a compilation titled ‘Midnight Theme’ back in 2004. Beginning with the infectious highly orchestrated ‘The Party’. Not to mention ‘It’s Over Now’ which he remixed with Louie Vega.