‘F’ Must Be For Funk

‘F’ in the A to Z of Fusion must go to Funk.

Why? Because put simply and personally, funk on the downbeat (like reggae’s offbeat) moves my body into action and takes me to a higher, happier place than any other breed of music in this world. More generally, because funk music in its original and many evolving forms of fusion since, makes up a huge chunk of the timelessly-sublime music available in the world to listen to, love and most definitely cherish, forever-after.

George Clinton live concert - Electric Ballroom, London 2015

George Clinton live at Electric Ballroom, London 2015

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The Birth of Funk

A fusion of R&B, soul and jazz, funk music was brewing in the 50’s before being characterised as a genre in the mid-60’s with James Brown and his signature “on the one” groove.

James Brown - The Godfather of Funk

James Brown - I Got You (I Feel Good)

 

James Brown – “I Got You (I Feel Good)” (1965)

 

 

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Funk Fusion

Since the 60’s funk music has evolved into countless other musical forms through its fusion with pop, jazz, rock, metal, electro, highlife, gangsta rap and more – including Fela Kuti’s development of Afrobeat in the 70’s – and hip hop since the 80’s via its heavy sampling of funk tunes.

The Funk Collection

These names here are just some of the world’s many artists who’ve contributed to the evolution of funk music: anywhere from dabbling in it, to living and breathing the funk. If their music is not already known and loved by you, it can be from now and forever hereafter…

Horace Silver. Cannonball Adderley. Little Richard. James Brown. Sly Stone. George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic. The Meters. Earth, Wind & Fire. Fred Wesley. Cameo. Brides of Funkenstein. War. Maceo Parker. Larry Graham. Parlet. Bootsy’s Rubber Band. Dyke and the Blazers. Marva Whitney. Bernadette Cooper. Klymaxx. Ohio Players. Chaka Khan. The Commodores. Steve Arrington. Lyn Collins. Cymande. Zapp. Madame X. The Isley Brothers. Stevie Wonder. Mother’s Finest. Vicki Anderson. Slave. Labelle. Platypus. Sheila E. Lakeside. Betty Davis. The Bar-Kays. Buddy Miles. Con Funk Shon. The Horny Horns. Lynn Mabry.  Kool & The Gang. Mallia Franklin. Sun. Starleana Young. Heatwave. Miles Davis. Roy Ayers. Millie Jackson. Herbie Hancock. Patrice Rushen. Fela Kuti. Femi Kuti. Seun Kuti. Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Living Colour. Brooklyn Funk Essentials. Afrika BambaataaFishbone. Dam Funk. Prince. Rick James. The Dazz Band. Jesse Johnson. Brand New Heavies. JamiroquaiMe’shell Ndegeocello. D’Angelo. Erykah Badu. The Soul RebelsSharon Jones. The Bamboos. The Cactus Channel. The Putbacks.

Sly & The Family Stone - Fresh (1973)x

Sly & The Family Stone – “Thankful N’ Thoughtful” – Fresh (1973)

 

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The collective of visionary funk artists and the music they’ve created throughout its history remind us always that universal possibilities, musical and otherwise, are limitless.

Longevity in Funk

From that collective there’s one whose name we can link to almost every funk variety in its history. One who has contributed to keeping the funk, glorious funk alive in countless reinvented forms according to changing times and musical landscapes since its beginnings until today. That artist is George Clinton – working alongside the many revolving artists within the Parliament Funkadelic / P-Funk collective.

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic concert - Byron Bay Bluesfest 2015

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic live at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2015

Late last year George Clinton released the 3-disc masterpiece First Ya Gotta Shake The Gateand has been delivering the funk live on worldwide stages since alongside a multi-generational group of artists. His grandkiddies and Garrett Shider (son of dearly departed Parliament Funkadelic guitarist Garry Shider) are amongst them. So too is the legendary Blackbyrd McKnight.

Funkadelic - First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate (2014)

 

George Clinton & Funkadelic -“Yesterdejavu” –  First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate (2014)

 

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Blackbyrd McKnight + George Clinton - Parliament Funkadelic concert 2015

George Clinton (l) + Blackbyrd McKnight (c) + Garrett Shider (r)

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The Survival of Funk

Hopefully George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic were right when they sang “the funk will survive just like it always has”.  Certainly it will in some form at least. But an artist promising “the whole funk, nothin’ but the funk” is a rare find in the world these days. For my ears that’s a shame, for sure.

So it gives me hope when I hear that artists like Brooklyn Funk Essentials are helping the funk survive with the recent release of their album Funk Aint’ Ova – the first in seven years.

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It’s reason to feel excited about hearing the new sounds created by funk legends Cymande on their first album in decades – A Simple Act of Faith – just released and available to buy here, with the vinyl coming in January.

Cymande - A Simple Act Of Faith (2015)

A Simple Act of Faith

And reason to count our blessings for contemporary artists like D’Angelo And The Vanguard and Australia’s Hiatus Kaiyote for incorporating the funk sounds of old into new musical blends of a totally fresh and innovative kind.

D'Angelo live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

D’Angelo live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

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D'Angelo - Black Messiah (2014)

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D’Angelo And The Vanguard- “Sugah Daddy”- Black Messiah

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No matter what the future holds for the creation of new funk music, we’ll always have reason to count our blessings for all the timelessly-sublime music created through funk history so far. It’s in our world to listen to, love and cherish forever-after. And for that, the world and us mere humans who live within it, are a whole lot richer. Amen.

More of the Funky Kind

Indulge in more sounds of funk here. Click on a photo to check out video footage of live performances and/or sample tracks by that artist.

Erykah Badu live at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Erykah Badu

Prince

Prince

Larry Graham live concert - Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Larry Graham

Femi Kuti & The Positive Force live @ WOMADelaide 2014

Femi Kuti

Fred Wesley

Fred Wesley

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live concert at London Roundhouse

D’Angelo

Hiatus Kaiyote live at WOMADelaide 2014

Hiatus Kaiyote

Herbie Hancock concert - Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

Herbie Hancock

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George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic concert - Byron Bay Bluesfest 2015

Parliament Funkadelic

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Got other beloved Funkateers in your music collection whose names are missing from the list above? Do tell.

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Sublime Sounds Of Old: Al Green

In my musical world the sublime sounds of old inspire and make me feel more than most new music does today. Here we turn back to those sounds to remind everyone (especially the youngsters of the world) that they are there to know, learn from, love, take them higher, appreciate and cherish…for forever-after.

With heart and soul this particular artist of ol’ made some of the most stunningly perfect, sublime love songs of all time.

He is of course, The Reverend Al Green.

And these are just two of the many of his songs for the cherishing…

Al Green - I'm Still In Love With You

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“Love and Happiness” – Al Green – I’m Still In Love With You (1972)

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Al Green - Let's Stay Together (1972)

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“Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green –  Let’s Stay Together (1972)

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There’s only one contemporary artist I know of whose music and vocals are of the same sublime kind and quality as Al Green’s in the 70s.

He is of course, D’Angelo.

Al Green and D’Angelo are also both messengers of Love. Thanks be to them because the world is most definitely a better place for their musical and lyrical messages. True?

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D’Angelo & The Vanguard: Then & Now – Night & Day

The difference between D’Angelo & The Vanguard’s concert at London’s Roundhouse on Monday night and the last concert of theirs I heard is like Night and Day.

The last was nine months ago when they performed at Soulfest 2014– “Australia’s first annual neo-soul, hip hop and jazz festival”. At that time and for the previous decade, live performances by D’Angelo – or any news of D’Angelo – were rare, almost non-existent. We had no idea then that Black Messiah and the ‘Second Coming’ of D’Angelo were imminent.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

I raved about the seemingly phenomenal goodness of those Australian shows. But with hindsight and the experience of D’Angelo and The Vanguard in London this week I see things a little differently.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live concert at London Roundhouse

D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at London Roundhouse

Sure the 2014 shows were magnificent – but really, that was for the rare opportunity to experience the incredible musicianship of each and every one of those long-beloved funk and soul artists on stage performing their craft live. The reclusive D’Angelo first and foremost of course – joined (amongst the rest of The Vanguard) by Jesse Johnson, Pino Palladino and Kendra Foster.

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But what I saw clearly in London this week when D’Angelo & The Vanguard graced the stage and started playing (albeit an excruciating 90+ minutes late due to flight delays), is the epic transformation that’s taken place for them since Soulfest. With the release of Black Messiah, considered a wondrous musical gift by, well, everyone who knows anything 🙂 , and 30+ live shows later, D’Angelo & The Vanguard are now a different, much much stronger beast than ever before.

For starters the 11-piece group now includes horns, glorious horns care of Keyon Harrold and Kenneth Whalum III. And as of this month veteran soul diva and long-time friend of D’Angelo, Joi Gilliam brings her talents to The Vanguard posse, taking the place of Kendra Foster on back-up vocals.

Joi Gilliam - D'Angelo & The Vanguard live concert at London Roundhouse

Joi Gilliam

But above and beyond that, the greatest transformations are the profound connectivity and tightness of the group evident in every sound and movement made; and the visible changes in their leader D’Angelo.

Gone is the timid, slightly nervous, restrained D’Angelo I saw on Soulfest stages reacquainting himself with performing to the world – and avoiding ‘Brown Sugar’. Enter D’Angelo on the Roundhouse stage – completely and utterly comfortable, confident and happy in his human and musical skin, doing what he loves to do and what (it seems) he was naturally born to do before the vultures of the music industry, the press (and the public too) sent him to face his demons and retreat for way too long: to bring absolute joy to the people of the world through music.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live concert at London Roundhouse

Both the Roundhouse and Soulfest shows ended with ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ – and the opportunity for all (D’Angelo too from behind his piano) to hear and appreciate the individual sound of each player and vocalist in turn, and acknowledge their contribution to the show before leaving the stage. Of course I wanted them to stay and play on and on, and on some more.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live concert at London Roundhouse

On my way out of the Roundhouse my smile got even wider after hearing a guy tell his friend his only disappointment about the show was that D’Angelo played some of his old songs [only two I think – ’Brown Sugar’ and ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’] instead of more of Black Messiah (we did get ‘Sugah Daddy’ ‘Ain’t That Easy’, ‘Really Love’, ‘Betray My Heart’ and ‘The Charade’). Turn back the clock to Soulfest when it drove me crazy to hear people complaining D’Angelo didn’t play ‘Brown Sugar’.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live concert at London Roundhouse

Betray My Heart – D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

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My only disappointment was that another spiritual, sublime, superb D’Angelo & The Vanguard experience had come and gone again so quickly – and wasn’t coming to London again a week later as planned because of cancellation of the Eventim Apollo show.  The fact is that no number of live D’Angelo & The Vanguard shows will ever be enough – and I’m grateful for the glorious one I got this week.

Check out a few short snippets from the Roundhouse show here…

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When I got the post-Parliament Funkadelic-blues in April, I consoled myself by buying a ticket to D’Angelo’s Roundhouse show. The tables now turn and my consolation for next week’s cancelled D’Angelo show comes via the live P-Funk experience that awaits me in London on August 7.

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