Funk

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The worlds of jazz and funk have been intertwined since the early days when James Brown brought us the One. Both genres have been such an influence on each other over the years that it is often hard to tell where one starts and the other ends.

The funk genre at JMA is not an exhaustive list of all the funk bands in the world, but is instead a list of the best, most pure funk bands that are of the most interest to jazz fans. Our definition of pure funk can be found in the music of James Brown, Bootsy Collins and Parliament.

Funk is a genre that is often misunderstoood, poorly imitated and pimped for all the wrong reasons. You will find none of that at JMA. Its hard to describe what is pure funk, but often it involves interweaving snippets of syncopated melody that intertwine in circles within loops and land on the one every other bar. Funk artists such as Bootsy and Parliament, with their constant improvised polyphony, are closer to the concept of early jazz than most jazz artists since the 1930s.

funk top albums

Showing only albums and live's | Based on members ratings & JMA custom algorithm | 5 min. caching

PARLIAMENT Mothership Connection Album Cover Mothership Connection
PARLIAMENT
4.85 | 9 ratings
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FUNKADELIC One Nation Under A Groove Album Cover One Nation Under A Groove
FUNKADELIC
4.73 | 8 ratings
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SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE Stand! Album Cover Stand!
SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
4.57 | 12 ratings
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FUNKADELIC Let's Take It to the Stage Album Cover Let's Take It to the Stage
FUNKADELIC
4.67 | 6 ratings
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TROY 'TROMBONE SHORTY' ANDREWS Trombone Shorty Album Cover Trombone Shorty
TROY 'TROMBONE SHORTY' ANDREWS
4.62 | 4 ratings
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JAMES BROWN Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud Album Cover Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud
JAMES BROWN
4.90 | 2 ratings
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FUNKADELIC Funkadelic Live - Meadowbrook, Rochester, Michigan 1971 Album Cover Funkadelic Live - Meadowbrook, Rochester, Michigan 1971
FUNKADELIC
4.90 | 2 ratings
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BOTHERS JOHNSON Look Out for #1 Album Cover Look Out for #1
BOTHERS JOHNSON
4.44 | 4 ratings
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JAMES BROWN The Payback Album Cover The Payback
JAMES BROWN
4.50 | 3 ratings
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FUNKADELIC America Eats Its Young Album Cover America Eats Its Young
FUNKADELIC
4.24 | 7 ratings
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JAMES BROWN Sex Machine Album Cover Sex Machine
JAMES BROWN
4.41 | 3 ratings
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SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE Life (aka M'Lady) Album Cover Life (aka M'Lady)
SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
5.00 | 1 ratings
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Retrospectives
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BERNIE WORRELL
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funk Music Reviews

JAMES BROWN In the Jungle Groove

Boxset / Compilation · 1986 · Funk
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js
If you only own one James Brown record, “In the Jungle Groove” is the one to have. This is much more than just a compilation, this album is a near perfect labor of love by the folks at Polydor who put it together. Many of these tracks are well known, but were hard to get in the past because they did not appear on an album, or they did not appear as a single. Also, many of these tracks are complete versions, rather than edited versions released previously as singles. One cut, “I got to Move” had never been released before at all, which makes all of this a treasure trove for James Brown fans. Most of these cuts feature Brown and his band at their very peak in the late 60s to early 70s. Although the personal varies per track, many famous names show up over and over, including; Bootsy Collins, Catfish Collins, Clyde Stubblefield, Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Jimmy Nolan, Bobby Byrd and many more. Even if you own previous versions of these songs, you still need to hear the power of the re-mixes presented here. There is no dead air on this one, every single track is smoking. Also, the long versions contain vocal and Hammond B3 improvs from James you have never heard before, he does get ‘out there’ sometimes.

When this album came out in 1986, it was right on time for the sampling revolution in hip-hop. If you listened to late 80s hip-hop, then you have heard these riffs a thousand times on sampled tracks that ranged from excellent re-workings of James’ music, to utter banality that dragged James’ music into mediocrity. Either way, this album is almost more of a soundtrack to the late 80s than the late 60s, aint it funky now.

BERNIE WORRELL Retrospectives

Album · 2016 · Funk
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js
When you think of 70s keyboard heroes who manned giant stacks of futuristic keyboards and synthesizers while mixing their jazz and classical training with the rock and RnB sounds of the day, names like Chick Corea, Keith Emerson and Herbie Hancock all come to mind. No doubt those were the names that topped all the keyboard player polls year after year back then, but there was another artist who did all the same things, but his name slipped under the radar, and that keyboardist is the ultra creative Bernie Worrell. Possibly because Bernie worked behind the huge shadows of larger than life characters like George Clinton and Bootsie Collins, in the various P-funk ensembles (Parliament, Funkadelic etc), that Bernie did not get the notice he deserved. Still, if you listen to those old P-funk tracks, no one contributes more than Bernie, and P-funk’s hugely elaborate arrangements would not have been possible without someone with Bernie’s training and classical background.

After leaving P-funk, Bernie has continued to work as a sideman with artists like Bill Laswell, Buckethead, various Talking Heads, Govt Mule, Les Claypool and others in the jam band scene. Worrell occasionally records as a leader, but he still does not grab a lot of attention, maybe its because his albums as a leader are not as strong as his contributions as a sideman. His latest release, “Retrospectives”, may be a good example of this. The premise behind “Retrospectives” sounds very promising at first, basically this is an album on which Bernie re-visits some of his favorite P-funk tracks and records instrumental versions of those tracks. To any long time Worrell and P-funk fan this is an exciting idea, but unfortunately the album does not come through as strongly as you wish it could. Some tracks are okay, but others are fairly lackluster.

Probably the biggest problem with this album is that it sounds like Worrell covered everything by himself. The drum tracks are not strong, nor is the production. An over reliance on ‘silly’ synthesizer sounds from the exotica era also becomes tedious and overbearing after a while. Many of these songs could use a little breathing room from all the persistent synthesizers. Overall this album sounds like a fun hobby home project, not the keyboard powerhouse it could have been. Possibly Worrell could get a good producer like Bill Laswell involved, and a real drummer, and these tracks could get a better life.

Despite the problems, there are some good tracks on here, “You Hit the Nail on the Head” is played reggae style with a melodica lead, and perennial favorite, “Flashlight”, is cloaked in string synth arrangements that Beethoven would be proud of. Possibly the two strongest tracks come at the end with “Balance” featuring a stronger drum sound and less synth clutter and “The Moment”, a punchy Prince style synth-rocker with the best production on the whole album. There are enough good moments on “Retrospectives” to make it worthwhile to Bernie Worrell fans, but you have to wonder what this would have sounded like if more time had been taken.

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE A Whole New Thing

Album · 1967 · Funk
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siLLy puPPy
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE weren't kidding around when they titled their debut album A WHOLE NEW THING which hit the market in 1967. The San Francisco band wasn't only a cutting-edge band musically by fusing soul, funk, rock and psychedelic music, but they were also one of the first successful bands to have a racially mixed lineup that had both girls and boys playing together like good little kids should. Despite all this groundbreaking effort though, the album went virtually unheard by the listening public at large but it was an immediate hit for musicians and those lucky enough to find it on their turntables. A likely story. The material wasn't “commercial” enough and because it was so different and didn't fit in with any radio formats thus receiving no airplay and despite being on a major record label, little was done in terms of promotion. Sly was urged to write more radio friendly tunes and soon after this release of this album, “Dance To The Music” was released which got the band recognized.

Musically this album is far from a throwaway. It shows a promising young act with a whole heap of strong tracks here. Although the songwriting isn't quite as strong as the following two albums for this first phase of S&TFS's career, it certainly has a few winners such as “Underdog,” “Turn Me Loose” and “Run, Run, Run.” In fact most of the album is quite pleasant with the exception of a couple out-of-place mediocre ballads that interfere with the flow. Certainly not the best album the FAMILY came up with but considering how revolutionary this sound was at the time and that there are plenty of interesting tracks to be had, this is required listening in my book.

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE Life (aka M'Lady)

Album · 1968 · Funk
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siLLy puPPy
Although this was one of the least successful of their albums in terms of sales, I find this to be my favorite early album by SLY & THE FAMILY STONE before they would begin to experiment and expand their sound on the following album STAND. This album continues the group's unique mix of soul, funk and R&B but with catchier tunes that are more refined and polished until they shine! Every track on here is super catchy with the perfect mix of funk laced grooves backed up by a totally satisfying horn section. The entire band is on fire here delivering the most enthusiastic of performances. The music on this album has been a gold mine for samplings of hip hop and electronic musicians alike.

The songs are filled with that idealistic 60s glee and still not politically charged as they would become on future releases but rather focus more on personal issues like the dating scene or groupies. My favorites are the ones about animals. The track “Chicken” is just brilliant as the bass line actually sounds like a chicken! The track “I'm An Animal” could refer I guess to a suppressed atavistic repression of our evolutionary history but I rather think it was born out of the desire to have a lot of fun with the tune instead since the whole band is so playful with it.

Although this is one of the lesser appreciated albums by the group simply because it's overshadowed by the following albums, I highly recommend this as an essential listening experience because this is the pinnacle of their first phase and although it may not be able to compete with the complexity of the others, it is one of the funnest of the bunch that always gives me that warm fuzzy funky feeling every time I hear it. The only complaint I have about this album is that it is way too short. So catchy are these tunes that the earworms often demand that I listen to it twice! A rare thing indeed. Simply a classic of the ages. And always remember: you don't have to die before you live!

JUNIE MORRISON When We Do

Album · 1975 · Funk
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js
George Clinton has referred to Walter “Junie” Morrison as one of the top musical geniuses of our time, and one listen to Junie’s debut album, “When We Do” we’ll convince you that, once again, George is on the one. Junie hasn’t exactly gone un-recognized in the world of music, but he should probably be more well known given his accomplishments. Our story begins when Walter is involved with the Ohio Player’s earliest and most creative years, his bizarre synthesizer based surprise hit, “Funky Worm”, launched a new modern funk sound that remains influential to today. Later, after Junie left the Players, he helped revitalize Funkadelic and took part in some of their most successful albums. After that, he spent some time as a co-conspirator on many George Clinton recordings. Sometime back in the mid 70s, in between stints with the Players and Funkadelic, Morrison took the time to knock out this very creative art-funk album, one of the best you will find in the genre.

As you can expect, “When We Do”, is reminiscent of early Funkadelic and Ohio Players, but there is also some art rock influence of the David Bowie/Beatles variety, occasional Frank Zappa styled rapid changeups, plus that ambitious studio-derived expansive sound that goes with albums like Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin On”. Obviously Morrison spent a lot of time on the production as falsetto voices will fade into watery psychedelic drift and orchestral strings mix with psychedelic guitars and a variety of keyboards. The creative orchestral approach of this album can also recall some of Quincy Jones’ best 70s work. It sounds like Junie took a little more time on side one, as it is the more creative side. Side two winds out with a few numbers that are good, but no match for the material the album opened with. Also, side two starts to lean a bit more towards the ballad side of things, but fortunately, Junie’s ballads do come across as heartfelt, not the gratuitous cheeze that mars some RnB albums. Despite the funk and RnB influences, this album isn't really a groove laden dance album, instead, Morrison uses the RnB elements as another part of his personal musical panorama.

This is an excellent diverse funk based album that rates well against other top albums from the funkafied 70s era, and side one in particular contains some of the most creative and original music from that genre's peak years.

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