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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 | 24 hours caching

PARLIAMENT Mothership Connection Album Cover Mothership Connection
4.81 | 11 ratings
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SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE Life (aka M'Lady) Album Cover Life (aka M'Lady)
4.83 | 3 ratings
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TROY 'TROMBONE SHORTY' ANDREWS Backatown Album Cover Backatown
4.62 | 4 ratings
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FUNKADELIC Let's Take It to the Stage Album Cover Let's Take It to the Stage
4.47 | 7 ratings
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SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE Stand! (aka Everyday People) Album Cover Stand! (aka Everyday People)
4.31 | 16 ratings
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FUNKADELIC America Eats Its Young Album Cover America Eats Its Young
4.37 | 7 ratings
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JAMES BROWN The Payback Album Cover The Payback
4.38 | 4 ratings
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FUNKADELIC Hardcore Jollies Album Cover Hardcore Jollies
4.31 | 4 ratings
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FUNKADELIC One Nation Under A Groove Album Cover One Nation Under A Groove
4.11 | 9 ratings
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BOTHERS JOHNSON Look Out for #1 Album Cover Look Out for #1
3.98 | 4 ratings
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FUNKADELIC Standing on the Verge of Getting It On Album Cover Standing on the Verge of Getting It On
3.93 | 6 ratings
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THE ROOTS (US) Do You Want More?!!!??! Album Cover Do You Want More?!!!??!
4.00 | 3 ratings
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This list is in progress since the site is new. We invite all logged in members to use the "quick rating" widget (stars bellow album covers) or post full reviews to increase the weight of your rating in the global average value (see FAQ for more details). Enjoy JMA!

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Album · 1974 · Funk
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In 1974 James Brown was, to cop one of his favorite expressions, standing at the crossroads. In the late 60s and early 70s James was one of the most influential artists in popular music, his introduction of a new syncopated music called the ‘funk’ had a huge influence on RnB, rock, jazz, blues and gospel, but as the 70s progressed, new younger bands like Parliament, Earth Wind & Fire and the Ohio Players were making him seem more and more like yesterday’s news. Brown’s ‘74 opus, “Reality”, had some good tracks on it, but it also showed signs that James was starting to turn to material that was not of the same caliber as his previous output. There are no musician credits on “Reality“, so more than likely these are just studio cats, plus James and his long standing horn arranger, Fred Wesley.

The album opens fairly strong with the title cut and “Funky President”. Both songs have James rapping more politics than usual as he expresses concerns about the US being in a moral tailspin while also encouraging his fellow African - Americans to show unity with one another while expanding their independence and self reliance when dealing with the world of ‘the man’. The next two tracks are in an almost older RnB style, but real signs of trouble come when James tries to funkify folk classic, “Don’t Fence Me In”. Side two starts off on the ‘good foot’, but “I’m Broken Hearted” drags things down again with overlays of cringy male sex sounds. The album closes out with James’ version of “Who Can I Turn to”, a lounge classic that is just a bad fit for the Godfather of Soul.

The production on this album is super slick and orchestrated, far different from the raw power of his late 60s band, but the sparkly sheen is attractive in places, especially the flute arrangements and some well placed corny exotic harp glissandos. James voice is still in good shape on here and his energy level is high. There are enough good tracks on here to make this worthwhile to the James Brown fan, but for the newcomer, check out what James was doing previously with Bootsy on bass, that is some of the most kinetic music ever recorded on to vinyl.


Album · 1973 · Funk
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Well known amongst aficionados of the funk, Sly and the Family Stone’s “Fresh” took the funk in a ‘fresh’ new direction. Instead of basing the jams on a repeating melodic bass line, Sly and his crew open up the texture and feature a structure where all the musicians interact with short little riffs and accents that intersect in sometimes mind boggling sound kaleidoscopes. The painting term, ‘pointillistic’ could apply here, in which many small events stand on their own to create an ensemble whole. Not everything on here is advanced scientific future funk, Sly’s old school good times RnB still shows up on a few tracks, but for the most part, “Fresh”, holds up to its name with some exciting new directions in music.

This album takes syncopation to new levels, which makes it surprising that the drummer on board, Andy Newmark, is a rock session drummer not usually known for playing in this style. How well he performs is somewhat mysterious as he is mixed very low and his playing is sometimes assisted by a drum machine. Its up to the other players to produce the timing to pull this off and they do a great job, particularly bassist Rusty Allen, who had some mighty big shoes to fill when highly influential and innovative original bassist Larry Graham left to start his own band. How good the rest of this ensemble is at finding their place in the mix is on full display on the album opener, “In Time”, cheekily named as the musicians stay in time while adding little hits and riffs that never collide and always surprise as we wonder how do they do this.

Lyrically this album is also a whole new bag for Sly as he leaves behind the feel good anthems of his late 60s work and embraces the ambiguities of the 70s. Many of these songs feature abstract word play that might be hard to pin down, but can still be interesting and amusing. Musically Sly also introduces new structures in which one rhythmic idea repeats for the whole song without any need for verse/chorus type constructs. When applied correctly, this sort of African approach carries a lot of strength. Most of these tracks are excellent, but some might take exception to Sly’s over wrought vocals on “Que Serra Serra” and “Let Me Have it All”.


Album · 2020 · Funk
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Tower Of Power were a true giant of funk in the seventies, and even if they celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2018, they are not going to slow down. Their previous release "Soul Side of Town" was a perfect one, presenting rich sound of funky brass band with excellent vocals and quality songwriting. From very first seconds, their most current album "Step Up" sounds as continuation of that previous one, and it's not strange at all.

The opener "East Bay! All the Way!" jumps right on the dance floor but unexpectedly disappears after less than a minute (very same way as on their previous album). What comes after is "Tower Of Power" at their best - beautiful vocal harmonies, memorable tunes and groovy perfectly arranged music, on the level of their best releases, coming from the 70s.

Under the skin, new album is not actually all that new - it contains solely tracks from the same sessions which gave us their previous release, "Soul Side of Town". Then, its pros and cons lay right in its origin. The material is surprisingly strong since we're speaking about the album of outtakes, some songs are possibly even stronger than some numbers included in "Soul Side of Town". From the other hand, there are no visible difference in sound, arrangements or compositions between current and the previous release. "Step Up" could easily be a second half of imaginary double "Soul Side of Town" set.

Both albums represent best funk and groovy r'n'b coming right from the 70s, the genre's golden age. After many line-up changes, the band still is rooted in their founders Emilio Castillo lead vocals/tenor sax and Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka bari, and the full sound of a twelve-piece band with some guests. There is no particular use of electronics, and no traces of more modern arrangements, but for fans of big sound of funk/r'n'b bands from 70s, (like Earth,Wind & Fire), this music is a real pleasure. If you like it that way, and still didn't listen to "Soul Side of Town", better start there. If you already like "Soul Side of Town", take "Step Up" for another doze of excellent music.

JAMES BROWN Love Power Peace: Live at the Olympia, Paris, 1971

Live album · 1992 · Funk
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Love Power Peace is the only official live release from the Godfather of Soul with his most powerful band, the original JBs. The story of their arrival on the scene is the stuff of legend: when James Brown's band quit on him en masse in the middle of a tour, he flew in a young band from Cincinnati called the Pacemakers to replace them. The Pacemakers were rechristened as The JBs, and their work with Brown set a new standard of funkiness. Powered by the Collins brothers, Bootsy on bass and Catfish on guitar, the new group recorded a string of funk classics in the studio, including Sex Machine, Talking Loud and Saying Nothing, Soul Power, Greedy Man, and Super Bad.

The JBs were also incendiary in concert, and the show that became Love Power Peace was captured live in Paris in 1971. But the original JBs parted ways with Brown soon after, and the album was shelved. It was finally issued on CD in 1992, with the full show following on a 3-LP set in 2014. (This review is for the CD mix.) I can't help but wonder if this would have supplanted Live at the Apollo as the essential James Brown live album if it had been released in 1971, because it is an amazing performance.

The band includes the aforementioned Collins brothers, along with funky drummer Jabo Starks (sometimes spelled by second drummer Tiger Martin), backup singer Bobby Byrd, and Fred Wesley on trombone getting most of the horn solos. This band is so tight it's almost difficult to believe - they can switch tempos or stop on a dime based on JB's cues. (Indeed, there is video of this show on Youtube. When I first watched it I was astonished to see that some of the segues between songs which I was sure were edited for the CD were actually played live.) This can be heard right from the opening medley of Brother Rapp and Ain't It Funky Now, as the band adjusts the tempo seamlessly while amping the energy level ever upward. Catfish Collins's guitar solo on Ain't It Funky Now is both a delight and a preview of great moments still to come, while Bootsy lays down the groove in a way seldom heard before or since - often imitated but never duplicated.

The show includes two great ballads (Georgia On My Mind and an incredible rendition of It's A Man's World) but it's never a long wait for this band to get back to givin' up the funk. The centerpiece of the album is a hypnotic 9-minute version of Sex Machine, with Catfish Collins spiraling out line after ecstatic line on the guitar while Brown and Byrd repeat the familar "Get Up, Get On Up" refrain, Starks accents Brown's dance moves from the drums and the audience gets worked into an absolute frenzy. And that energy level never lets up, all the way through the closing medley of Super Bad, Get Up Get Into It Get Involved, and Soul Power. When the concert finally ends, the crowd erupts and chants James Brown's name, and you just might find yourself doing the same.

THE BAR-KAYS Coldblooded

Album · 1974 · Funk
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If you are not a fan of 70s funk music, or from Memphis, then you may not have heard of The Bar-Kays, but they are one of the longest running acts in the history of RnB/rock. Off the top of my head, the only bands that I can think of that have been around longer are The Isley Brothers and The Rolling Stones. “Cold Blooded” was The Bar-Kays recorded offering in 1974, and it featured them playing the pure funk of the times, as the disco thump that would alter the beat was still a few years away. The Bar-Kays had scored some hits in the late 60s as a Staxx sponsored RnB act, but their transition to rock, and later funk, did not bring any hits right away. They would eventually modernize and become a hit factory in the late 70s, but on “Cold Blooded’, they are still a few years away from all that.

“Cold Blooded” opens with the title track of the same name, and its probably the best cut on the album. Featuring a rampaging African-Latin rhythm section and building horn lines, this one sounds a lot like Mandrill or Osibissa in the early 70s. After this, The Bar-Kays settle into some solid funk tunes that often bare some similarities to 60s Sly and the Family Stone, and 70s Isley Brothers. The Bar-Kays are from the south, and it shows. Their tempos tend to be relaxed, their lyrics lack the irony of the p-funk mob, and their gospel influence is undeniable. Lyrical themes on the album are typical for the times and range from testaments to peace and love, warnings about the ways of the world, and musings on relationships gone bad. There are no insincere corny love songs on here, nor even a trace of disco vapidness. Overall “Cold-Blooded” is a good, but not remarkable, album in its genre. Any fan of classic 70s funk should probably check this out.

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