Funk Jazz

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Funk jazz is a sub-genre of jazz fusion and is basically the blending of funk rhythms with jazz improvisation. Some classic funk jazz artists include The JBs, The Meters, The Brecker Brothers and Soulive. At JMA, additional funk jazz music can be found in the Fusion, Funk, Soul Jazz and Acid Jazz genres.

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FRED WESLEY Damn Right I am Somebody (wth the JB's)

Album · 1974 · Funk Jazz
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Damn Right I am Somebody’ is an excellent jazzy funk release recorded by the JB’s during their second peak after reforming under the leadership of tromboner par excellance, Fred Wesley. Wesley’s records usually reflect the style of the people he is working with at the time, in this case that would be one of James Brown’s very best early 70s ensembles. This is hard grooving James style funk with the characteristic slight swing feel and Afro-Cuban accents from conga player Johnny Griggs. Unfortunately, the musicians on here are not listed, but some givens include Jimmy Nolan on guitar, Maceo Parker on sax, John Starks on drums and James Brown on incidental vocals. If you have ever seen Eddie Murphy’s hilarious send- up of James’ nonsense syllable improvisations, you will love album opener ‘Damn Right I am Somebody’ where Brown unleashes a constant stream of onomatopoeia crazyness.

If you know your early hip-hop samples and loops you will know that this is the JB’s album with the synthesizer. Some references claim that James is the synth player, while others list vocalist Bobby Byrd. Either way, the persistent synth noodling on several cuts adds an excellent exotic flavor to this record. All the songs on here are great, but one stand out is ‘I’m Payin Taxes, What am I Buyin’, where Jimmy Nolan provides a killer guitar riff that won’t quit. Jimmy Nolan is the god of rhythm guitar .. word.

Most of the songs on here are classic JB’s funk except for ‘Make Me what You Want Me to be’ which is a classy orchestrated soul-jazz pop number, likewise their lover’s groove re-make of Marvin Gaye’s ‘You Sure Love to Ball’ sets a different mood as it closes the album and turns down the lights for the rest of the evening.

JOHNNY VIDACOVICH Johnny Vidacovich, June Yamagishi & George Porter Jr. : We Came To Play

Live album · 2003 · Funk Jazz
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This release documents the long running series of weekly gigs led by drummer Johnny Vidacovich. Since the early 2000s Vidacovich has been assembling an ever-changing cast of musical co-consipirators for nights of unstructured jamming (originally at the Old Point Bar in New Orleans, and now at the Maple Leaf Bar for many years). There is rarely a set list but there are always great moments.

The most common early lineup of "The Trio" is heard here - Johnny V. with June Yamagishi on guitar and George Porter Jr. on the bass. As sidemen these three have played with a who's who of New Orleans music royalty - The Meters, James Booker, Professor Longhair, The Wild Magnolias, Henry Butler, Irma Thomas, and various Nevilles and Marsalises. And they have made waves outside of the city too: Vidacovich with John Scofield and Mose Allison, Porter with Tori Amos, and Yamagishi as one of Japan's most celebrated guitarists before he relocated to New Orleans. It's clear from their backgrounds that this group can make something from nothing.

The music heard on We Came To Play was recorded on a Wednesday night in the summer of 2002 and is representative of a typical trio set. Five long improvised jams, ranging from 8 to 15 minutes in length, with one foot in jazz and the other deep in the funk. Vidacovich and Porter keep the rhythm grounded in the New Orleans funk and second line feel. Although there's plenty of solo space for each player, there are also long passages of pocket-based jamming in which the trio just rides the groove. At times the jams have a dark, swampy texture that contains a faint echo of Bitches Brew, but put through a New Orleans filter. You can almost feel the sweat dripping off the CD.

All three players are at the top of their game. Yamagishi slashes and burns on his guitar solos and is as funky as they get as a rhythm guitarist, and Johnny V. floats across the groove like a butterfly and stings in his solos like a bee. But it's especially great to hear Porter stretching out in extended solos, something he didn't often do on record with the Meters or as a session player. He has tremendous chops of course, but he solos here with economical tastefulness, never letting flashiness compromise the groove. The album also includes two examples of Vidacovich's half-sung, half-spoken vocals on "Is It Nature's Rock and Roll?" and "Be Careful Who You Idolize," two examples of his poetry which pop up often on the trio gigs. Porter growls backup vocals in the background while Johnny reminds the listener to "Be careful who you idolize, use caution when you pick a guru - look inside for the true you!"

There's nothing particularly innovative or earth-shaking here. Rather, it's the sounds of another humid, funky night in the Big Easy, the city where the music never stops. The Johnny Vidacovich trio gigs will soon reach their 20 year anniversary, and after all these years, one thing hasn't changed: these guys came to PLAY.

BLACK TIE BRASS Mostly Covered

EP · 2019 · Funk Jazz
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I would imagine more than a few young jazz musicians have noticed Snarky Puppy’s meteoritic rise to success and wondered if that could possibly happen to them too. Most jazz musicians assume that they will earn a modest living at best, and more than likely will be supporting themselves with a day job in another profession. Possibly the Snarky crew is more surprised than anyone that they are now traveling the world and playing the big shows like rock stars. What happened to them wasn’t luck though, not only did they work hard to get where they got, but they also put together a very youthful concoction of pop, dance and jazz that has appeal far outside the jazz world and into the lucrative world of the college party circuit and the international jam band scene. There is probably plenty of room for some more bands in this scene, and Black Tie Brass is one band that may have that potential.

Black Tie are doing their own thing and really don’t sound much like the Puppies, but there is a similar formula at work here, a youthful brass band with jazz chops and dance floor sensibilities. Yes, these guys could be heading ‘straight to the top’. “Mostly Covered” is their second release and is more like an EP than an LP due to its abbreviated length, but there is enough here for anyone to get a good taste for what they do. The album opens with three originals including the fast JBs shuffle of “Night Moves” and the hip-hop flavored “Sunshine”. All of the songs feature punchy horn arrangements and short to the point solos, the overall feel is more like a pop band than a jazz band, but the boys can lay it down when they want to.

The rest of the record finishes out with three well known covers including Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Trumpeter Randolph Smith plays the melody with a mute, possibly in tribute to Miles’ version of Michael’s “Human Nature”. These guys are still a little green around the gills, but give them time to build their chops with endless gigs and roadwork and this could be the next jazz group to find larger success outside the jazz world without selling out their jazz sensibilities.


Album · 1974 · Funk Jazz
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Donald Byrd was not only one of the top jazz trumpeteers of the 60s and beyond, but also a music professor at Howard University and one of those talented individuals who could foresee upcoming musical trends and capitalize on them. Sometime in the early 70s, Donald recruited some of the top local talent for his university jazz ensemble and then figured if he could get these guys in a recording studio and on the road he could have a top notch jazz/RnB group on his hands, and so it came to pass that the Blackbyrds came to be. “Flying Start” was actually the Blackbyrd’s second album, but possibly the first one where they developed their own identity outside of Byrd’s well known persona and finds them working within their familiar territory of funk jazz and proto-disco RnB. The Blackbyrd’s early albums are their best, and “Flying Start” is no exception as it features super hot funky grooves and plenty of top notch jazz solos from the band members, plus horn work from some famous guests including Ernie Watts and George Bohanon.

Almost every track on here is good with some standouts including the supercharged disco funk of “I Need You”, possibly one of the best songs in its genre before disco became watered down and lost its funk roots. “Future Children, Future Hopes” and “Spaced Out” are instrumentals with extensive solos on the then newish Arp Odyssey. The Donald Byrd composed “The Baby” features sophisticated flute arrangements that show what he learned from his time working with Quincy Jones. Possibly the only weak track is the pop love song, “April Showers”, but even it can be endearing in its naïve saccharine sweetness. Any fan of 70s funk jazz, rare groove and the roots of acid jazz should own this one.


Album · 1974 · Funk Jazz
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One of the most talented saxophone players to not work in the world of jazz, Maceo Parker, instead found his fame as the best horn player in the world of funk and RnB for several decades. Working with top stars in the business, such as James Brown and George Clinton, Maceo became a well known name on many famous hits as both Brown and Clinton were liable to shout out his name in the middle of a jam so that Maceo would step forth and deliver a fiery solo. In the early 70s, Maceo took a break from Brown’s band and recorded some RnB/jazz crossover albums on his own. Although Brown did not contribute to Maceo’s first couple records, on 1973’s “US”, Brown’s voice and direction are a big part of the funky proceedings.

The first two cuts on “US” are re-mixes of two well known James Brown hits. The first one is “Soul Power”, re-mixed to feature much more soloing from Maceo, and a track called “Party”, which sounds like its based on an extended jam of “Hot Pants”, once again re-mixed with added saxophone solos. These two cuts are the best on the album and hold up well against anything James Brown and his crew recorded while they were smoking hot in the early 70s. Side one finishes out with a couple of laid back disco-jazz numbers orchestrated by Fred Wesley. Although these two tracks aren’t as hot as the openers, their early 70s kitsch arrangements with the wah wah guitar, synthesizer, female backing vocals, incidental strings and double-time conga drums makes for some excellent early 70s time capsule atmosphere.

Side two continues with more of Fred Wesley’s orchestrations, but this time things are much hotter as the band flies through an up-tempo version of Chicago’s “I Can Play for (Just You and Me)”, and a re-recording of a James Brown funk classic, “Doing it to Death”. The album closes with a lengthy ballad called “The Soul of a Black Man”, on which James lays down a rap about Maceo’s integrity and the African-American experience in the USA. This cut is recorded live in front of a small audience and features a long Maceo solo backed by some one (possibly James Brown), improvising string arrangements on a Mellotron.

The final score card for “US” reads; three very funky jams, plus three suave proto smooth jazz numbers and one power ballad makes for an excellent record for fans of that early 70s funk/jazz/RnB vibe.

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