- MP3: Ron Buford – Deep Soul Pt. 1
- MP3: Annakonda – Wheedle’s Groove
- MP3: Black on White Affair – Auld Lang Syne
Funk ain’t what it used to be.
In their early days, funk scenes compiled as fast as trash in city wastebaskets. Each town had a somewhat distinct and independent scene, the fruits of which were destined to remain either in the caring hands of obsessed collectors or in the unexplored depths of record store bargain bins. As of late, many local funk bands boast more success based on their novelty value in hotel bars than their artistic credibility–a damn shame seeing as both soul and funk offer musical insights untouched by more popular genres. Granted, it’s difficult to look at a 6-piece funk outfit, wacky vocalist and all, as an artistic statement. Plenty of patrons even fail to make sense of the message when it’s easy: “Get Funky.”
In parallel with funk’s downer of a fate, a number of record labels are making their names known by prodding private collectors and scouring the aforementioned bargain bins for anything of worth. The good news? There’s a lot to be found, and nobody has much of a problem with re-release. The bad? Funk has, for the most part, mutated into a re-release/compilation industry. As you might guess, shifts in that direction only amplify the effect of the problematic stigma already associated with its specter. But the fact remains, there was a lot of music being recorded 40 years ago, and we’ve listened to an embarrassingly small percentage of it today. In actuality, much of it deserves a re-release. As a result, I’ll be using this space to investigate funk and soul by means of two wildly dissimilar re-releases in the medium: Na Teef Know De Road of Teef by Pax Nicholas & the Nettey Family; and the compilation Wheedle’s Groove: Seattle’s Finest in Funk & Soul 1965-75.
Some of these early funk LP’s are quite rare–about four-digit price tag rare. Na Teef Know De Road of Teef is one of those records. For a number of reasons, Pax Nicholas’ 1973 masterpiece was largely overlooked outside the Lagos (Nigeria) funk populace. It would have been completely forgotten if not for Frank Gossner, a selfless bin-scraper who found the dusty afro-beat LP at a record store based in Philadelphia. Recognizing the record’s potential, he brought together Nicholas and the kind people at Daptone Records (home to revivalists Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings), which is how Na Teef came to be re-circulated in accordance with its quality.
Afro-beat was still a young style in 1973, and for Pax Nicholas & the Nettey Family to have made an album that characterizes the genre so well would have likely caused some real racket in the community. The percussion is spread out thick n’ heavy–distributed evenly like butter on toast. Each tone resonates with the earth; melodies float like wind over the rhythm section’s grounded beats, making the occasional connection simultaneously natural and cathartic. The music itself requires some initiative to really get into, but afro-beat was never made for casual listening. And like any art, the amount of attention that you invest is directly relational to the magnitude of the satisfaction gained from it.
The packaging, oddly enough, is what divides Na Teef from its American counterparts. The fullness of twelve vinyl inches lends itself nicely to the communication of a complete thought, which is something a 45’ cannot rightfully handle. Na Teef’s particulars may very well be beyond my consideration, but even so, there exists a perceptible depth involved with the listener’s experience, a sort of fulfillment about the album’s path to conclusion. In contrast, western beats thrive in single format (excepting a few precious examples) because, to be honest, funk music seldom wants to express anything bigger. As popular as funk and soul may have been 40 years ago, the active musicians mostly just weren’t trying to change the world like their Woodstocking contemporaries. Although that’s neither here nor there in terms of pure artistic merit, the thought alone makes me wonder where it brought the genre to today.
And that’s what makes way for Seattle’s Finest in Funk & Soul 1965-75, the 2004 release combing the depths of the Light In The Attic Records vault. Because of the weighty emphasis placed on singles and 45’s in funk’s early days, connoisseurs are finding it difficult to track their grooves down. Simply put, throwing together a half decent personal funk collection proves to be quite the costly affair these days—and the market that the genre originally existed in is almost entirely at fault. As a solution, plenty of record labels are appropriately accumulating these aged releases and re-pressing them for the general public.
LITA did a hell of a job here too. Their website awards full responsibility to a collaborative effort entitled Wheedle’s Groove, a producer-writer-musician amalgamation of sorts who ripped all the tracks on Seattle’s Finest exclusively from those forgotten 45’s I mentioned. And I, for one, am astounded at how subtly vibrant the Seattle funk scene once was. Compilation highlights include The Overton Berry Trio’s jazz-class rendition of “Hey Jude,” the killer percussion found in “Cissy Strut” (yes, the Meters’ tune) played by Johnny Lewis Trio, and the ass-kicking tribute to “Auld Lang Syne” by The Black On White Affair which closes out the disc.
You might notice that none of those choice cuts are originals, and that brings me to yet another concept funk has elegantly retained through its lifetime: the cover. Modern rock/pop artists performing songs by their contemporaries (or even influences for that matter) are scarcely listened to seriously; this is hardly the state of affairs in funk and soul. Covers are much more important than as mere B-side material in Seattle’s Finest. They’re tributes, often a signature act by many of these groups. For instance, I cannot imagine The Black On White Affair in a more enthralling place than “Auld Lang Syne.” So what makes me first point to the reinterpreted songs hidden away on Seattle’s Finest in Funk & Soul 1965-75? It’s the fact that the songs are genuinely outstanding, and not just a petty replication of an old classic.
Funk isn’t dead, not even close. There are still dozens of meritable acts (examples: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, The Bamboos, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra) that have shown time and time again that their genre has still got some life left in it–and a market to sell in, for what its worth. Sly Stone is still doing shows! This piece may have predominantly discussed tunes that were recorded forty long years ago, and I’m hoping to modernize with Boogaloo Times’ next installment for just that reason. There exists a substantial amount of funk in the world, all of which relies on notions independent from most of the music we cover here at Aural States. I want to bring that old attitude back.
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