ep1str0phy

Free Funk

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First off: free funk is a semantic nightmare.

Are we talking funky 'free' music, 'free' funky music, or some odd middle term? Moreover, is so-called 'free funk' a subcategory of the avant-garde, or merely free-wheeling fusion? Worst of all: what counts?

When it comes right down to it, we're dealing with functional terminology. Part of me thinks that the label is pure invective--'cause if good 'free' can be funky, aren't we getting a little redundant? And deeper into the issue: the music is mired in the same etymological/categorical nightmare that plagues all music, jazz (as a classic example) included... we're left with a gross oversimplification of a series of diverse sounds, approaches, and philosophies. Even if Ornette's Prime Time is the paradigmatic free funk band, we're dealing with multiple continuua: Prime Time is as much a piece with Ornette's less 'backbeatish' material as with any other 'free funk' music. And it goes on, and on, and on (infinite regress).

That being said: by free-funk, mean whatever you like. Me? I'm taking this to mean any backbeat-heavy, groove-inflected music ostensibly descended from early 'free jazz.' Most of this music is 4/4 with a minimal-to-nonexistent harmonic framework. Prime Time is, again, the prime example: harmony is at the service of melody and, in this case, (occasionally overlapping) four-square rhythm(s)--not the other way around. Vocalistic effects, strained timbres, and severe metrical liberties are juxtaposed with cleanly identifiable meter and, often times, an extremely simple chordal backdrop (a context and not a guide to action). But these are base qualifications and, in the end, I don't think the tenets are that strict (at all). Electric Miles sort of counts, no?

Favorites? Of the top of my head:

-Luther Thomas's Human Arts Ensemble: Funky Donkey-Reissued by the UMS and bad, bad, bad. This one's got Charles Bobo Shaw and the Bowies--and it cooks beyond belief. James Brown but stone gone.

-Joe McPhee: Nation Time-also on the UMS. Fairly conventional in a harmonic sense, but the leader is clearly versed in the avant vernacular. There's definitely a sense of openness to this--really sort of a funk/rock band stretching out. Coltrane and Booker T. in equal doses.

-Don Cherry: Brown Rice-Actually sort of 'world groove' in the quintessential Cherry sense (and pretty controversial, from what I gather). Some tracks just move like crazy--in a rare groovish way--with a sense of liberty that only well-versed 70's avant cats could provide. Frank Lowe is all over this puppy.

-Others: work by Prime Time, Sun Ra, Larry Young, etc. Fill in the blanks?

Edited by ep1str0phy

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-Luther Thomas's Human Arts Ensemble: Funky Donkey-Reissued by the UMS and bad, bad, bad. This one's got Charles Bobo Shaw and the Bowies--and it cooks beyond belief. James Brown but stone gone.

Funky Donkey was the first thing I thought of to post about, and I see you beat me to it. Worth another mention, though. Absolutely funky groove + avant-garde. :tup:tup:tup

PLUS, having been recorded (and live, no less :blink: - and in a CHURCH!! :ph34r::cool: ), in or about 1973 -- this is proto avant-funk, if ever there was!! (At least in terms of having a James Brown-type groove goin' on.)

thomas_luth_funkydonk_101b.jpg

Dorky cover, but the music is sublime. :wub:

Edited by Rooster_Ties

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-Luther Thomas's Human Arts Ensemble: Funky Donkey-Reissued by the UMS and bad, bad, bad. This one's got Charles Bobo Shaw and the Bowies--and it cooks beyond belief. James Brown but stone gone.

Funky Donkey was the first thing I thought of to post about, and I see you beat me to it. Worth another mention, though. Absolutely funky groove + avant-garde. :tup:tup:tup

PLUS, having been recorded (and live, no less :blink: ), in or about 1973 -- this is proto avant-funk, if ever there was!! (At least in terms of having a James Brown-type groove goin' on.)

thomas_luth_funkydonk_101b.jpg

Dorky cover, but the music is sublime. :wub:

Isn't there another UMS album with tracks culled from the same sessions? Banana or something? Seems as if Thomas has a penchant for weird album cover art. I haven't heard it, but I'm very interested.

Thinking about Funky Donkey got me thinking about Lester Bowie, who really, really knew how to cut this stuff. Brass Fantasy could groove with the best of them. Come to think of it, the Art Ensemble really innovated in this area--'Theme de Yoyo' was proto-proto free funk, if there ever was any. It's still one of the most thrilling (and compact) entries in the 'genre.'

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all the long songs from the first three Funkadelic records, particularly What Is Soul?, Maggot Brain, Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow, maybe a couple of others.

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It's a shame Joe McPhee's "Nation Time" ("Shaky Jake" track specifically, to be exact) or Thomas' "Funky Donkey" did not develop any stylistical following.

What I think coudl approach the definition:

Defunkt - Joseph Bowie's band. (Bad ass) funk is definitely there - I am not too sure about avant- or free- elements, but there is some very intricate brass writing and burning high-power solos.

Does Lester Bowie Brass Band qualify? I've seen them live (just a 10 days before Lester's death), but don't have any of their discs, so cannot judge...

Miles' "Cellar Door Sessions" definitely fit the avant-funk definition.

I'my now trying to remember what the the Herbie Mann discs with Sonny Sharrock sounded like - haven't listened to them for years. But as I rememebr there was some funk and some serious guiutar freak-outs by Sharrock.

Less on both funk- and free- side, there is Fela Kuti. More sophisticated rhythmically than pure funk, but I haven't heard anything more positively groovy.

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I'my now trying to remember what the the Herbie Mann discs with Sonny Sharrock sounded like - haven't listened to them for years. But as I rememebr there was some funk and some serious guiutar freak-outs by Sharrock.

Less on both funk- and free- side, there is Fela Kuti. More sophisticated rhythmically than pure funk, but I haven't heard anything more positively groovy.

Sonny was on Herbie's "Memphis underground" album. I don't recall his solos on that being particularly "far out"; time I threw this on the CD player, I think.

Also time I put Fela's "Perambulator" on the turntable; Lester Bowie's on that. Trouble is, my copy is a Nigerian original and side 2 is pressed seriously off-centre, so I hardly ever play that side, which I think may have more Bowie on it.

MG

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Three words:

THEME DE YOYO

An awesome groove if ever there was one. Malachi Favors and Don Moye showing the world how to do it.

p.s. in my excitement, I see I was beaten to it! :)

Edited by Red

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I'my now trying to remember what the the Herbie Mann discs with Sonny Sharrock sounded like - haven't listened to them for years. But as I rememebr there was some funk and some serious guiutar freak-outs by Sharrock.

Less on both funk- and free- side, there is Fela Kuti. More sophisticated rhythmically than pure funk, but I haven't heard anything more positively groovy.

Sonny was on Herbie's "Memphis underground" album. I don't recall his solos on that being particularly "far out"; time I threw this on the CD player, I think.

Also time I put Fela's "Perambulator" on the turntable; Lester Bowie's on that. Trouble is, my copy is a Nigerian original and side 2 is pressed seriously off-centre, so I hardly ever play that side, which I think may have more Bowie on it.

MG

Listened to "Memphis underground" earlier. Yes, Sonny does play a rather rock-inspired, perhaps free jazz inspired, solo on "Hold on I'm comin'". I always thought of this as being more the sort of thing that a rock guitarist might play, but I can see how it could be heard as free jazz, too.

MG

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Isn't there another UMS album with tracks culled from the same sessions? Banana or something? Seems as if Thomas has a penchant for weird album cover art. I haven't heard it, but I'm very interested.

I've heard there's another album (studio) but largly the same group, though the feedback I've heard about it has not been very good. (I'm told there's vocals on the other album.)

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I've got two Odean Pope LPs (on the Moers label, "Out For A Walk", "Almost Like Me") that I'll put on now thanks to this thread. Cornell Rochester on drums, Gerald Veasley bass. :tup

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Robert McCollough on the live version of "Super Bad". After that, almost(?) everything else sounds like wishful thinking, including Jimmy Parker's noble effort on "Escape-Ism". Robert McCollough solo on that cut is the ne plus ultra of Free Funk. Case closed. "Blow me some TRANE, Brother!"

Although, Roscoe's & Lester's work on Melvin Jackson's Funky Skull is/are the exception(s) that prove the rule. That's a different kind of free and a different kind of funk, but who's splitting hairs?

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I've got two Odean Pope LPs (on the Moers label, "Out For A Walk", "Almost Like Me") that I'll put on now thanks to this thread. Cornell Rochester on drums, Gerald Veasley bass. :tup

That's some BAAAAAAD shit! :tup:tup:tup:tup:tup

For that matter, check out Air's "The Jick" from Open Air Suit. But again, that too is a different kind of free and a different kind of funk, if you're splitting hairs, and I swear I'm not.

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Not to toot my own horn (yes, I know it's an awful pun coming from a trumpet player...deal with it), but I play in a band called Water Babies, and we play what we call "Spontaneous Funk". It's all improvised (no charts, no changes, no plan other than to get yer booty shakin').

Check out our web page, and if you like what you hear, you can purchase the CD Draw Me a Bath at CD Baby or download it at iTunes.

Jason

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Man, I was sleeping on the Fela, MG. I'll go check it out. This entire thread has made me want to go back it rifle through my R&B/soul sides (which are in a different part of the state, I'm sad to report).

As far as Sonny is concerned--the cat always knew how to move into a free/funkish bag, even without Herbie. The results, however--in proportion to his tremendous talent--were pretty inconsistent. Paradise is pretty flaccid--some nice Sonny spots, but the dichotomy between the two parts--the groove-laden backing band and the free excursions--is a little too jarring for my tastes (it often sounds as if Sonny was dialed in from nowhere). Then there's Last Exit, which could get pretty funky at times... hell, No Material (with Ginger Baker) grooves like a mother--Brotzmann and Sonny doing their amplified sheet metal thing over some heavy beats. With the best sides, though, I always get the impression that Sonny is coming squarely out of the Coltrane/Sanders/Ayler tradition--it's a pity when those influences are obscured.

And JSngry--has the Melvin Jackson been reissued on CD?

Edited by ep1str0phy

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I'my now trying to remember what the the Herbie Mann discs with Sonny Sharrock sounded like - haven't listened to them for years. But as I rememebr there was some funk and some serious guiutar freak-outs by Sharrock.

Less on both funk- and free- side, there is Fela Kuti. More sophisticated rhythmically than pure funk, but I haven't heard anything more positively groovy.

Sonny was on Herbie's "Memphis underground" album. I don't recall his solos on that being particularly "far out"; time I threw this on the CD player, I think.

Also time I put Fela's "Perambulator" on the turntable; Lester Bowie's on that. Trouble is, my copy is a Nigerian original and side 2 is pressed seriously off-centre, so I hardly ever play that side, which I think may have more Bowie on it.

MG

And side 1 is also seriously off-centre, too. I love Fela's own productions; they're full of faults. The original version of "Authority stealing" jumps but, charmingly, has an apology printed on the sleeve. And a free copy of Fela's anti-Government newspaper is enclosed.

MG

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The wildest Sharrock w/Mann is on the Hold On, I'm Coming side recorded at Newport/NY in 1972.

That's one of the better Mann sides, period.

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Yeah, I've heard good things about Hold On, I'm Coming. That one's got David Newman, right? The only one I'm really familiar with (due to a lengthy series of spins a while back) is Stone Flute; a pleasant album, but not quite hard enough... Sonny, again, is somewhat underutilized.

Don't mean to press the point, but really--has anyone reissued the Melvin Jackson side?

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Tatas-Matoes (1968). :)

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Thanks, JSngry.

Oh yeah... Bowie was just full of 'em, wasn't he?

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Isn't there another UMS album with tracks culled from the same sessions? Banana or something? Seems as if Thomas has a penchant for weird album cover art. I haven't heard it, but I'm very interested.

I've heard there's another album (studio) but largly the same group, though the feedback I've heard about it has not been very good. (I'm told there's vocals on the other album.)

Banana is different. Certainly not the full-on funky blowing session feel of Funky Donkey. At first, I was a little underwhelmed, but that was because I expected it to be a sequel in kind to FD. Listening to it on its own terms, it's great. Don't be put off by the singer - no 'songs' as such; more wordless colorations.

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So is Banana a more 'straightforward' BAG free date, or still in the funky mode? Tangentially: I enjoy Thomas regardless of context. His plaing on Billy Bang's 'Sweet Space' is beyond belief (apeshit in the same way that Windo on 'Tes Esat' goes apeshit).

Edited by ep1str0phy

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Not sure this one qualifies, however it's funky and "fairly" free at times. :tup

g45783ig97o.jpg

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I am going to be looking into a few of these! My mind is just twisted enough to think it is a good idea to meld these two musics together.

I don't know how this compares, but I think "The Opener" from Saturation Point by Tim Berne's Bloodcount kicks in a pretty free funk feel when the rhythm section comes in for the first time. Fantastic Jim Black solo that just keeps picking up tempo! For my money, it just doesn't get much better than Formanek. I don't know how he maintains such a beautiful tone and volume on double bass sometimes. I mean, these are electric bass guitar lines he is playing on a centuries-old instrument! Oh, and have you heard his intro on Ehrlich's Relativity? Shit.

Mike Formanek, bass

Tim Berne, alto, baritone

Chris Speed, tenor, clarinet

Jim Black, drums

That is just a sick lineup on paper. Right now, it sounds just about right.

saturation_point_i.jpg

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