« A richly varied collection » par Blues & Rhythm

What is funk ? Well maybe the answer is a minor variation on Louis Armstrong’s dictum : « If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know ». Certainly compiler Bruno Blum struggles to define funk in the booklet notes to this roughly chronological collection, eventually admitting that ‘in some cases, the mere will to create an original, danceable rhythm was enough for inclusion here’. That is certainly a broad enough definition as to be virtually meaningless, but actually, Bruno does a pretty good job of it. He premise starts with New Orleans that has been defined as ‘the capital city of the Carribean’. The first CD is subtitled ‘Syncopated Creole Music – The Deep Caribbean Roots Of Funk’. Now I have some time for this idea – totally subjective it might be, but by far the best cover of The Meters I have ever heard was by a band from the tiny eastern Carribean island of Dominica. Hence we get the inclusion of Haitian voodoo ritual music, Latin souds and latin-infected blues and jazz, Jamaican mento, Slim Gaillard, Bo Diddley, Allen Toussaint and quadrille music from Guadeloupe – pretty wide, eh ? Oh, and I guess the limbo is a forerunner of funk – there are four versions od ‘Limbo’ on the first CD – two Jamaican, one Bermudan and Bo Diddley’s cover. It is also instructive to be able to compare ‘El Loco Cha Cha’ by René Touzet with Richard Berry’s ‘Louie Louie’. The second set concentrates more on jazz – ‘Funky Jazz, Hard Bop and Soul Jazz’ as the subtitle has it – drawing in Red Saunders’’Hambone’, Sun Ra, Mickey Baker, Duke Ellington, James Brown (ah, now we’re getting there !), Jamaican Rastafarian drummer Count Ossie, and saxman  Don Wilkerson. Horace Silver even has a tune called ‘Opus De Funk’. Sun Ra’s presence on this set is perhaps less to do with his music and more to do with his ‘Afro-Saturnine-futurism’ ?) and the influence this had on George Clinton, captain of the Parliament/Funkadelic mothership. I initially misread the subtitle for the third disc as ‘Negro Spirituals, Blues & Soul : Mardi Gras In New Orleans’ but in fact Professor Longhair’s carnival tune is the first track on this disc. No matter – we do get a large Crescent City contingent also including The Hawketts, Dave Bartholomew, Art Neville (twice), Lee Dorsey and three numbers by Eddie Bo. Then we also encounter The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson (from 1954, I hasten to add – not the funky’70s Watson), Howlin’ Wolf, Boogaloo with ‘Clothes Line’, more Bo Diddley (with a different take of his eponymous song than that on the first CD), Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Carla and Rufus Thomas, and three James Brown tracks – four counting Yvonne Fair’s ‘I Found You [I Got You (I Feel Good)]. Even Elvis gets in on the act, with the inclusion of ‘Crawfish’, his duet with Kitty White based on a New Orleans recordings do contain hints – only vague hints though, with hindsight, mayba a little more than that on Eddie Bo’s closing track, ‘Roamin’-itis’ ; ditto James Brown’s numbers, especially ‘Mashed Potatoes U.S.A.’ All in all, I’m not massively convinced that the roots of funk are to be found on this CD. On the other hand though, there is plenty to enjoy here a richly varied collection of (mostly) original danceable rhythms. Norman DARWEN – BLUES & RHYTHM