Building A Jazz Library: Funk Jazz

Somewhere between the soul-jazz of the early sixties (often called "funk" in its day) and the disco of the mid-seventies, funk jazz was born. Rock was already crossing over into jazz. And it just made sense that rock would inject soul jazz with a greater sense of urgency and a stronger feel for the groove.

Funk had that thing that made soul and any other kinds of dance music what it was - a deep, true conviction to getting you moving.  

The birth of funk can probably be traced back to 1967 when bop saxophonist Lou Donaldson hit big with Alligator Boogaloo. It was the start of a movement - and, to many, the demise of the legendary Blue Note label. Jazz labels like Blue Note, Prestige and Atlantic, who were staying alive selling R&B records, recognized the value of funk instantly. These labels, their artists and producers (Bob Porter, Francis Wolf and Joel Dorn) are the primary movers and shakers of the whole genre. But there were certainly others who came along and funked up their jazz (dig Creed Taylor's CTI and Kudu output between 1970 and 1975).

The whole thing probably ended in 1975, when disco (and an increasing array of electronica) started taking funk in a new yet still worthy direction. But the musical edge of funk was clearly getting replaced with slicker effects.

A decade later, when jazz was suffering under the post-fusion tradition-bound conservatism of Wynton Marsalis and "the new young lions," young DJs in London (spearheaded by Gilles Peterson) began to rediscover these old funk records in thrift shops and spun them for the young dancers in the hippest clubs. Here, "acid jazz" was born. It still took another decade for the US to realize its own funk legacy and by the late 1990s, surviving funk musicians were finally getting paying work and hero worship bestowed upon them while a whole new slew of funksters (Greyboy, Galactic) were born. 

But check out the real funk first. It's held its own over the years - retaining that primordial urge to getting you moving it's always had. 

Rusty Bryant: Legends Of Acid Jazz Vol. 2
Columbus, Ohio tenor man Rusty Bryant (1929-91) produced two of the toughest funk workouts ever in 1971 with Wildfire and - especially - Fire-Eater (both heard here). Kickass contributions from organist Bill Mason and, of course, Idris Muhammad. Used to be very rare and hard to come by. So get this disc while you can! Dig "Fire-Eater," "Free At Last," "Wildfire" and "All That I've Got."   


Lou Donaldson: Midnight Creeper 
Nearly a carbon copy of 1967's funk progenitor, Alligator Boogaloo, 1968's Midnight Creeper perfected bop-pro Lou Donaldson's groove. Back again fanning the fatback are George Benson, Lonnie Smith and Idris Muhammad with Blue Mitchell spicing up the sauce. Lou would also wax great funk on Mr. Shing-A-Ling (1967) and Pretty Things (1970). But this is the foundation. Dig "Midnight Creeper" and "Bag Of Jewels."


Les McCann: Invitation To Openness
Even though Les has always messed at mixing soulful jazz with r&b and gospel, here he came up with one of the most spiritual and exploratory funk workouts ever. His electric keyboards do all the singing on this 1971 jewel - and Yusef Lateef blows a bewildering brew of heady exotica. All three of these long tracks will blow the mind. 


Boogaloo Joe Jones: Legends Of Acid Jazz Vol. 2
New Jersey guitarist Ivan "Boogaloo Joe" Jones recorded only a few records between 1966 and 1978. But he could out-funk Grant Green any day of the week when it came to faster-than-lightning single-note funk runs. Much of the two records heard here - No Way! (1970) and What It Is (1971) - are dance classics and feature the awesome pre-solo funk lamentations of Grover Washington, Jr. Dig "No Way," "If You Were Mine," the original "Sunshine Alley," "Ain't No Sunshine," "Fadin'," "What It Is" and "Inside Job."


Reuben Wilson: Blue Mode
Blue Note never had a funkier organist than Reuben Wilson. He cuts fatback soul with goose bump licks and staccato grooves that beg you to move. His best moves are heard right here (aided in no small measure by guitarist Melvin Sparks): "Bus Ride," "Orange Peel" and "Blue Mode."


David Newman: Captain Buckles
You'll find David Newman (sax/flute), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Eric Gale (guitar) and Bernard Purdie (drums) on many essential funk sides. But in 1971 they laid down this trippy, little-known dance floor classic. Unknown bassist Steve Novosel cranks out one of the toughest bass lines you'll never be able to sit through here too. Dig on "Captain Buckles," "Joel's Domain," "The Clincher" and "Negus."


Melvin Sparks: Legends Of Acid Jazz
Melvin Sparks's guitar has launched many a groove. But his scorching guitar really sears thru his first two solo albums, 1970's Sparks! and 1971's Spark Plug, both collected here. Funked up playing comes courtesy of Houston Person, Grover Washington, Jr., the great and underrated organist Leon Spencer and, of course, Idris Muhammad. Grooves abound here, peaking at the celestial  "Conjunction Mars."


Charles Kynard: The Soul Brotherhood
West Coast organist Charles Kynard (1933-79) taught disadvantaged children by day, recorded infrequently and has become too little remembered today. But you gotta hear this. His attack is sharp, fast, clever and highly rhythmic - often drawing from the lower ends of the B-3 (digging deep into the soul). These two 1969 LPs are his best - The Soul Brotherhood with Blue Mitchell, David "Fathead" Newman" and Grant Green and Reelin' With The Feelin' with LA superstars Wilton Felder, Joe Pass, Paul Humphrey and the great electric bassist Carol Kaye.


Jimmy McGriff: Electric Funk
This was always organist Jimmy McGriff's bag. But HE coined the phrase and used this 1969 LP to corner the market. Famed funk arranger Horace Ott lays down hard- edged horn riffs (Blue Mitchell? Stanley Turrentine?) and driving electric bass vamps. McGriff noodles streetwise, offering one hot lick after another. Dig on it: the classics "The Bird Wave" and "Spear For Moondog" plus "Chris Cross," "Miss Poopie," and "Funky Junk."


Herbie Hancock: Thrust
It wasn't the first - or last - trip Herbie Hancock took into funk. But it's some of the best - and most sophisticated and musically advanced funk jazz ever made. Late into the groove (1974), he and his headhunters (Bennie Maupin, Paul Jackson, Mike Clark and Bill Summers) conspired to achieve what amounts to a textbook case of how interesting and excellent funk could get. Best of all, Herbie's arsenal of keyboard sounds never sounded better integrated than here. The lovely groove "Butterfly" is here plus some def-defying funk in "Palm Grease," "Actual Proof" and "Spank-A-Lee." Yep, the whole thing.

More funk to hear: “Vibrafinger” - Gary Burton: Good Vibes (Koch Jazz); “The Jungle Boss” and “Jungle Strut” - Gene Ammons: The Boss Is Back! (Fantasy); “The Black Cat” - Gene Ammons: Legends Of Acid Jazz (Fantasy); “The Great Escape” - Larry Coryell: Barefoot Boy (One Way); “Whistle Stop” - Joao Donato: Joao Donato (32 Jazz); “She’s Gone Again” - Johnny Hammond: Soul Flowers (Fantasy); “Is It In” - Eddie Harris: EH In The Uk/Is It In? (Collectables); "Well I'll Be White Black," "Don't Cha Hear Me Callin' To Ya" - Junior Mance: With A Lotta Help From My Friends (Collectables); “Turn It On,” “Goin’ To D.C.” - Sonny Stitt: Legends Of Acid Jazz (Fantasy); “Louisiana Slim” - Leon Spencer: Legends Of Acid Jazz (Fantasy).