Friday, April 23, 2010

Give Up the (NOLA) Funk!

For some time now, I've been wanting someone to call attention to the burgeoning funk scene in New Orleans. I didn't think that that someone was me because I don't live there, don't know where to see the bands, and have to stay on my toes to keep up with the latest releases. I also can't write with any great insight about the finger-popping bass techniques, minor chord progressions, and other trademarks of funk. On the other hand, I know what gets my head nodding and my feet tapping, so maybe I'm as qualified as anyone else.

New Orleans funk is a mad, cross-racial concoction of what one might think of as traditional funk rhythms augmented with R&B, rock, jazz, NOLA brass band, and even blues. The exact mix depends on the band, and each band appears to plunder merrily from whatever styles suit it. They're all different and they're all connected; the groups I've been listening to include Trombone Shorty, Galactic, New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Big Sam's Funky Nation, Groovesect, and Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk. The first four have all have recent releases that display the dazzling array of influences and emphases on NOLA funk.

Trombone Shorty's Backatown, arguably the strongest of the four, favors brief TNT blasts of music that run into each other and form a coherent whole. The 24-year trombonist and trumpeter is a formidable musician, and leads a powerful septet through a series of ensemble pieces that draw heavily on NOLA brass charts laid over a driving beat. Backatown is the most ambitious of these CDs, and meets its own high standards across the board.

Big Sam's Funky Nation holds court with King of the Party. This time around, the Nation is a stripped down quintet with a sound constructed around the soloing of Big Sam Williams on trombone and Takishi Shimmura on guitar. Of the four albums, King of the Party draws the most heavily on rock; it's unique NOLA flavor comes from the joyous, expansive nature of the improvising. Trust me, a centenarian in an Alaska rest home would get up and dance to this one.

I'm usually skeptical of albums with a roster of guest stars. It often hides weak material behind the neon, and half the time the guest material is recorded in a remote studio. But on ya-ka-may, Galactic takes advantage of the deep and wide river of New Orleans talent -- the album includes turns by Irma Thomas, Glen David Andrews, the Rebirth Brass Band, and sissy rapper Katey Red, among man others -- to unify the many strains of NOLA music around a percussive funk sound. Sprawling and always in danger of losing control, ya-ka-may in the end succeeds in offering a new way of listening to the NOLA music.

The New Orleans Nightcrawlers Slither Slice is at once the most traditional and the most eccentric of these offerings. The Nightcrawlers take the traditional brass band sound and explore blues, improvisatory jazz, and funk. In fact, that funky, second-line step is ever present regardless of what byway these guys explore.

This is a quick, incomplete summary of today's NOLA funk scene. You can download an excellent Dumpstaphunk live set from iTunes. Groovesect began as teaming of graduates from the Tulane and University of New Orleans music programs. Englishman Jon Cleary migrated to New Orleans and formed a jazz-funk ensemble featuring himself on piano and vocals. There have to be more, and some day I'll return to NOLA to personally explore this vitality of this scene. Until then, I listen to these albums and eagerly anticipate the next release...

It's Bobby's world...

It's also Corset Friday...

Sometimes, the good guys win...

Wordless Wednesday...

Don't miss these amazing Eyjafjalljokull photos...

Whatever happened to the Republican party?...

A small community park near the Fairgrounds...

Big Sam's Funky Nation is "Hard To Handle":

7 comments:

nursemyra said...

I enjoyed your links as usual Killian. But the one for the volcano photos reverts to the link above it... can you fix it?

K. said...

Link fixed; thanks for pointing this out.

Darlene said...

Oh my goodness. Now I really feel old. I never heard of 'funk' but the video enlightened me (I guess). I am still in the jazz age of Brubeck,Coltrane, and their ilk.

K. said...

There's nothing wrong with Brubeck and Coltrane! Check out the great man at work here!

tnlib said...

I enjoy anything that comes out of NO, except a hurricane. Really enjoyed these guys. And thanks for the link.

Distributorcap said...

i wish i was more up on music -- but i sure learned something

K. said...

tnlib: When T. and I went to Jazz Festival a couple of years ago, I was absolutely blown away by the scope and quality of music from southern Louisiana. Two years later, it's still about half of what I listen to.

DC Sounds like you need to take a trip to JazzFest!