By Devon Wendell
2014 was a strange year for music. I recall thinking to myself halfway through The Playboy Jazz Festival in June; “Okay, so everyone is going funk now. Wynton Marsalis’ head would explode!” To many jazz purists, funk is considered to be sellout music.
Critics and fans freaked out when Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Herbie Hancock adapted the influence of James Brown, Sly Stone and George Clinton into their music. And it’s still a topic of debate.
Good funk, real funk thumbs its nose at people and musical genres that take themselves too seriously and engage in sniveling, purist nitpicking. Funk also incorporates jazz, blues, rock, pop, country, gospel, hip-hop and disco. Anything can be thrown into the funk stew if you’re sincere about it. Funk is more than a musical genre; it’s an attitude and lifestyle that makes the wildest of rockers look like squares. Primarily, funk is about shaking your ass with pride.
2014 was the year that George Clinton released the first Funkadelic album in 33 years. First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate features 33 songs, a song for ever year that there wasn’t a Funkadelic release. This may be Clinton’s most adventurous recording since 1972’s America Eats Its Young. George is accompanied by such P-Funk veterans as Rodney “Skeet” Curtis, Michael Hampton, Blackbyrd Mcknight, Michael B. Patterson, Garrett Shider, Kendra Foster, and dozens more. The music is very diverse on this record.
Funkadelic of today tackles electronica, hip-hop, heavy metal, and neo-soul with that one of a kind, in your face, over the top George Clinton attitude.
Sly Stone is also featured on 4 tracks on this 3 plus hour package of glorious filth. Clinton even uses the auto-tune effect the way Sly Stone and Roger Troutman used a talk-box several decades ago. To enhance the music, not correct it.
Prior to the album’s release, George Clinton released his first ever memoir along with writer Ben Greenman; Brothas Be Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? Which is one of the most compelling and candid musical memoirs ever released. The book shines a light on the many tales and experiences of founding father of Parliament/Funkadelic. Click HERE for my iRoM review.
George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic continue to tour the world, putting on 3-4 hour shows a night.
Cosmic space-bass pioneer Bootsy Collins hit the road again strong in 2014, using the name Bootsy’s Rubber Band again with most of the original Rubber Band members intact. At the age of 63, Bootsy (who played bass and wrote for James Brown and P-Funk on some of their most influential recordings) shows no sign of slowing down. I’m hoping he and the Rubber Band make their way to Los Angeles soon so this funkateer can get down!
Of course, if I didn’t mention Prince’s contributions to funk in 2014, I’d be risking my life!
The Purple one released two albums back to back this year; Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age. Prince’s guitar work, vocals, and production are stellar on both releases but I did find these albums to be a bit derivative and sounding a bit too close to Bootsy’s Rubber Band and late ‘70s Funkadelic. These albums are funky, but left me wanting more.
And then you had pop artist Bruno Mars jumping on the funky band wagon with his “Uptown Funk” collaboration with Mark Ronson. It’s a little too close to James Brown and Zapp for my taste but the public loves it and this may help the pop world take funk more seriously as a genre onto itself.
Last but not least, after a 14 year hiatus from recording, D’Angelo returned with Black Messiah. This may be the most overly hyped release of any record that I’ve witnessed in many years. D’Angelo started out in a neo-soul bag but in recent years, he’s tackled songs by Parliament/Fukadelic during his live shows and grown as a musician, writer, and vocalist.
There’s no doubt that this album owes a lot to Sly & The Family Stone’s darker recording of the early ‘70s (There’s A Riot Goin’ On & Fresh) in it’s dissonance. At times it’s too much and the lyrics are inaudible.
Songs like “Till It’s Done (Tutu”), “The Charade’, and “1000 Deaths” speak directly to the political climate in America today but I wish I could understand the lyrics more clearly. That Quaalude/Depressed introspective slurred vocal effect was mastered by Sly Stone but Sly’s lyrics were clearer than this. Black Messiah is still undoubtedly funky. The band (called “The Vanguard”)features some of the greatest musicians in the world from Questlove Thompson from The Roots on drums, master session player Pino Palladino on bass, to trumpeter Roy Hargrove on trumpet, and P-Funk’s Kendra Foster on vocals. Foster also co-wrote seven of the albums tracks. Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest is also a credited writer.
Some people love D’Angelo’s “comeback” album and many others are on the fence but the same can be said about Funkadelic’s latest. As George Clinton has said; “Funk is like a fine wine, it gets better with age” so time will tell how well these records fare with fans.
So 2014 was one funky year, in more ways than one. Musically, some bold statements were made by some bold artists. Funk is still the most sampled music in hip-hop and you hear the music’s influence in rock, jazz, blues, and soul. Although the music industry has treated funk as a novelty since the ‘70s, it will now be forced to look at it as a serious art form that is constantly developing and moving into many diverse directions.
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To read more posts and essays by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE