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The Brooklyn Funk Essentials: In the Buzz Bag

Brooklyn Funk Essentials remembers the days when you could say “acid jazz” without snickering. The dozen-member collective’s 1995 RCA release, “Cool Steady and Easy”, placed them in the thick of the jazz-funk big band race.Their follow up, In the Buzzbag (Shanachie 5050, 61:05) doesn’t tinker with the basic formula that much-you’ll hear plenty of retro funk and smooth soul, with some occasional island flavors thrown in for good measure. And there is acknowledgement of current flavors; the disc kicks off with the drum-n-bass flavored “Bye and Bye”. The most noted addition, however, is Laco Tafya, a group of Turkish/Romanian gypsy musicians (the collaboration was inspired by a spot on the World Music Festival in Istanbul in 1996). The title track – a six plus minute workout shares its name with an inexpensive brand of Turkish wine. The troupe adds flavoring throughout (“Zuma Preserve” “Istanbul Twilight”), working best on the infectious “Ska Ka-Bop “. It may not turn anyone’s head around, true, but “Buzzbag” has enough bite to keep from completely blending into the scenery.

As groove jazz moves into the hip-hop era, it’s tougher and tougher to get attention with an old-school funk flavor. For evidence of this, look no further than the legions of corny converted rockers devoted to “getting down and funky”; often coming off like those goofy cover outfits playing through the commercial breaks on “Jenny Jones”. Bottom line: If you are doing funk nowadays, you better be tighter than a clam with lockjaw. Few outfits are tighter than New Orleans’ Galactic, whose sophomore album, Crazyhorse Mongoose (Capricorn, 314 558 842-2).

From the opener -“Hamp’s Hump” through the slinky “Tighten Your Wig” this sextet nails every groove, every bridge, every second line slide with uncanny skill. Though the band was originally started by bassist Robert Mercurio and guitarist Jeff Raines, drummer Stanton Moore is the unspoken focus of these relentlessly propulsive tunes. A former student of Crescent City drummers like Johnny Vidacovich and Russell Batiste, Moore (whose solo disc is well worth checking out) pokes and prods, driving Mercurio’s sludgy bass and Rick Vogel’s languidly greasy keyboard. He and sax player Ben Ellman take it back to the chicken shack on the laid back disc ender, “Quiet Please”. Add singer Theryl de Clouet’s soulful vocals and you have a must-get groove disc.

Originally Published