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Various Artists: Mainstream Funk (Wewantsounds)

A review of the album containing 12 gems from the vaults of Bob Shad’s label

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Mainstream Funk by Various Artists
The cover of Mainstream Funk

The title is a sneaky misnomer. It’s not mainstream funk—it’s obscure soul-jazz and jazz-funk originally released on Mainstream Records. And it slaps. Mainstream Funk gathers 12 gems from the vaults of Bob Shad’s label, where from 1964 to 1978 he produced the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Stanley Turrentine, and Carmen McRae. The tunes on this collection come from 1971 to 1975, and while they’re definitely funky, they are by no means mainstream. They have more in common with CTI than Casablanca. Mostly it’s jazz artists who turned their attention to R&B, soul, and funk.

The biggest name here is singer Sarah Vaughan, who takes the opening slot with a super-funky cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” that is light years from her stock-in-trade. Trumpeter Blue Mitchell likewise sets his hard-bop skills aside to take on Gato Barbieri’s “Last Tango in Paris” with atmospheric, echo-laden blowing that conjures late-’60s Miles Davis. There’s a wonderful tune by Barry Miles called “Little Heart of Pieces” that shares DNA with Bob James’ and Chick Corea’s ’70s works, both thematically and in Miles’ electric piano touch. A seven-and-a-half-minute slow jam by guitarist John White (who?) called “Right Off” absolutely cooks, backed by spiky electric piano and simmering horns. The original version of “Super Duper Love,” a song made famous three decades later by Joss Stone, comes from Sugar Billy, who made one album and then disappeared. Then there’s the bizarre “Betcha Can’t Guess My Sign” by a funk outfit called Prophecy, which sounds like an outtake from Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” sessions, if Alvin & the Chipmunks and Rick Dees’ Disco Duck had sat in on vocals.

There’s much more—this wild record has three-minute jukebox tunes and nine-minute workouts, classy jazz piano and unhinged funk hijinks. The only connective tissue is Shad. Mainstream Funk is the soul-jazz-funk mixtape you didn’t know you needed.

Learn more about Mainstream Funk on Amazon!

Steve Greenlee

Steve Greenlee is the executive editor of the Portland Press Herald in Maine and a former longtime editor and jazz critic at The Boston Globe. He plays keyboards in the Maine bands Under The Covers and Sons Of Quint.