Published Apr 01, 2002In 1967 James Brown's arranger, Pee Wee Ellis, fused Latin rhythms with Brown's already unusual rhythmic notions to create "Cold Sweat," a watershed for a new dance music with extended, syncopated grooves. Funk bands are typically large affairs featuring horns, percussion, keyboards and multiple vocalists. Originally flourishing in regional markets (hotbeds being Memphis, New Orleans, Miami and Los Angeles), funk was a driving force in Afro-American music in the 70s. By the post-disco 80s the economics of maintaining large dance bands became difficult, but hip-hop has ensured the legacy of the originals, and these artists still inform modern productions.
In the early 70s, synthesisers, multi-tracking and the remnants of psychedelia merged with new expressions of Afro consciousness to give rise to space funk. The all-time standard bearers of this movement are George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic, informing funk, hip-hop and funk-metal since consolidating their sound in the early 70s. Two very different bands with similar inclinations were the Ohio Players and Earth Wind and Fire. Stevie Wonder, Bernie Worrell and Herbie Hancock took synths to new directions in groove, which by the 80s had become electro and techno.
Key Sounds: Funkadelic Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On (Westbound, 1974); Parliament The Motor Booty Affair (Casablanca, 1978); Herbie Hancock Thrust (CBS, 1974); Ohio Players Pleasure (Westbound, 1973); Earth Wind and Fire All n' All (CBS, 1977)
During the emergence of the NYC loft scene in the early 70s, early DJs favoured bass-heavy extended groove records that blended seamlessly from the street funk of the Fatback Band to the Miami soul of the TK record label, to Manu Dibango. By 1975, beats were speeding up and adding more orchestral and Latin influences in the Gamble/Huff style of Philadelphia International. This faster music, with more European influences, became disco. Yet influential club DJs such as Larry Levan and street DJs like Kool Herc still championed many slower, funkier songs; many records from the late 70s by artists such as Taana Gardner and Gwen Mccrae became the bedrock of both garage house and early rap.
Key Sounds: Fatback Band Yum Yum (Westbound, 1976); Gwen McCrae "Funky Sensation" (Atlantic, 1981); Cheryl Lynn "Got to be Real" (CBS, 1978); Chic "Good Times" (Atlantic, 1979); Various The Essential Larry Levan Mixes (West End, 2000); Various Give Your Body Up Vol. 1-3 (Rhino, 1996)
Jazz was the first music in which the word "funk" appeared, in a Horace Silver composition. After "Cold Sweat" hit, jazz funk exploded as the Blue Note label became a haven for this music overnight. Labels like Fantasy, Strata-East and Flying Dutchman each featured their own distinctive blends of funk, jazz and spaciness. Hip-hop favourites Roy Ayers and Kool & the Gang were both jazz artists originally, but adapted their sounds to this genre. A more challenging strain of jazz-funk sprang from experiments by Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman, leading to no wave. In the U.S. the last flourish of jazz funk was D.C. based Gogo, with all-night grooves based on jazz standards being the speciality of Chuck Brown. In Britain however, the jazz funk scene was a tributary of acid jazz.
Key Sounds: Roy Ayers Mystic Voyage (Polydor, 1975); Kool & the Gang Good Times (Delite, 1971); the Blackbyrds City Life (Fantasy, 1975); Lonnie Liston Smith Expansions (Flying Dutchman, 1975); Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers Live at Crystal Skate (Flame, 1987)
By 1987, dance music was heavily electronic and funk in the U.S. had become electro, house and new jack swing, with the notable exception of Prince. In England, at the outset of acid house, there was a need for a chill-out space to balance an evening's worth of frantic 303 bass lines. Gilles Peterson began spinning Northern soul, Latin, jazz and funk. This was the first wave of funk revisionism, as exemplified by the Brand New Heavies, who sounded like the JB's Mark II. Acid jazz's legacy was generally not its artists but for the attention paid to combining sounds from different eras and cultures to create fresh grooves. Today, labels like Peterson's Talking Loud and Ninja Tune have espoused funk values in progressive sounds, while Desco looks back to the 60s. Ubiquity records is probably the label truest to the original range of influences in acid jazz.
Key Sounds: Various Totally Wired I (Acid Jazz, 1987); Incognito Inside Life (Talking Loud, 1991); MC Solaar Prose Combat (Phillips, 1994); United Future Organization No Sound is Too Taboo (Talking Loud, 1994); Sugarman Three Sugar's Boogaloo (Desco, 1998)