By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
By Derek Askey
It's hard to believe that in 1906, the term "funk" referred to sexual body odors, and only some 50 years later to a music that sounded just as dirty.
No one in yer grandma's lifetime has done as much as George Clinton, the Parliament/Funkadelic kingpin, to supply a soundtrack for doing the nasty. Only James Brown equals Clinton and company's role in saving the 70s black-music scene from completely drowning in the lameness of disco. Parliament and Funkadelic perfected the recipe for unadulterated funk: heavily syncopated drums, a slippery bass line and a repetitive lyric so simple, it begged to be chanted by the congregation of funkster converts.
Drugs and lawyers long ago grounded the original Clinton clans, but the funk lives on. Clinton and the P-Funk bunch are blatantly worshiped by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone and Living Colour. Prince, who snatched up Clinton for his Paisley Park record label, has openly milked that Funkadelic thing as far back as his 81 album Controversy. (Check out Prince's costume in the song "I Would Die 4 U" on his recent greatest-hits video. It's P-Funk Halloweenery all the way.)
But Clinton's groove has cut a path into music that goes far beyond radio rock and R&B dance floors. Clinton's music has become the mother lode for hip-hop's sample-happy generation. To head off the stampede to reduce his work to sound bites--and to collect some long-overdue royalties--George has launched a how-to-sample-Clinton series.
The first disc in the series, Sample Some of Disc Sample Some of Dat (Music of Life), may be the first 99-track CD. The lengths of the bites range from a few seconds to a few minutes. The disc comes complete with an instruction sheet on how to license samples from the CD. Four more discs, featuring another 400 samples, are in the works.
Although its impact on jazz has not been as all-consuming as its influence on hip-hop and rock, P-Funk's music has made a lasting impression on the jazz world. It's no surprise that trumpeter Miles Davis, who has always lent an ear to nonjazz influences, was the first to drag funk, … la Clinton, into jazz. Ironically, there was never a period in Davis' career in which his music was as universally "dissed" by both audiences and critics as when he released his funk albums, Big Fun and On the Corner. Both were incredibly dense mixtures of funkadelica and free jazz, with a wah-wah-pedaled trumpet trading licks with a Bootsy Collinsish bass line over a hailstorm of African percussion. The equally funky Black Beauty and Dark Magus were considered by Davis' record company to be so eccentric that they were not released in the U.S. Although those albums did not sell, Davis' pianist, Herbie Hancock, embraced the new Miles feel, and recorded a handful of very successful funk discs under the name the Headhunters. Hancock kept the groove and the African drums, but dropped the pandemoniac (a Clinton adjective) space-jazz. The Clintonesque sessions remain the best of Hancock's otherwise-gutless post-Miles electric-keyboard sessions.
Other jazz players also took note of Parliament's ballsy new politics of funk. Saxophonist Michael Brecker and his trumpeter brother, Randy, became disciples for a time. The funk they played as the Brecker Brothers from 75 to 82 was downright nasty. Guitarist John Scofield corralled former P-Funk drummer Dennis Chambers for a slew of fine, below-the-belt jazz discs. Bassist Jaco Pastorious grew to legendary status by mixing funk and jazz, adding the hip-thrusting element to Weather Report. Trombonist Joseph Bowie, brother of jazz trumpeter Lester, formed the unfortunately overlooked band Defunkt.
The circle was completed this year when Foley, Miles Davis' last bassist, cut 7 Years Ago . . . Directions in Smart-Alec Music with Clinton, the P-Funk Horns and Funkadelic guitarist Gary Shider on board. Miles would have approved.
Meanwhile, ex-Clinton horn men Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley continue to release discs dripping with firsthand Clinton funk. Speaking about his recent disc, Life on Planet Groove, Parker said, "We like to do 2 percent jazz and 98 percent funk." Most recently, a handful of young saxophonists sharing a love for both the work of John Coltrane and of Clinton's masterwork, One Nation Under a Groove, developed an exciting, funk-jazz mix called M-Base music. The releases of Gary Thomas, Greg Osby and Steve Coleman pay homage to the man with the rainbow dreadlocks. Clinton's beat is the trampoline for their sky-high wailing, and the Funkadelic sci-fi obsession shows up on Coleman's Black Science.
During the time jazz was paying attention to Clinton's free-your-mind-and-your-ass-will-follow message, a bearded and heavyset white bass player was becoming the unlikely connection between Clinton's funk and the outer fringes of progressive rock.
The radical New York bassist-producer Bill Laswell, who once said of modern music that "the only interesting thing in the last 50 years is noise," has worked with Laurie Anderson, Yoko Ono, Public Image Ltd. and his own band, Material. Laswell's most recent major project was the founding of Axiom, a recording label with a taste of P-Funk on nearly every experimental disc released. A man after Clinton's heart, the producer admits to preferring a nasty groove over a well-written song, as all of Laswell's rambling but funky productions prove.