[5 March 2007]
Picture the stacks of wax at your local used record store. How many funk and soul 45s do you count? Five hundred? A thousand? Several thousand? Start digging through crates and running your gaze down an inventory list and you will already have found that getting a handle on something as hyperactively prolific as the 45 single output, especially that of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, is impossible. Those who know the most have dedicated their lives to the dig—and the top brass have made it their careers. They are hired music geeks, walking encyclopedias of obscure breaks who speak in tongues about dusty out-of-print records that few people but them will ever own.
With so much soulful music out there, only a tiny percentage will ever make a re-release or compilation—and much of it surfaces and re-surfaces time and time again. “Funky Nassau” is a great piece of afro-Latin funk, to be sure, but it has been painfully over-exposed. James Brown was a superstar, but surely deserves less than a spot on every funk compilation.
One innovative approach, by all counts started by Ubiquity’s Rewind Series, has been to feature fresh versions of staple soul and funk tunes by contemporary artists. Unsurprisingly, this has grown out of the electronic jazz scene, where many of the aforementioned hired geeks reside and where the influence of impetuous live-recorded jam jazz and soul has found a merger with tailored and digitized rhythms and sounds. Even long-standing luminaries have been enticed. Herbie Hancock made Future 2 Future, Roy Ayers got remixed and worked with Jazzanova, David Axelrod got in with the MoWax people, and the Blue Note/Verve/Impulse remix albums have been successful. The people behind this trend have always been those with an eye on things past, present, and occasionally things presumptively labeled “future.”
The new funk has always been at its best when it truly updates the original, taking all liberties wanted and needed to add freshness and innovation by today’s standards. Some of this is done with aplomb on the second installment in German DJ Florian Keller’s Party Keller series. Keller has been in the thick of it since day one. He was running club nights and putting out his weekly radio show with Theo Thönnesen under the Into Somethin’ banner, back when Compost and Sonar Kollektiv where still fledgling labels, and future league superstars Jazzanova were still years shy of their big break with their first collection of remixes. So Keller has developed a good ear for discerning all things funky in both the past and the present.
His selection is at its best when he focuses on the latter—and interestingly, on the disco. Party Keller 2 opens slowly. Charmaine Burmette’s “(Am I The) Same Girl” is a pleasant Sunday noontime stroll halfway to the Caribbean, and a nice update on the Chicago soul classic, but not entirely riveting. The Baker Brothers’ “Piece of Mind” plods along on break rounds, but barely elicits a raised eyebrow. The Poets of Rhythm recorded an original song as the Pan-Atlantics, a slow mover with a good vibe not unlike Antibalas. Everyone will by now know Giorgio Moroder’s DJ Shadow-sampled “Organ Donor”, but Lefties Soul Connection kick it up a notch. And “Funky Nassau” is of course in there, performed well by erstwhile Pharcyde backers Orgone. All this is decent but not terribly exciting. It’s only halfway through Party Keller 2 that the sweat will break. Britain’s Natural Self has a invigoratingly bouncy bass beat under staccato brass spits set on rounds and breaks. London’s Travis Blaque really gets things moving with cockney-pop-culture-and-politics rhyme on the retro discofied hip hop groove of “Vowel Movement”, remixed by Keller himself and running into a fantastic disco ball ending. Discoconductor is reliable for moving hearts and feet as usual, with his late-‘70s funk-meets-the-disco-pre-getting-tainted sound on “Disco Rhythms”. And Jacksoul bring it all comfortably to a close with the after-hours home folksy soul of “Unconditional Love”.
Party Keller 2 is interesting throughout but only riveting in its final throes. A little half-baked but half-a-cake will not leave you wanting.