James Brown: In the Jungle Groove

Brian James

James Brown

In the Jungle Groove

Label: Polydor
US Release Date: 2003-06-17
UK Release Date: 2003-06-30

Standing uselessly in the Gap the other day as my girlfriend tried on clothes, my mind wandered to the wretched dance music being relentlessly pumped into the hip boutique. Though I can't dance a single step, I bounce around in my chair in near epilepsy every time I hear a booty-zapping groove. As such, the monotonous rhythms of most popular dance music since the disco infection does little to me but make me long for the sweet release of death. The very idea of dance music as we've come to know it through the African-American tradition has always been based around the notion of syncopation. It's the very thing that gets the most dexterous butts out of their seats, but it's also what befuddled the white folks who wanted to get down at Studio 54 or have some suitable background music while paying inflated prices for threads designed to make them look like they inhabit the fashionable socio-economic stratum somewhere between where they actually are and the position occupied by the sweatshop laborers that made the clothes. But I digress…

James Brown knew a thing or two about syncopation and had righteous scorn for disco and, one surmises, its modern equivalent. "In funk, you dig into a groove, you don't stay on the surface," preached Soul Brother Number One. "Disco stayed on the surface. See, I taught 'em everything they know but not everything I know." For overwhelming evidence of this vast disparity between Brown's knowledge and that of his bastard children, look no further than In the Jungle Groove, a collection of odds and ends from the tumultuous years between 1969 and 1971. Remastered and expanded by one long cut, it proves as vital a reminder in 2003 as it did in 1986 that the dross that superceded funk as pop's premier dance music can in no way compete with the original. Still, it's understandable that Brown doesn't get the sheer volume of people moving that, say, Kylie Minogue can, just as it's understandable that Stravinsky has only a fraction the devotees of John Williams. As fierce and visceral as the music on In the Jungle Groove is, it's hard, tight funk that works itself into a coil more complex and tense than fans of funk-lite purveyors like Dave Matthews can safely ingest. Moreover, the album features none of the pop instincts that Brown showed with singles like "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" or "I Got You (I Feel Good)." Instead, it's made up of uncompromising funk jams that pay about as much attention to harmony and melody as the Bush administration does to credible intelligence. Lyrics are an afterthought as well, here trimmed back even from their Spartan norm, but even if Brown will never be in demand as a librettist, he can still make a sharper criticism of Richard Nixon with grunts and deft rhythmic counterpoint than poets of the century like Bob Dylan.

The music on Jungle Groove is great, of course, but a question remains: why re-release this album now? When it originally came out in 1986, Brown was soaring from both the surprise success of "Living in America" and his omnipresence via sampling in the exploding field of hip-hop. The album's "Bonus Beat Reprise" of "Funky Drummer" begged to be rapped over, reducing the complexity of the original (also included) to an easily lifted nugget. But today, drum machines are sophisticated enough to make borrowing Brown's beats less of a necessity for the funky people in hip-hop, and the real lucre lies in the mmm-sss-mmm-sss stuff blaring from every nook and cranny of your local mall. So what's the point, you ask? At the risk of being obvious, In the Jungle Groove deserves another shot because the music earns it. Its origins as a quickie cash-in don't detract from the undeniable power of the grooves unleashed within, nor are the proceedings hurt by the revolving-door lineup of the period. Maceo Parker, Bootsy Collins, and Clyde Stubblefield all come and go, but the funk remains undiluted. Brown's diminished vocal presence and virtually non-existent instrumental input could lead listeners to forget about his importance in assembling the sound he's known for, and certainly, all the sidemen he worked with at the time were major talent, but they were still sidemen, forged into a mold that was Brown's stunning creation. In the Jungle Groove isn't the best place to start investigating that creation, but anyone interested in Brown specifically or funk in general -- and every responsible citizen should be both -- shouldn't stop digging before they get here.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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