This may sound weird, but perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the massive Parliament-Funkadelic oeuvre is the strength of its musicians.
Yes, we’re well aware of Bootsy Collins, the late Bernie Worrell, and Eddie Hazel, Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, Garry Shider, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker as P-Funk’s backbones during its ’70s peak. But there were a whole bunch of other folks who made some mighty contributions through the years, both on stage and in the studio. That cast of thousands enabled both George Clinton’s extraterrestrial odysseys and his booty-rocking anthems, with many of them coming on board in the ’80s and ’90s, unbeknownst to all except the most devoted liner notes readers.
A few members of that wave recently joined forces in Detroit Rising, a project headed by keyboardist Danny Bedrosian, who signed up for Uncle Jam’s Army in the early ’00s.
A Cosmic Jazz Funk Adventure is aptly titled, with sleek grooves and flashy solos showcasing some of the talents behind those world-changing jams and Grateful Dead-like concert marathons. The P-Funk universe is no stranger to side projects (such as the Brides of Funkenstein in the ’70s, and the Sweat Band in the ’80s); think of this as a post-millennial continuation of that mini-genre.
Bedrosian enlisted a rhythm section of P-Funk veterans Blackbyrd McKnight (guitar), Lige Curry (bass) and Benzel Cowan (drums), plus sax player Greg Thomas and singers Steven Boyd and Sue Ann Carwell, for a set of extended vamps (eight of the ten tracks stretch past the five-minute mark) veering towards the jazzier end of the P-Funk spectrum. Boyd and Carwell sound almost like Clinton himself on the opener “Lashing Out”, while Curry and McKnight do what they do to fine effect on “What’s that you heard?” Elsewhere, a seasoned rhythm section of Detroit-based players holds court on “Little Bit”, “Rocket Love” and “Gorgeous” (Detroit was the base when Clinton first hit with the Parliaments in 1967, and where most of P-Funk’s classic material was recorded, thus the project’s Motor City focus).
A Cosmic Jazz Funk Adventure won’t fill the dance floor, and certainly bears none of Clinton’s otherworldliness. And it could use a bit of his way with a tune, as it stands on the verge of feeling like well-played background music after a couple of listens. But at least we get a taste of the high-level funk musicianship that has helped P-Funk stay on the road as a concert attraction, with an occasional album happening out of nowhere, long after the hits stopped. Besides, when was the last time you heard a new funk album that was fully populated by live musicians, not beat programmers and samplers?
Some of these players contributed to the 2014 Funkadelic collection
First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, and they’ll likely also be present on the new Parliament album that’s rumored to drop soon. Let’s hope so, and that other members of Uncle Jam’s Army have re-enlisted: Clinton may be an avatar of Afro-futurism, but he’s always relied on musicians like those here to keep things grounded – and funky – in the here and now.