Archive for August, 2013

Ma Fou Fou

August 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Ma Fou Fou 7_Editions Makossa is a cult label amongst funk fans – it represents some of the hardest core African funk out there.  Much like our Caribbean favorite label Charlie’s, all of these recordings got filtered back through Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and put out on singles that claim American manufacture.  You wonder precisely who was buying them – I’d actually like to congratulate anyone who was hip enough at the time to do so.

Despite my Brooklyn background, I picked up “Ma Fou Fou” recently in Berlin’s Graefekiez.  The guy at the record shop was convinced that he was overcharging me due to condition – I think he listened to it and thought that the weedy sound was due to the condition of the record rather than the no doubt primitive live recording techniques.  I was happy to pay what he was asking because it was way less than the market price for the record, and it friggin’ BURNS.  I mean, listen to the damn thing!  I was going to pick this up even if it was trashed and try to live with it.

Now, I know a few tricks for cleaning up surface noise on monophonic records, mostly involving a thorough cleaning and a double Y cable to cancel out any stereo noise – this I would do all the time because it doesn’t change the sound at all.  On “Ma Fou Fou,” unusually for me, I also spent some time in the mastering stage trying to bring out the bass and guitar at their appropriate moments – it ends up giving the record a bit more of a James Brown feel than perhaps existed in the flat transfer.  You can call it screwing around with the production intent if you want to, but the bottom line is that this record was recorded rather than produced in the first place.  I’m just trying to cut a bit of murk out, and you can rest assured that I will not be doing this with most records.



Categories: Funky

Soul In The Bowl

August 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Soul In The Bowl 7_A little bit square, a little bit hardcore funk, the mysterious Father & Sons’ “Soul In The Bowl” almost defies explanation.  A two sided live recording which refuses to follow many of the rules we typically accept as a part of our funky explorations, “Soul In The Bowl” commits what ordinarily would be a grave error in its quotation of “The Charleston” right in the middle of its groove – turning a fine swinging mostly-instrumental into a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  And that is just one instance of it shifting keys in a way that makes the song different (and more difficult) than the average funk cut.   But personally, I think it rather succeeds – it’s hard to argue with its groove and especially its FEEL.

Acceptance of “Soul In The Bowl” requires embracing the song’s quirks* rather than ignoring them, and given how many other funk nuggets out there play by the rules, I think we can deal with the one that sounds like the bridge was rewritten by your Benny Goodman-loving grandma.



*Things I also love: the New Orleans Nicky Hopkins on piano, and the guy yelling “Makes me feel young again!”  You get the sense that there are a few generations in this mix, much as the band name would indicate.

Categories: Funky

The many lives of a TV show theme…

August 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Originally posted April 16, 2010.  Some edits to content and new links.

I like to think I’ve watched more 60’s and 70’s television than most people my age, but most of my exposure was as a result of reruns being shown on various cable networks in the early 90’s – for example, when fX was a new network, they had a great bloc of shows including Mission: Impossible and Vega$ (and I realize calling Vega$ great is an incredible stretch of the truth).  A few years earlier than that, Nick at Nite had Get Smart and, yes, Dragnet.*

But I never watched Baretta – Robert Blake’s icky trial notwithstanding, it was never really on my radar.  But even the cheesiest 70’s TV show can be rescued for the annals of history by a good theme – or, in this case, a good cover of a theme.  Given that Sammy Davis Jr. was involved in the original, it’s no shock that someone came out with a better version – but Henry Mancini?  That’s surprising.

Mancini was well-known for his movie scores (The Pink Panther, anyone?) but not exactly known as a purveyor of funk.  By 1976, though, the big band was on the way out, and one suspects that decline had some influence on Mancini’s jumping on the funky train.  After all, even if people like Lalo Schifrin put out some incredible themes themselves**, this was more the exception than the rule.

But the nice thing about some of these more mainstream bands is that they had the chops to tackle funky if they wanted to (on guitar, for example: Lee Ritenour), and had recording budgets that clearly exceeded their more earthy contemporaries.  Even if the result is lacking the last 5% of funk that would really push it over the edge, there’s enough to like.  See this comprehensive overview of Mancini in the 70’s if you want a bit more context.

Mancini’s version of the Baretta Theme is a boon for bassists (some sick, Jaco-like fretwork from Abraham Laboriel).  While the song goes a little cornball in the bridge (strings make the arrangement “safe” for your square parents to enjoy), overall the song is solid.

I discovered this song on a promotional LP put out by Maxell advertising their recording and cassette audio tape products.  I think I bought it in a junk shop in Boston and it can’t have cost more than a buck – good thing, since it had damaged grooves.  Nevertheless it induced me to search out the album the Mancini cut came from.  The song as posted is from the Spanish CD.  The rest of the CD is okay- a few good tracks, including a breakbeat and synth heavy “Police Woman,” a great “The Streets Of San Francisco” that bounces back and forth from funk to big band jazz, and a very sample-able “Rockford Files.”  There’s even a break at the beginning of “Kojak.”  Downside?  Nobody needs a cover of Hawaii Five-0.  And “Mystery Movie” is near-comically insipid.



PS: Note that I can only say this is the second best version of the Baretta theme I’ve ever heard.  While doing research for the article I discovered Ron Carter had beaten it up something fierce:

* although I must admit my ironic appreciation for Dragnet ’67 has increased, I may have left my fondness for Get Smart behind at age 10 or so

** Lalo’s oeuvre is incredible – Mission: Impossible, Dirty Harry, Bullitt, Enter The Dragon…look for a track or two from him later in the game.

Categories: Funky, TV