It doesn’t come out until March 30 on indie label DownJazz Records, but in funk circles, a groundswell of anticipation is already erupting for Detroit Rising: A Cosmic Jazz Funk Adventure. Are you ready for yet another tentacle of a saga that started in 1956 Plainfield, NJ, when 15-year-old George Clinton formed a doo-wop group named after his favorite cigarette?
The musicians, vocalists and producers of Detroit Rising: A Cosmic Jazz Funk Adventure represent a who’s who of A-Listers, with many a past and present Parliament-Funkadelic member in on the writing and performance. It’s a sound that simply cannot be categorized. And that’s where its strength lies. You might call it State-of-the-Art Jam-Band Funk (four of 10 tracks rock on for over nine minutes). Engineered and mixed by the best in the biz — Richie Beretta (Beyonce), Tatsuya (A Tribe Called Quest) and Mark Santangelo (Childish Gambino) — the sound itself doesn’t flinch, providing a groin-shaking bass while not losing one iota of that attention-to-detail treble.
Recorded in the hallowed halls of Motown’s United Sound Studios in Detroit, as well as locations in New York City, Hollywood, Las Vegas, Baltimore and the funky swamps of Florida, the trick was getting working musicians in the same room at the same time. Three years in the making, Creative Producer David Schwartz figured if he couldn’t bring all the players to Detroit, he’d bring the noise to them.
And it’s all brand new. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around. Best of all, it is hardly the kind of tribute where old P-Funk Classics are reworked. Welcome to “Future Jazz,” as Schwartz likes to say. It’s on the corner where funk, soul, rock ’n’ roll, world, electronica, dance, pop and jazz meet. Miles Davis knew it, so did Prince. The seeds of this particular revolution, though, were firmly planted in Detroit where Motown and the birth of Techno started. It’s otherworldly. Somewhere Sun Ra is smiling.
Schwartz put together a super funk/jazz/rock band and once the musicians started to roll, they thought of others, like Prince singer Sue Ann Carwell, flown in from Vegas the day after P-Funk singer Steve Boyd suggested her. Boyd, who has shared stages with The Jackson 5, Snoop Dogg, Bootsy Collins, Red Hot Chili Peppers and George Clinton, is an idiosyncratic vocal treasure. Then there’s Lady Gaga/Beyonce bassist Kern Brantley, who was more than happy to pop that bass like Bootsy did for JB or Larry Graham did for Sly. Blackbyrd McNight has transcended the Hendrixian cosmic slop of the late P-Funk guitarist Eddie Hazel into the kind of Guitar Hero theatrics he had to tone down in the band of Herbie Hancock. P-Funk Sound Scientist and Moog Synthesist Danny Bedrosian, in a phantasmagoric burst of creativity, wrote some of these songs with the most distinct underwater vibe since Jimi Hendrix’s “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be).”
The first thing that hits home hard are the immediate guitar fuzz tones of opener “Lashing Out,” whose main riff seems to rub up against and almost conflict with the lush breathy sexuality of vocalist Tonysha Nelson (George Clinton’s granddaughter). This yin-yang aesthetic creates a dualistic twin groove of sweet soul but with a funky rock earthquake bubbling underneath. P-Funk sax man Greg Thomas solos like Maceo did for JB and when Bedrosian’s mini-Moog starts flying in all directions at once, the effect is, in a word, startling. Still, one has to marvel at the plucking plunking spider-walk of P-Funk bassist Lige Curry’s fingers riding atop Bedrosian’s avant-acoustic piano that takes us back to the main riff. That’s a lot to pack into 5:44.
“Little Bit” takes 9:32 to gets its mess across. (As the lead-off single, it has been edited down for radio.) This new Detroit anthem — boiled down to its guitar/bass/drums essence — has a multi-tracked, B Vintage vocal that slyly fits into a hip-hop groove. The mysterious B, who prefers his anonymity, composes, arranges, sings and produces as part of his day job with superstar artists. He just couldn’t resist this project, despite the nom de plume. The track’s length is due, in no small part, to the psychedelic Duminie Deporres guitar solo that totally takes over to obliterate everything in its path. The song ends on a series of surprisingly syncopated false stops. It ends, it doesn’t end, yet it ends again.
“My Heart Is Frozen” starts out as an Isley-inspired, sumptuous ballad but morphs into the hiphop love child of Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Elton’s “Rocket Man” and Nilsson’s “Spaceman.”
“Can you feel that funk comin’ out yo’ trunk?” That’s the musical question proposed in “What’s That You Heard.” Mashing-up the Ohio Players, blaxploitation Superfly-styled cinema, Sly & The Family Stone and, again, James Brown, this is a jam of groovalicious proportions, spearheaded by drummer Benzell Cowan, a P-funk fixture. Bootsy, who used to hold baby Benzell in his arms, and went on to be his mentor, is the son of trumpeter Bennie Cowan. While the father was a longtime P-funk mainstay, the son took to the P-Funk drum chair with an organic propulsive danger. Yeah, he goes out there alright, but, somehow, some way, he’s always right back on time. Saxophonist Greg Thomas squeaks and squawks in a spiraling effervescent moon shot but it’s P-Funk bassist Lige Curry who again almost steals the show. Lige just may be the poppingest badass bassist of them all in 2018. Not to be outdone, Blackbyrd McNight gets all Jimi on your ass and, like in those 1940s bebop cutting contests, proves his mettle by nearing metal.
After yet another anthem-in-the-making (“Our World”), “Gorgeous” gets naked with emotion. This is, after all, soul music. “Gorgeous” goes to bed with bad intentions. P-Funk drummer Gabe Gonzalez knocks himself out with fill after fill as the passion escalates into a vintage B Vintage rap. Drummer Gonzalez proved to be the not-so-secret weapon of these proceedings, constantly pushing, poking and prodding the funk in the direction he wanted. Gonzalez, who turned down many a top-tier band’s request to drum so he could finish high school (including Red Hot Chili Peppers), ultimately became the youngest cat on P-Funk’s 1995 world tour.
Is it safe to assume that “With Peace & Harmony” is the crux of the matter? Greg Thomas blows his brains out right through his sax, double- and triple-tracked like a horn-section unto himself while pianist Bedrosian comps madly like Monk. Dizzying in scope, satisfyingly stopping on a dime at its end, this last of the four nine-minute monsters is irresistible.
Prince vocalist Sue Ann Carwell’s “Fly To Freedom” was never more in tune with today’s dystopian zeitgeist. “We gotta find a new way to love each other,” she whispers under her breath in-between verses and, man, no greater truth was ever told.
The album ends as it started: with a funk jam for the ages, recorded at Motown, and, oftentimes, as with this P-Funk crew, no vocals are needed. “Song #4 Part 2 Funk Instrumental” would be the centerpiece of most projects. Here, it’s a goodbye, and it only makes one want to push play one more time again. And again.
Detroit Rising’s Cosmic Jazz Funk Adventure will open doors to a 2018 revolution of black sound, refusing to be compartmentalized, analyzed or even asked why. Numerous national showcases are already in the works as are dance remixes from Joey Negro & Sean McCabe as well as Kaidi Tatham in the U.K. and EVM 128 of the electronica jazz collective known as “Worldwide FM DJ’s Co-Op Selectors Assemble.” Events throughout April will lead up to International Record Store Day on April 21. Major radio and club promotions are also upcoming. Let the party begin! This is what happens when an entrepreneur-minded samba drummer/producer/composer/arranger from New York City, David Schwartz, gives in to his big ideas with no inherent fear whatsoever. His love for this music pours out. You can hear it in the grooves. And this family of P-Funksters, seasoned studio professionals, rappers and jam-happy instrumentalists made it into a labor of love.
[Members of Detroit Rising will attend record store events with live music and giveaways on April 6 at Generation Records in New York City, April 7 at Record Collector in Bordentown New Jersey and April 8 at Rough Trade Records in Brooklyn.]