This year was stranger than any other and for FunkCity.net was demarcated by the before live music was back and live music returns periods. Normally, I’d split time between listening and writing about recorded music and watching and recording live music fairly evenly – this year I did that, but it was really split by the 1st and 2nd halves of the year. I’d really like to recap my top albums of the year, but to be fair, it’s really the top from the 1st half based on how thinks shook out. By first, let’s cover what the year in review looks like –
- Twenty-two album reviews just in the first half which really kept me going and my attitude positive. I’ll give some coverage and links to them here.
- A massive compilation of forty-seven live Snarky Puppy concert reviews from the 2019 Immigrance tour from the wonderful duo of Doug Chew and Simon Chidgey. Their love, knowledge and dedication to the music was inspiring and I owe them both a heap of gratitude for their contributions!
- A huge wave of recording submissions for consideration from artists around the world. I want to express my gratitude to every one of these wonderful musicians – I will ALWAYs give a listen to your work and welcome hearing from you. I pledge to get more of this music covered in the coming year either through a full review, mention, or posting of some sort.
- Five festivals and one major live event: Suwannee Rising, Atlanta Jazz Festival, Candler Park Music Festival, Hulaween, North Beach Music Festival, and the unforgettable Lettuce 2-night run at the Caverns in Pelham, TN
- An incredible 68 videos of live recordings (including some revamps) posted on FunkCity.net YouTube despite a curtailed schedule. I’ve made investment in upgrading all my equipment, video and audio so looking forward to some great stuff in 2022.
- Crossing of the 1,000,000 views level from 10,900,000 impressions on YouTube. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that a million people would get into FunkCity.net. So THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
I’ll cover the year in live music and recordings later. In the meantime, here’s some of my favorites and highlights in recorded music in 2021!
Album of the Year -
Mark Lettieri's "Deep: The Baritone Sessions Vol. 2"
There were so many great albums released during the year and I’m grateful to all of the bands and thankful that they persevered through such tough times. Last year, two of the albums I reviewed, Snarky Puppy’s “Live from Royal Albert Hall” and New Orleans Nightcrawlers’ “Atmosphere” won Grammys. I’m hoping my album of the year – Mark Lettieri’s “Deep: The Baritone Sessions Vol. 2”, nominated for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album wins this year as well.
Here’s what I wrote back in May on the album’s release –
Deep: The Baritone Sessions Vol. 2 from Mark Lettieri is a brilliant, edgy album. Mark is one of the rotating guitarists in the jazz-fusion-world group, Snarky Puppy and has put together this album with no less than 20 musician friends and collaborators. The only constant from track to track is Mark making each song totally unique and fresh in style ranging from metalesque tunes like Supernova or Pulsar to absolute funk like “Star Catchers.” Mark also mixes up the instrumentation and there are anywhere from two to nine players on a track. Mark describes it as “as long as it’s funky, it can take on any form.” The contrasts are distinctive with contributions from Snarky Puppy bandmates Jason “JT” Thomas, Justin Stanton, Bobby Sparks and Shaun Martin, as well as legendary Steve Lukather (Toto), Adam Deitch (Lettuce), Robert “Sput” Searight (Ghost-Note) and on and on. All of the instruments were recorded remotely and then mixed together in Dallas.
Mark recalls that he first became interested in using the baritone in a funk context when writing the tune Jefe which was a bonus track on the Snarky Puppy album Culcha Vulcha. He was able to produce “the snap of a guitar and the thump of the bass.” You can tell from the track titles as well as cover design that that the theme is “deep space” as contrasted with Vol. 1 which was “deep sea” and had fish names for track titles.
Here’s a video taken of Mark and the band back at Suwannee Rising in April where a couple of the album’s tracks are included. This also happens to be my most watched video that was released this year with over 9,000 views and counting!
There were so many great new albums this year, it’s tough to leave anyone out but here’s some of the highlights –
Cory & The Wongnotes (Cory Wong) was such a great addition to the pantheon of albums he released. Cory was perhaps the most prolific music of 2020, making full use of the pandemic to push out eight albums, and now opens 2021 with a fantastic big-band album. Cory is of course one of the touring non-members of Vulfpeck and also has a regular touring schedule with his own band. On the last several dates that I’ve seen his band, it has been accompanied by a three piece horn section so this album is a natural extension. The Wongnotes this time feature a six piece horn section for a full on funky assault.
The album was recorded live, in-person under a safe setting as the backdrop to Cory’s own variety show now available on YouTube and featuring interviews, comedy and live bands. Aside from the show which is amusing in its own rite, this album will knock your socks off.
Dreamlike (Electric Kif) was compiled as the touring world stopped….the band embraced this pause and used the time to create and record this record, “Dreamlike.” It’s a fantastic progression for the band transcending any particular genre and combining elements of funk, fusion, jazz, prog rock, electronic and trance among others. That is to say, there’s something here for everyone and if you listen closely you can’t help but be drawn in to that Dreamlike world. Also, here’s a bonus video of the band’s set at the North Beach Music Festival in Miami Beach!
JMB4 (Joe Marcinek) is like a well-tailored suit — sharp, well cut and it feels good. The ‘outfit’ that Joe Marcinek put together is all the best material –a unique lineup on every album and tour to keep his material fresh and make every show a unique experience. For JMB4, he put together an all star lineup with the core of Tony Hall (Dumpstaphunk), Nikki Glaspie (The Nth Power), and Shaun Martin (Snarky Puppy, Shaun Martin Three-O).
This is such a well-played and composed album and it’s highly recommended. Although it’s Joe’s ‘band’ he doesn’t try to dominate and gives each contributor air. In that way, each song is unique but the album is unified. It’s like a throwback album and I make some references to jazz legends but Joe definitely has a unique approach overall giving it a very fresh sound.
Sunday Afternoon (The True Loves) is among a plethora of new instrumental funk and soul coming out with that retro feel from the 60s and 70s. Sunday Afternoon is a great album in that mold. Ain’t nothin that gets FunkCity.net going more that some great horn work and without a doubt this is a horn-driven album. It’s a little bit of an unusual array with two trombones, a tenor sax and a baritone sax but it’s so effective at playing that deep funk with a heavy bottom. Of particular note is the bari sax work from Skerik, who I wrote about two weeks ago coincidentally as a member of Garage a Trois.
The Seattle-based band is a mix of players from a number of different bands and includes Jimmy James and David McGraw of the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio (DLO3). In fact, Seattle is a currently hot with funky bands including Polyrhythmics, The Dip, DLO3 and now these guys.
The closest comparison of The True Loves that comes to mind is The Menahan Street Band (MSB), the Daptone Records “house” band that shares some members with the Budos Band. MSB plays with that retro feel, and has some great soul and funk tunes like The True Loves.
On Sunday Afternoon, the band’s second album, every tune here is terrific with some real snap, crackle and pop.
Snapdragon (Oz Noy) was my introduction to Oz Noy, the Israeli virtuoso guitar player and it is such a hot album. Although I’ve heard of him and he’s played with literally dozens of musicians I know. This is his 10th solo album, it’s the first I’ve gave a thorough listen and the floodgates have opened. It’s definitely going to make me dig deep into his catalogue. Snapdragon easily was one of my top albums of 2020 but I ran out of time to cover it full last years and am making up for it here. Oz plays a mix of jazz, funk, rock, blues, and r&b. On top of it all, the album features a score of fantastic artist sit ins –
“Among those stoking the fires of the rhythm section are Dennis Chambers, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, Will Lee, James Genus, and John Patitiucci, while Noy trades improvised solos and notated melodies with saxophonist Chris Potter, keyboardists David Kikoski and Jason Lindner, trumpeter John Sneider, guitarist Adam Rogers, and the recently deceased trumpet Wallace Roney, whose subtly blues-tinged solo glides over the nimble rhythmic modulations of “Outer Look.” – Bandcamp
Calm Down Cologne (Garage A Trois) was a great surprise in 2021. I first became hooked on Garage A Trois with their 2005 album “Outré Mer” which also featured percussionist/vibraphonist Mike Dillon. The band was formed in 1998 with this original “OG GAT” trio of Stanton Moore of Galactic on drums, Skerik on sax and synths and Charlie Hunter on his hybrid “BIG 6” playing the bass and guitar lines. This album, just the second studio album of the trio, is an intoxicating mix of funk and electronic that I dub “trip funk.” It rips of groove-driven funk throughout with Skerik playing melody pilot on space flights throughout. It requires extensive head bobbing, shoulder rolling and foot tapping to get the full experience.
Hard Up (The Bamboos) is the band’s tenth studio album after more than than twenty years performing together. This Australian group have refined their craft of finding the sweetest spot between soul and funk to the finest point yet. Hard Up reinvigorate a classic sound, seamlessly incorporating contemporary influences to create something altogether brand new.
Much of the album was recorded communally over a week just prior to the pandemic at a sprawling country house just outside the (coincidentally named) town of Lancefield, north of Melbourne. The approach of making an album outside the recording studio, steeped in such legendary tales as the ‘Stones at Villa Nellcôte or Radiohead’s ‘O.K Computer’ St Catherine’s Court sessions has made it the groups most collaborative yet, solidifying even more their seemingly telepathic musical interplay.
The Hit (WRD Trio) is what you get when three top notch musicians join forces to lock in with each other’s moods and moves! I’ve been a long time fan of the respective bands of these three talents – Robert Walter of The Greyboy Allstars and Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds and Matador! Soul Sounds, and Adam Deitch of Lettuce and Break Science. Hell, those bands would make a great lineup for a weekend festival. So when I heard about this album, I knew I would dig it and indeed it’s terrific. Start with the album cover with the classic car pic and you know their target was to created a classic album with the traditional organ trio configuration of the likes of Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Barbara Dennerlein, and Soulive.
This trio is so polished and precise as they alternate between cruising along in unison to each taking flight alternately as the lead. Deitch holds it down throughout with Walter and Roberts trading back and forth between leads, solos and accompanying support. The net result for me is a super clean recording, every note with a purpose and a very enjoyable ride. Overall the album has that old school, minimalist stripped-down feel bringing all the great vibes of the late 60s.
Natural Born Hustler (Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal) mixes two parts soul and one part funk to bring a natural winning hand to their new album Natural Born Hustler. This is the group’s fifth studio album and first released by Color Red Studios. The band’s been around since 2012 but their signature sound makes you think they’ve been around forever. They’ve got a great mix of great vocals from Josh, tight horn licks, and in the pocket rhythm that harkens back to classic soul from the late 60s and early 70s. Josh’s transformative vocals set the tone on every tune and will take you on an extended joyful excursion. Read and listen track-by-track and enjoy!
The Exciting Sounds of Menahan Street Band “MSB”, is an apt title for this, the third studio album from the group. MSB is somewhat of a house band for Daptone Records sublabel Dunham Records, having been the main support for the late, great Charles Bradley, the flying eagle. MSB was founded by Thomas Brenneck (guitar) and Homer Steinweiss (drums). MSB released their first album, Make the Road By Walking in 2008 and their second The Crossing in 2012 so this one’s been nearly 10 years in the making. Part of the explanation for the gap is that Brenneck is also a current and founding member of the wonderful Budos Band as well. I was eagerly looking forward to this album since the pre-release announcement and it even surpasses my expectations.
I Told You So (Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio) was released by the Seattle-based soul-jazz groove combo release in January. The album was recorded in late 2019 for an early 2020 release. When the Covid-19 crisis hit the band couldn’t tour and decided to postpone the album’s release which ultimately came last week. The personnel on the album is of course Delvon Lamarr on B3 organ), Jimmy James on guitar and Grant Schroff from the Polyrhythmics filling in on drums. At the beginning of 2020 the band brought on Dan Weiss on drums, who gigged at the beginning of the year as a permanent band member.
“I Told You So” has a classic soul feel and mostly has a bigger feel than a trio because of the wall of sound from the Leslie speaker and Delvon playing left-handed bass lines along with the bass pedals. It’s a fine example of some extra heavy grooves with a timeless feel.
The Dip Plays It Cool (The Dip) Yes they do. This band is one of my favorites to get introduced to over the last couple of years. They have a new soul and funk sound with that old school feel and on top of that can play with both an edge and humor.
The top-notch is seven piece unit is comprised of two guitars, bass, drums and a three-piece horn section based in Seattle, Washington. The Dip started at University of Washington around 2013 and since 2015 has put out two full length albums and two EPs and The Dip Plays It Cool is the second EP, released in 2020. Each of the full length albums, The Dip and The Dip Delivers feature Tom Eddy on vocals on several of the tracks whereas both EPs are fully instrumental. The Dip are scheduled to return to Atlanta this spring at Terminal West and I’m sure hoping it happens then or sometime real soon. Here’s the rundown on this fine EP.