Rock Candy Funk Party – Groove Is King (2015)
BY S. VICTOR AARON
JULY 30, 2015
Coming out on July 31, 2015 via J&R Adventures, Groove Is King is the second batch of songs coming from the instrumental funk collective Rock Candy Funk Party. The first RCFP disc We Want Groove was pretty damned good — no, make that really damned good — making me salivate over the second helping.
Groove Is King doesn’t change the mission of delivering hand-made, jam-inspired funk, but does tweak it some to distinguish it from the debut, avoiding letting this groove to become just a rut. Joe Bonamassa, one of the two guitarists in the group (Ron DeJesus is the other) offers up his explanation for what’s different this time: “It’s definitely way more modern and it’s definitely based less on jamming.” Tal Bergman, the drummer, leader and producer allows that “he took the liberty of producing it a little more and put more layers in it.” DeJesus would also tell you that it rocks a little harder.
The continuity comes, of course, from carrying over the same core players: joining Bergman, Bonamassa and DeJesus are bassist Mike Merritt and keyboardist Renato Neto. Having two guitarists doesn’t make things heavier, it makes it funkier because DeJesus and Bonamassa come up with some creative counter-rhythms that only accentuate what the Merritt/Bergman rhythm section is doing. But now, Bergman beefed up that rhythm section with a percussionist (Daniel Sadownick) and also going the James Brown Way of making it funky: with a small, nimble horn section.
Though they aren’t on every track, the horns add a whole ‘nother dimension, and it’s led by a trumpet player who has been on many crucial funky recordings going back to the late 60s: Randy Brecker. Joined by his wife Ada Rovatti (saxes) and James Campagnola (baritone sax), they’re a highly seasoned, slick addition who Bergman wisely left space for, and also handed off the horn arrangement duties to Brecker and Rovatti.
As we already witnessed on the advance single “Don’t Be Stingy With the SMPTE”, the trio amped up the soul factor quite a bit. But also consider how the Brecker/Rovatti/Campagnola team deftly works around the hard rockin’ DeJesus/Bonamassa duo on “Don’t Funk With Me” (which also boasts one of Brecker signature wah-wah trumpet solos) And also how they swap the de-facto vocal role with a acoustic and electric guitars on top of a massive bass groove for Peter Gabriel’s “Digging In The Dirt.” “Low Tide” might have the nastiest funk riff out of this batch of songs, and a Neto’s succulent synth solo steals the show.
A closer connection to We Want Groove can be found on the non-horn tracks, of course, and they aren’t any less thump on those tunes. “Groove Is King” and “East Village” rides on Jeff Beck Wired-era grooves, with Bonamassa’s tasty licks lifting up the latter tune and Neto’s organ bringing the Memphis soul. “If Six Was Eight” is a nearly free improv feature for Bergman trading licks with Sadownick, the centrally placed cut where the participants stretch out and jam. That glides into “Cube’s Brick,” which suggest EDM but doesn’t quite cross over, and Bonamassa’s smoldering lead effectively prevents it from doing so. “The Fabulous Tales of Two Bands” on the other hand, does cross right into EDM and just as you’re scratching your head about this musical about-face, the band instantly pivots into a Led Zeppelin figure. They vacillate between these two contrasting moods for the rest of the song, and before long, you understand that the title was tipping you off to this tongue-in-cheek baiting and switching.
Pretty much everyone here has a jazz background, and “Rock Candy” was conjured up expressly to capitalize on that. A blues-based jaunt with a greasy groove and a big band swing, nearly everyone gets to put in a solo in between go arounds with the chorus.
Oh, and there’s one more marquee guest artist on here: ZZ Top frontman and guitarist Billy Gibbons, but not in the way you’re thinking. He’s the “Mr. Funkadamus” DJ emcee character who shows up every five or six songs to give listeners the feel of listening to this really hip radio station. No doubt he could have made a nice six-string contribution, but Bonamassa and DeJesus more than get the job done.
Everyone, in fact gets the job done, because of the cooperative spirit that went into Groove Is King. That’s probably the most critical “old school” component that makes this record work. Bergman tells us so quite plainly when he says, “the integrity is in us and it’s real, real people playing, real people listening, real people coming up with stuff, which doesn’t happen as much today.”
King Groove rules supreme because Rock Candy Funk Party knows how to treat the groove like royalty. In spite of more modern touches, no one will call Groove Is King outdated in twenty years because of the time-honored ways it was conceived and put together.
[An accompanying DVD puts studio footage together with interviews of some of the players together into a revealing “the making of” type of documentary.]
Grab a free download of Rock Candy Funk Party’s “Uber Station” here: http://rockcandyfunkparty.com/features/groove-is-king/?id=press