Sunday Sampler Week 5: The Gang's All Here!
This week features some great music groups on a large scale, ranging from iconic funk bands to legendary fusion groups. The larger a band gets, it can be a challenging to wield an increasingly unruly beast, but these bands pull it off amazingly! Plus, within each group is a ton of new musicians!
Something by Snarky Puppy (feat. Lalah Hathaway)
For those not yet hip to the beast that is Snarky Puppy, feel free to drool as you pour over hours of listening material. The North Texas born fusion group seamlessly layers rock, funk, pop, and a host of cultural music genres to create a sound all their own. The group is fearlessly lead by bassist/composer/producer Michael League, who has recruited some of the world’s best musicians to delight the ears and challenge the concept of a fluid, dynamic live ensemble. Boasting multiple keyboard players, percussionists, horns/winds, and guitars, each member is fully capable of leading groups of their own (and many do). They are able to take advantage of their large group by doing frequent collaborations with other artists, and with their collaboration with Lalah Hathaway on Family Dinner: Vol 1, they won the Grammy in 2014 for Best R&B Performance. What Lalah Hathaway does with her voice towards the end of her solo pretty much justifies the Grammy, and the band’s reaction in the live video says it all.
Micro Clown by Funky Knuckles
As if one multi-genre incorporating fusion group wasn’t enough for my ears to handle, over the past year I’ve been digging into the inventive, daring music of Funky Knuckles. This group of musicians are stitched together by their passion for exploring funky grooves, flexing their musical chops, and pushing themselves musically to create a dynamic, engaging experience for their audience. These musicians are all also sidemen for a host of legendary musicians, including Stanley Clarke, Erykah Badu, Chris Dave, and Talib Kweli. The group is also signed to the same label as Snarky Puppy (GroundUp Music), which is a fitting label for a large group pushing the boundaries of their sound. Check out a recent video a tune called “Me Too,” off of their most recent album New Birth.
Starfire by Jaga Jazzist
In 2002, the BBC gave their “best album” recognition to this group’s second release, A Living Room Hush. From then on, this Norwegian experimental jazz group has toured the globe, bringing their unique blend of electronic and acoustic sounds. They have collaborated on a record with another large ensemble, the Britten Sinfonia, performing their music orchestrated for an even larger, more sprawling combination of the two groups. "That Live with Britten Sinfonia was an album not necessarily intended to happen at the time of the recording only makes its release all the sweeter. This 35-piece marriage of Jaga Jazzist and Britten Sinfonia is capable of everything from earth-shattering power to refined beauty. With Britten conducted by the world-renowned Christian Eggen, Live with Britten Sinfonia is the vital document of an opportunity that no longer need feel missed by so many Jaga fans around the world—an album that, transcending their already significant accomplishments, demonstrates even greater potential for Lars Horntveth's writing and Jaga Jazzist's effortless (and faultless) performances." (John Kelman) Go enjoy their music, and check out a live performance of the two ensembles in this video!
Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind, and Fire
Grammy winning, iconic pioneers of future funk sound bursting with soul, this band has made their mark in American music history. This track, from their album Raise!, sold over a million copies and had a music video that was the first ever to play on BET’s “Video Soul.” Not much is needed to be said about this group, as they are a household name in entertainment, performance, and funk music. With Maurice White’s leadership and the combined songwriting efforts of multiple members, they have received awards and have been inducted into multiple Hall of Fames for their catalog of iconic music. You can even see their influence in the artists of today (ex. Bruno Mars’ music video for Treasure is stylized off of this tune’s video).
P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up) by Parliament
Pioneers of funk and lead by funk wizard George Clinton, this group was paramount in not only defining a genre, but incremental in bringing about social change. Their shameless display of their sound and ways of expressing their black identities in the face of opposition, P-Funk continues to operate under Flying Lotus’ label, Brainfeeder. Their story is full of surprises, including operating under and marketing a completely different name to avoid copyright issues. Check out this live performance!
Voodoo Mon Amour by Diablo Swing Orchestra
Another mixed instrument band from Scandanavia, this group blends several genres into an exciting take on a “swing orchestra.” One moment you’ll hear driving thrash metal riffs from the guitars, the next you’ll hear operatic vocals overtop of it all. They craft their own sound from a distinct blend of their various instruments and genre influences. Who says you can’t have a swinging rock band that includes orchestral instruments and classical vocal styles? Check out their bass player playing through the tune!
Askim by Kamasi Washington
While Kamasi Washington has headed more traditional ensembles, his debut release, The Epic, shows a desire to create an expansive sound through a double-combo setup. This includes electric and acoustic basses and keyboards, two drummers, and two horns players with a singer at the front of the group. It strays from a traditional big band setup because of the double rhythm section and the fact that there are a balance of horns in different sections. Washington has been a force of nature in the realm of jazz, and The Epic is a fully realized vision of what music he wants to showcase to the world. Check out this amazing concert!
Can You Get To That by Funkadelic
This sister act to Parliament was also led by George Clinton, taking their psychedelic, rock fueled funk into a decade of music. What makes this group stand out from Parliament is that it is more experimental in nature. Their first three albums, including Maggot Brain (the album this track is on), were not commercially successful, in spite of many tunes from those albums being performed live in their sets for years. Again, the stories around George Clinton’s projects could fill several books, and he continues to make great music and seek out creative musicians to round out his groups. Check out Funkadelic performing in this video!
The Peacocks by Matt Ulery’s Loom/Large (feat. Zach Brock)
Matt Ulery expands his jazz group Loom to include a 27 piece orchestra, complete with different arrangements to include the mix of strings, rhythm section instruments, and winds/horns that make up this big band. Matt Ulery has been featured in a previous article, so you can find out more about his background there and on his website!
Flight by Snarky Puppy (feat. The Metropole Orkest)
I decided to feature Snarky Puppy twice because this project highlights a different style AND a project collaboration with the Dutch ensemble known as The Metropole Orkest, an orchestra that is as comfortable recording classical as they are functioning as a big band. The versatility of Snarky Puppy is complimented by the flexibility of The Metropole Orkest, creating some interesting moments of interaction and orchestration for the super large group combination. Check out a live performance of this tune here!