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Special CD Review: Luv N Haight and the Ubiquitous Funk

By Brian L. Knight

For a fan of the funk, there are so many different musical avenues to pursue. There is the jazz –funk. There is New Orleans funk. There is soul jazz. There is modern hip-hop. The list is endless. No matter the type of funk desired, there always exists one large problem – accessibility. Many of the rarer funk classics from the 1970s have been virtually lost in time. Many albums were not massed produced while many others have been scratched beyond belief by modern DJs (no hard feelings!). The problem of availability has been solved by San Francisco’s Ubiquity Label. Through is own subsidiary of Luv N Haight Records, the folks at Ubiquity have re-released some funk curios from deep within the annals of funk history.

Even better, Luv N Haight covers many different stages of the funk: disco, Boogaloo, jazz-funk, Latin-funk and Soul-funk. They have found them all. To anybody who grew up during the 1970s, the tunes that comprise these re-releases will immediately become familiar. For those who never experienced the 1970s but can identify a slinky groove, you will want to take a step into a time machine.

 

The Jazz Symphonics/Beginning

When pianist Larry Nash and drummer Woodrow Theus were just thirteen years old, they sat in an old garage with beat up equipment and started a band. The two were soon joined by fellow teenagers – percussionist Tony Poinsett, saxophonist Herman Burns and bassist Robert Miranda. Together these youthful musicians formed the Jazz Symphonics and played their first gig for a dollar each.

Beginning is the aptly titled debut album for Jazz Symphonics. After this release, the teens rose to relative stardom in the Los Angeles area. They were the feature band at the Tropicana and they shared the stage with jazz greats such as Kenny Burrell and Willie Bobo. The opening tune, Athena, which is said to be tribute to the Greek God is more of a tribute to a Latin or Cuban god. After hearing this song, there is little doubt why the Jazz Symphonics shared the stage with Latin wizard Willie Bobo. The band continues with their Greek tribute by pairing Athena up with Apollo. Except for Woodrow Theus’ Fresh Egg Boxes, all of the tunes on Beginning were written by Larry Nash. In addition to his compositional skills, Nash is also quite the piano playing protege. Unlike the other re-issues that comprise the Luv N Haight series, the Jazz Symphonics remain true to the jazz form.. The band started out as an R&B band then they switched over to jazz. They somehow made that switch without bringing too many R&B influences with them. Unfortunately for the CD generation of music lovers, Beginning seems to be the only example of the Jazz Symphonics to be heard. Fortunately, Luv N Haight Records took the initiative to seek out this great album

 

Johnny Lewis Quartet/ Shuckin’ and Jivin’

Wow! These guys are amazing. Like all the brilliant musicians that Luv N Haight has pulled from deep within the archives, the Johnny Lewis Quartet evokes the question: "Where are these guys now?" Recorded in 1972, Shuckin and Jivin’ is a fantastic collection of 1970s funk. In addition to Lewis on tenor and baritone saxophone, the quartet consists of James Moody on Hammond B-3 organ, Kenneth Drake on drums and Joe Villa on guitar. The songs for this album were taken from a series of live performances at Seattle’s Trojan Horse Restaurant in 1970. The album hits a peak with a great rendition of Kenny Burrell’s Chitlins Con Carne.

Shuckin and Jivin’ is 100% percent funk from beginning to end. Take a quartet consisting of Grant Green, John Patton, Ben Dixon and Lou Donaldson and make it even funkier – that is what you get with the Johnny Lewis Quartet. Two recordings from the album, the Meter’s Cissy Strut and Buddy Miles’ Them Changes were taken from a later Lewis Quartet session in 1975. Since the funky-jazz heyday of the mid-1970s, the members of the original quartet have gone there separate ways and we can only wish for a reunion. If you are looking to find the roots of the Greyboy All-stars, the Johnny Lewis Quartet is great start.

 

Michael James Kirkland/ Hang On In There

As many of Luv N Haight’s re-releases may focus on the jazzy side of funk, Hang On In There is soul’s direct answer to the funk explosion. Michael James Kirkland’s is the west coast’s answer to Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Gil Scott Heron and Isaac Hayes all rolled into one tight, vibraphonic package.

The opening three tunes What Have We Done, Where’s The Soul of Man? and Hang In There all provide a bleak commentary on human culture. In all three tunes, Kirkland questions man’s actions and how the human race is in somewhat of a downward spiral. Kirkland is full of apprehension. In an attempt at irony or perhaps wishful thinking,, Kirkland named this side of the album Peace. The second side is labeled as Love with the tone of the tunes properly correspond to the title. As the first side may have been the Curtis Mayfield’s "Pusher Man", the second side is all Barry White.

 

Mighty Ryeders/Help us Spread The Message

This is the straightforward funk of Luv N Haight. There are no signs of jazz, soul or R&B and this is the vibe that eventually segued into disco. The fact that this album was recorded in 1978 reflects the transition to disco as well. The eight piece Mighty Ryeders first came together in April of 1977and they had people dancing to Help Us Spread The Message within a year. Although very similar to disco, the Mighty Ryeders played their instruments and they played them well.

 

Ivan Boogaloo Joe Jones/ Sweetback

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Ivan Boogaloo Joe Jones added a little of Crescent City Funk to his amazing guitar style. After recording eight albums with Prestige, Jones decided to head his own way and he recorded Sweetback in 1975 on his private label – Joka.. During his short lived but impressive career, Jones gave himself the moniker of Boogaloo Joe Jones in order to differentiate from the other musical Joe Jones. Philly Joe Jones was the drummer from Philadelphia who was a member of Miles Davis’ first great quintet. In the tradition of Melvin Sparks, George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, Ivan Boogaloo Joe Jones played a slinky, funky guitar.

 

The Pharaohs/Awakening

The Pharaoh is a reoccurring theme in music. The great Pharaoh Sanders recorded legendary albums with John Coltrane, Elvin Jones as well as many of his own classic releases. Sam Sham and the Pharaohs has enlivened toga parties from here to Anchorage with their classic Louie, Louie. During Miles Davis’ landmark Bitches Brew album one of the most lasting tunes to arise from those sessions was Joe Zawinul’s Pharaoh’s Dance. There seems to be some kind of musical mysticism associated with the lords of the Nile River valley.

Yet another tribute to the ancient rulers was Chicago’s Pharaohs. This band started as a collection of musicians during the early 1970s who started the Afro Arts Center and eventually culminated with this 1972 release. The Pharaohs was a 12 person collective who paid homage to the mother Africa with a collection of tunes that ranged from funky Latin to percussion laden polyrhythmic chants. Besides tribal jams such as Damballa and Ibo, Awakening also features a funked up version of Tracks Of My Tears and Somebody’s Been Sleeping. Once again, Luv N Haight dove deep into the vaults and pulled this album out of obscurity. Awakening is the only CD snapshot of the Pharaohs that is available to the public.

 

The Propositions/ Africana

This band may be a composite of the Pharaohs and the Jazz Symphonics. The Propositions possessed the youthful talent of the Jazz Symphonics as the band consisted of teenagers and they had an afro-centric attitude towards their music like the Pharaohs. Musically, the Propositions were a mix as well. They weren’t full-blown jazz like the Jazz Symphonics yet it wasn’t completely afro-Latin like the Pharaohs. Musically, it was the perfect blend. The Propositions sound was an upbeat, jazz channel that came to typify the 1970s funk-jazz genre. Take on listen to the title track and you will be lost forever into the groove.

The Luv N Haight has taken these re-releases even a step further by creating a series of compilation CDs. On albums such Trippin’ and Bag of Goodies, many of the artists covered in these pages plus many, many more comprise the funkiest of all funk mixes. Kudos must be given to Ubiquity Records who have mastered the art of discovering the grooves of yore. Take a look for yourself at http://ubiquityrecords.com.