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Bebop Spoken There

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As we all know there are no live gigs taking place in the immediate future. However, any links to jazz streaming that are deemed suitable - i.e. with a professional approach - will be considered for posting.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Funk: a Musical Revolution. Pee Wee Ellis Band with Special Guests @ Sage, Gateshead - March 4.

(By Steve T)

It wasn't altogether clear what this was all about; a tribute to his former boss James Brown or a trip through the history of funk. George McKellar (of Matt McKellar fame) was expecting something more structured; perhaps a chronological selection from James Brown, Sly Stone, the classic street funk bands, the rise of George Clinton's P Funk empire, the next generation, into the eighties, Prince and through to hip-hop. Some more effective marketing may have sold a few more tickets than the half-full level one, as there was a lot here for a lot of people to like.

Kool and the Gang Open Sesame started things off; some may say their last true funk record while others - perhaps reading too much into its featuring in Saturday Night Fever - may say their first duff. It was clear Dennis Rollins' trombone would be prominent, just as Fred Wesley's was in the JBs and various P Funk bands. It soon turned into Rufus' Ain't Nobody, Moses delivering a superior version of Chaka Khan, making it clear the night was all about partying.

Pee Wee is famous as an important member of James Brown's band in the crucial late sixties early seventies period and the groove from Doing it to Death - better known as Funky Good Time - was the music of choice for interludes where participants were introduced.

Early on we got a string of solos from tenor, alto, trombone, guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, using the Fender Rhodes sound beloved of so much seventies jazz-funk, just in case anybody doubts funk came from jazz as much as soul.

Russell had advised me to look out for the guitarist and he set up a crazy wah wah sound, backed by pumping bass and syncopated drums, which morphed into a psychedelic solo of gut-bucket blues on The Meters' Just Kissed my Baby, Omar taking the vocal. Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli is one of the most celebrated and influential rhythm guitarists in the business.

The Commodores' Brick House brought on the two dancers, who stuck around for an instrumental version of Sly and the Family Stones' Everyday People, led by the excellent Camilla George's alto.

The singers were back for Tom Brown's Funking for Jamaica, led by guitarist Tony Remy using a vocoder, a voice modulator pioneered by Herbie Hancock on his disco hits I Thought it was You and Bet Your Love, and most famously used on Cher's Believe.  

The next number seemed to be called When I'm Kissing my Love and Google revealed a Bill Withers cut with that title, but everybody knew Stevie Wonder's Superstition, and Lady Sanity did one of her Birmingham raps over a  Funky Good Time interlude as we headed out for coffee.

As people returned for the second set, we were welcomed by Herbie Hancock's jazz-funk classic Chameleon, Pee Wee's tenor exchanging licks with Camilla's alto. Sly Stone's Thank You (Falettinme be Mice Elf Agin) followed, a piece which references many of their hits but here settled on Dance to the Music, then back again. It's all but universally accepted that Larry Graham invented the slap bass technique, and this is the cut.

A Prince song followed that I recognised but couldn't name and led straight into an instrumental of Earth Wind and Fires' Shining Star, solos from Pee Wee and Rollins.     

China Moses took up the vocoder for something distinctly eighties that I didn't recognise before the party started in earnest for those of us who'd remained seated up until now. The Isley Brothers' It's Your Thing, the Ohio Players' Love Rollercoaster, Stevie Wonder's Ellington tribute Sir Duke before Pee Wee switched to baritone for Prince's Girls and Boys.

Another burst of Funky Good Time let to some inevitable James Brown selections: You Know You Got Soul featured more rapping from Lady Sanity, Cold Sweat before more inevitability with Bruno Mars' Uptown Funk which - I last heard - has eleven writer credits, including James and George and, who knows, Pee Wee?

The Gap Band's Oops Upside Your Head and the dancers were back for Kool and the Gang's disco hits Ladies Night and Get Down On It. Brown's Say it Loud I'm Black and Proud had us singing along until Pee Wee observed how few white people there were in the audience. Meanwhile a couple of dozen people from the audience had joined the dancers on the stage.

What's the Name of this Town?    he asked and some responded Gateshead or Newcastle while others among us knew it was Bootsy. He then recited the two limericks from Clinton on the P Funk Earth Tour live set but mercifully it was indecipherable. 

A short burst of Make my Funk the P Funk went into Parliament's Give up the Funk and was followed by a slowed down bluesy I Feel Good, written by James Brown and Pee Wee over half a century ago. 

The band left the stage and a lone saxophonist in a suit, sat down as he had for much of the show, like a jazz musician from a bygone era delivered a standard unaccompanied and my brain scrambled to identify it but was found wanting. 

The twelve musicians, singers, rapper and dancers assembled for a group hug and to receive the adulation of the audience and left, the legend - as they'd began calling him - taking time to sign an autograph.       

When I first saw this concert in the brochure I was undecided. I wonder how many others weren't sure - they made the wrong decision!
Steve T

Pee Wee Ellis (tenor sax/baritone sax/vocals); China Moses (vocals); Omar MBE (vocals); Dennis Rollins MBE (trombone); Camilla George (alto sax); Tony Remy (guitar/ vocoder); Dan Moore (keyboards); Neville Malcolm (bass); Daru Jones (drums); Lady Sanity (rapper); Sam and Bill (dancers from the Locksmith Dance Company).

1 comment :

McElvis said...

Great night...Prince number was "Boys and girls" and I'm sure it was a haunting rendition of Patsy Cline's "Crazy" that Pee Wee left us dangling to....

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