Papa Grows Funk
Just the other evening, a friend, coworker and fellow old record enthusiast, Brian Laboe, and I were saddled up at our neighborhood watering hole, sipping overpriced craft beer and talking about funk bands from the 70’s which happens to be a passion we share. Zapp and FazeO came up along with Ohio Players, Funkadelic and Cameo. Upon getting home, I put on the new Papa Grows Funk album, Needle in the Groove, and there, fresh from New Orleans in 2012, was a 70’s funk record, one that both celebrates the form and pushes it forward. This being the beginning of the second weekend of Jazzfest (i.e. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival), I thought this would be an opportune moment to say a few words about PGF.
First of all, I have to point out one extremely strange thing about this record. This folks is a band in dire need of marketing help. Why name a record Needle In the Groove and not press up some vinyl? Especially at a time when new vinyl is the only bit of the physical media biz that’s actually growing??? That question gets even stranger when you hear the last track, which is also the title cut, where the band went to great lengths to mix in the sound of a scratchy LP as the fade out. I know that having LPs pressed is a much more involved process than having CDs made, and yes, this is a self-released project and so money was probably an issue, but damn, these guys let a sweet marketing opportunity slip through their fingers! Not to mention a chance to sell a bunch of LPs!
That weirdness aside, Needle in the Groove is so old school that it’s new. George Clinton, The Brothers Johnson, Chaka Khan, The Gap Band all come to mind when these guys play. The opening track, “Do U Want It?” sent me scurrying for the CD booklet to see how and why the Parliament/Funkadelic gang ended up on a PGF record. Somehow, singer/keyboardist John “Papa” Gros and his quintet can conjure up that Seventies funk vibe without sounding like a tribute band. Part of why comes from the material which is very much of this century even though it borrows a lot of moves from the much (and I’d say wrongly) maligned decade of the 70’s. Saxophonist Jason Mingledorff is flawless in his licks. Bassist Marc Pero and drummer Jeffrey Alexander are archetypal examples of the term, “New Orleans Cats.” And then there’s guitarist June Yamagishi who is a monster plain and simple. Wow! He’s got speed, inventiveness, lots of fertile ideas and even a singular, memorable tone. In a town full of quality musicians, and some healthy competitionGalacticto name one, these guys really stand out.