I got to chit-chatting with a musician who recently played with Herbie Hancock. What was that like? I asked.
The musician’s exact words: “The guy likes to party.”
Damn, I thought, I should surely hope so. Hancock turns 60 in April. In addition to all his other credentials, not only did they man write the classic breakdancing anthem of all time (if I have to tell you it’s “Rockit,” we just can’t be friends anymore), he also recorded the classic jazz/funk crossover album, Headhunters, which in turn contains a couple of the most brilliant funk excitement moments ever. Even the most noncommittal of funk fans cannot deny the majesty of the ubiquitous opening bass line of “Chameleon” (of course you’ve heard it—even local dinner-jazz cats Horgan and Maus occasionally break it out), but if you ask me, the real money shot comes at the first big breakdown: The screeching bird-of-prey synthesizer solos have faded and it’s just drums and pumping bass, eight bars of the dirtiest cool on the album. You can’t just write something as badass as that and go gently into that great night of eclectic Buddhism and occasional appearances on VH1.
For the longest time, I doubted that funk would ever excite me as much again. I craved the kind of sounds that call to mind daishikis and medallions and resplendent Afros, and what I heard too much of was party music for suburban white kids. “Funk” has got be the most abused descriptor in music today, possibly because it can be shoehorned so neatly into these horrific amalgamated words that bands use to describe the something borrowed, something blue but not really too much of anything sound: rastacorehippiefunkpunk or whatever. Do not pass go, suckers.
But Galactic has prized me out of my well-worn funk rut. We slapped this CD, Crazyhorse Mongoose, on at work last week and the first thing anyone said was “Is this something off of ‘What’s Happening?’” That was for “Hamp’s Hump,” the lead track. The second song, “Love on the Run,” has got a bassline that would make Bootsy Collins cry. And it just gets better from there.
Digital recording technology has changed the sound of funk, and you know I believe that. You can go round and round about the purported warmth of vinyl LPs and analog recordings versus CDs, but the fact is Galactic is one of the few bands I’ve heard in a long while that comes off on CD with the appropriate greasiness to recall funk in the idealized Superfly heyday I’ve got in mind. Music for car chases in shelved blaxploitation flicks, lots of wheel shots and cars sailing slow-motion over hilly crests on the streets of San Francisco. A bluish pall of smoke hanging over a nod scene playing out under a bare 60-watt bulb in a room furnished with nothing but mattresses. And I don’t have to get out of the bean bag to flip the record over.
Galactic plays the Wilma this Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 8:30 p.m. with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Tickets $20. Call TIC-IT-EZ for tickets.