CLINTON ADMINISTRATION DELIVERS THE FUNK

Clinton Administration | One Nation Under a Re-Groove
featuring Clyde Stubblefield, Robert Walter, Melvin Gibbs, Skerik, Phil Upchurch, Chuck Prada and DJ Logic

George Clinton announced his intention to turn the White House black in 1975 on the visionary psyche-bump-alicious “Chocolate City.” That was a time-and-a-half ago but he’s finally got the right political party to make it happen. The Clinton Administration is a strutting aggregate of funkateers, young and old, who’ve got the giant-size cajones to produce an album of instrumental versions of Parliament-Funkadelic chestnuts. And I must say it hasn’t arrived a moment too soon.

Feet don't fail me now
Here's a chance to dance
Our way out of our constrictions

What’s easy to forget is that what Clinton and company did in the seventies was protest music. Oh, maybe it’s not “If I Had A Hammer” but there’s no denying the message woven into the hypnotic tracks is one of freedom at all costs. It was a clarion call to fringe dwellers, soul rebels and anyone else with the ears to hear and the feet to boogie. If there was a flag flying above this new nation-of-the-mind then it was surely a freak flag, all shooting stars and twisted bars. The devil sang and you heard your mother’s call and something changed for anyone who truly opened themselves up. The notion of "one nation under a groove" might be dismissed as a mere party lyric, a chant that feels good on the tongue after a line of Peruvian flake. However, for some that nation became synonymous with a state of mind almost completely at odds with the official state. In the end, it might be that George got it wrong and it’s the mind that follows an ass that’s free.

If the lyrics didn’t get you in the wash, then the music would surely snag you in the rinse. Tight as James Brown, slinky as Sly, rock hard as any bell bottom blues, Funkadelic and then Parliament stamped a footprint into this world that others are still trying to walk in. Sometimes it was so thick it was hard to breath. Other moments found the music bouncing on its heels, as ready for a fight as it was to kiss you tongue deep. It managed to be both intensely subtle and bombastic as a muthafucker. Whatever one’s initial response to George’s vision was, there was no way not to react to it. It demanded an answer even if you didn’t understand the question. The notes were a rebellion of their own, a refusal to abide strict genres, a machete through the underbrush of tradition.

To each his reach
And if I don't cop, it ain't mine to have
But I'll be reachin' for ya
'Cause I love ya, CC.
Right on.

Which brings us to One Nation Under A Re-Groove, an album released in 2003 yet brimming over with the same vibe as vintage Clintonian classics like Uncle Jam Wants You and Up For The Downstroke. The band is made up of Clyde Stubblefield (drums), Robert Walter (keys), Melvin Gibbs (bass), Skerik (sax), Phil Upchurch (guitar), Chuck Prada (percussion) and DJ Logic (turntables and sound manipulations). Some of these names might be familiar, some less so, but they bring with them the experience of playing with the likes of James Brown, Les Claypool, Vernon Reid, Howlin’ Wolf, the 20th Congress and John Zorn. With no hesitation one can call these players musical giants. Besides sharing such fine pedigrees, this bunch also carries the Clinton virus in its blood, a liquid urge to get up only on the good foot and give the people more of what they’re funkin’ for every time they play. Their obvious affection for this material is nigh impossible to resist. And really, why would you even try?

This kind of young-lions-meet-the-seasoned-masters session used to be a record industry standard, like the various London Sessions or the many pairings of established jazz artists with rock musicians that Atlantic Records once did. It creates an atmosphere of mutual appreciation, a meeting ground where innovative ideas bounce up against tradition and something new is created. An assembly of players this fine speaks to the passion for music, present and past, that is the hallmark of jam music listeners.

Movin' in on you
Turn me loose
We shall overcome
Where'd you get that funk from, huh?

There’s a lovely "all-in" quality to Re-Groove. Everyone plays hard and listens carefully. The giddy compulsion to contribute something good seems to drive these dudes. What’s missing is the usual ego-driven grandstanding. No solo goes on too long. Actually, there’s not much you could rightly call a solo in the traditional sense. One of them will catch the rapids and they’re off, followed fast by one or two others. You can hear this dynamic in the hot potato pass between Upchurch, Walter and Gibbs on “Flashlight” or Walter’s piano breakout on “Chocolate City” and the way it lures Logic in. The wild overlap of textures reminds us of the ENORMOUS contribution to this oeuvre made by Bernie Worrell. As the arranger and keyboardist for various incarnations of Funkadelic and Parliament, Worrell is as much responsible for this funky sound as Clinton himself. This recording, being instrumental, highlights much of what Bernie brought to the party and serves as a tribute to him as well.

If you hear any noise
It's just me and the boys
Hit me (groovin')
You gotta hit the band

You may find yourself wondering aloud, “What the hell is making that noise?” Could be a crazy smear of saxophonics ("Oh, that Skerik, likely the finest horn man of his generation...") or a boiling wave of organ or maybe a guitar broadcasting from Mars. While the heads of some tunes feel a little flat as they lay out the melody, at about the three-minute mark a wild hair hits them and all hell breaks loose. Or they can just as easily break through the atmosphere and float in exquisite beauty. They are coloring with the big box of crayons, the ones with names like Purplelicious Passion and Yellow I Love You. The clear line of division between one instrument and another is frequently erased, replaced by a hopscotch track for grown men to skip around in.

Initially, I was worried that sticking to workhorses like “(Not Just) Knee Deep” and “One Nation Under A Groove” might hamper their creativity. Over familiarity does breed a kind of contempt. Yet, it’s those tunes, the ones we know best, that turn out to be the nicest surprise. With a slow hand they stir the pot, giving fresh flavor to old soup. Patience pays off as you listen to them wander. Frankly, I don’t think they knew where they were going a lot of the time. You can catch their sense of surprise as some new avenue opens up for them. Like us, they hear the words ringing in their heads as they make fresh tracks in the dust. In the absence of vocals they fill in that space in interesting ways. Much of it comes out muddy, viscous, handily avoiding the clean, sterile lines prevalent today.

Which is how it should be. There’s dirt under the nails of this music. It’s the art of workers and patriots dedicated to a cause that recognizes no border. It is an inner revolution played out on dancing feet. The Clinton Administration takes this music and reaffirms its vitality. They proudly wave a banner decorated by comic book artist Dave McKean, a worthy successor to Pedro Bell’s bacchanalian cover art. Aces straight across, children.

You can shake it to the east
Shake it to the west
Hit it
Good god, hit it and quit it
Dennis Cook
JamBase | West Coast
Go See Live Music!

Find rants, writing, ramblings and an archive of music articles at denniscook.com.

Re-Groove recording session photos courtesy of Magna Carta Records.


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