Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra – World of Funk (2011)

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World of Funk is a highly-engaging triumph of world-infused funk. From the opening seconds of the record, the instrumentation is instantly intriguing. Shawn Lee holds nothing back with an impressively vast array of instruments here, and assisting musicians aside, Lee is quite a one-man show. Elliot Bergman plays kalimba, Stuart Bogie on alto clarinet, Andy Ross is on flute and saxophone, Michael Leonhart plays cornet, trumpet, mellophone, and vibraphone and Dom Glover is on trumpet. But Lee steals the show playing sitar, ektar, balaphone, tanpura, kalimba, steel drum, castanets, cithara, vibraphone, xylophone, bulbul tarang, charango, bouzoki, talking drum, and udu all over this record, giving it a rich, dimensional worldly flavor. The five vocalists further contribute to its brilliance with echo-laden eastern-influenced crooning and a sprinkling of funky tropicalia.

The album offers a lush textural soundscape which classies up any space it occupies – a rich sonic wallpaper deserving of the attention of any aspiring bohemian.

“Nao Vacila” is a powerfully funky track, with Bardo Martinez on the organ and bluesy guitar from Clutchy Hopkins, and Michael Leonhart firing off shots on the trumpet. And the fun low-fi retro-Latin stylings of “La Eterna Felicidad” would be perfectly at home on a record by A Band of Bees. The organ really locks in this track as a slow-groover.

From start to finish, this is a tour-de-force of heady, fat-bottomed funk with enough going on to keep you tuned in and jiving for the entirety of its nearly hour-long span. This is definitely an album worth picking up.

Preachin’ tha Funk

There’s no denying that funk and blues originated from early black gospel music.   Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee demonstrated the relationship between spirituals and the blues on the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage LP, recorded in 1959.  On that album, they performed “I’m Gonna Tell God on You” which I first discovered through a spiritual recording archive site called BAP-TIZUM.com.

The Blind Boys - Swing Hot Sweet Chariot

BAP-TIZUM is an archive of Black-American Christian spiritual music & sermons from the 1930s to the 1980s, all ripped from vinyl and streaming on the Web.

If you like 60’s R&B, soul, blues or funk music, you’ve got to check this out.  The site features recordings of preachers singing and screaming with blues guitarists, drummers, and gospel choirs cheering them on.  No phony Hollywood bull here, just honest to God soul.

The killer aforementioned example is Dave Whitfield’s version of “I’m Gonna Tell God On You (Part 2).”  This track builds and builds, growing funkier by the minute.

And this is the single funkiest version of “Dry Bones” you will hear in your entire life.  Most of America remembers this song from the cheesy 1950’s televised performance by the Lennon Sisters, or perhaps from elementary school.  This cut is belted out by a wound up, screaming preacher with an infectiously funky groove.

And all you P-Funk and Dr. Dre fans – check out Reverend Willingham and the Staples Singers from 1956 performing “Let Me Ride.”  KNOW where your funk comes from.

And to end the evening, I picked up a copy of an INCREDIBLE double LP set titled, Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal.

For more of that funky soul, head over to bap-tizum.com

Good God!  A Gospel Funk Hymnal