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Redtenbacher's Funkestra: The Hang
by George Graham
(RSB Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/9/2020)
As part of the general retro revival movement, funk-influenced music has been very much a part of it, drawing on the legacy of James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic, Tower of Power and others that emerged during the 1960s and 1970s. And while a lot of contemporary commercial pop tries to emulate funk with electronic percussion and sequencers, the funk revival movement has been notable for emphasizing human drummers and a more organic rhythmic feel. And one of the interesting aspects of over the past several years is the wealth of instrumental recordings, which echo some of the funk and fusion groups of the 1970s like The Crusaders and the Brecker Brothers. Interestingly, some of that instrumental funk has been coming from Europe, including Scandinavia and Germany.
This week we have a new recording by a long-running project headed by Austrian-born, US-educated, current UK resident bass player Stefan Redtenbacher, a group called Redtenbacher’s Funkestra, who have released their tenth recording called The Hang. Redtenbacher has been a kind a ubiquitous player, backing performers as diverse as Amy Winehouse and Steve Winwood.
The Funkestra has been a group of variable size, often a large ensemble. But this incarnation is a sextet, with members from the US, the UK, Ghana and Redtenbacher’s native Austria. Five years ago, we reviewed an album by Redtenbacher called Dr. Hypenstein, which featured the work of electronic producer Thomas Feurer, which emphasized electronic percussion and Feurer’s clever sonic production. The new album, The Hang, is a straight-ahead live-in-the-studio sounding production with tight playing, diverse writing – with almost all the band members contributing compositions, and ample opportunities for strong solos by the respective members. The group includes Dave Limina on keyboards, mainly organ and electric piano, and no synthesizers; Mike Outram on guitar; Tucker Antell on tenor sax; Mike Sturgis on drums; and Karl Vanden Bossche on percussion, a great subtle player whose conga work raises the funk index several points.
While this is definitely an album you can dance to, there is enough interesting material on this generous, hour-long record to hold your attention, through the diversity of the material, with the different band members composing, adding to the album’s strength.
The Hang commences with a Stefan Redtenbacher composition called Kerria Lacca, which has your basic funk groove, but provides a vehicle for a great laconic guitar solo by Mike Outram, who really understands that it’s not how many notes you play, but how you make each one count. <<>>
Sax player Tucker Antell was the composer of Blood and Whiskey, a kind of slinky down-in-the-swamp tune that group sinks their teeth into. <<>>
Guitarist Outram wrote the tune Bump-de-Bump with a kind of classic funk groove. There are echoes of James Brown plus more a jazzy approach to soloing. <<>>
A track called Monster Funk co-written by bassist Redtenbacher and saxophonist Antell harkens back to the mid 1970s, conjuring groups like the Average White Band and the Crusaders. They definitely get it right. <<>>
The title track The Hang is probably the most groove-based tune on the album, with a stripped down melodic line to keep you moving. <<>> But later, it picks up steam with a strong sax solo by Antell. <<>>
Stefan Redtenbacher composed perhaps the album’s most unconventional track, Boosh Boosh, a funk tune in 5/4. It also turns out to be a highlight with strong playing, and an interesting arrangement that can hint at African pop at times. <<>>
The album ends with Wiggles by drummer Mike Sturgis, a jazzy tune with an irresistible funk groove, which highlights the great supporting role of percussionist Karl Vanden Bossche. <<>>
The Hang, the new 10th release by Redtenbacher’s Funkestra, the variable group headed by bassist Stefan Redtenbacher, features a great international sextet, recording in England, and performing tight funk-based music in the classic manner with real musicians playing without automated beats or synthesizers, and in the process reminding us of how organic and infectiously danceable this music can be. All the players are standouts, and five of the six contribute compositions. And they are given good opportunities for solos, with sax player Tucker Antell and guitarist Mike Outram being standouts.
Our grade for sound quality is an “A minus.” The mix has everything in the right place, but the drum sound, though punchy, is dark, and has a sort of confined quality. Overall, as is too often the case, there is too much volume compression, restricting the dynamics of the performance.
This sort of funk-based music has been around for more than 50 years now, and though computers supply the beats on many contemporary commercial tunes that claim funk as their genre, the music in its classic form remains alive, and Redtenbacher’s Funkestra’s new album is a stellar example.
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