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Redtenbacher's Funkestra: Dr. Hypenstein
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/4/2015)
Among the various retro movements that have been happening – and a lot of formerly popular styles have been given new life by younger musicians – soul and funk has been particularly active. There are quite a few good new bands building on the sound of Motown and Memphis soul. And there has been a revival of 1970s and 80s funk, influenced by artists ranging from James Brown to Parliament and Funkadelic to Sly and the Family Stone, Tower of Power, and even some aspects of Steve Wonder. A number of these recent groups have been specializing in instrumental treatments of the funk genre, with interestingly, groups from Europe, including Germany and Sweden. This week we have a example of some very well-done instrumental funk that borrows from the past but has some interesting contemporary aspects. It’s the latest album by Redtenbacher’s Funkestra, called Dr. Hypenstein.
Bassist and leader Stefan Redtenbacher is originally from Austria, and had some classical conservatory training in Vienna, then came to the US to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Following his graduation in 1996, he moved to the UK where has has worked with and backed up such performers as Steve Winwood. Amy Winehouse, and Herb Alpert to name a few. Dr. Hypenstein is his eighth CD under the Funkestra rubric. His last US release The Cooker was in 2013, and he also released a Christmas Funkestra CD as well.
While The Cookers had numerous guest musicians and soloists, Dr. Hypenstein is a close collaboration with multi-instrumentalist and producer Thomas Feurer who has a very clever techno dance novelty project called Intended Immigration whose CD La Demoiselle du Fonque we reviewed in this series about a year ago. Feurer is known for his often whimsical approach to his music. As a bass player Redtenbacher’s instrument is mostly out front on the album providing a lot of the riffs, which is very good for this kind of funk-based music. Fortunately, Redtenbacher and Feurer manage to make a retro recording that avoids many of the cliches of the style, and thankfully stays away from the disco sound of that era. There’s a full horn section sound on many of the tracks, and sometimes it can be reminiscent of the band Tower of Power, but they are not so much the focus of the music, except for some instrumental solo spots. The album contains a number of variations on the funk approach, with some tracks more electric than others. One can hear some of the influence by Stevie Wonder, and Parliament/Funkadelic, but there are also some clearly 21st Century sonic aspects including sample-based loops and the kind of clever sudden transitions that Feurer and Intended Immigration have done so well. And interestingly, the tunes on the CD are all fairly short, and don’t get into extended dance tracks, as you might expect in something like this.
The material is all well-written, but there are not a lot of melodies you can go away humming. Some tracks work better than others, but generally, it’s both instrumentally strong and quite danceable.
Leading off is the title track, Dr. Hypenstein, that sums up the strengths of this album. The bass is prominent, the horn section is tight and there are the kind of clever little sonic ingredients that are a trademark of producer Thomas Feurer. <<>>
Going in for a more quirky, sonic approach is the following piece, Baby Fat, which is one of the album’s highlight for its mix of retro ingredients and playful sonic touches. <<>>
With more of a retro sound is a track called Funktionality. Redtenbacher’s bass is again prominent. Its heavy beat lacks some of the appeal of other parts of the album. <<>>
The appropriately named track Swagger really cranks it up with Redtenbacher on near-metal guitar, while the horns are also present full-on. <<>>
Bassbulator is taken at a breakneck tempo which is just too fast to be very funky, but Redtenbacher shows his bass chops. <<>>
Another of the album’s highlights is a tune called Busted. It has less of a funky beat but boasts a lot of creative sonic touches that those familiar with producer Feurer’s own work as Intended Immigration will recognize. <<>>
Probably meant as a tribute to the band Tower of Power is a track called Tower of TNT, which like Tower of Power features a big horn section prominently, though the sound is mainly built up through overdubs.
This album does not feature a real drummer, but instead relies on the skilled drum programming of Thomas Feurer. The closing track, Supergalactic does sound a bit more like something with drum loops, but it’s still got a good groove. Feurer also plays the sax solos as well. <<>>
Dr. Hypenstein, the new CD by Stefan Redtenbacher and his group Redbacher’s Funkestra, which is more like a virtual group on the album, is a fun, danceable mix of retro funk with clever 21st Century ingredients and digital sonic manipulations. The album leaves no doubt that the leader is the bass player, with a lot of the grooves revolving around bass riffs, but it’s well done. Producer and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Feurer adds a lot to this album, including many of the ingredients and the horn arrangement style of his own group Intended Immigration, which as far as I’m concerned is a good thing. And for an album with electronic drums samples and loops rather a real drummer, it’s impressively danceable most of the time, though there are some instances where the beat gets a little monotonous. Perhaps that’s why all the tunes on the album are rather short – there are thirteen of them on a roughly 41 minute album. And there are enough clever bits to make it both something fun to dance to and also interesting listening.
Our grade for sound quality is a B+. The sonic manipulations and way that samples are used are impressive, the recorded sound is cleaner than many such records, but -- and here we go again – there was too much volume compression. Everything comes out at same maxed out audio level.
There is certainly a lot of well-done retro music on the scene these days. It’s nice to come across music that starts with a retro approach but then brings it into the 21st Century, and has fun with it at the same time. Redtenbacher’s Funkestra does that in spades on their new 8th album.
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