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V/A - Studio One Funk

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Artist: V/A

Album: Studio One Funk

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Nov. 30, 2004

The archivists at Soul Jazz have done it again, this time digging into the Studio One vaults to put together a revealing selection of vintage, stripped down, and rumbling Coxsone Dodd-produced tracks that chronicle some of the places where soul, funk, and reggae first came together.

Starting in the mid-1960s, and reaching a gloriously funky peak in the early 1970s, Studio One sessions couldn’t help but pay tribute to the succession of soul movements from the north: Stax-Volt in Memphis; Motown; James Brown and his Afro-centric re-invention of soul itself. Indeed, in some ways, Dodd and the Studio One crew were themselves a Jamaican version of Motown or Stax-Volt, churning out a seemingly endless run of clean, streamlined ska, rocksteady and reggae hits that, with their high production values and their refined balance of sonic and rhythmic elements, came to define those genres.

The evidence compiled on Studio One Funk reveals a fascinating interaction between different ideas of groove. Cedric Im Brooks’s version of Isaac Hayes’s “Theme from Shaft” for example, substitutes a languid-but-greasy island lope for the urbane coolness of the original. Underground Vegetables’s cover of Booker T and the MG’s “Melting Pot” adds saxophone to the original’s instrumentation of keyboards, bass, guitar and drums; but here the loose and organic groove of the reggae-fied drum kit shifts the piece far away from the snappy Memphis feel. This is more like the Meters might sound at the end of a very relaxed Caribbean vacation – so much space between the rhythmic elements, allowing the fat gobs of B-3 organ an intensely rich suppleness of phrasing and texture.

Many of these tracks seem to be rarities, unreleased “specials.” As such, they reveal with clarity the depth of direct soul and funk influences that lie beneath the surface of better-known Jamaican music from the classic era. From Lloyd Williams’s sweaty James Brown-style grunts and exhortations on “Reggae Beat,” to Delroy Wilson’s smooth, orchestrated Motown/JB/Atlantic pastiche on “Funky Broadway,” the styles and aesthetics of soul dovetail and merge effortlessly with Jamaican rhythms and the almighty Studio One bass sound. Taken together, the 19 tracks on Studio One Funk offer up a fascinating lesson in the grafting of grooves and attitudes and the way influences can become assimilated to create new and exciting sounds.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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