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Lafayette Afro-Rock Band - Darkest Light: The Best of Lafayette Afro-Rock Band

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Artist: Lafayette Afro-Rock Band

Album: Darkest Light: The Best of Lafayette Afro-Rock Band

Label: Strut

Review date: Feb. 2, 2009

Like “rock and roll” and “jazz,” “funk” probably meant “fuckin’,” before it came to describe a set of musical conventions (a hard rhythm, a steady low-end, bottom-heavy production) that now give the word more power than the word gives it. I’m sure my etymology is way off, but when I hear “funk,” the word, I think of “function.” In order to be “funk,” it has to function as the score for dancing, sex, jump-rope or some other rigorous physical activity. Beyond that, it can be a vehicle for joy, passion, rage, politics or whatever, but, first, it has to function, at the very least as a foundation for the weeded-out afterparty in your skull. Of course, when you hear “funk,” the music, the goal is usually to think less.

I have an editor who hates the word “funk,” thinks it’s lazy and won’t let writers use it. The Lafayette Afro-Rock Band plays “funk” by any meaningful definition, but there’s a lot going on besides fuckin’. LARB’s best cuts are a thick stew of righteous big-band soul, slick “blaxploitation” portent, frenetic Afro-beat percussion, jazzy organ noodling, then-distinctive vocoder, and whatever else was at hand.

Formed as the Bobby Boyd Congress in 1970, this large, heterogeneous collective renamed itself Ice and vamoosed to France (a nation not known for its musical exports) presumably to escape the pressure. (Quick, duck in a Walgreens and ask ten people who Serge Gainsbourg is.) It must’ve done wonders for their drive to experiment. Eventually transitioning to Lafayette Afro-Rock Band (after recording as Crispy & Co. and Captain Dax), they created a body of work with the irresistible intensity of Sly and the Familyt Stone and the mesmerizing complexity of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. At the time, only hardcore wonks and lucky Europeans got to hear it, but crate-diggers kept it alive long enough to beget this exhaustive anthology. At 15 tracks and almost 80 minutes, Darkest Light is about as broad and as dense as it could conceivably be.

It’s also perfect spot-the-sample fodder. For those reared on‘90s R&B and hip-hop, it’s enlightening to know where Jay-Z, Public Enemy, LL Cool J and even Janet Jackson got some of their choice loops. And when hearing the dead-serious sax intro on “Darkest Light,” it may be hard to stifle a chuckle, recognizing it as the keystone of “Rump Shaker.”

By Emerson Dameron

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