The debut-CD of Swedish funk sextet Beat Funktion features a selection of their most upbeat, catchy and mesmerizing funk and disco grooves. The band pays homage to the 70s vintage sound by its unique combination of energizing jazz solos, riveting bass grooves and carefully crafted arrangements. This is pure powerhouse music, equally suited for the dance floor as for the listening lounge.
The album's opening track, "Sweet Donut", starts out on a mysterious note, with wah-wah guitar, electric piano and strings playing whole-note chords, underpinned by Jon Eriksson's insistent hihat, to quickly expand into a pulsating, dance-friendly disco number, with catchy horn and vocal-riffs on top of a muscular, concise bass pattern. Trumpetist Karl Olandersson, sax player Olle Thunstrom and keyboard player Daniel Lantz all inject the tune in turn with some funky energy during their solo spots. Lush strings and ambient percussion give this riveting track some additional glow and power.
The classic reggae rhythms of "Why Bother", a jazz-flavoured minor blues, treat us to tight, punctuating rhythms from the horn section, accentuating a simple but effective melody, with tasteful dissonances in all the right places. Lantz' bluesy piano solo and Olandersson's trumpet fireworks are both highlights, making this an irresistably groovy track.
Appropriately for an album paying homage to the funky seventies, the third track, "Nebula Space Patrol", explores the sci-fi fancy of 70s films and TV series. Opening with menacing low notes of Moog synthesizer and thundering space ship rocket sounds, the band picks up a syncopated rhythm that quickly bursts into an ominous, driving funk beat, which evolves into fast-moving disco with Johan Oijen's melodic guitar rounding off the number on a high note.
Gershwin's jazz standard "Summertime" has been endowed with a straight beat and a bass line to kill for, which stays with the tune until the very end. Great solos and playing by the whole band, but a true highlight is Oijen's talkbox guitar solo, which gives the otherwise same-sounding environment a much needed variation. Overall, a very appealing "urban" take on a familiar classic.
"Hogwash" is a type of funky barn dance, a cooking, simple rock blues with tart melodic riffs by the horns. It flirts successfully with the soulful jazz grooves of 60s Blue Note-recordings like Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder" and Donald Byrd's "Mustang" and gradually grows into an intensely swinging number. Plynning's conga work and Eriksson's tight percussion endows the track with some extra spark during Olandersson's and Thunstrom's cooking solos, paving the way for Lantz' concluding virtuoso moves on the Rhodes.
”Arantxa and Esti” is perhaps the album’s most unusual song, and is prominently schizophrenic in its compositional construction. Probably dedicated to a duality, be it people, animals or places, it successfully conveys two contrasting moods by being in two alternating parts; it sets out as a fast reggae-ska number in minor, mysterious and exotic, with a horn melody touching at oriental scales, but then abruptly moves into an extrovert, wild and rocking soul section featuring an abundance of distorted electric guitar. Through the ensuing trumpet and guitar solo, it alternates between the two contrasting sections, between the ska and the rock, between the mysterious and the extrovert. Double funk.
”Flight Of The Black Dragon” coasts along slowly with a cool drum beat and jabbing horn riffs on top of a persistent bass melody. The acoustic strings are back and give the track an atmospheric, night-time feel to the proceedings as the black dragon takes off into the twilight skies. Olandersson’s moody trumpet solo builds up towards a breath-taking shift into a new key, a new groove and an enjoyable Rhodes-solo by Lantz, reminiscent of Jeff Lorber or Bob James. As Lantz’ solo is finished, a tough heavy-metal inspired section with an aggressive guitar riff rounds off the composition, and we go back to the cool, quieter first theme one final time. Although it gives the impression of a patch-work with its many contrasting sections, there is still a lot that musically holds it together, and it is indeed one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album.
Finally, the title track ”The Plunge” is 10 minutes of pure musical fun and energy, and one finds it very difficult not to get up dancing through this one. The track is instantly accessible, with its irresistible bass line, its semi-quaver drum syncopation, its punchy vocal and horns-riff, its salsa-style midsection running through the cycle of fifths, and not to mention the relentless energy Thunstrom, Olandersson, Lantz and Oijen conjure up in their solos - one can tell this was taped live, since you rarely get that energy from studio environments. ”The Plunge” borrows a lot from ”Sweet Donut’s” successful recipe, a simple, raw and rhythmically active first part contrasted with a second more melodic, sophisticated and restful section. As such, both compositions complement each other by suitably opening and closing an album with considerable variety, exciting arrangements and fantastic solos.
Beat Funktion is a band that has dug up the sound of the funky 70s and taken it back into daylight, and proven to me that it still works perfectly for any party anywhere that needs great music for a dance floor. In my opinion, their debut-album ”The Plunge” came way too late for a band who began in 2007, but now it’s here, and should be picked up by all serious collectors of groovy jazz, funk and soul.
Nigel F. Mendez
(Jazz Review, UK)