Would You Sell Your Soul for Funkentelechy? (The Milky Way Is Still Hungry)

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I don’t feel like writing as many words today about P-Funk as I usually do on Happy Parliafunkadelicment Thangday!  So, I will drop a live Parliament Funkadelic from 1978 and avoid writing a history around the album.  While not the best live recording, the bottom end is muddled, it suffices as the funk sacrament for today.  It was recorded in Savannah, GA on February 23.

“Funkentelechy” opens with a monologue over a “Flashlight”esque synth.  Already a stretched out song, George extends “Funkentelechy” with anti-phony, or call and response, and solos. Skeet plays an alternating fluid and free bass solo that is infected with the jazz juju.  Kidd Funkadelic gets a chance to solo as well.  The song slows down to a trickle of horn riffs as “Cosmic Slop” is transitioned into.

Before getting into the rest of the album I want to get into a quick discussion of funk.  Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about the concepts of groove, trance and sound healing.   Some of the ideas have come from rereading Rickey Vincent’s excellent Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of THE ONE.  During the introduction, Rickey introduces UC Berkeley Music Professor Olly Wilson’s structural qualities of African American music, which easily fit the funk.  These are: “The tendency to approach the organization of rhythm based on the principle of rhythmic and implied metrical contrast,” “The tendency to approach singing or the playing of any instrument in a percussive manner,” “Antiphony, or call-and-response musical structure that emphasizes audience participation and involvement,” “The tendency to create a high density of musical events within a relatively short time frame,” “A tendency to incorporate physical body motion as an integral part of the music-making process.”

In short, the first principle can be shortened to the idea of the music swinging, or having a groove.  The second idea is pretty simple to understand, all instruments act as a percussive forces.  Anti-phony is another easy concept.  Severing the gap between performers and audience, call-and-response was used by P-Funk to build the collective energy to sufficient reserves in order to call down the Mothership.  The fourth quality of funk explains the large number of members on stage.  All the instruments serve the dominant groove, but at the same time are capable of playing complete individual musical statements.  Hopefully, these principles will make sense to you, particularly when listening to the music.  Perhaps, they will make it more enjoyable. Perhaps, they won’t.  The knowledge probably won’t make you feel the groove if you currently don’t; however, if you can’t feel it you might as well be dead.

The tempo of “Cosmic Slop” increases as the song does.  By the end the gallop of beat pushes the guitars and final horns into overdrive.

Another number off Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome, “Bop Gun,” is played next.  Energy is summoned on the second half, in accordance with interstellar travel.  GC busts into some verses from “Take Your Dead Ass Home,” “Let’s Take it To the Stage,” “Loose Booty,” and other songs as the jam stretches.  GC exhorts the audience to “get off their ass and jam,” and they respond.  Bernie extracts some great noises out of the electronics near the end.

Salvation requires sacrifice.  At least, that is the message of many works of literature from the Bible to ancient Greek mythology.  P-Funk requires a belief in the Mothership and for you to get off your ass and jam if the Mothership is to swing down and give a lift.  “Mothership Connection” is one of P-Funk’s showcase pieces.  Maceo solos a bit on this one.  Sadly, Glen Goins had left, so some of the power of the call-down is lost.  However, it is still the Mothership of vintage P.  This version is quite jazzy.

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Bernie’s electronic sonic assault “Flashlight” doesn’t disappoint in its’ monstrosity.  Never one to play the same thing twice, the Wizard of Woo plays around with his creation.  Great rhythm guitar is the glue holding this track together.  The horns work really well and add another excellent element to an already stellar song.  For this show, Parliament Funkadelic shared the bill with Cameo and the Bar Kays.  What a show that would have been.  You can hear GC call out the other band members to come out halfway through.  The pace gets furious as instruments wail with equal abandon while Bernie plays the sound of dark energy.  You think that they can’t keep amping it up and maintaining the pace, but they hold it down for quite a while.

After this one, Funk stands triumphantly over the thoroughly beaten and bloodied corpse of the Placebo syndrome.  I’ll explore the concepts behind Funkentelechy in greater detail when I break down the album.

The crowd calls for me and gets it on a spirited version of “Give Up the Funk”.  One reason I love listening to live P-Funk shows, the few I have been privileged to hear, is Bernie’s song lead-ins and improvisations.  You can hear the rhythm guitar once again holding the song together as individual chaos becomes unified into the whole.  The infectious ga ga chant is from “Night of the Thumpasaurus People.”

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