Record Review: The Funk Ark – High Noon (2012, ESL Music)

The Ark of Funk – a 50 minute long funk meltdown that everybody deserves to listen to

Genre: Funk / Afro-beat / Global funk / Afro-latin

Region: Washington DC, USA

Artists Website: http://www.thefunkark.com/

Label: ESL Music

‘High Noon’ is a 50+ minutes non-stop funk meltdown. If you have a love for all things funky, there is no excuse for not listening to this band – this album is simply astonishing.

The Funk Ark manage to encompass and demonstrate multiple strains of funk revealing at the same time their almost spiritual devotion for the roots of funk which are found in West African (poly-)rhythms. ‘High Noon’ is literally an ark of funk.

We were warned by last year’s debut album ‘From The Rooftops’, but this album is beyond expectation. The Funk Ark come back with their sophomore record which is even more solid: they improved in all levels.

From production to musicianship and songwriting – all is pushed a step further where all musicians of The Funk Ark find space to express themselves fully. ‘High Noon’ gives more improvisational space – so even when The Funk Ark are more tight on groove than ever they can still play loosely as a band like this should play. The slightly longer tracks indicate just this.

Funk has surpassed the test of time with ease: from its heydey in the late 1960s and 1970s to electro-funk, nu-funk and all its other fusions the funky beat is still irresistible. However, the greatest proof of the aforementioned statement lies mostly in the boisterous, massive sounds of ensembles like Antibalas, The Souljazz Orchestra, Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, Rebirth Brass Band and now The Funk Ark. ‘High Noon’ constitutes an essential listen of that colourful tribe.

The Funk Ark is the child of Will Rast (composer, pianist, spokeperson), who has been playing live since the age of 15, mostly as a session musician in jazz, R&B and world music outfits. Nonetheless, The Funk Ark is a big band comprised by ten more accomplished musicians. In just a couple of year’s time The Funk Ark managed to create a buzz and put out two records.

The band plays very tight together with a developed ability to “meditate” on the groove. You can hear this clearly in ‘High Noon’, which was recorded live in just two days. The new songs were written and tried on the road so that the band had only to hit the Big Orange Studios in Austin TX and play them live with all musicians in one room. Kudos also to producer Adrian Quesada and engineer Sam Patlove for the astonighing, analogue production with an earmark live sound.

The album track-by-track

There is not a single average moment in ‘High Noon’, all songs are true, comprehensive, free-flowing composition. ‘Chaga’ kicks off with vintage keys and rich percussions to create the sonic tapestry for the horn melodies and solos to unfold. In a slightly more Afro-latin sound ‘Road To Coba’ maintains an adventurous, vibraphonic melody pushing the whole ensemble to mythic Mesoamerican cobbled roads.

The distance between between Congo, Afro-latin America and Washington DC is reduced to six and a half minutes, as long as ‘Hey Mamajo’ lasts – but then you want to repeat the same route over and over again. Noticeably more Afrobeat than the previous numbers, but still more latin than you expect.

The Funk Ark are unstoppable in this album, with guitars, percussions, keys and horns interlocked into a granite of funky beats- ‘Rinconito’ is another inspired example.

The Green Trees‘ remind us of The Souljazz Orchestra’s landmark album ‘Rising’ more than any other song, as well as the ethio-jazz guru Mulatu Astatke.

Funky Southern’ is a tribute to the US classic funk sound, from DC Go-Go to the New Orleans, with a solid staccato rhythm, rolling guitars and the soulful vocals of Mustafa Akbar.

419’ is another instance of outstanding percussive music with a spiralling afro-beat rhythm (pushing forward the heritage of Tony Allen) and imaginative melodies delivered by the horn section, handclaps and refreshing breaks. This is song is almost ‘progressive’, showcasing the dazzling musicianship of The Funk Ark.

Rancho‘ falls somewher between cumbia, surf and ethio-jazz with galloping percussions and intoxicating horn melodies.

The Funk Ark forged an album of timeless quality; it does not matter if it looks more in the past than into the future, it defies time with its boundless stature.  Anyway, unlike earlier funk artists which were committed mostly to a local ‘scene’, The Funk Ark are committed to a global funk sound, following all the routes that funk has traveled through time: from West African roots to the African-American diaspora and then to Africa again (most notably Nigeria) and to the world. It has been a constant, global interaction and The Funk Ark seem to have distilled all this.

Musicianship, composition, production, inspiration and vibes are all on ten.

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Get more funk from Freegan Kolektiva:

Rebirth Brass Band – Rebirth of New Orleans

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 – From Africa With Fury: Rise

All Good Funk Alliance – Rhythm & FX (2012, Fort Knox Recordings)

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