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If the music and the jacket photos of Funk If I Know are any indication, Michael Ray hopes to ascend to the eccentric charisma of musical showmen/shaman like George Clinton or Sun Ra. In fact, trumpeter Ray (who, in street clothes, looks a lot like Sonny Rollins) is a former member of Ra's Arkestra and was once part of the Kool and the Gang horn section.
But Funk If I Know, Ray and his Cosmic Krewe's second disc, offers as much schizophrenia in one set as those two masters managed throughout their whole careers. Oddly, this "jazz funk of the future" (as he calls it) seems to work out just fine. Ray dabbles quite successfully in legit 70s P-Funk ("Cosmic City" and the exceptionally danceable "Earthrite"), jazz funk (the title track), well-grooved Latinates ("Yolinda") and earth-bound renditions of Ra favorites ("Cosmos #2," "Angels and Demons at Play" and the ethereal "Dance of the Cosmos Aliens"). He's less interesting, but no less adept at handling rap ("Worry About Dat"), Salsa ("Latin Monkey") and big band (Ra's beloved "Big John Special") too.
It's harder to get a hold of Ray the player. He usually gets lost in a brass section and when he solos, it's often brief, but attractive in a sort of Dizzy Gillespie style (notable on "6666," "Yolinda" and, especially, "Cosmos #2"). His arrangements presumably his are tight, though, if not always as inspired as one could hope. Special guests include Delfeayo Marsalis (trombone) and John Medeski (noodling negligibly on clavinet during "Made A Mistake") to no special advantage. This is the Crewe's show. Although a full exploration of any one of Ray's fascinating areas of interest seems called for, he's successful enough offering something of value to each on Funk If I Know and, in the bargain, something that turns out to be quite a bit of fun.
Songs:Cosmic City; Funk If I Know; Yolinda; Earthrite; Latin Moneky; Neon Cosmos; Worry About Dat; Cosmos #2; Angels and Demons At Play; Watusi; Big John Special; Made A Mistake; 6666; Dance of the Cosmos Aliens.
PlayersMichael Ray: trumpet, synth, vocals; Eddie Dejean: drums, vocals; Bob Gullotti: drums; Kevin O'Day: drums, vocal rap; Stacy Starkweather, Jimbo Walsh: bass; Adam Kipple: piano, synth; Joshua Q. Paxton: piano, sythn, organ; Tim Green: tenor sax; Clarence Johnson: alto sax, tenor sax; Don Glasgo: trombone; Dave Grippo: alto sax; Martin Krushe: tenor sax; Michael Skinkus: percussion, vocals; SteveFerraris: percussion; Rob Zuchowski, Ricky Castrillo: guitar. Additional musicians: Curtis Woodward, Pam Landrum, Andy Wolf, Manuel Lander: vocals; Gregory Boyd: steel pans; Janna Saslaw: flute. Special Guests: John Medeski: clavinet; Delfeayo Marsalis: trombone; Trey Anastasio: guitar.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.