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Luther Thomas Human Arts Ensemble: Funky Donkey

AAJ Staff By

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During the mid '60s, various local organizations sprang up to cultivate and expand the tradition of improvised music. While Chicago's AACM has received the bulk of the spotlight, the underappreciated St. Louis Black Artists Group (BAG) certainly deserves its share of attention as well. As the home of Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill—as well as a spawning ground for other creative musicians—St. Louis played an important role in the Black music underground of the '60s and '70s.

Luther Thomas's Funky Donkey (originally recorded in '73) brings together members of the BAG with a couple of outsiders, most notably St. Louis native Lester Bowie. As its name might suggest, the disc digs down & dirty into jazz's funk roots. This particular flavor—"free funk"—relies primarily on collective improvisation over a heavy guitar/bass/drums groove. The rhythm section occasionally breaks free, and guitarist Marvin Horne gets plenty of time to freely improvise, but much of the time the record consists of horns wailing away over unrelenting chick-chick-a-ching rhythms.

With the re-release of this '73 recording (and the inclusion of hitherto unreleased material on track three), Atavistic hips a new generation of listeners to the organic and progressive sounds of the BAG. Clear parallels exist between Funky Donkey and Ornette Coleman's Prime Time—though the degree of complexity and interaction among the performers here vastly exceeds anything by Prime Time. It's the kind of music that makes you want to sit back, sip a drink, and really listen. The more spins you give this disc, the more layers reveal themselves. Of course, the whole '70s funk thing may seem a bit dated in retrospect, but for the musicians at the time, this was the real shit: unbridled, unpretentious, and open-ended. Fortunately, other than a few dips in sound fidelity, Funky Donkey survives the test of time.


Track Listing: Funky Donkey; Una New York; Intensity.

Personnel: Lester Bowie: trumpet; Joseph Bowie: trombone; Charles Bobo Shaw: trap drums; J.D. Parran: reeds; Luther Thomas: alto saxophone; Floyd LeFlore: trumpet; Harold Pudgery Atterbury: trumpet; Abdella Ya Kum: percussion; Rocky Washington: percussion; Marvin Horne: guitar; Eric Foreman: Fender bass.

Title: Funky Donkey | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Atavistic Worldwide


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