Jungle Funk is a trio composed of drummer Will Calhoun and bassist Doug Wimbish, both formerly of Living Colour, and Vinx, a backup percussionist for the likes of Sting and Peter Gabriel and a solo vocalist in his own right. Their debut, Jungle Funk
, was recorded live in Austria in April 1998. The music contains elements of Living Colour-style hard funk, but it’s updated for the 90s with drum programming, sampling, and other features imported from the world of jungle, drum ’n bass, and kindred DJ and dance genres. The band’s press material asks, "How can three guys make that much sound?" Indeed, for a live recording, this is a technological powerhouse.
There are essentially two different kinds of tracks on this CD — the all-out drum groove tracks, mostly instrumental, and the R&B/pop song tracks. Jungle Funk succeeds more with the former than the latter. Songs such as "Ugly Face," "September," "Torn," "Temporary Love," and "Still I Try" feature Vinx’s rich baritone vocals, but the lyrics are mediocre and the melodies aren’t strong or memorable enough to make any of them a viable pop single, which seems to have been the intention. On the other hand, "People," the best track on the disc, shows what this group can accomplish in terms of setting up a killing groove. Along the same lines, check out "Worship," "Headfake," "Cycles," and especially Calhoun’s live drumming on the final track, "Research & Development." This record is described on the jacket as "DJ-inspired virtuosity," and on these cuts, I buy it.
Jungle Funk relies heavily on technology, but they use it in subtle and musical ways. Some highlights include the digitally generated notes moving in unison with Vinx’s scat vocal toward the end of "Ugly Face"; the intricate vocal layering heard on "September"; and the odd timbres that make up "Perculator" and "Prague City Lights." The fact that all these effects were pulled off at a live show makes them all the more impressive.
It’s an interesting gambit: a funk/drum ’n bass/"DJ-inspired" project that is actually a band
, rather than an anonymous, austere presence behind turntables and tape loops. One wonders whether "DJ-inspired" music can be successully melded to a more traditional live band concept. By making their debut a live recording, Jungle Funk intends to argue that it is possible. There’s only one way to find out: go see them live.