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Phat Phunktion: Live at the High Noon

Doug Collette By

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If you have an abiding appetite or innate taste for old school funk a la Tower of Power, then Phat Phunktion is right in your wheelhouse. This band is poetry in motion-constantly-but without the off-putting histrionics and faux showmanship that so often undermines the impact of the musicianship.

Consequently, as with "Don't Destroy the Funk," the frequent exhortations to the audience in the band's hometown Madison, Wisconsin venue pale next to the grinding rhythm section of bassist Nick Moran and percussionist Pauli Ryan, combined with the savvy horns, arranged by keyboardist/vocalist Tim Whalen, that can and do supply all the necessary motivation to move. In fact, melody instruments are merely placeholders on cuts such as "You Want It all" and "Whatcha Gonna Do?" and, except for intros to songs and bandmembers, vocals take a backseat to horns, bass and drums as well, and appropriately so.

Embellishment of melodies and punctuation to the rhythms of tunes such as "Never Be The Same," illustrate why the duly-recognized Whalen and saxophonist/vocalist Al Falaschi are in such demand to create charts these days: they've fulfilled integral roles for the diverse likes of Bon Iver and Clyde Stubblefield recently, received Academy Awards and provide similar services with equal or greater aplomb for Phat Phunktion here in this live setting.

The earthy clarity of this recording, so evident on "Knockin' 'Em Down" (and available in high definition on the simultaneously-released Blu-ray), impresses most notably on instrumental passages like that track. As the seventy-minutes plus rolls on here, in fact, more such intervals, plus extended improvisations, might well extend the pedigree of the band, without appreciably reducing the dance-able quotient. Vincent Jesse's guitar turn on "Well Run Dry" is a case in point.

The soulful element so obvious on a cut such as "Rock Star" connects directly with the homage to roots here that is Earth, Wind & Fire's "Jupiter;" as smoothly polished as that is, the band digs into the beat vigorously enough to reaffirm those modern influences so that, even if like much of this material, it's not wholly original in style or content, there's no denying how infectious is the musicianship. In fact, it's a tribute to the solidarity of Phat Phunktion as an ensemble that, the longer they play, the more compelling they sound. What might otherwise be a standard breakdown on "Never Be The Same," turns mesmerizing by the low-register intonations from Moran and from "Tell Me" to "Miss Madison," there's hardly a discernible drop-off in pace.

Over the course of a baker's dozen tracks, the impact hardly wanes during all this non-stop activity, but the breathless approach remains winning because the musicianship supercedes the singing and the songs on Live At The High Noon.

Track Listing: You Want It All; Whatcha Gonna Do; Knockin’ em Down; Rock Star; Never Be the Same; Don’t Destroy the Funk; Eyes of Mine; Untitled (Weekend Special); Jupiter; Tell Me; Miss Madison; Well Run Dry; Stand Up.

Personnel: Tim Whalen: keyboards and vocal; Vince Jesse: guitar; Darvonte “Turbo” Murray: drums; Nick Moran: bass; Pauli Ryan: percussion; Jon Schipper: trumpet; Jim Doherty: trumpet; Courtney Larsen: trombone; Al Falaschi: saxophone, vocals.

Title: Live at the High Noon | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Self Produced


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