02. Strangling Me With Your Love 4:05
03. In The Good Times 4:26
04. Blues 3:03
05. Defunkt 6:21
06. Thermonuclear Sweat 3:43
07. Melvin's Tune 2:37
08. We All Dance Together 5:40
Vocals, Trombone – Joseph Bowie
Bass – Melvin Gibbs
Drums – Ronnie Burrage
Guitar – Kelvyn Bell
Guitar – Martin Aubert
Saxophone, Flute – Byron Bowie
Synthesizer – Martin Fischer
Trumpet – Ted Daniel (tracks: A1, A3 to B2)
Percussion, Backing Vocals – Charles "Bobo" Shaw (tracks: A1, A2)
Bowie says he picked up the trombone to complete the family horn section. Middle brother Byron played saxophone, and eldest brother Lester, who’d go on to cofound the groundbreaking Art Ensemble of Chicago, was on trumpet. Growing up in the rich St. Louis, Mo., scene of the 1960s, Bowie and his peers had to know all styles of music and then some; Bowie played everything from blues, with Albert King, to pop-R&B, with his now-former sister-in-law Fontella Bass, to the avant-garde. “We more or less played R&B to survive, and we played free jazz for love,” he says. “We were caught between the beboppers, the free jazz, the R&B and the funk. That’s my influence. And then I had another: The Jimi Hendrix influence was a big thing in high school. So I added rock and roll.”
Oliver Lake, who helped establish the Black Artists Group in St. Louis and would later launch the World Saxophone Quartet, remembers a teenage Bowie coming to the BAG sessions. “I guess he was 15 or 16 years old. He had an original voice. That’s what was so exciting about someone that age,” Lake says. “He was playing in these high registers. He could blast. He could get very soft and subtle. He had maturity beyond his age, in terms of the history.”
Following the lead of his big brother and the Art Ensemble, Bowie headed to Paris in 1971 with BAG members Lake, trumpeters Baikida Carroll and Floyd LeFlore and drummer Charles “Bobo” Shaw. While the stay lasted less than two years, their version of free jazz found acceptance almost immediately. “It even kind of surprised us how much interest there was in what we were doing,” Lake says. “At our first concert there was so much press there, and so many cameras, that we were kind of taken aback. I thought, ‘Wow, we don’t even have a recording!'”
By 1973, Bowie and Shaw had settled on New York’s Lower East Side at the height of the loft-jazz scene. During weekly performances at the La MaMa Theatre on Fourth Street, their music started to include some of the other styles from the St. Louis days. “We started incorporating this R&B vibe, with a little blues and a little funk, into the free jazz,” Bowie says.
James Chance, an alto saxophonist who brought free jazz to the avant-punk “no wave” scene at the end of the decade with the Contortions, witnessed those early shows. “They were mostly playing free,” he says. “Then it would go into funk rhythms, even though at the La MaMa they didn’t even have a bass player usually. Or even any rhythm besides drums.”
The meeting between Bowie and Chance proved fortuitous. When the Contortions disbanded, the frenetic saxophonist asked Bowie to help him form a new band with stronger rhythm-and-blues elements. Rechristened James White and the Blacks, Chance’s backing band pulled double-duty as the first lineup of Defunkt, which officially debuted in 1979. Hungarian playwright Janos Gat provided the compositions’ socially conscious lyrics, and Bowie’s brother Byron wrote the arrangements.
Defunkt drew a wide range of admirers, including future members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Miles Davis who, Bowie says, praised the band in interviews and invited the trombonist to his home. Lake says the original Defunkt inspired him to pursue his funky side with his band Jump Up. “It was funk but it wasn’t traditional funk,” Lake says. “I could still hear the Black Artists Group in what he was doing, and I think that’s what attracted me to the sound. He would sing these lyrics and have the funk beat going. Then all of a sudden he’d play some wild trombone solo over the top of it.”
While Defunkt spent most of its time in New York, with occasional tours to Europe, it made two memorable trips to Minneapolis in 1982, to play the landmark nightclub First Avenue. At the first show, an up-and-coming local named Prince insisted he top their shared bill. “We commenced to laying out a New York brand of rock/punk/funk that went over very well with the crowd. And we kicked ass,” Bowie recalls. “When Prince took the stage, the first thing he said was ‘Jazz is dead,’ which I kind of took offense at. I saw it at first as a dismissal of the New York punk-funk sound. But I kind of see it a little differently now.” In retrospect, he thinks Prince might have meant that new music was being born out of the older style.
Today, Bowie says it’s hard for his new work to get attention. “The only Defunkt band I can get a tour with now is [Downtown in the ’80s]. But I’m 30 years past that. I’ve got [new] music now,” he says. “As long as I’m breathing I’m going to try to get it exposed.” Whether it’s Live at Channel Zero with the ’80s band or the hot European unit of Mastervolt, the Voodoo continues. “It’s all music. It’s just an energy. It makes your ears react differently and it makes your soul act differently,” Bowie says. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do for 62 years. I grew up believing that’s the way it should be done. All music is just ‘Do it right, do it well.'”
Led by trombonist Joseph Bowie -- the son of a St. Louis-based music teacher, the brother of big band arranger Byron Bowie, and late trumpet player of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's Lester Bowie -- Defunkt created some of the most adventurous sounds of the last quarter of the 20th century. Formed in 1978, Defunkt initially took a danceable approach to jazz. Although their first three albums -- Defunkt, Razor's Edge, and Thermonuclear Sweat -- made them leaders of New York's radical underground music scene, their inability to achieve commercial expectations led them to disband in 1983, with Bowie retreating to the island of St. Croix. Reorganized after Bowie's return to New York in 1986, Defunkt recorded an additional six albums, including A Blues Tribute: Jimi Hendrix & Muddy Waters and In America, between 1988-1993. Beginning in 1996, Bowie sought a way to combine the big band jazz of the 1930s and '40s and the dance rhythms and grooves of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Expanding Defunkt with the addition of more horn players and background vocalists, Bowie introduced the Defunkt Big Band with a six-week stint at the Knitting Factory in New York.
Defunkt founder Joseph Bowie, the youngest member of the Bowie musician family, began his career in St. Louis, Missouri where he was born in 1953 and raised by his father William Lester Bowie, Sr. ,music teacher and he was greatly influenced by his older brothers Byron (saxophonist & arranger) and older brother Lester, internationally acclaimed jazz trumpeter.
In 1971 he toured Paris for the first time with jazz ensemble, then with Dr. John in Montreaux (in 1973). During 1973 - 76 Joe collaborated and performed with Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman & many more jazz personalities in New York at that time. in 1978 Joseph began working with punk/funk artist James Chance and soon became a fixture on the new wave scene in NY. Defunkt was born during that time. During the next 25 years, Defunkt has recorded 15 CDs and Joseph has become a funk officianado. In 2003, Joseph moved residence to Holland where he is developing new musical relationships throughout the EU and the world.
Punk-funk-jazz unit Defunkt was born in 1978 in New York City merged avant-garde with rocking, funky grooves. It was one of the first band to make a real fusion of popular and extreme music styles, also pioneers in early stages of rap music in the early 80-s. Defunkt has never gained huge commercial success due to unwillingness to compromise creativity and musical uniqueness and integrity for popular acclaim.
With time, Buddhism entered the consciousness of Defunkt, the focus on community issues, family & humanity struggles, have become more of a priority than ever. The focus and uniqueness of this powerful, groovy Defunkt style of music has continued to grow and evolve in spite of the lack of commercial success.
In 2009 Defunkt celebrated its 30 year birthday with two big projects - Defunkt Big Band and Defunkt Soul.
The First Defunkt comes off as a more polished version of The Contortions' punk-funk, as if the no-wave band was replaced by a professional jazz-funk band. But this doesn't diminish "Make Them Dance", "In The Good Times", "Defunkt" etc from being spazz-funk dancefloor anthems. In the end though, as track after track follows exactly the same recipe, the album gets tiring. The real highlight is "We All Dance Together", where apart from the usual funk we get a sinister chorus and a chaotic instrumentation.
An on-record postulation...instead of leaping forward from funk to disco to hip hop, what if one leapt backward? You'd go from disco to funk and waaaay back to jazz. More a curiosity than a good album, though making "Good Times" sound like it was recorded in 1972 was a highlight for me.
No wonder the RHCP cite them as an influence. Pure Funky goodness.