Jungle Funk

Jungle Funk

Zebra Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It's been a few years since Living Colour, a premier funk/metal outfit, breathed its last. So when word got out that former bandmates Doug Wimbish and Will Calhoun were collaborating on a new project, excitement was sure to build.

But don't look at this collaboration, Jungle Funk, to be anything like their previous work. Bassist Wimbish, drummer Calhoun and vocalist Vinx do some impressive work here, but when all is said and done, the music sounds sterile and empty.

The first thing that strikes the listener about this trio is that there is no guitar player - a fact that is painfully obvious by the time you hit the midway point of this album. Many of the tracks on Jungle Funk almost cry out for further instrumentation; songs like "Headfake", "Cycles" and "Aquarius" all suffer from reliance on just bass, percussion and tape loops.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That's right, in lieu of guitar work, the band relies on loops and samples to fill in the empty space. Now, there are times that such a mix works out well; songs like "Ugly Face" and "Trance" both show the strengths of this group. But these become stale quickly, and by the time you get to songs like "People," you almost find yourself wishing that this album would end.

This is, by no means, a slam against any of the three musicians who make up Jungle Funk. Wimbish is one of the most highly regarded bassists in music today, and his contributions to this project are the cornerstone of it. Calhoun is an accomplished drummer, and Vinx (who had made a name for himself as a solo artist) fights for and quickly earns your respect.

One thing that puzzles me about Jungle Funk is that the liner notes say this album was recorded live in Prague. But I don't get the feel of a crowd until well over halfway through the album, when you can hear some faint cheers in the background. Too bad that some of the more boring selections were the ones that you hear the audience on; even they seem to give tentative acceptance to some of the music presented to them.

So what would have made Jungle Funk a better release? I think the addition of even one guitar would have helped this project in ways that can't be comprehended. Just having another instrument to interact with could have provided a sense of direction to the music, as well as creating a solid interplay between instruments and samples. Here's a suggestion that might not go over well: why not ask Vernon Reid, another former Living Colour member, to sit in the next time? Reid is no slouch on the axe, though he would have to keep the six-string pyrotechnics to a minimum. The funky jazz that makes up Jungle Funk doesn't seem to be the right vehicle for an all-out shred.

Jungle Funk has its moments of glory, but more often than not falls in their attempt to blaze new trails in the worlds of jazz and funk. Such innovators are bound to run into pitfalls like these; this I know. But the question to be asked now is: Can they avoid these the second time around?

Rating: C

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Zebra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.