Ultra Van Krome - Cyber Funkist (2015)

Ultra Van Krome
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It’s inevitable that listeners will seek to place the soul and funk revivalist groups somewhere on an invisible musical spectrum. The question becomes, who inspires this individual or group musically? After hearing  the guitar fueled funk and rock of the Stevie Ray Mays creation Ultra Van Krome’s Cyber Funkist – Mays’ debut album as band leader and vocalist - some heard the Minneapolis funk of The Time, while others looked to Detroit and the P-Funk family. I instantly went to Memphis and the Bar Kays.

It’s inevitable that listeners will seek to place the soul and funk revivalist groups somewhere on an invisible musical spectrum. The question becomes, who inspires this individual or group musically? After hearing  the guitar fueled funk and rock of the Stevie Ray Mays creation Ultra Van Krome’s Cyber Funkist – Mays’ debut album as band leader and vocalist - some heard the Minneapolis funk of The Time, while others looked to Detroit and the P-Funk family. I instantly went to Memphis and the Bar Kays.

There’s a couple of themes that connect Mays and the Bar Kays: Mays’ vocal style is reminiscent of Larry Dodson, the lead singer of the reconstituted Bar Kays group that emerged after the Dec. 10, 1967 plane crash that killed Otis Redding and several members of the group. The original Bar Kays were an instrumental group that scored a major hit with “Soul Finger” but made their reputation as a session band and a backing band for Redding and others such as Isaac Hayes. In the 70s and 80s, the group switched directions and moved more fully into funk and scored hits such as “Shake Your Rump to the Funk,” “Holy Ghost” and “Anticipation.”

Likewise, Mays was a session musician in his native Portland, Oregon. Mays even faced his own existential crisis that prompted his move from sideman to the front. Doctors placed Mays in a medically induced coma after he was diagnosed with type 1 and 2 diabetes as well as high blood pressure. That life-saving move gave Mays a moment of clarity. He made a few changes. Mays adopted a healthier diet, gave up processed foods and took on the musical identity of Ultra Van Krome and became its lead singer.

This outfit is about bringing that 1970s dance floor sense of fun back to funk. Cyber Funkist is filled with up-tempo, hard charging tracks where rock influenced guitars share time with thumping, plucking and rolling bass lines. Mays deviates from that energetic and largely successful formula one time on Cyber Funkist with the sparse ballad “Now & Forever.” Accompanied by only bass and acoustic guitar, “Now & Forever” reads like a love letter to the lady of his life. However, the minimalist instrumental arrangement puts the limits of Mays’ vocal instrument on display and that makes the tune the one clear miss on Cyber Funkist.

Perhaps the ballad will serve as a break to get all the sweat off the dance floor because Mays bounces back with “She’s Krome To The Bone,” a track featuring space age synth flourishes, slashing guitars and a deep funk bass line. “Lil’ Miss Luva” is a straight up rocker that finds Mays using his growling vocals to tempt the object of his desire onto the dance floor. Those who hear hints of Morris Day & The Time might have this cut in mind.

“Bad Day N The City” finds Mays warning of the troubles that come with folks embrace the drama of a reality TV lifestyle, all wrapped around Mays’ driving and pulsating bass line and Ramsey Embrick’s creatively trippy keyboard work. The track showcases Mays as witty and insightful lyricist, which may be what draws the P-Funk comparisons.

So yeah, I understand why some hear flourishes of P-Funk or The Time in the Ultra Van Krome sound. I’ll stick with the Bar Kays. But what fans of the funk will really hear on Cyber Funkist is high energy music that will might take them back in time, and will definitely take them to the dance floor. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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