The Funk Band We Need Right Now
The basis is bass
There’s little debate that the funkiest funk of funky music begins and ends with the bass. Yeah, I know all about James Brown’s ‘The Funky Drummer’ (played by the illustrious Clyde Stubblefield, who even possessed a thoroughly funky name), but for every Stubblefield I’ll offer you Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Stanley Clarke, James Jamerson, George Porter, Jr., Jaco Pastorius, Oteil Burbridge, Victor Wooten, Louis Johnson, Verdine White, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and Flea. If you’re looking to bring on the funk it comes from the low end. So what could be even funkier than a funky bass player? How about two.
New Orleans funk powerhouse, Dumpstaphunk, are the only ones I know who could make that duplication happen, a quintet who since their origin near two decades ago has implausibly featured two mighty bass players (Tony Hall and Nick Daniels, both supremely funkified). The legendary Neville’s family tree provides funk and R&B legacies for two other band members: Ian Neville (son of Art Neville of The Meters) on guitar, and Ivan Neville (bandleader, and son of Aaron Neville of The Neville Brothers) on B3 organ and vocals. With that heritage, it’s safe to say that you cannot fake the funk. Originally put together by Ivan as a one-off for a show at the 2003 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the group has slowly grown into one of the Crescent City’s most cherished embodiments of funk, both as creators and ambassadors, thanks in large part to that signature double bass sound.
A big funking deal
As far back as 2007 The New York Times called Dumpstaphunk “the best funk band from New Orleans right now.” And in case you’re wondering, in that city that is a big funking deal. Coming off a later Jazz Fest appearance, Bass Player magazine wrote, “The colossal low end and filthy grooves they threw down must have set a festival record for baddest base jams ever.” Another critic recently observed, “Dumpstaphunk’s groove is a unique monster. It’s not the minimalist funk of The Meters, and it’s not the relentless funk of James Brown, although it has that rhythmic drive. It’s not the psychedelic, over-the-top circus of Parliament Funkadelic, and it’s not the party funk of The Ohio Players. Dumpstaphunk is as good as all that, but a whole other school of funk. And they’re in their prime now.”
A message for our messy age
And here’s some more good funking news: that continuing prime just resulted in a brand new 2021 album, “Where Do We Go From Here,” an exploration not only of funky beats but societal blights, and certainly the most powerful and politically pointed of their career. The breakout song thus far seems to be one called ‘United Nations Stomp,’ a cover of a 1973 tune by Buddy Miles (the rather funked out drummer of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys).
“What a great title for a song,” Ivan says. “We need ‘United Nations Stomp’ right now; we need to move to this. It’s talking to everybody. No matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, no matter who you love, no matter what you believe in, no matter how much money you’ve got— or how much money you ain’t got— it’s for everybody. We want to remind people of that. Sometimes, even though situations vary and you’re not in another person’s shoes, you gotta just try to walk with them with some civility and respect and have some compassion for your fellow man.” Amen to that, funk soul brother. And just to put this new piece of funky righteousness over the top, Dumpstaphunk added the scene-stealing contributions of one of the most scintillating young musicians around today, blues guitar phenom Marcus King, whose sizzling soloing (beginning at 2:36) turn this tune into a full-fledged sonic smackdown that’ll leave you in the best kind of a blue funk.
“We hope people hearing the song are inclined to dance, and inclined to think at the same time,” says Ivan. But Tony Hall, ever the grounded bass man, seemed to indicate which way he was leaning. “The groove of the song,” Hall explains, “it’s soulful, it’s funky, it’s danceable. There’s no way that you’re just gonna sit still if we’re playing. We have two bass players so it’s pretty powerful. You definitely will dance. That’s our job, to make you dance!” Job well done, I’d say, by the only known twin towers of the bass, who’ve arrived at this funky moment in time with an undeniably compelling formula: Double the bass, double the funk.