Thursday, December 16, 2010

Battle of the (Japanese Funk) Bands

original Osaka Monaurail post 2.14.2008
After the FIFA World Cup ended this summer, I put together a battle of funk and groove bands that replicated the South African tournament. I "replayed" all the matches and came up with quite a different result. One of the surprises of my Funk and Groove World Cup was Japan, who advanced to the Quarterfinals. A big part of Japan's deep run in the tournament were it's two main raw funk exports...Osaka Monaurail and Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro. Take a look at the 2010 Funk and Groove World Cup final 16 bracket.

I first wrote about Osaka Monaurail for a Funky Friday post back in 2008  after I finally heard about their collab (15 months after its release) with James Brown alum, Marva Whitney.
New, New Superheavy Sushi Funk
I know a phone call that made somebody's day...This was the call when Marva Whitney's (that's the Marva Whitney that sang with the James Brown review) manager called the manager of the Osaka Monaurail (Japan's primo JB-esque funk kings, named after a late period JB's album), and said,"Yes,Ms.Whitney would be glad to cut a record with you."
If you are the top funk band in Japan, and have pretty much styled your sound on the James Brown big-funk-band model, you would be ecstatic to back one of The Man's best singers. The fact that the vocals are really the only thing missing from your complete mastery of the JB sound, does not escape you, and so,problem solved, you go out and cut the best post-James Brown, James Brown record by a country mile.
Marva Whitney w/Osaka Monaurail

This is good old funk here folks, with strong female vox, and a tight-as-a-drum band, that knows where The One is, and takes solos the way Fred and Maceo used to do. Like the myriad of soul artists "coming back" with new records Marva Whitney proves age ain't nuthin' but a number, and, in fact, the added maturity adds even more grit to a voice that was already down and dirty. I think it was an article in Wax Poetics where I found out about the Osaka Monaurail, and I have to admit, I was mighty skeptical. Truth is though, these cats can lay it down. If you enjoyed the funky soul that Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse have made with The Dap Kings, then this record should be right up your alley. Please have a funky friday.

back to 2010..
So coming into the tournament this fall, I knew Japan had at least one strong entrant, in the form of the Monaurail, but without repeating myself, how would Japan compete in their group with Holland, Denmark, and Cameroon. A little research delivered, Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro.  The MMK drop some fine instrumental funk, but the Osaka boys come with longevity (and vocals), having been working on their JB-styled grooves since back in 1992, releasing upwards of 7 albums worth of material, since the 2000 debut, What It Is , What It Was. Still though, the MMK spreads it's wings a lot further and faster than the Monaurail, covering grooves in quite a different bag from the Godfather. And yet, the Osaka Monaurail does the JB thing so well (with and without vocals), you can see why they wear the crown. But let's let the music decide this matter..
 Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro- S/T (2009)

The MMK have a second LP, that goes by the name of, Uhuru Peak. Check out an interview talking about the new record at Jelly Jazz and see the vid for the lead track (Aint Got Nobody) I'm Just A Ramblin' Man right here:

For their part Osaka Monaurail have been very busy with European tours (they just released a Live in Spain record) and putting out a steady stream of releases since their debut. All of these, excluding the Marva Whitney record , have gotten very little coverage here in the US, although Dusty Groove tries to keep their records in stock (at $30 bucks a pop, this can be a pretty expensive crate dig).

Here's a snippet of what you might've seen if you caught their 2010 Euro tour:
Osaka Monaurail-Live

Osaka Monaurail - Just Being Free (2001)

Osaka Monaurail -Tighten Up (2006)-stretching a bit from the JB mold on a mostly instrumental soul covers record.

Osaka Monaurail-Quicksand (2006)

This is just a small sampling of the Monaurail's funk oeuvre, but I am going to let the challengers have the last live word. I'll leave the judging up to you. Wagering is not necessary, because funk is its own reward.
Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro-Live


scotfree said...

busy as usual, I see. superbly funky stuff...I mean, I know a bit about jpop and stuff, but it looks like they go just as deep in the funk too!

Cody B said...

I think it's a very small scene there (dunno for sure)...but they do believe.