Various Artists Pulp Fusion Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Shows how widespread the cross-fertilisation of soul, funk, jazz and rock once was.

Kevin Le Gendre 2010

Back in the mid-80s, the so-called ‘rare groove’ movement gave a shot in the arm to the soul scene of the day by excavating a wealth of music from the previous decade. James Brown came dramatically back into fashion in one revolution of a record and a new generation of fancy dancers started to spin round to tracks like The Payback, Cold Sweat and Drive Your Funky Soul. Soon after there was a spate of compilations featuring the artists that Brown had influenced and the education of burgeoning hip hop DJs, who used said tracks to make breaks over which rappers could tell a tale or two in double time, was significantly advanced.

Pulp Fusion – marking the 15th anniversary of the Harmless label – is basically a best of the best of those anthologies that popped out as regularly as a parental advisory sticker. The cynic, or rather the older listener, might argue that The Headhunters, Melvin Sparks, Dexter Wansel and Pleasure, and much of the other material on this two-CD set, is too familiar to be fresh today, but that’s possibly too harsh a judgment. No doubt, a track like Wansel’s Life On Mars was well and truly ‘caned’ in the clubs, but that was some 20 years ago, and it’s actually important to be reminded of how ingenious a piece of music it is. The Philadelphia keyboard player was basically applying hot jazz licks to Brown’s rhythmic propulsion but giving the performance the kind of structural quirks – the spooky Echoplex on the ascending lines of the solo are the audio equivalent of a spaceship whizzing into deep space – that made it more than funk-lite.

Then again, there’s much head-spinning pyschedelia to be found in cuts by The Politicians and Lonnie Smith, and perhaps the real value of Pulp Fusion is that it shows how widespread the cross-fertilisation of soul, funk, jazz, rock and electronica once was. The only blot on an otherwise pleasing Technicolour audioscape is a mistake in the mastering process that has replaced Gil Scott-Heron’s The Bottle by Wilton Felder’s Inherit the Wind, which is, as the Womacks would say, is "kinda strange and funny".

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