Romantic Funk: The Unfamiliar
Renowned bassist Orlando le Fleming makes his debut with Whirlwind Recordings with Romantic Funk: The Unfamiliar, paying tribute to the high-intensity fusion of the 1980’s with an impressive team of elite players including Philip Dizack on trumpet and fellow Londoner and OWL trio mate, alto saxophonist Will Vinson , Sean Wayland on keys, and drummers Kush Abadey and Nate Wood. Le Fleming’s work can be found on numerous albums including the recently posted Human Dust Suite by Miki Yamanaka. Since relocating from his native UK to New York City, the bassist has graced projects of Branford Marsalis, Joey Calderazzo, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Bill Charlap, Billy Cobham, Wayne Krantz, Ari Hoenig, Seamus Blake, Jeff “Tain” Watts and David Sanchez, among many others. That’s a brief encapsulation of his role as sideman.
He’s well primed to be a leader. Some already know that his drumless OWL Trio (with guitarist Lage Lund and saxophonist Vinson) drew raves for its hushed, intimate atmosphere. Yet his new release introduces listeners to a new sound and a new band, Romantic Funk. All eight are originals, developed at the band’s residency at the 55 Bar in NYC’s Greenwich Village, and captured live in the studio. Says le Fleming: “In less than two days in the studio, this album was all played live, with very few edits and overdubs. The musicians are of such high quality that the risk taking paid off. For me, the inexpressible magic of the group and moment in time was captured.”
The opener “I’ll Tell You What It Is Later” is influenced by the Miles Davis albums of the late 1960’s and 1980’s, his fusion period. It uses a simple form with minimal chords and an open unrestricted solo section, putting trumpeter Philip Dizack in the spotlight. “Waynes” is inspired by le Fleming’s two favorite Waynes – Shorter and Krantz, alternating excitingly between tension and release. Lauded multi-instrumentalist Nate Wood’s drums drive the triplet-laden groove of “The Myth of Progress” and he returns equally fiery on “FOMO Blues,’’ which also accentuates the leader’s chops. In contrast to the groove-heavy material, “Struggle Session” floats in an effortless rubato over Abadey’s creative percussion with Dizack in gorgeously lyrical lines. “More Melancholy” features an improvised ethereal intro from Wayland, and a stunning statement from Vinson which imbues the spacey piece. “Mischievous” is a pure blowing vehicle with the horns in ensemble and then in and out in counterpoint to each other. Be ready. It has an unexpected time change. Closing track “The Inexpressible” features acoustic bass, an outstanding Wayland improvisation to set up a slow, spiritual groove colored by gorgeous tones from both Dizack and Vinson for a tune dedicated to le Fleming’s family.
Says le Fleming: “When I was writing this album, I was very conscious of the improvisational sections being tailored for the specific musicians, allowing them freedom to express their quirks. I encouraged risk taking and tried to make it fun for them without being too much of a control freak. It’s very much a cohesive band, as we workshopped this material at the 55 Bar over the last year. The ‘Romantic’ in Romantic Funk is more in line with romantic ideals such as the indefinable, unbounded, inexpressible, unfamiliar.”
Don’t let that part of the title, “Unfamiliar,” scare you off. Take its meaning from the above quote. More than likely you’ll heard this kind of fusion before but what makes this so attractive is the melding of fusion, funk with these spacey, textured ballads. le Fleming’s compositional skills have already earned high praise from his various other bands, especially the OWL Trio. This quintet, Romantic Funk, is certainly elite too as Dizack and Vinson are two of the best front line players on the scene today.