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"When we play together, the energy is palpable," says Josh Geller, guitarist and founder of Los Angeles funk-rock collective Urban Family Dog. "Audiences tell us that we look like we're having the greatest time onstage -- and they're right."

Such unrestrained joy and passion is central to UFD's exuberant brand of philosophical funk. The band -- featuring vocalist/lyricist Keri Johnson, bassist Charles Chastain, drummer Nels Dielman, trumpeters Steve Stassi and Michael Rotondi, saxophonist Matt Lilley, bass trombonist Mike Harrington and the aforementioned Geller -- embodies the groove-oriented, positive spirit of such acknowledged influences as Sly & the Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic and early Red Hot Chili Peppers. The K-9 Brass (as UFD's horn players are known) recalls such classic horn sections as Tower of Power's. However, this ensemble is no mere group of slavish imitators, according to Johnson. "While we see ourselves as being part of a continuum, we clearly bring something original to the party."

The 8-piece ensemble's material is eclectic and focused, humorous and socially conscious. From incendiary, skin-tight funk workouts like "Higher" to the Zappa-like avant-garde exploration "Anna Guana Davida," Urban Family Dog's musical palette is vast yet accessible. There's even an ode to a funk suppository, the witty "Preparation F," featuring the refrain "we put the 'fun' in the funk."

The band's new album, 3-Finger Charlie, will be released on its own Highdrant Records in June 2002. The title is a reference to a grisly accident that bassist Chastain suffered in November 2001, severely damaging his middle finger. The injury forced Chastain to relearn the band's entire repertoire by teaching himself new fingerings -- no small feat, considering the bass virtuoso's intricate fretwork.

The foundation of this resilience -- Urban Family Dog's long-standing optimism -- is one of its animating forces. Geller formed the band in 1994 when he recruited Chastain through a mutual friend and was impressed by the bassist's innovative musicianship. Vocalist Johnson, who sang in a previous band with Chastain, was asked to join forces with Geller two songs into their first jam session. "Hearing a great singer like Keri interpret my music so well was a transformative experience," the guitarist attests.

Although an active recording unit -- the band also released a debut album, Take It Like You Like It, in January 1996 -- UFD has garnered its rabid following thanks to its reputation as an electrifying live act. Johnson attributes such loyal audience enthusiasm in part to the respect and affection that the band members have for each other. "Obviously, we are deeply committed to each other as musicians, but also as friends," the singer maintains. "That sense of love that we share of making music together is infectious, and it fills the room whenever we play."

Urban Family Dog's emphasis on professionalism, discipline, and strong musicianship distinguishes the band among its fellow independent artists. "We consider ourselves 'recovering perfectionists,'" drummer Dielman laughs. "But our strong work ethic remains and we try not to play intentionally sloppy, ever. I think we do a great job of channeling the raw energy and vibe without losing control of our arrangements."

Key to the Urban Family Dog ethos is its commitment to the "One." Originally used to emphasize the first beat of a musical bar, the concept was expanded upon by funk pioneers like James Brown and George Clinton to signify musical unity as well as rhythmic innovation. "The concept of the 'One' serves as our musical and philosophical anchor," according to Johnson. "When the band is performing at its best, we're a single unit. The 'One' implies that out of many comes something greater and stronger -- and that idea is what Urban Family Dog is all about."

Camaraderie, energy, the 'One' -- Urban Family Dog cooks up these ingredients to create a transcendent experience for band members and audiences alike.

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