"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
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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