Defunkt – The Razor’s Edge

28th October 2023 · 1980s, 1981, Funk, Jazz, Music

This was the first funk I ever really “got” – I remember first hearing it in a pub on the Mile End End where there was a DJ who span tunes far removed from my usual New Wave and postpunk fare.

For a while at the turn of the eighties I visited The Old Globe once a week (Tuesdays, I think) with a disparate crowd including my long-lost friends Steve and Lana, Ronnie and Jo (at least two of them no longer with us) and big John Wardle aka Jah Wobble who lived around the corner in Stepney.

Funk was just coming into my life, via the No Wave bands in New York like James White & The Blacks (aka James Chance & The Contortions), Kid Creole & The Coconuts and the emergence in the UK of Chris Sullivan’s fusion crew Blue Rondo A La Turk.

This tune, fusing elements of funk, blues and jazz, caught my ear for all sorts of reasons: the bass is twangy and slippery, the drums are mighty, and that horn fanfare lingers long in the ears, and mind, even before the trombone starts to solo.

The squealy electric guitar solo seals the deal; then there’s the breakdown when the two vocalists (Joseph and Clarice Taylor) work themselves into a trancelike state singing the refrain “Gave up my life, But I won’t give in” with increasing urgency as the horns burn behind them.

Formed in 1978 to perform “danceable jazz,” Defunkt were the vehicle of trombonist Joseph Bowie; no relation of David but brother of the trumpeter Lester Bowie of The Art Ensemble Of Chicago and Byron, who played sax in a big band. All three of them play on this number – possibly for the first and last time.

They’re joined by bassist Kim Clarke and at least two Englishmen: drummer Gavin Harrison (latterly of King Crimson and now of Porcupine Tree) and future Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid; and other musicians who had played with James Chance (aka James White) on the same underground No Wave scene in New York that spawned Bill Laswell’s similar-minded group Material.

I never got to see them, sadly: this incarnation of the band broke up after recording an album with the excellent title Thermonuclear Sweat, produced by the peerless Joe Boyd.