The best funk band working today is not from the U.S., where funk was invented, but from Leeds, England, where funk and soul have been undergoing a revival for some time. On the soul/R&B side, Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, and Beverly Knight have picked up where Motown left off in the 1970s, to astonishing success. Likewise, funksters the New Mastersounds have pumped air into the long-deflated funk scene with indie-rocker energy and have made it cool and relevant. Their approach is loaded with respect; one wonders if the title of the New Mastersounds’ single “One Note Brown” is meant as acknowledgement of what they have borrowed from the Godfather of Soul and funk, James Brown. In keeping with the first British Invasion four decades ago, U.K. youth are again taking notice of a vintage American art form, romanticizing it, reinventing it, and feeding it back to us.
Funk has no bad days. It is based on a driving rhythm that allows for zero sorrow. True funk is often a celebration based on a single chord stretched to the breaking point. Everything in a funk song starts on the downbeat, unlike rock or soul, which emphasizes the second and fourth beats. Funk elevates the bass guitar to something approaching lead status, and the drums are right behind it. The funk tradition calls for a kind of rhythm-guitar technique known as “chicken scratching.” There is always a Hammond B3 organ, and in most funk bands a horn section blasts counterpoint to the vocalist. Although Trombone Shorty and his band have joined them for this tour, the New Mastersounds make enough heat on their own with just the rhythm section of bass, drums, guitar, and organ.
Have they missed anything in the translation? No. Thanks to the Brits, the funk has lived to see another day.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue also perform.
THE NEW MASTERSOUNDS: Belly Up, Wednesday, March 10, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $15; $17 day of show.