Seven Eleven

Hot 'n' Funky

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Whether they're documenting the European jazz scene or recording American improvisers, Challenge Records is best known for straight-ahead acoustic jazz. But in 2003, the Dutch company decided to branch out into funkier territory, which is why Challenge launched the JJ-Tracks subsidiary. The game plan was to keep Challenge proper as a straight-ahead jazz label while putting out crossover jazz, soul, funk, and blues on JJ-Tracks, and one of JJ's non-jazz signings was the Dutch funk band Seven Eleven. Hot 'n' Funky, Seven Eleven's third album, is greatly influenced by the classic funk of the '70s; instead of getting into electronic synth funk, Seven Eleven favors real drums, real bass, real chicken-scratch guitar, and a lot of punchy horns. But unlike old '70s funk albums, Hot 'n' Funky is full of rapping -- and in that sense, the disc has a lot in common with certain go-go releases that came from Washington, D.C., in the '80s (when bands like Rare Essence, Trouble Funk, and E.U. acknowledged the hip-hop revolution without going electronic). As far as funk goes, Hot 'n' Funky isn't in a class with the best albums of Parliament/Funkadelic, Rick James, Cameo, or Godfather of Soul James Brown (although trombonist Fred Wesley, a Brown/George Clinton alumni, is featured on two songs). But the material is generally decent, and the vocalists -- who include singer Jewl (not to be confused with American singer/songwriter Jewel) and rapper Brainpower -- have no problem getting around in the English language. Although Dutch is Holland's primary language, many residents of that country speak English fluently -- and Seven Eleven's vocalists are relatively convincing. Hot 'n' Funky falls short of remarkable, but it's a competent and noteworthy example of Challenge's willingness to venture outside the acoustic bop/swing/post-bop realm.

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