Never has a title been so fitting for a European jazz record! Clarinet genius Mauro Negri put together So Funky, an avant-garde jazz/funk album that plays it deep, arty, down, and dirty. There are so many musics in the heart of this Euro funk, yet they are all held within Negri's taut jazz net. The lineup of clarinets (two on "3 3 3"), electric guitar and bass, drums, and trumpet is a provocative one. Jimmy Giuffre has done it, but no one else comes to mind, and Giuffre wasn't even thinking about funk! But Negri is different. The opening modal moments of the solo clarinet on the title track give way to an in-the-gut-bucket bassline that holds the groove steady as Enrico Rava and Negri work out their soul demons in counterpoint to one another. Bebo Ferra's guitar slips itself in -- completely solo for about 12 bars -- and then takes a proper blues-out, greasy solo proper when the rest of the rhythm section kicks back in. Yeah, he flies all over the neck like a rocker, but never moves from the beat's pocket. On "Tun Tun Ciá," Negri and Fiorenzo Delegá's bass state the melody line together -- similar to the way Jaco Pastorius and Wayne Shorter did with Weather Report -- to establish it firmly before letting it give way to Rava's gorgeous blues solo that moves from Miles Davis to Nat Adderley to Donald Byrd in its hesitant, choppy, punch-drunk way, opening up new vistas inside the rhythm for Negri and Ferra to explore against the melody. In this case, though syncopated in a slow, James Brown & His Famous Flames-style manner, the bassline is the melody, and drummer Christian Meyer kicks his fills with the snares and small tom-toms tuned high. When the riff cuts loose from the middle on out, Negri pushes himself -- and the band -- into high gear with a series of eighth and 16th notes that come rushing out of the horn like a hot spring. The dual lead runs between Negri and Ferra are staggering in their virtuosity, and when Rava joins the fray, the seams on the track split and it's a free-for-all in groove land. Things come full circle by the closer, though, an intimate duet between Negri and Fabrizio Meloni, both playing clarinets. The rhythm partner sounds like a circusy calliope playing a sad song as the improviser holds the mood and weaves in and through it, a kaleidoscopic array of tonal variations and voice modulations before the pair switch. It's seamless and warm and tender, and sends the funkiest clarinet record Europe's ever produced off with a child's lonely whisper. So Funky is great art.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek