For those not in the know, the Pulp Fusion series has been the groove-head’s best friend since the mid-1990’s. This classic compilation series made a name for itself with fans by collecting the best deep catalog funk, jazz and soul grooves (and crossbreeds of all of the above) for aficionados, presenting them in nicely curated sets that offer a musical head-trip of the purest variety.
Now that Harmless Records has reached its 15-year anniversary, they have commemorated the event with a new double-disc installment of Pulp Fusion. Luckily for fans, it continues to deliver the sophisticated jazz/funk/soul goods in its customary style.
On the first disc, highlights include Reuben Wilson’s instrumental take on “Inner City Blues,” which foregoes the ominous lope of the original for a tight, jazz-funk groove driven by fluid organ solos, and Don Ellis’s re-rerecording of his theme from The French Connection, which reworks it into a fierce large-ensemble workout with Latin-rhythmic underpinnings. On the vocal tip, The Last Poets’ “It’s A Trip” offers a proto-rap treatise on ghetto ills whose taut poly-rhythms match the jittery tension of its lyrical sentiments.
Things don’t slacken any on the second disc, which maintains the consciousness-expanding brew of densely rhythmic grooves and socially conscious sentiments. Killers on this half include “Life On Mars,” a mellow yet percolating shot of jazz-funk from Dexter Wansel that glides forward on silky keyboard embellishments, and “Do It,” a long-unreleased gem from the studio project Los Africanos that blends African and Latin rhythms to dazzling effect. Other highlights include Windy City Orchestra’s “Windy City Theme,” which offsets an ethereal orchestral melody with a churning funk groove, and Lonnie Smith’s “Afrodesia,” a nine-minute epic that ebbs and flows to create a thoroughly hypnotic mood.
If the above track descriptions aren’t tantalizing enough, there is plenty more where those highlights came from in this set. The Politicians, the house band for Holland-Dozier-Holland’s post-Motown labels Hot Wax and Invictus, drops a psych-tinged funk bomb with their instrumental “The World We Live In” and Patrice Rushen serves up an early example of her ethereal, melodically sweet approach to jazz-funk with “Let Your Heart Be Free.” Elsewhere, the compilers show their smart by including underground cult faves like Yellow Sunshine’s self-titled theme tune and offering two versions of “The Bottle,” one on each disc (the classic Gil Scott-Heron original appears on the first and the Latin-ized instrumental cover by Joe Bataan is on the second).
In short, there is a deep-dish double serving of groove to be explored here and the selections are varied and complex enough to reward repeated listens. The package is completed by informative liner notes by Pulp Fusion regular Dean Rudland and comprehensive track listings that include images of the original albums and singles. This 15th Anniversary Edition is a grand celebration of what this compilation series represents and it makes Your Humble Reviewer hope the series will continue for many years to come. If you’re a fan of funk’s artsier side or appreciate the musically ambitious jazz/soul/funk blendings inherent in a classic blaxploitation soundtrack, you will find plenty to enjoy on this set.