Defunkt: The Razor’s Edge – UK – 12″ 
- The Razor’s Edge 9:22
- Strangling Me With Your Love [Revisited] 10:45
I’ve spoken on occasion and dropped the term “Jazz-Funk” into the mix here at PPM. What that usually entailed was a Pop/Funk band adding Jazz filigree to the music. Not terribly far removed from what a group like Earth, Wind, + Fire was aiming for. What a band like Defunkt brought to the goal was almost the antithesis of that paradigm. Because Defunkt were a Jazz band who were aiming to bring a Funk energy to their music.
In the 1981-1982 period I was soaking up the sounds of college radio after discovering that they were on my wavelength in the new decade. The only radio station I listened to after 1980 was WPRK-FM in Winter Park, Florida. And the trend that was holding sway over the station’s independent programming was Funk. In late 1981-1982, I was hearing a lot of Funk on the station. This meant that they were heavily spinning a track like ABC’s “Poison Arrow” when it was an import single but the station was also giving heavy airplay to the output of NYC’s Ze Records.
Ze was home to Funk and Latin Funk bands like Was [Not Was] or Kid Creole + The Coconuts. They were also the home to the “No Wave” Punk Funk fusion of James White + The Blacks; where [naive] Free Jazz, Punk, and Funk walked a thin line together. One of James White + The Blacks’ members, spun off into his own band by 1982 and Joe Bowie formed the nexus of Defunkt with the intent to bridge the gap between Jazz and Funk from the uptown side of the street.
I can recall hearing both sides of this single in the WPRK-FM environment but I never ever saw this record in almost 40 years of searching until my trip to Los Angeles in 2018; where I found both the UK and US 12″ of this in my shopping! Fortunately for me, it was the UK edition, with the Neville Brody cover art, that I came across first. So I have the best copy of this I can hope for.
It was a trip hearing this for the first time in almost 40 years and finding that I had many memories of the record jumbled together in my mind, which interpolated parts of separate verses into a whole that did not exist. What did exist was a swaggering horn riff driving a churning Funk groove that was embellished by each of the players adding their solos to the mix from the get-go. The loopy slide guitar solo from Richard Martin right out of the box was not the sort of cross pollination that one expected to hear in Funk music.
The lead vocals were salted throughout the lengthy mix from trombonist Joe Bowie juxtaposed with backing vocalist Clarice Taylor. The closest the cut got to Free Jazz was the skittering trumpet solo from Joe’s brother Lester but the horns and fiercely popping bass from Kim Clarke kept the dancefloor momentum raging.
The razor’s edge
Against the ropes
Working for a living
Living for the dopeThe Razor’s Edge
The single’s B-side offered still more fatalistic Funk of crushing urban intensity. I can’t think of another more mixed and paradoxical metaphor than “Strangling Me With Your Love.” I can’t think of another song that ever began with the long, protracted sigh employed here before Mr. Bowie added “you are strangling me with your love/in your hotel room of permanent desire.” The vibe here was less swaggering than the A-side with bassist Clarke employing a Mu-Tron envelope filter for a Bootsy Collins feel. But did Bootsy ever have a track with a chorus like “you know I love you/gonna choke me to death?”
The syncopation of the bass and congas seemed laid back in comparison to the other track, but the lyrics belied the more relaxed vibe. Giving the sprawling, nearly eleven minute groove an air of claustrophobic doom. Lester Bowie’s trumpet solo at the 8:00 mark added more staccato energy to rough up the listener’s discomfort levels.
The Defunkt debut album of 1980 had a 4:05 version of “Strangling Me With Your Love” and this new version on the 1982 12″ was produced by label owner Joy Boyd on this 12″ and given an abundance of time to stretch out. There was plenty of room for all of these Jazz players to use their techinque to a different end. This makes me thirst for more of this bitter brew and to that end, I’ve added the tidy 2xCD of the band’s two albums for Hannibal Records to my Infinite Wantlist®. The music of Defunkt was very congruent with another band of Jazz players testing the waters of Funk, bass player Jamaaladeen Tacuma’s Cosmetic. The last few years has seen me buying their LP and a few 12″ers but there are two more that I need before making the long-planned REVO edition. And both bands had M+Co cover designs on their albums. Hmmmm.
Great stuff, Razor’s Edge and your blog, too!
detektiverockford – Welcome to the comments. Glad to see I’m not the only fan of Defunkt here.
Nice write-up monk. And you are right, the cover art is terrific. Defunkt was absolutely on my radar in that same timeframe as you. Just the look of the Defunkt debut albums cover made it clear that this was not your typical r&b release! I used to think of it all as ‘mutant funk’ for lack of a better term (certainly I’d read it somewhere). Anything on Ze or 99 Records was of interest to me.
On a related tangent… I know you share my appreciation of the Tom Tom Club debut. My biggest quibble with Frantz’s book was that he didn’t discuss which Bohannon tracks were their favorites; in 1981 I had no idea what this “bohannon bohannon etc”… was all about. Recently I acquired a copy of Bohannon’s “dance your ass off” lp. I can definitely hear the strains of ‘mutant funk’ on this album. I can envision Talking Heads drinking from this well.
bpdp3 – I knew Hamilton Bohannon from the inner sleeves of late 70s Mercury Records but to date, I still have not heard the first note of his music! But I have tons of it in the Infinite Want List® and have discussed compiling huge swaths of it with Echorich, who, being a New Yorker, was much more sophisticated than I was! I just need to dive into all of those 12″ singles, which are not expensive. I rode the Ze Records train from the early 80s, but 99 Records, [and especially ESG] is another huge hole in my makeup.