Funky boy culinary school


Funk’s always been about, well, the funk. Do you feel the funk? Get funky! Ha, funk! Funk da house! Make it funky! Funk dat! Funk for yo mama! Funkenstein! 

But if funk’s the manna that feeds the soul, cats have been concerned about the food to feed your body too. George Clinton asked “Do Fries Go With That Shake?” James Brown biggie sized it with a helping of “Popcorn” and one of “Mashed Potatoes.”

All of which would be fat, if it weren’t music, but since it is, we can call it phat and save the calories. The Modern Groove Syndicate might even help burn some of those calories and stave off funk hunger while they’re at it, with their new self-titled CD. What they brew is slim and trim, fast and loose, light and heavy, bumpin’ and cruisin’. It’s six mostly instrumental songs about food and mullets and bocci balls.

Five skinny white guys from Richmond are the funky Emerils behind this feast, and, yes, I can’t help myself, they— bang!— kick it up a notch! The roster’s heavy with jazz experience, often turned to pop ends: Drummer Joel DeNunzio and bassist Todd Herrington trade time with fellow weekly Outback Lodge staple Buzby, and sax player J.C. Kuhl blew for the R-ing-I.P. Agents of Good Roots. Guitarist and Friend of Buzby Frank Jackson and jazzman about Richmond Daniel Clarke (piano, keys, organ) round out the lineup.

Agents were cool enough, Buzby cuts Limburger, but the only false step MGS make is the sin of pretentious appellation, i.e., “modern,” “groove,” and “syndicate” can’t be anything but corny. Corn gets pushed to the side with an entree like “Fryin’ Eggs & Bacon,” the album opener. After some loose hollers set the mood (including a Marvin Gaye-ish “What’s happenin’?”), syncopating horns bop like a brass band. Then, liftoff: a slap bassline makes room for Kuhl’s staccato riffage, which climbs all over itself

The flavors add up. MGS carves a tight little space for itself, but the arrangements rarely seem cramped. Players rush to the fore and then submerge. A song like “Chewin’ the Fat” gives Clarke’s juicy organ work the spotlight, and he works it well, but funk’s weak spot— sloppiness— can’t get a foothold here. Everything slips, slides, squeezes, and slithers too quickly, too many lines flow on too many levels for too short a time for anything to get out of hand. You’ve got the advantage: a weekly dinner date.


The Modern Groove Syndicate performs at the Outback Lodge every Wednesday. $3, 10pm.