Blinded by Science

Update that periodic table: A new element's just in, and it's named Bootium

Though the Parliament/Funkadelic empire has been officially silent since 1983's Trombipulation, true followers of George Clinton's visionary menagerie haven't exactly gone dry during the nominal drought. Every year or so, Clinton, first lieutenant Bootsy Collins, and assorted friends drop by at this or that recording session, turning otherwise minor P-flavored projects into tantalizing tastes of what a full-fledged reunion might sound like. The funk is always flowing. You just have to know where to look A at the 1989 Mr. Fiddler debut, for instance, or last summer's Trey Lewd LP. News flash: This year's geyser has just been sighted, gushing up gloriously behind Bernie Worrell.

To be fair, a Worrell release, while certainly P-flavored, isn't exactly minor. A stalwart member of Parliament/Funkadelic from the very beginning, keyboard/piano man Worrell has long been the silent vertex of the ruling triangle, not only a consummate musician whose stellar taste tempered Uncle Jam's most interstellar moments, but also a gifted songwriter who had a hand in his share of P-Funk anthems ("Up for the Down Stroke," "Give Up the Funk"). Worrell's last solo release, 1990's Funk of Ages, boasted a We-Are-the-World-size guestlist, including Vernon Reid, Keith Richards, David Byrne, and Phoebe Snow, and while the LP had its moments, from the robotic chicanery of "Ain't She Sweet" to the ferocious "Don't Piss Me Off," good intentions were undone by lack of focus.

Happily, Blacktronic Science finds Worrell running a tighter ship. Teamed once again with producer Bill Laswell and backed substantially by Clinton and Collins A one or both appear on five of the album's nine tracks A the LP has the feel of a bona fide P-Funk reunion, philosophical intoxication bumping and grinding with seismic rhythms, hypnotic hooks, and greasy horn licks. Just take a look at the Funkensteinian cover art: The jumble of wires and flasks may look complicated, but the message is simple A it's all a matter of chemistry.

Because Worrell has the name above the title, Blacktronic Science doesn't scrimp on instrumental excursions, including the opening harpsichord suite "Revelation in Black Light" and ornate intros and outros on virtually every track. (Suckers who have gone head over heedless for Elvis Costello's latest might want to take the opportunity to toss this-year's-muddle into some dark corner and see how the string thing is really done.) There's even a pair of powerful jazz-funk compositions in which Worrell's figure 88s are bookended by legendary sidemen A not only sax machine Maceo Parker, but also drummer Tony Williams, whose teen apprenticeship under Miles Davis and pioneering work with John McLaughlin marked the beginning of acid jazz. The taut "Blood Secrets" moves especially well, with Williams sparking Parker throughout, and then taking over down the homestretch. But the blue ribbons in this Science fair go to the funk workouts, in which the triple-pillar of the still-vital empire A Mssrs. Clinton, Collins, and Worrell A sets 'em up to knock 'em down.

Riding in on the fadeout of "Revelation," the energetic "Flex" gets the party started, recycling the R&B skeleton of a certain top-flight Parliament chestnut (junior funkateers may recognize it as Digital Underground's "Heartbeat Props"). By the time Blacktronic Science rolls into "Time Was (Events in the Elsewhere)," you might think the funk can't get any stronger. You'd be wrong. "Time Was" opens with a typically seductive Worrell introduction, and then drops abruptly into bottom-feeder funk. As Bootsy stretches out his carnivorous fatback and Gary "Mudbone" Cooper wails in the spandrels of the mix, Clinton spreads wise-fool musings like he's drafting a funk Principia. (And if "semantics unstoppable like Radio Free Newark New Jersey" doesn't parse right away, don't worry A lots of people didn't understand Newton either.) Crank up the bass and try to stay in place. You won't believe your rears.

With the grit of past glories and a new wisdom to boot, "Time Was" blows the sci-fi sky-high, and Worrell's album never betrays that apex. As the faithful have known at least since Mothership Connection, P-Funk is prophecy, what the Hebrew philosopher Maimonides called "an effluence that flows first upon the rational faculty and then upon the imaginative faculty." As Maimonides might not have known, this effluence A which involves a canny negotiation of past, present, and future A is also the very definition of a bandleader. In addition to his masterful management of the old schools, funk and jazz alike, Worrell circulates some new blood in the form of rapper James Sumbi, who spices up both "Flex" and the sweaty world-beat workout "The Vision," which features a rare appearance by Collins on acoustic bass. "Dissinfordollars" builds on a Sly Dunbar drum loop, swirling like a funkified "Tomorrow Never Knows" over Fred Wesley's trombone tones. "Won't Go Away" doesn't. And so on and so on.

Relentless, propulsive, and all those other three-syllable cliches, Blacktronic Science will have you salivating for the next funk summit, which may very well be Clinton's long-awaited solo set Hey Man, Smell My Stinky Finger!. Until then, Worrell's LP has served notice that the decade of darkness is officially over, and that the Founding Fathers are standing on the verge of getting it back. The Nobel Prize in funk can't be far behind.

 
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