Columbus, Ohio’s fo/mo/deep calls themselves an “Eclectic Groove Oriented – Funky Jazz Collective,” and it’s truth in advertising. Comprised of Ron “FatKat” Holmes (electric bass), Kevin Jones (keys), André Scott (drums), Keith Newton (saxes, flute) and Kenneth “Pounce” Pouncey (percussion), fo/mo/deep hits a sweet spot where the funk is not too hard or too smooth, it works for whatever kind of groove listening mood you’re in. That comes from a genuine fealty to their 70s forbears such as the Crusaders, Grover Washington, George Benson, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Headhunters.
Holmes leads the band without having to play “lead bass” all the time. His lines are so fat, fluid and dead-on, they stand at the center of everything else swirling around each tune. Newton, who’s expressive sax style approximate David Sanborn’s shares most of the lead duties with Jones, who sticks with the vintage sounds of organ, electric piano and piano.
Members of the band, mostly Holmes, write most of their own material for this album, and each song deliver the grooves in an urbane, tight fashion, and mixes up the tempos to keep it interesting. There’s the menacing bass riff that powers “Jawjacka’,” the syncopated funk of “Mama Said’ Mama Said’” and even a beguiling midtempo ballad with “The Wanting” that’s so lyrical it practically begs for lyrics.
While the originals faithfully conjure up the spirit of old school funk jazz, it’s their covers of jazz classics that respect the transcendental melodies. The purists who might scoff at the thought of applying a modern groove to these songs would miss the point: these guys don’t mess the basic harmonics of the songs and give listeners an attractive bridge to cross over where the rich catalogs of Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, John Coltrane and other jazz great await. Coltrane’s “Naima,” in fact, is given the same, spare sax/piano arrangement of the original, but still fits in with the program of the rest of the album, because it’s such a soulful tune. They also plucked a forgotten Hutcherson gem “Montara,” removed the Latin beat from underneath it and slid in this crisp, pulsating rhythm in its place.
fo/mo/deep branches out from funk-jazz in another way, by presenting music that were offshoots from funk and jazz, like afrobeat and reggae. The former gets represented on the original “A Beautiful Bang” and again on Fela Kuti’s “Gentleman,” where scathing commentary on the Westernization of Africans in their homeland is inspired by the original. Hubbard’s “Red Clay” (video of live performance above) gets a stellar reggae treatment, with Newton’s sax jammin’ non-stop from the chorus to the long bridge, followed by Jones’ intense organ ruminations. “Da Ba Di Do (Sonrisa De Zoe)” is a joyful, riff-based Brazilian funk excursion, led off by Holmes’ fanciful, avant-garde bass bit. All of these stylistic jaunts serve to remind that funk and jazz’s influenced have stretched far and deep beyond America.
fo/mo/deep also serves to remind us that, yes, there are still a few bands out there making that soul-soothing, butt-swaying, feel-good blend of jazz and funk. And at least one of them, out of the middle of Ohio, is doing it about as well as it can be done.
A Beautiful Bang went on sale last June 1, by RHMedia, LLC. Visit fo/mo/deep’s website for more info.