Novox is funk-jazz that’s about 85% in the 70s and 15% in the present. Formed over ten years ago by guitarist Pierre Alexandre Gauthier, the dominant vintage side comes from the Fender Rhodes of Jean Romeyer, the standup bass of Jane-Lise Meunier, and the trumpet/alto sax horn brigade of Benjamin Meunier and Gregory Ivanoff. Those things give the music its corduroy veneer, as well as the fact that this Lyon, France septet tapes their records in warm analog.
The remaining 15% comes from the turntables of DJ Mix Master Matt, and the hip-hop accents he injects into the otherwise Headhunters/Fela Kuti/James Brown brew of funkified jazz, along with random samples. Arnaud “Nono” Izoulet rounds out the group on drums, straddling both centuries with his street-wise beats.
Over The Honeymoon (on sale stateside August 25, 2014 from Z Productions) is the band’s third long player, loosely themed on the chugging grooves and mid-tempo soul jams found in the soundtracks of 70s Blaxploitation films. It’s a theme puts Novox in a spot that they’re already occupying for the most part, so the project is hardly a departure for them, but does sharpen their focus. And those scratches and sampled spoken words subtly remind us they’re not so slavishly stuck on recreating the past that they’re not going to add a little something to it that’s all their own.
This kind of music usually means jams stretched-out to the 7-10 minute range, but Novox manages to capture the feel in fourteen tidy, three-to-five minute performances.
The charged-up horns of “Clanga” suggest just a touch of Afrobeat, and Ivanoff’s gritty sax solo is the centerpiece but Gauthier provides a stinging rock counterpoint. The smooth strut of “Betty’s Black” get’s an Isaac Hayes treatment from the percussive wah-wah guitar, which in turn gets modern help from DJ Matt’s scratching. “The Juice” has an undeniable pulse provided by Ms. Meunier’s bass; all the rest of the band has to do is layer on top of it. Right after that, “Blue Merry Jane” slows down the groove to a cool, shimmering Rhodes velocity, and the ensemble stretches out nicely on “MP,” where at one point the horn players are soloing against each other.
“Waiting For The Pusherman” is a song title Curtis Mayfield could have come up with, and the dark-toned grease matches the sound to the name; Gauthier spaces out with a heaping helping of soul on guitar. A cover of George Clinton’s “Maggot Brain” puts Gauthier’s Funkadelic compulsion up front, and Gauthier invests Eddie Hazel passion into his guitar solo. The 1971 vibe is continued with the Temptations prowl of “Dragon Gate.” “The Honeymoon Is Over” is the album’s titular finale, sounding like the aftermath of a party, lights-out time, a mood set precisely by Mr. Meunier’s delicate trumpet.
In summoning the spirit of forty-year old B-movie soundtracks and classic soul records of the period, Novox makes funk-jazz that’s easy to sway or dance to without having to break much of a sweat doing so, because nothing here sounds forced. Over The Honeymoon glows as much as it grooves.