By Leigh Feldman
From the rich jazz and jam band corners of Chicago to New Orleans' heavy Southern funk tradition comes Philly's Phunkestra Soul Orchestra, an eight-piece rhythm and horn jazz orchestra. Experimenting with a sound both boldly imaginative and well seasoned, the Phunkestra's members are unafraid to congeal classically trained chords to modern pop influence, resulting in songs that are warmly toned and tinged with the George Clinton school of atypical.
Based in Portland, Oregon, Phunkestra's members have traveled globally, sharing stages with the Wu-Tang Clan, Ziggy Marley, Michael Franti & Spearhead, K'naan, Israel Vibration and Dirty Dozen Brass Band. These collaborative bills have helped shape the band's sound, allowing them a wealth of live arena experience.
Justin Partney, Malcolm Lewis, Ryan Cheng and Brian Morgan carry the horn section like an excitable conversation between friends with applicable timing, flow and mini muscular solo spotlights. Eric Bigger, Greg Porter, Eric Gold and Chris Phillips steer percussion, bulking up songs like, "Aphex" and "Sidewalks of San Francisco" with detailed piano riffs and snare hits, still leaving room for spacey keyboard pings and wooden shaker droplets.
You can see Philly's Phunkestra Soul Orchestra live Dec. 12th at the Crown Room, Jan. 22nd at Berbati's Pan with Rebirth Brass Band & Ivan Neville's Dumpstafunk and every 1st & 3rd Thursday's at ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“The Phunktion' at the Crown Room beginning in January 2010.
Check out their track ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Aphex' from their most recent EP project: http://www.mediafire.com/?mm5zzzjnz3e
If you had to explain your sound to a stranger, how would you do so?
I would say our sound is a mixture of Funk, Afro beat and Soul mainly, but we all come from so many different musical backgrounds and have so many different influences its hard to really put borders around our sound. We try to mix it up, we could play some Afro beat type groove to make you dance then easily slip into a hip-hop vibe and invite up an MC. Before you know it though we are right back into some greasy Funk/Soul. — Chris Phillips (Keyboards)
Do you compose and create your own music? How do you decide on the titles for the songs you create?
The songs we perform are about 80% originals composed mostly by myself with a couple tunes that were written as a group. For a majority of the tunes I just come up with the song names by how the music makes me feel. For instance the song "Aphex" from our self-titled EP is a piece that was written a while ago when I was really getting into Aphex Twin. Though the track really does not sound like anything even close to Aphex Twin I like to think Aphex Twin had a little to do with the inspiration for the piece. Also the last track off the EP, "Polowat" is the name of a Micronesian island in the South Pacific. I have grown interested in this beautiful place and thought if I was to get off a boat and stand on the beaches of Polowat looking across a lagoon I would hear this music. — Chris Phillips (Keyboards)
How much do you think a title of recording changes a listeners experience with it?
I think the title of a recording or a track has a lot to do with it, at least to a majority of listeners. Not everybody cares about song names, titles of albums or even vocals for that matter. I have noticed though a band name or a song title can really turn listeners off and really block what the band is setting out to do. I think its definitely one of the downfalls about writing music. — Chris Phillips (Keyboards)
If people walk away with one thing gained from seeing your group play, what would you hope that would be?
I hope that people leave our shows in great spirits with tired legs and asking themselves, "When can I see those guys again?" — Eric Bigger — (Bass)
Who are some of your favorite musicians (living or dead) and what makes them and their work special to you?
Quincy Jones, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Herbie Hancock, Parliament Funkadelic, Chick Corea, Elliott Smith, Dizzy, Michael Jackson, Rod Temperton, Brothers Johnson, John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, JJ Johnson, Charles Mingus, Paul Jackson, Eric Dolphy, George Porter, Bob Dylan, The Meters, Soulive, James Brown, Barry Rogers, Bjork so many people are being left outÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬¦ All of these musicians have influenced our playing and or writing style throughout our lives. — Philly's Phunkestra
Best advice I ever got was…?
Stay humble and try not to get a big head when things are going right for you. Also NEVER let a day go by that you don't pickup/touch your instrument. — Chris Phillips (Keyboards
“Stop trying to play all the notes” — Greg Porter (Percussion)
Chance to give shine — artists/groups you love that people should know about?
Orgone, Dave Douglas, John Zorn, Donnie, The Bamboos, Tahoe Jackson, Dan BernÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬¦ again people are missing but just start talking to me and I'm sure I will blurt out some people for you to listen to. — Chris Phillips (Keyboards)
Liv Warfield, Tony Ozier, Toque Libre, Ron Steen & Tom Grant from the past that gave players a chance to play and learn, GOD, Ducks, SE PDX, Porter Fam, What up Raider/Saints/Bear Nation!!, Illinois people!, Soul Rebels Brass Band, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. — Philly's Phunkestra
Lastly, if I weren't a musician I'd beÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬¦
A Drummer. Ha Ha — Justin Partney (Trumpet)