There are a great number of artists, black and white, that have taken three electronic soul masterpieces from the early ’70s – namely Sly And The Family Stone‘s Fresh, Shuggie Otis‘ Inspiration Information, and Stevie Wonder‘s Innervisions – as avatars, as aural touchstones for the funk muse. Naturally, influences can be as much handicaps as stimuli, and there’s a thin line between inspiration and emulation. Save for a few honourable exceptions, the whole acid jazz / Talkin’ Loud thang that thrilled retro-funk aficionados in the early ’90s can be placed in the latter category. Conversely, numerous R ‘n’ B and hip-hop luminaries have since used technology to broaden the palette, creating ever new twists, turns, and slices ‘n’ dices to engage listeners and ensure that there’s enough of the former goin’ on.
Joseph “Amp” Fiddler’s Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly happily lands square on the landing pad of Funk Airlines (one carrier where The Bomb is welcomed), reserved especially for those demonstrating their Interplanetary Funkmanship by bringing something new to the party. A veteran of George Clinton‘s premier squad of P-Funk All Stars, and co-conspirator of Prince, Maxwell, and Lucy Pearl, our Ampy also has keen Detroit credentials by being part of Carl Craig‘s Planet-E experience.
Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly doesn’t betray these influences but all but signs up a pre-nuptial agreement for lifelong fealty. Seeming at first blast a little flimsy and ho-hum, Amp Fiddler’s first long-player in over 12 years uses all the player instincts picked up as a sideman over the years to provide a masterful nu-soul or nu-funk or nu-whatever album, to intoxicate and intrigue.
This is a record so seamless that, despite the variance of styles, it plays as one narrative, and really, in this age of vertical marketing, how many sets can boast the same? Though Mr Fiddler has appropriated a number of co-producers, the differing textures on this set are used so discerningly that it’s hard to spot the join. Whether using an R ‘n’ B dude like Raphael Saadiq, or deep house Guru like Moodymann (pioneer of House so deep its positively subterranean), all are spice to the Amp Fiddler stew.
Though tracks like the Moodymann co-produced Love & War integrates afro-beat with the Moody one’s trademark airy House, the final product ends up sounding like Nina Simone‘s See Line Woman sharing cocktails with Spacek‘s Curvatia album as Masters Of Work spin toons (quietly) in the bar. It’s hard to imagine that any of these records have not fallen within the sonar of Amp Fiddler’s radar at some point.
Occasionally the derivations do get a little familiar, particularly on If You Can’t Get Me Off Your Mind where Uncle Sly’s repertoire of squeals, grumbles, and shrieks are mixed with the man’s trademark keyboard stabs. But mostly, Amp Fiddler is never content to let the tracks sit on their referential, and reverential, asses. Courtney Jackson’s isolated vocals floating in on the blissy expanse of Unconditional Eyes is just one of the many subtle shades and colours that Amp Fiddler utilises alongside his nord electro.
As the prophet Gloria Estefan once predicted, ultimately rhythm’s gonna get ya, and Amp Fiddler will do the same with an album that never needs to overstate its virtues.