There has been an incredible funk scene in Brooklyn for the past 15 years. It's been getting some press over the past couple of years due to Sharon Jones' rise in popularity and Amy Winehouse borrowing her band The Dap Kings, a group of musicians who have been part of most projects to come out of these 4 Brooklyn based record labels: Desco, Soul Fire, Daptone, and Truth & Soul. I'm gonna take you back a few years and tell you about Desco Records first.
The label was founded by Gabriel Roth (a.k.a. Bosco Mann) and Phil Lehman in 1996. The label made it until 2000, then the two parted ways and Roth formed Daptone, and Lehman formed Soul Fire.
Roth and Lehman preferred different sounds, which became apparent when they parted ways. Lehman prefers a dirtier, more raw funk, which is apparent on all of the Soul Fire releases, while Roth prefers cleaner, more polished sound, which categorizes most of the Daptone releases.
All of these labels put out 7" singles like crazy, however I don't own any of them, so I'm going to focus on the albums and singles comps.
Desco 001 The Other Side- (Don't Look Back) Behind the Shack (1998)
This album, the first in a long line a Brooklyn releases, really sets the bar. The band featured a young Gabriel Roth, AKA Bosco Mann, on bass who would go on to produce and play on an overwhelming number of the albums to come out of this scene. The Other Side is a horn driven, instrumental funk band. The songs range from midtempo soul to super fast funk freakouts. It has a definite J.B.'s feel to it, and the trombone player definitely grew up listening to Fred Wesley blow his horn, while the sax player has a more subtle Maceo Parker influence during his solos. While the horns are on the front lines during this album, the organ playing should not go unnoticed, as well as the fact that the rhythm section for this band pretty much defined what the rhythm sections for every Daptone release would sound like. I hear an influence on the guitar, drum, and bass from this album in The Dap Kings and Budos Band.
Desco 002 The Sugarman Three- Sugar's Boogaloo (1998)
This is the Sugarman 3's debut full length, a well crafted set of polished soulful instrumentals. The band consists of guitar, drums, organ, tenor sax, and flute. It's odd for a soul/funk band not to have a bassist, but it works so well that I honestly never even knew there was no bass until sitting down to write this. This is a great album, and they only got better with their second album. This album was reissued on Daptone, and is readily available.
Desco 003 The Daktaris- Soul Explosion (1998)
The Daktaris consist of the usual cast of Desco musicians, however they aren't playing funk or soul anymore, they are playing afrobeat. Since the musicians are familiar, and it was recorded and mixed by Gabriel Roth, it has that familiar Desco feel to it. You can hear the polished Desco soul shine through this hard hitting, sometimes militant afrobeat. This album is HIGHLY reccomended, and like Sugar's Boogaloo, it is also available on Daptone Records.
Desco 004 Lee Fields- Let's Get A Groove On (1998)
Lee Fields was born and raised in North Carolina and his career began way back in the 1970's. His first album, Let's Talk It Over was released in 1979 and is considered a funk classic and is nearly impossible to find. This is his first album for the Brooklyn funk mob, and it can best be described as Desco meets James Brown. It's got hard hitting funk grooves, but it also features Lee singing the beautiful ballad, "Take It or Leave It."
Desco 005 The Sugarman Three- Soul Donkey (2000)
This is my favorite Sugarman Three album. They took what they were doing on the first album, and they perfected it. This album, like Sugar's Boogaloo, is an album of instrumental funk, played by the same band, augmented this time by Roth adding some tambourine. However, the songwriting is better on this one, and the songs are funkier. This is the kind of album you put on at a party to get everyone up and dancing. This album is also available on Daptone Records.
RM 7 Nino Nardini and the Pop Riviera Group- No. 7 Pop (1971)
Nino Nardini, born Georges Achille Teperino in 1912 in France, is about something of a mystery. Nothing about this guy is ordinary. I couldn't find too much information about him other than his real name and year of birth but I did find samples of some of his other work and this guy is weird. He put out an album called Jungle Obsession in 1971 and it's cinematic soul with all the songs named after things from The Jungle Book. This guy is a rare groove DJ's wet dream because all of his stuff is so radically different and strange and not many people know who he is. This album was originally released in 1971 (released by Desco in 1997) and is organ heavy funk; I'm pretty sure Nardini was an organ/keyboard/synth player. A lot of the album has a slow, slinking backbeat to them which make them sound like the soundtrack to an exotic, late night party but there are a few faster tunes with "Popcorn"esque drum beats. The horns are usually there for texture and to compliment the melody which is almost always in the organ. Thanks to the good people at Desco Records this album got another shot to make people dance.
Desco CD 201 Various- Spike's Choice (1998)
This is Desco's first single's colleciton. Like i said, the label put out a good amount of 7" singles. These singles were very limited, only 500 of each were pressed. This CD compiles the first 12 singles onto one disc. It features the Sugarman Three, The Other Side, The Soul Providers, Lee Fields, and Sharon Jones
Desco CD 202 Various- Spike's Choice vol. 2 (1999)
Here's the second volume to the single's collection, this time around featuring songs by The Daktaris, Naomi Davis, The Sugarman Three, The Mighty Imperials (who recorded an album for Desco, but didn't see the light of day until Daptone released it in 2004), The Unstoppable S. Robinson, and Joseph Henry.
That is the Desco catalog. If you ever come across these CD's or LP's, buy them. They're really hard to find and every single one of them is incredible.
Coming Soon: Brooklyn Funk vol. 2: Soul Fire