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Sure, thanks to AC/DC we knew they could rock something fierce and also warble next to the best of them courtesy of the Bee Gees, but who knew the land of marsupials could bring the funk so crikey hard? Not I, and yet here is Ishan Cooper cozying up to the funk like a joey snuggling in its mama’s pouch. On “Coop Deville Presents Bat Funk Crazy in 3D,” the guitarist’s second album, Cooper serves up slamming grooves as monstrous as a kangaroo leaping over the Outback in a single bound. Thunder from Down Under indeed.
While Cooper is the alpha dingo of the pack here, he gets an immeasurable boost by the Parliament-Funkadelic company he keeps. Having cut his teeth as a session player with P-Funk luminaries such as ringleader George Clinton and keyboardist Danny Bedrosian, the Aussie upstart has recruited a substantial detail of the Funk Mob’s army for this project. In addition, to Dr. Funkenstein and Bedrosian, reporting for duty are: Lige Curry (bass); Bennie Cowan (trumpet) and his son Benzel Cowan (drums); Greg Thomas (sax); Greg Boyer (trombone); Rodney Skeet Curtis (bass); and Steve Boyd (vocals). Also along for the ride is Fishbone’s Angelo Moore, who Cooper had also gigged with prior. All these funky friends help make for a fabulous journey worthy of hitching a ride on the proverbial Mothership.
The nine tracks (plus a couple of short spoken segues featuring Mr. Wiggles) run the gamut from fast-paced horn-driven workouts (“Bad Larry Jones”) to mid-tempo funkers (“Science of Pants” with Moore and the title song with Boyd) to slow burners (“Keep My Head Up” featuring rapper Kokane and “One Time Spacesuit,” also with Moore) to whimsical explorations (“Faded & X-Rated”). The set strikes a nifty blend of old school and new school sounds/production. There’s even a fun shout out to B.T. Express.
Cooper’s nimble and searing fretwork rises, ebbs, attacks and caresses throughout. His style and tone conjures that of Funkadelic legend Michael Hampton and, on “Tallahasse Dreaming,” original Funkadelic six-string slinger Eddie Hazel. However, Cooper also tips his hat to other greats, such as the Jeff Beck-like voicings he evokes on “Tallahassee” (site of Clinton’s recording studio).
Produced and conceived by Cooper, who further deepens the sonic textures via Bernie Worrell-styled touches of “squeals, wobbles and shakes,” the album’s zany, purple-hued artwork (perhaps a tribute to another influence, Prince) has the musician assuming a Nutty Professor-like persona with imagery inspired by Parliament’s landmark “Clones of Dr. Funkenstein” and “Mothership Connection” albums. While it’s a fitting tribute, it’s also a bold move to directly link oneself to two of the greatest funk epics of all time. Why, it’s a ballsy act in which someone would have to be downright “Bat Funk Crazy!”
In the final analysis, there’s a massive method to Cooper’s madness. He demonstrates a keen sensibility to judiciously pepper in his screaming solos rather than permit guitar pyrotechnics and flashiness to undermine the consistently fat-bottomed rhythms. Subsequently (with all due respect to Hampton, Hazel, Blackbyrd McKnight and Andre Foxxe), taking into account cohesiveness and strength of songs, this may just be the best hardcore funk album a featured guitar player has ever released.
It’s impossible to say whether Clinton’s otherworldly funk and visionary, madcap ethic ever indeed translated to outer space or the depths of the ocean as Parliament’s masterworks thematically aspire, but Cooper is proof positive it has absolutely transcended the farthest corners of planet Earth. How fitting then that Clinton, who began life in a North Carolina outhouse, has given life anew to funk in the Outback.