Led by singing trombonist Joe Bowie (younger brother of famed jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie), the seven-man Defunkt peddled black funk with dry bounce. Originally formed as James Chance’s horn section, Defunkt also had ties with the world of avant-garde jazz, putting it in a unique and culturally resonant position. Defunkt isn’t a revolutionary breakout, but does include the super-catchy (if obtusely titled) “Blues,” a number which was extremely popular around New York at the time. Thermonuclear Sweat, named for a track from the first LP, is sweeter-sounding and jazzier, smoothed out by Joe Boyd’s sage production.
Following a two-year stint spent living in the Caribbean, Bowie returned to New York and formed a new six-piece Defunkt, which debuted on vinyl in mid-’88. Except for a drum sound that suggests tin cans in a carpet showroom, In America is brilliant, a dynamic rock-funk-jazz concoction of popping bass, neck-melting guitar (by Bill Bickford, Ronnie Drayton and Tomas Doncker) and Bowie’s inventive trombone figures and up-close-and-personable vocals. Stretching further afield, “In America” uses found-sound comments from Richard Nixon, John Kennedy and others to make its political point. While Defunkt has nothing at all to do with heavy metal, fans of Living Colour would do well to check out this alternate mixture of overlapping ingredients.
Avoid the Funk revisits Defunkt’s early-’80s work with one track from Defunkt (“Make Them Dance”), three from Thermonuclear Sweat (including “Avoid the Funk” and a version of the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money,” both of which feature Vernon Reid as one of two guitarists), a 1981 single (“The Razor’s Edge”/”Strangling Me with Your Love (Revisited)”) and smoking 1983 live performances of two songs from the first LP.