There was a moment in the documentary Muhammad And Larry, captured with the usual calm and steady cam the Maysles Brothers were known for, in which heavyweight champion Larry Holmes is driving his car through the streets of Easton, Pennsylvania while impassively listening to a song dedicated to and about the exploits of the same Larry Holmes.
“Easton Assassin” by The Sunburst Band is not the song featured in that incident of casual surrealism but it is remarkable for being the sole recorded track by the other Sunburst Band – not Joey Negro’s outfit, but the funk band from York, Pennsylvania. Its inclusion was obviously just too delicious a coincidence for Negro to pass up. And from the description, you might be thinking this is high kitsch on par with the Muhammad Ali biopic The Greatest, but it’s not. “Easton Assassin” has a really stomping groove, with exceptional musicianship, while still being just as over the top as you’d expect from a record pressed with “A Message To My Fans” on the back cover, urging them to a virtuous life of “setting goals and never giving up”.
I have a feeling there’s a hell of a story behind this track and the first Sunburst Band, and a story like this behind most of the songs on Supafunkanova Vol 2, the second installment of another of Z Records’ compilations of songs you sort of know with a sound you can’t really describe by bands you’ve never heard of at all.
Z Records has carved out a valued niche for itself by carving out niches on its own. Even aficionados are hard pressed to come up with a firm genre for material like this. They’re microgenres, you might call them, made up of songs that inhabit a universe where the borders blur and the edges overlap. A microgenre may be invisible when taking a broad overview of the music of the era but obvious in a curated collection such as this.
For Supafunkanova Vol 2, it’s a joyous journey through thoroughly discofied funk at the dawn of rap and the ’80s – or, as the tagline says more succinctly, “badass funk classics from the disco boogie era”. Many of the songs feature passages or whole vocal tracks of spoken lyrics; “Cool Out” by Magnum Force is notable for pushing the synths and drum machines way up in the mix, feeling their way through both the massive flow of Italo Disco out of Italy and a quasi-Sugar Hill Gang groove and what can almost be called rap.
The glue of Z Records’ comps is curation, and it holds the whole of Supafunkanova Vol 2 together. There are also a few goodies that the DJs won’t be able to pass up, including Negro’s edit of “Sound Reason” by Splash.