JAZZ funk fusion and rare groove never really had much of a place in Sheffield.
Among the dozens – hundreds – of bands and artists in Britain’s fourth largest city there are barely enough groove acts to count on one hand.
This hasn’t stopped funk veterans Montuno, who have been taking their funk bass licks and brass section all over the city’s live circuit for more than ten years. But the demand for groove and funk is much bigger outside of the Steel City, as Montuno’s co- founding member and sax player Kent Roach explains: “We tend to play in places like Birmingham and Leeds in venues where they put on acts like ours. In Sheffield there are hardly any venues left that put on anything unusual - they’ve all closed. That’s why the Greystones is so good - the venue attracts a really knowledgeable, appreciative audience. And the sound’s really good in there. It’s also where we’re playing next in Sheffield.”
It’s also a small enough venue for Montuno – or any act – to create the atmosphere they desire: “It sounds like a cliché but with gigs we always like to play a night that we would enjoy ourselves,” says Roach. It can’t be hard to achieve, either. Funk, naturally, lends itself to people having a good time and getting down: “It’s just good, danceable music,” says Roach.
Now, the band celebrates what it calls its ‘second incarnation’ with a re-jigged line-up and a revived repertoire. Their groove-laden set list nods to the James Taylor Quartet, The Crusaders, Maceo Parker (James Brown’s sax player) and Tower of Power.
“This is our second incarnation,” says sax player Kent Roach. “We’ve been a ‘new’ Montuno for 18 months and play more Crusaders sort of stuff with guest vocals rather than having a permanent vocalist. It’s really a different genre of funk / jazz groove that we play now.”
Many of Montuno’s players come from a jazz background: “The horn and keyboard lines are very jazzy. Deep funk attracts people from a jazz background because of the nature of how the bass lines work. We play some Blue Note jazz stuff in our set – jazz that’s accessible. We also play tunes like the James Taylor Quartet’s rendition of the Starksy and Hutch theme song, which sounds really good.”
There are eight members of Montuno, playing a range of instruments from the Hammond organ to alto saxophone. “We only really play live shows at the moment – we’re not planning to record anything in a while because there are so many of us and we all do so many different things,” he says.
And, much like the band itself, there are two incarnations of its audience: “We get a real cross section of people coming to our shows but there are two generations – the younger, student-like generation who are into Mark Ronson and Plan B and the old schoolers who were perhaps there first time round or who just like the older stuff.”
But Roach is quick to point out that there are some – if few – other bands playing funk-based music in Sheffield: “There are some bands in Sheffield playing groove-based music. The Forum puts on some good nights – we saw the Lords of Flatbush the other night and they were playing a funk / electro / indie crossover. There’s also Soul Funkful, who are doing funky stuff.”
l This week’s funk fix however, comes from Montuno, who play at the Greystones, Greystones Road, on Saturday.