Possessing the uniquely elite gift of deeply "feeling" every note he writes and plays, Nils, the multi-talented Munich born guitarist, has yet again given his followers grounds to rejoice. His new release on TSR/Baja Records, What The Funk?, proves to be an aural delight of the highest order. On three previous and superlative Contemporary Jazz CDs for TSR/Baja, Nils often displayed a clearly identifiable undercurrent of his R&B, Soul and Rock roots. At this moment with What The Funk? Nils has allowed the funk flavor to ascend fully to the surface with magnificent effect. Aiding him on his funky quest are many of the same trusted musicians who have graced his past work with their inspired presence.
It is evident that something very special is in the works from the opening track "Shake It," which features Nils with his trademark shimmering guitar traversing the border between Latin-rock and soul-funk with the nimbleness of a tightrope walker. The title is fitting; as the song’s infectious pulse encourages dancers to bop along in tune and shake it. "The Hump" is a bit slower, simmering with a danceable rhythm groove laid down by distinguished bassist Alex Al and percussionist Oliver Brown as Nils doles out biting flashes of guitar funk.
On "Jump Start," Nils transports the flavor of classic heavy funk guitar into the twenty-first century as he alternates between classic and contemporary on a song that inhabits a medium-fast tempo. Reggie McBride, another frequent sideman for Nils, assertively emerges on bass guitar laying a deep and solid foundation for Nils to skillfully skate over. Dov & the Lovestar Strings also contribute to the magic of this attention-grabbing track.
Nils returns to familiar artistic milieu with his leisurely "Walk In The Park," as he glides along with his distinctive refined grace. Former Yellowjacket drummer Ricky Lawson and percussive pro Oliver Brown set the pace with precise adroitness that perfectly balances with Nils’ ultra-pleasing guitar tones that glisten like jewels.
The title track, "What The Funk?," thoroughly lives up to its moniker. It’s a full-on blast of energized hard-funk complete with Johnny Britt serving up soul-style trumpet and background vocalists exhorting the catchphrase "hey, hey, hey, hey get down and party." Alex Al inserts funk fireball riffs on his bass and Nils punctuates the proceedings with soul-drenched guitar lines.
Providing an ideal change of pace, the Hall and Oates blue-eyed soul classic "Sara Smile" is treated to an exquisite reverential treatment. Whereas the original contained a beautiful guitar lead supplied by G.E. Smith, on this rendering Nils pushes the guitar prominently out front. In sharp contrast to the Hall and Oates version where the lead vocals dominated, Nils utilizes less significant minor backing vocalists that permit his guitar to become the undeniable focal point of this truly gorgeous song. Nils displays a penchant for the occasional cover songs he chooses; usually enhancing them by adding his charming touch.
The horn-splashed "Trip Me," features a head-bobbing sway melody. In addition, there is some spry guitar from Nils as he agilely weaves his way through the song in harmony with Johnny Britt on flugelhorn and trumpet. Next, Nils sets sail to a paradise of crystal waters with "Dance with Me." Each band crew member assists in keeping the sails taut as they cruise to their destination.
Nils’ unrushed "Morning Light" is comparable to Lee Ritenour’s classic "Dolphin Dreams;" which is the utmost of high praise. Stunningly elegant, yet still simplistic, it musically convincingly encapsulates the majestic beauty of a sunrise better than a thousand words of prose by a proficient writer.
"Save Our Love" reunites Nils with uplifting vocalist Clydene Jackson who was one of the ladies featured on the remake of The Temptations iconic classic "My Girl" on a previous Nils release. Her soulful lead vocal is sublime, and complements the flair that Nils shows on his guitar. Besides providing a memorable vocal performance, the talented lass co-wrote this highly enjoyable song with an assist from Eddie Brown.
"Shine Your Light On Me" is a revisit to the Nils signature cool sound that owes a debt to Wes Montgomery and George Benson, but remains distinctively his own. It’s as soothingly inviting as a hot bubble bath, and the type of song that you wish would last an eternity. It’s very tough to pick a personal favorite on this CD, but "Shine" has a glossy luster that I find exceedingly appealing. On the closing song "Detroit Strut," another instrumental tour de force, Nils bends the guitar strings masterfully, creating aural landscapes of powerful potency and beauty.
With What The Funk?, Nils has added another stroke of genius to his increasing legacy of superior musical offerings Without fail he writes memorable melodies and backs them up with technical brilliance. The fact that his fellow expert players are so well acquainted and comfortable with his premium criterion is another reason that he can consistently pull out all the stops to maintain this level of excellence. The music comes directly from his heart, and this passion is tangibly expressed. Simply stated this collection of mostly funk-tinged jazzy compositions hits like a heavyweight prizefighter; well timed and bone-shatteringly hard.