Foreign Funk Reviews

The Jazz Review:

Flautist Keith Marks has been leading his quartet in a variety of performances at major festivals, colleges and universities, clubs and corporate events for over 30 years. His studies include time with classical flute virtuoso Karl Kraber and music theory with Eric Ewazen at the Juilliard School. Other teachers include Reggie Workman, Michael Carvin and John Hicks. Some of the artists Marks has worked with include Ron Carter and Dave Burrell.

Foreign Funk is a hip trippy collection of fun and funky music. The rhythm is so solidly in the pocket it's obvious Marks is well studied both in terms of intellectual knowledge, how to put his sound together, and in terms of the history of the art with regards to forbearers Grover Washington Jr. and Hank Crawford.

For those who miss the CTI and Kudu sound of the 1970s, it is alive and well on this astonishingly good CD. By following the tenets Creed Taylor incorporated into his best releases -- a mix of pop, jazz standards and original tunes performed by a soloist of unquestionable musical character supported by a top-flight rhythm section -- Marks sets himself apart from the pack with an original sound that pays respect to the tradition. With concrete backing by a topnotch rhythm section, Marks has total freedom to allow the music to go where his muse will take him, and those thoughts soar.

Every cut is a winner with no one track dominating. Seals and Crofts' "Summer Breeze" has a down-home beans-and-rice vibe that wafts along beautifully. Supported by Pete Levin's Fender Rhodes-ish keyboards and great fills by Lou Volpe's guitar, the pop tune becomes a remarkably good vehicle for Marks' flowing lines. The sports-stadium stands' cheer "Axel F" opens the disc with a ripping funk feel. Donald Nicks' bass pops and jumps at all the right places with such a joyous and infectious ambiance the whole band can't help but be swept along.

Throughout the disc Wally "Gator" Watson's drum set work is as tight and solid as a ballerina's calf muscles. His instincts of knowing when to lay back, as on the Cannonball Adderley associated Joe Zawinul composition "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," and when to push forward, as on "Sho' Off," are spot on.

The best moments may be those where you don't expect magic to happen. Jonathan Lewis' pop tune "Always," punctuated by a Volpe's heartfelt solo, is so sweet you don't want it to end, and The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" has been rarely handled as well in a jazz vein. Watson's backbeats line up with Nicks' bass lines to perfection. Few artists are deserving of more recognition than Marks; let's hope this disc does it for him.

   Reviewed by Thomas Erdmann
   Copyright © 2008®. All Rights Reserved

The Run-Off Groove:

Keith Marks has taken his masterful musicianship of the flute around the world, and with Foreign Funk (Markei) he demonstrates why he is one of the best flautists around.

For some, the flute has had a good and bad reputation in jazz. It was an instrument one didn't expect to hear, but with people like Herbie Mann and Yusef Lateef bringing it into the mix and developing its own unique voice, the flute became something that more artist wanted to bring into their music and compositions. I'll admit, when the album began with a cover of Harold Faltermeyer's "Axel F", I was a bit concerned. It's a pop song, a hit one at that, and at first he played it as is. As the song moved on it was noticeable that Marks was trying to do something more than just a direct cover, otherwise it would be nothing more than smooth jazz fodder. All of a sudden, he steps off of the song while remaining in it, and it showed me that this guy wasn't about to make this album in cruise control. The song goes for 5:09 and about a minute before the end, he starts doing that breathing thing, where he catches his breath in between notes. As I've said before, I've always been sold by that sound, and I don't know why, I guess it's adding a human element as if to say "I'm here" and perhaps this album could be something good.

It was more than something good. His covers are well chosen, and you're able to hear him play at his best in versions of "Summer Breeze" (Seals & Crofts), "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (the late Joe Zawinul track made famous byCannonball Adderley), "Eleanor Rigby" (The Beatles), and for a mellow approach, "Always" (Atlantic Starr). As an album closer, I wish he had done "Mission: Impossible" in the original 5/4 time signature but instead takes the safe route and does it in 4/4. Had he done it in 5/4, I think it would have been a nice brush off to the naysayers who may find reason to pass this up. There's no reason to pass this up at all, and he also takes time to introduce two original compositions, "Patsy" and the title track. Sample heads take note.

   Reviewed by John Book

If you are looking for a soundtrack for fun this summer, then Keith Marks' "Foreign Funk" may be just what you are after. From the opening when the band kicks into Harold Faltermeyer's "Axel F" (the theme from the movie Beverly Hills Cop), you can't help but smile and nod your head. Mark's sparkling and sassy flute is backed by a talented group of musicians, including bassist Donald Nicks, drummer Wally "Gator" Watson, guitarist Lou Volpe and keyboardist Pete Levin. Those looking for intellectual introspection will have to go elsewhere to find shadows, as all is bright and sunny in Marks' world.

Marks supplies a couple of original numbers (the exuberant "Foreign Funk" and Carribean-styled "Patsy") to mix with a collection of covers that pull from popular music of the '60s and '70s. There is a take of Seals and Crofts' "Summer Breeze," the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and Lalo Schifrin's "Mission Impossible Theme." Joe Zawinul's "Mercy. Mercy, Mercy" is here and sounds fresh, with flute featured in place of Cannonball's alto sax. The somewhat saccharine Atlantic Starr hit weeper "Always" is redeemed and a funky new number, "Sho' Off," written by Bill Salter ("Just the Two of Us," "Mr. Magic") is a buoyant highlight.

Even on some of the lighter fare, Marks and his band thankfully take this material and stretch out on it, with their impressive musicianship and band interplay able to bring the material up a notch. Marks' flute forays are enjoyable and call to mind Herbie Mann at times, while his band mates all add flavorful solo work as well. A well-done pop/jazz confection, as bright and light as a sunbeam, "Foreign Funk" is the perfect music to put on for a barbecue with good friends out on the deck.  

    Review by Brad Walseth