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Force Is With JB

June 19, 1988|DON WALLER

*** 1/2JAMES BROWN. "I'm Real." Scotti Brothers. **OHIO PLAYERS. "Back." Track. If any one person can be said to have single-handedly dreamed up what is commonly known as soul music--as well as its linear descendant, funk--that person is James Brown. Within the last year alone there's been dozens of hip-hop records deconstructed from electronic samples of beats, breaks, hooks and asides lifted directly from 20-year-old JB classics.

Nevertheless, aside from his "Living in America" comeback hit a couple of years back, Mr. Brown's own recorded output has been rather uneventful of late. So the concept of pairing him with the Zoo York songwriting/production sextet known as Full Force, which has been burning up the charts with Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, U.T.F.O. and a bunch of lesser lights as well as having racked up a fistful of hits in its own right--is nobody's idea of genius.

The results, however, are mind-boggling beyond our reasonable expectations, as Full Force electronically re-creates, then sonically updates, the famous Brown style. Along with the MONSTER grooves, the Brooklyn beat-boys also brought all kinds of cleverness to the session. Witness the wandering, jazzy piano and the scratchy sound-FX on "Static," longtime Brown sax man Maceo Parker's turn-out-the-lights solo on "Keep Keepin'," the catalogue of hits 'n' bits lyrics on "I'm Real" (the current single), and much, much more.

Brown himself rises to the occasion, punctuating the steaming platter with his patented stabbing, jabbing vocals, taking the whole (Uh!) funky (Ow!) Poppa-don't-take-no-mess (Whaow!) to a place that's as serious as nuclear waste. Gitit, gitit, gitit, gitit .. . .

If they weren't exactly innovators on the '70s funk scene, the Ohio Players were certainly among the idiom's most successful practitioners, pulling down gold and platinum awards by the truckload for such stripped-down, jivey masterjams as "Fire," "Skin Tight" and "Love Rollercoaster."

On their first record in eight years, the OPs attempt to reconcile their greazy, yowl 'n' growl attack with the stacks of microchips that go into creating le funk moderne. On "Get to the Good Part" and "Vibe Alive" they succeed, sounding a lot like Cameo--who owe much to the Players--in the process. Ain't bad, but ain't about to set anybody's turntable, tape deck or CD on "Fire! Whoaw-whoaw-whoaw-whoaw-whoaw-whoaw. Fire!" either.

CHECK LIST **** Great Balls of Fire *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Running on Empty

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