Ghost Funk Orchestra

Ghost Funk Orchestra lives up to their name on double-EP reissue and new single

They’re ghostly. They’re funky. Their finely-honed-brass-and-woodwind-enhanced musical arrangements are "orchestral." 

Of course I'm talking about Ghost Funk Orchestra (GFO) a group that's one of the leading purveyors of “ghost funk” today and if you think I’m in the habit of making up genres willy-nilly based solely on a band’s name I say to you au contraire, mon square because “ghost funk” has been around since at least the early ‘70s and it’s long been overdue for a revival and an update...

...a revival/update that's taken off over the past decade with ghost funk group like GOAT, El Michels Affair, 79.5, Say She She, and of course GFO--the latter having just re-released their inaugural pair of "extended play” records (Night Walker and Death Waltz, both released in 2016 on Brooklyn-based King Pizza imprint Ramble Records) in newly remastered form on Loveland, Ohio-based Karma Chief/Colemine Records available for the first time as a single disc.

Fronted by musical polymath Seth Applebaum, GFO started as a auteurist studio project but soon blossomed into a full-on, well, orchestra—a crackerjack live unit who this past Friday melted off most of the faces of those in attendance at their Bowery Ballroom concert opening for Pacific Northwest-based pastoral-psychedelia folk-rock dream-poppers La Luz (we strongly advise you dive into their 2021 eponymous LP asap if you haven’t already).

But what exactly is ghost funk, you may ask, and where did it come from? A classic example of “hey you got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” type amalgamation--given that ghosts are etherial undead creatures inducing dread and fear, while funk is down ’n’ dirty, highly corporal music inducing joy and sexiness--once these two elements were brought into perfect alchemical balance in the early 1970s the result was such post-peace-and-love haunted funk classics such as Sly Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On, James Brown’s The Big Payback, and Lafayette Afro Rock Band’s Malik...

…which is not to mention all the ghost funk offshoots that soon followed ranging from Fela Kuti’s revolutionary Afrobeat anthems to Lee Perry’s haunted Black Ark dub sides, or from Teddy Lasry’s ambient "funky ghost" jazz-funk Gallic instrumentals to, yes, Austin Robert’s funky bubblegum ditties as heard in all the "running from the ghouls but really it's just a guy in a mask" chase scene in the original run of Scooby Doo. All of which work their way into GFO's sound at one point or another and when it comes to the latter the live-show fronting vocal duo of Romi O. (PowerSnap) and Megan Mancini (The Rizzos) do arguably put across a Velma and Daphne dynamic on stage.

But I digress. The first of the two Ghost Funk Orchestra EPs, Night Walker, opens on a ghostly faded-in ambient soundscape featuring the ghostly sounds of a train entering a station (full of ghosts, no doubt!) joined to a slow-paced, echo-laden ghostly groove that slowly fades out leading up to the next track “Brownout" which serves as a heat-hazed serenade to steamy bedrooms and sleepless nights in the midst of a power outage (always a ghostly experience!) sung in sultry Spanish tones.



But despite the five mentions of "ghosts" in the paragraph above it's the third track “Dark Passage” which most indelibly gives up the ghost funk with its wet-reverbed, dubbed-out drum groove and rubbery bass and ping-ponged, fuzzed-out electric guitar and Chakachas style “Jungle Fever” stop-start dynamics minus the cowbell and Dutch moaning, all overlain with a John Barry worthy spy theme melody (see also: "Death Waltz") plus a couple funked up solos (on guitar and groovy flute) and if you were to happen across a funky ghost floating down an abandoned late-night side street I'd be surprised if they weren't listening to this track on their headphones.

And then next we get the noir-drenched shimmering slow-gaited strut of “Night Walker” and then the even more literally noirish “Demon Demon” with its Dashiell Hammett book-on-top style recitation (as shadows lengthen in the asphalt homeland / the city winds down / the once vibrant streets / are now a home for ghosts) over a shimmying rhythm section and ghostly guitars treated with heavy echo and trembling tremolo and it turns out that even in the midst of the metropolis demons live off from fresh flesh so be careful when you’re out there carousing after midnight looking to get funked up.

And hey I could walk you through every track on Night Walker / Death Waltz and it'd be fun and all. But I got other things to do plus as I was putting the final touches on this writeup Ghost Funk Orchestra went and dropped a brand new song and music video called “Scatter” (video above directed by Greg Hanson of King Pizza Records, see how we've come full circle here!) which is the first advance single off their upcoming third full-length A New Kind of Love slated for release on 10/28 just a few days before Halloween and how ghostly is all of that, zoinks?! (Jason Lee)
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Ghost Funk Orchestra is currently on tour in the Land of the Great Lakes hitting Detroit tonight (8/30) and Grand Rapids on Thursday (9/1) with dates soon thereafter in Burlington, Virginia; Saranac Lake, New York; and Ridgewood, Queens.

   

Ghost Funk Orchestra soundtracks the "Asphalt Homeland"

If the long awaited Cagney & Lacey movie ever comes to fruition (sorry, I don't consider the TV movies canon) I'm going to immediately start an online petition to make "Asphalt Homeland" the opening credit music--played as the camera slowly pans over the asphalt homeland of Lower Midtown Manhattan until landing on our two sometimes harried but always resolutely determined lady detectives. And sure, the new single by Ghost Funk Orchestra is a good deal less boob-tube bouncy and peppy than the original TV theme song, but that's good because it'll help Cagney & Lacey make the transition to the big screen with the help of some dramatic, cinematic music.

Of course this isn't to imply that bandleader/songwriter/arranger/producer Seth Applebaum only writes music appropriate for a Cagney & Lacey type show. To the contrary, Seth is a one-man "library music" machine whose music could just as easily be used to score urban dramas, medical dramas, gangster epics, or even wild comedies and super action films but with a distinct golden-era approach harkening back to a time when jazz and funk and rock and Latin music and psychedelic music (and many other genres besides) often shared equal space on a single soundtrack.

Take the song called "Fuzzy Logic" for example (see video above) which stays true to its title by rejecting Boolean either/or logic in favor of multiplicity and suggestive ambiguity. It starts off sounding like the dramatic opening moments to a classic spy soundtrack or a caper movie with its dissonant stabs of brass and syncopated hi-hat cymbal--not to mention how the music video's use of color gels and multiple exposure give it a strong Bond pre-credit sequence vibe--before sliding into a groove that's laid back enough to be Sade-approved but with some vaguely uneasy lyrics (and a brief Bill Withers "I know" interlude, may he rest in peace) sung to enchanting effect by regular vocal collaborator Romi Hanoch (PowerSnap). And then about one minute in the song takes another turn with a breakdown section featuring flamenco-style clapping and dub-like echo and surf guitar reverb before circling back to the second verse and then later ending with a concise but still pretty epic solo outro traded between baritone sax and flute.

Seriously, put this song on in the car next time you're cruising around and it's guaranteed to make you feel like a total badass even if you're just heading to 7-11. Or put on almost any GFO song because they rarely skimp on the funkiness, the ghostliness, or the intricate orchestrations. And did I say "one-man show"? In reality, Ghost Funk Orchestra is more like a ten-to-twelve-man-and-woman machine because you know it can't be easy making music this elaborate alone and especially not if you plan to play live. And by the way seeing GFO live is a wonderful thing that will presumably happen again someday soon. 


So, if you lack familiarity with the Ghost Funk prior to "Asphalt Homeland," their most recent full-length An Ode To Escapism (2020) is a good place. The album features a shift array of musical emotional hues that still manage to flow together as a continuous whole--more that fulfilling the promise of the album's title. And just case you happen to forget the stated purpose of the album while listening there's an intermittent GPS Lady voiceover reminding you that "as long as your headphones are on...you're safe, and hidden" and it never hurts to be reminded of that. (Jason Lee)

   

Fresh Buzz: Ghost Funk Orchestra Releases Single, "Skin I'm In"

The output of NYC-based Ghost Funk Orchestra is becoming increasingly more sophisticated, and the group is also playing more frequently this year, which is always a good sign. Their most recent LP release, A Song For Paul (a band member's grandfather) is a complex matter propelled by a 10-piece band comprising horns, woodwinds, strings, keys, a tambourine, on top of the expected drums/bass/guitar. Their latest single "Skin I'm In" is an excersize of restrained psychedelia at times reminiscent of unforgettable British band Broadcast.

Featuring effected vocals that span layers of groovy orchestral textures, the single seemlessly blends elements from ganres as disparate as funk, noise rock and Eastern music. This is one of the coolest track we stumbled upon this year; you can check out Ghost Funk Orchestra at Elsewhere on July 30th at 8 PM. - Susan Moon

   

Ghost Funk Orchestra brings their dark soul to Brooklyn Bazaar on 04.04

NYC group Ghost Funk Orchestra will be taking the stage at Brooklyn Bazaar on April 4th, and they will be bringing the sounds of their 2017 record Something Evil with them. In songs like “Fluorescent,” the group uses Djembe rhythms to lure the listener into a vortex of funky basslines and soulful vocals, their odd time signatures keeping you at the epicenter of the jam. The nine-piece ensemble of Julian Applebaum (bass), Seth Applebaum (guitar), Kyle Beach (drums), Stephen Chen (bari sax), Laura Gwynn (vocals/keyboard), Romi Hanoch (vocals/percussion), James Kelly (trombone), Joshua Park (guitar), and Rich Seibert (trumpet) utilizes every instrument at their disposal to craft a type of “heavy soul” or “dark funk” sound that fits their namesake. If you are up for something new, we recommend checking them out. - Rene Cobar