Funk Is My Religion Nils Landgren Funk Unit
- 2Anyway You Want It04:21
- 3See Ya in Court04:23
- 4Funk Is My Religion04:50
- 5Es in Memoriam06:22
- 6Doin' It for the People05:01
- 7Brand New Funk05:12
- 8Play Funk02:34
- 10Nlfu Will Never Stop04:31
- 11Another Funk04:43
- 13Hold On04:23
- 14That's My Funk05:39
Info for Funk Is My Religion
"Funk is my Religion" is the band’s eleventh album – the album title just says it all. Landgren and his Norsemen bring a passion, an intensity and a freshness to their craft which has remained undimmed since the start. For more than 25 years, jazz-funk has been the force driving Landgren. This veritable elixir of life produces the bubbling energy, groove and joy that can be heard and felt in every note of the music. The band’s deliciously easy and laid-back vibe gets straight through to audiences. With the crispness of their funk rhythms, blazing brass, cool vocals and persuasive melodies, a new chapter for the Nils Landgren Funk Unit is only just beginning.
Back in 1994 when Nils Landgren started up his Funk Unit, there were those who asked whether there was actually any need for Swedish funk. After seventeen years, ten albums and several hundreds of concerts, the question has basically answered itself: to find the most fired-up take on this music anywhere, a sound which is inextricably welded into soul, rhythm and blues and jazz, and in which all of the instruments – and the vocals too – have an irresistible rhythmic urgency about them, this is definitely the band to see and hear. And if one turns to the pioneers, godfathers and grandees of the funk world – Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, the musical prime movers behind James Brown, Ray Parker Jr., or Joe Sample from the Crusaders – then there’s no need to look any further: each and every one of them has played with the Funk Unit.
And the Funk Unit’s story is far from over. Not even this pandemic was going to hold back their eleventh album. "Originally we wanted to record at Palma Studios in Mallorca, but Corona put a stop to that," Nils Landgren explains. "Then we decided we’d record at "Redhorn District" in Bad Meinberg, but nothing was working in Germany either. So what should we do. Give up? The Funk Unit? No chance! I asked my friend Björn Yttling if we could go to his Ingrid Studio in Stockholm, and he said ‘No problem.’ A few days before the session, the Swedish authorities decided that no more than eight people could assemble indoors at once. So, with the six of us plus just one sound engineer, we managed to stay under the limit."
So it is the core members of the Funk Unit who are to be heard on this album. Together, they form a close-knit clan from the "Stockholm Underground". Apart from Landgren himself, there is Magnum Coltrane Price on bass – he has been a member of the band right from the beginning, and also has a producer credit here. The others, who have gradually become part of the fabric of the band, are Jonas Wall on tenor saxophone, Andy Pfeiler on guitar, Petter Bergander on keyboards and Robert Ikiz on drums. What unites them is best expressed through the title of the new album: "Funk Is My Religion". And it is indeed that veneration of the great idols, combined with their own qualities – personal, individual, and European – which lie at the heart of the unparalleled success of the Nils Landgren Funk Unit, and may also be the secret behind its remarkable and possibly unique longevity.
Everything that goes to make up superb funk is to be found on "Funk Is My Religion" – and more. It starts with the warm soul of the opener "Amanda", in which gentle keyboards, a soft brass section and a dreamy trombone solo all set the tone. Then we move into funk which is still calm but also hard-hitting on "Anyway You Want It". The tempo picks up a lot with "See Ya In Court", then settles into a bouncy groove in the title track and also shows the melancholic, bluesy side on "ES In Memory". Classic, gospelly syncopated funk to get people singing and bopping along to is there in "Doing It For The People"; we’re into a thrilling reminiscence of James Brown in "Play Funk", the jazz soloists have their way with "Brand New Funk" and then on into the exuberant final anthem. We have some great basslines, some slick and energetic back-and-forth between in instrumentals and vocals. As the title of their 2013 album reminds us, there is some top-notch "Teamwork" going on here: as well as Landgren, the album has numbers composed by Price, Pfeiler and Wall.
"Each of the pieces tells a story," says Nils Landgren. "Sometimes they are about people who have inspired us or whom we admire, sometimes they are simply things that need saying - in the same clear way that the title of the album sums up what it’s all about." Among the people remembered here is the great Esbjörn Svensson, who tragically died, and far too young. He helped to launch the Funk Unit, and here Landgren plays "ES In Memoriam", a beautiful, sad melody on trombone. Another hallmark of Landgren is his admiration for strong women. So, on this album, young poet Amanda Gorman, "who made such a strong impression at the inauguration of Joe Biden", and Kamala Harris, the first female, black and Asian-American vice-president are both dedicatees of songs which express respect and admiration, soulfulness and love.
The album is in part a celebration of the USA as "the largest and most important democracy. I keep in touch with events there in spite of the pandemic and want to pay tribute to those who have fought for its founding principles," says Landgren. It is also the country which allowed him to find the musical roots which he has gone on to develop. "Without my father playing jazz trumpet, and without the soul records my older brother played me, what we do wouldn't exist. This is such a tasty soup with so many ingredients." In essence, "Funk Is My Religion" also carries the legacy of many predecessors and role models for this incomparably physical and vital music: "It's fantastic. It’s no plastic!", as the lyrics of "Play Funk" describe it. What started in Sweden can reach out to the whole world. As the title of the closing track makes unmistakably clear: "NLFU will never stop"!
Nils Landgren, trombone & vocals
Magnum Coltrane Price, bass, vocals & additional keyboards
Jonas Wall, tenor saxophone & vocals
Andy Pfeiler, guitar & vocals
Petter Bergander, keyboards & vocals
Robert Ikiz, drums
There is a synonym for the words diversity, curiosity and zeal: Nils Landgren. James Brown used to be considered the “hardest working man in showbusiness” and it now appears that the god of funk has bequeathed this title to a Swede who cheerfully travels the world with a bright red trombone. “Mr. Red Horn” swings brilliantly from one perspective to the next, also because he needs this constant change. Somehow, Nils Landgren, 55 years-old, also miraculously manages to divide his time – when he is not touring with his “Funk Unit” or other projects under his own name, he is very much in demand as a producer or talent scout. He passes his expertise on to students in Hamburg and Shanghai, advises the NDR Big Band on artistic matters (with which he also played as musician for several years), works with the versatile Swedish Bohuslän Big Band (most recently with arranger Colin Towns on “Don’t Fence Me In – the Music of Cole Porter” ACT 9028-2) and also compiles, as artistic director, the programme of the JazzFest Berlin (until 2011). “Even when I’m not bored it’s good for me to do several things at once so that I can have different perspectives as these change the way I sing and play the trombone and my audience also benefits from it,” he says.
For those who have been musically loyal to him for years, things never get boring. With Nils Landgren they have someone who feels as dedicated to the rich folklore tradition of his homeland as to the previously unheard. An idealist who ignores the boundaries between the genres and who has collaborated in joint projects with musicians such as Maceo Parker, Colin Towns, the Brecker Brothers, Airto Moreira, Till Brönner, Roy Hargrove, Fred Wesley, Steve Gadd, Richard Galliano, Michael Wollny, Joao Bosco, Benny Anderson (from ABBA), Viktoria Tolstoy, Joe Sample, Ray Parker Jr., Eddie Harris and Esbjörn Svensson and, in doing so, has continually broadened his horizons.
Landgren embodies not one but two souls. When the audience sees him with his “Funk Unit”, the Swede shows himself from his masculine and distinct, relentlessly grooving side and acts the jazz action hero. However, there is also a gentle melancholic, highly sentimental Nils Landgren. He can be seen during Advent time, for example, when the instrumentalist and singer celebrates “Christmas With My Friends” or on ballad albums like the current “The Moon, The Stars And You” (ACT 9505-2) as well as “Ballads“ (ACT 9268-2) and “Sentimental Journey” (9409-2) – in which he intones on the trombone with incomparable smoothness and his highly individual, fragile voice touches the heart and the soul with a remarkable sensibility.
Landgren came into contact with music already early on. He started playing the drums when he was only six years-old, the nightmare of all parents. It was when he was 13 years-old that Nils Landgren, born in 1956 in Degerfors, Värmland, under the star sign of Aquarius, realised his calling and changed to the trombone. Between 1972 and 1978, he gained a sound classical basis at various teaching establishments and quickly put these newly acquired technical skills on the trombone into practice, also in other areas. Encounters with folk jazz pioneer Bengt-Arne Wallin and trombonist Eje Thelin accelerated his musical career change. A change of location was also due and Nils Landgren moved to Stockholm where, within only a short time, he became known as the “man for all occasions”, a true one-off, someone who is able to stand out in almost any stylistic environment, a studio whizz. In 1981 he was taken on as the lead trombonist for the “Ball of Fire” project of the legendary Thad Jones which really proved to be a challenge. “After the first evening all I wanted to do was go home,” laughs Landgren. However, it is challenges like the one with Jones that made him such an accomplished musician, someone who is today not worried by new challenges. Bring them on!
The solo career of the man who has always gone right up to his limits and beyond, both musically and conditionally, has been going strong for almost thirty years. Nils Landgren’s debut, “Planet Rock” from 1983, marked the starting point of a very impressive discography including projects which could hardly be any more different from one another. The duo recordings, for example “Layers of Light“ (ACT 9281-2) and “Swedish Folk Modern” (ACT 9428-2) with pianist Esbjörn Svensson who tragically died far too young, as well as the album “Gotland” (ACT 9226-2), reveal someone who is very closely connected to their homeland, who moves through Scandinavian’s sound worlds, drifts into the ethereal and into the incomprehensible. On “Salzau Music On The Water” (ACT 9445-2) he met vibraphonist Christopher Dell and bassist Lars Danielsson on an installation on the water near Schloss Salzau and played ethereal sounds into time, a time during which night is falling asleep and the new morning is still yawing. The three were totally at one with nature during the recording.
However, the same Nils Landgren is also able to quickly come back down to earth again. To make a reference, for example, to the world famous fellow Swedes from ABBA with “Funky ABBA” (ACT 9430-2) or honour Cannonball Adderley with the album “Paint it Blue” (ACT 9243-2) by his multi award winning group “Funk Unit”, originally simply called “Unit”. Landgren gave the group its current name for the JazzBaltica Festival which also gave him his international breakthrough in 1994. This band does not, incidentally, only achieve great things from a musical viewpoint – the album “Funk For Life” (9500-2) supported, together with Doctors without Borders, a project to help musically promote children and teenagers in “Kibera”, one of the biggest slums in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. For each sold CD, one euro went to the good cause.
With his latest album, “The Moon, the Stars and You” (ACT 9505-2), released 26. August 2011, Nils Landgren again shows himself from his sensitive and fragile side. The ballad album is a continuation of “Sentimental Journey“ – one of the most successful albums of his career. Together with pianist Michael Wollny, bassist Lars Danielsson and renowned guests such as Richard Galliano, Steve Gadd, Joe Sample, Joao Bosco, Cæcilie Norby, the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and the NDR Big Band, Nils Landgren interprets jazz standards, folk and pop and, of course, several of his own compositions. These are all carefully tuned, full of longing, occasionally funky and effervescent, yet always inspirational and swinging.
What will Nils Landgren come up with next? Where will his musical and artistic talents take him? Which hurdles does he feel he must still overcome? The Swedish all rounder has proven himself in so many different areas that his audience now believes he is capable of anything and more. Fact is: his greatest weakness may also be his greatest strength – he is bad at one thing: saying no.