Week 19: Energized
It’s a wonderful thing to be back with the family. I hope y’all are making it through this rough economy without too many bumps and bruises. And what the heck is up with that flu pandemic? Yeesh! Well, never fear cuz I got the cure: Southern Energy Ensemble.
The story begins at Black Fire Records, the label that also graced us with the soulful “Experience Unlimited” album, which was previously posted on 4BB2.0. This time around, it all starts with an awesome band called Oneness of Juju. Founded in the early 70’s by saxophonist James “Plunky” Brance, Oneness of Juju’s sound melded many different genres such as spiritual jazz, soul, funk, afrofunk and even a little disco. Their albums have become a holy grail for crate diggers. Check with GEMM and you will see that prices for the original vinyl pressings of this supergroup climb into the triple digits. Of course a band this genre-crossing had to give birth to other projects. They had several incarnations and side projects from the 70’s thru the 90’s. One of the concoctions that was ladled up from their “bitch’s brew” of sound was a jazz-funk band called Southern Energy Ensemble, that released just one self-titled album in 1976.
Try as I might, I could not find much biographical information regarding S.E.E. except for a mini-bio written by a Mr. Moo (not our Mr. Moo of WdF blog fame, but another Mr. Moo completely) for a podcast posted at the great site Paris DJ’s which reads…
This amazing band produced (only) one album thanks to the Black Fire crew. The record company was started in 1975 by Plunky and Jimmy Gray, a Washington DJ and a promo rep for CTI, Strata East, Tribe & Black Jazz among others.
The Juju tribe that drifted from Frisco to NY to then Richmond, Virginia (uh!?), was engaged in a spiritual, political, communal, and independent way of life that inspired them to create this label. The move down south was apparently because Plunky’s little brother Muzi Branch lived there… A beautiful bass player, he was also responsible for most of the LP’s artwork at the time, including this cover. The new rhythm section he provided with Ronnie Toler (drums) personified the geographical and musical shift Plunky’s gang was going through, from instrumental spiritual & radical avant-jazz to afrocentric tripped out funk & jazz soaring with electric guitar and some of the strongest vocals you ever heard, from Juju to Oneness Of Juju.
Now, Southern Energy Ensemble, a local Virginian band I believe, shared two members with the Juju family: Nat Lee on keys and Judy Spears who sings lead on the non-instrumentals tracks…; they also had connections to Trussel who were Evelyn Champagne King’s first touring band and that’s all the information you’re gonna get!
This album is quite awesome. It never ceases to amaze me how many bands fall throught the friggin’ cracks. Many, if not most of them deseved their fate. But Southern Energy Ensemble did not. Side One opens with “Open Your Mind” which gets things started with a Roy Ayers-ish jazz workout with great work on piano by Nathaniel “Nat” Lee, killer sax licks by Al Clarke and vocal harmonies by Judith Spears and Veronica Jones. “F-U-N-K-Y Til The Day I Die” sounds like a lost 70’s “backyard barbecue” jam. I can practically smell the burgers on the grill. “Third House” starts with Tony Joyner giving African conga flava before giving way to a funky jazz instrumental, sometimes reminiscent of Steely Dan.
Side Two begins with “See Funk”, a track that belongs on a Blaxploitation soundtrack. Whenever I listen to this song, I put on my red beret and practice my Fred “Rerun” Berry moves (see below)! “Looking Ahead” is one of breezy song that you expect Roy Ayers to jump in any second with his vibraphone. “Energy“ (preview clip), somewhat reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s “Palm Grease“ off the 1974 “Thrust” album, would be the theme song to my own Blaxploitation movie, “Soulbrotha T.N.T.,” complete with platform shoes with goldfish in the heels. The album closes with another breezy number with the lengthy title “The Part Of Me Southern Energy.” There isn’t one bad track on the entire album. Give a listen and S.E.E. for yourself! :¬)
Good luck finding the original vinyl! Still, stay away from the Japanese 1993 vinyl re-issue available here (the sound quality just ain’t up to par) – if you have the cash you’re much better off with the 2003 CD re-issue right here!
So screw the economy and the pandemics. Get “Energized!“
For those of you who need to brush up on your “Rerun” moves, check out The Master right here! “Go Rerun! Go Rerun!”