Swanky Funk With Smarts

Zongo (Independent)

By Tim Roberts

In the early years of the 1970s, there was a TV show called "Search" about a super high-tech investigation agency. Their three operatives (rotated among a trio of main cast members Hugh O'Bryan, Tony Franciosa and Doug McClure) were enhanced (electronically, not Enzyte-ly) with earpieces that picked up all conversation, sensors that kept track of their physiology and pendants and rings and lapel pins that contained video cameras.

All the data their enhancements gathered was transmitted real-time back to their headquarters where, in low lighting, a character played by Burgess Meredith along with a team of tech-y young people in white lab coats stood behind banks of monitors and video switchers, instructing the operatives, recording the conversations, calling up information from the row of monolithic computers behind them, data tapes awhirr with the stuff to help them find stolen moon rocks and rescue the mob princess who is going to turn state's evidence, whatever the danger-filled task that week had in store.

The operatives were in sideburns and turtlenecks, all swank that was too damn slick and smart for its time.

But the show's music sucked: violins, muted trombones and the same damn gentle flute riff that infected lots of TV show theme music back then, all of it composed for a slow elevator ride into dentist office hell. Even Percy Faith's instrumentals had more zing to them.

Now, more than three decades later, Louisville's Zongo has, inadvertently, come up with the perfect theme music for those days of high-tech swank in their self-titled debut release as a band.

The sounds you'll find on it are rooted in solid funk, with lots of electric piano and organ from keyboardist Woody Woodmansee (also of The Big Diggity) and heavy bass from Michael Dufresne, but they're also iced over with tight syncopated rhythms from drummer Tripp Bratton and the razor crisp guitar of Dave Chandler. The sound is less funk and more fusion, less booty-shaking and more thought-provoking, like the work of Pink Floyd without the pretentious sourness and navel-gazing, or some of the works of Frank Zappa without the whimsical use of the xylophone and pee-joke lyrics, where freeform jazz melts with progressive rock and a groove straight from the early 1970s (when we all wore pendants that were really tiny video cameras).

All of that is evident in the recording, with the touch of progressive rock in the chorus of the opening track "Coping With Reality," and the sunny guitar work in "Chupacabra." "100-Watt Squid" contains a challenging keyboard riff that runs throughout the piece, which slips into a lounge-y groove that completes it. The entire work finishes with another lengthy instrumental, "Back Shack," where a set of horns joins in to lead up to a scorching guitar solo.

Like the show "Search," the debut work from Zongo asks for a buy-in, a temporary suspension of expectation. Your reward? A set of smart music full of swank, fitting for any decade.

And you don't even need sideburns or a turtleneck to appreciate it.

"Search" for your own groove at www.zongofunk.com. And if you must get a point-of-reference for the TV show, visit www.lileks.com/institute/archives/7/index.html.