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The New Cool: The Expansions' Funky Fusion

Charlie Moreton
The Expansions are ready to catch fire.

Unleashing their debut album nearly five years after their first single, the London-based quartet The Expansions lay down the jazz fusion grooves that will have you reaching for bellbottoms and wide collars. The sounds of the funky 70s are back on the six-song effort Murmuration, and on The New Cool this week, you'll hear a tune that could've been a lost track from Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters.

Building on the continued popularity of "deep soul" in the UK, The Expansions excel in recreating the ultra-cool, funky instrumentals that raised silly blaxsploitation films to high art. Pianist Dave Koor, guitarist James O'Keefe, bassist Matt Summerfield, and drummer Jonny Drop have been busy in other projects over the past few years, but the tightness of the group on Murmuration proves their committment to The Expansions.

The band members' musical roots lie mostly in rock, which led to blues and funk and Afro-Latin rhythms, but there was some jazz philosophy used in the album's creation. They worked to record the new songs mostly in single takes, resulting in a potent, live and organic energy. The feeling of the song is more important than a perfect take, says Koor:  "We needed the vibiest recordings we could get, and if a take has a couple of mistakes in it, then so be it…"

Murmuration explores different moods through the six songs, from chill groover to pulsing funk to soul soundscape and psychedelic exploration. The sounds owe plenty to 70s soul jazz, as Koor points to the electric fusion work of Billy Cobham, Freddie Hubbard and the roster of popular fusion label CTI as their inspiration. But there's plenty of what he calls "elements of gritty London music through it."

Tune in Saturday to hear "Dragonfly", powered by tight funk drums, bass, guitar and wildly tweeked analog keyboard sounds. The Headhunters early 70s music is the obvious touchstone, but for a generation of 20-somethings, The Expansions' music is as earthshaking as Herbie Hancock's was to the youth of that era.

This impressive young band has a fresh take on nostalgic grooves, pushing the feeling into the new century and making the music their own. Add The Expansions to the growing list of talented English musicians taking this music to younger ears and helping to make jazz fun for the next generation.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5p, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

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