MAKE IT FUNKY!NR
Originally planned as a straight-to-video release, Make It Funky! received a limited theatrical release a week before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, a tragic coincidence. The film is built around an April 2004 concert of New Orleans musicians that was meant as a tribute to the city's long and varied musical history. Katrina ransacked much of that tradition, destroying the homes and workplaces of many of the performers in the film.
Art Neville's narration covers a lot of ground, citing African and Caribbean influences on the formation of a New Orleans style, the importance of landmarks like Congo Square and the Dew Drop Inn, and record deals that often left artists broke. Other musicians offer fascinating insights into what defines the New Orleans style. Earl Palmer, a revered session drummer who played on a startling number of hits, shows how the city's beat developed from bass drums used in funeral marches. Steve Jordan, one of the film's three musical directors, explains just what makes Walter "Wolfman" Washington the city's funkiest guitarist. Keith Richards gives a heartfelt, if rambling, tribute to his New Orleans heroes.
While director Michael Murphy includes the necessary background and history, he focuses most of the film on the concert itself. From Kermit Ruffins leading a boisterous version of Louis Armstrong's "Skokiaan" to Allen Toussaint performing a medley of pop hits he either wrote or produced to The Neville Brothers bringing the audience to its feet with "Fire on the Bayou," this is among the best that New Orleans has to offer. Old-timers like Lloyd Price, Robert Parker, and Snooks Eaglin actually outshine guest stars like Richards and Bonnie Raitt.
Make It Funky! doesn't try to be comprehensive-it neglects country influences, barely mentions jazz and Cajun, and glosses over musicians like Dr. John and Little Richard who didn't appear at the concert. Some of the best songs in the concert are shown in abridged versions, a drawback that may be rectified in the DVD release. The film is still an excellent showcase for deserving musicians who display indomitable style and spirit.