For the second installment of our four-part series of adventures in Belgian music in collaboration with Perrier – Part 1’s Belgian hip hop playlist already well under way – we draw on the country’s little-know jazz, funk and soul legacy – most recently paid tribute to through the impeccably curated Funky Chimes Part 1 compilation – and select 25 of our all-time favourite cuts. And, attesting to the often-incestuous nature of the scene at the time, the selection charts what are undoubtedly the ten most important years, from 1967 to 1977, in Belgian grooves. Say what.
1. Jess & James – Move (1967)
Two prolific Portuguese brothers, Toni and Fernando Lameirinhas, that settled in Charleroi, of all places, and joined forces as Jess & James, recording numerous albums all in the funk-rock-soul sphere. Initial success across Europe soon culminated in musical differences with the rest of the formation, with the brothers moving to Amsterdam and the backing band morphing into The J.J. Band (see below). Nonetheless, the brothers’ contribution to the country’s early soul-funk scene is undeniable.
2. Kiosk – Mona Call (1969)
Little is known about this record, other than the fact that it paved the way for Marc Moulin’s Placebo. Recently reissued on Sdban as a split with Hearts of Soul & Shampoo’s We Love the Policeman (see below), it is said that the cover art of the bootleg version you sometimes see popping up in local record stores was the brainchild of a not so-unknown local artist. The trumpet on this is insane.
3. Hein Huysmans – In Due Season (1970)
Jazz-funk private press (no more than 1,000 copies were released) by vibraphonist Hein Huysmans and that often gets compared to Marc Moulin’s Placebo. An absolute gem of an album released on little known, short-lived imprint A.D.S Records, this is the kind of release begging for a reissue if you ask us.
4. The J.J. Band – Love in Them Here Hills (1970)
Following the disbanding of Jess & James, the outfit’s backing band – that included members of El Chicles and Chakachas – went on to form The J.J. Band, releasing two well-received albums, one in 1970 (produced by Roland Kluger) and another in 1971. Somewhat grittier and faster-paced than their earlier incarnation, their debut, recorded in Brussels’ Studio La Madeline in 1970, features this killer track, famously sampled by Jurassic 5’s Cut Chemist for Power in Numbers’ I Am Somebody.
5. Nico Gomez and His Afro Percussion Inc – Lupita (1971)
Percussion-heavy Latin jazz by prolific band leader Joseph van het Groenewoud whose stage name Nico Gomez apparently was devised to increase his street cred. Drum breaks for days.
6. Yamasuki – Yama Yama (1971)
Recorded by Jan Kluger (brother of producer Roland Kluger, founder of famed imprint RKM) and Daniel Vangarde (father of Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter), with a slew of contributors such as Raymond Van Het Groenewoud (son of Joseph van het Groenewoud, aka Nico Gomez), a Japanese children’s choir as well as black belt judo master. Conceived as a concept album, the long player’s unique sound – as symbolized in this stand out track – attracted so many fans it got reissued by Finders Keepers back in 2005.
7. Georges Hayes and his Philarpopic Orchestra – Steeple Chase (1971)
An obscure big band funk 45” released in the early 70s by composer Georges Hayes, who has writing credits with the likes of Turkish psychedelic funkster Baris Manco (who briefly lived in Liège in the mid-60s) and Charles Venon. An absolute killer.
8. René Costy – Scrabble (1972)
Recorded for venerable library imprint Chappell, this cut was famously sampled by J Dilla on Fuck the Police, a well-known fact that, to this day, still makes any Belgian digger worth his collection beam with pride. Off the all-round killer album Chappell Mood Music Vol. 26 (Costy also recorded Vol. 25), a recent comprehensive reissue by Sdban, Expenctancy, only served to further enhance the composer, conductor and producer’s allure. Belgian library funk at its best.
9. Plus – Put Everything Together (1972)
Often referred to as Bruno Castellucci’s band, Plus’ music was slightly more rock-infused than his work on Placebo and Solis Lacus (see below), most of the tracks on their first and only album – 1972’s self-titled Plus – edging ever so subtly towards fusion funk and prog-rock territory. Featuring Douglas Lucas (who played with The J.J. Band, The S.S.O Orchestra as well as pan-European touring outfit Mombassa) on trumpets as well as Ralph Benatar (also of The J.J. Band) on guitar, this one’s a bit of a holy grail amongst connoisseurs.
10. Selectasound ’88 & The Bob Boon Singers – Tabou (1972)
Produced by Louis Van Rymenant, founding head of Belgian label Eurovox Records. This is actually a cover of Cuban composer’s Ernesto Lecuono.
11. Philippe Catherine – Give It Up or Turn It Loose (1972)
Belgian guitarist whose debut album featured Marc Moulin on electric keys as well as Placebo’s Freddy Rottier on drums. Philipe Catherine went on to play with everyone from Larry Coryell to Charles Mingus, becoming one of European Jazz’s undeniable strongman, although his debut is still the one we hold closer to our hearts.
12. Super Funky Discotheque – Lord Funk (1973)
A 21-minute stomper of a funk cut, Lord Funk was produced by Sylvain Vanholme, better known for his work with The Wallace Collection and, maybe more importantly, Two Man Sound together with Lou Deprijck. The track’s got grooves for days, with a killer break to be found too. Dancefloor sure shot.
13. Placebo – Only Nineteen (1973)
Probably the only band in this selection that needs no introduction. Placebo, the brainchild of local hero Marc Moulin, released three albums between 1971 and 1974, all of which have gone down in Belgian jazz-funk history. This particular track, off the outfit’s 1973 album, embodies the genius that was Moulin, as much for his composing and conducting as for his unique talent on keys. This is the standard against which all Belgian jazz funk was judged on ever since.
14. Bun Hunga and His Combo – Travelling on Rhytms (1973)
Exquisite piece of orchestral, Latin-influenced funk produced by prolific composer Roland Thyssen. The piano on this is simply out of this world, with the backing trumpets only making matters better.
15. The Indian Sound of… Black Foot – Smoke Signal (1974)
Sometimes, a Discogs comments beats any music journalist’s writings, so here goes: “Written by John Sluzny of El Chicles fame, this obscure Belgian 45 includes the best two tracks from RKM – Action Beat Library, slightly remixed and overdubbed with scat vocal. Killer double-sider and very rare!” Shout out El Topo.
16. Hearts of Soul & Shampoo – We Love the Policeman (1974)
Collaborative album that saw Holland’s Hearts of Soul join forces with Belgium’s Shampoo and produce an unlikely fusion funk album, one that delights in much by its tendency for cheese as it does by its prog-rock-infused funk. Call it bubblegum funk.
17. Koen De Bruyne – Pathetic Dreams (1974)
A stunner of a track, Pathetic Dreams is off Koen De Bruyne’s only solo album, Here Comes The Crazy Man!, released in 1974. A prominent studio musician, De Bruyne worked with Black Blood and is also credited as pianist on Janko Nilovic’s Mad Unity (see below). Having died in 1977, his other masterpiece is an ethereal, ambient soundtrack he composed for Jan Gruyaert’s movie In Kluis. With the original fetching ridiculous prices on Discogs, a reissue of Here Comes The Crazy Man! is, thankfully, available for more affordable budgets courtesy of, you’ve guessed it, Sdban.
18. Open Sky Unit – Sunshine (1974)
A typically Belgian story of unlikely meetings and collaborations, Open Sky Unit featured Belgian jazz saxophonist Jacques Pelzer as well as American pianist and composer Ron Wilson, whose voice lends soulful vibes to the otherwise funky cuts. Recorded live in Liège’s Jazzland back in 1974, its initial limited pressing means a fair few reissues have emerged. Essential.
19. Janko Nilovic – Funky Tramway (1975)
A firm office favourite, the swinging funk of library music maestro Janko Nilovic is at its best on this album which also includes Telex’s Dan Lacksman on synth duties as well as, as mentioned above, Koen De Bruyne on keys. Entirely arranged and written by the Montenegro-born composer, conductor and all-round legend, most of the tracks on the first and only album were also released on Selection Records’ A Special Radio – TV Record – N°7. A must for any self-respecting funk fiends out there.
20. The S.S.O – Tonight’s the Night (1975)
Featuring US trumpeter Douglas Lucas, the Soul Sensation Orchestra’s Tonight the Night – also the name of the band’s debut album – brought Belgian funk ever so closer to disco territory. Produced by Roland Kluger for his own RKM imprint, this was famously sampled by The High and Mighty producer Mighty Mi for a track by the same name released on their Eastern Conference All Stars II series.
21. Solis Lacus – Utopic Cities (1975)
Composed by pianist Michel Herr, produced by Janko Nilovic and with Bruno Castellucci on drums, Solis Lacus perfectly straddles the fine line between funk and rock, its self-titled album – the only one it ever released – a textured and tight timepiece of Belgian fusion jazz. Often compared to Placebo, the drums and trumpets on this are second to none.
22. Lieven – Spitsuur (1976)
Flemish-folk with strong jazz-funk undertones, with the entire album arranged by none other than Marc Moulin. Off 1976’s Jus d’Orange – the only solo album released by singer, songwriter and guitarist Lieven Coppieters – the track perfectly embodies Lieven’s capacity for storytelling. Make sure to also check Akkerwinde, the album’s closing track, an absolute stomper of downtempo prog-funk. Tip.
23. Douglas Lucas – One for You (1976)
Another one recorded at Morgan Studio in Brussels, this album saw US trumpeter Douglas Lucas – known for his work with The S.S.O Orchestra as well as Mombassa – release a solo effort, Niara, on Roland Kluger’s RKM imprint. A lush and lovely piece of fusion jazz, with Lucas’ playing taking you on a journey to places unheard and Bruno Castellucci’s drums providing the tempo to go with it. Oft-overlooked, all killer.
24. Sunhouse – Don’t Skimp with Us (1977)
Rock-infused jazz with strong funk leanings and breaks to die for. The guitar, the bass, the keys, the drums as well as the sparse vocals all make this an unexpectedly strong effort from the four-piece who only ever released their self-title album, on which this track is featured.
25. The S.S.O Orchestra – No Lady (Faded Lady) (1978)
Courtesy, yet again, of RKM’s phenomenal catalogue, this cut is off the band’s 1976 LP Give a Damn which was arranged by El Chicles’ John Sluszny, written (for the most part) by The J.J. Band’s Ralph Benatar and features the incomparable Douglas Lucas on both trumpet and vocal duties. A beautiful bit of cosmic funk.