PLUNKY "Cold Heat" N.A.M.E. Brand PLUNKY & ONENESS OF JUJU "Live in Paris" N.A.M.E. Brand

Friday, June 29, 2007

PLUNKY"Cold Heat"N.A.M.E. BrandPLUNKY & ONENESS OF JUJU"Live in Paris"N.A.M.E. Brand

SAXOPHONIST AND COMPOSER Plunky, a.k.a. James Plunky Branch, hasn't carved out a niche in contemporary music so much as created a swath, cutting across funk, reggae, soul, Pan-African and smooth to avant-garde jazz sounds in the course of 20-plus releases. Played back-to-back, his latest CD, "Cold Heat," and his recently released DVD, "Live in Paris," offer an unprecedented view of his musical, spiritual, cultural and political pursuits.

"Cold Heat" is primarily a party platter, radio-ready from start to finish, brimming with sax-fueled funk tracks, sultry ballads and steamy lyrics. Plunky excels at milking funk vamps for all their worth, as "Drop" and "Hop, Skip & a Jump" illustrate, and he often wields his soprano and tenor saxophones like a reedman who considers himself part of the rhythm section. When the mood softens, the focus shifts to Tonya Lazenby-Jackson and Monica Smith, who contribute sensuous vocals to "Nevertheless" and "Hollar Back."

Far more revealing is "Live in Paris," a must-have for fans. In addition to performances that find Plunky's Oneness of Juju ensemble in concert -- and in full makeup -- the DVD includes a documentary in which the bandleader, who turns 60 in a few weeks, looks back on his life and his heroes, from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to James Brown, Maceo Parker, Pharoah Sanders and Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Vintage concert footage of Branch's musical mentors complement his thoughtful commentary and vividly underscore enduring influences on his life and music.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Monday at Blues Alley.

Listen to an audio clip of Plunky.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company