AFTER LYING low for a year or so, the Parliament-Funkadelic troupe is cranking into gear again. The first sign of life in the slumbering funk giant was "Hydraulic Pump" (Hump H-111). This 12-inch dance party E.P. featured three progressively wilder versions of the title tune. Randy rapping and spicy guitar and horn solos surrounded the deep groove as George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Sly Stone, Bobby Womack, Philippe Wynne and Ron Ford all chipped in.
The second sign of new life came on "Point of Pleasure" (ENI T-51116), the debut album by Xavier. Clinton and Collins add their distinctive P-Funk vocals to the solid underpinning of the young Connecticut funk band on two great party cuts, including the hit single "Work That Sucker to Death." On their own, Xavier's nine members lay down a light but finger-snapping sharp funk beat. The real star is their singer Ayanna Little, whose sweet soprano (so reminiscent of Minnie Riperton's) is refreshing contrast to the usual funk grunts.
This album was followed by "The One Giveth; The Count Taketh Away" (Warner Bros. BSK 3667), the best Bootsy Collins album in years. Gone are the loose, sloppy jams and indulgent raps of the past few Collins albums. Instead this album features well-structured funk songs with real melodies, sharp horn charts, pointed guitar fills and intricate vocal arrangements. As always, the hip-grinding funk groove is anchored by bassist Collins (who learned his trade in James Brown's band). This central axis connects several dozen voices and instruments, which go spinning off in different directions. Thus the record offers the sensation of a million things happening at once, while one big beat keeps it all together. Clinton helps out on "Shine-O-Myte (Rag Popping)," a scintillating synthesizer exercise; "Excon (of Love)" is Collins' most effective ballad ever.
The biggest P-Funk hits last year came from Zapp and Roger. These two acts were named after Zapp and Roger Troutman of Dayton, Ohio. The Troutmans (with percussionist brothers Lester and Larry) are reunited on "Zapp II" (Warner Bros. 9 23583-1). This album is much better than last year's efforts, for it relies much less on gimmicks like synthesized vocals and much more on strong, versatile song writing by Roger & Larry Troutman. "Dance Floor" (an 11-minute workout) is the first hit single and most representative of their past work, with a slow, hypnotic beat soaked in synthesizers. "Playin' Kinda' Ruff" laments the Reagan recession with hand-clapping, horn-punching, voice-chanting funk. "A Touch of Jazz" reprises this song with more improvisatory room for the musicians to stretch out. "Doo Wa Ditty" features a bluesy harmonica solo, while "Do You Really Want an Answer?" features sophisticated soul vocal harmonies. All this versatility reveals the Troutmans as more talented, more human and more likable than their first records implied.
Another Dayton funk band -- though unconnected to P-Funk -- is Heatwave, whose new album is "Current" (Epic, FE 38065). The record is graced by five excellent compositions from former member Rod Temperton, who has penned hits for Michael Jackson, Donna Summer and George Benson. Temperton's clever (though shallow) lyrics, enchanting melodies, funky rhythms and thickly textured vocal arrangements make this one of the year's better soul albums. "Lettin' It Loose" is a contagious anthem about escaping the blues by getting loose on the streets. Lead singer Johnnie Wilder gives a lovely, romantic reading of Temperton's ballad "Look After Love." "The Big Guns" is a fusion romp by the band with guest solos by Greg Phillengane's and Herbie Hancock. Wilder's co-producer, Barry Blue, wrote two ballads that boast luscious group harmonies.
Jeffrey Osborne, the former lead singer with L.T.D. has a hit with his solo debut album, "Jeffrey Osborne" (A&M SP-4896). Under the direction of producer/keyboardist George Duke, Osborne has abandoned the big band funk of his L.T.D. days for a slicker L.A. pop-soul sound. He's a smooth, resonant singer who cruises through the mid-tempo material with confident control. The compositions by Osborne and friends are hook-laden, sentimental love songs. "I Really Don't Need No Light" by Osborne and David Wolinski is the first hit single; even better is guitarist Mike Sembello's jingly "Eenie Meenie." On both tunes, Osborne mimics Teddy Pendergrass' romantic purr. It's a likable imitation, but Osborne never achieves Pendergrass' gut-wrenching intensity.
George Duke also produced two songs on Larry Graham's new album, "Sooner or Later" (Warner Bros. BSK 3668). "Walk Baby Walk" recalls Graham's glorious days with Sly and the Family Stone, when he invented the bass-popping style that now defines modern funk. "Still Thinkin' of You" is a ballad that features Graham's steadily improving voice and Mike Sembello's romantic acoustic guitar picking. Graham produced the rest of the album himself, ususally playing all the instruments himself. As one of the great bassists in the history of funk, he gives every song a riveting rhythm. Sometimes, though, he lapses into overproduced sentimentality (especially on "You're My Girl") and only "Walk Baby Walk" comes up to Sly Stone standards.