Former P-funk keyboardist Amp Fiddler has earned his own footnote in Detroit music history, mentoring the production careers of J Dilla and the other luminaries of Detroit's underground hip-hop scene. On his own, the man proved he could funk with the best of them — even if he already sounded like the best of them — on 2005's Waltz of the Ghetto Fly, which wore its Sly/Stevie influences happily on its billowy sleeves.
This time out, Fiddler swings as much as he grooves, updating the funky production of Waltz into a sharper, hip hop-friendly undercarriage Dilla would have been proud to claim. It's in the range of this album — in other words, the songs that aren't as conspicuously sporting the Afro or strutting — where Amp comes into his own, most notably on the '40s-jazz bop of his duet with ingénue Corrine Bailey Rae, "If I Don't," the album's current international hit. Ditto for the string-pulsing "Right Where You Are," which, yeah, is a thumpin' ode to getting with that special someone (but with a line like "You can't pick your family but you can pick your friends and lover," its R&B places an emphasis on the blues that's as convincing as the rhythm).
"Hustle" is the kind of smoldering, jazz-funk that Roy Ayers built a career on (it sounds like the ending credits theme of an as-yet-unmade neo-blaxploitation flick). And Fiddler owns it with his keys solos and layered strings. By the time he gets to covering "Hey Joe," giving the blues Hendrix made famous the kind of funk-rock wind-up (check out the Sun Ra guitar-synth freak-outs!) that puts him in the same league as Prince or Van Hunt, Afro Strut's made its point: Amp Fiddler may have the Afro and the strut, but he can hang anywhere in the soul-funk jazz canon he damn well pleases. And please he does!
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].