Talkhouse Weekend Playlist: An Introduction to ’70s Jazz-Funk from Surprise Chef

The self-described "cinematic soul journeymen" create this playlist hot off their new record, Daylight Savings.

If you haven’t come across the band Surprise Chef, you’re in for a treat. Coming from Melbourne, the band’s sound emulates something of a long lost ’70s jazz-funk soundtrack. Their most recent LP, Daylight Savings, was just released by both College Of Knowledge Records (the band’s own record label) and Mr Bongo. To get an inside scoop of the inspirations behind Daylight Savings, we asked guitarist Lachlan Stuckey for his essential ’70s jazz-funk tracks. Be sure to check out the new record and enjoy this playlist.
—Keenan Kush, Talkhouse Director of Operations

Johnny “Hammond” Smith — “Tell Me What To Do “
Johnny “Hammond” Smith’s Gears album was probably the record that got Jethro and me into “jazz-funk.” We’d been listening to records on this tip for a long time before we heard this record, but it was Gears that illustrated to us the distinction between “jazz-funk” and other types of funky shit we were into at the time.

It was also this record that got us hooked on the productions of the great Mizell Brothers, the partnership of Larry and Alphonso Mizell who guided many great jazz artists into new funky territory in the 1970s.

Donald Byrd — “Stepping Into Tomorrow”
Once we got into the Mizell Brothers, it was only a matter of time before we stumbled into their legendary collaborative efforts for Donald Byrd on Blue Note. Along with Places and Spaces, Stepping Into Tomorrow had a big impact on both our DJing/ record collecting and our playing/composition. The Mizells and Byrd didn’t make a bad record together, but the title track on Stepping Into Tomorrow represents so many of the aspects of their work together that set those records apart from others being made within the jazz-funk idiom at the time. In many ways, these records are defining touch-points for the evolution of jazz and R&B in the 1970s.

Placebo — “Balek”
Hudson Whitlock (The Pro-Teens mastermind, Karate Boogaloo drummer, and Surprise Chef percussionist) hipped us to Placebo’s three brilliant 1970’s LPs Ball of Eyes, 1973, and Placebo. We instantly gravitated to the off-kilter arrangements, outstandingly dope production ideas and super-purposeful playing. The hard-panned tambourine hit from “Balek” is a technique Surprise Chef has borrowed more than once. All three records are essential listening for anyone seeking a different flip to the funky jazz sound of America in the 1970s.

Herbie Hancock — “Hang Up Your Hang Ups”
There’s no denying that Herbie Hancock is the don. A major force in pushing jazz forward throughout his entire career, Herbie was instrumental in shifting jazz into the funky territory of the ’70s.

I was a big fan of Herbie’s ’60s jazz records, but it wasn’t until I saw Simon Mavin’s Thrust project play at notorious Fitzroy haunt Bar Open that I saw the magic in Hancock’s funky ’70s records. Simon Mavin is one of Australia’s greatest jazz musicians, and seeing him play Herbie’s ’70s material opened my eyes wide.

From the Man-child LP that features numerous key instrumentalists from the jazz-funk era including Headhunters members Harvey Mason, Mike Clark, Blackbyrd McKnight, Paul Jackson and Bennie Maupin, “Hang Up Your Hang Ups” is a great starting point for newcomers to ’70s jazz-funk.

Bob James — “Nautilus”
Pretty much an untouchable example of ’70s jazz-funk, and unquestionably a crucial track in the context on sample culture. Drummer Idris Muhammad is the star of this show in my opinion. Nautilus is on Bob James’ One LP, his first album as a leader for Creed Taylor’s CTI Records, a label home to countless important jazz-funk albums made in the ’70s. Fun fact — the players on One also played on Roberta Flack’s classic Feel Like Makin’ Love, which was recorded a few weeks before One. There’s a killer instrumental version of the tune on One also.

Bobbi Humphrey — “Harlem River Drive”
Yet another classic ’70s Blue Note album produced by Larry and Fonce Mizell, characteristically featuring an all-star cast of giants including Harvey Mason, Chuck Rainey and the great Motown session guitarist David T Walker. This tune is an anthem of the era.

Ambiance — “Turnaround”
One of my most-played ’70s jazz-funk LPs during the COVID lockdown in Melbourne. This LP, Ebum, has some pretty outlandish musical ideas on it; lots of rapid feel changes, aggressive horn arrangements and other stuff you don’t hear on a lot of conventional ’70s jazz-funk LPs. The record is a very clear marriage of spiritual jazz and late-70s fusion. This cut is a version of Walter Bishop’s 1971 tune from the storied Black Jazz catalogue.

Originally released on Ambiance’s Da Mon label in ’79, the record was recently reissued by High Jazz for all to enjoy.

Stanton Davis’ Ghetto/Mysticism — “Play Sleep”
Stone cold business led by trumpet player Stanton Davis in 1977. On the darker, more jagged end of the jazz-funk spectrum, Play Sleep is a hypnotic odd-time journey with the spiritual jazz overtones of heavy percussive textures.

Catalyst — “New-Found Truths”
Catalyst have been one of our favorite jazz-funk bands since I bought their LP A Tear and a Smile from the funkiest man in Coburg, DJ Manchild. There isn’t a bad Catalyst record as far as I’m aware – they vary in funkiness, with some tunes fitting more in a modal jazz framework than jazz-funk, but it’s all stone cold. Much like the Placebo records, the Catalyst albums are great for anyone looking to dig beyond the conventional sounds of some of the more well-known records from catalogues like Blue Note, Fantasy et al.

This tune is off their first LP, Catalyst. Jethro can often be heard hammering away at this tune on our Fender Rhodes, and I’d suggest it’s had a big impact on his keyboard playing.

Tarika Blue — “Dreamflower”
Probably most well known as the sample in Erykah Badu’s J-Dilla produced Didn’t Cha Know, this tune comes off the second of Tarika Blue’s highly sought-after LPs on Chiaroscuro Records. Legendary jazz-funk musician and Roy Ayers Ubiquity member James Mason features on the self-titled album, but isn’t on this track.