Slickly-packaged docu “Make It Funky!” is a big, easy overview of New Orleans’ rich musical heritage. Proudly calling burg “one funky city,” Neville Brothers and funky Meters vocalist/keyboardist Art Neville narrates town’s history with satisfying detail. Marinated by the confluence of African and Caribbean rhythms with the slave and immigrant cultures that produced city’s Mardi Gras, music is a rich stew of syncopated influences. As with recent blues evue “Lightning in a Bottle,” which also featured affable drummer Steve Jordan as musical director, pic could enjoy perfunctory bigscreen playdates but will really shake its tail feathers on cable and DVD.
Landmarks such as Congo Square and the Dew Drop Inn provide topographic reference, while an explanation of the “second line” of the New Orleans funeral tradition sheds light on an oft-seen but little-understood ritual whereby “life is celebrated, death is honored.”
Thesis is supported by interviews with musicians such as pianist Jon Cleary and legendary drummer Earl Palmer, plus influential DJ Jim Russell and recording studio owner Cosimo Matassa. Via clips, local legends and breakout artists Fats Domino, Little Richard and Dr. John are praised.
Woven into illuminating narrative are perfs from an April 2004 all-star concert featuring regional mainstays and special guests. A spectacular trumpet challenge among Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield and Troy Andrews segues into the Louis Armstrong chestnut “Skokiaan”; dapper Allen Toussaint and exuberant Irma Thomas glide through “Old Records”; Walter “Wolfman” Washington picks a guitar lead with his teeth on local boy Robert Parker’s strutting “Barefootin'”; and guitarist Snooks Eaglin steals the show with a slinky rendition of “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll).”
Pic’s only missteps are a Vegas-like medley of locally-penned early rock tunes performed by Toussaint with the Jordan-organized house band and a heartfelt but strangely out-of-place run through “I’m Ready” featuring Palmer, Washington and effusive guest Keith Richards.
Tech credits are pro, led by Gustavo Borner’s crisp sound mix. Helmer Michael Murphy’s decade-plus experience with hi-def equipment pays off with a rich, warm look and comprehensive coverage of the live show by a team of unidentified cameramen.