Seven years ago, a half-dozen musicians got together one night for a simple jam session to provide live music for b-boys to battle and dance to. That jam session played out so well that the six musicians decided to continue working together as a full band. Four additional members and numerous tours later, Jungle Fire are set to release their second full-length album via Nacional Records.
It will come as no surprise to longtime fans of Jungle Fire (b-boys and otherwise) to learn that the band's upcoming second album, Jambu, is a fiery cocktail of Afro-Latin funk and rhythms. However, unlike its 2014 predecessor, Tropicoso, there isn't an urgency to get listeners off their chairs and onto their feet. Instead, the album plays out more like the soundtrack to an unshot movie documenting the band's travels in South America.
"There are definitely some bangers," says percussionist Alberto Lopez, who was one of the initial half-dozen musicians who comprised the original, then-unnamed Jungle Fire lineup. "All of the record is danceable, but I think there are three tracks, 'Lamente Momposino,' 'Efori' and 'Bele Bele,' that are very cinematic. They go beyond pure dance music. In addition to the tropi-funk, the Latin funk, that we explore, we went for a musically explorative thing where we introduced a psychedelic element, much more so than in the previous album."
Jambu certainly puts Jungle Fire's identity into sharper focus. While it was easy to call out the artists that influenced the tunes on Tropicoso, the group sounds more comfortable in its own skin this time around. That's no easy feat considering the group ballooned from a six-man to a 10-man lineup featuring Lopez, Michael Duffy and Steve Haney on percussion, Sam Halterman on drums, Joey Reina on bass, guitarists Judson McDaniel and Patrick Bailey, and Sam Robles, Otto Granillo and Sean Billings in the brass/wind section.
"We've been playing and writing music together moreso than when we made Tropicoso," Lopez explains. "On Tropicoso, we did a bunch of stuff that we liked, just created stuff. I think the idea with Jambu is that ... we've been playing together for like five years now as a group. We really figured out what elements we liked more about what we did before. We really developed our sound more."
The ideas and concept for Jambu were first planted during the band's tour of South America in 2014, where they presented cuts from Tropicoso to rapt audiences in Colombia and Brazil before returning to the United States to debut the album at the Supersonico festival. As soon as the band had downtime, they revisited moments and recordings from their travels to begin composing new themes.
"We were influenced by those trips and we tried to incorporate some of the things that we picked up in those places, including the title," says Lopez. "Jambu is a really cool sedative plant that they put in some drinks in Brazil. It's not a psychotropic, but it produces kind of a numbing effect in the mouth. When you drink something else, it heightens the flavor and it's really trippy."
In keeping with the South American theme, the band decided to include a cover version of "Cumbia de Sal," a classic cumbia track by Colombian group Los Falcons. Meanwhile, "Lamento Momposino" is an homage to the town of Mompós, where the band spent some time soaking in the ambience of the Mompox Jazz Festival. The inspiration for the song came from a group of kids playing music in a street.
"They were playing this trippy melody," Lopez recalls. "It was just slightly off but in a really cool way, and a couple of the members recorded it. We came back, modified and Jungle Fire–ized it, but then we wrote a bunch of additional stuff to it.
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"It's really dark, trippy, and moody but it really reflects Mompós, the land of magical realism where [Gabriel] García Márquez got inspired. For us, it was our homage to magic realism in Mompós."
Though the group shifted gears and moods a bit on Jambu, the band will always keep a focus on getting people to dance wherever their music is played. More important, they want to continue creating music that b-boys can battle to, just as they did the night they congregated for the first time.
"We never forget the roots, the genesis of the group. We know that the group started out of a desire to play music to make people feel the funk and make people want to dance. That's our aim: to keep making music we like and that b-boys can dance to."
Jungle Fire's Jambu will be available on Feb. 3 via Nacional Records.