Junko Beat, JamKronic (Indpendent)

What to label this? The rhythm section was once known as Junko Partners, but they’ve since split from that nucleus and mutated into the kind of funk band that features a synthesized bass and a fair bit of electronic sweetening, all while occasionally employing an R&B diva of sorts, a worldbeat drummer from West Africa, a veteran pedal-steel sideman, and a cellist whose classical axe just happens to be plugged in. Yes, they’re that kind of funk outfit: the kind you’ve never heard before.

If that mix kinda sounds like an aural marshmallow-peeps milkshake, your concerns are well noted. But Junko’s odd melange is surprisingly well integrated: Their funk-by-committee approach is anchored by that same rhythm section of Chris Lacinak (drums, both “real” and not) and Vernon Rome (synth and bass). Most of these nine workouts follow the same formula anyway—a backbeat steeped in Crescent City funk, Middle Eastern music or both, a big fat squiggly bottom, some antiseptic synth atmospheres just to show they mean business, and then plenty of room on top to allow their guests to stretch out and do their thing.

And as good as the groove gets, it’s really those guests who bring these songs home—Trea Martinez’ vocals give them a moral foundation, Seguenon Kone’s djembe propels “Fatima” around the world, and Will Snowden’s ominous electric cello rockets Junko into space. Too bad you can’t see the belly dancer. Did we mention the belly dancer? There’s also a belly dancer.e