Bona Fide: Kevin Levi (alto saxophone); Joe Ercole (keyboards, synthesizer); Tom Camponeshchi (keyboards, synthesizer).
Personnel: Kevin Levi (alto saxophone); Joe Ercole, Tim Camponeschi (keyboards).
When Bona Fide's debut album, Royal Function, came out in 1999, keyboardist Joe Ercole insisted that the CD was "funkier and grittier than most contemporary jazz projects." Ercole wasn't lying; the Baltimore group's mixture of jazz, funk, and pop does have more bite and substance than most of the fluff that NAC stations were playing in 1999. That year, NAC playlists were full of bloodless, mind-numbing elevator music, but Royal Function doesn't fit that description. Although commercial and groove-oriented, Royal Function has a brain. Ercole and fellow Bona Fide member Tim Camponeschi (electric bass, keyboards) are both self-proclaimed lovers of 1970s jazz-funk, and it shows. Royal Function gives the impression that Ercole and Camponeschi (who are joined by alto saxophonist Kevin Levi on some of the tunes) have spent a lot of time listening to folks like Grover Washington, Jr., David Sanborn, the Crusaders (as opposed to the Jazz Crusaders), Ronnie Laws, and Herbie Hancock. In fact, Ercole's keyboard playing has been influenced by Headhunters-era Hancock as well as George Duke, Lonnie Liston Smith, and Joe Sample. But for all its 1970s influences, Royal Function doesn't sound like it was actually recorded back then -- Ercole's keyboards are 1990s keyboards, and 1990s acid jazz and trip-hop are also influences. Although Bona Fide's grooves are generally appealing, Royal Function tends to sound overproduced -- the CD would have been even stronger if it sounded more spontaneous and less produced. Nonetheless, one hears a lot of potential on this enjoyable, if imperfect, debut. ~ Alex Henderson