words | Elena Scialtiel
Expect razzmatazz with funky quartet MalFUNKtion, who were the true sensation of recent autumnal musical nights after an intense summer of surfing the chiringuito circuit and establishing themselves as regulars at the aptly named local Jazz Café.
Formed by Gibraltarian saxophonist Nick Gonzalez and German bassist Burkhard (Bee) Menn from the ashes of their previous Jazz Quartet, and inventively rebranded after their favourite subgenre, the duo soon recruited British musician Ed Mayo on vocals, keys and trumpet, and Argentinean Nestor Gomez on drums. Latest addition to the ensemble is Marbellan guitarist Alejandro Hidalgo, who adds funky riffs to the sound of the band.
They meshed together in a heartbeat and went on promoting their infectious, toe-tapping repertoire of funky tunes, from crowd-pleaser James Brown to saxophonist Maceo Parker, Swedish trombone player Nils Landgren, as well as tunes by piano legend Herbie Hancock, performing both instrumental-only tracks and classic hit songs featuring Ed’s smooth vocals with the ultimate aim of getting the audience to their feet.
Despite their apotropaic name, the band is well functioning indeed in a music scene where they feel funk is not portrayed extensively enough, and seldom made the protagonist of live gigs. They are here to disprove the misconception that wider audiences may linger on, and reclaim funk’s place in musical history, alongside blues, and finger-snapping bluesy rhythms which the quartet often indulges in. It isn’t a fluke that their website advertises them as ‘98% funk, 2% jazz’, and plenty of surprises are packed in that all-important 2%.
MalFUNKtion’s concerts feature a set list with a certain degree of improvisation and arrangements of well-known mainstream songs that everyone would know, but nobody would expect to be performed ‘in a funk’. “We try and accommodate our audience’s requests, of course,” they say, “but we like to surprise them with popular attention-grabbers, like when we played a jazzed-up version of ‘Jingle Bells’ at our September gig, and that just went down a treat.”
With varied audiences whose demographics depend on the venue, MalFUNKtion’s style and repertoire is fluid and flexible in its selection of covers, between which they sometimes slip their own composition ‘B Funk’, described as “our trademark funky line, rich in brass, designed to get people dance away. It is instrumental at the moment, but seen its popularity, we don’t rule out the project of adding lyrics, since our vocalist has a solid range to complement the groove.”
A customer services agent by day job, and one of the best saxophonists on the Coast, Nick is a versatile player whose first approach to music was indeed through jazz: “Once you master jazz, you can quickly learn other styles,” he says. In fact, he also plays reggae with legendary local act Heritage, and the Jamaican beat was his first love when he entered the world of gigging thanks to Sista Dee’s orchestra, where he met Bee Menn. Nowadays, he divides his virtuosism between Heritage, MalFUNKtion and the Tito Chipolina’s Blues Band.
Ed Mayo is an internationally acclaimed trumpet and piano player, originally from the south-east of England. He rose through the ranks as a jazz soloist to become an in-demand session player and jazz soloist. His career has seen him perform at major jazz festivals and theatres throughout the world, alongside a steady stream of recording and writing projects. His love of music began at school, playing in the Big Band and later joining Geoff Miller’s Kent Youth Jazz Orchestra with which he played for five years in live shows, jazz festivals and tours, and he regularly goes back to play with them to support the up-and-coming talent the band still finds. Now he is the head of the music department of an international school in Marbella as well as a renowned musician along the region stretching between Cadiz and Malaga and a regular visitor to the weekly Eliott Hotel’s jamming nights.
Burkhard, better known as ‘Bee’, has been playing guitar and bass (electric and upright) for more than thirty years. He is used to playing big stages and big audiences during shows and festivals as well as small, cosy jazz clubs. When he came to Spain more than ten years ago, he settled at an elegant resort hotel, where he was supposed to open his diving school, but as a thoroughbred musician, he soon was also responsible for the establishment’s band bookings and was often asked if he could fill in for bass players, so ended up playing averagely one to two gigs per week. Never too busy for music, he organised jam sessions in a chiringuito nearby, where he played with musicians from the region every Sunday for over a year. Being a sound engineer, he controls the speakers, amplification and mixing equipment his band uses for their gigs. However, he prefers big gigs with contracted sound companies, because, as he jokingly explains, ‘then he could hold someone else responsible in case of poor sound’.
With some nine thousand gigs under his belt in his thirty-year career, Argentinean Nestor Gomez started to learn drums at a very young age, and was soon touring his country and Uruguay with some famous songwriters and bands. Later, he decided to come to Europe looking for new horizons in his career and for many years, he played every night at the famous “Navy” night club in Puerto Banús until it closed.
Alejandro Hidalgo, a self-taught guitarist, began playing at an early age too, mainly influenced by blues and rock of the Sixties and Seventies. As he grew up, his interest shifted to other styles of music as funk, jazz, folk, country and he has since played with a variety of bands and musicians exploring his versatility while staying true to his style.
Logistics aside, MalFUNKtion makes a point to meet fortnightly for rehearsals, and more often when a gig is on the horizon. Furthermore, they dedicate most of their free time to practising on their own, as Nick is very demanding on the group meshing together and being on the ball – especially when there is a big ball coming up!