This vast, 150-minute opus over two discs is a perfect illustration of George Clinton's consummate skill as ringmaster of the three-ring circus that is the Parliament-Funkadelic collective. Unlike, say, the disciplinarian James Brown, Clinton is willing to spread the fun around and let others indulge themselves, whether it's Blackbyrd McKnight spraying deranged, squalling lead guitar across tracks such as "Viagravation" and "U Ain't Runnin Shit", Bernie Worrell applying spacey synth-lines to "Bounce 2 This", or any of P-Funk's battalion of singers taking lead duties on various tracks.
Most notable in this respect are the contributions of Kendra Foster and Belita Woods, two recent additions to the noble line of P-Funk female vocalists. Woods is outstanding on the nine-minute live recording of "More Than Words Can Say", a slow-burning gospel-blues number in the Stax tradition. Elsewhere, inclusivity reigns, with a typical P-Funk collective cartoon choir admiring the interface of buttock and thong (or "booty flosser", to use the in-house term) on "Butt-a-Butt", and a cover of "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" harking back to the Parliament's origins as a doowop outfit.
Guests drop in to add to the fun: Bobby Womack and Billy Preston on a cover of "Whole Lotta Shakin'", Prince on the skeletal funk of "Paradigm", and rappers like Jazze Phe and Del Tha Funky Homosapien. But the most interesting work is Clinton's, such as the laidback version of Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman", built on a funky mandolin groove, and "Because/Last Time Zone", a bizarre montage that shifts from the Beatles song via a classical guitar interlude to a symphonic-soul chorale laced with murmured voice-overs and psychedelic guitar.
Despite working in a totally different branch of music, Clinton's closest equivalent as bandleader is probably Frank Zappa. Both shared an interest in the freakier fringes of society, a fascination at the heart of the 15-minute "I Can Dance", which exactly correlates to Zappa's "social documentaries" by letting a hard-nosed lap-dancer relate her racy account of club life over a Meters-esque funk groove.
There's too much going on in How Late? to take in at one sitting, as it swings wildly from one style to another. The chief shortcoming is the lack of a central unifying theme like those behind Mothership Connection and Clones of Dr Funkenstein. But it's still the best Clinton release in ages.
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