Travis Biggs – 1976 – Challenge
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Cool stuff – and one of the strangest funk records you’ll ever hear!
Travis Biggs is a keyboardist and violinist – and he’s best known for his one album Solar Funk on the Source label – but this is an earlier release that predates that one, issued on a small Detroit label, and with a rawer sound overall! The groove is sort of spacey jazz funk fusion – with vocals on a few cuts, but mostly a focus on the instrumental side of the album – served up by Travis on Fender Rhodes, synth, organ, harp, mandolin, and electric violin. Some numbers are laidback and mellow, but many others are upbeat and very grooving – with almost a boogie funk sort of groove!
Includes original versions of the tracks “Solar Funk” and “Tibetan Serenity“, the latter of which is an excellent instrumental with a very famous sample – plus the cuts “I Wish“, “Fly Like An Eagle“.
Travis Biggs was truly in a class of his own. During an era when Stevie Wonder and Bobbi Humphrey made unexpectedly soulful sounds from the little-used harmonica and flute, Biggs went further outside the box and chose the violin as his voice of choice.
You might guess that most folks weren’t ready for funky violin, and you would be right. Maybe the brother was trying to prepare folks by calling the album Challenge. As far as I know, this was his first album, and was likely treated as a “local homie made good” vanity project since very few copies were pressed.
Well, you know where this story is headed…..enter those crate-digging British. They licensed some of his material for a compilation, and eventually decided to reissue the whole shebang. Thirty years on, this is still a unique record.
The majority of the album is instrumental and has the light and breezy, yet solid groove that lies somewhere between funk and disco. Very 1975-76 style, if you know what I mean. The vox are handled by some unknown (to me) females, who are more in the unison chanting vibe than out-and-out riffing.
Challenge features the soul sisters getting down on covers of “Fly Like An Eagle” and “I Wish” that are good to surprise people with at parties. But the most popular jam on here is “Tibetan Serenity,” which has been sampled to acclaim.
I kind of clowned on Biggs in the beginning, but he rebounded with a 1979 album on which he remade “Serenity” and “Solar Funk” so it’s clear he was happy with the material. If and when the violin makes it as a mainstream instrument, this will indeed be considered the album that issued the challenge for future generations to carry out.