When an African dictator jails her husband, Shandurai goes into exile in Italy, studying medicine and keeping house for Mr. Kinsky, an eccentric English pianist and composer. She lives in one room of his Roman palazzo. He besieges her with flowers, gifts, and music, declaring passionately that he loves her, would go to Africa with her, would do anything for her. "What do you know of Africa?," she asks, then, in anguish, shouts, "Get my husband out of jail!" The rest of the film plays out the implications of this scene and leaves Shandurai with a choice.
After ten years away, Jacques Pruez, an unmarried, 50-year-old, modestly successful actor, returns to his home village to comfort his dying mother. His father Yvan, a family barber who's counting on his "successful" son to support him in his old age, refuses to believe that his wife is sick and insists that her doctors are killing her. She dies, and Jacques finds out that Yvan is not his real father. Besieged by memories of his childhood, the village and the past, Jacques wanders the streets at night, reliving the moments that set him apart from the rest…
This seeks to be a good-time record while maintaining the musical intelligence that listeners should expect from Anderson. "Putting the cookies on a lower shelf" can be dangerous if the artists are too busy worrying about public taste to do any real cooking, but it's obvious from the start that the players (Amina Claudine Myers, organ, piano; Jerome Harris, guitar; Lonnie Plaxico, bass; Tommy Campbell, drums) are having a blast themselves. I can't imagine any complaints about anyone's contributions instrumentally. The rhythm team swings, Anderson sounds just great, Myers and Harris shine throughout, and the trombone-organ-guitar ensembles are downright dangerous. The four vocal tracks feature Myers and Anderson solo and in tandem: gutsy, extroverted performances of intelligent lyrics by Jackie Raven. This music is hard to describe but it's natural and infectious, somewhat comparable to Mose Allison, but hotter.
Opening with the Head Hunters version of "Watermelon Man" and closing with the electro-embracing crossover hit, "Rockit," Mr. Funk is a semi-random skip across Hancock's Columbia recordings, and it technically spans 1973-1983 (at least going by release dates), rather than the 1972-1988 range printed on its cover.
This album is quite unusual. Recorded shortly after Nat King Cole's death, pianist Oscar Peterson takes vocals on all but one of the dozen selections, sounding almost exactly like Cole. Peterson, who rarely ever sang, is very effective on the well-rounded program, whether being backed by a big band (arranged by Manny Albam) on half of the selections or re-creating both the spirit of the Nat King Cole Trio and his own group of the late '50s during a reunion with guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown.