Just about anyone can name someone who was influenced by Prince, but the number of disciples of Stevie Wonder are not so easy to find. Interestingly during the ’90s Stevie Wonder’s influence could be heard on one of funk’s biggest commercial successes – from England of all places.
Jason Kay and his band Jamiroqual had been making a jazz, pop, disco funk fusion since their 1992 debut Emergency On Planet Earth. It wasn’t until their second album The Return of the Space Cowboy that the formula was perfected. With their third album Traveling Without Moving, they nailed the musical formula while dropping some of the righteous tree hugging rhetoric.
Released in England and Canada in 1996, American audiences would not hear the first single “Virtual Insanity” until 1997. Aided by a clever video, the song made Jamiroqual a household name overnight. The magic of Jamiroqual during this time was in the retro sounding arrangements.
Now augmented with synthetic instruments alongside real string and horn sections. It was a sound that could have been lifted from Stevie Wonder somewhere between Songs in the Key of Life and Hotter Than July. The thick funky bass playing of Stuart Zender held much of Traveling Without Moving together because thematically it was all over the place.
Cohesiveness may not have been the albums strong suit, but the wide range of styles represented seemed to cover all the bases of in the African diaspora and then some. Ska and reggae (that unique English preoccupation) was represented in “Drifting Along” while Aborigine-like sounds opened the jazz-funk instrumental of “Didjital Vibrations”.
There was something for every fan of the funk from the smooth bass heavy slow groove “Everyday” to the title song with its infectious upbeat hooks. Overall the album dispensed with Kay’s environmental message of the past in favor of scattered automotive metaphors. The cover suggested his new found wealth and love of Ferrari while at least one song featured a revving engine.
Whatever criticisms the album got for it’s lack of (an environmental) message was quickly forgotten as it went on to become the biggest selling funk album of all time, a distinction Traveling Without Moving still holds with over 1 million copies sold in just the US alone. The album was equally big in the UK and Canada (did you hear that George Clinton?).
The sudden global success of Traveling Without Moving may have gone to Jason Kay’s head based on the highly publicized skirmishes he had with fans and others. During the ’90s Jamiroqual remained on top of the world with a string of very good to excellent releases that built on the funk heritage started with The Return of the Space Cowboy. That streak ended in the early Ohs, but the band still records, but is no longer the chart force it once was. They are expected to release a new album sometime in 2015.