Bona Fide


Loosely translated from Latin, “bona fide” is a phrase that means the real deal, or the genuine article. It’s the perfect moniker for the Baltimore-based contemporary jazz collective that borrows from some of the most genuine and enduring old-school sources and weaves them together with fresh and edgy musical elements to create something entirely new and vibrant. Their sound is nostalgic and progressive at the same time, always forceful but never forced. 

The band came together in the late ‘90s, more as a result of a creative whim than any grand design, according to founder Tim (aka Slim Man) Camponeschi, the bassist/keyboardist/songwriter who earned his stripes writing vocal and instrumental jazz, pop and funk for Motown in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. He assembled keyboardist Joe Ercole and saxophonist Kevin Levi in 1999 to lay down tracks reminiscent of that fertile period in the mid-‘70s when the line between jazz artists like Freddie Hubbard, Blackbyrds and Bob James and pop artists like Stevie Wonder, George Benson and Earth, Wind & Fire was not so clearly defined. The result was Bona Fide’s highly acclaimed jazz/funk/pop debut album, Royal Function. 

“It was like second nature, going back to that stuff I had done for a while back in the 70s,” says Camponeschi. “It wasn’t this deadly serious approach to jazz. We just went into the studio and let the tape roll. I didn’t have anybody breathing down my neck and saying do this or do that. We just did everything and anything.” Royal Function, which seemed to appear on the scene from out of nowhere, won high praise from the critics and shook up the contemporary jazz radio waves with “X Ray Hip,” a groove-heavy single that climbed to the top of the charts. 

All of which raised the expectations for the followup album – Poe House, released in 2001 – to a level that Camponeschi found uncomfortable if not paralyzing. “With the second album, everybody and their mother were putting their two cents in,” he says. “Everyone was telling us, ‘You gotta do this,’ and ‘You gotta do that.’ All of a sudden, you had this second album being produced by committee. It was really uncomfortable. There’d be three or four people mixing the record, and I just kept thinking, ‘Man, this is too much for me.’” 

But if Camponeschi and the rest of the band were uncomfortable with the direction the music had taken between the first album and the second, the future became even more uncertain with the demise of their label, N2K, not long after the release of Poe House. For lack of a better plan, Camponeschi holed up in his studio and just started writing. “It was just me in a room at that point,” he recalls. “Nobody, not one person, was giving me any advice or input whatsoever. I just didn’t censor myself in any way. I didn’t listen to anybody. Whatever came out of me, came out. My only rule was that if it sounded cool, it was part of the record.” 

Once he’d compiled 10 or 12 songs, he passed them along to keyboardist George Hazelrigg, who laid down tracks on a Grand piano – an uncommon voice in the contemporary jazz idiom, but one that serves this band well. “I just said ‘You know what to do. Just go ahead and do it,’” says Camponeschi. “I did the same with Kevin. I just brought him into the studio and said, “Okay, blow.’ I just left the mikes on all the time, because I didn’t want to censor his performance either. Then I brought in the drummer, John E. Coale, and did the same thing.” 

The resulting recording, Soul Lounge, “is by far the best CD Bona Fide has done,” says Camponeschi. The album, picked up by Heads Up International, is set for release September 27, 2005. “This is the kind of music that I can’t wait to play for friends. There are some funky three-minute guitar and piano tunes mixed with a 12-minute chill tune. The band just let it flow in the studio.” 

Despite his role as founder and primary songwriter, Camponeschi prefers to take a back seat to the greater whole that is Bona Fide. “Whether you’re hearing a studio recording or a live performance, this band will take your head off,” he says. “I’m really kind of the weak link. I’m just kind of stomping my foot, counting things off and holding on.” 

Get hip to the tempo he and his crew are setting. Bona Fide is indeed the real deal.