Anatomy of THE Groove: “Splash” by Randy Brecker & Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias was born in  São Paulo. And was a musical prodigy. She began learning piano at the age of 7, transcribing solos from musicians at 12 and teaching music by 15, She went on to perform with singer Toquino and poet  Vinicius de Moraes during her late teens. After journeying to New York to attend the Julliard School Of Music, Elias joined up with the new jazz fusion outfit Steps Ahead. It was there she met jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker, to whom married for a time and with whom she had a daughter Amanda Elias Brecker.

As a multi talented pianist/singer/ composer/arranger, Elias has gone onto earn praise from the jazz press over the decades. The first time I ever heard about her was via a cassette she recorded when married to Randy Brecker in 1985 entitled Amanda. It would seem to have been her first album as a leader. Having it on vinyl now? Its a lot easier for me to hear the albums reconciliation of Elias’s Brazilian jazz approach with Brecker’s funk/fusion approach in their improvisations and orchestrations. And the song that really pulls this all together for me is this albums lead off number entitled “Splash”.

Danny Gottlieb’s funky drumming starts things out with Elias’s phat synth bass and Jeff Mironov’s rhythm guitar interaction. Where Will Lee’s electric bass supplies the rest of the song’s bass lines. Brecker plays a brittle melody over this before the main chorus-where Elias provides a chordally complex, flute like wordless vocal-duetting in harmony with Brecker’s trumpet. The bridge of the song features an energetic piano solo from Elias  along with her synth bass. Then after a break,there’s a muted electric solo from Brecker before an extended chorus continues to the songs fade out.

“Splash” is a song that crosses a lot of different jazz bridges. Its production sonic’s are cleanly of the mid 80’s. At the same time, the actual arrangement Brecker provides from this song is a mix of jazz samba and be-bop. Same goes for the how Elias and Brecker approach their solos. At the same time, the rhythm section and electricity of the synth bass and trumpet/guitar interaction hits on thick funk/jazz grooving. At the same time, the melody takes a cue from the Miles Davis/Dizzy Gillespie school of “something you can hum”. So “Splash” hits its bop/funk/Latin jazz hybrid in all the right places.




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‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’- Sly Stone And Another Kind Of Family Affair!

Sly & The Family Stone made key contributions to the overall musical landscape of the late 1960’s. And those contributions are still somewhat under explored in professional literary terms. Sly Stone himself took the funk of James Brown, then blended in a helping of Bay Area California psychedelic pop/rock. The results were enduring hits such as “Dance To The Music”, “Stand”, “I Wanna Take You Higher” and the full on funk breakthrough “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf”. It was a racially and sexually integrated group too-with female instrumentalists and black and white members.

The Family Stone WERE the musical face of the American social revolutions of that late 60’s period. As the 70’s came in, the band and their times remained deeply connected to one another. Sly’s drug use, and resulting isolationism, impaired the bands ability to perform with him. In America at large, the all inclusive mass social protests of the late 60’s were giving way to a form of activism known by some as the “single issue cause”. Women, LGBT people and the black community were now each demanding to have their own voices heard as individual groups.

By the early 70’s some notions of sharing, peace and love became diminished as these individual groups fought for their own recognition. The same occurred within The Family Stone. As often happens with heavy drug users, Sly’s focus became more focused on his creativity. So for his 1971, originally titled Africa Talks To You, Sly utilized the talents of himself along with the late Ike Turner, Bobby Womack and Billy Preston more than the members of his band.  This sense of isolation and disconnect from the world around Sly changed his creative focus for the late 1971 release of There’s A Riot Goin’ On.

“Luv ‘N Haight” starts out the album with a rumbling, motor like drum which is powered by heavy wah wah guitar/bass interaction. Its deeply funky groove wise. But the chorus scales up and down in the manner of classic Family Stone. “Just Like A Baby” is a slow, bluesy shuffle. Its melody is Clavinet based-played in its higher registers. That gets a bit lower with the economic bass and…what I’d guess would by Womack’s soulful guitar accents. Sly’s strained voice, also with a high pitched tone, flows in and out as an almost ghostly presence.

“Poet”s stop/start rhythm utilizes the Maestro Rhythm King 2 drum machine-along with layers of call and response Clavinet/bass/guitar interaction. “Africa Talks To You “The Asphalt Jungle”” takes on a very similar flavor-with Womack’s guitar again being a key melodic element-with some pulsing Moog bass assisting the live on towards the end. “Family Affair” again features the MRK2 drums playing a more steady rhythm-with the wah wah and Rose Stone singing the hook to Sly’s low,drunken sounding delivery along with a melodic electric piano counterpoint.

“Brave & Strong” uses both the MK2 drums and live ones-depending on how advanced the rhythms are. Cynthia and Jerry’s horns play their classic counterpoint to the bass/ guitar/ Clavinet interaction remaining at the center of the song. “(You Caught Me) Smiling” begins with a live drum/electric piano/Clavinet led pop/jazz type melodic statement before the slap bass and horn rises play the bluesy funk based vibe of the rest of the song-balancing the songs hesitant conceptual mood with separate musical statements. And it says a lot that the “title track” is merely a silent second of audio.

“Time” has a deeply slowed MK2 allows for Sly’s bluesy/soul jazz inspired organ and Clavinet melodies to accompany to fill in the vastly empty spaces of rhythm within the song-all along with his own vocals. The drum machine on “Spaced Cowboy” has a bossa style rhythm , while the live drum rocks right along to a wah wah/Clavinet based sound. Essentially, its a satire of blues tinged country/bluegrass type of song.  “Runnin’ Away”s chorus has a steady drum, bass and organ sound to it. The refrain has the drums and bass get more rhythmically complicated-with the horns and guitar providing the melody.

“Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa” operates as a slowed down remake of “Thank You Falettine Me Be Mice Elf”-recorded for but not released on this album, with the bass, guitar and organ playing over the empty sections of the drum’s rhythm. That approach to Sly’s major funk innovation of the previous year showcases how, even there, his thematic focus was growing more paranoid. Especially as throughout this album, there are constant lyrical references to “feeling so good inside myself”, “frightened faces on the wall” and even declaring that “the brave and strong survive”.

There’s A Riot Goin’ On musically established Sly’s 70’s era sound. Its a spare one that’s based heavily in the organ styled MRK2 drum machine he was using-along with the bursts of different electric pianos with the bass/guitar interaction. Only on two occasions (in the albums hit songs “Family Affair” and “Runnin’ Away”) did the more brightly melodic singalong style of late 60’s Sly & The Family Stone shine through strongly. Otherwise, the album (both musically and lyrically) emphasizes that connection between both Sly and politicized Americans as turning inward as the 70’s began.

Riot isn’t a Sly album that I personally take out and listen to very often. While musically its very innovative in terms of how the funk genre was progressing? The album’s psychedelic element lacks a sense of musical form and structure that functions so well for Sly Stone-both before and after this album. Yet as an aural psychedelic funk work of art, There’s A Riot Goin’ On might be its own self contained 45 minute musical sub genre. The fact that its an album that exists in its own musical world goes right with its reflection of Sly’s shift from talking to the people to talking more as an individualist.

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78 On The Longplay: ‘Sounds…And Stuff Like That’ by Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones seems to have learned something early on from Duke Ellington. That to survive as an entity in the always changing jazz genre, you had to do be able to improvise with the times as well as with music. Being in a leadership position in every aspect of the musical process made Quincy Jones a natural at this by the 70’s. Plus the fact that even by then he had two decades worth of experience in that area. As with Herbie Hancock “Q” had discovered by the early 70’s that the rhythmically complex style of funk would be an excellent template for his musical progression.

Whether it be his work on film scores,television themes or the album he continued to produce as well as release under his own name. By the late 70’s funk was reaching a peak of sorts as the disco era was in full swing. And the slow crawling genre was poised in a position to get people up dancing-loving and thinking while they did it. In that unique point in his career somewhere between his scores for Roots and The Wiz along with his famed upcoming productions for Michael Jackson, this album put in in a place where he could remain creatively vital as a leader.

Quincy wasn’t trying to create an opus here- as he had for his previous (and sadly under realized) project I Heard That!!. As was already a well established format for him by this time, Sounds… has a huge case of characters both instrumental and vocal. I don’t refer to them as vocalists since their clearly very involved in the creative process with Quincy. The musicians are the same basically for each song and it’s an enormous cast. So it ends up being the vocalists here who add the real personality. The title song has to be one of the most buoyant examples of disco-friendly funk one can find.

That title song also thrills with a pulsing Rhodes solo and the strong vocal personalities of Ashford & Simpson, Patti Austin and Chaka Khan. “I’m Gonna Miss You In The Morning”and the orchestral “Love Me By Name” are the albums two main ballads but her real showcase here is the smoothly grooving take on Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman”. Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me A Bedtime Story” is done up as a fluid funk-jazz fusion opus with Hubert Laws flute leading the way. Patti Autin’s star shines again on the uptempo, soulfully funky “Love,I Never Had It So Good”-pairing her with Charles May.

One of the highlights here is a take on “Takin’ It To The Streets”,done up by non other that the late Luther Vandross and Gwen Guthrie in a compulsive soul/gospel version, complete with a hand clap/choral breakdown by songs end. Aside from the high quality of the music here, Quincy and his engineer Bruce Swedien have cooked up a little production treat for us. It’s called the Acousonic Recording Process. The basic idea,which is bragged about in the liner notes deservedly was to synchronize multiple 24 track analog tape machines together to create an almost infinite number of available tracks.

That process made it possible to to have a basic rhythm section, multi tracked vocals and a good sized orchestra present on the same track without the effect of the production being overly cluttered.  There are a lot of people out there who can and should be credited for innovating in music. But how many can also stake a claim in fundamentally changing the process of recording music as well? So on every level this is a strong funk-jazz album that improves greatly from listen to listen. And it also reveals a certain level of deep rootedness under it’s entertaining exterior.

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78 On The Longplay: ‘All Fly Home’ by Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau’s first three albums,including one amazing live set the previous year all earned him a lot of critical acclaim. At the same time Al seemed to be seeking the same sort of commercial success he had overseas in his own country. Somehow it seemed that succeeding in jazz in American meant succeeding mainly with writers and critics. Which may have a little to do with why so many fans of the music began leaving it behind. So the best compromise for Al, who had no intention of abandoning his home grown vocal and writing talent,was through the sounds of soul and funk music.

The songs were flexible enough to allow for a lot of uncut jazz influence. But were,at least during the 70’s anyway also able to offer the possibility of American radio play and chart success. Al Jarreau wasn’t the only one taking this route. And as we all know the writers and critics had a field day of negativity with the idea. But creatively it wasn’t unsound and helped create at least a couple sub genres of music along the way: fusion and later smooth jazz. But what does this say for Al himself? Happily to my ears, this is one of the finest overall records Al Jarreau made in the 70’s.

Part of it is he’s still very much in his early and more jazz oriented phase. But he’s bringing somewhat more of a pop flavor into it too. “Thinkin’ About It Too” and “Wait A Little While” are sprightly uptempo pop/funk tunes-filled with somewhat abstract bass synthesizers,strong melodies and guess what? That vocal is still Al Jarreau being every bit himself. On “I’m Home” and “I Do” he’s back in his mainstay 70’s element: spare, electric piano based jazzy ballads that emphasize his style of vocalese. “Brite N’ Sunny Babe” and “All” both bring this bassy, mid tempo EWF/Charles Stepney style production.

Within this high level of musical joy,  there’s also a version of the sad Lennon/McCartney pop standard “She’s Leaving Home”. I don’t know why people don’t seem to like it. Al, doing his own harmonies same as McCartney on the original, sings the song with just the right amount of shock,regret and disappointment the lyrics require.On the more abstract of interpretations is the closing “Sittin On The Dock Of The Bay”. Done up in this startlingly unique stop and start funk-jazz arrangement Al completely re-harmonizes the song almost all in the minor chords.

For an album intended as something with more crossover potential compared to his earlier recordings, its very much in line with those albums for many reasons. All Fly Home’s primary focus is still on self written vocal numbers- based primarily in jazz. And any influences of pop, R&B, funk or anything else in the music really never takes away from the main focus. This is probably one of his most successful albums in terms of his crossover period in that regard.  If there are contemporary elements strongly at work here, you can tell Al Jarreau and his band are still firmly in control.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “White Boys And Heroes” by Gary Numan

Gary Anthony James Webb was born into a working class family in the Hammersmith area of West London. Interestingly enough, his bus driver father brought him his first guitar. And after playing in a number of bands, he became the lead singer/ songwriter/ producer of the pioneering British new wave band Tubeway Army. His biggest success with them was the #1 hit “Are Friends Electric” in 1979. Later that year, his solo career kicked off to a major start with his internationally successful song “Cars”-from his debut solo album Pleasure Principle. These songs both helped kick off the synth pop genre.

Numan’s music began to take on a more orchestral based sound as the 80’s drew in. Albums such as 1981’s Dance even took on elements of jazz into the musical mix. With bands such as Level 42, Duran Duran and Heaven 17 deriving their sound from American funk and disco, Numan looked to the driving rhythm and expert playing of the funk genre as part of his 1982 album I, Assassin. Numan himself felt this change was important for his music-as he saw many synth pop artists at the time being stuck in a rut. And this 1982 album got right off with the funk on the song “White Boys And Heroes”.

A brittle drum machine and a dark, prickly synth bass tone build up into the refrain. This consists of Chris Slade and John Webb’s heavy Afro Cuban drum/percussion interaction. Pino Palladino’s thick, grooving fretless slap bass completes that part of the song. On the chorus, Numan takes off on a chorus with his swelling synth/guitar orchestral parts. With Pallidino’s bass taking off on runs more. After an couple choral/refrain rounds, the bass led refrain of the song becomes an instrumental bridge for the song. And it all ends on an extended chorus featuring “Mike” on sax as the song fades out.

“White Boys And Heroes” explores one of early 80’s new wave/synth pop’s most interesting elements. Part of it was the turn to funkiness-its combinations of brittle beats and synth washes with The Who’s Pino Palladino’s fretless slap bass and percussive groove made it very complimentary to what Talking Heads and Prince were doing at the time. The songs theme-seeming to parody the jingoistic, white male macho image also works with the mechanized rock end of new wave with the Afrocentric funk groove. So Gary Numan hit on a compelling musical and thematic mixture on this song.

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Young Americans, Fame & David Bowie Finding The Funk 43 Years Ago Today

David Bowie’s embrace of the soul/funk musical genre has become caught up in several cultural mythologies. One is the rock community derived notion that soul and funk are “commercial” genres without much staying power. Especially on the uptempo side of it. Another was Bowie’s association with the early 70’s glam rock sound-with classics of the genre such as “Changes”,”Jean Genie”,”Rebel Rebel” and of course “Ziggy Stardust”. But when I first heard David Bowie’s Isaac Hayes inspired uptempo cinematic soul of “1984”, from his album Diamond Dogs from 1974? It was clear the man had a plan.

Bowie himself referred to this period of his career as “plastic soul”. He seemed to see himself as a white rock artist wanting to embrace a music outside of his culture. And that the burgeoning funk sound represented “squashed remains” of Afrocentrism in Western music. What helped to sooth his initial cynicism was the presence of the Nuyorican guitar maestro Carlos Alomar, the guitarist whose lines inspired many of the songs on what would become David Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans. And indeed, the result was one of Bowie’s most dramatic musical and conceptual reinventions.

The title song starts the album-very much a stomping gospel inspired uptempo 70’s soul number. Its David Sanborn’s melodic sax solo that carries Bowie’s vocal melody. But between Mike Garson’s piano walk down-along with the bass/guitar interaction between Alomar and Willie Weeks. “Win” is a string laden ballad full of heavily revered rhythm guitar and Sanborn playing rather modal style sax flourishes. “Fascination” gets deep into the funk-with the bass, guitar and sax all heavily processed for a huge and meaty groove.

“Right” is a mid-tempo sax/percussion/Clavinet/guitar based groove-with the emphasis on a number of repetitive choruses. “Somebody Up There Likes Me” is a relatively balanced uptempo soul rocker-with a bluesy guitar break on the refrains and the use of synthesized string orchestration. John Lennon joins Bowie on a rocking soul version of Lennon’s Beatle classic “Across The Universe”-which has a country blues guitar flavor about it. “Can You Hear Me” is a very similar country soul type ballad where Lennon returns for “Fame”, the classic James Brown style funk hit, for the albums conclusion.

Young Americans has remained somewhat controversial over the years. Its often considered a classic album today. But Young Americans did bare out some of Bowie’s concerns about doing  funk and Philly soul. These songs all have a strong  groove. But some of the uptempo songs don’t have multi faceted structures-mostly repeated melodic choruses. And Bowie’s voice had a ragged rock style on the sleeker numbers. Some of the ballads had a more 60’s style country/soul flavor-showcasing how Bowie still had some catching up to do with what was happening in black American music by the mid 70’s.

Basically, the big hits in the title song and “Fame” are the two big occasions where the strong grooves and strong melodies come together. And the musicianship on all the songs is exciting and first rate. The presence of a young Luther Vandross as a backup singer here helped get the him (deceased along with Bowie today) a shot at his future solo career. In terms of funk, songs such as “John, I’m Only Dancing” and “Golden Years” a year later would solidify Bowie’s funk sound a bit better. But this album represents the important slow beginning for the funkiest, most soulful aspect of David Bowie’s sound.

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Mac Rebennack In The Right Place: The 45th Anniversary Of Dr. John’s Classic 1973 Album

Dr John is truly in a class by himself. I’ve seen the man live. And in that context, I can utter him in the same sentence as James Brown, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. You hear this guy, there’s instant recognition. It’s his musical sound. In terms of sheer funkitivity this album is a dream come true. His band on this album is the Meters. It was produced by Allen Toussaint. And it was recorded in 1973 at the height of the funk era. So if you go into this album expecting something different thank funk,funk and more funk? You indeed probably are not in “the right place”.

The album opens up with the title track…I don’t think I can say anymore. It’s one of those select few bonafide funk songs that almost everybody knows . On “Same Old Place”? Surprise surprise; more slinky,swampy Clavinet driven funk of the highest order. On “Just The Same”,”Qualified” and “Travelling Mood” there’s a tad bit more of a relaxed soul atmosphere to it. But the songs are no less in the groove. On “Peace Brother Peace” the funk is back full throttle,like Sly Stone in the Bayou with those calling horns and Dr John belting out a “people music” lyric about world peace not being merely a far off slogan.

And he does have the effect of making even the most offbeat things as real as one would want them to be. “Life” continues on this theme,with some great piano licks and a strong melody to boot. On “Such A Night” there’s a heavy dixieland jazz style soul-pop flavor to the proceedings. “Shoo Fly Marches On” and “I Been Hoodood” are the deepest, swampiest funk here and the closer “Cold Cold Cold” brings The Meters own sound more strongly in Dr. John’s sound. Almost everything this guy gets his claws into is going to be dripping from side to side with funk. Always has been that way for him.

In The Right Place is definitely a full on funk album. The Crescent City, from where Dr. John and The Meters come, is probably the main origin point for funk as a social concept. In the late 19th century, a musician named Buddy Bolden, often credited for being the first person to play jazz, played an original number of his called “The Funky Butt”. This might’ve been the birth of the term funk in a musical context. In The Right Place comes  from it’s early 70’s as some of the most rooted, vital funk of it’s era. Its also one of Dr John’s classic albums. And it couldn’t deserve that status more if it tried.

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1978 On The Longplay: Larry Carlton’s Self Titled Warner Bros. Debut From Room 335!

Larry Carlton spent the mid 70’s as an active member of The Crusaders. They were, during that time, a significant training group for musicians playing in the jazz/funk/ fusion genre. Musicians such as Wayne Henderson, Joe Sample and Carlton himself were part of the LA scene of session players who helped augment the sound of everyone from Sammy Davis Jr, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and of course Steely Dan. So by the time 1978 rolled around, Carlton had access to musicians such as then Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro and percussion icon Paulinho Da Costa. So his solo career was off and running.

Porcaro and keyboardist Greg Mathison shine on the opener “Room 335”-named for the recording studio the album was recorded in. The main theme of the song has a very similar melody to Steely Dan’s hit song “Peg”. This is augmented by string arrangements and serves as a forum for Carlton’s precise yet emotionally stratospheric playing style. “Where Did You Come From” is a soulful samba where Da Costa really shines percussion wise. Carlton sings lead vocal on the song-in a smooth,romantic. voice reminiscent of a higher toned version of how Herb Alpert sounds when he’s singing.

“Night Crawler” is of course a redone song that Carlton contributed to the Crusaders Free As The Wind album a year earlier. This version is very similar, though just a slight bit more polished in execution. “Point It Up” goes for a straight ahead jazz/rock shuffle-with Carlton and bassist Abraham Laboriel really taking off-especially with Laboriel’s slap bass riffing. “Rio Samba” brings Da Costa’s percussion, Mathison’s Rhodes and organ along with Carlton’s guitar for an melodically uptempo Brazilian fusion number. One where Carlton even finds a moment or two to rock out on its refrains.

“I Apologize” is a personal favorite of mine on this album. Its a heavily bluesy jazz/funk number-again with Carlton taking the lead vocal. This time, the vibe on that level is more Michael Franks. Enhanced by Laboriel’s slap bass again and the backing vocals from William “Smitty”Smith. With Carlton even taking off to solo on the bridge before the song changes pitch on the final few bars. “Don’t Give Up” brings in that clean, rocking R&B shuffle that sounds like an instrumental written for a Boz Scaggs. Again, Carlton really takes off on both ultra melodic and bluesy style solos throughout the song.

“(It Was) Only Yesterday” ends the album on its lone ballad-again with the string orchestra coming in behind Carlton. And at the same time as enhancement to the sustained cry of his guitar. One thing the Larry Carlton album clarifies, actually being his third proper solo album, is how much of an amazing vocal tone Carlton’s guitar has. Its actually close in technique to Carlos Santana at times. Yet is based more heavily around arpeggiated runs and pitch bending than consistently sustaining notes. But Carlton’s guitar sings. And on this album, many more times than he actually does with his voice.

Because the sound blends both late 70’s studio polish with heavy duty jazz/funk grooves and soloing, again many of these songs sound as if they were recorded for specific popular singers of that day. That makes this album an excellent album of how much late 70’s jazz/funk session musicians had an impact on the big West Coast pop albums of that era, especially. So Larry Carlton offers a great deal to the listener. Its got the blues, its got the Brazilian jazz, its got the funk and it rocks. Its also hummable and musical at the same time. And all those are excellent qualities for any instrumentally based album.


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Norman Connors: The 1981 Party Town Of ‘Mr. C’

Norman Connors music of the 70’s and early 80’s is something I personally cannot find much to any fault with, in the musicianship and compositional strength. Now he did establish something of a formula. That is basically emphasizing urban/adult contemporary fusion peppered with his free and Brazilian jazz influences. Basically his albums always contained a good handful of very slow ballads during this period. By 1981,it would seem Connors’ run of album releases was showing signs of drawing to a close.

The funk and disco eras were also both going in the same direction. So what did Norman Connors do? He changed up his groove. “She’s Gone” begins the album on a processed Rhodes piano led groove that’s thick on the boogie funk rhythm with horns and heavy percussion. “Party Town” throws on the bass and lead synthesizer in phat,grooving layers on a jam that gets down deep into electro funk territory. “Keep Doin’ It” has a rhythmically sleek post disco vibe while “Stay With Me” had a thick Caribbean style dance/funk percussive groove.

“Anyway You Want” and “Love’s In Your Corner” keep that percussive funk percolating right along while “Sing A Love Song” has a sexy mid-tempo jazz/funk vibe and an elaborate melody. It’s the closest thing to a ballad here. The album ends with the instrumental title song-combining Connors’ jazzy arrangements into the post disco/boogie framework. From beginning to end,this album is completely different then any other Norman Connors album I’ve ever heard. It actually doesn’t contain any slow ballads whatsoever.

The uptempo songs it contains are heavy on the contemporary funk style of the time. All the same,Connors talents as an arranger are all over this session musician heavy release. Most of his previous albums had contained funk oriented numbers. Yet the fact that this 1981 album prioritized it to such a degree showed how thoroughly musical a thinker Connors was. Uptempo funky music was not exactly publicly embraced during this era. Just perhaps, Norman Connors realized that his musical acumen had the power to not only change for his own sake but give the funky soul lovers just what they wanted

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Erykah Badu: ‘Baduizm’ & Remembrances Of A Musical Transition

When Erykah Badu released this album, the soul/R&B/funk genres of music were caught between transition and a holding pattern. All between the era from D’Angelo through TLC onto Jill Scott and Alicia Keys. In the middle of this, there would be Maxwell and Badu here . She did indeed burst onto the scene in 1997 and since then has never looked back. It was apparent that despite the insistence of the 90’s decade hip-hop could not exist as the sole basis for furthering soul and funk music. The zeitgeist of the late 90’s was going to have to provide an alternative to that musical ethic.

It mostly came down to a matter of voids. Lauryn Hill would soon be along to provide one such sound of her own. But there were just too many voids and a future unknown. For her own self, Badu is one of those people who marches to the beat of her own drummer. And that would be a jazz drummer if she had anything to do with it because that was where she came from. Not only that she used her vocal phrasing more like that of a muted horn in the manner of Billie Holiday or Dinah Washington. But also in the fact that the improvised flavor of the chord sequences she used told a similar story.

Taken by itself the music here is another matter. In an era where the singles mentality of popular music (abandoned in the 70’s) was again in full command of the music, Erykah Badu’s debut is an album first and foremost. There are standout individual songs. But her music is something like an aural casserole. You have a lot of ingredients mixed together. But they compliment each other to near perfection and it goes down great taking it in. The song “On & On” is not only a great single moment from this album but gives it a great patter with which to follow.

The rhythms,her vocals,the electric pianos and the askew,somewhat jazz phrased melodies all come together to form something very special. And she just keeps varying on that theme with “Appletree”, “Sometimes”, “Drama” and “Otherside Of The Game”. It’s also helpful that she views the romantic matters she sings about here through a very poetic filter,mixing it all up with a conscious and Afro bohemian point of view. And often this results in some straight up truths on songs such as “Certainly” and “4 Leaf Clover” mix ideas of self awareness and existentialism through her own personal filter.

Her sense of storytelling is also important here. While one of the best and most singular tunes here is a “skit” called “Afro”,which brings her humor and an even more jazzy sound to the mix. Erykah Badu’s music isn’t something that you may fully comprehend the first time you heart it. It’s definitely music that has a flow to it. The sound of it, Badu’s vocals and lyrics-the manner in which they kind of slip along the musical bed rather than dance upon it. It’s like one basic idea expanded upon for 14 separate songs that are…disconnected segments of one whole.

The first time I heard it was in a car trip around dusk and it seemed to fit the mood of that time and type of motion perfectly. She has a quiet sound to her voice. On the other hand she takes very unpredictable turns of phrase with it as well. It wouldn’t be a misstep to see her as something of a jazzy singer more than a contemporary soul/R&B one. There’s also an influence of hip-hop in her approach. But definitely not of the stereotypical variety. And it definitely did fill the void whether it was trying to. It clearly comes from the D’Angelo school to some degree. Also Sly’s There’s A Riot Goin On as well.

On the other hand, the sound of Baduizm is very stripped down . That’s another key factor of it. All good things….don’t last forever. They change. Or in the case of Erykah Badu they become somewhat less significant once they begin to influence other artists. I myself remember once reading in the early 2000’s that at that time, Erykah Badu’s music was too new to have musical impact on up and coming artists of the then new millennium. But in its day, Baduzim was a revelation. And it holds up very well today. That’s a sign she had something special going right from the start!

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