A Few Words on Public Enemy, 30 Black History Months In

It’s almost too fitting that the anniversary of Public Enemy’s debut album should fall during Black History Month. For people like me–’90s kids from majority-white towns where “Black History” meant half a class period on George Washington Carver every February–Public Enemy was our connection to an invisible history of Black radical thought: from Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois to Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton. Their music opened me up to ideas I didn’t even know existed; ideas that, in the wilderness of White (supremacist) America, were truly life-altering. Discovering P.E. as a teenager was an experience as radicalizing as discovering punk rock; more so, in fact, because they represented a threat to racial hegemony that even the likes of the Clash did not. They were insurrection in musical form, with a visceral cut-and-paste aesthetic that continues to sound cutting-edge to this day.

None of that, of course, was the point of Public Enemy. More than any other rap group of their era, P.E. was music by and for Black people; the radicalized white kids like me were collateral damage. But I can only speak from my experience, as someone for whom Fear of a Black Planet and, especially, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were an introduction to an entirely new kind of politics, a new way of seeing the world. If nothing else, I have Public Enemy to thank for introducing me to a rich canon of African American literature and art: to Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and for that matter to James Brown, John Coltrane, and Gil Scott-Heron. Without that initial spark of interest I felt the first time I heard “Bring the Noise,” I might have missed out on a whole universe of ideas that have made me a definitively better person.

Granted, not everything about the group has aged well. Public Enemy may have exposed millions of listeners like myself to Black Power and the Panthers, but they also regurgitated a lot of less progressive influences: the anti-Semitism and homophobia of Louis Farrakhan, most famously, along with a host of conspiracy theories and pseudo-history that contemporary listeners are likely to file away as Hotep bullshit. Their politics are more akin to a firebrand anarchist zine than a well-reasoned essay–which is probably why they appealed more to my teenage self than they do to me as an adult. But there will always be a place for firebrands, and P.E. were as incendiary as they came: it was what made us sit up and listen in the first place. And in early 2017–a time when racism in America is arguably the worst it’s been in my lifetime–their fire might just be needed more than ever.

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Walter “Junie” Morrison 1954-2017: We May Just Have You Covered More Then Bread Alone

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Walter “Junie” Morrison,who passed away yesterday at the age of 62,is a reminder to me of something me and friend Henrique Hopkins often discuss. With American pop’s music nonstop focus on vocalists,the musicians who helped create sounds we love to dance, listen and sing to often get neglected. Sometimes forgotten. I personally feel Junie is one of those people. One of the great Dayton Ohio funk innovators,Junie twice made his mark on the funk genre. First as a member of the Westbound era Ohio Players,with his Funky Worm” being their major breakthrough. And of course as a member of P-Funk.

Junie’s work with P-Funk on their late 70’s albums and jams,especially Funkadelic’s 1979 magnum opuses “One Nation Under A Groove” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep”,showcased him as an instrumental innovator yet to be. Whenever one of us here’s a flamboyant, melodic synthesizer riff from 80’s electro new wave to present day dubstep,they are in fact hearing a sound that Junie Morrison helped to created. Junie also maintained a successful solo career from the early 70’s to mid 80’s. My review of the Funkytowngroove’s reissue of a two CD set of a couple of a those solo records say a lot about what the man did for music.


Walter Junie Morrison is one of those three career punches in the R&B world. He started out in the Ohio Players during their Westbound years,started a solo career mid decade and of course became a starring member/contributer to P-Funk before relaunching his solo career in the early 1980’s. As one of the prime innovators of the “video game” style of melodic,high pitched funk synthesizer,a sound that’s come to transcend decades and fashion Junie already had something good to go with anyway.

Of course he’s also a very unique artist anyway. He really loves to be eclectic musically. And he also enjoys blending genres in ways that are very different and sometimes may even sound incompatible. That probably has a lot to do with why George Clinton bought him into his fold to begin with. Sometimes though artists such as this seem to say more as part of a whole than as their own people. Lucky for us that was definitely not the case for Junie here.

This set presents Junie’s 1980 recording ‘Bread Alone’ and 1981 realese ‘5’. Both of them showcase his interest in heavy songcraft,closer to the Ohio Players or Slave in that regard as opposed to P-Funk’s more abstract sound. Still that influence cannot help but show up. “Love Has Taken Me Over (Be My Baby)” for sure has a Parliament aspect to production. But songs such as “Why” and especially “Seaman’s First Class (Jock Rock)” have a much sleeker jazz-funk take with very strong sophistifunk overtones.

As a mutli instrumentalist “everything man” his bass,keyboard and drum lines all pop and thunder right with the demands of the melody and arrangement. “Funk Parts” is a very straight synth funk groove,heavy on the video game synthesizer. The title track,on the other hand is a very sentimental,romantic number mixing,interestingly enough country western and reggae. “Apple Song” showcases his unique take on arena rock with a very humanitarian/spiritual message over the seemingly simple melody.

‘5’ is another matter. Now this is pretty much stomping boogie funk all the way,starting with the mildly jazzy/pop styled “Rappin About Rappin” that has a very P-Funk inspired hook with the piano chords and female choruses-talking about “rapping about the games people play”. “I Love You Madly” and the hyper melodic “Last One To Know”, “Jarr To The Ground” and “Taste Of Love” follow in the same league-heavily crafted sophistifunk. On “Victim Of Love” Junie is rocking out on heavy cars belting out vocally JB style about a frustrating,forbidden love afair.

The ballad “Cry Me A River” again brings in that country pop flavor while the title track (there is one) sounds like it might be one of those implicit sexual messages that have gotten somewhat lost from music with time. Overall on both these albums Junie offers up a wide yet connected range of musical stylings into a music that is definitely eccentric and definitely his own. Actually on a similar path to Prince in a way,only with a much more obvious sense of wit and humor. Junie Morrison is probably one of the more unheralded all around talents in funk,soul and R&B. And for those in doubt these albums,especially taken together will go far in even changing the minds of any doubters.


Because Junie Morrison was a musical figure who deserves major celebration for his contributions to music (both sung and unsung),wanted to personally thank my Facebook friend Anthony Michael Calvert for being largely responsible for reissuing some of Junie’s solo albums on CD. He is the founder/joint owner of Funkytowngrooves,who issued this set as part of their Hidden Treasures series. So whether your a fan of P-Funk,the Ohio Players or just love that particular synthesizer approach Junie brought to the table,Mister Morrison’s musical life is one that deserves a strong degree of celebration.

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Anatomy of the Groove: “Long Come Tutu” by George Benson & Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau and George Benson’s 2006 album “Givin It Up” was one of the most common sense musical collaborations I have enjoyed since I’ve been a fan of music. The two singer/musicians existed in their own rarefied air of international jazz vocalist pop stardom. Through their successful projects they brought the vocalese innovations of King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks and the other great jazz singers to the masses mixed in with the genre’s of funk, soul, R&B, and slick adult contemporary pop. The passing earlier this week of the fantastic Mr. Jarreau is a great time to look back on this collaboration which is now going on 11 years old though their funky jam, “Long Come Tutu”, which features the two greats riffing on a great funky jazz song by another legend who is long gone now, the great Miles Davis.

“Along Come Tutu” is special because not only does it feature Al Jarreau’s vocals, and lyrics he wrote to Miles Davis track “Tutu”, it also features George Benson’s guitar (which was also an element on “Paraphanelia” from the Davis album “Miles in the Sky). The additional treats are jazz legend and Miles Davis alum Herbie Hancock on keyboards, and the songs composer and late era Miles Davis producer Marcus Miller on bass! The stage is set for a heavy tribute to Miles and the fusion side of jazz which was his last major musical innovation. The song begins with a soulful bass riff from Miller that sets up a vocal bass riff from Al Jarreau. Jarreau goes into his lyric, “Know what makes me smile?/is kicking this groove for Miles/it always makes me grin/no matter what mood I’m in.” As he sings his lyrics, Miller fils in the spaces after his vocals, in the vein of a guitar player, with fluid bass licks that wouldn’t have been expected from bass guitar before bassists like Miller and Jaco Pastorious took the scene. The groove kicks in with some snare hits from Marcus White. The famous Tutu bassline comes in, which Marcus has said was inspired by the dark, brooding Miles Davis “Prince of Darkness” persona. But also in Marcus patented style, he also plays another bassline on top of that which riffs in that guitar/fill in style. After that Hancock begins to play the beautiful “Tutu” harmonies on keyboard, with that famous 1980s vocal sample tone, on the top of which Al Jarreau adds his vocals, which in the melody he sings, “A long, long time/we were waiting.” Al sings right along with the songs musical climax, after which George Benson plays his guitar during the break, to which he also adds his patented guitar playing/scat combo. Benson’s guitar riffs are interspersed with Al Jarreau’s hook, “Long Came Tu-Tu!”, after which Benson gets to do more guitar scat. The next go round Benson gets a chance to sing the lyric while also accompanying himself on guitar. After which Herbie Hancock gets a chance to solo with an acoustic piano tone. Herbie starts his solo playing trilling bluesy licks down the keyboard, then plays some soft licks that leave plenty of space, while starting to harmonize the melody and ending with silence. After which George Benson plays a guitar solo, and what’s interesting is Marcus Miller adds a different section and groove behind his solo that extends on the arrangement from the original Tutu. And its still wonderful after all these years to hear George Benson solo with Herbie Hancock’s wonderful comping behind it. Even Al Jarreau has to laugh, but he also has the last laugh because after Benson solo’s he takes a fine vocalese solo himself. On the next solo break, Mr. Hancock gets a chance to play again, and this time he plays with much more force while also exploring his patented colors, behind which both Miller and Benson add tasteful riffs. After Hancock’s solo, the song goes back to the top, with Jarreau singing and Benson comping, followed by a restating of the stop time chorus, with Jarreau singing “Along come TU-TU!” with George Benson riffing and scatting to the songs end.

“Along Come Tutu” is a treat for me on several levels. For one I was always a fan of the song “Tutu” and it was amazing to me that a musician like Miles Davis could release something so funky and fresh in the twilight of his career. Of course he was able to do that by working with musicians like the song’s composer, Marcus Miller, who had new and fresh ideas yet also great respect for Miles. Miller is here, along with Hancock, Benson, and Al Jarreau. Together these four form a veritable Mt. Rushmore of jazz trained musicians with funky soulful chops who have been major players in the pop field. “Along Come Tutu” is a song that proves to be a fine vehicle for the talents of these master musicians. Quite excitingly they add “Tutu” to the jazz song book alongside other Miles tunes such as “Four”, with it’s famous lyric penned by Jon Hendricks that they also covered on “Givin’ It Up.”  And it’s a fine tribute to Al Jarreau’s legacy that he stands alongside George Benson and Herbie Hancock on this song and solo’s with as much verve, confidence and musicality as they do on their instruments. And that is how I will always remember him, as a singer with a fine instrument that he always explored in the most dynamic of fashions!

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Al Jarreau (1940-2017): We Thank You For Your Service,But Do We Have You Covered?

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Al Jarreau is one of those artists whose followed me from my first understandings of music to the present day.  “We’re In This Love Together” is one of the first pop song memories I have from a sentimental standpoint. Jarreau’s voice is now the creature of massive creative and commercial recognition-by everyone from music critics to the Grammy Awards.  Now its come to the realization that admiring Al Jarreau’s vocals is to understand the improvisational technique and unique phrasing of Jon Hendricks and Johnny Mathis. And that’s the way I will always think of the man.

Sadly,Mister Jarreau is no longer with us. A week ago,he cancelled his recent tour and announced his retirement. And yesterday my friend Henrique said he was no longer with us. He was exactly one month shy of his 77th birthday. Jarreau was an extremely successful man as an artist. A seven time Grammy winner (and 20 time nominee) from 1979-2013,he was also the recipient of two honorary doctorate degrees in music. The most significant part of this legacy was that his major label debut album didn’t get recorded or released until Jarreau was 35 years old.

Born in Millwakee,Wisconsin Jarreau graduated from Ripton College,and started a career as a rehabilitation counselor. By 1968, Jarreau was totally devoted to music after years of great success in the California bay area club scene. By 1975,he was signed to Warner Bros. records and recorded his major label debut We Got By. It started a precedence for the man writing songs that matched his distinctive vocals. These were chordally busy songs,always accompanied by the cream of the crop of jazz players of that era such as-which would go on to include the likes of Lee Ritenour,Freddie Hubbard and Paulinho Da Costa.

Al Jarreau’s vocal instrument was as idiosyncratic as it was ingenious. He was able to cross heavy jazz improvisational vocals over for funk,soul and pop listener’s with great success. That meant that his major breakout album Breakin Away could contain the urban classic “We’re In This Love Together” along with a show stopping performance of Dave Brubeck’s jazz standard “Blue Rondo Ala Turk”. How many crossover jazz singers of the mid 70’s to early 80’s can any of us say that about? There’s a lot of Jarreau’s music I have yet to hear. But even though he’s gone now,there’s much more to say of his musical legacy.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Go Up Moses” by Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack,a North Carolina native,had a somewhat complex beginning in music. A classically trained academic who represented the epitome of the college educated black mentality of civil rights era. Musically,she began as a student teacher and then a music teacher. It was jazz/funk innovator Les McCann who first discovered Flack performing in a  Washington DC nightclub. The result of their meeting was her debut album First Take in 1969. She covered McCann’s song “Compared To What” on it. The album later on provided her with her first standard in “The First Time Ever I Saw His Face”.

Today she is best known for two things. One being her iconic collaborations with the late Donny Hathaway that produced songs like “Where Is The Love” and “The Closer I Get To You”. Her sound is noted for its vocal and instrumental nuance. As well as its strong and complex songwriting. It also tended towards the slow and most adult contemporary end of balladry as well. Therefore,uptempo soul/jazz/funk has seldom been a huge priority for her. Yet when she comes through with funkiness,its often some of the strongest music the genre ever produced. A great example is her 1971 song “Go Up Moses”.

Drummer Bernard Purdie,plus percussionists Ralph McDonald and Grady Tate hold down the chugging Afro Brazilian beat. And session bass maestro Chuck Rainy provides an in your face rhythmic bass line to the musical affair. That describes the basis of the entire song-with Hugh McCracken providing bluesy rhythm guitar accents after each bar or two. Flack sings the refrains herself,and is accompanied by a bass singing choir on the choruses. She also provides a spoken recitation over them on the bridge. Richard Tee’s gospel drenched organ brings the song back home as it fades away.

This song lyrically and musically an extension of the centuries old spiritual “Go Down Moses”,with Flack collaborating with jazz flutist John Dorn for the musical aspects and the Reverend Jesse Jackson for some of the lyrical content. Its definitely in the vein of the more spiritual end of the “people music” message songs that were beginning to emerge very strong during the later period of the funk process in 1969-71. It was also the opening song to her third album Quiet Fire. Flack’s earlier albums generally opened with a bluesy funk uptempo number. And this is one of the finest of the bunch.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Believe In Humanity” by Carole King

Carole King is not only a key innovator (along with the late Laura Nyro) in the American female singer/songwriter movement. But her entire career mark puts her into the position of being an honorary queen of ivory soul. She began as a songwriter in NYC’s famous Brill Building-working with her than husband Gerry Goffin in writing such hits for black girl groups such as The Shirelles “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”. King’s “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” also became famous by Aretha Franklin in 1967. After moving to Laurel canyon following her divorce,she became part of a new trio called The City.

This band introduced her to longtime guitarist Danny Kortchmar. After her solo debut Writer made little impact on the public,her sophomore set Tapestry not only broke her commercially,but became the blueprint for the female singer/writer of the early 70’s. It did so by employing heavy gospel/soul elements in uptempo songs like “I Feel The Earth Move” and the ballad “It’s Too Late”. Two albums later,she dived headlong into the soul/funk territory with her 1973 album Fantasy. One of its moderate hits was a song I am going to discuss today entitled “Believe In Humanity”.

King’s ultra bluesy piano stomp begins the song,along with a stomping bass line before the call and response drums of the refrain come in. These are somewhat reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” in approach. Before the similarly themed chorus,there’s a B-section with the horn section scaling up into that chorus. Kortchmar provides a high up on the neck guitar pluck on each piano/horn accent. The bridge takes takes the chords down a notch with King providing a jazzy piano lick before an extended instrumental chorus takes the song out on one elongated piano chord.

“Believe In Humanity” sets the stage for the socially conscious funky soul song cycle that is the Fantasy album. Its heavy,stomping horn funk all the way. With plenty of  bluesiness and jazziness-right down to Harvey Mason’s mean slogging drumming. Lyrically the music carries it well-especially with the first line of “if you read the papers you may see history in the making”. It urges people to “listen to the case” as James Brown put it-instead seeking to gain actual human experience with stories through the media that might carry personal bias. That makes it superb message oriented “people music” funk.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Holy Thursday” by David Axelrod

David Axelrod was yet another example of an artist I’d likely never have grown up knowing about had it not been for my father and his reading. Tended to think of him as somewhere as the middle ground between Quincy Jones and Henry Mancini. Growing up in South Central LA,a predominantly black and Latin community,Axelrod loved big orchestral arrangements yet strong contemporary soul,jazz and funk rhythms.  Having grown up in a family who embraced left wing ideas,the themes of his music often explored the sociopolitical and spiritual changes of the 60’s and 70’s-during which he was recording.

Axelrod also associated himself with artists from a number of different genres in the role of producer/arranger. This included Cannonball Adderley,Lou Rawls and Letta Mbulu just to name a few. His legacy has been celebrated during the early aughts through magazines such as Wax Poetics. Especially when it came to how many hip-hop artists actually kept his sometimes forgotten songs alive through samples in their own music. Awkward as this sounds,even to this day I haven’t given David Axelrod’s music the attention it probably deserved. So today,I will be over-viewing one of his most famous songs “Holy Thursday”.

A two chord piano up scale along with a 2-3 note electric bass accent opens the song, before the piano turns into a vibraphone. Shortly thereafter, the thick funky drum shuffle kicks in along with the string and horn arrangements playing the piano part. Every other verse,with the same basic instrumental setup as the intro,the drumming turns over to a cymbal heavy jazz swing. On the bridge of the song,there’s a full on vibraphone solo before a heavy swinging drum solo for a few bars. A soulful piano and psychedelic rock guitar bring the song an outro similar to how it all began.

“Holy Tuesday” is one of those songs that,like the very best of Quincy Jones’ work, encapsulates not only the many of the musical but cultural flavors of its time frame. Released on his now iconic 1968 debut album Songs Of Innocence, the song represents a height of cinematic soulful jazz grooves. It has the rhythmic foundation of James Brown, the big jazz orchestral sound and piano/vibe solos-along and elements of what would become psychedelic soul with its rocked out guitar. Its therefore more than worthy of being a song successfully revived through the best of hip-hop’s preservationist legacy.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Hanging On A String (Contemplating)” by Loose Ends

Loose Ends were formed in 1980 as a trio consisting of vocalist/guitarist Carl McIntosh, songwriter and keyboardist Steve Nichol and lead singer Jane Eugene. They started out as Loose End,recording a pair of singles in 1982 produced by the Emoo brothers from the UK soul group The Real Thing,who themselves had been successful in the 70’s. Their first three singles “In The Sky”,”We’ve Arrived” and “Don’t Hold Back Your Love” were all excellent live instrumental oriented boogie funk. But it wasn’t until their debut album in 1984 did their sound fully coming together and they became successful.

The debut album in question is entitled A Little Spice. This album had a stripped down electro element to it,along with the trio’s jazzy songwriting that made their sound so distinctive. It was something I found preowned at my local record store Bullmoose for literally a few bucks. Remembering having some vague knowledge about the band. But the CD cover had me interested enough to pick it up. From the first moment I heard it,wanted to here more by the group. And later sought out other albums by them. The song that motivated me most from that debut was “Hanging On A String (Contemplating)”.

A drum machine kick into an electronic Afro-Latin percussive drum machine kicks in. McIntosh provides an echoed rhythm guitar swell,along with higher alarm like tone while Nichol provides a round synth bass for fattened support at the bottom. By the time the refrain and Eugene’s vocals emerge,McIntosh’s six not guitar line and Nichol’s synthesized melody take over.  On the chorus,electronic orchestration join up with McIntosh and Eugene’s vocal harmonies. On the last bars of the song,a Clavinet like keyboard along with a spiraling guitar solo take over as the song fades out.

“Hanging On A String (Contemplating)” is one of the most rhythmically and harmonically complex songs and grooves to come out of the electro/boogie funk era. McIntosh and Nichol truly deliver on a mix of highly Afrocentric drum machines and synth bass,along with very jazzy guitar and orchestral keyboards. Jane Eugene’s vocals have a strong jazzy ranginess and an extremely soulful,passionate delivery that matches the music to a tee. Loose Ends are known for few other key songs. Yet this song is likely the one they’ll always be best remember for. And for very good reason too.

 

 

 

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Natalie Cole: The First Year Since She Left The Scene

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Natalie Cole’s passing was the very first thing I heard waking up New Years Day of 2016. This turned out to be just one of far too many cherished musical icons who passed away during the course of the year-finally concluding with the loss of George Michael on Christmas Day. I’ve been aware of Cole’s music and presence in some way,somehow throughout my life. And at the end of the day,I do not desire to have her death be representative of what might be the worst all around year of the new millennium.  So today,I’m going to talk about Natalie Cole related events that both influenced and taught me.

First time I ever heard her was when my mom and dad used to play a cassette tape of her 1987 album Everlasting for me. Its an excellent album I proudly have on CD today. The song they both went into it for was the Bruce Springsteen penned slice of rock n’ soul “Pink Cadillac”. With Aretha Franklin’s song “Freeway Of Love” fresh in my mind,that “pink Cadillac” concept seemed to crop more more than it really did. Of course a few years later,she beautifully honored her dad with her re-dubbed duet with her father (now itself a rebooted classic) in “Unforgettable”.

Toward the end of the 90’s,Natalie Cole re-entered my life when re-examining the late 70’s James Earl Jones PSA radio program LP set of my dad’s Genius On The Black Side. Each featured black musical icons,new and old,with wraparound interstitial’s about social security. One of them featured Cole’s debut hit from 1975 “This Will Be”. It was my first time hearing the song,however abbreviated it was. It was about a year later that the TV biopic Livin’ for Love. It was a unique presentation as it featured Natalie herself narrating her life story while Theresa Randall playing her young self.

As illustrated beautifully in this movie,Cole’s life had many highs and lows. She got involved in the music of the 60’s counter culture as a way to separate herself from her family legacy,married Marvin Yancy and engaged on a very successful solo career during the 70’s and into the 80’s. All the while enduring failed marriages and years of drug addiction in the process. However fictionalized the event was,the image of Randall’s Cole hearing her first hit “This Will Be” on the radio for the first time after having scored a fix in a back alley showcased the equal measure of success and irony in her life and career.

In recent years,friends of mine such as Henry Cooper (a big fan of her music and the biopic) and Andrew Osterov,who helped me to explore her earlier 80’s releases,Natalie Cole’s music and its consistent diversity has been brought even further into my field of attention. Much as with Whitney Houston,also not with us anymore,Natalie Cole is an example that musical talent is not simply a matter of genetics. But also one of influence and shared interest-no matter how musical the family is. And now being in a place where I’m starting to make my own music,its something to keep in mind.

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Music 4 the Nxt 1, Andresmusictalk III: “March of the Panther” by Mongo Santamaria

 

Mongo Santamaria is the one of the best artists to talk about during Black History Month because the cultural forces behind his music cover such a large part of the African diaspora. A native of pre Revolutionary Cuba, he learned music in his community based on rhythms that had come directly from Africa. It was said one of his grandfathers had in fact been a Yoruba priest. His composition, “Afro Blue”, was considered to be the first jazz standard based on an African “3 over 2” rhythm, and was popularized by John Coltrane. In the ’60s he moved from a straight Afro Latin jazz to a Boogaloo based melange of Afro Latin rhythms interlaid with the popular sounds of Soul and Funk. One album I grew up with during that period was an album he did called “Soul Bag”, that featured an incredible version of “Cold Sweat.” Today’s Black History Month special is a song from his 1970 LP, “Mongo 70”, entitled “March of the Panther.” This song was composed by guitarist Sonny Henry, who was the composer of Carlos Santana’s breakthrough hit, “Evil Ways”, which he originally recorded with Willie Bobo. “March of the Panther” is a funky, strident, striving number with the electric energy of the Black Panther Party in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The song begins with an old school military march theme, featuring snare drum, tuba, flutes and horns playing in a style straight out of the Revolutionary War period. The allusion is very clear as the song transitions from music for that old school revolutionary army to a groove for the new school revolutionary army, The Black Panther Party, as the drummer plays a snare fill that leads to the groove. Bass Player John Hart plays a funky two note baseline supported by two pickup notes in the classic late ’60s, early ’70s style. There is a call and response relationship between the bass line and the electric piano, as the piano plays a syncopated rhythm chord figure after the bass plays its eighth notes. The drums play two strong kick drum notes in harmony with the bass but besides the cracking snare drum hits the drums are partially obscured by Mongo’s powerful African percussive figures, which are both pattern setting but also communicate in an improvisational way. These provide the setting for the rousing horn fanfare, which is a national anthem type melody that plays long, sustained notes, in the style of marching/military music, but also reminiscent of horn sections in African and Afro Latin bands, playing horn lines in unison. The bass and horn melody goes between two chords, as the bass line walks down to second chord sequence and the horns follow. After playing through that sequence the arrangement goes to a change part where the whole arrangement seems to come together in unity for the chorus, which is then followed by another vamp/statement of the main melody, with more attention paid to the trumpets, followed by another chorus that is again, heavier on the top end of the horns. After that a tenor sax solo is introduced, under which the bass player is given more freedom to improvise funky lines that support the solo. After the solo ends, Mongo’s conga playing becomes more pronounced, as he varies his rhythm and begins to take more of a leadership role, introducing the sections of the song with his drum flurries. The song grooves on and fades out, shifting back to a straight military march at the end.

“March of the Panther” took up the call that was made during the 1960s for new forms of Black art that would be the new symbols of the New Black Nation. In this case, it envisions itself as the theme for The Black Panther Party as the military arm of that nation. Mongo always foregrounded African/Black identity in his music, naming songs after Yoruba Gods and Black figures such as Malcom X. It was amazing for me to discover this funky song that took the idea of a military march and remade it for the age of The Panthers. The song itself is a good example of uptempo, super rhythmic, boogaloo inspired early 70s funk, in fact it would work very well over a montage movie scene about The Panthers or activists set in that time period. It was said that Herbie Hancock played his classic “Watermelon Man” for Mongo after Mongo had said he couldn’t see the connection between Afro Cuban and Afro American music. Upon hearing the funky tune, Mongo immediately got excited and began playing along with it. Of course, in Mongo’s hands, “Watermelon Man” went on to become one of the biggest hits in jazz history. It was this ability to connect the African roots, modern Afro Cuban music, jazz, and the then current funk and soul vibes that gave Mongo the unique place in Black music history and Black culture that he occupies. And that is one reason, along with his excellent musicianship, that a figure like Mongo deserves more consideration when contemplating the bonds of Africans in the Americas. And “March of the Panther” stands tall as an anthem for the Party that is no longer that brings together the energy of the whole African diaspora for the long waged fight for total prosperity and liberation!

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