Prince-One Year Later: “The Gold Standard” (2014)

Prince surprised a lot of people after a five year absence by releasing two albums on the same day: September 30th,2014 to be exact. It was an event that was just in time to be covered by this particular blog as well. Out of the two, Art Official Age seems to be the album that got the best response. During this time,Prince was expanding the NPG off into an all female side project called 3rdEyeGirl. The husband of one of its members Hannah Ford,Joshua Welton marked the first time Prince worked closely with an outside producer. Presumably to give his sound a more youth friendly sound for the 2010’s.

Welton’s contributions to Art Official Age were not as prominent as they’d be on the rather more modern teen EDM styled Hitnrun Phase 1 a year later. Prince was still ever deeply in control of the writing,instrumentation and yes-production on the former album. Still,its likely Welton’s presence reminded Prince of what made his music so appealing when he was at his most vital creative peak in the 1980’s. So with that Prince decided to reinvigorate his classic funk sound and came up with a song for the Art Official Age album entitled “The Gold Standard”.

A one note Linn drum kick starts of the song before a descending synth brass riser punctuates his slowed down rhythmically spoken vocal. The high on the neck rhythm guitar,slightly digitized live bass line and the accenting charts of the NPG Hornz. On the first bars, Prince is singing mainly with the drums and bass alone. Then the horn sections JB’s like charts take higher priority in the mix. The synth brass finally joins in with the live horns After a hand clap powered rendering of the chorus,a P–Funk synth bass initiates as bass/guitar/horn based cadence that fades out the song.

“The Gold Standard” brings together two different sides of Prince’s 80’s funk approach. His classic Minneapolis sound is represented by the brittle synth brass and stripped down arrangement. His rhythm guitar sound at its ever peak performance here as well. Aside from some modern production touches,particularly on the bass line,this also brings out his horn fueled mid/late 80’s period from songs such as “Girls & Boys” and “Housequake”. What it all does so well is showcase how much of an innovation for its time Prince’s condensation of funk was for the genres future-especially in the 2010’s.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Happiness Is Just Around The Bend” by The Main Ingredient

The Main Ingredient are one of my favorite funky soul groups of the mid 70’s. The reason is just because of that particular musicality of theirs. Their music very successfully bridged soul’s gospel feeling and melody with the complex,jazzier harmonics of funk. Hearing their greatest hits CD in the 1990’s showcased for me just how much breadth their was to their music. Got me to thinking if their singles were that diverse,what were their albums like? After hearing one in 1973’s Afrodesiac, it became clear their sound could stretch across the full LP format with energy to spare.

One particular Main Ingredient album which always appealed to me was their 1974 release Euphrates River. It was released in 1974. And is one of many Main Ingredient albums I do not have have on physical media. In the light of Cuba Gooding Sr’s recent passing,his first posthumous birthday today and a conversation with my friend Henrique? Seemed like a great time to check out its songs via YouTube. One of them which instantly got my attention was written by jazz/rock pioneer Brian Auger. It was called “Happiness Is Just Around The Bend”.

A slow grinding Latin percussion/conga/xylophone based groove provides the intro with a crawling melody on Fender Rhodes. Then the tempo goes up with the steadier drum beat,lighter percussion and bass/guitar interaction. For the main refrain,the Rhodes play a more rhythmic role as the strings come into play with Gooding’s echoed voice chiming in the spoken early vocal leads. The refrains are a spiraling,orchestrated vocal arrangement with a very complex melodic exchange. After a bridge featuring an echoed soprano sax solo, the least involved end of the chorus continues into the songs fade out.

“Happiness Is Just Around The Bend” is probably the most melodically and rhythmically complex piece of music I’ve ever heard from the Main Ingredient. In the rhythm arrangement I hear Curtis Mayfiend. The orchestration has a heavy Isaac Hayes vibe while the melody comes out of a Stevie Wonder school. Not totally bound to its influences Cuba,Tony and Simmon’s vocal stylings all come together to deliver one of the strongest funky soul arrangements I’ve heard come out of 1974. And it really makes a very strong case for my future exploration of the Euphrates River album itself.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Chase” by Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermeyer

Giorgio Moroder first came to my attention through his productions with Donna Summer. Most notably his 1977 triumph “I Feel Love”. This heralded in the electronic space disco sound. And also,along with Kraftwerk,began the re-writing of the book for dance music in the decade to come. He came from a mixed Italian/German back round, and began releasing singles from the early 60’s to the early 70’s under the name Giorgio. Most notable of these was 1972’s Son Of My Father. A few of these songs being used in a film showcased Moroder’s future direction: as a king of the electronic soundtrack.

Moroder was a very busy man from 1976 to 1979. In addition to working with Summer along with lyricist Pete Bellote out of Munich,Germany he was also continuing his film scoring work. One protege he began working with during these years was fellow early electronic musician Harold Faltemeyer. He would later achieve a cinematic success of his own with his 1984 theme song to the Eddie Murphy vehicle Beverley Hills Cop with “Axel F”. Faltemeyer’s first taste of musical success came in collaboration with Moroder on the hit single from their soundtrack to the 1978 film Midnight Express called “Chase”.

A sequenced synth bass (a Moroder musical trademark) starts off the song-along with synth string orchestration using an echoed flanging effect. There’s also a pretty straight lead synth melody. After a few bars of this,the melody reduces down to the 4/4 drums,the bass sequencer and a series of clicking and clanging rhythmic percussion sounds. Than the synth strings slowly build back in for several more bars. After the song reduces to the drum and sequencer again,the main melodic synth plays a more involved melody before the song fades back out on several more bars of its own chorus.

“Chase” has become one of Giorgio Moroder’s signature pieces of music. Structurally the song mixes rhythmic and melodic elements of American funk and European classical music into a song that embodies the very sound of electronic/space Euro disco. Its far more stripped down and stylized than the contemporary EDM. So much so that during the height of EDM about a decade ago,the paranormal/conspiracy theory based radio show Coast to Coast AM used it as its theme song. Basically, this is one of a handful of electronic disco numbers in 1977/78 that pointed to totally to the future.

 

 

 

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Prince And His Music’s Deliverance From Official Release

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Prince’s infamous vault of unreleased music-spanning almost 38 years now,has been something that has been thought of has having the floodgates released on following his passing last year. That tons of Prince music no one’s ever heard will be pouring out to the public from now on. It was announced earlier this year that new Prince material would be seeing the light of day soon. It came in the form Deliverance-a six song EP that was set to be released on the first anniversary of his passing. It was even available on Amazon Prime. Than…its release was abruptly pulled. From everywhere.

It would seem that Prince’s longtime recording engineer George Ian Boxill planned on releasing these half a dozen songs (recorded between 2006 and 2008) independently. But he was hit with a cease and desist by the Prince estate. They claimed he never received any proper authorization to release this music. If this reminds anyone of the sort of vexatious litigation Prince practiced in life, they wouldn’t likely be far off. As for me,I managed to snag it as a download before it was pulled and listened to it. So what exactly is Deliverance in musical terms?

The title track of the album is a combination of Southern gospel soul and blues rock-full of organ,piano,choir singers and Prince’s falsetto.  “I Am” is a bluesy rock with Prince speeding up his voice and delivering some heavy power chords. “Touch Me”,clocking in at under 2 minutes,is a pop ballad with European classical guitar and string overtones. “Sunrise,Sunset” is more of the same-only with a somewhat more soul inflected chorus. The closer “No One Else” is basically classic stripped down,live band funk/rock from Prince-coupled with some strong synth and horn orchestrations.

Deliverance conceptually comes across as something of a gospel album. As was typical of the Prince material of the early/mid 2000’s heavily built around his Jehovah’s Witness faith. There’s a lot to enjoy here…if your a big fan of Prince as a rocker that is. Only one song-the closer “No One Else” offers up anything right in the groove. While the material does showcase Prince as the amazing guitar player that he was, it also brings out a quality that I’ve only noticed more looking back at Prince’s music from the 90’s and beyond.

A YouTuber calling himself Morrisman,notable for being so critical of Prince as to declare him not to be a musical genius at all,did make one point on Prince’s music that could have strong objective merit. While I do not agree with him that an artist first album is always their best, he did say that some artists who get heavily revered by a devoted fan base can start taking their own music for granted. And sometimes even resort to releasing less than stellar music based on name recognition. This is a huge factor in the rock world. And yes,it did occasionally seem to happen to Prince.

After listening to all six songs (including an extended mix of “I Am”) on Deliverance? I’d have to say that aside from Prince’s unique performance style shinning out,more than half the songs on this album just don’t stand out as having anything particularly special about them. They sound like possible filler tracks Prince would’ve put on albums such as Planet Earth and Lotusflow3r. So aside from a strong book ended start and finish,  Deliverance certainly doesn’t sound like a prime example of what Prince had in his vault. Nasty as this may sound, its fairly by the numbers music by Prince’s creative standards.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Something Lovely” by The Main Ingredient-A Tribute To Cuba Gooding Sr. (1944-2017)

Cuba Gooding Sr is probably famous for to two things. One would be as the lead singer for the Harlem vocal trio The Main Ingredient after their original lead singer/songwriter Don McPherson died. The other would be a the father of actor Cuba Gooding Jr of Jerry McGuire fame.  Under McPherson,The Main Ingredient mixed romantic and black power themed funky soul. During Gooding’s era,the political elements became less pronounced. And the group began doing more cinematic soul numbers arranged by Bert DeCoteaux. At the same time, The Main Ingredient never fully lost their funk.

Cuba Sr’s history is every bit as political. His name derived from his father Dudley marrying a woman when he fled to Cuba. After being murdered due to her support of Pan Africanist leader Marcus Garvey,he vowed on her death bead that his first child would be named Cuba. Gooding was in the process of working on  documentary about his family tree before he was found dead in his car on April 20th,2017. Though best known for their 1972 hit “Everybody Plays The Fool”, one Main Ingredient song that always stands out to me in a similar vein is the following years “Something Lovely”.

A drum kick off breaks into the instrumental intro of the chorus. This is lead by a descending string and muted trumpet arrangement. When Cuba and the rest of the trio come in with their three part harmonies,the arrangement pairs down to a wah wah guitar/bass/drum/electric piano based sound. That goes for the arrangements too-accented occasionally by a several not long horn chart before the next chorus. After one refrain where the horn arrangements play the vocal lines, the trio finish the song out with an extended reprise of the chorus.

“Something Lovely”,written by Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright, is a masterpiece of funky soul arrangement as far as I’m concerned. The harmonies that Cuba,Luther Simmons and Tony Silvester come up with on this song are a superb example of funky soul as sweet as it can be. Its from their 1973 album Afrodesiac, which I purchased at the recommendation of an employee at one of my favorite record haunts Dr. Records when I was trying to exchange a defective CD of Parliament’s Funkentelechy Vs The Placebo Syndrome. 

I fell in love with the Afrodesiac album after getting it. Especially in the interpretive material it embraced. Stevie Wonder offered some of his own material and wrote two songs for this project itself. I also discovered one of my favorite Isley Brother’s songs “Work To Do” through The Main Ingredient doing it on this record. The very unexpected passing of Cuba Gooding Sr not only reminded me of that youthful musical discovery. But also of Gooding’s strong musicality and respect for quality. He will be missed by many and I wish his surviving family all the best at this difficult time.

 

 

 

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Prince-One Year Later Since He Left Us

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It was a Thursday morning one year ago that I first heard that Prince had passed away. It was via a Facebook post one of my friends there shared from TMZ. Being a tabloid agency,it came across as just another online “fake news” story about a dead celebrity. It was my Aunt Deb who confirmed the unfortunate news. Prince Rogers Nelson had been found dead in an elevator at Paisley Park earlier that morning. It turned out to be just one part of a huge “funkapocalypse” of musicians dying in 2016-among them people such as David Bowie and EWF founder Maurice White.

In the weeks following Prince death, there was much ugliness unfortunately. Because he left no will in regard to his enormous musical output,the future of his art was in question. Therefore there was more concentration on people suddenly coming forward claiming to be his child (and a potential heir to his fortune),as well as conspiracy theories about Prince having died of HIV/AIDS. The reality of his death wasn’t any prettier. He’d died of an accidental overdose of the pain medication Fentanyl,part of a series of medications he’d been taking since an injury he’d sustained onstage in 1985.

Now that 365 days have passed since we lost Prince, there remains much mixed appraisal of the man and his music. The fight for control over Prince’s estate still remains fairly hot-with family representatives such as his half sister Tyka and record companies in the process of figuring out how to manage his music releases and online presence. Articles circulate consistently on fan sites all over the internet-especially Facebook and Twitter. And the debate between restorationists and preservationists of Prince’s legacy has proven a true example of the messiness of democratic dialog.

All of this being said, the year since Prince’s death has not been about complete uncertainty. Currently his mid 80’s era band the Revolution have begun for a US tour-indicating that its helping them cope with the loss of Prince. There was a somewhat rushed compilation released by Warner Bros. entitled Prince4ever,which included one item from Prince’s vault from 1982 entitled “Moonbeam Levels”. The CD release of Prince’s final album Hitnrun Phase II also took place a week after his passing. And now,its promised that a floodgate of new Prince material is about to be opened.

Following the Grammy Awards tribute,much of Prince’s music was re-added to streaming sites such as Pandora and Spotify. And there’s also the promise of a deluxe edition of the Purple Rain soundtrack at some point this year. This week however, the Prince estate has filed a lawsuit against against his former engineer George Ian Boxill for attempting to a release an EP of unreleased Prince songs from 2006 entitled Deliverance. In addition,Prince’s music has yet to re-appear on YouTube. And that brings me to what I feel is the most vital aspect of Prince’s creative legacy.

Myself, Henrique Hopkins and Zach Hoskins have been having many discussions since Prince’s passing about the lost opportunities for his continuing legacy online. As for Prince,that’s all in the past now. Because his music is in danger of being somewhat unknown by future generations (and some members of current ones) due to this problem,I hope that those in charge of Prince’s estate realize the mistakes he made in his final decade about publicizing his art. It would be a fitting tribute to him if they continued to maintain the presence of Prince’s musical legacy for the future.

 

 

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Jamiroquai From 1993-2001: A Tribute To The Late Toby Smith

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Jamiroquai’s keyboardist Toby Smith passed away about 12 days ago-at the age of 46. Along with the bands front man Jason Kay, Smith was a prominent co-writer of much of their classic material. He left the band to spend more time with family during the making of their 2001 album A Funk Odyssey. To me,Jamiroquai’s music serves itself best across their albums. So in tribute to Toby Smith,I wanted to cover my Amazon.com reviews for their first three albums and A Funk Odyssey. Since I already posted my Amazon review of their 1999 album Synkronized  here before,that is excluded from this list.


Emergency On Planet Earth/1993

Let’s face it. The music world of 1993 was very very divided. There were those concerned mainly with matters of media credibility and those interested in the creation of their particular art. On both ends of the pond soul and funk music at this time generally wasn’t created. It was being programmed. That mixed with the whole credibility situation wasn’t making for much harmony.

Than came a British fellow named Jason Kay (known as Jay) and a talented quartet called Jamiroquai. Putting themselves out there in a mix of other groups in the “acid jazz” genre (often used as short hand for most varieties of funk) with people such as Brand New Heavies and Incognito this band didn’t exactly have the jam band tendencies of the former,nor the house/dance leanings of the latter. But they did something very special that meant a lot to myself personally.

Equally capable of top notch musicianship and melodic invention,another thing Jamiroquai understood was the value of instrumental production. The music is well mixed,with the right touches of reverb and echo when needed. Basically it’s going for a 70’s jazz/funk/soul sound that’s produced authentically. Jay’s vocals,long and very incorrectly compared with Stevie Wonder have a high to mid range lilt about them that are elastic enough to fit these songs.

A better musical comparison might be Curtis Mayfield,especially the soul stepping funky soul groove of the opening “When You Gonna Learn” and it’s environmentalist poetry. “Too Young To Die” extends to a similar groove with a more anti war message. On “Hooked Up” and “Revolution 1993” it comes out what fantastic musicians they are well with polyrhythmic jazzier funk grooves with a more instrumental leaning.

“Music Of The Mind” is similar though on the more mid tempo end of that area. Headhunters style Clavinet type stop/start funk is prominent on “Whatever It Is,I Just Can’t Stop” where as “Blow Your Mind” has this lean sophistifunk sound with Jay’s scatting George Benson style with the violin. The band also did for the didgeridoo in funk what EWF did for the kalimba: to bring it into the consciousness of the bands sound and hopefully the listener.

The title song,with it’s disco friendly dance-funk sound reprises the environmentalist concerns where “If I Like It,I Do It” again brings the Mayfield/Impressions type funk/soul to the forefront. Although clearly under the wing of his influence,it was likely too many comparisons that commercially doomed this band. Jamiroquai stand as very much their own musical animal. Sometimes sweet as funk can be,other times as deep in the groove as you could get. They epitomized everything a 90’s era funk band could be. And even for the doubters they have,this album stands very very strong.

The Return Of The Space Cowboy/1994

Have to say here that I’ve never seen a band completely slide past the very common “sophomore slump” problem in a finer way that Jamiroquai. As a matter of fact there is significant growth to be heard here on every level from their excellent debut Emergency on Planet Earth. Almost every funk band of the 70’s came to full flower through a process. Some started out more Latin rock bands. Others closer to jazz. Some straight up soul. Jamiroquai in fact did the same thing.

While their debut definitely was something new,there was still a lot of elongated jazz-funk style songs there that were just plain unheard of on “R&B” albums in this era. It was definitely still part of the process. Longer more instrumental songs aren’t nearly as common on this album. And when they show up,their somewhat more tightly constructed. Also Jay’s voice and lyrics show more emotional depth and a deeper thinking process here. Whatever the case,this is where Jamiroquai truly came into it’s own creatively anyway.

Primarily this album is dominated by uptempo,melodic sophistifunk songs with heavy use of keyboards and bass/guitar interaction. The title song,”Stillness In Time”,”Light Years”,”Mr Moon” and the dynamic “Scam” (my personal favorite here) all fall into this place. Taken together these all have the effect of sounding like a greatest hits album all by itself-literally from the first song mentioned to the last tracing funk’s development from about 1974 to 1978 or so within only four songs. Around the middle? More fascinating things are happening.

“Half The Man” is really the only song the band ever did with anything close to a genuine Stevie Wonder influence with it’s high pitched synthesizer melodies,rather slogging tempo and lyrics of romantic anxiety. “Manifest Destiny” is a terrific,soul searching journey where Jay acknowledges “the shame of his ancestors” regarding abominations such as slavery. And also makes points that indicate there was something to be learned from African culture as opposed to it being exploited. An important point to make.

“Journey To Arhemland” is a more rhythmic use of didgeridoo this time around while the ballad paced,harp led “Morning Glory”and the closer “Just Another Story”,with it’s complex keyboard/synthesizer melodic interactions close the album out. Closing out with a live,somewhat DJ/turntable heavy live version of “Light Years” one understands that Jay,a former break dancer with a bit of a…past really did (and I think still does) understand the music that he’s making and how it needs to be done. Mostly props should go to him for forming a band as talented as Jamiroquai.

Although the sound quality of the album is somewhat flat and muddy,likely to achieve the “retro analog/mono” flavor they might’ve been looking for,the band interplay on the mid 90’s Jamiroquai albums was extremely strong. As years passed Jay would become most associated with them,to the point where people believed Jay was in fact Jamiroquai. It was a similar issue that occured with Sade-a lead singer used to identify with an actual band. What’s really important however is the music. And it’s important that it existed the way it did,at this time too. Flat out haters aside,so many aspiring modern funk bands could learn a lot from Jamiroquai’s musical example.

Travelling Without Moving/1996

If your lucky enough to have followed them from the time of their debut album Emergency on Planet Earth(and even I wasn’t that fortunate) Jamiroquai were one of those bands you were probably hoping would break into the mainstream. The mid 1990’s was certainly a puzzling time for music. The keeping it real ethic of the early part of the decade was evolving into….well a number of new and different musical ideas.

But during the 1996-1997 period in which this was released at least there was a melting pot of different musical brews to draw on. A funk revival,gestating during the early part of the decade via hip-hop samples and some rock jam bands was starting to take root more heavily. This was good news for Jamiroquai. Their music always had been commercial..well if it had been the mid 1970’s anyway.

They key was in the production and craft. They weren’t just another rhythm section trying to recreate the JB’s or Sly & The Family Stone. They more freely acknowledged the dance-funk era of people such as Slave,Heatwave (to whom I’d make a close comparison actually),Brass Construction and even Quincy Jones’ early Michael Jackson productions. The fact they had a singular identity all their own as well was big in their favor. And they have that identity every workout they could give it on this one.

The first song “Virtual Insanity”,one of the few of the more hopeful and analytical message songs of the era is a fairly basic funk tune,save for a light samba style bridge. But do to the changing of eras perhaps it captivated the MTV crowd and,due to this era’s obsession with media credibility bought Jamiroquai their own pop pass for that era,getting them international hits and making Jay K (and his hats) something of cultural icons of the day.

“Cosmic Girl”,”Alright” and the title track,with more obvious hip-hop scratching all add to the sophistifunk flavor of the album. The first two were the two other big pop hits. But this isn’t a hit parade type album by any means. “Use The Force”,with it’s full on Afro Latin percussive/Fender Rhodes jamming is of the same type you’d see on their first two albums and “High Times” adds a slight bit of an edge with a heavy rock guitar/snarling sax solo and a…..well not very pro-drug message when you actually listen to the lyrics.

The reggae number “Drifting Along” is a strong reminder of how that genre is really the main point gluing the 80’s and 90’s generation directly with the 70’s,which was meaningful considering the heavy “antieightiesitis” hanging on at this point. There are a couple of didgeridoo numbers that aren’t all that interesting but “You Are My Love” is another great uptempo and horn fueled sophistifunk song where “Everyday” and “Spend A Lifetime” are elegantly crafted soul/funk ballads.

“Do You Know Where Your Going To”,a bonus track not named on the back of the CD is a potent reminder of how close the then burgeoning drum n bass sound was to wah wah fueled blacksploitation styled funk,as both of these musical techniques are employed together here. So in addition to getting Jamiroquai at that moment where they did achieve that success they deserved.

It had little to do with their musical style actual,great and underappreciated as it was. It had to do with their pop charts and very two sided press,especially how the press really played up that very iffy Stevie Wonder angle. Honestly,that influence was never as strong as it was made out to be. You’d think this sudden mass popularity would be given to a Jamiroquai album that was really grabbing for the public’s attention.

That isn’t what happened here at all. They just made a record that was a very smooth extension of where they were taking their music with their first two albums. And it was likely just a degree of luck that they were in the right place and time to be successful with it.

That fact of it being still one of their most creatively potent albums is why I recommended so highly,not just the fact it was popular. Not a bad place to get into the band. Yet not the be all and end all either. No matter what it is an important reminder when,for a short time anyway Jamiroquai and their sound…came close to ruling the pop music world.

A Funk Odyssey/2001

Jamiroquai’s fifth album and first of the new millennium had the disadvantage of being one of two famous albums released on September 11’th,2001-the other being Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft. There’s some irony this album was released at the moment the life of everyone in the world seemed to change in one morning. It didn’t have much of a chance for success stateside especially. World events just didn’t really allow for it.

For one thing the rave friendly front cover art completely dispenses with the bands “Buffalo man” trademark. Not only that no formal personnel are listed. This gives the impression that Jamiroquai had suddenly become just a trade name for Jay Kay. And this would be a disguised solo album for him. Somehow,with only his image on the front cover it did seem that way on first glance. If that wasn’t an indicator enough of something very different,even a cursory listen to the music inside would tell the tale.

From the very beginning this album is a very radical departure for Jamiroquai. “Feels So Good” starts out with a very glossy,electronic fusion of 80’s New Romantic dance and funk music,very light on the usual 70’s unfluence. On the other hand “Little L”,”You Give Me Something” and “Love Foolosophy” bring back that heavy dance/funk sound on three well crafted numbers with a heavy late 70’s Michael/Jermaine Jackson flavor to them.

“Corner Of The Earth”,a surprising hit with a symphonic bossa nova flavor contains another of Jay’s Earth conscious lyrics and this type of tune is returned to on the closing “Picture Of My Life”. “Stop Don’t Panic” and “Main Vein”,with their heavy orchestration bring that cinematic TV/blackspoitation flavor to the surface where the totally 80’s electro/hip-hop sound of “Twenty Zero One” not only sounds nothing like Jamiroquai but also completely outside their previous conceptual relm.

Overall this album is lyrically a very reflective and poetic album especially on “Black Crow”,an ode to the atrocities of war on civilians (quite appropriate and convenient for this exact time really) is actually the one jazzy funk type song most similar to their earlier material here.

When I first got this it took me a few listens before I fully absorbed what Jamiroqui were trying to pull off here. I am still not sure. Interestingly enough,for the most part the title is still a little confusing because of all the musics this album embraces,it isn’t the closest to hardcore funk in their catalog

‘A Sophistifunk Odyssey’ perhaps? Maybe the title has to do with an odyssey away from funk as opposed to into it. Either way,whoever else plays on it there’s definitely the feeling this might have in fact been a Jay Kay solo album under the Jamiroquai banner. His own vocals,lyrical concerns and style are dripping out of every pore of this album. And it comes through loud and clear.


When looking back on the way these albums progressed in terms of funk,Toby Smith helped in Jamiroquai’s sound evolving along the same lines  as the 70’s funk icons-from jazzier instrumentals earlier on to disco,boogie and electro funk sounds later on. In terms of the personal history discussed here,it also points to a time when funk was only a good word internally and among hip-hop samples. And all the way up through the the post 9/11 world. Though he’s gone now, Toby Smith did live to see the modern “funk odyssey” of today’s retro funk/disco movement spread and become successful.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Unity,Part 1” by Afrika Bambaataa and James Brown

Afrika Bambaataa,born Kevin Donovan in the Bronx to black activist Barbados immigrants,was at one point a lieutenant in the NYC borough’s most powerful gang-known as the Black Spades. Interestingly enough,he often used the idea of unity and brotherhood to promote recruitment into the gang. It was also a gang known for clearing the streets of drug dealers and assisting in community health care projects. When he won an essay contest and a trip to Africa,his life changed around. He left the Black Spades behind. And began to promote pro black unity through music.

That music was the burgeoning hip-hop scene of the mid/late 70’s. By 1982,he and the Soul Sonic Force,inspired by Bambaataa’s love of Kraftwerk,released their iconic song “Planet Rock”-a reworking of Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” and “Trans Europe Express” credited as the beginning of the electro funk sound. In 1984,Bambaataa helped revive the recording career of funk innovator and hip-hop icon James Brown. That 12″ inch single Unity  has been a mainstay in my family’s vinyl collection since it first came out. And its first part alone is a wonderful cornerstone of funk onto early recorded hip-hop.

JB and Bambaataa begin the tune with a similar call and response acapella exchange as JB did on “Get Up,Get Into It And Get Involved” 13 years earlier. Keith LeBlanc comes in with the funky drum-with Doug Wimbish and Skip McDonald providing some classic spiraling bass/chicken scratch guitar interaction play along with some round synth bass washes. On the refrain of the song,that same bass and guitar do their business with the horn section known as Chops. After several exchanges between the chorus and refrain,the song outro’s to the next segment of the suite with the same drum rhythm.

“Unity Part 1” is a straight up JB style funk jam. Using then contemporary musicians, everyone involved really gets the flavor of what the classic JB’s lineup achieved as they built the genre of funk from the ground up. With Bambaatta acting as something of a new Bobby Byrd for JB on this record,the lyrics of the groove state that the solution to the self hate and violence within the black community during the 1980’s would be “peace,unity,love and having fun”. Its an amazingly funky collaboration between funk and hip-hop’s earliest icons. And musically bridges two generations of funk.

 

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Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “The Dominant Plague” by Allan Holdsworth

Allan Holdsworth was a guitarist who not only crossed styles,but also technological areas of music. Sadly,he passed away this past Saturday at the age of 70. He was a truly academic player known for his advanced chord progressions. But he could play some serious blues with the same technical level. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s he played with both prog rock and jazz fusion bands in his native England/Europe such as Soft Machine,King Crimson,Gong and Nucleus. In the late 70’s,be became a member of Tony Williams New Lifetime before beginning his solo career as a recording artist.

The first Allan Holdsworth album was his 1986 LP Atavacron. Picked it up based purely on the cover and title-based on a favorite episode of Star Trek of mine. On the cover,the cartoon Holdsworth is holding an instrument called a SynthAxe. It was a type of MIDI controller manufactured in the UK which allowed for a more guitar-like playing style for synthesizers.  Turns out it was fairly rare,and few outside Holdsworth and Lee Ritenour actually ever used it. One of my favorite songs on the mid 80’s fusion oriented Atavacron to use the SynthAxe heavily is called “The Dominant Plague”.

Future Level 42 drummer Gary Husband,along with Chad Wackerman provide the opening duel drum attack-which has a slow,gated African percussion style about it. Jimmy Johnson also provides his 6 note bass line that he improvises on throughout the song on this intro. Very the chorus Alan Pasqua delivers a wailing synth brass solo. On the refrains,over the same rhythm,Pasqua also provides a very glassy,steel drum like synth line. On the bridge,actually a chorus of the song,Holdsworth plays a rather Hendrix style SynthAxe solo-before the song fades out on the double drum rhythm.

“The Dominant Plague” is mid 80’s world fusion at some of its finest. It has the blend of Afrocentric rhythms played in a progressive new wave sonic approach. Holdsworth composition is both passionate and hesitantly chilly from chorus to refrain. I am not at all sure about this. But from its feeling and title, I’ve wondered if this composition was inspired by the HIV/AIDS epidemic than polarizing the world. One can only wonder. The SynthAxe is also used to fine affect here-allowing Holdsworth to sustain notes more than a guitar might’ve. Its my favorite song of his that I’ve heard so far.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “One To One” by Jan Hammer Group

Jan Hammer is known by most American’s as a keyboardist who scored many films and TV shows-namely the iconic theme to Miami Vice. Interestingly,the unique sound of that particular theme song gave an indication just what sort of musician Hammer was. Starting his musical education at university in his home city of Prague,he migrated to US in 1968 with a scholarship at Boston’s Berklee following the Warsaw Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. A couple of years after that,he was the keyboard player of the iconic fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra-led by John McLaughlin.

After leaving the band in 1973, Hammer formed a new band called The Jan Hammer Group. This included violinist Steve Kindler,drummer and vocalist Tony Smith and bassist/vocalist Fernando Saunders. They released two masterful albums in 1976 and 77 with Oh Yeah? and Melodies. Both had a sound that foreshadowed the most industrial end of new wave influenced jazz funk. Especially with Hammer’s custom Oberheim/ Moog synthesizer combination which had a rock guitar like tone. One of my favorite songs form the first of these to albums is the tune “One To One”.

A 20 note bar of round toned Moog bass gets the song started. Tony Smith’s drums joins in after that-following up David Earle Johnson’s congas. When Smith’s lead vocals come on,Hammer’s Fender Rhodes plays a counter melody to the Moog bass. The Oberheim synth orchestration comes to play on the refrains and the little bridges leading up to them. On the main bridges of the song,Hammer solos on his guitar synthesizer. After a small instrumental part near the end of the song, the Oberheim string synths guide a totally new vocal segment from Smith before themselves closing out the song afterwards.

“One To One” is a very strong mid 70’s entry for the Jan Hammer Group,and they had many such songs during this time. Compositionally, this song could easily stand up to the sound and melodies in Stevie Wonder’s funk numbers during that era. Also the type of progressive,cinematic orchestration of Hammer’s 80’s TV scoring work is very much present here. This also served as a prototype for the sound Hammer and this group would bring to Jeff Beck over the next few years. So its a song that showcases extremely strong writing and composing on one of the most elaborate jazz/funk numbers of its day.

 

 

 

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