Monthly Archives: March 2014

Andre’s Amazon Archive for March 29th,2014: The Foreign Exchange ‘Love In Flying Colors’

Love In Flying Colors

Just 24 hours prior to writing this review, a friend of mine named Thomas Carley recommended I seek out the latest release from The Foreign Exchange. Came into streaming some of their songs without knowing anything about the band members or their histories. Even now I still know very little. All I do know of them comes from another friend Henrique. He informed me that the bands founder Phonte was apparently a member of a group called Little Brother-a hip-hop group hailing from Durham,North Carolina. Knowing how hip-hop groups often spin off into completely alternate musical projects such as this,none of that information surprises me one bit. What did surprise me was how they musically presented themselves in the accompanying CD booklet. Some of the music of course is supplied by keyboardist/multi instrumentalist Nicolay. But this album also features,and credits with a great deal of enthusiasm,their 19 piece string section as well as it’s arrangers and conductors. That level of respect for the ethic of cinematic music production correctly led me to believe I would be in for a real treat with this album.

“If I Knew Then” opens the album with a wonderfully expansive funk/jazz fusion number-with melodies and rhythms elevating right up there with the many classics of the late 1970’s end of that genre. “Right After Midnight” continues on with a powerful synthesizer boogie funk number. This returns to even greater effect on “On A Day Like Today”-a number with enough early 80’s post disco rhythm box/electronic invention and song craft to make it a potentially enormous hit somewhere even today. The more acoustically textured guitar led jazz-pop of “Better” is equally wonderful-especially Phonte’s obviously growing vocal turns. Only wild card is a somewhat foul mouthed rap insert from him that,while delivering what turns out to be a good message,is more than a little out of place. “Listen To The Rain” returns to that flavor with a full vocal take with no rap. “Call It Home” brings a drum-n-bass rhythm flavor to this jazzy funk compositional attitude whereas the house fusion of “The Moment” recalls Incognito to some degree.

“Can’t Turn Around” returns to the expansive 70’s fusion-funk take and “Dreams Are Made For Two” returns to the drum machine led boogie funk before blending the two seamlessly for the closing “When I Feel Love” which,through that hybrid sounds close as this album comes to a modern hip-hop based funk-pop production. This album actually succeeds on every level it’s creators intended it to. The harmonically rich female vocals of Carmen Rodgers,Shana Tucker,Gwen Bunn,Carlitta Durand and Jeane Jolly combine with Phonte’s creamy delivery for a very meaningful and poetic combination of instrumentation and lyricism. The two rap inserts are both well harmonized from the music and are at least from within,which is refreshing in the tail end of the guest rapper age. The way the albums themes are presented are very much in tune with something of a cornucopia of the tail end of the funk era-the stylings from roughly 1977 through 1983 coming into full flower here. The Foreign Exchange are not new and are apparently a live act of high quality. Personally I’d say if this is the direction Phonte is taking them? I’d keep going for it if I were him.

Originally Written On September 29th,2013

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Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, Funk, Janelle Monae, Jazz, Late 70's Funk, Phonte, The Foreign Exchange

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/28/14 Rique’s Pick : “By My Side (Illith’s Blues) by Nicholas Payton

 

“By My Side” is the first track on Nicholas Payton’s 2011 mixtape  “Bitches.” Payton is known for being an excellent jazz trumpeter, but that fact notwithstanding he, like the great Lester Bowie, disdains the term “jazz”, viewing it as a limiting term. Today’s “Anatomy of the Groove” feature, “By My Side”, the first song on the album, shows him to be a musician as comfortable with funk, R&B and soul as the worlds of improvisational swing.

The tune kicks in the door with funky, clamourous New Orleans dope beat. The kick drums sounds like somebody either knocking on a hollow wooden door or stomping on a wooden plank floor. The snare sound is just as rowdy, clanging out a clave-ish rhythmic pattern.

The bassline is very special, the bait that lured me into the story of Illith’s Blues.  It uses an analog synth sound with portamentau/glide. I love the funky glide, moving from one pitch to the next, with a slow attack, pitches that take their sweet, funky time going from tone to tone.

The effect of the synth bass’s skipping, scooping, dragging and scrapping is something like a chipper tipsy man trying to get dried dog poop off his brand new Italian loafers. The hard New Orleans percussion is therby mixed with a lazy, drawling Bayou feel.

The sunshine on the track comes from Payton’s bright, ’80s style digital synth tones. The mix of analog and digital sounds, bluesy melody and bright major chords all add to a feeling of desperate brightness. There is both happiness and pain in the sound. The harmonic foundation is bright and major, but Payton gives an impassioned bluesy/soulful vocal, backed up by a digital Clavinet sound that provides even more rhythm, along with counterpoint and testimony to Payton’s story of life enhancing love.

“Travel deep inside the jungle/to find the best of my soul”, is how Payton begins his soul searching love affirmation. The song goes into “So What” style chords as Payton says “I ain’t afraid of the next level/although I’m sure to see the Devil.” The song paints the picture of a tough, rascalish “Trouble Man” who has finally found that “ride or die” woman, and is feeling good about it. I should tell you, “By Your Side” is the first song of an album based around the full story of a relationship. Like Payton’s favorite artist Marvin Gaye’s album, “Here My Dear”, the story does not end “well” in the conventional sense. But it does have many riches of sentiment, soul, funk, love and reflection to offer. “By My Side” begins the story of this love affair on a funky, soulful, hopeful note, and it will do the same for you on this or any other weekend on your own journey of love.

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Filed under Blogging, Music Reviewing, New Orleans, Soul, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: Aretha Franklin

                   Celebrating the birthday of Detroit’s Queen of Soul  Aretha Franklin, I am making my first of a series of sporadically posted Amazon Archive postings devoted to special occasions such as this. What can I say about Aretha on a personal level? It was her powerfully grooving “Freeway of Love” from 1985,produced with Narada Michael Walden than first introduced me to her music. Only heard “Respect” and “Chain Of Fools” several years later, actually. Personally I feel that was just as powerful an introduction to her music. Right now,today I have to say Aretha symbolizes the human assumption of being able to communicate verbally with honest and soulful eloquence of heart and mind. We live in a society that often seems to value keeping its mouth closed,even on important matters unless its stated with cynical,sarcastic humor.

                   Aretha has always demanded “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and generally got it since. So her lyrics come out of the classic blues orientation of being open about the desire for freedom and a more positive life. And most important,maintains that ethic properly by indicating that there is either hope or resolution. Since her music always comes from the gospel joy end of the soul spectrum, very little of her music has the capacity of getting the listener into a better frame of mind. While its true that something of a rivalry had existed between Aretha and the late Etta James as far as being the Queen of Soul? I generally take both artists as they are. Here I am presenting two key Aretha Franklin album reviews I wrote yesterday for her two albums from 1970. Thank you!

The Girls In Love With YouAretha Franklin epitomized the new-found spirit of not only black women of her era, but also the women’s liberation movement that was to come in the late 60’s. Her music on the Atlantic label, produced with Jerry Wexler is not only some of the most iconic soul of its era but also instrumentally paved the way for many female solo artists in that genre. During this time of great pioneering on her part,all she really had to concentrate on outside her music was her whirlwind family life-which included a rocky marriage to Ted White-one mired in controversy that allegedly included physical abuse. This gave the impression that Aretha’s lyrics were somewhat autobiographical. Between her early 1969 release Soul 69 and this album,there was a near exact one year time span-an extremely long time period between albums at a time when artist were generally expected to deliver at least an album per year,preferably two. That meant that her next album would not only be a long awaited one, but also her first of a new decade. As something of a New Years treat to soul music lovers? This album was pretty much right on time.

The album starts out with a very appropriate version of “Son Of A Preacher Man”. Aretha adds a very slinky and sexual vocal to the song-both vocally and with the approach the musicians take,than Dusty Springfield’s more sensuous insinuation. Most of the songs here such as “Share Your Love With Me”,”Dark End Of The Street”,”Call Me” and the closer “Sit Down And Cry” are very much in the spare soul ballad vein she made famous-all quite good but even with Aretha’s deserved iconic status? They are all very much of a piece instrumentally. Two Beatle interpretations are where the albums really gets interesting. “Let It Be” always had its roots in gospel but Aretha just let it all out on what more or less amounts to a full on gospel/soul number here-guitar replaced by organ on the bridge. “Eleanor Rigby” bares virtually no resemblance to the original,an uptempo funky/soul process number with the equally iconic Sweet Inspirations at top form and this is my personal favorite number on this album. The title track is of course a shuffling gospel oriented mid tempo version of the Herb Alpert/Burt Bacharach hit sung from a woman’s point of view. Another number I really like her is her take on the Band’s “The Weight”,already a fantastic soul song not entirely acknowledged for being so. Aretha gives no doubt to the songs musical origin’s on her version.

As the woman’s movement was at last getting its start with the emergence of NOW and such,the continued presence of Aretha was even more important. Especially as she provided an important symbol for the enormous African American feminist movement beginning to emerge even on its own terms. At the same time,Aretha would need to musically adapt too as the history that her music was helping to change was itself changing yet again. The underground social movements of the 1960’s started to moved into the mainstream and become more confrontational in the early 70’s. The social and creative freedom demanded by Silent generation leaders and their baby boomer followers were being adopted even by suburban nuclear families during this era. And you can bet the music of Aretha Franklin was on quite a lot of their turntables as well. However Aretha was probably more aware that,as a singer this revolutionary spirit beginning to emerge in the mainstream of America,even in its business end was going to effect music very strongly. So in a way this album is a part of an important transition from her 60’s era musical approach to that of the new decade. But for that it wasn’t even the end. It was just the beginning.

Spirit In The DarkWith the long awaited release of her This Girl’s in Love With You at the very start of the year, Aretha Franklin made it perfectly clear that she was going to keep sticking with her soul music explosion as the 1970’s officially arrived. As with much of her 60’s era music,this album more or less showcased her as an interpretive vocalist-spinning musical straw into solid gold soul at every chance she could. But between that album and this,many changes were clear to be seen on the musical home front. Itself brewing along with Aretha’s type of soul was the funk music of James Brown-music that demanded not only a more dance friendly approach but also far more interaction from the instrumentalists involved. As a singer who always made herself part of the entire creative process,the was good news for Aretha. Yet funk would have to wait because for this album,Aretha had something entirely different in mind.

“Don’t Play That Song” opens this album with very much of the feeling that it would maintain through “The Thrill Is Gone”,”Pullin'”,”Honest I Do”,”When The Battle Is Over” and “Oh No,Not My Baby”-through which Aretha handles everything from romantic regret to romantic denial: these songs range from lowdown ballad to uptempo bluesy romps,filled from top to bottom with the artists indomitable spirit. The title song is both lyrically and musically particularly amazing. Opening up with the same bluesy and reflective atmosphere,the song instrumentally evolves into a full on joyous gospel climax-complete with stomping choral vocals singing a complete Hallelujah chorus. This is reflective,along with the bluesiness of the rest of the album indicative of Aretha really getting back to her musical roots. She also provides two more self written songs of her own on “One Way Ticket”,another thickly bluesy soul reflection and “Try Matty’s”,a foot stomping uptempo number where she has a little physical fun with the lyrics. The album concludes with “Why I Sing The Blues”-very much indicative of this album and how it relates to its era.

Overall this showcases Aretha as a full on album artist. And very much contrary to the changing face of music during this era, she takes this opportunity to rediscover the blues in her music. In fact,this is probably the bluesiest album she every recorded during her Atlantic prime period. Each song clearly has a special meaning. Not only did she write nearly half of its 12 songs, but she also played piano on most of them too. And considering the bluesy jazz nature of her piano playing style? That fits right in with the musical approach of this album. So as her full on introduction to the new and more vocal social atmosphere of the early 70’s,Aretha responds here by taking every bit as much creative control of her musical output as she did over her lyrical persona in the previous decade. That leaves this album as the place where Aretha’s Atlantic era sound,which built up consistently from 1967 onward,finally and officially came into itself. This would by no means be the final triumph for Aretha during this decade. But it did put something of a capper on the first phase of her Atlantic years and began an officially transition into the next.

*Please follow the Amazon.com links inserted into this blog in order to read these and more of my reviews,as well as comment on them on site. Thank you!

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Filed under 1970's, Aretha Franklin, Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archives for March 22nd,2014-Pharrell Williams ‘GIRL’

Pharrell  Pharrell Williams is one of a scant few who’ve emerged,both on his own and as one half of the Neptunes,that has been striving for musical eloquence in his approach to soul/funk. And as much as I admire the uniquely vital musicality of the artists I’m about to mention,for Pharrell finding that sound for himself has been largely dipping into the often under explored well of the post James Brown/pre-Prince funk era-which would encompass approximately 1977-1980. When I first heard his music with NERD,it deep seem that one challenge Pharrell might be facing in the long run was a tendency to be too self consciously eclectic in terms of his musical approach. If rhythmic and instrumental diversity flow through you organically,that’s fine. However if one is just doing it to fit in or be critically credible,it can eat up ones creativity from within. I am still not sure in Pharrell’s case here where he came from in that regard. What I do know is that last year his productions for Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience,Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and of course the Grammy winning Daft Punk album Random Access Memories demonstrated that Pharrell was strongly re-introducing pre hip-hop era funk aesthetics back into the modern soul/R&B framework. So when I learned just under a week ago he was releasing his first solo album in many years,I was very excited to hear how this funky revelation as a producer would effect his own music.

“Marilyn Monroe” begins the album with a very insistent bass/guitar oriented dance funk groove that’s bought further to life by some sumptuously soulful string arrangements. “Brand New”,featuring Justin Timberlake’s showcases the similarity in Timberlake’s and Pharrell’s approach to a groove: again in this case a very thick African inspired percussion part with a lot of breaks and slippery,catchy melodies,and of course some wonderfully bright and fan-faring horns. “Hunter” is one of my very favorite pieces on this album. It has a very thick and metallic bass line and a very steady percussive flavor which recalls some of the deepest and most authentically funk oriented songs one could ever imagine. “Gush” and “Gust Of Wind”,featuring Daft Punk on vocorder, showcase how perfectly comfortable Pharrell is in the milieu of that late 70’s disco era funk sound-when the genre’s uptempo music was retreating from the “4 on the floor” stereotype into the more streamlined and sleeker productions and instrumentation. The sounds of Chic and even the somewhat lesser known funk band Slave are all over these songs from top to bottom-along with Pharrell’s strong adhesion to staying eternally on the one. “Happy”,the big soundtrack hit from this album is a lively uptempo soul number strongly recalling the mid 60’s uptempo soul vibe of Arthur Conley and such-especially with it’s clever outlook on human emotion with it’s chorus of “Clap your hands if you feel like happiness is the truth”. “Lost Queen” goes for melding a modern hip-hop arrangement with a South African folk styled focus and percussion arrangement. Personally? I don’t really feel the meld takes on this particular musical fusion.

“Know Who You Are” is a strongly crafted and instrumentally thick soul/funk/pop number featuring a duet with Alicia Keys. Keys,not known much these days for doing live instrumental uptempo tunes,shines like a glistening crystal on this song. The last number “It Girl” features a somewhat cooler approach to the same sound,and a jazzier one at that with an instrumental electric piano section closing out the final minute or so from the song. This album completely succeeds on almost every level instrumentally. By focusing on studio production of live instrumentation,Pharrell has actually broadened his musical horizons as a solo artist quite significantly. And his non stop focus on funk,percussive rhythms and new ways of re inventing melody on this album fully explores his true musical heart. As wonderfully colorful as the funk on this album is? It is by no means a near perfect masterpiece. Sometimes,if you can imagine it Pharrell stays on the one a bit too much on some songs. This gives the effect of being more like a digitized skipping record than a fluid live band (even though that is present here quite a bit) now and then. And though he does approach the subject eloquently on many occasions,Pharrell’s constant skirt chasing here also drags on which,in the case of me being a very commitment minded homosexual is sometimes downright lyrically un-relatable. But even if one is emphasizing this albums flaws,its definitely a step in the right direction if we’re talking about funk functioning in the contemporary musical idiom. And definitely another feather in Pharrell’s musical cap and for a second time in his career,doing it with himself as the star of the show.

Originally Posted On March 4th,2014

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Filed under 1970's, Africa, Amazon.com, Funk, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Soul

Anatomy of THE groove 3/21/14 Part II: Elvis Costello and The Roots “Stick Out Your Tounge”

Elvis Costello and the Roots 2013 collabo “Wise Up Ghost”, was one of the most fascinating albums of last year. The pairing of an artsy, eclectic vocalist who traffics in many styles with an artsy, eclectic hip hop band that traffics in various styles as well was one that sent my antenna’s buzzing. The album didn’t disapoint for me either, as it merged many classic lyrics and songs from Costello’s career with a lean, mean funk sound from the Roots. Basically, the Roots took a sound from the era that inspired the golden age of hip hop sampling, the late ’60s to mid ’70s, and plied it behind a diverse palete of vocals from Costello. That period is known as one that had a somewhat dark and sinister undercurrent to it, due to the supression of the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Anti War Movements, and the election of Richard M Nixon. This is articulated in songs such as the O’Jay’s “Backstabbers” and The Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces.” Questlove and Co spend the album giving Costello’s pointed lyrics the vibe of a scrappy funk band grooving in a room with inscence and black light posters.

“Stick Out Your Tounge” is one of the most hard hitting joints on the album, hammering home the late ’60s Daishiki and Beatle Boots vibe. It is a reworking of Costello’s classic Thatcher era lament, “Pills and Soap” from 1983. “Pills and Soap” was a dark record, much as the records mentioned earlier. “Pills and Soap” was inspired on the lyrical end by the budget cuts and the period of “austerity” introduced by Thatcher during her regime, and musically and thematically it was inspired by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s seminal 1982 classic “The Message.” Over a stark Linn Drum beat with gothic sounding gospel/jazz chords, Costello describes a scene of Biblical disaster brought on by Thatcherism: “What would you  say/what would you do?/Children and animals/two by two/give me the needle/give me the rope/we’re gonna melt them down/for pills and soap.”

“Stick Out Your Tounge” takes the lyrics of “Pills and Soap” and drops them off into some funk. The song wastes no time establishing a groove, laying in four bars before Costello begins to speak. What’s interesting about it is the way The Roots band takes the skeletal music from “Pills and Soap” and expands on it. Questlove gives you the same basic Linn Drum machine beat from the earlier classsic, pounded out from his drum kit, four stuttering, foot shuffling sixteenth note kicks that culminate in a resolute slap of the snare. The electric piano provides an almost droning sound, as wah wah guitars add rhythmic support as well as counterpoint to Costello’s vocals. The bass guitar brings up the rear of the phrase. Costello is backed by female vocal backing at various points, and also his own multi tracked vocals doing response and testifiy lines, including a track of himself singing falsetto. The classic soul-funk vibe is brought out by the horn sections riffing and support on the chorus.

One of the most exciting things about the revival of funk taking place over the last few years is the diversity of it. Artists doing funk now can pull from 20 or so strong years of the genre, as well as musical developments that have been made since the height of the funk era has finnished. On “Stick Out Your Tounge”, Elvis Costello and the Roots take “Pills and Soap” from it’s classic spare hip hop vibe of dread, and drop it off into a world of deep, meditative, activist funk. It reminds me of the deeper dark edge of early funk, such as Sly’s “Riot Going On”, Baby Huey, Issac Hayes and other artists. Questlove ads to this a breakbeat drumming sensibility that delights in reanmiating the drum parts Hip Hop producers made careers out of sampling and emulating. It all ads up to a very funky brew indeed.

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Filed under Blogging, Funk, Soul

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/21/14: “Long Weekend” by Trombone Shorty

Since it would seem that that New Orleans has the reputation of being the birthplace of the concept of funk itself,what with the first acknowledged jazz musician’s Buddy Bolden’s song “The Funky Butt”,it makes perfect sence that an important element of the modern funk revival would emerge with the Crescent City’s own Trombone Shorty. Originally named Troy Andrews,he grew up in the cities Treme’ region-playing in the local marching bands and eventually becoming a featured member of Lenny Kravitz horn section in 2005. Having already entered into rising adulthood having been reared with a musical synergy of the traditional Dixie Land marches of his local area as well as the late 80’s funk revelations such Cameo’s “Word Up” and Prince’s “Housequake” ,Andrew’s had the musical wherewithal to zero in on a somewhat under-explored middle ground between both those divergent funk approaches on Trombone Shorty’s 2013 release Say This To That with a groove entitled “Long Weekend”.

Kicking off with an announcing drum kick,the rather percussive and slow crawling drumming is immediately joined by a cleanly played,melodic funk guitar line with a high electric organ swirl slowly building in the back round. Another drum kick announces the introduction of Andrew’s expressively earnest lead vocals. When singing the chorus of the song,he’s joined by his own multi tracked backup vocals when the songs title is mentioned. The bass line of the song isn’t generally as prominent throughout the song as the guitar and drum/percussion part is. However at the end of each instrumental chorus,especially before a drum kick,the popping jazz/funk bass line comes to the forefront much more heavily. On the bridge and during the outro of the song,the melodic and rhythmic structure of the song totally changes. The bass is lifted to the forefront scaling down to a powerful bass/guitar chord that intensely amplifies the funkiness in the center and end of the song.

While funk is not as widely known as a musical genre as some of its admirers might think that it is, a majority of musicians performing funk are doing so very much in the late 60’s/early 70’s raw live band type James Brown/Tower Of Power style. Considering his music is strongly based in jazz-fusion/blues and psychedelic soul/rock, Trombone Shorty and his bands’ approach to this song emphasizes a trend in contemporary funk music that seemed to have spawned from Pharrell Williams productions for Justin Timberlake,Robin Thicke and Daft Punk. And that is a strong emphasis on the production style of late 70’s Ohio based funk bands such as Heatwave and Slave. This is a style where the bass/guitar/drum interaction is still hard grooving funk. But the sound is more studiocentric than developed mainly for live performance. Of course Andrew’s adds a more jazz oriented electric piano groove on the bridge to give the song his own type of flavor.

Another element of “Long Weekend” that’s very similar to the music of Slave in particular is how close the lyrical and melodic content of the vocals are to that Ohio bands adolescent party funk aestetic. In particular the way Andrew’s is pitching woo to an older woman,once the subject of a high school type unrequited love and is now old enough to appreciate her-particularly on a somewhat scandalous “long weekend” with this lady that even includes “a trip to the liquor store” to ensure a little physical adventure-even though he doesn’t feel able to tell his peers. Of course this attitude lends itself very well to the near perfect balance of studio production and live instrumental production. Judging from what I have seen in a video of Trombone Shorty performing this song live? Today that late 70’s style of recorded danceable funk music is just as viable on stage as it is on record. And “Long Weekend” emphasizes that very strongly.

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Filed under 1970's, Blues, Funk, Funk Bass, Late 70's Funk, New Orleans, Rhythm, Trombone Shorty

Introducing Andre’s Amazon Archives for March 15th,2014: Aloe Blacc’s ‘Lift Your Spirits’

              “Welcome to a new weekly segment of my own here on Andresmusictalk! For the first posting of this particular segment, I wanted to offer some clarification on why this exists. My blogging partner Henrique Hopkins suggested to me that because my music reviews on Amazon.com give such a well rounded and detailed take on different musical albums,it would be a good idea to post them here in a blog format to bring extra attention to them. Not only did I feel this is a good idea to help inspire other Amazon reviewers to give themselves permission to give more well rounded discourse in their reviews,but will also give me a chance to showcase new music in that funk,soul and jazz vein that is making significant contributions to creative and cultural futurism. This blog will generally appear every Saturday-perhaps a New Music Tuesday edition might appear on Wednesday’s on occasion. Anyhow enjoy this new feature. Thank you!”

Andre’

Aloe BlaccIt was only a couple of weeks ago that I discovered Aloe Blacc’s previous album to this Good Things on sale at Bull Moose,the local record store in my neck of the woods. Wondered why an album already several years old would’ve been on sale at this particular point. When I looked up the Orange County native with the apparently Panamanian back round,I discovered an unusually multi talented artist. Unusual in the sense that,aside from being a singer/songwriter and pianist but also a trumpet player. Quite unusual to hear of anyone today in the soul/funk spectrum who would be able to recognize that two seemingly disparate sounding musical instruments would both contribute nicely to a one-man band rhythm section. Not only that but before his current signing to Interscope Records,Blacc was involved in a musical collective strongly pushing pro immigration causes. That humanistic element really got my ears braced for what I’d hear when I listened to this album.

“The Man” starts out the album,a wonderfully dynamic wall of sound type soul type anthem of empowerment that brings to mind a contemporary black man’s interpretation of the E-Street Band style arena rock ‘n soul sound-filled with gospel infused spirit and energy. This musical concept returns with even stronger results on “Here Today”. The Pharrell Williams produced “Love Is The Answer” is my personal favorite here-a cleanly played and lean bass/guitar driven dance/funk arrangement that pleads eloquently for caring over cynicism in today’s world with Blacc’s deep and bluesy Gil Scott-Heron like vocal style and phrasing. Though not produced by Pharrell “Can You Do This” evokes a Dap-Tone-like 60’s soul/funk tone similar to what Pharrell is currently doing on some of his songs. A version of his older song “Wake Me Up” is presented here in an acoustic country/folk style. “Chasing” evokes the reverb heavy uptempo gospel inspired Sam Cooke style late 50’s soul while the cinematic “The Hand Is Quicker” and to even more effect “The Hand Is Quicker” have a very deep Southern blues inflected gospel attitude. The album closes with the Memphis style country soul ballad of “Red Velvet Seat” and the almost Philly/Chicago style “sweet funk” groove of the grateful and passionate “Owe It All”.

Overall this is one of the most unconventional and far reaching albums I’ve heard made by a young black man in the new millennium. None of the music here is at all devoted to patronizing anything at all involving contemporary electronic hip-hop/dance style productions that dominates the soul/funk/R&B world of today still. Therefore it is not neo soul either. Nor is it a purely nostalgic retro project of any kind. This is a powerful and diverse album that manages to utilize completely modern musical production techniques and digital sound as a means of communicating what,for all intents and purposes,is something based entirely of the music of the deep Southern funk,soul and especially hard acoustic folksy blues flavors. Most importantly,he utilizes this soulfully rooted instrumental platform as a means to express a number of important lyrical messages-ranging from empowerment to the every changing moods within the ongoing battle of the sexes. His lyrical and melodic construction of his songwriting is strongly indicative of someone who realizes that a modern black male artist can possibly begin to innovate in the soul/funk spectrum without totally embracing the most juvenile elements of the mass market variant of hip-hop. And if this album is any indication,this is definitely an artist that admirers of rootsy soul/funk/blues/jazz will want to keep an eye on in the future!

-Originally written on March 11th,2014

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Filed under Amazon.com, Blues, Country Music, Funk, Music Reviewing, Soul

Anatomy Of THE Groove 3/14/14 Part II: “Dontcha” by The Internet

One of the factors that always had me ambivalent about neo soul was the genres tendency to cross bridges.   It could never seem to decide whether it wanted to be retro or contemporary,artful or commercial.  Add to that having a tendency to revel in cliches such as the vinyl scratch sound effects of song intros and out of sync beats and rhythms added to its seeming lack of focus. But for those who liked 70’s soul and funk as the new millennium arrived? This genre was about all the commercial end of the hip-hop spectrum seemed to offer such an audience. There were happily many occasions where the genre succeeded-based generally on the creative virtues of the artists involved. The Internet are a recent example. Arriving on the scene a bit late for neo soul,as more secure 70’s style soul/funk is re-emerging with modern production,this somewhat revolving door LA group released their sophomore record this years Feel Good in February and presenting their lead off song “Dontcha'”.

Visually its an austere video,shot in black & white and presenting itself extremely generally: the band consisting of bassist/guitarist Patrick Paige, guitarist Mike Einziger, drummer Christopher Smith, synthesizer player Chad Hugo and the androgynous lead singer/keyboardist Syd “THe Kid” Bennett performing the song against a platinum white backdrop. The song starts out with Chad playing a thumping,single note on the synthesizer bass before the song builds into a Fender Rhodes solo which returns on each melodic refrain in a dreamy and phased high solo. Patrick and Mike on bass and guitar are locked down tight into a chunky disco-funk style arrangement. Syd’s vocal style is very much in the vein of a somewhat lower key Amel Larrieux (of Groove Theory fame) and melds like clue to to the metaphoric model airplane that is the sound The Internet achieves with their extremely lean sound that manages to instrumentally take flight.

While the song and video are both very stripped down,it gets the effect of the transitional post disco/boogie funk sound down pat with a jazzy element that brings to mind elements of Chuck Brown’s original go-go funk approach as well. Not to mention the song is very sweetly melodic compositionally. One of the most telling factors about the song is that lead singer/keyboardist Syd Bennett seems somewhat deliberately sexually ambiguous. She’s not trying to get attention by being camp. Her image is that of a young boy from the projects in jeans and T-shirt-where in fact both genders might be dressed this way often enough. And the lyrics to this song reflect the idea of imagination and creativity being as important an element to adult romance and sensuality as realism-especially with lines such as “Swimming through your galaxy,starstruck on all of you /Perfect love analogy, that’s how I describe you”. The lyrical and instrumental eloquence of this song is a superb example of a late in the day neo soul/nu jazz group making music that perfectly reflects both the core of sophistifunk and the sparer approach of electro boogie funk in a modern context.

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Filed under Funk, Jazz, Neo Soul, Rhythm, Soul

Anatomy of THE groove 3/14/14: Kenna “Relations” featuring Childish Gambino

If Don Cornelius were here and the Soul Train was still on the air, here’s how a segment featuring this weeks funk banger, “Relations” by Kenna featuring Childish Gambino might go down:

“Here’s a biggin every one round here is sho nuff diggin/it’s by Kenna/and he says/LETS HAVE RELATIONS!”

Cut from the Don to a dance floor set with people standing around, as soon as the music kicks in, a soul sister begins to do a mean hip twisting, turning dance. As if on cue, her dance partner begins to cut up with forceful acrobatics, inspired both by the ladies sensual manuvering and the rigid thrash of Kenna’s groove. The camera moves through various funky people until it reaches super cool Kenna on stage, dressed hipster sharp and looking at the audience behind shaded eyes. The crowd hollers and screams, it’s their favorite funk groove of the moment! Kenna is a monolith of cool while everybody around him goes crazy to the funk groove. He goes on to give an idiosyncratic performance influenced by David Bowie, Prince, Kraftwerk and Marvin Gaye. Afterwards the Soul Train dancers yell for 45 seconds as the Don draws a witty interview out of the star.

Kenna’s “Relations” begins with an intro of a dude talking worthless jibberish, over a bass guitar that’s riffing aimlessly. This jibberish is the prelude of a romantic fumbler talking around what he really wants….in the words of the Klump’s grandmama, “Relations!” Kenna and Neptunes producer Chad Hugo soon ditch the romantic non sequitors for a serious, simple thrash of a groove they call “Relations.”

No beating around the “push in the” bush here. The most salient feature of the music is a devestating analog synth sound bassline, two pitches played three funky times, on the “get” up beat. The focal note is a longer tone, this dotted eight note that provides the Hump in the track, the WD40 that lubricates your back bone as it begins its slip.

“Relations” is killer, sparse funk, with what sounds like an analog synth tone and bass guitar killing the bass line, an insistent synth sequence that provides futuristic color, minimal rhythm guitar riffing, and flashes of conga and synth squiggles that give the track some locomotion, as Kenna lays down a blunt yet classy come on to be “let in.” Kenna’s vocals have a wonderful middle eastren/African tone to them. He also reminds me of Marvin Gaye’s declaiming in his classic song “Anger” from ‘Here My Dear”, when he announces “Lets Have Relations!” in a stentorian tone that gets much more aggressive than your typical R&B singer is prepared to get when asking for the draws these days. Kenna fills his song with lyrical come ons from the classic male school of let’s take advantage of the moment because tommorow may not come : “How could we know the stars are alighned?”

I like the way Kenna passes the baton to Childish Gambino, with Gambino’s rhyme being an extension of his last phrase. And the immature mobster delivers a nice one, out of the book of early Kanye and Jay Z. Kenna ends the song with haunting vocals, scaring off any panties he might have left standing earlier.

Kenna Zemedkun is an Ethiopian born artist who I knew from his association with the Neptunes over the years, including a stone cold jam he did in 2007 called “Say Goodbye to Love”, one of my favorite songs of the last decade. His struggles in gaining an audience despite his obvious talents are covered in the Malcom Gladwell book “Blink.”  But if he keeps delivering songs like this, I think an increasingly growing number of fans will be willing to have relations with him.

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Anatomy Of THE Groove 3/7/14 Part II: “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” by Janelle Monae And Esperanza Spalding

When someone is living in an age when most female soul artists are presenting themselves largely through the most shallow end of physical sexuality, it can be easily to become cynical that well rounded feminine sensitivity had been lost along with an overall sense of poetry. The same goes for male artists in the same position.  Two people who are looking towards the Afrocentric futurism that the jazz-funk era represented in the 1970’s in today’s music world are the bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding and Janelle Monae. While recognized by a certain creatively minded musical community,deserved recognition by the masses still evades them. Most still obsessed with sexually profane “contemporary R&B” female artists who are often more photogenic than innovative. Some react to this by assigning blame to past decades political problems,others blame the genre of hip-hop. However at a time when music wasn’t exactly having the usual healing effect on my soul? A song came my way that was a collaborative effort between Spalding and Monae. It’s called “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”.

Instrumentally the song begins with a slow and steady Afro-Cuban conga based percussion line,over which is played a slippery and multi tracked high synthesizer solo-in which each track has the effect of a round echoplex type reverb effect which gave it the glistening glassy effect. After this introduction a live drum sound enters as Janelle begins singing a lyric that describes a very glamorous yet mysterious feminine figure (possibly Janelle’s android doppelganger character Cindy Mayweather)  whose has a romantically bewitching persona. At the end of each chorus a high trombone is heard almost like an apparition in the back round of the song. The bassline weaves in and out of the rhythmic and melodic aspects of the song very much in the manner of a thread through a sewing needle,which maintains the jazz oriented flavor of the chord progressions of the song. The bridge is composed entirely of Esperanza engaging in some powerful multi tracked vocalese as the melody of the song entirely changes before going into the refrain-after which Janelle herself presents a romantic spoken word verse before the powerful jazz-rock guitar solo which closes out the song-accompanied by the chorus of “She’s got Dorothy’s eyes”.

Deeply inspired by the vital instrumental and production dynamics of late 70’s Stevie Wonder/Quincy Jones style jazz/funk/soul/rock hybrids,this is the type of somewhat minor chorded funk with a dreamy atmosphere that might fool the listener into believing its a slow jam ballad. But actually its uptempo funk in the vein of a Michael Jackson number such as “Rock With You” and “I Can’t Help It”. On the other hand,what distinguishes this song from them,and almost all contemporary funk/soul music is the heavy jazz elements. I didn’t realize until researching this song that Esperanza and Janelle both shared the vocal refrains throughout this song. Their vocal styles are so close and compatible its often hard to tell when one is singing-especially when their vocals are melded into the others through the production like melted aural caramel. Because of cultural changes in the perception of music production that occurred in the post Prince era, most modern funk in a band context even tends to prefer to keep a live instrumental aestetic with no frills.

This song clearly utilizes live instrumentation but enhances them with the most magical end of studio production. The song openly celebrates  not only studiocentric musicality,but also showcases a strong female characterization of someone who is of great physical beauty yet is also astute enough to be able to bring out emotional fantasies in potential suitors as physical ones. There’s a strong sense of adult sensuality in this song-instrumentally and lyrically reflecting the hopes,desires and mysteries of someone secure enough with themselves to view romance beyond simply the physical desire. Not to mention paying tribute to the historically significant movie star who gave the song its title,”Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”-featured as the next to last song on Janelle’s September 10th album release The Electric Lady  is not only a beautifully eloquent jazz funk song but an important blueprint for all modern female artists in this musical spectrum who are in all truth in need for a new and more meaningful creative voice.

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Filed under Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Janelle Monae, Jazz, Quincy Jones, Rhythm, Soul, Stevie Wonder