Monthly Archives: April 2014

Andre’s Amazon Archive for April 26th,2014: Kelis ‘Food’

Kelis-Food

 

On her previous release Flesh Tone five years ago,Kelis embraced an captivating balance of the modern day EDM sound with the 80’s new wave dance music and Eurodisco music that originally inspired it. While proving herself as a dance oriented artist,she began recording an album with producer Calvin Harris that was to embrace the 90’s trip-hop sound. I hadn’t personally heard about this until now because,from my own viewpoint,Kelis has always tended to lay rather low between her album releases. Though it was clear a new album by her was of course an inevitability, it again came as something of a surprise. Earlier this year,my friend (and current blogging partner) Henrique let me in on the fact that a new Kelis song was circulating online. And that it represented an album that was going to showcase a major change of musical direction. Of course,that has been Kelis’s MO from the moment she first came out. And even for that,so far? Most of what she’s released has been variations on a certain theme. So there really hasn’t been a major artistic leap for her since she first debuted at the end of the 1990’s. This album promised to change all that. And it actually delivered on that too.

“Breakfast” begins the album with the live band playing on this entire album showcasing a mid 90’s style hip-hop/soul/pop/dance type song with an ode to a very fulfilling type of love. “Jerk Kiss” is the song that bought me to this album-a shuffling,lilting song based in rining percussion and a wonderfully complex jazzy bass line and African Boogaloo style horn punctuation for an album ideal post modern funk stew and really still my favorite number here-especially with its triumphantly melodic choral refrain. “Forever Be” blends an a post punk pop/rock sound with psychedelic string orchestration with a rather Egyptian style chorus. On the spare ballads”Floyd”,”Rumble” and the uptempo soulful stomper of “Friday Fish Fry” Kelis and the band embrace the blues very heavily-with her smokey voice providing the honest atmosphere needed. If its serious funk your looking for? “Hooch” delivers the perfect storm groove with the drumming,bass/guitar bottom accents,bell-like percussion and strong,building horn lines. “Cobbler” mixes a strong Afro-Latin percussion flavor into the groove-again with the bass and horns leading the way. “Bless The Telephone” is a quietly melodic South African sounding acoustic guitar based folk melody. Following the Eastern oriented melody of the epic production in “Change”,the album ends with two complexly jazzy and melodic numbers “Biscuits And Gravy” and “Dreamer”-on which Kelis declares her creative manifesto in the most eloquently poetic terms lyrically.

Upon listening to this album initially? I didn’t really like it all that much. There is a certain type of under produced live instrumental sound that seemed to derive out of Time Out of Mind era Bob Dylan that…well I don’t think fits very well with every creatively minded artist that happens to come around. Actually heard it most recently on Elvis Costello and The Roots Wise Up Ghost,which I am still not exactly fond of for that same reason. On the other hand,once I listened to this album as a whole it became clear that it is actually very in keeping with Kelis’s musical evolution. Recorded with Dave Sitek as producer,Kelis has recently stated that the album was not intended to follow along a particular line of musical credibility. But was rather a means by which to capture the feeling of the classic soul and funk albums of her parents record collection. Utilizing a full live instrumental sound for the very first time,this album has some of the strongest funk grooves Kelis has ever recorded. Not only that, but in terms of melody and instrumental style Kelis not only embraces American soul music but African soul as well. The voiceings of the horns,bass lines and of course percussion effects spring right from the same source that originally inspired James Brown’s funk innovations. So what Kelis does here-mixing American soul/R&B,blues rock and Afro-Pop type grooves in a live equivalent of the contemporary idiom? She is reviving the idea of what some refer to as the “funk process” album for the modern age: building from post hip-hop styles to recreate a new funk. In the first listen,it may not be apparent. Yet digging a little deeper? Kelis is delivering here the type of album that has the power to revitalize live instrumental soul/funk on an enormous level if properly followed through. An album surely worth hearing!

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Filed under Blues, Disco, Funk, Funk Bass, Kelis, Music Reviewing, Pharrell Willaims, Soul

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/25/14 Rique’s Pick : “My Medicine” by K-Maxx

 

Some folks don’t think of funk as sexy music, but there are some of us out there who know what’s up. The strong rhythmic foundation, rolling basslines and soulful vocal styles of funk are yet another branch of the R&B revolution that has kept world population growing at a steady rate the past half century or so. I’ve heard it said that one of the things George Clinton loved about working with Bootsy Collins on his projects was the chance to go back to doing what he came into the business doing, ballads, all thickened by the big, wet, serpentine bass Bootsy laced his love joints with.

K Maxx is a Bay Area artist, formerly known for his hip hop productions, who’s released an EP with Bay Area funk institution, the Sweater Funk crew. Sweater Funk, along with Dam Funk in Los Angeles, are mainly responsible for popularizing the term “boogie funk”, along with the understanding that it represented a specific musical feel and ethic within the larger school of funk. On this track, “My Medicine”, K Maxx laces his object of affection, and by extension, us his listeners, with a smooth poist coital wash cloth.

The song starts out with a moving, sexy, undulating groove that rocks the listener in it’s embrace. The song has a thick bass sound, a blend of an analog synth sound with thick, rich, testosterone fueled bass thumping. The bass figure vamps in essentially the same way for the same song, and as Bootsy himself used to say, it’s the better to funk you with. The bass line is a two bar phrase that ascends very strongly in the second bar. It’s matched with resonant poly keyboard tones.

K Maxx delivers his vocals in a smooth yet raw funk falsetto style. The story he tells is one of total satisfaction, satiation, delivered in the tones of a pleased after glow, “Always find my perfect spot/gaurunteed to be crazy”, “Even when we’re making love/always feels like I’m floating.” K Maxx’s phrasing is unhuried yet rhythmic, and he plays a nice game of call and response with his synths, delivering a sultry line, keeping quiet to let it marinate in the next bar, then echoing his vocal parts with his melodic synthesizer tones. K Maxx uses this funky romantic technique to sing an absolute funky praise song to his woman, calling her his medicine, giving props to her power to bring sexual healing to his life. After he says it as eloquently as can be said, he picks up his guitar and lets it do the talking, ripping a 16 bar guitar solo, reminding one of the classic funk practice followed by artists such as Ernie Isley, Mark “Drac” Hicks, Bootsy Collins, and Prince, of putting a hard rocking guitar solo over a smooth funky groove.

“My Medicine” is one of those songs that, because of its moderate, mellow, yet grooving funk approach can be played over and over again, and in a wide variety of formats. It has a special post coital, satiated vibe that unleashes all kinds of tingles, scents, memories and fires in the experienced, and makes the inexperienced wish for experience. K Maxx and Sweater Funk are doing something very special by moving beyond the playing and promotion of unsung funk classics to actually making them. Their EP “Sweater Funk Presents K Maxx”, is a must pick up for any modern day fan of funk, that is to say, anybody who wants to hear funk right now. And that’s “my medicine.”

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Anatomy of THE Groove 4/25/14 Andre’s Pick: “Jerk Ribs” by Kelis

Harlem native Kelis Rogers comes from the area of New York known for its black cultural renaissance of the 1920’s. She comes from a background of both fashion and music-her father Kenneth being a jazz pianist. Over time she developed a flamboyant personality that,while stereotypically getting her in some trouble at different points in her life,has also given her a somewhat rare understanding about the vitality,soul and groove of the music she’s done. Making a name for herself in the millennial transition produced by Pharrell Williams/The Neptunes on songs such as the hugely successful and influential “Milkshake”,Kelis has continued to move forward towards a musical sound that would successfully fuse the music she listened to and loved growing up with contemporary production elements. Realizing perhaps the frustration in trying to achieve that musical fusion, Kelis has opted this time around for the full on live band for her newest album Food and its lead off song release “Jerk Ribs”

It all starts out with this slow,shuffling percussive groove with a bass line that’s lifted directly of the influence of James Brown’s early 70’s musical innovations. In a chocked,dreamy tone of voice,Kelis paints an autobiographic picture of a life growing up where-even during the more difficult late 20th century in Harlem,  the very streets seemed to be wrapped up in musical rhythms. She spoke with great veneration for her father-singing the moving line of “He played the notes and keys/he said to look for melody in everything”. Before each chorus, her horn section plays a melodic fanfare that seems to be calling out to the listener to physically participate before scaling strings introduce the chorus illustrating “it feels just like it should”. As the song goes on, Kelis sings of the bass (note she mentions that first),the brass and strings vibrate through her-stating of it all that “I love everything”. By the end of the song,her happily nostalgic state elevates even to her present day as the fanfare of the horns keeps up steadily until the groove finishes off.

One of the most important things about this song is that it strongly emphasizes the influence on James Brown’s funk music style from Ghanaian “highlife” music from that era. The joyous sounding fanfare of the horns that instrumentally help define this song drip alternately with precision and a strong appreciation for the Afro-Pop interpretation of the blues. The bass line is,as is a signature of funk in general mixed up very high. Its clear Kelis wants it to be known strongly that the electric bass is a key factor to keep a fat bottomed groove strong and vital. In a way this song more eloquently extends on themes her former producer Pharrell has recently coined on his enormously successful “Happy”-the idea that being in a state of joy is a source of strength. In the case of Kelis,the source of her joyful strength comes from the joy of music that was always with her from childhood. Her picturesque imagery of music itself in these lyrics make musical sounds seem like a tangible thing one can wrap themselves around like a blanket. It is the funk/soul groove as a source of love,joy and inner peace. And the more I hear it? The more I realize this song just has to resonnate with many other people on that level-the way it does with me. Truly Kelis’s most powerful musical visitations upon humanity this far.

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Filed under 1970's, Africa, Blues, Funk, Funk Bass, Kelis, Pharrell Willaims, Rhythm, Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archive for April 19th,2014: Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings ‘Give The People What They Want’

sharon Jones album

For the sake of its relative importance to this review,I do have a personal experience with Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings this year. I was watching 2013’s annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade-enjoying the usual parade of happy balloons and the floats,which often contained a musical act of course. Most of them were of course second tier teenpop acts of today. Some of then such as Ariana Grande were not actually half bad. But much to my surprise this band appeared performing “Ain’t No Chimney’s In The Projects”-an extremely atypical type of Christmas song to be appearing at such an event. Shortly after that I learned about the release of this particular album this year. No needless to say I was extraordinarily excited seeing as their last album,while excellent,was basically a collection of outtakes. Whatever the situation,this album is certainly not disappointing to me.

“Retreat” starts out the album with a hugely percussive stop-start rhythm with some lightening fast blues/funk chord changes. “Stranger To Happiness”, and “Get Up And Get Out” both deal with a strongly polished Motown styled uptempo sound while “You’ll Be Lonely”,with its stuttering guitar riffing and slow crawl,represents fine hard Crescent City style funk at some of its finest. “Now I See” goes into the horn heavy soul shuffle with a very strong roadhouse blues style melody-showing how strongly those musical ideas mingled together so well to begin with. “Making Up And Breaking Up” is a grandly performed balled with a beautifully reverbed multi-tracked vocal chorus for that otherworldly flavor. “Long Time,Wrong Time” has this strong electric piano Memphis gospel/soul-funk attitude with it’s stripped down atmosphere. “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” is fast paced Windy City style funk/soul “people music” frankly addressing the inequities between the econimic classes which,sadly,still continues the world over. “Slow Down Love” is a dynamic,horn break oriented ballad to close out this album.

Yes its short but,of course in the Daptone tradition the analog era minded flavor is maintained throughout. Of course two things album this album that I appreciate is the Dap Kings total devotion to their instrumental sound and songwriting. They always realize that its not only important to play “real instruments”,but also to have the creative vision to produce with with strong recording values and substantive lyrical content. Not only that but this is also a band that never ceases to emphasize uptempo funk and soul with prominent melodic content as well. As long as Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings are around,there’ll be very little chance that people will think of retro soul as some type of generational trend. This band is always emphasizing the instrumental and melodic importance/vitality that the mid/late 60’s style soul/funk process era which they’ve embraced had to offer. They’ve done that progressively more so with each of their progressive albums. Somehow or other,each and every time there is just a little more growth and a little more power to their approach. So I can only hope they’ll keep bringing the positive end of the soul and funk spirit out in their music for a long time to come!

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Filed under Blues, Funk, Memphis Soul, Motown, New Orleans, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Soul

The Anatomy of ‘Happy’- Rique’s outlook: An Anatomy of THE Groove Special Presentation Part Duex

 

 

 

Pharrell Williams recent triumph with an infectious ditty about human joy and the movements of the human spirit is one that fills me with tremendous joy and that I  identify with very personally. I see it as the culmination of a career spent highlighting the spirit enhancing aspects of Black music at a time when darkness was accepted as the norm.

Back in my high school days, my main friends who I referred to as my brothers,  Jesse, Osceola, and Frank use to spend our time before, after, and sometimes during school hours at OC’s house, eating gumbo, cooking, playing bass and discussing and debating how we were to make it in the world.  Often times we looked at the current culture around us, in the days of bling rap and very ignorant music as inadequate to the views we had of ourselves and how we wished our lives to be, not to mention the attitudes we’d inherited from our well meaning parents. The late 1990s seemed to be an extremely long ways away from the vitality we associated with other days of black culture in particular.

Outkast was the closest of any group at the time to who we felt we were. There were many other groups we liked bits and pieces of, but no one captured it as well as them. Then, at some point in 1999 we started to hear another groove. It was electronic, sparse, and FUNKY. It was heard on records like Mase’s “Lookin at Me”, ODB’s “Got Your Money” and “Recognize” and especially Kelis’ “Caught Out There.” Then one day out of nowhere, we heard that same beat but we got some vocals, on a track called “Oh No” by Nore, we saw a handsome, carmel skinned brother with throwback aviator shades on, giving an old school hip hop chorus in a falsetto voice. Osceola, ever the sharp eyed visionary, said simply, “I like that dude.”

As the milenium turned, the hits rolled in, like Mystikals James Brown influenced “Shake Ya Ass”, Nelly’s “Bustin Loose” influenced “Hot in Herre”, and several records that referenced The Vanity 6’s eternal Purple Funk classic “Nasty Girls” (“Milkshake”, “Slave”, etc). Pharrell and Chad Hugo, the Neptunes, could give you aural images of Run DMC’s “Sucker M.C’s” on a track like the Clipse’s “Grindin'”, and recall both Cameo and Slave on Snoop Dogg’s “Lets Get Blown.” And Pharrell’s own “Frontin”, may be one of the few R&B love songs that came out in the last decade that I truly identified with, not just as music, but as experience.

The Neptunes music took the black historical sound of funk, and edited it, filtered it through hip hop, and presented it as the hottest party sound of the new milenium. Pharrell’s falsetto, used in the beginning simpy to guide singers on demo’s, recalled Eddie Kendricks, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and many other legends, who I’ve heard him all reference in interviews. I was always amazed at Chad and Pharrells skill at interpolation, building new funk off old funk and making an ahistorical young urban audience accept it as THE THING.

This past year has been one of special triumph, with Daft Punk’s directly late ’70s influenced “Get Lucky”, Robin Thicke’s “Got to Give It Up” tribute “Blurred Lines”, and now, the ’60s get back in the alley groove of “Happy.”

In the black church, the moment of the utmost jubilation, when people speak in tounges and do the holy dance, and the organ and drums begin to vamp, is called “Getting Happy.” Pharrell mentioned on his interview with Oprah that after 9 tries at nailing down a song to represent the joy of the villian on the film “Despicable Me 2”, he finally hit on this groove. He said the chords were gospel, because that’s the aim of gospel music, to get people “happy”, on a profound spiritual level that gives a glimpse of the eternal joy that all religions promise, with the goal of getting people through an often rough existence on this here earth.

Pharrell accomplishes this in the most spiritual, profound way on this song. He has always aimed to make people happy, his litany of dance hits is proof of that, but this  one hits on another level. The ’60s back beat, straight out of the book of Benny Benjamin and Uriel Jones, is matched with a low down electric piano and bluesy tone. The blues scale is an actual rarity in “R&B” music these days, it seems black musicians RUN from that historic tone. But the triumph of blues music borne of the black experience is the ability to acknowledge sadness while promoting joy. That is why it is universal, because all of humanity seeks that, the combination of reality and hope. Pharrell embraces a bluesy, funky sound with an uplifiting beat that will make your backbone slip into the jerk, the mashed potatoes, and the monkey if you let it!

The R&B singer Tank, when asked about the struggles of R&B in recent years, made some very illuminating comments. He basically said R&B’s obssessive focus on sex and love have limited it. He mentioned “Happy” in particular as a type of song that “used to be R&B.” And it makes me proud that an artist primarily associated with hip hop laid this on the world. The reason is, for all the bad rap (pun intended) hip hop often takes (and gives), I do feel hip hop is the repository of black musical history and musical history in general that no other music is. Songs like “Hey Ya” by Andre 3000, “My Umi Says” by Mos Def, “Sexual Eruption” by Snoop Dogg, even Ol Dirty Basterd’s rendition of “Coldblooded”, reference the past and the fun spirits of past musics in a way few contemporary R&B artists ever attempt.

But the true genius of Pharrell is in his vision and his uniqueness. Pharrell and a handful of other artists, have always made me feel it was okay to be myself and pursue my own path. They brough the spirit I admired in Miles Davis, James Brown, George Clinton, Stevie, Sly, Marvin, etc, into the present day, when most of my peers would tell me, “That was back THEN.” And it is an amazing act for a black male artist at this time to stand up and make the whole world dance singing a song that says “I’m Happy.”

From the beginning, Pharrell understood this song was the people’s song.  I was amazed when he created the worlds first 24 hour music video, with people uploading their own videos dancing to the song, a truly democratic and positive use of current technology! And his song has become so big that the U.N used it as their theme for their “International Day of Happiness.” The video I posted is from Liberia, my mothers home country and a country both of my parents love dearly. Liberia’s main image currently is one of 19 years of one of the most brutal civil wars seen in recent memory.  But this was a country founded as a country of hope for individuals who were not allowed much in their home land. But Pharrell’s song and the “Happy” video show that the human spirit lives on, as it always has. My mother, who usually does not dig the message of many current musics, actually asked me to bring home Pharrell’s album for HER the other day. I often bemoan the fact that todays black music, in contrast to a song such as “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, is not often something kids and grown ups can share together. How can a consciounable parent bring their kids out to dance at 2 am to “All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe?” But “Happy” is most definitely a song that makes both me and my mother dance. I heard another young lady say that she plays that for her kids in the morning when she’s taking them to school. At that, I’ll say Pharrell has made quite a contribution in his time to the never ending, always elusive human quest, and for 3 mintues and 53 seconds at a time, he plants his flag on that tall and distant summit of joy.

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Filed under Motown, Music, Music Reviewing, Pharrell Williams

The Anatomy of ‘Happy’-Andre’s Outlook: An Anatomy of THE Groove Special Presentation

It would seem that during 2013,with his involvement in the major hit records of Justin Timberlake,Daft Punk and Robin Thicke,that Pharrell Williams was suddenly everywhere. He is by no means an unknown to the world. Much as with Quincy Jones before him,Pharrell represents a strong symbol of the music producer-as-artist-someone who both maintains a musical stamp all his own yet is able to adapt his sound,along with that of his partnership team The Neptunes to suit the musical flavors everyone from Brittney Spears to Nelly. Earlier this year Pharrell released a single from his then forthcoming album GIRL entitled “Happy”. At first it didn’t have much success. Finally it began to take off in Europe when a music video was released and then its appearance in the Pixar film Despicable Me 2.  Instead of our usual duel song format,Henrique and myself have decided to do a two part special presentation this week. That is due to the suddenly evident importance of this song.

Musically the song kicks into gear with a count down of sorts,using a repeating electric piano chord five times before the a sturdy rock ‘n soul style drum comes in,accompanied by a bluesy electric piano and Pharrell’s smoothly soulful voice declaring “It might seem crazy what I’m about to say”-dipping in and out of his sleek falsetto into his high tenor with great ease. Throughout the song Pharrell describes the emotion of happiness not as a theoretical concept,but as a living entity that has a physical nature he describes as “sunshine,she’s here”-the sun often being a revered symbol for a regal type of joy.  On the chorus of asking “clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth”,clapping does ensue before a second verse-fading out with the same clapping refrain that began this song to start with.

Instrumentally this song has much of the melodically upbeat and sophisticated atmosphere of 60’s Motown while the stripped down and bluesy funk style of instrumentation also calls to mind both the Muscle Shoals sound of that era as well as the jazz-funk of early 70’s Crusaders. What is most impressive is the nature of this songs massive cultural impact. While trendy songs and dances have always come and gone in the past,even ones that had a message to them,its been a very long time since a song that represented funk and soul’s musically meaningful and sophisticated nature has been such a positive source of inspiration in the post internet world community. This week even Pharrell himself has said to have been moved to tears by seeing many people creating videos of their own to his song-in particular a video created by those of the Muslim faith.

Having lived through almost half of the life cycle of Generation X,Pharell himself has seen many people (in particular in the black community) lose hope and fall into a never never land of hopelessness,despair,cynicism and lack of interest in getting involved. Having seen Pharell interviewed several times myself recently? He is a musically and sociologically grounded man who understands exactly what he is doing. Part of that sight is of a world where a black man in particular seems to have to be edgy and angry to make any sort of difference. Knowing from second hand experience with producing other artists that those conditions tend to feed back on themselves with time? Pharrell declares in this song that he is assuming a quality of happiness-that despite such negative conditions slowly improving around him that he can harness that inner assumption of joy within him to instill those feelings in others. After all,what is more satisfying than feeling genuinely hopeful and optimistic? That’s part of what people need to make conditions in the world better. And Pharell’s song “Happy” appears to be effecting that kind of change in many different people-including myself and my family. I thank Pharrell for his message of goodwill to music lovers everywhere,and hope people continue to heed and take creative inspiration from his vision!

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Filed under Blues, Funk, Jazz, Motown, Pharrell Willaims, Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archive for April 12’th,2014: Herbie Hancock’s ‘Sunlight’

                In tribute to one of my favorite musical artists-the multi talented pianist,keyboardist,bandleader and composer Herbie Hancock (who turns 74 years old today),I am presenting a review of an album he recorded 36 years called ‘Sunlight’. With the the emergence of contemporary artists such as Dam Funk, Tensnake and Daft Punk all exploring new realms of the electronic fusions of jazz,disco and boogie funk? Its important to note that during the disco era of the late 1970’s,Herbie Hancock was already innovating that direction already. As an artist with classical training as well as a strong understanding of the regal and truly free nature of Latin and African rhythms in his entire career,Herbie Hancock probably understands the progression of jazz into the era of electronics more than any artist since his mentor and bandleader Miles Davis.  The fact that he was also an engineer helped enhance this conception. So enjoy my review. Thank you!

Sunlight

Following his 1976 album with the Headhunters Secrets,Herbie Hancock elected to reform the remainder of the Miles Davis 60’s era Quintet for the album VSOP,who managed to actually record several albums and make more than one appearance despite what their name stood for. Still completely unfettered by music writers and critics frustrations (as they’d had with Miles earlier on) at Hancock refusing to stick to only one variation of jazz,the artist himself decided to expand on the Headhunters-replacing a departed Mike Clark with Leon Ndugu Chancler along with Harvey Mason and with Ray Parker Jr. and Wah Wah Watson remaining guitar players. For this album Herbie,likely aware he was not the strongest of singers decided to add his own vocals to this album-which is the first time he actually would do so. This was accomplished,as stated on the back of this album with the Sennheiser VSM-201 Vocoder,which would allowed Herbie’s voice to be encoded digitally through a special mic and played back as a completely synthesized vocal on a keyboard. This would have been the keyboardists equivalent of the guitar talk box. And with this new addition to his instrumental arsenal Herbie’s music began to make some exciting and spirited changes yet again

The album begins with two pieces over 8 minutes long. It opens with “I Thought It Was You”,an example of a rather innovative and un-commercial song that was actually quite a chart success. Its a wonderful melody built around a “funk functioning for the disco floor” type rhythm that also has a strong big band swing horn orchestration. Herbie plays some amazing Fender Rhodes solos in this song and at different intervals and breaks,layers himself scatting in different tonal colors through his new Vocoder. Its one of Hancock’s most vital compositions melodically and instrumentally as well as being one of the most important songs of that era in many ways. “Coming Running To Me” follows with breezier Brazilian fusion type shuffle with Herbie almost chanting some of the vocal lines almost in the manner of some of the Buddhist mediation he was engaging in at the time along with the main melody. The title is a beautifully melodic,high stepping funk piece-very much in mind of a Headhunters song circa 1975 only with a lead vocals and a more otherworldly use of Vocoder. “No Means Yes” starts out as a super melodic Samba played on polyphonic synthesizer before converting back to heavy Headhunters type funk for the refrains. “Good Question” brings in Tony Willians and the incomparable bassist Jaco Pastorius for an intense,rigid acoustic number almost in the mind of one of Miles’ 60’s Quintet’s more intense moments and that of VSOP. There’s also a lot of European classic theatrics in the playing,as well as a strong Afro-Latin percussion sound and Arabic melodic theme.

I first purchased this album at an enormous vinyl warehouse in Rochester,New York in 1998. I played the vinyl so often in such a concentrated time,it got worn after only about a decade. Its back cover depicting Herbie playing his vast array of synthesizers still hangs on my wall. Having purchased for the second time (due to a theft) this album on CD, this is one of the albums that I’ve heard that gets continually more brilliant each time I hear it. Recorded during the height of the disco era,most of this music is uptempo and extremely funky in the classic Headhunters tradition. At the same time,the addition of the Vocoder (which by the way has instrumentally as much in common with today’s autotune devices as Chess does with Tic Tac Toe) creates an entirely new futurist environment which enhance Herbie’s vocals on this album-giving them a surreal and very cosmic quality. For someone who isn’t a singer by trade,Herbie takes some enormous vocal chances here still-often stacking multiple layers of his Vocoderized vocalese and scatting to great a vast vocal polyphony that,while a deep source of inspiration for funk and jazz minded electronica artists such as Daft Punk,are still very much ahead of their time even from this original form. All the material here emphasizes Herbie’s exceptional talent at using his diverse synthesizers and pianos to create wonderfully hummable and improvised melodies while remaining firmly locked into the percussively rhythmic funk grooves that permeate this album. As such this album is a direct link musically between his Headhunters era jazz-funk sound and his more futuristic sound to come. So not only does this emerge as one of his strongest albums,and he has many,but also one of the most important transitional steps in his long and successful musical career.

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Filed under 1970's, Disco, Electronica, Funk, Herbie Hancock, Late 70's Funk, Music Reviewing

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/11/14 Rique’s Pick: “Magnificent” by Steve Arrington & Dam-Funk

 

Steve Arrington and Slave, are one of the more underappreciated pure funk groups from a pop standpoint. However, in Urban communities, for a certain late Baby Boomer and early Gen X funk audience, they’re right up there at the top with Prince, Rick James, Cameo, and others who were hot in the late ’70s and ’80s. Lead vocalist Steve Arrington originally joined the group as a drummer, but his unique nasally, well enunciated vocals were discovered during the recording of Slave’s 1979 disco-funk classic, “Just a Touch of Love.” Arrington went on to make several important records himself, including “Weak at the Knees” and “Dancing in the Key of Life.” Arrington is a first rate drummer, of a heavy jazz fusion bent, and his vocals are very unique, influencing such later day artists as Keith Sweat. Arrington is also a pastor and imparts a positive, upbeat spiritual message to everything he does, encouraging and uplifting people.

Dam Funk of Stones Throw Records, the master of a genre he’s innovating called “modern funk”, did an album this past year with Arrington.  The album is a triumph of fat bottomed, big beat, West Coast funk, with Arringtons nasally, silky, langourous vocals motivating, serenading, and persuading. Dam Funk’s funk is clearly a West Coast vibe, and extension of the G Funk of Dr. Dre, DJ Pooh, Battlecat, Above the Law, E-40 and Too $hort, all West Coast Hip Hop artists who used instrumental funk to back up their raps, based on the late ’70s synthesizer “video game sound” of P-Funk, the music of Roger and Zapp, and several other artists who’s sound made up a transitional early ’80s funk sound called “Boogie”, a bridge between the disco-funk of the late ’70s and the electro-funk and freestyle of the mid to late ’80s.

“Magnificent” is a dreamy, heavenly ode to a special lady from Steve Arrington and Dam-Funk’s album, “Higher.” The track begins with a big, solid drum beat, reminiscent of a fat boogie beat like One Way’s classic, “Cutie Pie.” The hi hats play what I call a ‘Time Bomb’ pattern, tight, ticking 8ths, like the O’Jays intro to “Give the People What the Want”, minus the washed out reverb. Over the phat drumbeat, Dam-Funk layers his trademark synth pads, a bright, beautiful sound of discovery and new dawns. Dam Funk uses this pad sound to play the chord progression for the song, but it’s very dreamy and functions as sound as well as music. The connection is also there to the modern “chill” movement. It’s a sound very reminiscent of the Los Angeles life and sunshine.  The song also features the hallmark of the West Coast sound, fat analog bass. The groove is one that is great for getting going in the early morning or cruising around town with the top down.

Steve Arrington uses his plain, direct, well spoken lyrical style, articulated in his classy, well pronounced, crooning vocal manner. It’s a song of praise that is old school in it’s approach, how many R&B artists praise women these days? But it also has that modern edge Arrington has always had, “You know you treat your homie like a King/You know I treat my shorty like a queen”, “you’ve got that way/with so much swag/what can I say.” It works instead of falling flat because Arrington is a cool uncle, compared to other funk stars who’ve passed on to being father, even grand father figures. Arrington even delivers a spoken interlude toward the end where he rips off synonymous superlatives for “magnificent”, like “indefatigueable.” Most def a lesson in many ways.

Arrington and Dam Funk are doing a great thing here. The song is laid back Cali vibe , as is most of the album, and I was hoping for a little more of the dry, driving funk Arrington delivered on songs such as “Weak at the Knees.” But stylistic parsing of hairs aside, the pair deliver the goods in a positive, funky, chill way. Their album should be in the possession of anybody who needs good, positive kicking it music!

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Filed under Blogging, Funk, Late 70's Funk, Music, Music Reviewing

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/11/14: Andre’s Pick-Ronnie Laws “Live Your Life Away”

The entire purpose of this column began as a means by which to showcase the presence of funk,in its many forms,within music released just before or after the new millennium. In the case of today’s song,I am making a huge exception. The reason for this is to make a point about the message behind funk music itself and how it effects people in society. The message in the music is a very liberating one. So often one hears songs such as Earth Wind & Fire’s “Singasong”,Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” or Kool & The Gang’s “Love And Understanding”  and has a romantic vision in their minds of the 1970’s as being a thoroughly incredible time frame. I include myself in having has such visions.

Historically however,the 70’s decade had many similarities to today. The Watergate scandal created mass cynicism about political change for the better among a generation,an fuel shortage made transportation and even the pressing of vinyl albums themselves a difficult matter and poverty continued to broaden across America. That presumed “incredible time” comes from the fact that the popular culture,the funk era in particular,responded generally with hope for the future and encouragement for the present after the more paranoid outlook of The O’Jays “Backstabbers” or Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes”. And I cannot think of a song that encompasses this ethic much better than Ronnie Laws’s “Live Your Life Away”.

Musically the song,produced by EWF’s Larry Dunn and featured on the end of Laws’ 1978 album Flame,the song is instrumentally an very encompassing mixture of the sleekly produced band sound that one would hear from an EWF recording. On the other hand the instrumentation is based around a glistening,high pitched and chiming synthesizer solo with a strong and slinky bass synth set both beneath and all around it. So in terms of the playing style in general, the approach is a lot closer to that of Stevie Wonder-all coming together for that synergy that create an instrumental stamp unique for Ronnie Laws’ music. On the other hand on the chorus,the chords of the songs change to a basic blues hook-matched by the smooth 12-bar blues guitar riff courtesy of EWF supplicant,the late Roland Bautista. This perfect matches the duel nature in the mood of this song.

And this songs duel lyrical nature comes from the lyrics. On the rather melodically bright vocal refrains,the message is one that is sorely needed from popular music in today’s workaminute world-basically to “push ahead but don’t move too fast” and that people can spend too much energy and time “pursuing pleasures that really never pay”. The songs message is not only uplifting but extremely practical as it encourages balance over struggle,genuine relief of stress over denial. At the same time the chorus warns that this is so important to do because “you can live your life away”-instrumentally accompanied by the classic blues riff. And though this song represented something of a “so long” to the original funk era? It is the idea instrumental and lyrically conceptual funk direction for modern musicians to take in a society where the extremes of apathy and frustration and strong allegiances to social/political parties offered up as a confusing mixed message. As George Clinton said, funk not only moves but can remove. And today this type of groove would be just what the doctor ordered.

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Filed under 1970's, Disco, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Jazz, Late 70's Funk, Ronnie Laws, Stevie Wonder

Record Store Stories: A Sunny April Afternoon From Behind The Racks

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Today I decided that instead of offering up another volume of my Amazon Archive column, it would behoove me to take this time to introduce a somewhat less regular segment that may have the effect of enhancing the overall content of this blog.  Also it is nearly National Record Store Day,so it seemed appropriate to celebrate that somehow. As with many people in today’s world, I do some shopping online. Especially rare music-usually on Amazon.com, Ebay or reissue labels such as Wounded Bird or Funkytowngrooves. However with the return of the brick and mortar record stores within the last decade or so? My interest in perusing record shops,which has always been part of the musical experience for me,has been revived to an enormous degree. In this column, both myself and Henrique have the opportunity to discuss meaningful trips to record stores. In particular the locally owned ones I just spoke about. On a personal level? I will be avoiding any of the cynical, lovelorn’d  cliches of the stereotypical dysfunctional record collector/music admirer. Of course that having a lot to do with that stereotype having nothing to do with myself. So without further ado, here is such a story that happened less than a day ago from this writing.

Recently I had been browsing through my vinyl collection-much of which is in plastic crates in the basement of my family with whom I live, to see if there were any records that could eliminated from the collection as I had replaced them with CD versions. Please note that I collect vinyl based primarily on availability,not on credibility or any musical format elitism. I managed to collect about twenty records that matched this criteria in my hand. Carrying them up from the basement into the back of one of our family cars was literally a heavy load. With my parents work schedules being so intense and my emphasis on photography during this much anticipated springtime? It was finally bought to my attention by family that these vinyl records were taking up valuable space in the back trunk of the car. And that something should be done with them. For a short time I considered selling the lot on Ebay. But their selling policies have become so convoluted, to the point where you actually have to pay unless your item(s) sell, that it was having them assessed at the local vinyl buying record store would be the way to go.  And luckily I’d be right on time to have access to such a thing.

MINNIE Teddy PendergrassWhat Time Is It                     michael-jackson-forever-michael

Above is a sampling of some of the album covers to the records that I was looking to give away or sell off. I elected to go to the the record store who sign you see pictured above you-as it’s currently the nearest available and the one of which I am most familiar in the long term. In its previous location in the collage town of Orono,where it’d been for over a quarter of a century, Dr.Records has turned out to be the picture of endurance. Once a thriving haunt for record buyers and collectors during the 1980’s and into the early 90’s, it continued to operate well into the new millennium in this location selling used vinyl,45’s,cassette tapes and CD’s. But at the time it was located in the basement of another building and wasn’t greatly accessible to many people. On February 7th of this year, the stores owner Don Menninghaus moved the store to a new location on Hammond Street in Bangor. Its a far more centralized area-near the highway enough for both people from nearby towns and even tourists will have access to it. This new location is a much brighter and exciting looking place-with a distinctly 60’s/70’s era independent record store flavor about it with eye catching record sleeves and posters displayed on the walls.

At first,I was very concerned that Mister Menninghaus would have little to no interest in the lot of 70’s and 80’s era soul/funk/jazz/R&B vinyl I was trying to unload. There is a feeling this genre spectrum is not a huge seller in this area. Even on vinyl. Luckily when I entered the store yesterday afternoon, I was instantly greeted by the sounds of the song “Cane” from the 1978 Gill Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson album Secrets,which Don Menninghaus was playing on his turntable. So that helped me to feel more at ease. Because of my discomfort with the situation? It was my own mother who actually used her stronger business acumen to ask Don if was interested in any of the records. For his part? He set aside a small stack of several records from my lot,including the ones you see above you and offered $10 dollars for them. By that time I had been browsing the bins and found a new stack of vinyl to buy from him. In the $1.99 bins (always my favorite spot to find funk and soul vinyl generally),I noticed two collage age men looking through the bin and snickering at the very idea of albums by Little River Band and Pablo Cruise being in that bin alongside some early 80’s post punk records. Realizing Don Menninghaus is ever the reserved baby boomer? The generational difference between the quit,thoughtful store owner playing Gill Scott-Heron on his turntable and the display of the 90’s “credibility war” mentality from the two customers told its own meaningful story.

Upon checking out with Don,he immediately took interest in one of the vinyl records I was buying and this led into a discussion of our mutual admiration for the documentary film 20 Feet From Stardom, in particular the presence of the strong musical personality Merry Clayton. Don also inquired as to how my own personal music demos were going, something even I’d forgotten had been discussed with him. On that note he also mentioned that a recent record seller from Oregon had unloaded  a number of vinyl albums that he thought I would be very interested in. These were all late 70’s funk albums that were in very good condition and by and large included the original sleeves as well. Although I did spend probably more money that I ever had on vinyl yesterday? It was more than worth it-considering the relative unavailability of a lot of these records and the amount of time I’d been searching for them. In the end, this trip to the record store was not only successful for my own purposes. But also led to some very positive conversations with the store owner and the opportunity to tap my feet to Gill Scott-Heron’s “Third World Revolution” while looking at the vinyl at the store.  Not to mention Don’s understanding,after knowing me most of my life, in my established musical interests. It was a wonderful revelation that, even in an area such as this where rugged individualism is often more celebrated than anything else? That something like music can create bridges of understanding between people.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Funk, Jazz, Maine, Music, Record Store Day, Record Stores, Soul, Vinyl