Monthly Archives: May 2014

Andre’s Amazon Archive for May 31’st,2014: Jamiroquai’s ‘Synkronized’

Synkronized

 

Following the success of “Virtual Insanity” Jamiroquai’s Travelling Without Moving album became something of a blockbuster,spinning off hit after deserving hit during 1997,even culminating in a successful non album single Deeper Underground from Godzilla: The Album. Than suddenly that convergence of new and vibrant creative energy of the mid 1990’s began to dissipate as time passed. Not only was a century about to turn but a millennium was too. So by decades end the MTV roster and radio that Jamiroquai were champions of for a time was suddenly beginning the first waves of success from the likes of Backstreet Boys,Britney Spears,Hansen,N’Sync and the actually musically deserving Spice Girls had by this point come and gone. Pop had caught a heavy case of neophilia and wasn’t letting go. So when this follow up arrived to what should have been great anticipation and fan fare….it sank almost into commercial oblivion and would be largely forgotten stateside for many years. But this would emerge as what might actually,to this point anyway since they are still recording,Jamiroquai’s finest and most fully musically realized album. They sure had a lot of creative inspiration. Pop music was witnessing the official ending of the age of the artist,extending from the 60’s into the 90’s and into the modern era. A time that dominated by the peak of internet obsession,when the term “.com” was still a buzz word and where visual media was at a primary. In the meantime,for those mostly musical types still paying Jamiroquai close attention things were just getting better.

From start to finish this is their most glossily produced album of the decade. But the finery in which this music was constructed and the extremely well oiled grooves are what makes this. “Canned Heat” comes straight out of their classic disco dance/funk sound and was actually something of a commercial success too,taking on a Chic-like witty look at modern dance culture. Interestingly enough songs such as “Planet Home” as well as “Destitute Illusion” and “Supersonic”,with their heavy reliance on scratching and break beats sport are the first Jamiroquai songs to really acknowledge the early 80’s hip-hop/DJ scene that inspired young Jay Kay to begin with. However that 70’s funk band flavor is still paramount. “Black Capricorn Day” brings a hot and heavy Sly inspired horn/phased electric rhodes piano sound to the mix. “Falling” has that great softly jazz funk flavor to it. “Soul Education” is one of those hits that never happened. Great jazzy guitar line,floating rhythm make it Jamiroquai styled sophistifunk of the best kind. Pitty it was a forgotten album track. Hard to be subjective on that one. “Butterfly” takes on a similar flavor with one of the most elaborate melodic constructs they’d ever had.Of course in terms of melody the harpsicord sounding closer “King For A Day” isn’t a bad shot at repeating that feat. “Where Do We Go From Here” has a heavy late 70’s Quincy/MJ style dance flavor to it and is one of the most well crafted jams here.

In every possible way Jamiroquai were an unqualified musical success of the 1990’s. They dared to be different in a time when pop music was becoming sanctioned into so many subdivisions and schools,it began to seem unapproachable. They also helped to make clear how potent,important,beautiful and underappreciated 70’s funk/soul/disco music was in all it’s many forms. Yes there were always those types who will accuse the band,more notably Jay Kay for “faking the funk”. But frankly that’s basically yet more media credibility,not music. I doubt George Clinton coined that phrase back in the day so some critics could use it to hate on what they didn’t like and appreciate. It’s too bad though that,when Jamiroquai seemed to have hit the highest end of their peak with this album that hardly anyone paid attention. If they had,the pop music landscape wouldn’t have been in the confused dire straits it was in in the first decade or so of the millennium. Creatively and musically speaking,the 2000’s would not prove as potent and consistent a time for Jamiroquai as they seemed to slowly abandon their close knit band mentality in favor of retreating into the backround as Jay Kay and his own musical interests seemed to take presidents. I don’t know how or why this happened. But only now is that being somewhat remedied. While it’s doubtful Jamiroquai themselves will ever make anything this creatively vital again,this is truly an inspiration for bands that,during difficult times in music,being yourself will eventually work to your advantage.

Originally Written On December 30th,2011

*Here is the original review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R270E7ST7HQJ6Y/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00000J7SR&nodeID=5174&store=music

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Filed under 1990s, Acid Jazz, Amazon.com, Disco, Electronica, Funk, Funk Bass, Jamiroquai, Late 70's Funk, Music Reviewing, Stevie Wonder

The Anatomy of THE Groove 5/30/14 Rique’s Pick : “On the One” by the RH Factor

Texan Trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s “RH Factor” band/project was one of the most interesting and consistent funk projects of the ’00s. Hargrove has made a name for himself as a trumpet leader who performs music in a wide variety of contexts. He won a Grammy in 1998 with his Afro Cuban band, Crisol, and participated in D’Angelo’s seminal funky neo-soul classic, “Voodoo.” “On the One” is a bumping, hand clapping summertime funky song, perfect for both twilight dance scenes filmed with old 8mm camera’s at summertime cookouts and driving down the cost. The song is written and sung by RH Factor vocalist and keyboardist Renee Nuefville. Nuefville is the RH Factor vocalist but she was also a member of the great ’90s group Zhane.

The tune establishes it’s dreamy summertime feel right from the start with an 8 bar intro that sets up the mood. The drums hit softly on the kick drum for all four beats of the measure, as the bass riffs very melodic lines. A clavinet is also in play, delivering very vocal, wah wah accented rhythmic lines. The main  feature is a little melodic fragment, very syncopated and sing songy, played on a keyboard, that sets up a call and response relationship with a musician on the flute. The pattern is only three notes, played in a syncopated rhythm, with the keyboard playing and the flute echoing the phrase in the next bar. This cheerful, melodic, almost Seaseme Street like phrase will recur throughout the song. It also gives one a feeling of the sun on a bright new day, which is made clear when Nuefville begins her vocals, “It’s a new day”.

Once the song has woken up so to speak, it wakes up with a thunderous funk swagger. The drum beat hits with simple, solid, steady, two and four drumming, supported by a rarity now days, real live hand claps. The bass line is a beauty, and the anchor of the song. It’s a monsterous classic ascending funk pattern, playing a stomping ascending line in one bar, and a sparser, accenting pattern in the second and final bar of the phrase. This bass line does not change for the song, simply dropping in and out during certain dreamy sections. The combination of the bass line, handclaps and keyboard tones all intensify the summer time swagger of the song. One of the textures that makes RH Factor unique and different from the typical R&B production you’d hear on the radio is the support and comping of Roy Hargrove’s trumpet. Hargrove plays around Nuefville’s vocals, blowing supporting riffs and tones, in the tradition of Louis Armstrongs comping with Bessie Smith. It reminds me of Miles Davis saying he didn’t play “over” a singer, rather playing a little before or a little after the singer delivers their line.  Nuefville sings a song of a relationship that is a bit astray, going through problems of communication. Periodically, the groove lets up to uncover the dreamy, wistful summer time flavor, at which point Nuefivlle says, “I really miss the days I used to talk to you.” Her solution? “Drop it on the One.”

“On the One” is interesting for using the funk terminology of “On the one” in a romantic context. Most of us of a certain age remember Malcom Jamal Warner as Theo’s phrase of “Jamming on the One” on the classic episode of The Cosby Show featuring the great Stevie Wonder. And we know “The One” is the key beat in funk, and the centerpiece of the musics ability to capture hearts and booties, upheld primarily by James Brown. George Clinton expanded the metaphor from music into a call for social harmony, and here Rene Neufville and the RH Factor bring that into the specific context of a harmonious relationship.

Hargrove plays some brash trumpet calls around 3:17 into the song, making you think he’s going to play a flame throwing trumpet solo, but instead, mellowing out into trumpet riffs that support the overall groove. One of the interesting things about playing funk for jazz musicians, is that the service of a groove requires even more humility than the group improvisations of jazz often times. Jazz rhythm section people might be used to this, but the trumpet by its nature is an instrument that stands out. Hargrove however, has no problem on the RH Factor recordings sublimating his horn to the groove, as he does beautifully on the fadeout of “On the One”. The song vamps out for two minutes on the end, and Hargrove plays both harmonized horn parts and beautiful, softly blown melodies.

“On the One” is a very special song that merges a great feel good, get down groove with a wistful, romantic song of longing, and resolution of that longing. The RH Factor proves itself to be a very unique and versatile group with the ability to communicate in multiple ways, both musically and lyrically. Very soon after clearing the space to listen to this song, you may very well find yourself “On the One.”

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Filed under Blogging, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz, Late 70's Funk

Anatomy of THE groove 5/30/14 Andre’a Pick : “Sweet Thing” by Ashford & Simpson featuring Maya Angelou

One of the most surprising musical moments of my life was when I was browsing through Bull Moose Records in Bangor and found a copy of an EP by Ashford And Simpson from 1996 featuring…Maya Angelou? I was so puzzled by the seemingly odd creative fit that I avoided the album time and time again. Yesterday I was met with the unfortunate news that Miss Angelou had passed away at the age of 1986. She was one of those individuals who had an amazing life-a black Silent generation woman who achieved an enormous level of literary respect on her own. And someone whose prose,verse,dignity and grace of person not only earned her much acclaim but was an enormous influence on the careers of many diverse figures-from Oprah Winfrey to Barack Obama. Realizing Motown being founded by a group of eager Silent generation artists looking to present music with grace and dignity? I suddenly realized just how appropriate Maya’s collaboration with Nick & Val was. Especially upon hearing their song together entitled “Sweet Thing”.

The song opens musically with an echoing, Clavinet like synthesizer that rings out a tinkling blues riff before the drums kick in and this foot stomping rhythm & blues shuffle kicks in,full of hard gospel/soul style horns and a thumping bass-all with a slickly contemporary production twist of course. Nick and Valerie start in by alternately harmonizing on what begin as passionately romantic lyrics that have that great storytelling quality that most classic Motown songs possessed. After their their harmonized chorus,Maya chimes in offering her own spoken word impressions of a similar impulse. She utilizes her imagistic metaphors,which would not be out of place had they actually come from the pen of a Smokey Robinson. A favorite lyrical aspect of Maya’s part of the song for me is when she says “when the world asks me what’s my favorite film,I say St.Louis Blues and he plays it a little” . She goes on to say “If someone asks me how to call your name,your a riff by Bird and solo by John Coltrane,your the whole Misssissippi river the the whole coast of Maine”

The lyrical imagery that Maya Angelou bought to this song enhances the fact that this is actually extremely hard driving,high quality funky music-especially for its era. During the mid 1990’s,many Silent generation veteran musicians were rather concerned with sounding “new” rather than being true to themselves. A trend that continues to this day to  a degree. While musical styles of past decades accomodated many generations? The post hip-hop world was a bit more fickle in that regard. What Maya Angelous and Ashford & Simpson did on this song was not only modernize classic shuffling rhythm & blues music,by that time largely a brand name whose true meaning seemed lost,and looked to remind a younger and often more profane youth culture that the concerns of the three generations of black people living at the time were not as divergent as they seemed to be . While Maya herself could politely ask her friend Richard Pryor to leave her home due to his profane language? She also realized that romance and hope were something that would far outlast one rather cynical age. And both musically and lyrically,this song with Ashford & Simpson bought that to the table when it was perhaps most needed. Both the late Nick Ashford and Maya Angelou will be missed,yet their legacy together as artists will remain in works such as this

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Filed under 1990s, Ashford & Simpson, Funk, Funk Bass, Generations, Maya Angelou, Motown, Poetry, rhythm & blues

Andre’s Amazon Archive for May 24th,2014: Labelle’s ‘Back To Now’

Back To Now

            Obviously many classic soul lovers have been awaiting this for a very long time-finally Sarah Dash and the incomparable Nona Hendryx team back up with the now solo diva Patti Labelle for a full fledged reunion. ‘Back To Know’ features the production help of both “contempo” musicians Wyclef Jean and Lenny Kravitz along with old Labelle pals Gamble & Huff for this gutsy,funky soul fest-full of those high energy gospel shouts and harmony’s that Sarah,Nona and Patti can give us. All of the songs are excellent-even “Rollout”;the only cut obviously designed to “reach the kids” of the new millennium with it’s bass heavy hip-hop/pro-tools softwhere sound. Aside from that all of the music here could easily have been ripped from a late 70’s follow up to Labelle’s last album Chameleon (a classic more then worth hunting down);”Candlelight”,”Superlover” and “System” all explore the waters of soul,gospel drenched R&B and hardcore funk before each tune is out. Lenny Kravitz’ presence makes itself clear on “Truth Will Set You Free”,a tough funk rocker reminding us not only that Labelle were one of the earliest female groups to combine funk and rock but that none of that spark has faded with time or separation.

            Even if the music world of today welcomes them the world Labelle are making a comeback in has changed dramatically. We’ve moved way beyond Marvin Gaye’s concerns about an “overcrowded land” with “fish full of mercury”;we have global warming,a disintegrating economy and paranoia about terrorism. In their tradition Labelle over up almost half an albums worth of messages songs,all with a different motivation-in “Tears For The World” documents in traditional funk message song style a litany of todays problems and our unexpected apathy towards them;that maybe showing feeling might bring people to act.”Dear Rosa” is a tribute to the late civil rights pioneer-thanking her for her efforts but somberly pointing out that she died before you dream was fully realized. On “How Long” and “Miss Otis Regrets” stories of triumph and wonder prevail and we as the listener really feel we’ve experienced something magical,and we have. It would be a pity if this was the last we heard of Labelle as a unit but if it is this would be a worthy,if long long delayed,goodbye.

Originally Posted On October 21st,2008

*Here is the original review on Amazon as well:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R55XEUEI3M0CD/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B001E2PTIG

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Filed under Disco, Funk, New Orleans, Patti Labelle, Rhythm, Soul

Anatomy of THE groove 5/23/14 Rique’s Pick : “Radio Song” by Esperanza Spalding

I can see why jazz purists like Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis get upset when artists like Esperanza do funky music like this. In the commentary of music purists such as those two esteemed examples, there is always a sense of the old black musical critical trope of, ” (artist) sold their soul to the Devil, for commercial success. The reason Spalding’s “Radio Music Society” is such a gift to the worlds of pop and R&B, as her overall career is to jazz, is it is truly rare to get an attractive, well educated, instrumentally talented, young vocalist who plays upright and electric bass and knows music well enough to teach at Berklee College of Music, to come into the popular imagination.  During the 1980s a musician/singer as pretty as Esperanza might be advised by the record labels to deemphasize her bass playing, in favor of pre fab beats by the hot producer of the moment. It might be a sign of this type of musics water in the desert quality that she has been able to do her thing without much hinderance. This weeks Anatomy of THE groove pick, “Radio Song, is a jazz-funk throwback that speaks to the power of a simple, good song on the radio to change a persons attitude and mood, therefore changing their day, and in a small way, their life. Spalding uses her unique talents to deliver one of the first songs in true ’70s jazz-funk style I’ve heard in a while, that mixture of jazz, funk, soul and pop that is more song oriented than the musician and rock and roll oriented genre of “fusion.”

The song begins with an intro of shakers and two tracks of Spalding’s wordless vocalizing, singing a playful little melody. The shaker percussion and melody set the song up into a playful, melodic Afro-Latin groove. From there, the bass line kicks in that will define “Radio Song”, but which will no means be played straight through the whole tune. Esperanza plays an extremely funky jazzy bassline, , that makes up what it lacks in notes in slick, rhythmic and melodic sophistication. The bass line is partially chromatic, and uses approach notes to get to its target tones which are the key, standout notes of the line. The bass line too has an Afro-Latin feel to it’s funk, very slinky, most defintitely inspiring movement in the lower back regions. This bass line is basically the main motif of the song, along with Esperanza’s melodies. The bass line represents the “radio song” and that irresistable musical hook that makes a song a hit that sticks in ones mind.

She goes on to tell a story, supported in the video, of a person stuck in traffic, or at work, who turns on the radio, either out of boredom, or a search for a relief. “Somehow he feels it/the DJ at the station/sends sweet salvation”, the DJ at the radio station is a conspiritor int he grand scheme to brighten your day. She sings of how the DJ puts on a song that will “lift your spirits”, a song that you have never heard before but you keep “Singing along”. I think that’s extremely slick and superior song writing on Esperanza’s part. And it also comes from her musical training and jazz background, as well as her background as a listener to music. She speaks to the musical technique’s of writing, and that a skilled writer of music, can make a song you’re hearing for the first time sound like one you’ve already lived with, by the apt use of structure, bridges, melody, hook, chorus, etc. Which is exactly what she does in this song.

She uses a different bassline for the verse, a spare bass line that covers the chord roots with a bossa nova feel. The song alternates between four bars of this line and four bars of the “Radio Song” jazz bass. Around 2:10 the tune goes into a free time passage, with the horns riffing and one horn soloing behind her, the bass walking 4’s, and the drums playing rhythms in a free style. This lasts until 2:57, when the main riff returns. One interesting thing that differentiates the main riff on the chorus and the verse is the jazzy latin style rhythmic piano that backs the bass line on the chorus. Around 4:55 there is a nice piano solo section, where the pianist does a good job of cordinating chordal hits in their left hand with runs and scale lines in the right.

“Radio Song” is a delightful, well composed, bouncy, funky single. The melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and lyrical content are definitely sorely needed on today’s radio stations. Esperanza, like Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, and Minnie Riperton before her, elevates the genre of R&B in this song by virtue of her vast musical training and experience. It’s a thing that used to be common in R&B, as the funk and soul also serve to make all that jazz technique RELEVANT to things people are living and grooving to TODAY.  Her song is very clever in it’s lyrical thrust as well as it’s sneaky, sexy groove. Once again, I have to mention my local station KBLX. I can really imagine this on KBLX in the old days, a station on which I heard many jazz-funk releases. Whether or not contemporary outlets play it or not is their problem however, as on my side, I’m convinced “this song’s the one.”

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Filed under 1970's, Earth Wind & Fire, Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Funk Bass

Anatomy of THE Groove 5/23/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Losing You” By Solange’

Being the youngest sister in a musical family can be a challenge. You can ask Janet Jackson,Pat Sylvers DeRusso. And today it would be Solange Knowles. Stereotypically she has always tended to be in Beyonce’s better promoted performance shadow-focusing on songwriting and musicianship to a stronger degree over Beyonce’s celebrity orientations. Sadly,Solange has entered into a controversy recently that could have the potential to spoil her strong reputation as a funky soul singer/songwriter. Personally? I feel these two factors which were just mentioned are interrelated. Yet during the course of this week as the matter involving her and her sisters marriage,which I refuse to get into here,has unfolded it seemed appropriate to do my own part to focus on Solange’s important musical accomplishments as opposed to any yellow journalism that currently follows behind her. And one of the best ways to do this is from a song she wrote and performed with her creative partner Dev Hynes in late 2012 called “Losing You”.

The song itself opens up with a swelling cornucopia of heavy African percussion,conga and bongo drums keeping time in a very polyrhythmic fashion to a very strident 4/4 “on the floor” style post disco beat. Weaving within this is an usual sound,perhaps percussion or a keyboard,that sounds something like a cross between children at play or tweeting birds. It has a very strong Brazilian effect either way. After a couple refrains of this a polyphonic synthesizer comes into the song bringing the melody. It’s soon joined by a thick,phat and popping bass line and another synthesizer part providing an accent that has the sound of a glistening,ringing bell. Over this insistent groove Solange sings in her rich,expressive yet low key voice about breaking up with a lover who seems to be insisting that she is entirely at fault in the situation. By the end,she is still unsure. And the fact that instrumentation stays on the one so insistently illustrates this concept.

Musically speaking,this song is a vital extension on the dance sound Madonna had on her earliest hits-with Mtume’s Reggie Lucas involved. This songs particular variation on the boogie funk sound of the early 80’s does mirror a time when even MTV had to refer to Madonna’s early disco/funk/boogie hits as being “rock” to spike interests. What Solange and Dev add to this mix is heavily layered Afro-Latin percussion and effects-which were a huge part of disco era late 70’s funk as well. By her own admission Solange has devoted herself to carrying on in a slickly produced instrumental variety of funk/soul music from the late 70’s/early 80’s as the basis for her sound. And doing so by her own admittance due to the proliferation of “R&B-gone-electronic dance music tracks” and that it was “remarkable for what it suggests about the direction of pop music right now”.

Shooting the video in the shanty-like township of Lango in Cape Town,South Africa during her photo shoot for Elle magazine added to the strong sense of Afro Futurism that Solange is suggesting in the song. Especially with the extra’s decked out in the manner of Afrocentric fashionista’s and engaging in general friendly farce and horseplay with her. Solange Knowles is an important talent in terms of the live instrumental funk revival. And I fully support her musical and personal position in hypothetical concert with her more commercially popular sister. She represents one head of a two headed family hydra who both bring to mind different sides of the post feminist black female iconoclast. And with Solange zeroing in more on her instrumental musical concept? She surely has a strong future ahead of her.

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Filed under 1980's, Africa, Beyonce', Disco, Funk, Solange', Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: War’s ‘Evolutionary’ New Album!

War

In recent years its come to my knowledge that during the late 1990’s,War was splintered apart due to the fact that many of the original members wished to separate from their manager. And lead singer/multi instrumentalist Lonnie Jordan wished to remain. In the end it would up in a fashion: Lonnie and his new band maintained the War name while the original members began to tour as the Lowrider Band. So people looked up,and for all intents and purposes there were two War’s out there. And on the road pretty consistently. Sadly many of their admirers became bitterly disappointed at the supposed legal betrayal between Jordan and his former band mates-often citing that,since its instrumentalists who generally make or break singers in funk bands,that this was all an example of greedy committee thinking. Not even to mention Jordan’s own instrumental abilities. All of this of course occurring during what I refer to as an often bitter credibility war within the music industry as a whole.

Its only now that War have re-emerged with a new album that I had no idea was even coming until less than a month ago. It is packaged as a double album with their original Greatest Hits album-a long hoped for compilation for War admirers on CD. Many of the original bands’ supporters could interpret this as insult added to injury. But for me it represents equal time. And I refuse to get in the middle of the Lonnie Jordan/War schism which,I personally feel,was motivated largely by shifty and ear whispering lawyers anyhow. What matters to me is the music. And on that level there is much to take in here.

“That L.A. Sunshine” starts out the album with that Afro/Latin/Reggae type rhythmic pop bump that has the same type of bright beats and melodic flavor of War in their mid 1970’s prime. “Mamacita” is another type of sprightly groove that has a salsa/rock type flavor with a beeping,Clavinet type keyboard and featuring a guitar solo from Joe Walsh along with the brassy participation of the iconic Tower Of Power horns. “It’s Our Right/Funky Tonk” is an exciting early 70’s James Brown type slow grinding funk number (with a contemporary production twist),which by the end features a piano solo from Jordan inspired directly from The Godfather’s Sex Machine.

“Just Like Us” is a sweet,acoustically textured soul mambo type number while “Inspiration” throws down a rocking wah-wah powered psychedelic soul/funk groove where Lonnie personally thanks fans of War (in any configuration) for sticking by them over the years. “Scream Stream” musically and lyrically basically picks up where 1972’s “The Cisco Kid” left off-providing a complete musical continuity with War between what they did 42 years ago all the way up to today. “This Funky Music” is a strong,declarative statement of the vitality inside of the funk era music of which War were a huge participant-fusing together the the idea of needing to “dance off their frustrations” with an instrumental sound that has Prince’s spare late 80’s funk sound very much in mind. Its one of my favorites here. “Outer Space” sounds very much like an orchestral modern hip-hop/soul type number with the lush cinematic harmonies of War taking high presidents.

A retooling of Edwin Star’s huge Motown hit with “War/War After War (A Soldiers Story)” showcases a half sung spoken narrative illustrating themes similar to what Stevie Wonder focused in on with his Front Line-difference being its a more contemporary setting of a disabled veteran returning from the Iraq war to face unemployment and hardship. The presence of the USC Trojan Marching Band really adds instrumental tonality to the concept as well. The industrial soundscape of “Bounce” and the theatrical arena sounds of “Everything” embrace the mid/late 90’s alternative rock style (ironically of the era in which War were absent as a recording entity) which aren’t bad but don’t mesh too well with War’s thematic approach to me. “It’s My Life” takes a more strident approach to contemporary funk/rock with a strangely self focused lyrical message while a bonus track of “That L.A Sunshine”,featuring comical inserts from Cheech And Chong rounds out the album.

Overall this album really embodies the spirit of war-whoever happens to be credited with that name at any given time. A few songs even feature some contemporary touches such as the rapping of LA Flats,whose apparent East LA style meshes well with the bands flavors. Mainly they’ve kept their “afrolatinfunkadelic stew” sound very much intact here. And the couple of songs that embrace the darker side of the alternative rock sound are at least very dramatic and emotional. War’s colorful sound has always represented a unique sort of pan cultural American hybrid. They did for LA what Santana and Sly & The Family Stone did for the bay area. And with this quality album? I am hoping it’ll be well before two decades before the band deliver more new grooves and messages!

Originally Written Today

*Here is a link to my original Amazon.com review. Please like and comment on that review as well. Thank you!

http://www.amazon.com/review/R393FVAFDWRHCA/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

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Filed under 1970's, Funk, James Brown, LA, Music Reviewing, Psychedelia, Rhythm, Soul, War

Andre’s Amazon Archive for May 17th,2014: Incognito-‘Amplified Soul’

Amplified Soul

A Celebratory Album For Incognito!

When I first discovered Incognito when my own mother purchased their 1999 album No Time Like the Future album in a budget bin at the now defunct Wild Rufus records on Coastal Maine,who could’ve guessed that by that time there would be a decade or more of catching up to do with them. There was no internet in our household at that time. So all there was to pay attention to was the music. Since then I’ve been able to learn what a journeyman musicians career Bluey has had since he first recorded as Incognito in the early 80’s and reformed the outfit a decade later. I call them that because its never been a totally formalized band. Many members have come in and out over the years. Yet since 1991 they’ve maintained a very consistent schedule of album releases,touring and appearances on other artists records. They represent not only a modern day jazz-funk band,but a similar spirit to the originals in the sense that much of the “acid jazz” genre,which encompasses that ethic,seems to revolve around them in some kind of way. And here we are,its 2014 and Incognito are celebrating 35 years as an entity. And this album represents part of that big celebration.

Normally I’d start such a review discussing the pluses. However,just to get it out of the way “I Couldn’t Love You More”,”Rapture”,”Day Or Night”,”Another Way”,”I See The Sun” and “The Hands Of Time” are not only highly repetitive of one another,but also of the sort of major/minor chorded horn based mid-tempo grooves that seem to comprise the bulk of much of Incognito’s albums since the beginning of the millennium. That being said,they are all wonderfully played and performed. “Hands Up If You Want To Be Loved” mixes it up with a rhythmic lilt and a bit of a slick gospel drenched juke joint type piano. “Hats (Makes Me Wanna Holler)”,with its 60’s era Crusaders/Ramsey Lewis/Young Holt uptempo hand clap-powered gospel soul/funk just cannot help but bring to mind a musical response to Pharrell Williams newly iconic hit Happy. “Silver Shadow” is my favorite song on the album,with its powerfully melodic chorus and glistening,high pitched dyno’d electric piano chords right out of the early 80’s sophistifunk school the band themselves came out of to begin with.

“Day Or Night” has a jazzy neo soul flavor very much in the vein of a Jill Scott or Erykah Badu. “Something ‘Bout July” gets into a Stevie Wonder style Latin soul/funk samba type groove while “Wind Sorceress” again provides that hyper melodic stop/start sophistifunk groove on a more instrumental end of things. “Never Known A Love Like This Before” is one of their always strong disco friendly uptempo dance/funk scorchers “Stop Running Away” is a cinematic type groove with Bluey singing in a captivating (at least to me) choked Curtis Mayfield style falsetto. The title song,presented in two parts,also continues in the cinematic funk vein. This would’ve been a near perfect album in every way since there is an overriding Chitlin’ Circuit style of chunky,gospel drenched funky soul-jazz about some of these songs that showcase a new instrumental direction with Incognito. Not to mention the uptempo Afro-Latin style percussion dance/funk numbers are among their best. Maysa,while an asset,is not present here however this I have no trouble with. The only thing that detracts from this album is something they’ve tended to do a lot: rely too much of minor chorded mid-tempo grooves that sound similar and make the album go on somewhat longer than it may need to. Still that doesn’t take away too much from the fact they are still here. And make it clear they have intentions on innovating their music and perhaps learning from their creative missteps in their bright looking future to come.

Originally Reviewed…Today

*Here is a link to the original review on Amazon.com. Please view and comment on site as well. Thank you!

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1WZCFV6ZK936J/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00J6CGDFO

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Filed under Acid Jazz, Disco, Funk, Incognito, Jazz, Memphis Soul, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Pharrell Willaims, Soul, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove 5/16/2014 Andre’s Pick “Please Don’t Hurt My Baby” by Stevie Wonder

Ever since he unleashed his magnum opus Songs In The Key Of Life in 1976, Stevie Wonder’s musical output has been extremely erratic. During the 1980’s his admirers were now waiting several years between his new album releases. This culminated in the decade long absence after his 1995 album Conversation Peace. As the 1990’s dragged on with no new Stevie Wonder albums,I personally assumed by the turn of the century that he was basically retired from recording. At the time it seemed that some of the implicit edicts of rock writers of the 90’s declared that Wonder would not be allowed to do anything contemporary unless it fit with the hip-hop based soul/funk sub-genres popular at the time.

Stevie Wonder was always an artist who grew musically within the context of his own established compositional and rhythmic framework. And when that rhythm stiffened during the hip-hop era? I sadly assumed Stevie’s “place in the sun” had been co-opted. While I found much to enjoy in this modern sound as well? Stevie’s approach was starting to seem more and more important to popular music’s stalled progression at the time. After many false starts,his new studio album A Time 2 Love finally arrived in September 2005. And the song on the album that made the most immediate impact on me was “Please Don’t Hurt My Baby”.

Starting out with a tumbling rhythm,Stevie sings about “such a happy couple” whose relationship begins to disintegrate due to the fires of suspicion that begins to build up. Lyrically the rest of the song plays out the declaration of trust issues,and the fact that both parties should tell each other about their other suitors who are “just using them like a toy”. The refrains of the songs all feature that tumbling drum sound of the intro-making a very creative use of sampling as the Hannah Barbara cartoon-style percussive effect (used when a character would start running) shows up as a rhythmic element before the chorus comes in.

This chorus showcases Stevie’s trademark,grinding bass synthesizer playing very bluesy “Superstition”-style parts accentuated by bouncy,dancing horn charts and a choir of multi tracked Wonder vocals chanting “whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa” repeatedly-as if somewhat in shock of the affairs occurring out of the lyrics. The second refrain of the song,which also closes out the song,is the part where Wonder provides the solution to the lyrics dilemma, features Stevie’s well known slogging drum style punctuated only by demanding horn blasts and ending with a rather boastful chant of “WHO-HA,WHO WHO-HA!”.

Some online articles I’ve seen in passing seem to have suggested this song was based on a leftover jam from Stevie’s massive 1972 production that resulted in the albums Music Of My Mind and Talking Book. Indeed it is filled to the brim with instrumental and melodic references to both “Superstition” and “Sweet Little Girl”. So on that level? This song marks a full on return to strong live band type horn funk of Stevie’s early/mid 70’s heyday and a break from feeling as if he had to be musically “new” on any particular level. Lyrically this song could not be more on time. While romantic discord and betrayal had been a big part of Stevie’s lyricism through his salad days,it was on a more individual level.

The early 2000’s represented an American pop culture built around what many refer to as “trash TV”. So called reality shows that seemed to function only for the purpose of breaking up romantic relationships for the purpose of winning a contest had become convention. So had lie detector based talk shows regarding paternity tests. Stevie was setting the couple in this song within a modern sociological framework that seemed to be nothing but cynical and suspicious about romance. And through the happily yet trepidatiously   melodic funk of this song,advises honesty between people over any romantic types of conspiracy theories. It is romantically inclined funk with a modern message-with its “heard it through the grapevine” blues style lyrics and melody firmly updated for that contemporary ethic. And from where I stand? Just what Stevie’s inner Doctor Funkestein ordered!

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Filed under Blues, Funk, Funk Bass, Motown, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE groove 5/16/14 Rique’s Pick : “Good Kisser” by Usher

 

2013 was a great year for funky singles in the mainstream music world. Records like “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk ft Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams, and of course, the international smash “Happy” by Pharrell, carved out a strong place both on the dance floors, on peoples cell phones, and laptops and tablets, and at all sorts of social outings. They were ubiquitous enough to terrorize millenials weaned on auto tune and more rigid, computerized beats. I’d wondered for some time when one Usher Raymond would come on in and join this funky party. Ushers spent the better part of the past few albums chasing down European EDM dance while his blue eyed soul conterparts splashed torso deep into funk. Despite Ushers impressive career resume, outstanding charisma, and great dancing and vocal talent, I thought he’d forever be chained to the tastes of the teeny bopper side of the “urban” crowd, the one that votes your video to the top of BET’s 106th & Park.  I got a firm backhand from Mr. Raymond earlier this month when he released today’s fonky pick, “Good Kisser.”

“Good Kisser” is a dramatic, funky song of sensual romantic praise. It has a mean groove and is centered in its funky rhythms as Usher also puts on a clinic in various tonalities of soulful male vocals. The topic is pure sensual satisfaction, placing it in the line of many great soul songs of the past, including Ben E King’s “Supernatural Thing”, but that topic of sensual satisfaction, of a man giving praise instead of shaming for the sensual gratification he gets, is one that was once prevelant in R&B but has been far less so since Hip Hop’s locker room slut shaming came to predominate.

One of the first things I notice about the song musically is how heavy it is on the ONE, the first beat of the measure that provides a musical grounding point that James Brown told us was the most important beat and George Clinton expanded into a way of life. The song is built on this “ONE” centered drum and bass part. The drum simply plays kicks on the first beat and the third beats of the four four measure. There is no snare drum on the back beat, the “2” and “4”, in fact, for the whole song, there is no snare, saving the snare drum pick ups on the upbeat that lead our ears and bodies back to the “ONE.” The snare drum pick up, occuring on the upbeat of beat three, is matched by a low register, serious three note bass line. That bass line lands on the “ONE” of the next beat, sounding like a firm period at the ending of the sentence, or a word that contains the message of the beat. This upbeat drum pickup landing on the one sort of gives the song a funky West Indian or Carribean flavor. The bassline is the major motif of the song, as Usher builds vocal lines off the notes and the rhythm of this bassline later in the song. The drum beat and bass line continue the same way for the entirety of the song, as Usher adds different vocal textures, various chord progressions come in, and the basic drum beat is augmented with percussion, but the basic bass and drum motif remains unchanged, rigid, and marching on with an almost martial, military feel.

The scene is set by the four bar intro of the bass and drums, which gives you an expectant, almost cinematic military feel. This feel is rather enhanced in the music video as the music video takes place in a cold grey enviroment. Usher whispers romantic encouragements and flirtatious phrases during the intro. Following the intro, Usher sings in what is a new vocal tone for him to my ears, a funky, spoken/sung baritone. It takes both from classic funksters like Larry Blackmon (without the extra “ow”) and funky ’90s hip hop oriented singers like Portrait or BBD or Blackstreet. Usher uses this funky baritone to tell his lady (and by extension us) ” I Done been around the world/I Done kissed a lot of girls”. Right away he positions himself lyrically as a romantic lover of great experience, a grown man. That’s one of the things I like about this track, while so many in pop culture strain for youth today, Usher embraces a youthful but experienced lyrical perspective.

After 8 bars of that funky baritone, Usher gives us 8 bars of falsetto. The falsetto is right there on the sensual edge, like Marvin Gaye or Al Green, the sound of a man at HIS sensual edge. Then Usher comes with another vocal tone for the pre chorus, another baritone sound, but smoother than the rhythmic baritone of the verse. And I’m crazy about the way he begins it :

“The Devil is a Lie/ Them other girls/can’t compete with mine”

I dig the lyric so much because “The Devil is a lie” is a phrase you’ll hear all day among black evangelical thinking communities. I love Ushers usage of it in a “profane” sexual context though, which is a great part of the tradition of black music, the conversation between the spiritual and the sensual, as Ray Charles did way back on “I Got a Woman.” Usher uses it here to place his woman above any and all competition. The other thing I like is the vocals on this pre chorus are based around the rhythm and notes of the bass line. This pre chorus as well as the chorus also introduce harmony into the song, brightening it up with a jazzy chord progression, while the militant rhythm remains unabated. For the chorus itself, after so much rhythmic wordiness, Usher relaxes, one might say climaxing, simply singing “She’s such a good kisser” both in lead and harmony. Usher comes back after that with a powerful full voice vocal, building up to the gospel melismatic style. I like that. Oft times in R&B the last 20 years or so, singers have overdosed on runs before the song even starts. Here Usher builds up to the climax we all seek, and I think the song is much better for it.

I love the rhythmic orientation of the song as well as Usher’s vocal performance. He gives us baritone, falsetto, and his natural high tenor stretched out to the max, while also going between choppy rhythms and looser, more flowing parts. The song also revitalizes the classic R&B hallmark of double entendre, as he actually says in the song “Cant nobody kiss IT like you.” However, for those with virginous ears, they can simply choose to hear the rather benign “You’re such a good kisser.” But one day they will wonder why a grown man was singing about a woman being a good kisser with such passion and excitement!

One of the things that shows me Usher really has something with the song is the mixed responses to it on the net. There are some folks who totally get it, in the vein of “thats REAL music.” And there are other young people who simply dismiss it as, “It’s garbage” or “he could have done much better.” I think for the young, many of them don’t understand AT ALL the soul/funk/jazzy music practices Usher and crew are laying down here, nor the tradition of being right on the lines of nastiness in lyrical forthwrightness. I hope they get on board though, because Usher’s “Good Kisser” has the potential to be a game changer in a funky R&B sense. I also have to give props to my man for posing in the video playing the drum fill, which kinds of gives people a visual of how the music would LOOK being played. It’s early, but I might have found the song to give me my funky summer swagger.

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", Funk, Funk Bass, Marvin Gaye, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Radio, Rhythm, Soul