Monthly Archives: August 2014

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 8/30/2014- ‘Bad25” by Michael Jackson

Bad 25

 

One of the things that characterized this album in my personal family was that it was the first Michael Jackson album during his Quincy Jones era my family never had in the house growing up. One reason was a financial sacrifice of raising a child,and not buying much music. Somehow or other? I didn’t hear all that many of these songs first time around. No MTV in the house,wasn’t as focused on radio at this particular time due to the burgeoning matters of school and other things. It wasn’t until one beautiful summer day of 1994 did I purchase this album on a cassette tape and listened to it with my mom on the way back to our lakeside summer camp. It was already eight years old,and it was like hearing something almost totally new. A sad irony,that I’d become so disconnected with Michael Jackson’s music during the late 80’s and very early 90’s. Flash forward 18 years later. My friend and now blogging partner Henrique and I were talking about this album from a musicians perspective-basically on the level of MJ in the late 80’s becoming more focused on his performance than instrumental quality control. Shortly after that,Spike Lee produced a TV documentary about this album for its 25th anniversary. It really helped to put Mike’s creativity into a more musical and less of a performance perspective. It was accompanied shortly after by this special edition album-containing unreleased songs from the sessions. I greeted it with great enthusiasm. It would give me a chance to give a fresh new perspective on the album itself and even beyond. And that is what I am about to do right now.

The title song itself,intended as a duet with Prince,has a very strong Minneapolis flavor about it with the stripped down rhythm,tight lead guitar and an excellent cameo organ solo from jazz icon Jimmy Smith. Of course it has plenty of MJ’s own trademarks such as atmospheric synthesizers and JB-like horn accents. “The Way You Make Me Feel” is a hyper melodic,James Brown like funky shuffle-again updated with heavy synthesizer accents and Mike’s multi tracked vocals. In the end he really does sound like what Henrique would refer to as an OG-singing “ain’t nobody’s bidness but me and my baby”. In recent years “Speed Demon” has come to be one of my favorite numbers here. Its an example of Mike’s beat boxing being presented as part of the songs percussion track. It’s slow,funky nastiness is beset by some strong breaks and a bluesy guitar solo on the bridge. This segues into the sensuous mix of jazzy soul/pop and Afro-Latin melodic accents that is “Liberian Girl”. Not only does it find Mike celebrating Afrocentric feminine beauty,but also using the revolutionary based African nation of Liberia as it’s point of reference. “Just Good Friends” is an uptempo synth funk number that melodically has a pop-jazz fusion flavor. It’s in fact not instrumentally dissimilar to the European group Mezzoforte’s “Check It In” from 1985. Of course it’s far harder edged-including Stevie Wonder and Mike duetting with their rapid fire leads.

“Another Part Of Me” is one of the most musically powerful songs on the album-built on a powerful bass/guitar line with some celebratory horns and jazzy keyboard flavors. “Man In The Mirror” was one of the few songs I knew well from this album. A modern gospel song with a vital (if sometimes sadly misrepresented lyric these days-IT DOES NOT condone moral selfishness) has apparently come into question by some musicians as being musically weak for its lofty message. But I still enjoy it for the radio friendly,secularized pop gospel with the Andre Crouch Singers that it is. “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” is a melodically challenging love ballad,originally intended to feature Whitney Houston but instead with Sieddah Garrett. The only song I was never crazy about was the faux live sounding arena rock of “Dirty Diana”-with its paranoid rock groupie lyrics. “Smooth Criminal” is indeed a smooth,bass synth/horn based funk number. “Leave Me Alone” is a heavily orchestrated synth funk number-again with a JB style shuffle funk sound at the base of it. One thing about the bonus material I noticed was a pronounced Brazilian flavor about it. “Don’t Stop Messin ‘Round” is a raw,grooving bossa type number with a romantic Spanish type melody while “I’m So Blue” and “Free”-both mid tempo love songs also have strong Latin pop flavors as well. “Abortion Papers” is a electronically thick,hard new wave dance type number with…Mike singing a very pro life lyric? It is very well recorded and played on though. “Price Of Fame” is one of Mike’s more reflective numbers speaking of his deteriorating reputation as an eccentric-referencing his father on this funky ska type piece.

“Al Capone”,apparently an earlier version of “Smooth Criminal”-actually in terms of tempo and the brightness of some of the keyboard parts actually a bit closer to “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. Though I knew about these two songs already,”Streetwalker” has an instrumental similarity to “Billie Jean”-only with a synth bass-line and horns while “Fly Away” is another bossa jazz type number that’s so melodically beautiful I fail to see why it didn’t make the final cut of the original album. We get the Spanish and French re-recordings of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”. The last three tracks could’ve easily spoiled this edition of the album. The two remixes of “Bad” and “Speed Demon” are basically light EDM/dubstep remixes featuring the original vocals and some musical accents. Musically they add absolutely nothing to the album itself or any of the unreleased material-save in showcase how MJ’s music can theoretically be re-purposed for many (sometimes passing) musical trends. As for how the original album heard with the unreleased music holds up? I really feel Michael Jackson really did succeed in making a sonically headier,and often very funky album. Of course,one thing in retrospect that even I can hear is that at the very least,this was only just contemporary for its day. Being musically “new” in 1987 would’ve meant embracing either the house-type sound of the new jack swing pioneered by Teddy Riley or Chuckii Booker. Most of this production sounds like a mildly updated Thriller. It would’ve been excellent if it came out for 1984-85. And in a way,maybe that was a good thing for Mike-as at the time he might’ve agreed with Quincy he needed to follow his musical vision rather than following someone else’s musical lead. Overall a very good way to hear what has now become a classic album.

Originally written on August 30th,2014

*Link to original review here

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Filed under 1980's, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove 08/29/14 Rique’s Pick : “Misrepresented People” by Stevie Wonder

Spike Lee most likely achieved a career long, and possibly life long dream when Stevie Wonder scored his 1991 film “Jungle Fever”, introducing us to his classic “These Three Words.” Stevie’s classic “Living for the City” was also featured very prominently in the film, during a hellish scene inside of a crack house. I remember the eager anticipation I had for 2000s film, “Bamboozled”, which was a satirical look at the hip hop driven black image at the edge of the 21st century, juxtaposing it with the minstrel image of 100 years earlier. Aside from my excitement for the film, there was also the promise of new music from Stevie Wonder. Todays Anatomy of THE Groove feature, “Misrepresented People” was a powerful and funky song on that soundtrack that told the history of black people in the United States of America and made the connection between the type of “misrepresentation” Spike was dealing with in his film as a very dangerous thing because its dehumanizing influence makes brutality possible.

The song starts off in classic cinematic Stevie fashion. One of the Wonder mans incredible abilities in his music and production is to create aural movies in his songs. He did it on tunes like “”Pasttime Paradise” and especially “Living for the City” with its jarring “Get in that cell, Nigger” interlude (skyscrapers and every THANG). He does it here through his choice of instruments and music to play his opening melody. Stevie uses a harpsichord sound with the sound of sail masts in the background, as he says “In 1492 you came across the shores/700 years educated by the Moors.” From the harpsichord music, the sounds of sails and Stevies slightly proper, slightly British inflections, you can vividly see the picture of the slave ships. For me, the contrast between the attempted holy sterility of the music and the European attitude with the indignity of the slave ships is especially powerful. Stevie goes on to speak of the Indian genocide and the African being marketed. Then he delivers the line that hits me the hardest, “In the so called land of God/my kind was treated hard.” Stevie goes on to deliver the chorus with a classical style melodic run that would become popular in R&B in the early ’00s.

About 1:15 in, a seriously funky groove kicks in. An analog synth type bass sound revs up, with a keyboard string sound embellishing the songs melody. The song is fully in the style of Stevie’s ’70s funk pieces, with a classical element reminiscent of “Village Ghetto Land” layered melodically on top of the mournful funk. Stevie goes on to tell the story of black people from the introduction of slavery in the U.S, to the Civil War and Antebellum Jim Crow period. Then around 2:34 into it, he makes a key change in his classic style. We feel the intensity increase, as Stevie brings us to “1969/Black powers at the door” replete with samples of a militant speech from that time. He goes on to carry the black story through the ’80s and ’90s until he gets to 1999, of which he says, “our colors fill the jails.”

This particular song had a great impact on me. It was true hardcore Stevie Wonder funk with a social message, along the lines of classics such as 1976’s “Black Man.” The song is one that gets to me quite deeply, because of the earnest passion Stevie displays in detailing the history of black people in America. The mixture of classical overtones and funk is one that is very rare and reminiscent of the great Bernie Worrells work with P-Funk. Stevie Wonder takes a powerful moral approach in this song, like great figures such as Maya Angelou, Malcom X, and Dr. Martin Luther King took. He makes his point about the evils of black misrepresentation, both outside coonery imposed from those who neither understand nor care, and what Raashan Roland Kirk termed “Volunteer Slavery”, not through simply bemoaning every ignorant thing he sees. No, he details the hurts African Americans have experienced in this country as if to say, “if you really realized what we’ve been through you’d never allow yourself to be potrayed in that manner.” In that way, this funky song is a song of enlightenment. This song and message was one I particularly appreciated because in 1999/2000 there was so little music that carried such a powerful black political and historical message. It’s a true 21st Century classic from Mr. Stevie Wonder and needs to be heard today, as so many in this culture of over exposure go further and further down the path of misrepresentation.

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Filed under Africa, Blogging, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove 8/29/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Breakfast Can Wait” by Prince

In the past several years,Prince seems to have been concentrating more on the means by which to distribute his music than in actually releasing anything. Many,including myself,have seen this as a source of frustration. To paraphrase my blogging partner Rique? Any and all new Prince releases are seen,within the funk musician/admirer communities ,as being a major event. After all,just about every funky artist these days with a strong instrumental acumen site Prince as a primarily influence. With the majority of Prince’s music absent from YouTube,a Vevo video service showed up last year for him. It included one video to one song that,according to Amazon,features sleeve art picturing Dave Chappelle in his comic impression of Prince holding a place of pancakes. Very appropriate-especially considering the name of the song is “Breakfast Can Wait”.

It all starts off with what sounds like sizzling on a grill (a very funky sound effect,if I may say so myself) and goes into a drum kickoff after which a a fender rhodes starts into what is an intermingled blend of electric piano,phat popping slap bass lines which Prince revved up upon each refrain and a very steady variation of the stop-start drum machine pattern Prince helped pioneer over 30 years ago on the LINN. Lyrically he focuses on a similar metaphor that James Brown once used to describe musical ideas he wanted-“Pass The Peas” and so forth. Only this time,the focus is very much on a…very physical wake up call where Prince tells his lady lover “Grits and gravy,cheese eggs and jam/can nobody cook like you girl”. On the final refrain of the song,the melody slips into the minor chords a bit with Prince vocals having a modern variation of his late 80’s “chipmunked” vocal effect used as part of his Camille persona.

One of the things about this song that hit me right off is how immediately jazzy the groove is. Its very stripped down in classic Prince style. On the other hand,it explores a side of his musical spectrum that he doesn’t showcase all that often. I’ve always felt the jazz idiom and Prince’s persona went very well together as he musically matured. Wynton Marsalis once coined that the original meaning for jazz for him was procreation-a possible result of the sexuality Prince has always projected. However there’s also a profundity to that since Prince’s music is also always recreating itself-stretching one idea into another. And on this album? Prince’s renowned instrumental talents actually take on a similar direction as to the conceptualizations of The Roots’ Questlove-a jazzy live instrumental hip-hop sound based strongly in funk. Since this showcases Prince’s realization that funk is a total bottom line of his entire musical concept? There’s strong signs some of his strongest grooves are still yet ahead of him.

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Filed under ?uestlove, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown, Jazz, Minneapolis, Prince

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 8/23/2014: “Bare My Naked Soul” by Jesse Johnson

Jesse-Johnsons-Bare-My-Naked-Soul-1996-FLAC

Apparently there had been many people since the beginning of Jesse Johnson’s career who had wanted the former Time guitarist to make a more thoroughly guitar oriented album. A musician is not necessarily creatively bound to the demands of their admirers. After all if someone really admires someones art,why would they want them to change it? As with Prince Jesse was instrumental (pun more than intended) in bringing the sound of the rock guitar into the Minneapolis funk context. And he especially bought it to the Time’s 1990 release Pandemonium with the song “Chili Sauce” as well. Than a couple years after that the punk revival known as grunge broke out. Suddenly every rock music lover began demanding only like minded music be released and heard. The alternative era had begun-with the unspoken credibility war soon to follow. Jesse hadn’t had the easiest time either. The Time dissolved again-forcing Jesse to have to do a lot of anonymous soundtrack session playing,some of which never got released. He signed with the indie label Dinasaur Entertainment in the mid 90’s and for the first time in years eschewed the multi instrumentalist format. Teaming up with drummer Brian Edwards,back round singer Kim Cage and on one occasion former Band Of Gypsies/Hendrix alum Billy Cox on bass,Jesse put out this album in 1996 to at last fully explore his talents as a guitarist.

The title song,”My Life”,”Let Me In”,”Walk Like Me Talk”,”Shock To The System”,”Brand New Day” and “War Babies” all represent the hardest rocking songs on this album. Jesse’s ability as a guitarist is impressive as he goes from playing the amplified blues crunches to the technicolor psychedelic reverbed harmonies and melodies at a moments notice. “I Miss”,featuring Billy Cox and “Cry Like The Skies” both strong echo Jimi Hendrix’s fluttering ballad style a great deal-with cleaner,high pitched riffs and heavy reverb again. Only this time on the vocals as opposed to the instrumentation. “You Don’t Love Me The Same” is an out and out twangy modern country/western number with just a little touch of a blues attitude about it. “Mr. Heartache” is a pointed folk-rock ballad that,as with most of the lyrics here,focus in on a need for positive minded change and resolution to cynicism. “Bella Bella” is a similarly pretty folk minded affair-this time apparently a tribute to his then newborn daughter. “Bring Your Love Down Hard On Me” is straight up 12-bar blues-finding Jesse working out at his Muddy Waters-ish best. “Mokika” is a folky rhythm & blues shuffle that reminds me a bit of what KT Tunstall has done in recent years while “Nevermind Saturn Sunrise” closes the album with a psychedelic instrumental reverb guitar explosion.

Considering how ubiquitous guitar oriented music was becoming during this era? This album is expertly played with a number of instrumentally vital ideas and musical directions. The only question I have is why did Jesse Johnson even need to do this? While it has a lot of strong material,everyone already know what a great guitarist Jesse was. There really isn’t anything on this album that Lenny Kravitz hadn’t already dealt with a few years earlier. The fact Jesse’s hopeful and optimistic lyrical tone on this album stands so much in contrast to the attitude of this era speaks volumes. I feel Jesse himself was in the process of coming out of a dry spell when this album came out,so he just gave rock guitar admirers what they wanted from him while countering that impulse with his words. The pompous liner notes written by Steven Ivory also emphasize the most repulsive aspect of the “credibility wars” for me. He rails on about a “twilight zone of commercial pop/R&B”-where as he puts it,scientists in white coasts “dutifully create depressing amounts of Moog powered mutant soul that has about as much passion as a Happy Meal”. He even goes on to say “funk IS rock ‘n roll”-that “the groove” is simply rocks funky derivative. And how Jesse instinctively knows this. From this its too easy to have the impression Jesse made this album simply to survive in the restrictive musical climate of the mid 90’s. Basically if one admires the full spectrum of Jesse Johnson’s instrumental talents? This is worth picking up if you can find it for under $10.00. If your an admirer of Jesse’s work as a funk dynamo in the 80’s? This is definitely not going to be the album for you.

*Original Amazon.com review here

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Filed under 1990s, alternative rock, Amazon.com, Funk, Jesse Johnson, Music Reviewing, rock 'n' roll

Anatomy of THE Groove 8/22/2014: Andre’s Pick-“Love Can” by Lisa Stansfield

            As a UK understudy of Barry White,Lisa Stansfield took the late 80’s/early 90’s by storm with her strong vocalizing of the sort of orchestral soul vision that White had helped pioneer. Always creatively strong and vital,Stansfield didn’t continue the same commercial success in the US that she maintained in the UK throughout the 90’s. Her comeback’s became less frequent-culminating in a decade absence after 2004. There was in fact a three-four month waiting period between the UK and US release of her new comeback album Seven. On the other hand,the US version was released just in time for summer. And concluded with a song entitled “Love Can”.

           Opening with a percussive drum beat with a deep,thumping bass line playing the accenting the rhythm a jazzy electric piano solo comes in. This is followed by a burst of string and horn orchestration-with a flute and violin playing their own counter melody before Stansfield’s deep,rangy and resonate vocals some in. While the melody of the some seems a bit mysterious, even reflective at first,by the time the chorus arrives? The mood of the song turns excitedly aroused-both lyrically and musically as she sings of the need to be vulnerable in love. The mood of the instrumentation raised from somewhat quietly funky to enthusiastically dramatic as the song builds from beginning to end before ending with an unaccompanied violin crescendo.

            While surely extending on Stansfield’s love of the Barry White/Marvin Gaye style funk soul groove of the mid 70’s,she extends it even further on this song by employing live instrumentation. This is especially bought out when it comes to the live drumming. This presents a very different milieu than the programmed rhythms I was more used to hearing on her late 80’s/early 90’s recordings. What is most pleasing is how much she understands the funk she has continued to grow into musically. The rhythm and bass line are presented in a spare way,but she maintains her bold orchestral settings as well. Its a wonderful example of how live instrumentation,produced with eloquence,can sound in a crisp digitally recorded setting.

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Filed under Barry White, Funk, Funk Bass, Lisa Stansfield, Marvin Gaye, Rhythm, rhythm & blues

The Anatomy of THE Groove 8/22/14 Rique’s Pick : “Still the Man” by Bootsy Collins featuring Al Sharpton

Bootsy Collins 2011 album “The Funk Capital of the World” was rightfully hailed as a return to form for Bootzilla, the top student, the Rhinestone rockstar, the promised one of funk. Such titles might sound like blustery braggadocio, but when you look at his career arc of providing top shelf funk for two of the pillars of the music, James Brown and George Clinton, as well as carving his own unique legacy as  a player,  personality and band leader, one must admit there has always been something extra special about Bootsy. “The Funk Capital of the World” as a whole was informed by Bootsy’s apprentischip in the James Brown band. While Bootsy spent the majority of his career expanding the horizons of the bass, developing his own thick, wet, effects laden bass tone, and hot rodding his bass so that he could solo with the guitar expressiveness of Jimi Hendrix, this album was all about him playing bass. Straight up bass lines that hit on “the One which we believe in.” Bill Laswell noted once when he produced Bootsy that he was not playing much bass anymore, a practice Bootsy feels began when the synth bass of Bernie Worrell began to take up more space, freeing the bass player to play accents instead of laying down the main part. On “Still the Man”, Bootsy’s appreciation of James Brown peaks, as he invites Al Sharpton to lay a James Brown style oration/toast/rap over a straight ahead funky J.B’s type of beat. The message of the song was sorely needed because again, Mr. Brown’s influence was so great it gets taken for granted at times, especially in the Black musical community he did so much for.

The song begins with Sharpton talking, followed by a classic J.B style horn hit from the band. The groove is serious, as Bootsy hits a bass line in the J.B’s style, somewhat reminiscent of the bass line on “Get on the Good Foot”. The horn line takes you back to lines such as “Give it Up or Turn it Loose”. Ladies croon “He’s still the man”, as the guitar player gives you a little bit of what Prince calls “Chicken Grease”, i.e sixteenth note chord strums. The track gets more and more complex, as the horn chart continues to develop, in a way that is still reminiscent of Brown’s great arranger Fred Wesley, but reminds you more so of his work with P Funk. The way the track hints and suggests various James Brown songs reminds one of a sample collage or pastiche of Brown songs, but it’s done here by a live band. After Sharptons rap we get an actual trombone solo, which definitely ups the J.B’s factor, in the style of Fred Wesley’s ‘bone solos.

Sharpton goes on to remind us why James Brown is still important and relevant to contemporary music and culture. This is very signifigant because Al Sharpton is a man who James Brown mentored and helped rise to his prominence on the national scene. Sharpton talks about J.B’s musical impact and how when he looks at many things artists do today, he sees James Brown, Brown is “Still the Man.” One of my favorite lines in the whole piece however is “whenver an artist goes into the studio and sings a song for a cause bigger than themselves, I say James Brown is still the man.” This of course brings to mind all the fabulously powerful message songs in The Godfather of Soul’s career. After Sharpton finnishes his praise song, Bootsy has his original Rubber Band keyboardist, Joel “Razor Sharp” Johnson play a riff similar to Brown’s piano playing on “Sex Machine”, using an organ tone. Bootsy even calls for “Some organ”, as James himself called out in their classic concerts at the Olympia Theater in Paris in 1971.

“Still the Man” is a funky interlude of a song on a great modern funk album by Bootsy Collins. “The Funk Capital of the World” takes an almost Quincy Jones style approach to album construction, inviting a number of guests, including Cornel West, Chuck D, Snoop Dogg, Flea, and others Bootsy have worked with over the years to deliver his message. Bootsy seems to be in a heavy musical big brother role, teaching about the beginning of funk as he knows it, and what it meant both musically and culturally. And why he feels that funky spirit is needed today. Of course, a big part of this is James Brown, and Bootsy does something that is fairly simple but somehow rarely done by paying direct tribute to James Brown. Bootsy teams up with one of Brown’s biggest protoges, Al Sharpton, to do it, as if to remind young cats of where their thing comes from. The result is a funky song that gives one a little bit of relief if they’re a James Brown fan and wonder what he would sound like in the present day, as well as making us feel validated in our appreciation of a man who had his first hit nearly sixty years ago. It’s hard to believe an artist who began so long ago is still vital and important in the direction of modern music, but so it is with James Brown. As he always said, put him with ‘Bach, Beethoven, and Brahams.” And I’m glad that people he inspired to funk like Bootsy Collins and Al Sharpton can still take the time out to celebrate and praise, and educate on the importance of Mr. James Brown.

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Blogging, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 8/16/2014: ‘Black And White America’ by Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz

With this release Lenny Kravitz finds himself consummating the musical direction he began with his 5 but for some reason backed away from. As with myself Lenny is the product of a biracial family. And he likely faced some of the cultural ambiguities that I often had to contend with. Especially on the creative end. He spent much of his career on the path to being the modern equivalent of a Jimi Hendrix or Vernon Reid-using rock guitar and the rock ‘n roll style as his main choice of expression. On this album all of that is beginning to change. Recorded in the Bahamas with the environment having it’s own type of effect on the music this is also his debut for the Roadrunner label. It’s a branch of Atlantic-former home of famous soul icons Aretha Franklin,Ray Charles…the list goes on. So it’s only fitting,with the idea of the classic Atlantic soul style still felt today that this would be the album where Lenny would officially find the funk in all it’s fruitful forms.

This album begins with a serious punch on the title song,an autobiographic number fully exploring the pumping sophistifunk/dance style of the mid/late 70’s,celebrating his biracial heritage and how the modern age is far more accommodating to that despite the socio political racial tensions bought home in today’s world. On “Come And Get It”,”Superlove” and the JB sendup “Life Ain’t Ever Better Than It Is Now” he extends the funk into his sound more than he has on any other album. And he isn’t finished exploring this melodic groove after that either. On the pulsing “Liquid Jesus” where Lenny brings his falsetto back out and,the acid jazz ARP synth laden “Looking Back On Love” and the “boogie” style of “Sunflower” he’s fully acknowledging the 1980’s method of funk. It doesn’t end there. “Boogie Drop” featuring Drake explores a very unique direction in funk-finding Lenny being a pioneer for once in mixing modern electro revival with strong West Indian rhythms and hip-hop touches.

One of the best part of this album is on “Rock Star City Life”,”In The Black”,”Everything”,”The Faith Of A Child” and “Push” it’s clear the influence of 80’s new wave,itself heavily derived from funk and disco is having a very positive effect on these rockier songs. The noisy guitars are pushed to the backround as rhythm becomes the center of attention. On the hit “Stand” he’s come to the ultimate hybrid of Sly Stone,Prince and OutKast’s Andre 3000 in terms of delivering rock n roll influenced funk with a highly melodic nature. So for the first time I’ve heard Lenny delivers an album of sixteen songs where not one tune disappoints. From the wonderfully relevant cover artwork to the wonderfully way he’s embraced the production medium of the jazz,funk and danceable hip-hop he’s now bought into his orbit this finds Lenny at long last becoming himself as a musical entity. More over the fact that he’s broadened his message to showcase how his conscious bohemian outlook can benefit the current generational cycle. If this is to be the path he’s going to chose to develop in terms of funk,rock and/or the other in the

*Click here for original Amazon.com review!

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Acid Jazz, Amazon.com, Aretha Franklin, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Lenny Kravitz, Music Reviewing

The Anatomy of THE Groove 08/15/14 Rique’s Pick : “Sex” by Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz has had a unique place in popular music over the past 25 years, particularly in black music. When he got his contract, the idea of a black musician was almost abstract, particularly playing the types of solid classic rock, retro funk and soul sounds he’s become famous for. Kravitz has been needed over the years because ears and booties need a break from the drum machine every now and then, but the man has faced criticisms himself for being stuck in the same groove from time to time. Todays song selection, “Sex” from his upcoming album “Strut” finds him in a new bag, a monstorous funk/rock/disco tune in the tradition of The Stones “Miss You”, David Bowie’s “Golden Years”, and many other rock meets funk junctions. Kravitz adds his one of a kind vocal phrasing that mixes gospel type joy with rock and roll exuberance and the results are something much funkier than your average headbang!

The song wastes no time establishing the groove. A drum roll announces the song, leading into a washed out, high in the mix, reverberating drum track. The guitar plays a funky  riff, heavily phased and eq’ed in a dominating rock and roll manner. The bass line is a real beauty of simplicity, taking in part from classic funk bass lines like Chic’s “Good Times”, “Ape is High” by Mandrill, and “Hollywood Swinging” by Kool & the Gang, announcing itself by playing the same note three times, right on top of the beat. The bass is a four bar pattern, and its both funky and rock solid. The track gives the effect of an extremely funky power rock trio playing, in which the instruments have lots of room to make an impact and the sound is filled up by adding effects to make the music sound monstorous.

Lenny sings a song of sexual gratification, and even though the song title is blatant, his lyrics are in the best tradition of soul and R&B suggestion.  He tells his woman: “Breathe me, tease me/Cant control how I feel when you’re near me/I cant do nothing about it/got that feeling coming over me.”  Lenny sings the verse in a basic rock shouting manner, but switches on the refrain to a gospel joy vibe much more akin to Al Green on “Take me to the River.”

Around 2:05 in to it, Lenny plays a very funky vamp, with a galloping type of disco beat and a middle eastren melody, leading back to him vamping on the refrain and the chorus. The song only has two verses, and ends, as we’ve seen a few funk songs going back to lately, with an extended instrumental playout.

“Sex” is a good song, a reminder to a time many often forget when funk, disco, and rock all converged. If one listens to it and the other song so far released from “Strut”, “The Chamber”, it sounds as if Kravitz is exploring funky disco rock, New Wave, and Dance Rock/Dance Punk styles. If that’s the direction he’s going in this album I’m happy for it, as the intersection of funk and rock has always been his natural area, and he might very well find an inspirational new sound by bringing his musical excavations up to the late ’70s on through the ’80s. But until the album does drop, my morning runs are going to be accompanied by the sounds of “Sex.”

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", 1970's, 1980's, Blogging, Disco, Funk, Music Reviewing

Anatomy of THE Groove 8/15/2014-Andre’s Pick: “Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual) by Al Jarreau featuring Marcus Miller

George Duke was one of those musical figures that I personally found creatively inspirational. In his lifetime,he was able to fulfill his artistic promise of being able to be a siphon of the musical spirit that lay behind Duke Ellington,P-Funk,Frank Zappa,Earth Wind & Fire and Milton Nachimento-all coming from the source of one musical mind. When he passed away,all too soon,last year? It seemed inevitable that a tribute would come from someone,someday.
And in only a years time for his birthday? Creative collaborator and friend Al Jarreau got some of Duke’s musical compatriots-both vocalists and instrumentalists for the special tribute album My Old Friend. One of the songs presented was an unheard number written collaboratively by Duke and Jarreau called “Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual)”-featuring one of my favorite living bassists in the jazz-funk vein in Mr. Marcus Miller.

Marcus,who plays most of the instruments on this song opens with a cinematic synthesizer orchestration before Jarreau chimes in with a very Afrocentric vocalese chant-after which Marcus’s slap bass comes in with Mike Cottone’s muted,”cool jazz” styled trumped solo-the tone of which Jarreau replicates with his soft,slow vocalizing. On the refrains,Jarreau delivers a deep descending vocal. On the bridge,a beautiful melange of sax,trumpet and electric piano segues out of the song with the same mixture of cinematic orchestration with Jarreau’s chants that began the song.

This is one of those songs that…really quite brilliantly fuses vocal jazz improvisation with a funk rhythmic approach. With its use of blue notes and Marcus’s own knack for expression the late George Duke’s love of instrumental texturization? The imaginative, somewhat mysical orientation of the music goes ideally with the somewhat faintly performed and even obsure lyrical content. From what I can gather of it,this is a song about the complex interpersonal relationship black Americans have with spirituality. And with a song with song a deeply propulsive funk groove and jazz harmonics? It makes that point beautifully.

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Filed under Al Jarreau, Duke Ellington, Funk, Funk Bass, George Duke, Jazz, Marcus Miller

HAPPY 50’TH POST FOR ANDRE! Andre’s Amazon Archive for 8-3-2014: ‘Tribb To JB’ by Chuck D

ChuckD On the first day of this month marked the official eight month point where my friend Henrique and I formed this blog. It was also the same day as the Chadwick Boseman vehicle ‘Get On Up’,the long awaited biopic on James Brown was released in theaters nationwide. So this is my own 50th post on this blog. To celebrate,I am going to be focusing in on another important tribute…to a tribute as it were: Public Enemy frontman Chuck D’s posthumous 2007 musical dedication to The Hardest Working Man In Show Business!

On Christmas Day of 2006,what was traditionally a day for giving became a sad day when someone was taken from us. That was the day The Godfather,James Brown, died. On many levels? That was a sad day for me,and JB’s passing seemed prophetic. The days of getting up,getting into it and getting involved seemed over-replaced by this cold apathy. Way I looked at it? Things had nowhere to go but up. For the last decade of his life? It concerned me greatly that James Brown’s was beginning to earn the historical presidents of being yet another celebrity train wreck. What I horrid legacy to happen to this man who’d accomplished so much in his life,and positively influenced so many. Of course we also had Chuck D,whose very reason for starting Public Enemy had to do with James Brown’s music and aestetic influence. I could think of no one else better suited to musically pay tribute to The Hardest Working Man In Show Business that Chuck D. And in the year after JB’s passing? That little pipe dream circulating in my mind shortly after the event actually came true.

The album starts out with an intro that illustrates James Brown as forever being the Godfather the entire soul/funk/hip-hop spectrum before launching into an this explosively funky tract of songs in “Soul Power”,”Make It Funky”,”Get Up,Get Into It,Get Involved” and “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud”. Chuck raps in JB’s rhythmic style,accompanied by the James-soundalike vocalist Kyle Jason and the Banned. “Its A Man’s Man’s World” is a sleeker,somewhat more full Latin type take than James originally gave it with the Crew Grrl Order giving a female perspective on the current outlook of black femininity to support the lyrics. “King Heroin” is presented here first with the psychedelic jazz aspect of the original played up a bit more while “Talking Loud,Saying Nothing” expands on the original by making a blatant (and to my ears first in music at the time) condemnation on the George W. Bush-era military industrial political complex.

“Thank Mama For The Soul Sisters” breaks up Lynn Collins’ “It Takes To” with vocalist Ronnique Hawkins by expanding on it with classic hip-hop effects that stand somewhere between the original and its famous sampling by Rob Base in 1988. “Super Band” continues on the themes explored earlier in the album while “Funky President” again takes on George W.,this time more directly on his sociopolitical character in regard to foreign policy. The final song on the album is probably the most telling. Its a narration of “King Herion” by a girl named Autumn Asante,who according to the intro to the narration was thrown out of school for this supposed “racist recitation” after her uncle died of AIDS from heroin abuse. Hearing this coming from a young child,speaking with enormous authority,is moving almost beyond a response. Especially with her very witty and mature improvisation in saying of heroin it will “make a man forsake his own country and flag,not that there’s anything wrong with that”.

Hearing this album eight years after the fact,it really shines a vital spotlight on the societal abnormalities of America in the early aughts. Musically this album basically stays true to the flavor of JB’s originals,adding turntabling and light sampling for a synergy of James’ original vision,and how it impacted his creative descendants. And how James Brown’s sociopolitical vision,as expressed through his music and words,were more vital to this nations healing in the transition from the Bush to Obama national climates than perhaps had been thought. Since the time of this album? I have noticed a great deal more activism and outcry against social policies. More of an expression for justice and goodwill. Chuck D projects the aura of James Brown’s creative spirit here as something to be matyrized,but not pedestalized. Something to be embraced,yet not worshiped. James once said for us to “listen to the case”. But even Chuck D would likely tell you,from what he learned out of JB’s influence is that where one goes from there is up to them.

*For original review,click here to read

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Filed under 1970's, Chuck D, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Music, Music Reviewing, Public Enemy