Monthly Archives: October 2014

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/31/14 Rique’s Pick : “Creepin” by George Duke

The late great George Duke was a master of the musical approach he termed “Funny Funk” in a 1974 song on his album “Feel.” He’s not alone in this category, sharing the ability with esteemed funkers such as Rufus Thomas, The Time, Joe Tex, Jimmy Castor, Junie Morrison and of course George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and their Parlafunkadelicment Thang. In truth, most funk artists include some humorous asides in their songs, lyrics and grooves, but George Duke was a true master at it! Todays spooky funk song features Duke spinning a yarn about the type of incident that is humurous only in the tragicomic sense. “Creepin” is a tale of those folks who want to have their cake and eat it too, the people for whom “One Fun at a Time” simply will not do.

The song begins with a theatrical aside, George Duke playing some dramatic, tense, close piano intervals with a slight horror/troubled soap opera feel while the drummer John Roberts plays some simmering cymbals. George is rapping with bassist Christian McBride, telling him he saw his woman doing something she “shouldn’t be doing” recently. Before long the sinister groove kicks in, a funky riff influenced by the old horror film music. The groove weighs in as extra large on the funk scale because its played by Christian McBride’s upright bass, teh bass clef notes of George Duke’s piano, a muted guitar, some sort of synth string patch and vocals singing in their deepest bass voice about a dude creeping at the club when his girl is asleep. Duke’s groove makes the act of stepping out on your loved one sounds like the truly precarious, harrowing experience it is, both in terms of the plots one has to undertake to make it out undetected as well as the emotional, financial and even physical danger the Midnight Creeper risks.

After the basic groove slithers its way in, a brief horn riff is introduced as well. The drumming is a tight, funky and slightly swinging modern day funk/hip hop fusion, taking that hip hop swinging drum style created on drum machines and putting it back in the hand of a live player. It could also be a mix of live and electronic drums. Along with the horn riffs Duke and co also deliever wordless spooky singing. This is followed by a more meditative passage where Christian McBride’s upright bass is allowed room to play a passage. When the lyrics return we learn you have to be “Jeckell and Hyde with a strong alibi” to creep. The acoustic bass passage returns with George Duke sprinkling some piano lines on top. Around 2 minutes and fifty two seconds in George Duke comes in with a acoustic piano solo, mainly spinning single note melody lines, very melodic yet very fluid at the same time, working all the way up to the high register of the piano. After that the spooky chorus comes back with more instructions/commentary on the methods of the Creeper. The song ends with a dramatic yet rhythmically funky string interlude, essentially sealing the fate of the Creeper for us.

George Duke and his band utilize their tremendous musical skills to have fun on this song, while also talking about something very serious. As I mentioned earlier, the predicament of the Creeper is truly tragicomic, as it sometimes includes hiding in cars, under beds, in closets and various other sundry places. Yet, people have always done it and will continue to get it in. It’s a tribute to Duke’s songwriting skills, mastery of music, and understanding of the human predicament that he made a jam about Creeping both humurous and spooky at the same time, just like the activity he was funking about!

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Filed under "Skeletons", Contemporary R&B, George Duke, Halloween, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Music Reviewing, Nu Funk, P-Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/31/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Skeletons” by Stevie Wonder

I’m going to start off this blog with a little personal story. During my childhood,my father and I would often make cassette tape recordings together that mimicked our own radio show. Actually have dealt with this in more detail on another blog last year. When we did a 1988 Halloween presentation? My father picked a Stevie Wonder song called “Skeletons” from his then latest album called Characters. I had actually chosen “Superstition” for this selection. But neither my father nor I had the song at the time,and wouldn’t for many many years actually. Unable to understand the lyrical concept of the time? It just sounded like a funky song with a holiday appropriate subtext-the very understandable concept of fear. It’s only more recently that I’ve fully made sense of this association.

The song starts out with what sounds like an 808 drum machine beat playing a mid 80’s style hip-hop/funk beat over which Stevie lays down a menacing sound bass synthesizer-with long spaces between the notes almost as if they are creeping towards you. Then some scratchy,hissing percussion effects play an equally penetrating,yet somewhat farther away sounding,rhythmic role with a bluesy lead keyboard melody played on a DX7 digital synthesizer simulating a Clavinet-giving a glossier and round tone than the actual instrument. Stevie’s lead vocals,on both the main chorus and the refrain are met with a call-and-response vocal that,unlike Stevie’s,is muffled and sung through some vocal manipulation device. Might even have been Stevie himself having some internal dialog. There is also a bridge that repeats itself twice-a variation of the bass synth part from the beginning,only more hesitant sounding.

Stevie Wonder’s outlook on romance ranges vastly across the spectrum from an almost fantastically giddy sense of joy to a sense of legitimate suspicion. That sense that a horrible secret is being kept and must be exposed in order to be released. This song explores the later end of that spectrum. Lyrically Stevie takes on the character of someone lightly scolding his character for having to clear their conscience-pointing out that “you know your mama told you ‘don’t lie'”. He’s definitely moralizing a good deal here. And does so with a playful style-almost as if he’s repeating the words of his grandma or something. The accompanying video clip showcases Stevie recalling bullying he (or his character) dealt with for his blindness. And the fact that as an an adult,he’s playing party to a clandestine affair next door in a stereotypical suburbia-without even physically being able to see it play it visually.  Surely this was one of Stevie’s most powerful funk statements of the late 1980’s. And is an easy candidate for one of his funk classics in general.

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Filed under "Skeletons", 1980's, cassette tape, drum machine, Funk, Halloween, Motown, Radio, Stevie Wonder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 10/25/2014: “Tha Funk Capital Of The World” By Bootsy Collins

The Funk Capital Of The World

If there was ever an example of a success in the funk music relm it would have to be Bootsy Collins. He was there during the infancy of the genre with James Brown and than onto George Clinton. He even survived some of funk’s more challenging periods by collaborating with other artists and doing more session work. And most importantly,he managed to come out of the addiction problems faced by many in the music world period to come out all the better. Now he is emerging as something of an elder statesman of the genre. And he has had enough experiences at this point to create what could be described as a magnum opus. And he also possesses the singular talent,versatility and personality to pull it off. On the other hand he’s also one of the chief architects of P-funk which,even during it’s original era was a lot more fragile than it seemed to be. So this album comes off as perhaps being a grand finale to an amazing career.

What’s good and not so good about it comes from it’s ambition. Bootsy is looking here to do a sort of P-Funk equivalent to Quincy Jones’ Back on the Block,pulling together elements from different generations-musical and culturally to show a generation cycle involved. But here there are some cracks in the jib that are just difficult to avoid. P-funk after the 90’s was always dependent on guest artists,especially hip-hop related. But this one is a bit too reliant on the worn out formula. Every song here has a guest. And often times their presence,considering some of them are relative unknowns,reduce Bootsy to being a sideman on his own recording. Samuel L Jackson rapping about the influence music played in his life on “After These Messages” is a meaningful and happy surprise. As is Al Sharpton discussing the often unheralded importance James Brown has in the culture,showcasing how he “changed the beat”.

On the other hand,the grooves outside of the clever horn melange of “The Jazz Greats” with George Duke and Ron Carter,mostly sound a bit by-the-numbers. And if they get a little more out of the box such as on the more rocky side of “Mirrors Tell Lies” and “Minds Under Construction” the musical ideas are so cluttered,some of the clarity of sound is missing. Bootsy simply overshot the mark just a little and flat out tried to do too much on this album. Had this been spread out over the course of a double set or couple releases with more varied music than it would’be been the intended masterpiece. As a history lesson on how funk is misunderstood nine times out of ten,it’s wonderful. As a musical concept,it simply doesn’t HAVE enough of Bootsy’s own identity to effect. In fact the Quincy analogy works there too. Here Bootsy is more of an MC (and presented as a weaker one actually) than an artist. Than again I enjoy Bootsy the artist. So maybe one more album that draws this concept out more fully might in order? Well I can only hope but what this album looks to is worth exploring further.

Originally posted on October 23rd,2011

Link to original review here!

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Filed under Bootsy Collins, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, George Duke, P-Funk, Quincy Jones

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/24/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Standing In The Light” by Level 42

Out of the many bands to come of the UK post punk/new wave era,Level 42 were probably the most significant on a purely musical level.  American funk,R&B and disco-dance music were an important element of early 80’s new wave in Europe. But Level 42,led by electric bassist/one time drummer Mark King and keyboardist Mike Lindup,came straight of a strong jazz-funk/fusion underground that was still thriving in Europe during the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Their style celebrated strong musicianship over the flamboyant rock ‘n roll authenticity of the UK punk scene-full of raw,angry emotion. Still this devotion to musical eloquence had it’s shortcomings for Level 42.

While the band were critically acclaimed on their first few albums from 1981 and 1982? Their label Polydor,interestingly enough the same label James Brown had been on during his funk heyday in the early 70’s, were looking at Level 42 as consistent hit makers. And having met them while on tour,the band developed a strong musical report with Earth Wind & Fire’s bassist Verdine White and the bands keyboardist Larry Dunn. Both of them were very able at creating funk music that was melodic and commercially popular. And it was agreed they would produce Level 42’s fourth album in 1983. That album was called  Standing In The Light. And it was likely best personified musically by it’s title song.

Starting off with a light breeze of drum cymbal-seemingly carrying a wind of bassy synth orchestration on it,the song quickly emerges with an economical slow funk beat accompanied by an equally economical,minor chord electric bass line from King. After a jazzy guitar solo takes over Lindup’s,or possibly unofficial fifth member Wally Badarou’s  ethereal synthesizer harmonies King’s lead vocals kick on. On the chorus,the instrumentation suddenly enters into a sunnier end of the minor chord with Lindup’s falsetto vocals. There’s a bridge in the middle of the song where the keyboard plays a progressive jazz fusion styled ascending two-chord solo which includes a jazz oriented vocal refrain from King and Lindup’s vocal harmonies. After this the song goes through one more chorus of the same one with which it started.

Musically influenced to a great degree by the electronic oriented pop/funk hybrids emerging from Compass Point around this time,this song is musically representative of the type of stripped down funk that emerged from the post funk environment. Yet also comes from a reverence for the modal style of fusion pioneer Miles Davis-whom Mike Lindup musically admired and who had a huge influence on his compositional style.It’s the nature of the music and lyrical mixture on this song that speaks most to me on the other hand. This song tells the story of a young man whose approach to music comes from imagination and creativity,and many around him want to subsidize that with their own personal tastes,needs and requirements.

As the chorus grows happier,this inner creativity becomes an inner light he’s standing in as he asks for people not to “shadow the genius”. It’s a poetic,intelligent yet plain spoken statement for creative autonomy and freedom of expression-coming from a decade where supposedly such ideas were totally limited. And to me,it’s one of the most significant rallying cries to creative musicians from this point onward. Considering that two key members of Earth Wind & Fire produced this album,it’s not surprising that Level 42 felt a bit freer to write music with a message as their sound became more outreaching to the public. And if I could personally thank all parties for their participation in this song and it’s message personally? I’d be more than honored.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Funk Bass, Level 42, Mark King, Miles Davis, New Wave

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/24/14 Rique’s Pick : “Rural Renewal” by The Crusaders ft Eric Clapton

The Crusaders 2003 album “Rural Renewal” on the legendary jazz record label Verve, marked a reunion of three of the four major principals of the mighty groups original lineup, drummer “Stix” Hooper, Tenor Saxophonist and bassist Wilton Felder, and the recently deceased great pianist and composer, Joe Sample. The only memeber who did not join them was trombonist Wayne Henderson, who passed in early 2014. Henderson would again join the group around 2010 for concert appearances. The Crusaders, just as they’d done in years past with great musicians such as Leon “Ndugu” Chancelor, Larry Carlton, “Pops” Popwell, Barry Finnerty, Randy Crawford, Paulino DaCosta and many other excellent players, buttressed the core lineup with great musicians. Freddy Washington, the bass player who co wrote Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots” participated on bass, the great Ray Parker Jr took over the standard guitar chair, and Steve Baxter came in on trombone, allowing the group to recapture its original sound of tenor sax and trombone playing in unison. Stewart Levine, the producer for the groups ’70s run is the producer here as well. Two songs on the album also feature the guitar talents of Eric Clapton, one called “Creepin”, and today’s Friday Funk song which ushers in the period of Scorpio, called “Rural Renewal.”

The song begins with the eerie tones of Joe Sample’s Wurlitzer electric piano. Sample is one of the pianists most identified with the Fender Rhodes electric piano, but he has been known to use the bite that the Wurlitzer provides as well. The Wurlitzer is well known for its eerie tone as demonstrated on classics such as Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Here, Sample plays a strong bass note along with a melody and chords in his right hand. Sample’s piano intro is backed up soley by “Stix” Hooper’s drums, and he plays his trademark jazz/latin meets funk and disco pulse, with a syncopated kick drum, cross sticks on the snares, and his dancing, straight but somehow swinging hi hats. After they go through the intro a couple of times the whole band kicks in with the type of hard, stomping Bayou/southewestren funk groove they rode to success and acclaim.

The guitars, bass, and electric keyboards all play off the same swamp groove, creating a sense of propulsion. This full band sound is almost like a tease though, after they go through it once around, the composition returns to the eeriness of Sample and Hooper playing together. The next time the full groove comes back, Eric Clapton is added, playing his fills and soloing over the groove. In a real humurous jazz quotation, Sample plays a riff almost like Claptons most famous, “Layla”. The “Layla” style riff, which comes from the blues anyway, sets up the intro of the horn line of Felder on sax and Baxter on ‘bone, which I love because it rekindles the sound of Felder and Henderson. The band grooves with Clapton and the horns playing around each other.

After that the song reaches its chorus section, with the horns playing a part that is built off the main groove as well, although with more space in it. The chorus section might be the most stomp down Crusaders sounding section of the whole, very “Crusaders” sounding piece. After that chorus the arrangement goes right back to Sample’s tumbleweeds and candlelight electric piano groove.

Clapton plays a very tasty and stinging blues solo on acoustic guitar, even incorporating some of the hard double stops of Johnny “Guitar” Watson. After another electric piano breakdown, Sample comes in with a very funky solo on acoustic piano, going back to that barrellhouse sound he got on Crusaders songs such as “Greasy Spoon” from “Southern Comfort.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Crusaders song without a solo from Wilton Felder. Mr. Felder plays some of his trademark phrases, which combine both a funky rhythmic sense, very peppy and energizing, along with his great patented tone. The song coasts out on an extended groove section in which Clapton gets space to cut up a little bit more.

“Rural Renewal” represented a rebirth of The Crusaders. While they still did not put out an album a year as in their ’70s heyday, it did lead the way to future concert appearances featuring various members of the original band, in concert with Ray Parker Jr and Freddy Washington. The title of the song and the spooky country funk vibe reminds me of the many older people I knew from the Bay Area who retired back down south in the 1990s through the ’00s. Of course in the ’60s, “Urban Renewal” was the phrase used to describe one anti poverty program after another. By the ’00s things had changed, with older black people in particular seeing a return south as a way to get more for their dollar and also to enjoy another standard of life. Joe Sample himself was an example of this, relocating down to Texas in his last decade, going back home. This song, the reunion of Hooper, Sample and Felder with their producer Levine, and even the presence of an excellent guest guitarist like Eric CLapton represent the Crusaders figuratively and literally going, as Wilton Felder once wrote, “Way Back Home.” From the funk on this song and album? They demonstrate that it is possible to go back home every once in a while.

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Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Crusaders, Funk, Funk Bass, Generations, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, Late 70's Funk

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 10/18/2014: “Live In Williamsburg” by Shuggie Otis

Live In Williamsburg

First time I ever heard Shuggie Otis perform was on an episode of Conan O’Brien in 2001. It was when his Inspiration Information album was reissued on Luaka Pop and suddenly there was an enormous demand for new music and performances by this once relatively obscure artist. Finally over a decade later we got that when Shuggie released Wings Of Love-an album of songs he’d recorded over the past 30-35 years. Still I’d always wanted to hear how he’d sound in a live setting. Bringing in a band that included his sons Eric and Nick for what he’s calling his Never Ending Tour,this album culls from a live date in Brooklyn NYC.

Of course it’s songs such as “Inspiration Information”,”Island Letter”,an elongated bluesy funk jam medley of “Sparkle City” and “Miss Pretty” and of course a version of “Aht Uh Mi Hed”-one of my favorite Shuggie Otis compositions in which the horn section plays the same part the Hammond Organ did on the original. “Tryin’ To Get Close To You”,”Me And My Woman” and “Doin’ What’s Right” present more of that Sly Stone-ish rhythm box based funk Shuggie expanded on as done in the live setting. “Sweetest Thing” is a slow,extended blues that goes on forever but really cooks as Shuggie’s guitar solo goes onto an organ on the next verse. “Wings Of Love” presents another elongated piece-playing out the Santana-like progressive fusion nature of the song. “Picture Of Love” and “Shuggie’s Boogie” both lay down the swinging blues thick while “Strawberry Letter#23” ends the affair on perhaps his best known song-done in a comfortable blend of his and the Brothers Johnson hit version.

All twelve of these performances here are wonderful. Shuggie Otis was much like Prince in terms of being the multi instrumentalist singer/songwriter/producer who seemed to be able to play a boundless array of musical styles. And this album album seems to play out that way. Very diverse running from funk to blues to progressive,exploratory jazz workouts. Of course after it’s over you realize one of the most important things about Shuggie Otis’s musical legacy-one that really shines onstage. And it’s that all of the music he plays represents links on one singular chain. And rather than play one link such as just the 12 bar blues? Shuggie explores the whole chain from top to bottom. And hearing him do this within a band context makes the whole affair all the more powerful to contemplate.

Originally Posted On October 16th,2014

Link to original review*

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Filed under Amazon.com, Blues, Funk, Jazz, Music Reviewing, Shuggie Otis

Antomy of THE Groove 10/17/14 Rique’s Pick : “Lovely People” by Earth, Wind & Fire

There are certain songwriting and producing jobs in music that just stand out above all others if you’re a fan of music. One of them, that will.i.am was able to achieve for my side of todays “Anatomy of THE Groove” figure, was writing and producing a song for Earth, Wind & Fire’s 2005 album “Illumination, called “Lovely People.” It was not the first comeback I’d witnessed from EWF, a group who’s peak was right before I was born yet who’s music was an essential part of my upbringing. 1987 and ’88 were one of my favorite times ever in my young life for music. EWF had a great album called “Touch The World” at that time with a fantastic electro funk single called “System of Survival”, one of my favorite songs ever. But while “System of Survival” employed a treacherous electro funk beat put together by a writer/producer named Skylark, that contained a dope and classic EWF lyrical story, the beat was a whole other edge of the 21st Century thing. on “Lovely People” will.i.am takes the classic EWF joyful funk Afro-Diasporic dance sound and edits it for modern sensibilities. The results are a reinvigorated EWF, soudning as if they continued as a group with Maurice White from the end of their run to the present day. Mainly, it’s a song with that true Earth, Wind & Fire message of joy, love and blessings.

Right off the bat, the Kalimba sounds along with harmonizing let us know it’s EWF. The track begins with snippets of Kalimba, electronically processed and running in reverse, backed by what sounds like vocals from the song running in reverse. The sound of the Kalimba and the obscured vocals immediately put one in that EWF “Pyramid” frame of mind, like some of their mystical concert entrances and exits. The next thing in the arrangement is another band signifier, the horn section playing a magisterial ascending riff. And just like that, we’re back in the zone of the elements of Earth, Wind & Fire!

A thunderous groove kicks off, a real rollicking, rolling Native American sounding groove, remeniscent of the types of drum beats Maurice White’s fellow Memphis native Al Jackson Jr would play behind Al Green, and that Syliva Robinson copped on her classic, “Pillow Talk.” The guitar plays very short, clipped chords, and Verdine White slides down his bass. The feeling is that of a tremendous groove motor beginning to rev up, as will.i.am plays the party M.C.

After that intro, the horn phrase announces the beginning of the chorus section. The verse drops right there at the top of the song, “To all of my Lovely People/step to the floor and disco.” The phrase “Lovely People” is one that caught my attention when the song first dropped. What struck me is that it was such an EWF, Maurice White phrase, full of optimisim and love for humanity. It impressed me that an outside writer such as will.i.am could come up with that with the group in mind! The vocals are backed by a lively Afro-Carribean dance funk groove. In addition to EWF’s obvious and classic Brazillian stylings, they were also a master of integrating other grooves from the African diaspora. They had the greasy grooves of Memphis and the transplanted blues, soul and gospel of Chicago deep in their musical DNA. The cool of California lent a shiny sheen to their recordings. But also in the mix, was the sound of the festivals of the Carribean, found on such EWF classics as “As Love Goes On”, which was itself recorded in the Carribean.

The Afro-Carib groove features lively rhythmic guitar strumming with the classic high EWF guitar tone, innovated and promulgated by Al McKay, Johnny Graham and Roland Bautista. will.i.am’s vocals in the mix with the bands helps provide the Carribean element as well.The verse groove is definitely influenced by the more spare modern hip hop/R&B approach, with the guitar playing a busy rhythm, horn stabs in and out, and Verdine White’s bass only providing occasional funky accents. All in all its a model of economy of groove. As the “Lovely People” verse ends, the next section features classic worldess EWF harmonizing around the solfeggate of “La”, with “Lovely People” being sung by Phillip Bailey. Verdine White is also allowed more room to stretch out on bass on that section.

Around 1:45 in, the band hits a nice EWF musical interlude, with will playing MC over the lively beat and harmonizing. After that he comes in with a rap, not too much, just lyrics with the intention of moving the party on. That is followed by a lively horn riff that supports some vocalinzing from will. The song has a long groove fade out with another EWF signifier, an actual Kalimba solo!

Songs like this always fascinate me. I was always interested in how to bring the classic funk sound into the here and now. Not by sampling it, but by a more subtle process of incorporating elements, including some and exvluding others. “Lovely People” features the Kalimba, an Afro Carribean rhythm, harmonizing, the horn section, and many other elements of EWF’s classic sound. It also has a lyric, that while not dealing with any heavy topic of inspiration, still manages to inspire through its positivity matched with an uplifting groove. will.i.am accomplished what any modern musician would want to, updating his influences sound to what it would sound like TODAY. It’s almost like a father figure or uncle wanting you to help them pick out some modern clothes, and you show them pictures of themsevles when they were younger and then go into their closets and pick out some things they already have. Then you might add a touch or two from your closet to top it off. The results here were a fresh look that still said “Earth, Wind & Fire”, rather than the band simply trying to look fresh.

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Filed under Brazil, Contemporary R&B, Earth Wind & Fire

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/17/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Stressed Out” by Babyface

By the time the new millennium had officially arrived? Kenneth Babyface Edmunds found himself in a position of becoming nearly a total musical cliche’. His high,soft voice matched with coaxing lyrical insinuation and an instrumental preference for very soft adult contemporary pop ballads-quite often oriented around the acoustic guitar, gave the impression of an artist barely capable of expressing either yearning sexuality or vitality of character. Inwardly the man had a very different side however. So ‘Face rounded on than new producer Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes to showcase another side of his musical talent that,even from his days as a member of the 80’s boy band The Deele,had been rather subdued. This is showcased most heavily on the song “Stressed Out” from the 2000 album Face2Face.

After a whispered declaration of “make your dreams come true” from Babyface,a keyboard/guitar oriented melodic solo kicks in with a pulsing choir sound. This melody,backed up by a marching beat,comes to a refrain of these phrase that features a straight up funky…well either it’s a guitar or a synthesizer simulating one. Due to the technological progression of the time it’s hard to tell. This stop/start funkiness is basically the instrumental bed for Babyface’s vocals on this songs-which he delivers in both straight ahead and more dragging vocal drawls that accompany the harmonic flow of the song. Toward the end of the final refrain,there is a beautifully written Stevie Wonder-like chord progression before the last verse of the song.

This song is also a case where I feel it’s important to focus on the lyrical content of the song,and how Babyface’s vocals present them. As mentioned earlier, Babyface presented himself as a man who was willing to sacrifice his own confidence to secure a given romantic association. On this particular song? Not only is physical sex more then a little implied, but Babyface is telling the lady in his life (unsure if this was written with Tracy Edmunds in mind or not) that her own fears of intimacy and distant attitude can only really be successfully alleviated if she merely relaxes (as he tells her not to “stress out”) and simply allows herself to feel some sense of joy and life in the experience. So here,Babyface is a romantically uplifting and encouraging force rather than a merely submissive one.

Musically speaking this song is not merely about Babyface changing his own approach to his craft,but also part of the ever evolving sound of Pharrel’s production as part of The Neptunes. With the success of similar minded songs to this,in particular Nelly’s famous “Hot In Here”? The sound that The Neptunes were developing during the early aughts were to become the popular R&B/dance sound of that era-spawning a number of very half baked imitations of their sound in what became known as “contemporary R&B”. This was a very similar chain of events that occurred with Teddy Riley’s innovation of new jack swing over a decade before this. But on this song and others from the source of The Neptunes? The sound had a strong,uptempo groove travelling on a vital musical road. A road right into the rhythmic nucleus of funk. And for Babyface that was just what the metaphorical Dr.Funkenstein ordered!

 

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Filed under Babyface, Contemporary R&B, Funk, Pharrell Willaims, The Neptunes

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 10/11/2014: “The Way” by Macy Gray

Macy Gray The Way

On Macy Gray’s new studio album of all original material,she starts off with the rhythmic acoustic soul of “Stoned” and goes from there to the bluesy,shuffling rock of “Bang Bang”. “Hands” on the other hand has a buoyant disco/pop sound to it with a guitar riff that…might make it almost countryish except the bass line is pretty sturdily funky if one is listening for it. “Miss The Sex” has a potent mix of shuffling Afro jazz/funk about it with some slippery bass and dripping horns. “First Time”,the title song and the melodically dynamic “Queen Of The Big Hurt” all recall a dynamically arranged folk/soul sound in the Bill Withers school. “Me With You” is just flat out,spare and slippery funk with “Need You Now” has a mixture of that folk/soul with a Motown rhythm and melody similar to the Isley’s “This Old Heart Of Mine” while “Life”,the final song on the album is a rollicking soul rave up.

Personally? I was not moved by Macy’s last album which consisted of covers of other peoples music. This album actually has a similar approach to her early albums. Though the trajectory is very different. The sound of the album is instrumentally stripped down and more acoustically textured-showcasing something of a new direction for her musically. Lyrically and vocally the change is important too. This album,with a simple cover showcasing a sad looking Macy shedding a single tear,reflects the lyrical content that showcases a great deal of personal regret. That allows her to showcase her own modern feminine version of the classic soul music blend of the secular and spiritual. Macy is lyrically calling out to someone,and it’s never specified if it’s a romantic partner or a god figure. All of this serves to make an emotive,always soulful and often quite funky album!

Originally Posted On October 8th,2014

*Link to original review here!

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Anatomy of THE Groove 10/10/14 Rique’s Pick : ” What Goes Around Comes Around” by Lenny Kravitz

Today’s Friday Funk “Anatomy of THE Groove” feature returns back to the 1990s and one of that decades great artists, Lenny Kravitz. I was discussing Kravitz with my good friend Calvin last week, and I came to somewhat of a realization about him and his career. I’ve heard lots of criticism of him, even from people one would think would make up his core constituency. The main complaint always seems to be that his Gemini versatility and gift for emulation prevent him from having his own style and somehow lack authenticity. When one considers Lenny’s upbringing however, one finds a resume that is quite unusual for an artist smack dap in Generation X as he (b.1964). Kravitz, growing up the son of star actress Roxie Roker of “The Jeffersons” fame, saw most of the major stars of the great ’60s and ’70s boom of soul, rock, and funk. Kravitz saw artists such as Miles Davis, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, P Funk, and The Jackson 5 LIVE. He also talks of going to see the great jazz drummer Buddy Rich play live. At the same time he was playing and learning instruments himself. The great R&B star Teena Marie personally took him in and encouraged his music. By the time he began recording and found his trademark eclectic groove and image, what the world had was a young musician, younger than M.C’s such as Chuck D, Ice T and Kool Moe Dee, who had the music of the ’60s & 70’s music explosion deep within him. Where the rap acts did as well, their non instrumental direction took them to making new tracks over the old sounds. Kravitz paid homage in the way he knew how, making songs such as “What Goes Around Comes Around” in the style of his great hero and fellow Gemini master, Curtis Mayfield.

Kravitz had just produced a song for Mayfield with Ice T providing a guest rap, called “Superfly 1990” for a little seen (and rightfully so) sequel to that blaxploitation classic. That song amazed me with its perfect update of the Curtis Mayfield classic funk vibe. Kravitz doubled down on the Curtis Mayfield sound with this song from his breakthrough 1991 album “Mama Said.”

A drum kick paves the way for the Curtis Mayfield inspired funk. Kravitz himself is on drums, and he plays the classic Curtis Mayfield funk drum beat, a Motown drum beat, which features the snare drum playing a consistent pattern on all four beats. Instead of the loud snare and rim shots you’d get from a great Motown drummer like Benny Benjamin, Curtis’ drummers like Quentin Joseph would play that snare drum on the cross sticks, which gives the groove a mellower, cooler, Afro Latin derived feel. With the snare holding steady, the kick drum is used to dance.

One of the interesting things I found out about this track recently is that Kravitz used Curtis Mayfields great bass player, “Lucky” Scott on this track. And he lays down exactly the type of bass line he would behind Curtis, a melodic bass line with a lot of space that creates a feel of walking, or more accurately, strutting down the avenue. On top of that Kravitz lays some very sensitive clean guitar chording.

The vocals are sung in falsetto, just as Curtis would, and the moral of the lyrical text is also Curtis influenced. Kravitz basically sings a song about Karma, using a blues type story in the first verse where the character is not living right and suffering because of it. The next verse tells the story of a persons who’s “cup over runneth/with fullness and grace.” Kravitz total devotion to the classic sound on this song is evident when the horns come in, and he used Earth, Wind & Fire’s renowned Phenix Horns to play the horn chart, which is a snappy accompanying riff. Kravitz also includes an interesting string part that he sings along with in falsetto. The third verse is about how we can’t afford to destroy the planet, and hte last verse takes on another Curtis like topic, encouraging the children of the future. And he speaks directly of Gen X and the Milenials, with a Mayfield like twist of phrase and rhyme : “Your forefathers said/but they did not do/the things that would show/that they cared for you.”

Lenny truly goes for the soul-funk crown on this one, adjusting his guitar comping in several sections and adding a Phenix Horn (probalby Don Myrick) sax solo. I really dig the solo, especially the way the horn player starts off in a totally conventional matter and moves way out into free jazz Coltrane/Dolphy/Sanders abstraction. It reminds me of the sax solo on EWF”s live rendition of “Sun Goddess.” Kravitz plays some very responsive guitar underneath the solo, actually adjusting what he’s playing to support and provide interest behind the soloist. By the end of the song Lenny is singing “I’m gonna take you higher.”

When Lenny Kravitz recorded and released this song, the late great Curtis Mayfield was in a wheel chair, paralyzed from an accident at a New York concert. Curtis himself was no longer able to play his guitar, on which he was a great innovator and stylist. It was very special then, that Lenny did this song, and brought Curtis’ voice, wisdom, and healing through music to those times. And he did it in a way that was stylistically true to one of the most unique styles in funk music history. “Mama’s Said” was a diverse album that featured all sorts of variations of rock and funk, including the great Philly Soul love letter to Lisa Bonet, “It aint over till it’s over.” I would love to play this song now for an old funk fan who ignored Kravitz because of his percieved weirdness. I’d bet they’d marvel at how well one up and coming master captured the unique artistry of another. And by “marvel”, I do mean GROOVE!

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