Monthly Archives: January 2015

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/31/2015: ‘The 20/20 Experience’ by Justin Timberlake

The 20 20 Experience

Eight years ago Justin Timberlake released his second studio album FutureSex / LoveSounds,an album very much defined by uptempo funk and EDM musical ideas and hybrids. The grooves were emphasized over the vocals a lot of the times, and it was quite a creative departure from his debut. In the time since that release Justin Timberlake has taken time to star in feature films and,for awhile seemed to be joining the ranks of Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston who traded in their musical banner for shots at the silver screen. But not only did his theatrical roles turn out to be a big success, but they seemed to have inspired him creatively as well.

During mid summer my friend Henrique informed me that Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience would be followed up by the end of September by a second volume. Seems Timberlake has recorded easily enough usable material in the last seven years for a double album. But probably knowing the economy level of most music buyers he elected to release it in two parts,also releasing the two full albums as the double set it was intended for those who haven’t gotten the first part yet.

For one thing,the idea that a contemporary recording artist to think creatively in terms of double albums (or albums period) is a profound revelation. Of course it helped that the first volume on this focused primarily on a genre one could call AOS/AOF (album oriented soul and/or funk) that hearkened back to the prime of the 70’s funk era. Of course I was eagerly anticipating this album. Of course I steered clear of streaming as I wanted to allow this album to speak for itself as I listened. From what came through that was a very good idea.

Most popularly inclined music artists today have gone backwards to a degree to emphasizing single songs again. Mainly,as with the 45 RPM record half a century ago, that format is more in tune with the age of internet based formats such as YouTube and MP3’s. Not only is Timberlake a fan of dressing and grooming himself in a sharp,elegant manner but his time in film probably exposed him more to the medium’s dynamic way of presenting its vision. So since Timberlake bought “sexy” back last time out,he is now bringing the musical quality of the album format back in a similar fashion.

The album opens with the upbeat melody and stop and start groove of “Pusher Love Girl”,with Timberlake’s sensuously subtle vocal approaching wrapping around the hiccuping rhythms as he compares a strong relationship to an addiction. Hearing it here I’ve warmed up heavily to “Suit & Tie”,a percussively rhythmic funk piece where Jay Z’s rap is perfectly in tune with the musical setting and never intrudes on Timberlake’s melodic vocal harmonies. “Don’t Hold The Wall” blends a slower 2-step dance groove with a trance music-type harmonic atmosphere,complete with East Indian singing and flutes. “Strawberry Bubblegum” is one of my favorite songs here. It begins with a lightly pulsing,spare electro funk and builds in it’s last three minutes into a afrolatin dance/funk/percussive jam.

The enormous rhythmic dynamics of “Tunnel Vision” and the slower “Spaceship Coupe” but more of the emphasis on Timberlake’s songwriting and vocals again-as he vocally harmonizes with himself Marvin Gaye side to express both the romantic and carnal side of his personality in these songs. “That Girl” is a sweetly melodic neo soul type number-led by a fantastic jazzy guitar riff that again places the focus on his singing and melodicism. “Let The Groove In” is just amazing-a hyper kinetic funk era style jam that is heavy on a genuine African percussion/tribal dance rhythm.

“Mirrors” is a very potent mixture of modern soul and progressive pop/rock that grows stronger in tone as the song progresses-especially in terms of its melodic development. The final song “Blue Ocean Floor”-with it’s spare trance/electronica sound and backwards loops takes the overall approach of this entire album to its most basic level. “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)”,”True Blood” and “Murder” are driving,rhythmically thick funk of the highest order. Justin jams on the one throughout all of these-intersecting the related grooves of James Brown,Michael Jackson and Prince through his own distinctive vocals,beat boxing and sexually eccentric lyrical orientation.

His slyness,wit and assertions to freedom of expression permeate all of these. While both very well composed and rhythmically complex the 2-step hip-hop/dance styles of “Cabaret” and “TKO” are probably my least favorite here. Yet the fact they are not stereotypically overproduced does give them extra vitality and groove. “Take Back The Night” is a beautiful dance/funk odyssey-almost a follow up to “Rock Your Body” from Justified only with a fuller production. Its easily my favorite here,and one of my favorite Timberlake songs of all time. “Drink You Away” is a grinding,rocking and funky blues type number-with Timberlake supplying some grooving guitar work of his own.

And what is the overall approach of this album exactly? In a modern production concept from Justin and Timbaland,who produced the previous album, Justin Timberlake has managed to bring out a re-visitation of the cinematic psychedelic soul/funk/pop-rock sound that permeated music by Isaac Hayes and much of the Norman Whitfield era Temptations. The songs here are generally seven + minutes and therefore have enough space to develop instrumentally and vocally. But as opposed to relying on a backup vocalists and enormous orchestral instrumental passages with no vocals, Timberlake’s own talents in singing/songwriting are integrally linked to the conceptually dynamic instrumental approach this album takes.

And the mixture of tradition string and horn arrangements with modern day EDM/hip-hop electronics give this album the possibility of being the commercial fruition of how music in the last three or four years has began to grow out of the unsettling complacency its been in since the turn of the millennium. Considering this albums already strong commercial success, if an approach to music like this catches on in the coming years, the funk/soul album innovations of the century might reach their commercial golden age.

Originally Posted As Two Separate Reviews On April 15th And September 30th,2013

Links to the original reviews for both albums below:

The 20/20 Experience 1 of 2

The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2

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Filed under "Suit & Tie", Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jay Z, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Prince, The 20/20 Experience, Timbaland

Anatomy of THE Groove 1/30/15 Rique’s Pick : “Waymans Gotta Do It” By Wayman Tisdale

People often forget that the much maligned genre of “smooth jazz” is a tree that grew from seriously funky roots. The 1970s progenitors of the form such as Grover Washington Jr. The Crusaders, Roy Ayers, as well as funk bands who were proficient in instrumentals such as Kool & The Gang, War and The J.B’s formed the basis of the sound that would keep the term “jazz” on the charts and in mainstream consideration. The late great NBA star and musician Wayman Tisdale was unique for forging a second career as a bass player after his days as an NBA all star. As a bassist, his records have always had an underpinning of funk. But 2009’s “Fonk Record” took the funk from the bottom and put it on the top of his ouevere, and it’s a fitting coda to his career, cut tragically short by his fatal bout with bone cancer. But “Waymans Gotta Do It” and the other songs on that album ended Tisdale’s career in the manner any funkateer would want to, very funkily!

The song begins with a nasty funky and sweet guitar line, thick and played mostly on the lower strings, with a mix of bass notes and chords. After this four bar intro Tisdale’s vocoder voice sings a line and a furiously funky groove kicks in, in the ’80s style of funkateers such as Roger & Zapp. The groove features synthesizer bass along with Tisdale’s bass guitar slapping and popping a funky line. Tisdale sings “Let me play my funky bass for you” and plays the line on his bass guitar as he sings. Other guitar parts come in, along with organ flourishes. Then the song switches to a vocoder led part, which is somewhat sweeter in it’s funky tone, with a nice chord progression. This more melodic vocoder led section serves as the chorus. After that the song returns to the funk stew, with Tisdale slapping out some funky lines. Tisdale goes on to sing in praise of the groove, saying it’s so funky you’ll have to take a bath after you listen to it! As the song progresses Tisdale slaps out a thick, rich, muscular low bass solo as the track is supplanted by synthesizer strings. Tisdale confides, “Yall know I had to do this, cause they say I hadn’t been playing hard enough.” Which is itself a rejoinder to those critics who think “Smooth Jazz” was the soft way out!

Tisdale said that of all the music he played, the funk was the closest to his heart. This is understandable being that he was born in the ’60s and came of age playing in the late ’70s as his skill in basketball was also increasing. By the time he came to the music industry, there was no funk as such, just shards of the one hidden in smooth jazz, hip hop, house, garage, rock and contemporary R&B. It’s a testament then to Tisdale’s musical heart and the reinvigoration of the Funk sound and genre then that in 2009 he could drop the one so hard on his last album. “Wayman’s Gotta Do It” then is a fitting coda to a fine career and a fine life, that never got too far from “The One.”

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Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, Funk

Anatomy Of The Groove For 1/30/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Affection” by Jody Watley

Jody Watley’s life and career literally started out riding on the Soul Train. She started out there as one of the most famous of the line dancers along with future Michael Jackson choreographer Jeffrey Daniels before they became the founding members of Shalamar-the group Don Cornelius helped to build. Eventually marrying Prince’s former musical partner Andre’ Cymone she had some wonderfully funky dance hits at the end of the 80’s such as “Looking For A New Love” and “Some Kind Of Lover”.

By the mid 90’s Wately’s commercial success on her label MCA had began to try up. A lot of this had to do with the fact that her music trajectory was talking her in much more of a creative and soulful direction. Music during the mid 90’s had definitely taken a turn towards slower paced,often funkier grooves depending on the music personalities for those involved. She than recorded her fifth album in 1995 for the Avitone label and proceeded to take more control over her creative career with songwriter/multi instrumentalist Derrick Edmonson. Thus the album Affection and it’s title song were born.

Starting out with the ringer of an answer phone where Watley speaks of her new song and asks the answering party to “fill in the blanks”,the song kicks into gear with a slow funky drum and three layered keyboard lines. The melody is a round high pitched synthesizer,followed closely by a hissing electronic harmony. The other is a popping high bass line that punctuates both the harmony and main melody. Jody sings the body of the song with a lower,Sly Stone like drawl and the chorus in a high,sexy gospel inflected tone. The instrumental bridge features a bluesy guitar,turntabling and a sax solo from Edmonson that comes directly from the melodic horn line of Maceo Parker’s from James Brown’s “Cold Sweat”.

Jody describes this song at the beginning as being “a little Sade,a little James Brown a little Miss Jody Watley”. That in a nutshell describes the groove she gets on this song. It has the sleek,rolling,sexy shuffle groove,jazzy harmonics and thick layers of rhythmic keyboard tones overall. That also gets her into the Mary J Blige/TLC vein of hip-hop/soul friendly contemporary pop-funk grooves of the mid 90’s. A longtime AIDS/human rights supporter,Watley even gives this sexually themed song a broad social message with the chorus of “doesn’t matter if your young or old,doesn’t matter if your straight or gay,everybody needs to feel loved”. It’s total funky,all inclusive sexuality. Where everyone can be who they were born to be and sensuality comes without fear. For me? It’s the culmination of Jody Watley’s strong musical and lyrical assertions of the groove!

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", 1990s, Derrick Edmonson, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jazz-Funk, Jody Watley, Mary J. Blige, pop-funk, TLC

Seeing The Music: Andre’s Guide To Funk,Soul & Jazz Documentary Essentials!

SONY DSC

                   During the time I was growing up,the majority of men  around me were mainly interested in watching sports on television and action films in the movie theaters. From adolescence onward, the one thing that moved me in both media were musical documentaries about the black American musical spectrum that I was then absorbing like a sponge. The understanding of rhythm and harmony I received from seeing these musicians perform,speak of their histories along with the music they made provided me with a full sensory experience far beyond what I could’ve received from the limited literature of the era I was receiving.

                        Initially I was going to combine documentary films with biopics in the same blog. Since dramatizations  are a completely different medium of film making technique? Decided instead to break them up in separate but related blogs. Also because I received a very different level of education from them as well. Before hand,some of these documentaries are very hard to find even on YouTube. Many have never even been issued on DVD. Yet I highly recommend seeking all of them out if you are looking to seek out a first hand education on the soul,jazz,funk and R&B musical spectrum.

rock-n-roll

        This aired on PBS in 1995. The eighth part of it focused specifically on the genre of funk and it’s development from James Brown on through George Clinton. The final volume focused on hip-hop. The names of Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash first came to me through watching this documentary. Not to mention the knowledge of rap’s musical roots in Jamaican reggae DJ’s such as Kool Herc. While some of the narrative commentary shows a limited understanding of the connectivity of black American music’s connectivity? The insights of interviewees such as Maceo Parker,Alan Leeds,George Clinton,Afrika Bambaataa and Chuck D are extremely insightful to what drove the music forward.

record row cradle of rhythm and blues

Narrated by the late Chess Records icon Etta James,this documentary not only opened my eyes to understanding the history of blues,soul and funk in 60’s Chicago. But was also the first glimpse I got into the idea of black American financial empowerment. Jerry Butler explained it best in this when describing how Curtis Mayfield starting his Curtom label,taking control of his publishing,took the Chicago scene into the funk era by closing down the era of people such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker functioning as “musical sharecroppers”.

The strong emphasis this has on United Record Distributors,the only black American record distributors  in their time run by the Leaner brothers,proved extremely significant in my understanding of black America’s experience with capitalism for years to come. And the level of communication in the civil rights era through the iconic radio station WVON,such a significant force in the city that if an artist wasn’t on their play list,record stores would not stock their music. Possibly my favorite musical documentary all told.

motown40

It was this epic documentary mini series,hosted by Diana Ross that really allowed me to understand the internal workings of Motown records. From it’s foundational years when Berry Gordy,having failed as a record store owner in Detroit,began writing songs for Jackie Wilson. And then borrowed $800 from his family to start what become an American musical institution. A black American institution. The interviews follow Motown’s changes from it’s salad period in the mid 60’s,through the funk and disco era when the artists had the most creative control,on through Berry deferring ownership of the company in the mid 80’s through it’s resurgence with vocal boy bands and then Puff Daddy Combs remixing the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. A very complete and thorough history on The Sound Of Young America.

jazz-show

Overall I’d apply the same viewpoint to this documentary as I would apply to PBS’s  Rock ‘N’ Roll from seven years earlier. It’s understanding of musical connectivity,absolutely key to jazz,is more limited to the participants (such as Ken Burns  and Wynton Marsalis) perceptions of the music than it is lacking. Yet the decision to weave an internal documentary on the life and career of Louis Armstrong as a key figure in jazz is double edged: it didn’t quite succeed in term of historical continuity but did showcase how the aspect of modern black American musical might’ve derived from Armstrong’s approach. I learned about important sociological figures in the music such as Buddy Bolden,James Reese Europe and Sidney Bechet here as well. With the help of my father’s asides,this helped complete my historical understanding of jazz.

Scratch

Went to Portland Maine to see this movie,in a little movie theater underground of a local clotherie. It was actually a suitable environment for this film. It traces Grand Mixer DST’s pioneering turntable work with Herbie Hancock on his “Rockit” project. It than goes on to discuss the fine art of crate digging for used vinyl by hip-hop scratch artists. There was no irony to the fact that I was myself crate digging myself,only for my personal listening pleasure and musical enlightenment,less than an hour after seeing this in the used record stores of the city of Portland. One of those films that was both influential and validating exactly at the time I saw it.

Earth Wind & Fire Shinning Stars

Probably the one documentary I was the most excited to learn about upon it’s release. It follows the ascension of Maurice White from his childhood in Memphis to switching his college major from premed to music and playing with the Ramsey Lewis Trio before forming his first and second incarnations of Earth,Wind & Fire. The fact that bassist/trombonist Louis Satterfield,saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk,drummer Ralph Johnson and guitarist Al McKay go deeply into their own insights on how music functioned in terms of being a member of Earth Wind & Fire during it’s prime period.

Stevie Wonder Classic Albums

In terms of the Rhino Classic Album series? This now very hard to find DVD interviews all of the musicians involved in the long winded and dramatic recording sessions to what is considered Stevie Wonder’s shinning musical pinnacle. Stevie demonstrates the double keyboarded Yamaha GX-1 (known as the Dream Machine)- a polyphonic synthesizer I find sonically and visually impressive. Another favorite part is where Stevie showcases how his musical acumen allowed him to cover over for a harmonic solo at the end of “Isn’t She Lovely” that a harmonica player of his caliber shouldn’t have made. Hearing the musical insights of this mans inner visions was a hugely important musical milestone for me.

Marvin Gaye Life & Death Of

Marvin Gaye’s history has,especially in the hands of author David Ritz,was generally depicted for me literarily in extremely magisterial terms. This BBC documentary,one that came my way through a life changing act of barter in itself,really did a lot to put more of a human face on the complexities of Marvin Gaye’s musical and personal life. Through interviews with the artist himself and penetrating reenactments of the even of his childhood? I’d recommend this as the best available visual documentation on Marvin Gaye.

Tom Dowd

Tom Dowd is probably listed as the producer of more albums than anyone in American music history. This man started out working for the Manhattan Project on the atomic bomb. And his career as a producer extends throughout both the black music and rock era spectrum-an array of artists as diverse as John Coltrane to Lynyrd Skynyrd. The amazing about this documentary isn’t merely the musical history. But Down provides an inside look,right at the mixing board,onto how he instrumentally layered songs such as “Layla”. A key story for understanding the intricacies of the musical creative process.

Bob Marley

For many years Bob Marley was mainly known to me as a superficial icon of a certain local stoner culture,one that tended to feel sociopolitical change derived solely from drug use and how it changed the consciousness. This story chronicles the complex wheel of Marley’s musical life-starting from his childhood in Trenchtown,Kingston in Jamaica through his near assassination attempt in 1976 through his passing on from Melanoma in 1981. This really broke it down exactly what about his back-round and viewpoint on the Jamaican music industries corruption that motivated the sociopolitical consciousness of the reggae music he helped to pioneer and export the world over in his lifetime.

Respect Yourself

It was thanks to Netflix that I found out about this documentary about Soulville USA! Stax Records were both the rival and opposite to Motown’s business model during it’s mid 60’s heyday. This is extremely thorough on it’s representation of Stax literally rising back from the dead following the double cross of Jerry Wexler’s Atantic Records ownership over Stax’s catalog following the death of Otis Redding, the labels burgeoning social consciousness embodied in Isaac Hayes,the Staple Singers and Wattstax during the early 70’s and financial bloating bringing the label down mid decade. Than Stax came back decades later-with a music school for young musicians to boot. Especially following the creative managing of Al Bell and interviews with many of the artists from Stax’s heyday? This is the essential story of Southern Soul from when Stax really bought the funk into the music.

Michael Jackson Life Of An Icon

Michael Jackson’s story has been re-purposed in the media so many times? It is nearly impossible to approach his life story with total objectivity. Thus far,this is one documentary that does the best job of doing so. For one,it concentrates on Mike’s late teens and early adulthood in terms of his musical development. And by interviewing everyone from Bobby Taylor,who first discovered the Jackson’s performing onto 80’s era manager Frank Dileo? It strips away some of the overbearing adulation and downright hero worship that this distinctive and funky musical talent found somewhat responsible for his own end. An end that came far too soon. Probably the essential Michael Jackson documentary thus far.

unsung_logo2012-wide

Unsung is an unprecedented documentary series on the cable network TV One. The reason for it’s importance is that it profiles an often underrated musical icons from within the soul/funk spectrum. And does so with a great level of care and compassion. As of now I’ve not been privileged to see every episode of the series. Yet the stories of people such as Tammi Tarrell,David Ruffin,Donny Hathaway,Full Force,Angela Bofill and Heatwave lead singer Johnnie Wilder provided an excellent insight into artists either misrepresented or not even spoken of broadly in other media circles.

Finding Fela

It was a reference in Paul McCartney’s documentary Wingspan that first gave me indication to the name Fela Anikulapo Kuti. This story probably brings my understanding of the African American musical spectrum near to it’s final stages. My conversations with blogging partner Rique are consistently referencing Kuti. And this film really expands on that understanding. The understanding of Fela as the Nigerian James Brown,whom he in fact was very highly influenced by through travelling through America during the years of black power in the late 60’s.

While the man bought the sound and social consciousness of total rhythm into his combination of African Highlife and jazz-funk?  He also set upon living a lifestyle of breaking down conventions,largely coming out of the corruption that led to tragic events such as the murder of his own mother. This really embodies the full spectrum of emotion a life can have-from pioneering,to humorous to tragic. And it also helps bring out peoples understanding and misunderstanding of what African culture is really all about.


Sometimes when I try to encourage people to watch more documentaries,they often respond by saying that they find them boring. At the end of the day they say? They want to escape,not learn. What I’ve personally come to understand is that knowledge functions as both a destination and an escape. Just depends on how you receive it. Being lectured at about topics by a teacher isn’t always the idea method of education. Yet through documentaries on a favorite subject? One can experience first hand,sometimes comic history,joy and tears from the viewpoint of all involved.  And for me? These have all provided the ultimate in learning while being simultaneously entertained.

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Filed under 1990s, Bob Marley, Chicago, crate digging, Earth Wind & Fire, Etta James, Fela Kuti, Funk, George Clinton, Heatwave, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Jazz, Ken Burns, Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Maurice White, Mavis Staples, Memphis Soul, Michael Jackson, Portland Maine, reggae, Stax, Stevie Wonder, Tom Dowd, Unsung series, Vee-Jay

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: ‘The Diary Of Alicia Keys’

Diary of Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys created quite a stir the entire summer before her debut album Songs in a Minor hit the record racks with one of the most intense promotional campaigns to have come around since Bruce Springsteen in the early 70’s. That album,which looked to blend Alicia’s mixture of European classical music and American jazz-funk with hip-hop beats wound up being a bit hyped and it’s hit “Fallin” became a bit overplayed and it would’ve been almost easy for Keys to wind up less hip and more hype,if readers here will forgive that lousy slogan. A couple years later Alicia came back with her second album which would make her or break her as the serious musician/singer/songwriter that she always was. This time the promotion was more genuine and she wasn’t as caught up in the “I’m going to save R&B music” kind of manifesto that accompanied her first album. She was therefore more free to be herself and the result is an album that in basic terms cut back on some of the heavier hip-hop beats and concentrating on her ability to craft music like a fine knit sweater.

The tapestry she comes up with here is built a lot more around her piano based chord progressions and her flexible vocal styling’s. Overall it’s a very musicianly album that doesn’t have the immediate commercial appeal you might expect but even on one of it’s most powerful and popular songs “You Don’t Know My Name”,her second big hit actually the music has a finely arranged retro soul flavor with some some beautiful,avant garde jazz styled high piano chordings that give the song it’s hook. I liked the fact she reached outside the pop idiom for the hook on this song-it also matches her high pitched,passionate coos on the refrains. The same flavor crosses over into the spirited medley of “If I Were Your Woman/Walk On By”,”If I Ain’t Got You” and the title song.

The final song “Nobody Not Really” has one of the most intricately chorded piano part since Stevie Wonder’s “I Gotta Have A Song” so basically this consists of immaculately produced and arranged,mid-tempo jazzy soul/funk tunes with some expressive vocal changes and personalized lyrical themes. On the songs that do feature something more of a hip-hop flavor such as “Karma” you have a great song with a very stiff rhythm and that kind of keeps it from being a complete masterpiece. But overall it’s actually one of the closest places Alicia has come to a consistently fully realized album and expresses her artistry for what it was rather than as something that has too much of a deliberate intention behind it.

Originally Posted On August 16th,2010

Link to original review here*

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Filed under Alicia Keys, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Neo Soul, Soul, Stevie Wonder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/24/2015: ‘Exit’ by Tangerine Dream-Dedicated To The Memory of Edgar Froese

Exit

It was actually bands like Tangerine Dream,along with the innovations of funk synthesizer pioneers such as Stevie Wonder and P-Funk’s Bernie Worrell and Walter Junie Morrison,who helped to develop the new wave/synth pop genre that was becoming the dominant form of dance,rock and pop music for the first several years of the 1980’s. Edgar Froese,Chris Franke and Johannes Schmoelling were still operating and going very strong by the time 1981 rolled around. And for their second non soundtrack studio album of the 80’s,the band were in a state of musical adaptation to the very approach they’d played a part in creating.

“Kiew Mission” marches along with a lightly rocking beat with more textural synth lines this time and a pounding,deep orchestral line that sounds similar to the one utilized a year later as the intro to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. “Pilots Of Purple Twilight” features a full range of synthesizers providing multiple rhythms,bass lines and melodies to create a full on,flat out electro pop extravaganza. “Choronzon” is a similar type of song only with each synth line marching along in a very strident,forward style. The title song is a very spare and probing number with a basic bass line and melody while “Network 23” has a very busy set of multiple rhythms,bass and melody parts again that sounds very much like something that could be used for the opening of a television news broadcast with it’s sense of tense drama.

“Remote Viewing” concludes the album with a a longer and sparer song where both the melodic and bass synthesizers respond to each other in a very similar musical language that one might hear from a horn section. When I learned of the passing of Edgar Froese today,it took my friend Thomas Carley to help me connect the name with Tangerine Dream. And one thing I realize about the late Froese’s synthesizer work is how much call and response there is to it. Especially on this album. At a period of time when almost every strain of popular music was becoming electronically derived,albums such as this one helped to showcase WHY things worked in electronic music’s instrumentation. And this might be a far more influential Tangerine Dream album than most realize purely on that level.

Originally Posted on January 23rd,2015

Link to original Amazon review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Bernie Worrell, Edgar Froese, Electronica, New Wave, Stevie Wonder, Synth Pop, Tangerine Dream, Walter Junie Morrison

Anatomy of THE Groove Celebrating 100 Posts for 1/23/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Human Family” by Maya Angelo ft. Shawn Rivera

With my end of this shared blog making it’s 100th post today? I wanted to personally dedicate this to the memory of the late poetess and human rights champion Maya Angelou-who left this Earth in the summer of 2014. I’ve already shared a song she did with Ashford & Simpson in the mid 90’s But during her final year she teamed up with multi instrumentalist Shawn Rivera to record her reciting her poetry rhythmically over a contemporary hip-hop style backing for the 2014 posthumous release Caged Bird Songs,which leads off with the number “Human Family”.

The song leads off with a sizzling bass synthesizer tone which goes into a higher electronic alarm sound over which Angelou declares “It is time for the preachers,the rabbis,the priests,pundits and the professors to believe in the awesome wonder of diversity”.  A driving uptempo drum machine kicks in with a song that musically interchanges instrumental gears between each refrain. The first refrain showcases a gentler variation of that synthesized alarm sounding effect playing rhythmically very much in the vein of the late 80’s Bomb Squad sound,while the second refrain features a grinding and funky rhythm guitar solo from Rivera.

Maya Angelou was one of those people who epitomized the female black American side of what writer William Strauss famously coined as the Silent Generation. This generation,born during the second half of the Harlem Renaissance into the Great Depression were likely the most important black American generation of the 20th century. They were the generation of the civil rights and black power movements,of Rosa Parks,Martin Luther King Jr,Malcolm X,Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. When there’s such a spiraling level of positive change going on? It’s always helpful to have a sage maternal figure with a kindly dignity speaking of it in the literary sense. Maya was that person. And this deeply rooted nature of hers is dripping from this song like tears of tremendous joy.

Lyrically Angelou’s poem about the human family displays a series of situations in which people can possibly relate-at one point stating that while some are serious,others live for comedy. But either way? The reception of important values are still there. The central point of the song is Angelou’s statement “in minor ways we differ,in major we’re the same”. While her very musical style of poetry comes to full flower there,using the internal comparison between the differences in major and minor chords on a musical instrument?  The song is the idea statement for understanding differences rather than trying to homogenize them to your personal liking. At a time when America has just started recovering from the onslaughts of racism denials and fears over matters such as the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown and the witch hunt of Bill Cosby at the end of last year? This shows that even in death,Maya Angelou’s message still has the power to help heal the hearts and minds of the people.

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Filed under civil rights, Funk, Hip-Hop, Maya Angelou, Silent Generation

Keeping It Live: My Own Experiences Taking Music To The Stage

Get On Up

This past Saturday I picked up and watched the biopic Get On Up,staring Chadwick Boseman  as The Godfather Of Soul himself. My comments on the film itself are something that’ll be dealt with at another time and place. Yet the striking recreations of James Brown’s iconic live performances stood out on another level. It is those performances that made James the icon he became. Everything he did in his music surrounded his dance moves. So much so he took the thinking of many jazz musicians a step further by recording his most powerful funk sides between gigs. That’s also what earned him the nickname,one of many,of The Hardest Working Man In Show Business.

No one in my family,including myself ever had the privilege of beholding James Brown in his onstage domain. Yet my blogging partner and game changing friend Henrique Hopkins did have that opportunity,and in JB’s twilight years as well. The reason I tended to enjoy hearing him repeat the story of how James was still kicking onstage well into his 70’s reminded me of my own significant experiences with live music. While the level of available performances in my own state varies extremely over time? It’s been my honor to see almost a dozen concerts in my lifetime. Note my parents have seen many many more-I simply declined the invitation due to lack of interest in the performing artist(s). These ten performances I’m talking about changed the way I viewed music. So let’s get it started!

Bela Fleck

The first adult concert that I remember attending was with Bela Fleck & The Flecktones at the University Of Maine in Orono,which has been a hotbed of the local music scene in my neck of the woods for decades. The two most striking members of the gypsy jazz/fusion group was the fluid bass player Victor Wooten and his brother who called himself Futureman. He played an instrument called a drumitar-a customized synthesizer guitar that allowed him to created many different levels of rhythm. There was a meet and greet I had with my mother and the other band members after the show. It was my very first time actually speaking with live musicians. The most exciting part of the concert was when Bela himself asked the audience to shout “Yee haw” during the opening bass line of their song “Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo”. A lot of fun for an 11 year old.

OJ Ekemode & His Nigerian All Stars

When I was 12 years old OJ Ekemode and his Nigerian Allstars,an Afro-pop band of some note came to the Grand theater in downtown Ellseworth. Thus far this was my first and only exposure to live world music. The colorful,tribal dances and clothes were more educational than anything I ever learned from a school book about Nigerian culture. The most exciting part was the multi part encore-which came off as a hyper percussive eternal dance. Only problem was that everyone had to remain seated as I recall. The best way to march to the beat of your own drummer is to be able to dance to it.

Medeski Martin & Wood

1996’s summer concert of Medeski,Martin & Wood came during a time when I was deeply exploring the funk music genre in the studio sense. My father introduced me to the talented jazz-funk trio and was exciting about going. He really enjoyed it. However at the time,I found their slow jam band music to be deadly dull compared to the exciting funk coming out of my CD player and turntable from Prince,George Clinton,Bootsy,Cameo and The Bar Kays. A small crowd of what my folks and I affectionately referred to as “Charlie Brown Dancers” up near the stage added a comic bent to it. Though the smell of reefer upfront was pretty thick. My first exposure to jam band culture basically.

Rippopotamus-at-Montreal-Jazz-Festival-1998

A family vacation to the Montreal Jazz Festival of 1998 was exciting to me because we were supposed to go see the falsetto singer Jai,whose album Heaven  was a family favorite at the time. My father got see a number of jazz acts that year. One night we all went to see a funk band called Rippopodamus. They performed a medley of funk classics including The Time’s “Jungle Love”. Not only did this coincide with my interest in the Minneapolis sound at the time,but was the first full on funk concert I ever had a chance to see.

Dr.John

The most thrilling concert experience I had before turning 21 was in the summer of 2000. My family and I were walking around downtown Portland Maine and came across a concert poster saying Dr.John was performing at the State Theater that night. So we decided to go see the show. It was a nice,intimate little club. And the Night Tripper strutted out to his piano playing a grooving remake of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” from his than current tribute to Duke called Duke Elegant. Hearing “In The Right Place” from the man himself up on the stage is an amazing experience for a great admirer of the funk such as myself.

billybang

My parents had already seen Billy Bang and his band,including the late sax player Frank Lowe,when they both convinced me to see him at another show he did in the town of Waterville in 2002. The show was a recreation of Bang’s album Vietnam: The Aftermath which had just come out. “Saigon Phunk” was the song that had me and my family bopping up and down to the jazz violinists music. There was a meet and greet with the band after the show,which led to an interesting encounter with stand in drummer Michael Carvin. In every way,it was quite a show however.

entertainment-sonny-fortune-half-note-jazz-club

This concert coincided directly with my interest in Miles Davis. My father encouraged me to see Mister Fortune play in Waterville the autumn after seeing Billy Bang with the knowledge he played with Miles during the height of his fusion breakthrough in the mid 1970’s. Fortune played brilliantly. Yet there wasn’t much of a performance involved. More the type of jazz playing that really does lend itself better to audio than the visual element. Still seeing this man was an exciting experience for me in far later hindsight.

NIGEL AND RODERICK

Who you see here are (right) bassist Roderick Pinkney and (left) keyboard player Nigel Hall. In 2004,they were key members of the first local funk band in Bangor Maine called Funkizon. The membership at the time also included guitarists Bill Mayo and Anthony Druin as well as drummer Spencer Nelson. How this local group were significant to my experience with live music was that I saw them nearly every weekend during their 2004 residency at the old Waterfront Bar & Grill on the Bangor waterfront.

I became very much acquainted with all the musicians personally thanks to my father introducing me to Nigel personally,and I’d known Roderick as a childhood chum. They played a mixture of James Brown inspired instrumental originals along with Nigel’s take on George Duke songs such as “Don’t Be Shy” and occasionally Rick James’ “Super Freak”. They also gave me my first experience with concert filming-allowing me to record their shows with my used VHS camcorder. My first and only direct involvement with a live funk band,or any band for that matter.

Janele_Monae_WorkMusicBalance

So far this is probably the most profound live experience I ever had a chance to have. So much so that I actually discussed it in detail on my old blog The Rhythmic Nucleus. She ran through the aisles of the auditorium before her opening act .Fun,went on to do some fancy JB style footwork,danced the Charleston with a group of extraterrestrial clad dancer/band members and sat on a stool playing her acoustic guitar in her tuxedo all at random within her 90 minute or so  long set. It was like watching the last century of black American music come together through a magical musical world!  This eclectic mix of James Brown,P-Funk and Prince in one talented young lady provided the most complete example of the funk I’ve had yet to see.

BBKing

Reason for this even happening at all was a co-worker of my fathers not being able to attend the concert. And giving two tickets to him. He decided to bring me along. Seeing Dickey Betts and The Allman Brothers Band as the opening act was wonderful as well as some of the other acts. And BB’s band,including an amazing horn section,were loose as a goose funky blues. BB himself was clearly nearing the end of his game in terms of his performance ability. But just being able to see the legend and Lucille said all it needed to say.


While there are many live performances that came this way which I didn’t have a chance to see-in particular Ray Charles and Steely Dan? The ten live shows I saw here gave me a fairly well rounded viewpoint on the concert experiences. Honestly? My preferred method of receiving music is through listening to records,in whatever format they are in. At the same time? It’s still fun to imagine being onstage in front of an audience,a mic in front of you with your interested and offering your art live in person for the ears of many.

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Filed under 1990s, BB King, Bela Fleck, Blues, Dr.John, Funk, James Brown, Janelle Monae, Live music, Montreal Jazz Festical, Nigel Hall, Portland Maine, University Of Maine, Victor Wooten

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/17/2015: ‘1980’ by B.T. Express

B.T. Express - 1980 - Front

On their final 70’s album Energy To Burn,BT Express showed themselves to be a band who was in the process of slickening up their sound. One year after that their keyboardist Michael Jones,key to their new sound,left the band under his new name of Kashif Saleem. He would of course go onto become one of the premiere producers of the next decade and a key architect of the boogie funk sound. What would be left for guitarist/singer Rich Thompson and company to do within the band who had only a few years earlier been so successful. Similar to Gil Scot Heron and Brian Jackson,B.T Express elected to title their 1980 album after the year itself-every bit as symbolic of their comeback as with the changes any musician could see coming up from under the groove at the time.

“Takin’ Off” begins the album with a symphonic fanfare of horns before launching into a hyper kinetic,percussion dance/funk number. “Heart Of Fire” literally doesn’t skip a heart beat,with a rhythm helped along by a punchy had smooth as glass synth bass intro that repeats on the refrains of the song. “Does It Feel Good To You” has a strong choral melody and a bass/piano led disco friendly dance/funk number with some powerful horns and percussive effects. “Give Up The Funk (Let’s Dance)” leaps right out as a possible best track on the album with it’s rapped intro increasing in volume until the slow 4/4 beat and percussive early drum machine kicks in to Thompson’s hard groove rhythm guitar and the classic B.T. Express call and response horns,vocals and percussion.

“Closer” and “Better Late Than Ever” are both fine ballads that are beautifully orchestrated and melodic while “Have Some Fun” is another disco friendly melodic dance/funk groove. “Funk Theory” ends the album on a rhythmically and melodically dynamic Brazilian dance/funk note with lyrics that talk about how especially in uncertain times,funk music has enormous power to bring different people together to do their dances-whatever they may be. Musically speaking this album has exceptionally high energy level. Possibly taking cues from Barry White and Quincy Jones’ productions of that era,the sound is extremely crisp and studiocentric rather than the more live sound the band was noted for. Not only that,but it really tuned into funk futurism. What with the mixture of drum machines and live drumming and at least one nod to the oncoming presence of rap. A wonderfully funky B.T. Express intro to the 80’s. And very likely more important to where the music had been and where it was going than anyone may even still think.

Originally posted on January 16th,2015

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, B.T.Express, Disco, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Gil Scott Heron, Kashif

Anatomy of THE Groove 01/17/15 Rique’s Pick : “Forest Green” by Butcher Brown

One of both my blogging partner Andre Grindle and myself’s favorite subgenre’s of funk has to be jazz-funk, instrumentals in particular. The sophisticated funk flavors of George Duke, The Headhunters, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, Weather Report, Grover Washington Jr, The Crusaders and many other bands were a key point in my musical development, usually coming from the turntable of my mom and dad. If pops were still living, I know he’d dig “Forest Green” by Butcher Brown. Butcher Brown is a furiously funky quartet from Virginia. They first came to my attention on Mult Instrumentalist Nicholas Paytons 2013 release, “Numbers”, itself one of the funkiest and best musical releases of last year. The members are DJ Harrison on keys, Keith Askey on guitar, Andrew Randazzo on bass, and Corey Fonville on drums. “Forest Green” is the type of intense, kaeladescopic, frantically funky song that hasn’t been heard in quite some time. It was most def at the top of my personal funk charts for last year!

The song begins with a unison lick, played by the bass, and several keyboard sounds, including one with a wah wah. The opening lick is both brighter in tone than the rest of the song and also lands mostly on the upbeats. The instruments sustain their last note for a few bars and the drummer Corey Fonville, introduces the intricate fills he laces the whole track with. Then the main riff starts, which is also played in unison by several instruments, including the bass, guitars and keys. The main riff is agressive, very sharp and on top of the beat. The lead keyboard has a somewhat harsh, quacking filter tone to it. After that main riff is played, the band plays chords, with the bass playing the root of the chord and the keyboards and guitar playing sustained suspended chords. The clavinet sound has a wah wah attached to it, which makes the suspended chord come at you another kind of way. The melody goes through that cycle and when it reaches the end of it, Andrew Randazzo plays a fleet fingered bass line that leads you right back to the top of the cyle. DJ Harrison plays a melody type line on what sounds like a processed Rhodes, but gives you the feeling of machines or computers talking in an old science fiction movie.

The band soon switches to another intense section, lead by Randazzo’s bass playing a simple two sixteenth note line and leaving a lot of space.The whole band kills it on those two notes, jamming away furiosly, with Fonville’s drums leading the way with fills, leading you back up to the beginning of the pattern, and the band hitting a chord sequence before the new pattern begins. In between this there is plenty of room for DJ Harrison to jam on clavinet as well as playing his repetitive computer style melodic lines on top of that. After this the song comes back to the melody used at the beginning of the song, with Fonville going totally free on the drums, playing funky linear lines like Mike Clark of The Headhunters. The song basically repeats this two section pattern, with Fonville’s drummings becoming more powerful and noticeable as the song progresses, Harrison adding all kinds of beautiful texture on keys, Randazzo making you think about Paul Jackson on bass, and room for Keith Askey to solo over the top on guitar.

“Forest Green” is a terrific achievement and statement. The band sustains a high level of intensity and virtuosity over the course of an over six minute jazz funk piece. The song both grooves and takes you different places at the same time, with texture as well as punch. And its a great introduction to the tunes on their album “All Purpose Music.” Butcher Brown is most definitely one of those independent groups to watch. I’m looking for more great music from them and their label Jellostone!

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Filed under 1970's, Acid Jazz, Blogging, Crusaders, drums, Funk