Monthly Archives: March 2015

Andre’s Amazon Archive 3/28/2015-‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke

robin-thicke-blurred-lines-album-cover-1373911639

Within the past decade the musical career of Robin Thicke has progressed very nicely. When he first emerged with A Beautiful World,there really weren’t a great deal of popularly inclined musical artists who were taking an interest in 70’s funk and soul. That ethic was largely taken up by what were than relatively left of center retro and neo soulers One might look about Thicke in those terms. But he always had a strong operation in the popular idiom,with the intent on having hits. But also on his own terms. That served him quite well through some musically dismal times. And the fact that his music was always highly sexually charged gave some the impression he was shallow and one dimensional. Of course this last year the popular idiom of music is showing signs of going where people like Robin Thicke have been trying to lead it. And he is more than willing to lead the pack along for the ride.

The title song,video buzz aside is a stripped down naked funk revelation-steady percussion,dancing bass line and insistent electric piano pulses that put it somewhere between the influence of Prince’s “Kiss” and “Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”. “Take It Easy On Me” and “Give It You You”,with Kendrick Lemar both start off sounding like shallow dance/hip-hop until at the bridge this heavy bass/guitar funk kicks in-revealing the songs true intent. “Ooo La La”,”Ain’t No Hat 4 That” and “Get In My Way” are all upbeat melodic dance/funk grooves directly from the Michael Jackson/Quincy Jones/Con Funk Shun/Earth Wind & Fire league-some of the best songs of Thicke’s career. “Feel Good” blends that sound with some modern electro pop synthesizer orchestration for a potent blend of old and new school funk. “Go Stupid For You” loops the synth pops from Message into a unique funk/dance/hip-hop hybrid. “4 The Rest Of My Life” revisits his signiture spare soulful ballad style and,after the empowering funky soul/rap of “Top Of The World” ends off the album with the doo wop of “The Good Life”.

Much has been made based on the video for this albums title track being highly sexualized. If you ask me? I don’t see what all the fuss is about. In fact it detracts from the fact that this is the most consistently funky album I’ve ever heard Robin Thicke make. He explores the late 70’s sophistifunk (the genre that got lumped in with disco originally),80’s naked grooves and difference hip-hop based hybrids of the music in a manner that is very true not only to his own vision but to the rhythm of the one. Not only that the album actually follows a firm conceptual course. He starts out “looking for a good girl”, dates many and finds out the type he thinks he’s looking for are shallow and self centered. In the end he realizes the importance of settling into a functional and adult romantic life. Its a great album for men to here especially because while their busy shaking their groove thing to the music, they may just learn a little something about themselves and how they could be if they aren’t already. A wonderfully realized rebirth for the funk from Robin Thicke.

Originally Posted July 31st,2013

Link to original review here*

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Filed under Disco, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Kendrick Lemar, Marvin Gaye, Neo Soul, Pharrell Willaims, Prince, Quincy Jones, Robin Thicke, Soul

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/27/2015-“We Appreciate Your Patience” by Lorraine Feather

For this weeks posting,I wanted to play a little jazz for everyone. Considering this blog was started with the intention of projecting modern songs in the entire jazz,soul,funk,R&B,blues and pop spectrum? I’ve neglected going too deep into jazz because the critical medium of that musical genre has a tendency to take itself much more seriously than perhaps other levels of critical assessment. Yet there was something about this artist and this song that was right up my alley in terms of actually writing about it.

Lorraine Feather,herself the daughter of famous NYC jazz critic Leonard Feather. Her mother Jane was a big band singer in the trio Full Swing. After studying musical theater acting in LA,Lorraine returned to New York to pursue that career. Eventually landing nigh club gigs between numerous waitress jobs. After a successful career doing songs for films by Disney among others? She began her recording career in the year 2000. And nine years later released her sixth solo album Language,which includes the song that’s the subject of today’s post in “We Appreciate Your Patience”.

Instrumentally the song is is a very stripped down mid-tempo bluesy number. That with drummer Gregg Field and percussion Michael Shapiro actually providing a slow,loping and rhythmically well accented hip-hop/jazz swinging shuffle to the music itself. This is accompanied by the melodic participating of pianist/co-writer Shelly Berg,bassist  Michael Valerio with Spanish tinged acoustic guitar from Grant Geissman. On the bridge Field’s dreamy brushing is accompanied by Berg scaling back and forth similarly on piano-taking a solo before returning to the main theme that the song fades out on.

The best thing thing about this song for me is how it updates the traditions of vocal jazz. It takes on the dragging shuffle of the hip-hop beat for sure. But also focuses on Feathers embracing of the witty cultural references in vocal jazz lyricism. The concept of dealing with calling customer service lines over the phone is a thoroughly modern frustration. Feather illustrates this with her own singular wit and mildly dry,yet harmless sarcasm about being put on hold while listening to “some music from the 80s”,as well as being directed to said company’s website as the preferred means of contact. In the end,it appears she develops a crush on one particular rep. Both musically and lyrically? This is one contemporary acoustic vocal jazz number that is right on time.

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Filed under 2008, Blues, customer service, Grant Geissman, Greg Field, hip-hop/jazz, humor, Jazz, Leonard Feather, Lorraine Feather, Los Angeles, lyrics, Michael Shapiro, Michael Valerio, New York, Shelly Berg, vocal jazz

Chaka Khan: A Tribute To Lead Singer & A Funky Diva

Chaka Khan by Andre'

Today Yvette Marie Stevens,known to much of the world as Chaka Khan,celebrates her 62nd year of life. As for her place in my life? It was very much the way Chaka’s voice sounds: the entire spectrum of life expressed in a physically improvisational revelry. Started out hearing her on what amounts to a musical related PSA staring James Earl Jones called Genius On The Black Side singing her first solo hit “I’m Every Woman”. Than a mid 90’s compilation of my mom’s entitled Epiphany really peaked my interest. And I was off and running. Rufus,Chaka solo? Whatever album I could find on CD or vinyl,I picked it up.

Chaka’s music is exciting yes,not to mention funky as one wants to be. She also proudly comes at her art from a very jazzy standpoint. With a poetic lyrical style informed by the black American liberation end of women’s liberation. And she certainly had no difficulty liberating her own playful sexiness. Aside from wishing her a happy birthday? The best way I can honor this ladies music is showcase my reviews of the albums she’s been a part of. Both as the lead singer/songwriter of the very talented band Rufus,as well as on her own working with some of the finest session players around. So here’s my own best of Chaka Khan & Rufus,as a funky woman making album length statements.

Rufus:

Rufuzised (1974)

Story goes that an interesting encounter with the Amazing Kreskin himself revealed that “Tell Me Something Good” from Rufus’s sophomore album Rags to Rufus would succeed beyond the bands wildest dreams. This came as a shock since apparently Kreskin hadn’t even known the name of the album the song came from. This apparently anticipated the song becoming the iconic funk classic it is today,and making Rufus’s career and Chaka Khan a household name. Of course what happened after that Ron Stockert,Dennis Belfield and Al Ciner all decided to split from Rufus-main reason being that they felt uncomfortable with Chaka’s name being singled out as a part of the groups name: “Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan”. They were succeeded by Tony Maiden,an extremely strong vocal/guitar presence who helped give the group a strong anchor. Bass player Bobby Watson also entered the picture along with the jazz keyboard player -the late Nate Morgan. Not only did this make the and a complete biracial unit,but also became the version of Rufus which embarked on an extended tour which lasted for most of the next three years. It was a wild and crazy life on the road for the Rufus and Chaka blitz at this point. Yet in 1974 they managed to find the time to get into the studio and complete their third studio album. And their first with their best known lineup as well.

“Once You Get Started” opens the album with strong bass/guitar heavy funk-accented by melodic synthesizer and a quick tempo which finds Chaka’s incomparable vocal instrument and Tony Maiden’s powerfully dynamic singing voice trading off verses throughout. “Somebody’s Watching You” is a uniquely amazing number-starting out as tight rhythm guitar riff before building into a funky swing on the refrain before going into a funky chorus as Chaka does her vocal thing with a lyric dealing with excessive materialism. “Pack’d My Bags” is another epic powerhouse that opens with Morgan’s spiraling jazz piano solo before going into a sweetly reflective soul ballad about the breakup of a family that again launches into hardcore funk on the chorus. “Your Smile” is a dynamically soulful ballad with a strong country-soul melody-again featuring the “symphony of Chaka” effect as she typically performs her own back up/choir vocals. The title song is an instrumental,as it was on the previous album but this features Tony Maiden singing through a talk box and the addition of horns and a more strident beat give this number its might. “I’m A Woman (I’m A Backbone)” is a strong lyrical Afrocentric take on feminism with a slow crawling,blues oriented funk groove. “Right Is Right” and “Half Moon” are both frenetic,danceable jazz-funk jams while the future Brenda Russell penned the jazzily melodic,string accented uptempo soul of “Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me Of A Friend)”. The album ends with the smoldering,sensuous Moog bass led jazzy funk of “Stop On By”-with Chaka and Tony again trading off female/male vocal licks.

In many basic ways,this stands as one of Rufus’s most musically complete albums. Their first two records both had a very garagey production flavor that,while the instrumental flavor was based deeply in funk and soul,had the raggedy quality that a lot of rock ‘n roll bands prefer to have. The production approach on this particular album is completely different. With the addition of Clare Fischer,uncle of the bands drummer Andre’ as an arranger the presence of strings and horns on this albums makes a huge difference in that regard. On the other hand Fischer is able to add orchestration without interfering with the basic rhythm section Rufus provided. As a matter of fact, on the majority of this album that is all that you hear playing in addition to Chaka’s singing. Tony Maiden’s guitar playing style is also far more based in jazz and funk. His sound is much cleaner, and his plays with lines with a beautifully melodic fluidity that is flexible enough to be just as intense as it needs to be. Because one of the major musical commonalities binding Chaka Khan and the members of Rufus together was a love for jazz, that particular style of bass/guitar playing and drumming are emphasized strongly here throughout. You can certainly here on this album how members of Rufus would eventually go on to become some of the most renowned session musicians of the late 70’s/early 80’s. Though her relationship with the band would sour in later years? The marriage of Rufus and Chaka Khan was,at this point a magically funky match if there ever was one.

Ask Rufus (1977)

Rufus And Chaka Khan,aside from CK’s amazing and influencial singing have always been just mildly underrated as musicians. In the years after the debut,especially with the style of the previous Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan their style had been growing from that of a conventional 70’s funk band to what they became with this album.By far this would have to be described as Rufus’s artistic pinnacle and is today justly revered. It is here that Rufus made the transformation to being a fully sophisticated band with brilliant songwriting,fully mature and reflective lyrics and plenty of jazz influences. With a couple minor exceptions this album showcases Rufus sticking with a midtempo jazzy soul/funk sound and a great deal of sudlty. Not only is it solid proof that funk doesn’t have to be a non-stop rhythm barrage to groove like mad but it features songs that all sound like mini classics.

“At Midnight” is the main uptempo song here.The production is far from slick and features probably the best use of synthesizer on a mid period Rufus Recording-the simple beat sounds deceptively like disco but on the breakdown it’s perfectly clear that it isn’t. Lyrically it’s clear that Chaka,who participates very strongly as a writer here is content on reflecting on how her own complicated marriaged and personal life at the at time is effecting her feelings on her own womanhood-strong emphasizing emotional involvement.”Close The Door” is one mournful example;Chaka’s tortured voice and the spare backdrop just drips with meloncaughly of the soul.The superb orchestration of Claire Fischer (cousin of the bands drummer Andre Fischer) not only makes that tune so wonderful but dominates the equally mournful instrumental “A Slow Screw Against The Wall”;the briefly funk blowout of “A Flat Fry”,featuring Ron Wood is pretty much the last tune of that type you’ll find here.The memorable and singable “Earth Song” features a cryptic lyric that,if understood sums up Chaka’s lyrical involvement here as she sings,”Stars/what a mystical woman you’ve made me” and on “Everlasting Love” we’re introduced into a deceptively musically simple vision of romance and sensuality.

“Hollywood” is…well almost an uptempo song because it’s so sprightly even as it looks at the effect fame and surroundings of luxary effect people.”Magic In Your Eyes” is yet another excellent romantic moment whereas “Better Days”,co-written by Chaka’s then husband Richard Holland reflects on a possible optimisitc future for the then faltering couple.As for the music,let’s just say I think Dido was highly influenced by this song when she did her hit song Thank You ovet two decades later. The title of “Egyptian Song” sounds like the song and lyrics will be very complicated and they are. From the melody down to it’s lyrics it reflects on Chaka’s journey to discover her racial identity that was evidently at that point still very much a part of her life. Here you here a very different kind of Rufus,challanging themselves all around to be a band to contend with a very different kind of groove for a very different kind of funk. There is little likelyhood you’ll ever come across an album in Rufus catalog or anyone else’s that sounds quite like this.And that really says an awful lot for this.

Masterjam (1979)

By 1979,the relationship between the now burgeoning solo artist Chaka Khan and the band Rufus was beginning to seriously decay. Sadly the sex and drugs cliches of the pop music world had began to catch up with Chaka. The band had even opted to record without her the previous year for their album Numbers(sadly their only album that has never been on CD as far as I can tell) while simultaneously introducing their new drummer John Robinson. It was from here that Rufus hooked back up with a rather beleaguered Chaka and set their sites on the production guidance of Quincy Jones-whose stable of musicians included the Brothers Johnson and Jerry Hey’s Seawind Horns. Rufus’s bassist Bobby Watson had already played bass for MJ on his smash funk/pop triumph Rock With You earlier in the year. Sensing that perhaps their sound could use a make over,it was Quincy who ended up producing this eighth Rufus album-even as Chaka Khan’s interest in the band was severely on the wane.

“Do You Love What You Feel” as well as the title song are both extremely indicative of the Rufus/Quincy collaboration. Both are high octane,Afro-Latin drum/percussion heavy pop hook filled danceable funk songs with that Quincy Jones/Rod Temperton-style horn/string packed late 70’s disco era funk sound written all over them from top to bottom. On both Chaka’s vocals and Tony Maiden’s clean rocking guitar riffs are at their most powerful and energetic. “Any Love” and especially a remake of the old Quincy/Leon Ware collaboration “Boby Heat”-with its extended percussive intro both more strongly reflect the 4 on the floor disco era. Some might even complain some of the bass lines identify them as more polka than funk at the root. However the bluesy bass/guitar interaction and especially Chaka’s vocals tell another side of that story. “Heaven Bound” and “Live In Me” are both slickly sensual midtempo numbers with a much heavier melodic funk orientation. The pretty straight up hard funk groove of “What Am I Missing” finds Chaka lamenting how the blitz of her life at that time was beginning to shelter her from fulfillment.

“Walk The Rockaway” is definitely on the heavier funk side of the disco era-with a thick rhythmic blend of percussion,guitar,bass and horns where Tony declares proudly “everybody’s got their own way of moving/it don’t matter as long as your grooving”. Wonderful metaphor for life wouldn’t you say? Patti Austin and Peggy Lipton Jones co-wrote “I’m Dancing For Your Love” with the band-a very impressive soul/funk/pop number with a strong Michael McDonald/Doobie Brothers attitude about it. In a lot of ways,this is my favorite album by Rufus. Every song is quite different from the other. And the funk,pop-jazz and disco era elements are all presented in the most high quality and rhythmically powerful way possible. By virtue of the music itself and those involved in making it,this album is creatively Rufus’s Off the Wall-an album possessed of the most dignified and classy funk and dance grooves it was dressed for big success. Though it was,producing the bands only two music videos that I know of for the first and final track,this was not exactly a reboot of Rufus & Chaka Khan as a band. She was back to her solo career in a years time. And her and Rufus gradually broke apart within the next several years. But even if this was the cap off to an era,it was one serious “masterjam” to go out on for sure!

Chaka Khan:

Naughty (1980)

Rufus’s 1979 album Masterjam was not the official finale for Rufus & Chaka Khan. But according to the lady herself,it was the last time she recorded an entire album in the studio with them. With her personal life continuing to spiral out of control in a dizzying array of a mutually abusive marriage,two children and epic proportions drug abuse Chaka began focusing on her career seemingly as an effort to lose herself in a form of musical sublimation. Continuing on at Warner Brothers with Arif Mardin at the helm and Ashford & Simpson penning many of the songs,Chaka also found herself at the disposal of yet more excellent singers and musicians such as Steve Ferrone,Marcus Miller and with him of course the late great Luther Vandross. Where sometimes album cover art reflects the music within to near perfection this albums cover,including a similarly dressed photo of Chaka’s almost lookalike than 6 year old daughter Milini,it was a superb window to what would come.

“Clouds” is the complete flipside of “I’m Every Woman” from her debut Chaka-a much slower and funkier number that’s still disco friendly but somewhat more emotionally fearful. Very much in the duel lyrical nature of classic soul really. The bubbling melodic bass synthesizer groove of “Get Ready,”Get Set” represents some of the most powerful,unique and sensually alluring funk on this album. “Move Me No Mountain” is a favorite of mine on here-a hard groove adult contemporary type re-imagining of a standard full of Chaka’s trademark vocal passion and ability. “The sweetly composed jazzy ballad “Nothing’s Gonna Take You Away” segues into the fan faring funk/pop of the title song. “Too Much Love” is an amazing mix of rocking,dancefloor read Latin funk with more than enough energy to spare while “All Night’s All Right” represents the hardest funk on this album-sounding very much like an early 70’s Rufus track. “Papillon” is a bumping,mid tempo soul oriented groove with a pretty melody and featuring the vocals of both Vandross and a young Whitney Houston. “What You Did” and “Our Loves In Danger” are both two more dance friendly pop/funk numbers defined again by Chaka’s singing.

This album is one of my favorite Chaka Khan albums,perhaps my very favorite. The reason for that is it’s consistency. While her iconic solo debut had many powerful and funky moments,the production and general sound of the songs had a somewhat jarring flavor. They sounded as if they were produced at very different times and places. This album,though actually very diverse sounds like a totally coherent album session of songs that were instrumentally and conceptually designed to flow together from beginning to end. It was where Chaka Khan’s solo identity emerged as being capable of delivering genuine album statements as opposed to smash dance singles. The musicianship and production on this album is absolutely impeccable. And with all the studio techniques used on Chaka’s voice her-from her renowned concept of doing her own back-round vocals to different echo plexes,her vocals are only even more enhanced by everything that touches it. Neither the musicians nor Chaka herself are drowned out by anyone behind the console. This is a great example of a sleek pop/funk/post disco sound where everything was just coming to a wonderful and successful musical head.

What ‘Cha Gonna Do For Me (1981)

Sometimes there’s a point in an artists career,and they never know exactly where there comes a time when there is a perfect match of musicianship,production,songwriting and vocals that just come together. This is also one of those cases where the album art actually says a lot about the sort of music contained within. We see a beaming,airbrushed Chaka looking enraptured with life and having just experienced a revelry of excitement. And that’s exactly the same feeling I got after listening to this album. After two albums that placed Chaka in something of an urban,late 70’s disco-funk context here Chaka is fully back to the power and vitality of her Rufus days. Her voice is an instrument that’s part of the band,part of the song and fully involved in the entire musical experience. She never overwhelms the music and it never overwhelms her but…..it in a way is ALL overwhelming. The arrangements are dramatic,cosmic,surprising and give me goosebumps just listening to the very involving virtuosity of what’s here.

This album has more electronic textures than before but they’re used in the classiest possible way and you can really hear Chaka’s noted high musical standards oozing out of every song. Billy Preston really bumps up the production to the N’th degree on the hard hitting,bass keyboard/horn led version of “We Can Work At Out” that has Chaka as pretty much the rest of the orchestra as it were.It comes to an abrupt start and you feel as if you’ve heard a whole album but….it goes on. Then you come to the urban fusion-jazz dynamics of the title song where Chaka’s voice is yearning,searching,imagining and give you to feel she’s living the song she’s singing and she very likely was. “I Know You,I Live You” really kicks it out with one of the catchiest latin funk jams I’ve ever heard;after Chaka’s done her thing vocally on the song it kicks into this amazing reverbed bass/drum interaction before she’s right back in action. “Any Old Sunday” is the more relaxed of the tunes here,not a ballad but more of an interpretive piece for Chaka. “We Got Each Other”,sung with her brother Mark who obviously shares her tremendous vocal instrument is another reverb heavy sonic funk monster finding Chaka absolutely BAKED HIGH on love alone and singing in the most euphoric way one can imagine.

“And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia)”…well lets just say if nothing else here was that great this alone would make it a classic. With Stevie Wonder’s brooding bass keyboard leading the way as Chaka takes her improvisational instrument right to the heart of the song. “Night Moods” says it all here as the only ballad-the musical again some of the most beautifully euphoric,non sentimental tribute to romance imaginable as Chaka goes from sensual,uncertain and moody at the change of a note and it’s one of those handful of ballads that just punches you right out. “Heed The Warning” is this amazing,spiky keyboard led funk-rock jam that anyone with a heart will get instant goosebumps from. And…well aside from an honorable mention for the breezy disco-funk of “Fate” I cannot really say anymore about this album because just thinking about this music overwhelms me some. For anyone now who sees the key to making successful funk and R&B lies in unadorned,un-produced “real” instrumentation and understated vocals this album stands as an important reminder of how important the right kind of production flourishes and a strong voice with the ability to act as it’s own musical instrument to creating truly magical funk and R&B that shimmers,sparkles and truly withstands the test of time.

Chaka Khan (1982)

Over the years there’s been quite a little artist cult that’s developed surrounding this album. Many music review books I’ve read name dropped it again and again as being a crownign achievment of her early career and the album even won her a grammy. All the same it would up being the most obscure Chaka Khan album during the CD reissue era. It’s never been issued domestically and even Chaka’s compilation Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1 doesn’t include any of it’s songs. Having heard it on CD for the first time I have to say that in many ways this album very much lives up to all the hype surrounding it;one of the few albums that actually does so. One of the main reasons for that is that album sounds like nothing else in her vast catalog. This came out around the same time Chaka joined back up with Rufus for a reunion tour and interestingly enough this album is among the more consistantly funk oriented of her solo albums.

Earlier recordings were open ended explorations of soul,pop-jazz,funk and disco yet this album features a somewhat electronic,bassy,thrusting sound that is very much in keeping with electro-funk style of the era but at the same time is still distinctly Chaka Khan. Her group of musicians on this album including Robbie Buchannon,Will Lee,Hiram Bullock as well as AWB members Hamish Stuart and Steve Ferrone absolutely cook musically throughout the album and that results in every song containing some of the finest vocal performances of Khan’s career,marked by the fact she’s relying more on strengh here than scaling up and down as is her trademark singing style. “Tearin’ It Up” pulls this all together right from the start with Chaka and the bassy synth funk of the groove all in a deep framework. The Rick James duet of “Slow Dancin'” and the pounding,epic “Twisted” emphasizes a slower groove than was common during the naked funk era and that is much to Chaka’s credit as she understands funk by it’s nature tends to be a tad of a slower music to start with. The majority of the tunes here are uptempo however including th cowboy/funk send up “Best In The West”,complete with fiddle solo and one of those hooky melodies Chaka seemed to be able to so easily turn out during her earlier Arif Mardin era.

Much has been said about “Be Bop Medley” and trust me;it’s all deserved. She links a medly of her be-bop era favorites,everything from Monk’s “Epistrophy” and Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” in and around this fast paced,bass synthesizer led naked funk jam and the music and melodies all work with eachother wonderfully. In this case she does do more vocal scaling but it’s needed;she does really well with jazz composition and this song really takes the cake. Her powerhouse version of “Got To Be There” and “So Not To Worry” are the slower tunes here but are more midtempo than ballads and are the more relaxed,organically textured of the tunes here. “Pass It On (A Sure Thing)” is another uptempo funk scorcher to the end the album off on. In terms of funk music construction and intense musical dynamics there are very few albums I can think of offhand that match it. It is still a shame that today the only CD version of this album comes from the boxed set Original Album Series:Chaka/Chaka Khan/I Feel For You/Naughty/What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me. If you don’t have any Chaka Khan albums,pick that up without a second thought. But if you only are missing this one,this CD edition is essential to pick up if you find it reasonably because it represents an important creative step in her musical development as a solo artist.


Well there’s my written tribute(s) to Rufus and Chaka Khan,both together and apart. Very thankful I could be alive during a time when her musical career was still in peak shape!

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Filed under Andre Fischer, Arif Mardin, Bobby Waton, Chaka Khan, Claire Fischer, David Wolinsku, John Robinson, Kevin Murphy, Quincy Jones., Rufus, Tony Maiden

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 3/21/2015-‘Give Me The Night’ by George Benson

Give Me The Night

Quincy Jones was not only a busy man during the late 70’s and early 80’s but was also something of a musical Rumpelstiltskin-almost mysteriously able to spin straw into gold,only doing so with music. And I’m not talking about in the commercial sense either. With all the ingredients present,from engineering master Bruce Swedien to of course equally masterful composer Rod Temperton-not to mention the mega session approach Q was so famous for by bringing in Herbie Hancock,Louis Johnson,Richard Tee,Greg Phillinganes,Lee Ritenour (yes it’s even better than it sounds) this album was already set for greatness. Not to mention the star of the show George Benson. Already at the top of his game before this making excellent albums in varied styles from White Rabbit all the way up to Breezin,this album by it’s nature,pairing George and Quincy Jones came off looking like a musical miracle just waiting to happen. Interesting part is,as good as that sounds already it actually gets BETTER than even that!

I look at this album the way I once heard EWF’s music is described. On this album George plays funk sweet as funk can be. Not the sugary or saccharine type of sweet. But the sweetness of clean,bluesy jazz playing and some of the most inventive jazz-funk compositions imaginable. “Love x Love” is a perfect example-sleek and crispy at the same time with a groove that’s spare but glossy all at once. Of course many of us know the title song,of course right there in the same wonderful place. Than again,so it’s “What’s On Your Mind”,the instrumental “Dinorah Dinorah” and “Midnight Love Affair”. These bring to mind something of a cross between MJ’s Off the Wall meeting up with the a Crusaders albums such as Street Life-definitely high strutting uptown urban sophistifunk of the highest quality. And we’re not done yet! “Off Broadway” is deeper,heavier funk with this defining bass moog-one of the best productions jobs I’ve ever heard and my personal favorite number on this album (actually up there with the title song). And of course he’s at his same slinky best on slower numbers such as his famed jazzy take on “Moody’s Mood” and the extremely sensual “Love Dance” and “Turn Out The Lamplight”. Not to mention the level he takes Heatwave’s “Star Of A Story”. These are cosmically arranged pieces with decidedly adult takes on romance. And it all makes up for one killer album!

As great as this album is creatively,the amazing thing about it is that it hit as much commercial paydirt as anything Michael Jackson or any of the other Qwest releases of this era did. It’s the middle of that Quincy Jones 1979-1981 sandwich that starts with Off the Wall and ends roughly with Patti Austin’s Every Home Should Have One. And the most wonderful thing about it all is that this is one of the more thoroughly musical of the three albums-the other two of which concentrate heavily on songcraft and vocal performance. This one does just the same way. But the focus is very much on George’s playing and singing. And those are two talents he always had to his advantage. There’s aren’t many artists in any genre who can play an instrument and sing quite with the amazing quality as George Benson does. He’s definitely one of those “everything” men who can do them both and both very well. And even though the coming decade would be filled with some equally huge musical highs and lows due in part to the enormous success this album earned him,he’d be able to learn a lot from albums such as this later and realize the creative ingredients that…well really make the best music commercially as well.

Originally Posted On October 9th,2011

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Bruce Swedien, Crusaders, George Benson, Give Me The Night, Greg Philinganes, Herbie Hancock, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Quincy Jones, Richard Tee, Rod Temperton

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/20/2015: “You Gotta Love The Life” by Melissa Manchester

With now over four decades in the music business? Melissa Manchester has taken her soulfully theatrical wail of a voice and heavy melodicism as a songwriter from the singer/songwriter,blue eyed soul,new wave and synth pop genres of music. Since she comes from the pop music scene,having had her biggest hit album produced by one time Marvin Gaye producer and fine singer/songwriter in his own right Leon Ware? It’s no surprise that through it all,Manchester would maintain a strong jazziness about her sound as well.

After a decade as an adjunct professor at the USC Thornton musical school,Manchester was encouraged by some of her students to independently raise money for a new album she wanted to record. The album was released in February of 2015 along with a series of club dates to promote it,including a guest appearance on Tavis Smiley’s talk show on PBS. Including a bevy of powerful guests,including the the late Joe Sample,Bronx native Manchester’s title song to her brand new album You Gotta Love The Life really bought her back with a serious musical bang!

Starting off with a persistent kick drum from Mister Abraham Laboriel,the horn section of Tom Evans.Steve Baxter and arranger/trumpet/flugelhorn player Lee Thornburg make a serious rapid fire funky horn proclamation before a groove assisted ably by the bluesy piano of John Proulax,Hammond organ player Steve Welch-all led along by the percussion of Lenny Castro on a pumping dance floor friendly jazzy funk rhythm. On the bridge the rhythm,the piano breaks down to a cymbal based beat after which guitarist Peter Hume takes a fiery jazz/rock solo. After this Manchester’s toughly vocalized chorus kicks right back in and stays there until it comes right into the end with the songs title frankly sung.

With a guest of crackerjack musicians along with backup singers Vangie Gunn and Susan Holder? This song is of the sort that most professional musicians would want to begin their album with. The melody is bold,the rhythm is righteous and the band are absolutely on fire along with the performance of Manchester herself. She sings about devotion to the love of creating and performing music,even through all of the outside struggles that are put upon artists. Stating in the end that it’s all worthwhile since “you’ve gotta love the life”. The uptempo,hard horn packed jazzy funk vibe and the style of choruses,instrumental harmonies and rhythms are also right out of the Crusaders/Stuff/Steely Dan school as well-which also helps matters for the lover of a good groove. An excellent way for Melissa Manchester to launch her comeback album!

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Filed under Abraham Laboriel, Bronx, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, John Proulax, Lee Thromburg, Lenny Castro, Leon Ware, Melissa Manchester, PBS, Steely Dan, Steve Baxter, Steve Welch, Stuff, Susan Holder, The Crusaders, Tom Evans, USC Thornton, Vangie Gunn

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 3/14/2015: ‘The Dude’ by Quincy Jones

The Dude

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who would look back on this album who’d feel something of a guilt complex for liking an album whose musical virtues lay so heavily in it’s production. Sad to say even….a member of my family who I won’t name out of respect didn’t find this album particularly to their liking for a long time. Perhaps one of the reasons why this album has such a different reputation is that it represents a somewhat different Quincy Jones than the one who recorded Sounds & Stuff Like That several years earlier. That was a recording that owed a great deal of it’s musical energy to funk and R&B.

This on the other hand showcased a lot more sleek urban contemporary pop considerations and in the end sounds perhaps like a slightly more commercial record that Quincy had done up to this point. This was released around the time of Mike’s Off the Wall,Johnson’s Light Up the Night and Patti Austin’s Every Home Should Have One. If your already fully familiar with those three albums, than it may not be too necessary for you to read this review since you already sort of know the sound of it. For those who aren’t,here’s what this is.
One of the singer/songwriter/instrumentalists who caught Quincy’s ear around this time was England’s Chas Jankel from Ian Dury’s Blockheads. His debut Chas Jankel contained a song called “Ai No Corrida” that is presented here and,while not as musically abstract it is more “Quincified” along with the lead vocals of Charles May who takes the very British vocal affectations of Chas away from this version. The title song is the most thoroughly funk oriented number here with a stomping beat,bassline and keyboard solo with Q himself rapping as “the dude” along with an artist Quincy was at the time just in the process of developing-James Ingram.

The multi talented singer/musician/songwriter is featured on the slower ballads here such as “Just Once” and “One Hundred Ways”,which without surprise became the biggest hits. But they’re actually far from the best songs. Those were sung by Patti Austin. “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me” and the compulsive “Razzamatazz” are both key uptempo songs here with a vibrant sophistifunk sound to them. “Somethin’ Special” is a similar but slower sort of song,maybe even a little more jazzy and another highlight with a rather adult romance audience in mind. “Velas” is a similarly themed instrumental featuring one of Q’s old hands Toots Theilmans on harmonica and whistling. There were stories I heard that the closing dance funk of “Turn On The Action” was originally intended for Michael Jackson. And honestly it does rather sound like him.

Believe it or not,a persons appreciation of this album will probably have to stem from whether they really take the urban contemporary jazz-sophistifunk sound of the early 80’s very seriously. Coming during the first years of the post disco era,where music of a certain rhythmic and racial signitures couldn’t be played on a lot of radio stations this along with similarly style albums during this time by people like Grover Washington Jr,Al Jarreau and Michael Franks also receive a similar treatment as being at best “a guilty pleasure” and as worst “a sell out”. Honestly I have absolutely no guilty feelings whatsoever in the level of enjoyment I have for this album.

If your a fan of edgy,angst ridden albums filled with a “keeping it real” attitude or something with a variant of hip-hop or neo soul rhythmic pattern to it…no I’d have to agree this album probably isn’t going to be your cup of tea. Whenever you have the level of production,musicianship and songwriting/vocal power you have with something like this it’s from a time and a place where the musical approach was very different. And above all being done by a whole other generation as well. No putting down anyone. But there’s just a different spirit behind this than much of…well even what Quincy himself is currently doing musically. And happily many people in the music world are still paying careful attention to works such as this.

Originally posted on November 6th,2011

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Brothers Johnson, Chas Jankel, James Ingram, Jazz-Funk, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, pop jazz, Quincy Jones, The Dude, Toots Theilmans

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/13/15 “Back Boobs” by Resolution 88

Recently there have been a couple of indie funk musicians on Facebook who’ve befriended me there. Both of them had seen this blog. And wanted to their music with me. One of them was a gentleman named Tom O’Grady. He is the keyboard player/composer of the band Resolution 88 that includes bassist Tiago Coimbra,drummers Afrika Green, percussionist Ric Elsworth as well as sax player George Crowley. Tom is what a lot of music people refer to as a “roads scholar”-in reference not to a specific university but to a musician with a love of the Fender Rhodes electric piano. And this comes into play hugely on their self titled debut album,and the song that leaped out most on it for me in “Back Boobs”.

The song begins with O’Grady playing a bouncing bass synthesizer before Afrika’s drums kicks the high hats into an equally bouncing drum groove. In this O’Grady plays a musical symphony with himself on both the bass and round,high pitched melodic synthesizer. In between that he weaves in a rhythmic clavinet solo accented by his thick layers of roads. They keyboardists funk symphony is accented before each chorus by a series of rhythmic breaks-after which the bass synth that opens the song essentially re-introduces that chorus. On the final one that rhythm break extends into a light,percussive refrain after which Crowley kicks in with a spirited,free jazz styled sax solo before the main chorus again closes out the song.

First thing that comes to mind in hearing this song is O’Grady’s and the rest of the band’s long time experiences playing with many of their jazz/funk progenitors-all before coming out the box with their own grooves.  He played on a couple occasions with the late Don Blackman,fellow keyboardist and one time member of Lenny White’s Twennynine. Ric Elsworth played with the swing inspired pop jazz artist Jamie Cullum. Afrika Green has even performed before the royal family on one occasion. Considering O’Grady proudly announcing Herbie Hancock as a major influence on his playing? It’s not surprising this song has a structure that makes strong nods to the Heathunter’s 1975 groove “Steppin In It” from their Man-Child album. So as a band,Resolution 88 bring their university music education in jazz with their strong feeling for funk,it’s presence and the tradition of the genre’s hybrid.

What really brings this song out instrumentally,at least to me,is the mixture of the rhythmic bounce and a very specific use of precise drum breaks. This of course goes right back to funk’s creation as heard in it’s fullest flower from James Brown’s “Cold Sweat”,of course. But one thing drummer Green and Elsworth as a percussionist do on this particular song happens on the instrumental refrains of the songs. They break up the entirely of the music with a completely drum like timing,and this is especially true on the bridge. Sometimes a drum break in funk can seem like a jarring aspect cutting the song into specific sections. In this one? It’s presented as a way of adding complete drama to the rhythm-with it’s metronome-like time signatures to the actual song. The fact that this song embraces both the fun of funk,as well as the genres high potential for crackerjack musicianship make it a vital jazz-funk revelation for the 2010’s!

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Filed under Fender Rhodes, Funk, Herbie Hancock, Jazz-Funk, Resolution 88

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 3/07/2015: ‘Between The Sheets’ by The Isley Brothers

Between The Sheets

Sentimental as this may seem the recent passing (as of this review) of Marvin Isley set me to bring out this CD that I bought twelve years ago and have listened to maybe twice since that time. Having been used to the some of the Isley’s 70’s music and having not heard their transitional material up to this point,this albums sound was a little shocking at the time. And it was actually something of a new sound for them. Any of those familiar with their often forgotten previous album The Real Deal had actually dabbled in some new production elements while staying true to their 70’s 3+3 sound the same as their first few 80’s recordings had. Chris Jasper had a very strong play in this album in general and the result,being a keyboardist all too familiar with the world of electronics he basically just bumps that element in the music a great deal. In fact if it weren’t for the strong presence of Ernie Isley’s guitar solos this album would’ve actually sound mostly like the work of a multi-instrumentalist even though it wasn’t. Overall this album has a pretty contemporary flavor for it’s era but there are some elements and even distinct songs that still maintain their distinctive 3+3 sound.

Basically Chris Jasper and the two elder Isley’s Kelly and Rudy weren’t exactly getting along as it seemed their presence in the recording process was somewhat relegated to back round vocals as Ron took the main leads. Well this album didn’t change that but all the same the vocal back rounds are important to this album,as is the fact Chris Jasper and Ron share a good number of the leads as well. The album starts out with two ballads in “Choosy Lover” and “Touch Me”. Not bad slow jams but the REAL meat comes with the title track,”I Need Your Body” and “Let’s Make Love Tonight”,three seductive electronic soul/funk in the vein of Sexual Healing with the mild Calypso flavored rhythm of the song as well. Even still Jasper’s distinct touch on synthesizer on these tunes,which kind of flow together like a mini funk suite make them very distinctly Isley Brothers. After that the album,on what would’ve been Side B on the original vinyl or cassette tape really takes on a more diverse tone. “Ballad For The Fallen Solider” is one of the most powerful tunes on the album,a well produced rock n soul tune that tells the tale of a man recounting how his father went missing in action whilst fighting in Vietnam and even calling his congressman gets him nowhere.

“Slow Down Children” is the one tune on this album with a decidedly Isley 70’s flavor,with that big bubbly synthesizer of Jasper,the slow crawling funk rhythm and the Isley’s throaty harmonies dominating the production. The last three cuts in contrast are the most modern. “Way Out Love” and the near instrumental,Vocoder heavy “Rock You Good” both strongly showcase the early hip-hop/electro funk sound and although I am not sure I’d bet along with the title track these songs are probably very heavily sampled by hip-hop/scratch/electronic samplers. If they aren’t they probably should be because their sound was influential on much of that. “Gettin Over” is more of a new wave styled electro/dance tune which showcases the Isley’s moving forward into the 80’s with rock and not just R&B because,considering their place in the music’s history they just saw how rock,R&B,soul,blues,funk and hip-hop all kind of bled together after a point. Even if this album marked the end of the Isley’s acclaimed 3+3 lineup this found them on something of a commercial upswing. Not only that but they did so by continuing their long tradition of adapting their own sound to the new musical generation without losing their identity.

Originally posted on June 7th,2010

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 3+3, Between The Sheets, Chris Jasper, electro funk, Ernie Isley, funk/rock, Isley Brothers, R&B, Sexual Heading

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/6/15 Rique’s Pick : “We Know We Got to Live Together” by Eugene Blacknell

Today’s Anatomy of THE Groove is special because I’m introducing a new to our blog that expands the definition of “New Funk.” The interest generated in Funk music by Hip Hop artists and movie directors and producers such as Quentin Tarantino and The Hughes Brothers also helped generate a wave of Funk re issues as well as wide releases for songs that were obscure even in the 1970s and ’80s. I guess it was natural that after the main hits of the big bands had been somewhat exhausted, the desire to hear classic era funk from lesser known artists would become greater and greater. In the case of today’s 1973 rediscovered Funk stomper, “We Know We Got to Live Together” by Eugene Blacknell and his band The New Bohemians, what we’re dealing with is a single that was released and played regionally but didn’t see widespread release until the ’00s. The region Eugene Blackwell came from and made his music in was my region, The East Bay Area of Northern California. Blacknell had a reputation as an ace guitar player who led bands from his teens on, making a handsome living playing in bars and clubs before the introduction of the Disc Jockey into the club scene. “We Know We Got To Live Together” is an anthemic, super funky, swaggering cut that fits right in with the very best of mid 70s funk. The song is so anthemic in quality that now, films have begun to use it as fresh music that has the classic funk sound, but by virtue of it’s obscurity, still fires the imagination as new music.

The song begins with a guitar riff from Blacknell, super funky, with bass notes leading up to a funky chord pattern. The guitar part is played through a wah wah of course, and the rhythmic feel is funky and laid back. Funky drum fills come in next and the sound is big and phat. The rest of the band kicks in and they strike up a stone cold groove, bass super funky in both note and feel, with the organ chiming in. The groove that Blacknell and his band gets is one that is so funky it could almost serve as a representative of mid ’70s laid back funk! The vocals come in and they’re super direct and down home soulful. The lyrical story laments several problems of the time and comes to a point where they say, “we’ve got to realise/its not the way/we want it to be.” After this the song goes to the vocal refrain of “We’ve Got to Live Together”, and under this vocal the band strikes up another super funky groove. When the lyric returns, Blacknell lays out the bleak mid ’70s scenario, taxes are going up and jobs are scarce. In this environment, the musician takes up the task of telling the people’s story “Help this population/understand this situation.”

The song next features a funky break, with the wah wah and the keyboard playing a call and response, with the wah wah letting a chord linger out and the organ answering with a tumbling piano riff and the vocals saying simply “Stay Together.” Blackwell then says, “Keep peace with me/I’ll keep peace with you/let me live and love my own way.” The song then goes to my favorite part, a heavy stomping tom tom drum lead part with Blacknell’s wah wah chiming on, that leads to the refrain “I’m so glad/Trouble don’t last always/no it don’t!” When I first got this CD back around 2007, that refrain, sung in Blacknell’s down home soulful style was my rallyinig cry, and it never failed to lift my spirits with its soulfully earnest optimism (and realism).

Eugene Blacknell and his various bands recorded many excellent sides in the 1970s and early ’80s, as well as performed and brought the funk to many audiences. It’s an amazing testament to the power and durability of the recorded mediums that their music has been rediscovered and accepted as part of the fabric of it’s time, regardless of it’s reception in that time. It also very useful for me as a Bay Area native to imagine what exactly the Bay Area sounded like in 1973. The message of “We Know We Got to Live Together” of course, is the right one, and its stated here in a very soulful and sensible way. We as people should be well aware of the alternative. But the groove Blacknell and co strike up is one that is highly distinct, funk that is laid back yet aggressive, a strong reputation of the hand clapping, whistle blowing, foot stomping mid ’70s. And I’m so glad it didn’t stay there, but that we now have it to enjoy for our times.

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Filed under 1970's, Blogging, crate digging

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/6/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Turn It Up” by Baby Funk

One of the major things I wanted to do with this blog is to promote new funk bands and soloists with my blogging partner Rique. Particularly indie funk bands,who often need the sort of word of mouth campaign to bring awareness of their music to the people. Last month a lady named Sheli Casana contacted me about a new song that she (under the professional name Baby Funk) had put together called the Original Stone city Band. Featuring members of George Clinton’s P-Funk and the late Rick James’ Stone City Band? They dropped a song called “Turn It Up”. And after repeated listening on my part? Just had to tell you all about this groove.

Starting with a voluminous synthesizer wash from Eddie Fluellen,Nate and Lenise Hughes chime in with a meaty conga based percussive groove after which a big drum kick launches into the main body of the jam. This body consists of a thick and phat interaction between Fluellen’s bass synthesizer  and the high up on the neck rhythm guitar/slap bass of Jerome Ali and Tom McDermott. The interaction of the jazz oriented Baby Funk herself and the bluesy funk  growl  of Mark Love coalesce on a lightly percussive rap where Baby Funk evokes her admiration of the late Teena Marie before going back to the main instrumental themes-now punctuated rhythmically and melodically with ascending/descending horn charts and a rocking lead guitar solo to close out this groove.

It feels important to note that as this blog is being written? Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” is still the #1 pop record in America. As I just told Rique in a comment on his blog on this topic yesterday? What matters most to me is not chart statistics but how records like that,as well as Pharrell Williams associated productions like “Happy”,”Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky”,manage to connect with the people. This song is not only a wonderful example of the massive public appreciation of indie funk in the past half decade or so. But also how it brings together two key players in funk’s transition from the 70’s to the 80’s into it’s actual instrumental orbit-drawing in the influence of George Clinton and Rick James with the channeling of Sly Stone and the Ohio Players horns and vocals into their own distinct flavor of the groove.

Personally? I am extremely proud that a song like this represents the full realization of the original dreams and goals of this blog. Especially the single song oriented weekly feature Anatomy of THE Groove! As Michael Jackson once sang in 1977? Music is a doctor that can cure a troubled mind. Like to hope these grooves not only move,but remove as wel. I would like to give my greatest thanks to my talented and knowledgeable blogging partner Rique for the efforts and inspiration he manages to put into this blog with an extremely busy schedule of his own to upkeep. Would also like give a very special thanks to Sheli Casana for providing me with detailed information on the personnel of her band and all available musical information on them. Stay tuned for Baby Funk/Original Stone City Band’s upcoming website and full album release-available at some pout this spring or summer on CD and MP3.  And don’t forget to check out their live show when and if they travel through your home town. Thank you!

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Filed under Baby Funk, bass synthesizer, Funk, Funk Bass, Jerome Ali, Nu Funk, Original Stone City Band, P-Funk, percussion, Pharrell Williams, Rick James, Teena Marie