Monthly Archives: April 2015

Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk for 4/27/2015: “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey)” by The Impressions

One of the important things I’ve learned about Curtis Mayfield over the years is the extent of which his social consciousness evolved. This was also an important factor in America’s silent generation as a whole-extending across the nations color and economic lines. Starting out as mainly the composer/guitarist for The Impressions,Curtis soon became the bands lead singer as well. He became something of a windy city whiz kid-writing and producing for other acts as well. This not only changed the entire trajectory of his musical career. But re-focused the thematic priorities of himself,Sam Gooden and Fred Cash as well.

Throughout the 1960’s,this Chicago powerhouse vocal trio continually churned out songs such as “Keep On Pushing”,”Amen” and of course “People Get Ready”-all anthems of the civil rights movement and released between the march on Washington and the murder of Malcolm X. With later songs such as “We’re A Winner”? It was clear the confidence of the civil rights movement was evolving into the black power movement-for America and The Impressions. In 1969,following the murders of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy a year before? Donny Hathaway co-produced the bands 1969 album The Young Mod’s Forgotten Story,which included another powerful song in “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey)”.

First thing heard on this song is an enthusiastic,youthful applause before a thundering drum roll inaugurates the calling outcry of the Memphis soul style  horn section that does a call and response dance with Curtis’s gurgling wah wah guitar. Throughout the main body of the song? The rolling beat is accented by a JB style mid pitched rhythm guitar. Before the horn sections emerge again,there’s a brief low blues guitar as well. On the chorus of the song,a sustained gospel style organ comes in to keep pushing the main melody of the song forward. Towards the end of the song,before the chorus closes out the song,the vocals of The Impressions completely recede while Curtis does a full Albert King style amplified blues solo.

In all honesty? Today is the first day that I’ve ever actually heard this song. Sometimes however? A first impression (pun more intended than I was hoping it to be) can say a thousand words. On two very important levels? This song speaks to two viewpoints of the cultural changes in race relations at that time. Musically the song is just about at the perfect intersection between the contemporary funk explosions of James Brown and the Chicago style urban blues that was coming out of the Chess label only a decade earlier. Lyrically it’s a similar situation. On one hand Curtis is very earnest in schooling the young that the power structure of America will be weakened as “we’re killing up our leaders” and “we all know it’s wrong”. By the end of the song he muses “if your cut you’re gonna bleed/might I get a little deeper/human life is from the semen seed”. This song musically and lyrically speaks so deeply into the primal nature of racial violence? It deserves to be understood in 2015 as much as in the late 60’s.

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Filed under 1960's, black power, Blues, Bobby Kennedy, Chess Records, Chicago, civil rights, Curtis Mayfield, Fred Cash, Funk, funk guitar, horns, James Brown, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Gooden, The Impressions, wah wah

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 4/25/2015: ‘Shine’ by Average White Band

average_white_band-1980-shine

Like Earth Wind & Fire did a year earlier with their I Am this album finds AWB hooking up with David Foster. This truly should have represented a new beginning for the band as they add a heavy modern production gloss and strong song craft to their already established heavy funk sound. Every song on this album is extremely strong and, with some good promotion could have been enormous pop hits even stateside.

Uptempo tunes such as “Our Time Has Come”,”Let’s Go Around Again”,”Help Is On The Way”,the title track and the original version of “What Cha Gonna Do For Me”,made famous a year later in a brilliant version by Chaka Khan from her album of the same name,also worth getting. Being the kind of musicians that they are AWB cannot help but throw down at least one funky instrumental in the personification of “Into The Night”,marrying the bands chunky,rhythmic groove with Foster’s production sheen. This is also home to two of the best ballads the group ever made in “For You,For Love” and “If Love Only Lasts For One Night”.

Now there’s a double album version of this that contains bonus tracks,all five of which are as great as the rest of the album. A like minded cover of Boz Scagg’s classic “Miss Sun” is great of course as is the more electo-funk minded dance cut “Kiss Me”. There’s also another great ballad in “Growing Pains” and the peppy “Love Gives,Love Takes Away”. Another successful marrying of the bands natural grooves with Fosters style comes along in the chunky and catchy “Love Won’t Get In The Way” followed by a smoking long version of “Let’s Go Round Again”.

Overall “Shine” finds AWB successfully modernizing their classic sound without sacrificing what made them so great in the past. And the lead and back round vocals certainly have a power and soul that were only hinted at on earlier recordings. Steve Ferrone really stretches out on some incredibly funky drumming here. This is definitely a pop-funk masterpiece of the 1979-1980 era of the genre and is yet another in a long list of lost true classics.

Originally Written December 17th,2007

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Average White Band, Boz Scaggs, Chaka Khan, David Foster, Funk, Music Reviewing, pop funk, Steve Ferrone, West Coast

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 4/24/2015: “So Good” by Tuxedo

It was actually Issue 61 of Wax Poetics magazine that made me aware of the existence of this duo. During the first half decade of the 2010’s? It would seem as if funk,especially it’s analog synthesizer oriented cousin known as boogie,has been rediscovered as a vital template for contemporary soul, electronic, pop and hip-hop artists. And it’s really been healthy for instrumentalists in particular. And happily it’s emerged again from a source that has been drawn to it for over two decades at this point.

Stone Throw Records has really upped the ante in terms of celebrating live instrumental hip-hop and it’s offshoots. From the days of Peanut Butter Wolf,through the late J Dilla and Madlib. This was the beginning of hip-hop’s journey around to straight up funk again. Now Tuxedo has emerged from this brew. Staring the musical talents of Seattle native Jake One,producer for contemporary rappers such as Drake and Rick Ro$$ along with singer/songwriter Mayer Hawthorne? The duo have come out with a self titled album including songs such as “So Good” here.

Starting off with an insistent percussion accented drum beat out of the “Billie Jean”/”Ghetto Life” early 80’s “naked funk” school? A phat bass synth opens the door for a sharp,punchy and higher pitched melodic synthesizer. Both of these analog synthesizers dance and bounce rhythmically to the slow dragging funky drum of the song. This provides the musical core for Hawthorne’s vocals-assisted by an alarm like “video game” counter melodic line. A bridge of the song cuts out the bass synth and concentrates on the melodic one as an orchestral element-returning to the original electronic duet to the closeout of the song-with Hawthorne harmonizing with his own back-round vocals.

One of the things that I appreciate about this song is that it showcases the meatiest possible elements of boogie/electro funk. Jake One seems to possess a keen understanding of how much that style of funk and first generation commercial hip-hop of the early 80’s went hand and hand. The tongue in cheek video,recorded on VHS tape cable access style showcases Hawthorne,Jake One and the band performing the song in an expressionless manner. The actual song expresses a great sense of warmth and vitality in it’s melodic ideas-which lies in contrast to the loping rhythmic funk stomp underneath it all. A powerful example of modern day hard electro/boogie based synth funk.

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Filed under 2015, Billie Jean, Boogie Funk, electro funk, funk revival, Hip-Hop, J Dilla, Jake One, Madlib, Mayer Hawthorne, Peanut Butter Wolf, Stone Throw Records, synth funk, Wax Poetics magazine

Funky Firsts: Andre’s Look Back On Key Moments Of Putting The Grooves On His Record Racks

Reading the autobiography of Amir Questlove Thompson entitled Mo Meta Blues has been very inspirational to the way in which I present my blog. Especially in the fact the book presents interstitial chapters between the main ones. These shorter chapters illustrate classic funk and soul albums Questlove heard growing up. As well as how they intertwined with different events in his personal life. This has long had me brainstorming about a similar concept as to how this music has been involved with my own life story.

There’s no particular rhythm or reason here. This isn’t a list of all of my first exposures to specific artists. Nor is it just musical events that personally impacted me. It includes both,yet what I’m focusing on here is all about the synergy of life and this particular art form and how it effected my outlook on music. All the way up to this blog here. There’s going to be a mixture of different stories and emotions here. And of course some important things might not get covered-possibly to be done as they come back to mind on another,similar post. But for now? Enjoy these stories!

First Album I Purchased On Cassette Tape

Music Of My Mind

I’d been listening to Stevie Wonder for many years before this. But I was deep into a literary research through the All Music Guide and read a description of this album as being Wonder’s first artistic breakthrough but that compared to what came after quote on quote “it paled just slightly”. Often times writing can cloud a music’s listener’s judgement on the auditory musical experience. At the time however? That’s exactly how I felt about this album. Musically my tastes and understanding had to grow into this album,rather than the album accommodate me.

First Album I Purchased On CD

The Jacksons

Actually this is by no means the first CD I ever owned. But it was the first one I purchased with my own money. 1994-1995 was ‘the year of the Jackson’s’ as it were for my life. The story of how the brothers signed to Epic Records to gain creative control was really fascinating me,something I was feeling inwardly as an artistic adolescent. So one day I was browsing the old Strawberries Records with my friend Joseph Stone and came across this album for $9.99. That’s just what I had in my wallet. For the next few weeks? Felt like “Think Happy”,”Show You The Way To Go”,”Enjoy Yourself”,”Living Together” and “Style Of Life” were the only songs I wanted to hear. And all were (and still are) very positively effecting on my day to day life.

First New Music I Purchased Through A Record Club

Isley Brothers Mission To Please

Turns out in writing this? I discovered several important musical firsts for me in the year 1996. While an active member of the BMG Record Club? They offered a featured selection that,if purchased at full price,would allow you to get a number of free CD’s.  This was one of them. I was reading a lot about the Isley Brother’s in Rickey Vincent’s book Funk at the time. And his description of the Isley’s as “the epitome of funky manhood” made this an easy choice. At the time? I was not keen on contemporary R&B at all. But something about the vibe R.Kelly created for this album is still appealing to me.

First Album Recommended To Me

Travelling Without Moving

Technically it was my mother who ended up purchasing this album. But I remember she and I had taken a rather long bike ride to Strawberries. And ran into a friendly young sales associate named Jeb. We got into a conversation about P-Funk and George Clinton. He mentioned in the conversation that a new band who were in a similar funk vein were Jamiroquai. And this was their newest album out. At the time I didn’t see how this had any resemblance to P-Funk at all. Of course I had yet to hear The Electric Spanking Of War Babies. Still as a channeling of psychedelia with the live instrumental boogie funk sound began a continuing interest in newly recorded funk music.

First Multi Album Set I Ever Had

Emancipation

1996-1997 was when I was seeking out any and all things Prince related. From his own music to his famous (and infamous) protegee’s. Seeing Prince and than wife Mayte on Oprah performing songs from this album,talking about his art and life,went right along with the appeal of this album. It is such a sprawling 3 CD set that,to this very day,I have yet to have heard the entire album. Something that I intend to change in the very near future.

First Piece Of Used Vinyl I Remember Purchasing

Earth, Wind & Fire - Faces

When Dr. Records was still in it’s original basement location in the college town of Orono,Maine? I remember having $5 dollars in my pocket and seeing this album on vinyl-yet again at just the right price. Had been collecting EWF’s 70’s classic on cassette tape already and was at this point upgrading to CD’s. This one was a bit expensive for me at the time. But the vinyl of this album was a different story. On the way home from the store? I remember feeling the raised gold letters of the bands name on the cover,and staring at the random photographs of people on the inner sleeve-not to mention the members of the band members and the Phenix Horns,which were proudly stated on the vinyl sleeves. The happiest surprise was to get home to find the album also contained the original poster of the band in full EWF regalia. Still have the poster,later picked up the CD but none of it eclipses the excitement of that 15 minute car ride home from picking this up as a vinyl album. Almost a brief history in how a classic funk band presents itself.

First CD I Purchased After The New Millennia

Alicia Keys

After the arrival of the year 2000,in those 500 or so days between then and 9/11? I kept feeling like the world of futurism was just about ready to happen. Flying electric cars,sustainable ergonomic homes,all of it. Another exciting event during the winter and spring of 2001 was seeing the face of this 19 year old singer/songwriter/musician from NYC who was about to break out almost exactly the same manner as Whitney Houston had, with Clive Davis and the whole deal. In all honesty? The albums contents were so far removed from my musical journey at that time,it didn’t quite live up it’s hype for me. In a lot of ways it still doesn’t.  But it succeeded in whetting my musical appetite for a promising new and popular musician. Something that was extremely rare in an era saturated with performers.

First CD I Purchased Online

Imagination Body Talk

Even at the time,the years 2002-2003 were weary and sad times with the dashed hopes of the immediate post 9/11 era. Interestingly enough,this was a time when I began exploring psychedelic 60’s classic rock and fusion more as well. The roots of this discovery was when I heard the song “Flashback” on a compilation belonging to my families late friend Janie Galvin called Pure Disco. It was by a British trio called Imagination. Loved the songs stripped down electronic groove. But it was when I’d just gotten online for the first time at the local public library computer.  Discovered that this album was kind of famous in post disco circles. My quest to order a CD copy led me to sign up for my first checking account so I could get a used copy off of Amazon. Body Talk turned out to be an excellent album. And was also the beginning of the end of my days as a member of the already fading mail order record clubs.

Biggest Surprise I Discovered In A Used Vinyl Record Store

Ghetto Blaster

It was on a ride home with my father after purchasing our first Toyota that I first heard the Crusaders. It was actually my first exposure to a complete jazz-funk band. One day I was crate digging at a now defunct record shop in Camden Maine called Wild Rufus. And there was this album for a dollar. On the back,it had a photo of Leon Ndugu Chancler with the band rather than Stix Hooper. Was deep into Ndugu at the time with my involvement with DJ/musician Nigel Hall,and our mutual interest in 70’s George Duke. So that actually peaked my interest as well. I had no idea the Crusaders were making records in the mid 80’s. So hearing them with a more synthesizer driven electro funk style was a very happy surprise for me,and probably my turntable as well.

First CD I Reviewed Online

Parliament (1978) - Motor Booty Affair (A)

For reasons that I don’t fully understand? Amazon.com forced me to create a totally new account with them when I couldn’t remember the password to my first one. So the reviews on that first profile are still floating around out there. So this is only my first Amazon review on this new account,the one I continue to use up to this very day. I remember posting the review on December 3rd,2004. That was also around the same time my family got it’s first PC,a Toshiba laptop to be specific. So this was also my first time dealing with that computers joint Windows account system

Link to original Motor Booty Affair review here*

First Time Hearing Questlove As A Producer

Al Green Lay It Down

Now the main reason I’m talking about this is because Questlove’s writing directly inspired this blog post. Prior to 2008? I knew of Amir not by name,or nickname. Only as the guy with the pick in his fro who drummed for The Roots. And I felt a lot of their music was rather bland for my personal tastes at the time. When my friend Henrique told me this man,named Questlove,was producing a comeback album for Al Green? I was skeptical. What I didn’t know was that Questlove was a session drummer at heart. And rather then make his own record here? He produced a total Al Green record-directly in the Willie Mitchell mold.  This significantly broadened my admiration and respect for Questlove. And for that matter other hip-hop live instrumentalists/producers who could tailor make records for iconic artists they respected and admired.

First Funny Music Buying Twist Of Fate

Rufus Stompin At The Savvoy

This could be a very long story. But it still makes me laugh at the absurdity of it all so will endeavor to condense it. 18 or so years ago when I was first getting into Rufus & Chaka Khan? I kept noticing this double CD on sale at Borders Books & Music in Bangor. With it’s $30 dollar price tag? I never gave it any thought,knowing only it was essentially a live album from the early 80’s. While that store always shuffled stock? This CD remained there at this same price into the new millennium. Finally in 2011 Borders closed down shop nationally. And all their stock,including CD’s,went on drastic mark down. I went there and bought a lot. Even saw other double CD sets marked down to $15 or less. Sure enough? Still this particular album seemed like the only one that never went on sale even at the bitter end.

Flash forward to about five years later. I’d noticed that this album was commanding prices well upwards in the double digits on Amazon and ebay.  And used no less. So one day a month or so ago while checking the website of my local record store Bullmoose? I noticed one of the stores had a used copy of this CD for under $10. So I picked it up. And as of today it’s one of my very favorite Rufus albums-with powerful live performances and great funk and jazz based studio tracks. So for an album that for almost two decades an album whose pretense in my life seemed to engender either reluctance or regret? A very happy musical experience came out of it in the end.

 


You might notice that the firsts indicated in this blog come primarily out of one spectrum of music. This wasn’t deliberate exactly. During my time online? I noticed many nostalgia based Top 10,20,50 music lists. With all kinds of subtexts. Still most people’s important experiences with music came from awkward moments with their peer group in terms of context. And the music that tends to be part of their journey is invariably punk or alternative rock of some variety. Occasionally even soul,jazz and blues too. And there’s absolutely nothing to be condemned about that. Any way that brings one to the joy of music has great meaning.

This blog actually extends into the very root of this blog. One can browse for info on the funk genre  and it’s offshoot musical children (such as disco and fusion) online. And they will album reviews,songs posted,downloads and a good deal of nostalgic comedy. But both Henrique and myself observed a void. One where there was litttle to no serious,well rounded online journalism on funk to the degree writers such as Rickey Vincent had done in the literary world. My aim with posts such as this is to help give the funk music spectrum the level of analyzation  and respect rock and jazz have received on the internet. And hopefully these personal stories will do so in an enlightening and amusing manner!

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Filed under 1980's, 1990s, 2008, 2015, Al Green, Alicia Keys, Amazon.com, Chaka Khan, classic funk, crate digging, Crusaders, Disco, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Fusion, George Clinton, George Duke, Imagination, Isley Brothers, Jamiroquai, Joe Sample, Late 70's Funk, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nigel Hall, Prince, Psychedelia, psychedelic soul, Questlove, R.Kelly, The Roots

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 4/18/2015: ‘No Parking On The Dancefloor’ by Midnight Star

No Parking On The Dancefloor

Midnight Star are very significant to the the funk scene because,creatively they represent a transition. Not only were they one of the very last large funk bands to form,but their first full length album The Beginning came out in 1980. So with no output during the 1970’s, Midnight Star were the first of the big funk bands to evolve solely during the 1980’s decade. While that album was complete live band horn funk primarily,their next two albums straddled two worlds-that of their live instrumental beginnings and the burgeoning electronic/synthesizer based world of what was then called electro funk and is now called boogie. 1983 was a huge year for soul/funk artists because the genre was back in business,and the post disco freeze out thawing as MJ’s Thriller was pretty much ruling the music world and bringing spirited funk based dance music into the public eye. Because the producer/writer/vocal/instrumental team of siblings Reggie and Vincent Calloway were as much strong melodicists as instrumental futurist,they now stood in the position to deliver the album that would solidify their sound for the rest of the decade.

“Electricity” begins the album with a hard funk grooves entirely based in the synthesizer as all of the instrumental elements. And of course “Freak-A-Zoid” picks right up on the same impulse-using a combination of vocorder and Belinda Lipscomb’s strong,Patti LaBelle-like vocals. Both musically and lyrically capture the spirit of the computer game/video arcade based pop culture of that time as a metaphor for the last days of the sexual revolution. Its on the other songs here that the album truly takes flight really. “Night Rider” takes a drum and bass/guitar sound from “Billie Jean” and applies it to a much more synthesizer oriented and electronic landscape. “Feels So Good” is a grooving “smooth groove” somewhat reminiscent of a jazzier pop take on “Sexual Healing” with Lipscomb’s strong vocals at center stage. “Wet My Whistle” has a melodic and percussive pop/funk sound very much out of the Reggie Lucus/Mtume/Madonna sound of that time and is one of my personal favorite songs here. The title song,copped later by The Bar Kays for “Freakshow On The Dancefloor” is similar to the opener-even including a vocoderized allusion to James Brown’s “I Got The Feeling” on the last verse. “Slow Jam” is a radio friendly contemporary pop/funk…well the title says it all. And it deals with a romantic dance at that. “Playmates” ends the album on a more melodic new wave friendly note.

I discovered this album in 1999 as part of a group of CD’s from a record store that had apparently gone out of business,and were on clearance at a local resale shop brand new for $1 a piece. It basically defined my headphone experiences for the rest of that year and even into the new millennium. Listening to it now,one of the things that’s so striking about this album is how strong the material is. The instrumentation,vocals and songwriting are all first rate,bright and have a party atmosphere that also has a strong elegance reflecting the more streamlined urban contemporary funk attitude of the early/mid 1980’s. Midnight Star created their first full on electro boogie funk album with this release,whilst still maintaining a nine member funk band lineup at the time. At the same time,they didn’t have the same sort of narcissistically cynical sexual world view as Prince and many of his protege’s did during that time. While they always had time for a little sexual fun on this album, everything was still stated with the 70’s era method of implicit lyricism. This is probably one of the strongest of the futurist minded electronic/synthesizer/boogie oriented funk albums of the early 1980’s. And showcases how much of the 70’s funk band attitude was still present in the more contemporary sounds of that era.

Originally posted on April 18th,2014

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Belinda Lipscomb, Boogie Funk, electro funk, Freak-A-Zoid, Freakshow On The Dancfloor, Michael Jackson, Midnight Star, Music Reviewing, Prince, Reggie Calloway, Reggie Lucas, Thriller, Vincent Calloway, vocoder

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/17/2015: “I’ll Be There” by Chic featuring Nile Rodgers

The contributions to every sub-genre of instrumental oriented funky dance music owes a great debt of gratitude to Nile Rodgers and the Chic Organization. Ever since his major commercial comeback in 2013 with creatively promising most millennial nu funk/disco icons Daft Punk Pharrell Williams on “Get Lucky”. Back in the game of hit production work with new artists such as Tensnake and Sam Smith? Nile began fine tuning some discarded tapes recorded originally for Sister Sledge and featuring the late bassist Bernard Edwards and singer Luther Vandross on vocals, and re-introduced his much anticipated comeback with Chic on a new groove entitled “I’ll Be There”.

It begins with the rolling percussion of Ralph Rolle,with Jerry Barnes bass weaving itself into the mix for a colorful rhythmic tapestry. ‘Nard himself then chimes in on his iconic mid toned rhythm guitar for his always danceable,rhythmic and chunky groove along with melodic (and sometimes spacey) accenting horns.-having Barnes take over on bass as the lead instrument on the vocal refrains. Just before the bridge of the song,the music again reduces down to the bass and percussion sound before even the bass strips out-leaving nothing but the fast paced Afro-Latin percussion before the song fads out on Nile’s chorus.

First thing that I can say about this Chic groove is that it has the complete flavor of a Chic song from their late 70’s,early 80’s heyday. The emphasis is again on the rhythm instruments such as bass,guitar and percussion. These are the elements that made Nile and Chic some of the funkiest musicians of the disco era. As well as being the core element of the post “Rapper’s Delight” take on commercially viable hip-hop that used live musicians as opposed to samples. The music video featuring a then and now look at a fashion conscious lady enjoying old Soul Train episodes,and spinning Chic vinyl records while the current band perform in a contemporary club perfectly captures their modern/retro disco vibe.

Wanted to close off with a little personal story time about myself and Chic. My own adolescence in the mid/late 90’s seemed to represent a gradual change in the music world’s attitude towards disco. It started out with a very virulent hatred in the “disco sucks” mold of the early 80’s freeze out of the music. Yet it ended with huge popular rappers such as Biggie Smalls and even Will Smith sampling disco/post disco era songs with total pride. Not to mention the importance of those songs complete embrace by the public in a positive light. This reminds me of my favorite lyric in this song which says “I don’t want to live in the past,but it’s a nice place to visit”. The disco era at it’s most musically vital represented a full channeling of Afro-Latin world music,big band jazz and the long form rhythms of funk. And it’s wonderful to hear that Chic and Nile Rodgers are still able to pull it all together so wonderfully!

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Filed under 2015, Bernard Edwards, Chic, Daft Punk, Disco, Funk, Funk Bass, Get Lucky, Jerry Barnes, Luther Vandross, Nile Rodgers, nu disco, Pharrell Willaims, Ralpe Rolle, Sam Smith, Sister Sledge, Tensnake

Herbie Hancock: A Tribute To The Electronic Headhunter

Herbie Hancock Secrets

Celebrating the 75th birthday today? I began to realize the breadth and variety of the fantastic musical career of Mister Herbert Jeffrey Hancock.  From working with Donald Byrd very early on to his recent work with nu jazz artist Flying Lotus? Herbie has been much like his former employer Miles Davis in the sense that he has taken his own style as a pianist/keyboardist through a number of distinctly different musical periods.

Realizing that my knowledge of Herbie’s music lays mainly in his electric period? It became quickly apparent that there are actually a number of musical period’s in and of themselves during this one particular period. So I am going to present to you album reviews I’ve done for his music. With one album representing each different period of Herbie Hancock’s electric period which extended over three decades. Hope you all enjoy it!

The Blue Note Years

The Prisoner (1969)-Blue Note

Well,there’s no doubt that the last couple of years of the 60’s certainly provided a fertile musical ground for a jazz musician to create in. There were so many culturally/sociological transitions occurring at the same it,the importance of improvisation in general was paramount. Herbie Hancock himself was in a similar state of transition during 1969. He was easing himself out of Miles Davis’s 60’s era Quintet. And both he and Miles were about to about to enter into the world of electric jazz-making inroads into that area that were similar songs with a different tune-to extend on that little metaphor. For this album Herbie was playing with a 10 piece big band that included the likes of bassist Buster Williams,flutist Huber Laws,drummer Tootie Heath and saxophone extraordinaire Joe Henderson for an album that marked both the end of an era for him as well as the beginning of a new one.

“I Have A Dream”,a tribute to the recently slain MLK is a beautiful ten minute+ tone samba during which Henderson,Heath and Hancock expresses extremely conversational harmonies with themselves and each other that are bound to engender some emotional response. The title song as well as “Firewater” (the only non Hancock composition here” and “He Who Lives” are all a bit instrumentally cooler-focusing on swinging bop style numbers where the rhythm section takes presidents. And on which Herbie himself engages in plenty of his trademark bravely scaling piano arpeggios-harmonizing with himself between both bass and higher tenor tonalities. “Promise Of The Sun” seems to be indicate a similar rhythm section based bop number at first. Yet by the songs end? The melodic horn harmonics of the septet of horn players on this album provides a gently orchestral coda to the album itself.

This album doesn’t tend to rate as either great or terrible among Herbie’s many albums. And it isn’t 100% instrumentally groundbreaking exactly to be said. What does make this album rank so high to me was the feeling of it,which is key to jazz music anyway. The mixture of Herbie’s bluesy electric piano and virtuosic harmony style on the acoustic upright combine with the big band featured on this album to create a very probing musical atmosphere. The musicians are all searching. Not searching for a sound. But for a future that is yet to come for the nation and the world. Recorded in the spring of 1969,this albums looks ahead in its instrumental conceptions towards what the 1970’s would bring. For Herbie himself? It would bring a change in music completely opposite to this-as he was about to leave Blue Note for Warner Brothers after this album. His personal life and identity would soon make a change that would showcase that new evolution in his music. For a coda to the first phase of his career? It would be pretty hard pressed to find a more instrumentally fulfilling way to go about that than this!

Mwandishi

Fat Albert Rotunda (1969)-Warner Bros. 

Counting about 99.8 % of the music on this album ‘Fat Albert Rotunda’ is Herbie Hancock’s first dive into the world of funk-jazz,a just blooming genre in 1969 when this was recorded and a style he wouldn’t return to for another five years or so.As for the jazz side of his personality only “Tell Me A Bedtime Story”,with it’s gentle theatrics,works in this arena.Otherwise this album is pretty much instrumental funk,upbeat and well made but probably not quite as thrilling and DEFINITELY not as innovative as later such efforts as ‘Thrust’, “Man-Child’,’Secrets’ and of course ‘Headhunters’.But once fans of Herbie’s funkier style have purchased those recordings (which are essential) this album is the next logical step to walk in.

The Headhunters

Secrets (1976)-Columbia

It is from this album that I actually coined a whole definition for a certain kind of music from the 70’s,inspired by the title of a particularly funky song on this…particularly funky album. Herbie was on this huge musical winning streak in the mid 70’s and,even so this album really stands out very strong even for this period in his career! One of main reasons is the addition of Ray Parker Jr who,much as the Brothers Johnson had on the previous album Man-Child had really gone above and beyond in his ability to enhance and add great flavors to the already well established Headhunters sound. Not only is this one of Herbie’s most funky albums albums of this period but also his most thoroughly ear catching and….pretty melodic since Head Hunters and it’s also the most similar one they made to it. All their music from this period was that way but the previous two albums had gone after some more experimental type sounds. This one not only gets back to the basics but adapts on the sound in all kinds of different ways. In every measurable sense this is a funk album through and through but not every song is alike.

“Doin’ It” is…..well I’d say it was the best tune here but every one is so excellent that’s hard to say but it’s certainly one of the very strongest jams of 1976,a year full of ’em. The song starts from this Ray Parker riff that….builds into another riff until Herbie’s keyboards and synthesizers kick and and build on top of them unti Ray starts singing “just keep on doing it!”. This is a pointed reminder of the building nature of funk in it’s heyday. His remake of his own “Cantaloupe Island” adds a this Afro-Caribbean stomp,along with kind of this marching “big four” jazz beat to the funk and gives the tune some extra added bounce. “Spider” is just an amazing song;like the theme song to a kind of “techno-blacksploitation” movie never made with it’s bassy synth fanfare and that heavy chase scene rhythm. “Gentle Thoughts” is probably the most commercial sounding groove here as it sticks closest to the melody and sound fairly light for this type of album.

As for it’s overall atmospherics…well lets just say it’s most fittin that Lee Ritenour actually used this song as the title cut for his next album Gentle Thoughts. “Swamp Rat” is…among one of the most harmonically advanced tunes Herbie ever made with yet more fan-faring bass synths and,as for the second half of the song Paul Jackson’s bass and Bennie Maupin’s passionate work on sax and reeds carry that area. As for Maupin he gets a big kudos on his own “Sansho Shima” at the end of the album,which has this very strong Afro Cuban jazz flavor with the procrastination being bought to the forefront and the funk kind of riding along in the middle. This album is kind of ignored because it’s sandwiched after some well known classics and comes right before his disco-funk period-itself HIGHLY underrated. There is a progression from one to the other yet in terms of Herbie’s powers as a soloist,bandleader and composer in the 70’s,never-mind his funkiness this album is one of many that can’t be beat!

Funk/Disco Jazz

Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Now (1979)-Columbia

Often times I hear the late 70’s end of the funk era as being dismissed and harshly judged. Always chalked it up to the fact that the disco era,which came to an end in the year this particular album was released,attracted at least as many detractors as a genre as individual artists such as Beyonce do today. Aside from that music culture battle,nothing would keep funk,soul and dance artists from seeking new rhythmic ways with which to make their music as danceable and spirited as it could possibly be. I first heard this CD as part of my fathers collection. At the time I’d never heard any of the music Herbie Hancock had done between Head Hunters and Future Shock.

Nor was I aware that he even made any music between that time. So upon hearing this 1979 album for the first time? It was instantly exciting. Well at least tracks 1,3 and 4 were since they were the only ones I was fixated on for an unknown reason. Now over a decade and a half later I have the opportunity to view this album in the context of not only having heard Herbie’s other albums from the mid/late 70’s and early 80’s,but also other similar music from others artists made during this time period. So there is an understanding of the root of this sound that wasn’t present when I first heard this. So after so many years with this album,here are my current impressions of it.

The opener “You Bet You Love” is a glistening and rather enchanting disco friendly number with an extremely funky bass/guitar line that builds into Herbie’s swelling synthesizers-again married with a strong singalong melody that concludes with Herbie (as always during this time through his Vocoder) howling soulfully in the best manner of space-funk vocalizing. “Ready Or Not” is a Ray Parker Jr. penned funk groove filled with layered bass synthesizers along with Herbie’s melodic leads-featuring a choir of singers as opposed to Herbie and a sound very much out of the late 70’s Raydio type sound-only with a far more Afro-Latin oriented percussion break courtesy of Bill Summers.

“Tell Everybody” is a powerful,heavy bass/guitar led disco-funk jam with Herbie sharing vocals with the choir of singers on Vocoder-and again solid proof that Afro Latin percussion in the disco era did hold strong ethnic identification in the most instrumental oriented of hands. Now those are the numbers I was always most inclined towards here at the time of first hearing it. “Trust Me” is a slow,dripping samba type slow groove with a powerfully complex melody with Herbie vocoderizing a poignant lyric of romantic insecurity. “Honey From The Jar” is a slow crawling,bluesy and glassy dyno’d electric pinao driven slice of harder edged funk-showcasing a very chunky bass line. “Knee Deep” (not the Funkadelic classic of course) begins in a disco-funk oriented mode before descending deep into a heavily phased drum break/bass line for the deepest end of futurist funk.

Probably the most well know story of Herbie Hancock in the 1970’s was him always having to somehow justify his alternating between electric and acoustic playing throughout the decade. With that debate raging on among critics,he again ran into a similar musical syndrome to Miles that with all the controversy a lot of people missed out on the fact that,when playing funk oriented music,Herbie Hancock was helping to innovate even some unexplored tributaries of the funk-jazz genre. Because of Herbie’s assertion that funk’s strong roots in the Earth gave the music more room for rhythmic and melodic flight,he and Bill Summers in particular were able to use this music to fully explorer the percussively rhythmic possibilities that lay within the fact that the disco era funk music was extremely popular and even innovated on in Africa itself at the time.

And that is basically the spirit that comes from this particular album. It all the most shiny engineering and production gloss of any of Herbie’s 70’s funk-fusion albums. Yet at the same time,the rhythms that are colored by this effect are extremely strong and varied. The musical synergy that always seemed to exist between Herbie and Ray Parker Jr. is seen to enormous effect on this album. It showcases the strong instrumental compatibility that would show them collaborating so often during the years 1978-1981. So I must agree with writer Ricky Vincent that this was one of the strongest funk albums of the disco era. And one of Herbie’s strongest funk records as well.

Electro Funk/Hip-Hop

Sound-System (1984)-Columbia

With the success of Future Shock and its big hit “Rockit”,Herbie had made one significant musical contribution to the 80’s decade: he managed to put an instrumental dance record onto the pop charts and even the music video world. And opened up the door for other musicians such as contemporaries of his such as Jan Hammer to do the same. The following year Herbie was back in the studio with Bill Laswell to record the follow up to that album. As he was in the early 70’s,Herbie was continually fascinated by how to combine the modern electronic/hip-hop sample/scratch oriented effects that interested him with the heavily Afrocentric variety of funk. Again on the heels of another possible cultural innovation,Herbie bought in the Gambian musician Foday Musa Suso,who played an electrified African string instrument called the Kora,which produced a reverb laden Harp-like effect. This would have the effect of extending even further on the musical revelations he’d made on his previous album.

“Hard Rock”,”Metal Beat” and the closing title track are all very much in line with the approach of “Rockit”,but the instrumental sound is very different. The rhythmic patterns,keyboard parts and the addition of the Kora on the title song especially infuse these songs with an enormous Afro-Latin quality about them-which draws out the expansiveness of the groove and manage to make the electronics of it seem totally non-rigid. “Karabali” has almost no relation to these songs at all-its an almost totally African,almost Cameroonian Makossa beat type number built heavily around Suso’s Kora. “Junku” perfectly blends the tight and danceable electro-funk sound of Herbie’s with the same Kora sound. Bernard Fowler returns for another vocal number in the bluesy funk of “People Are Changing”,very much a generational cautionary take where Herbie delights on both synthesizer and acoustic piano alternately. The bonus track is an extended version of “Metal Beat”,which draws out the African percussion element even more.

Something tells me this album didn’t resonate with the public the same as its predecessor had. And it isn’t because the album is too repetitious of it. It actually isn’t at all. But the basis for all of the songs on this album are African oriented drum patters and different rhythmic ideas-with anything American blues based rarely being showcased. While this album is chocked full of massively grooving break dance friendly electro funk,the basis for it isn’t particularly American it all. It takes the heavy Afro-Latin influence of the previous album to a whole other level in fact. In many ways,that makes this one of Herbie’s best albums of the 80’s as the music is extremely close to his heart in the sense of being technically futurist yet rhythmically grounded in the tradition of the Earth itself. Manu DiBango himself could extend on the sound from his album in particular on his own release from the following year Electric Africa. As for this,Herbie may very well have sparked the public’s interest in Africa and African musical rhythms during the mid 1980’s. So again Herbie himself gained some success for himself while being a trailblazer.

Acid Jazz

Return Of The Headhunters (1998)-Universal

Herbie Hancock made a valiant but no altogether creatively vibrant comeback with Dis Is Da Drum. He began making acoustic records for the rest of the decade which,actually focused on reinventing songs that were originally done electrically. During this time there was a revival of funk in a more organic musical form. And later in a decade a particular focus on the jazz-funk side of things. New bands such as Brand New Heavies,Jamiroquai and a revived Incognito came out of the UK as part of this boom. The acid jazz boom. This was an excellent environment for Herbie to revive the band that got the ball rolling on the jazz-funk movement of the 70’s in the first place: The Headhunters. But would Paul Kackson,Bill Summers,Bennie Maupin and Mike Clark be interested in putting the band back together and…well doing “it” again? Looks like the did. This time to remain contemporary they bought in guests both old and new,from Patrice Rushen to BNH’s own N’Dea Davenport. And off the went!

“Funk Hunter” gets things off to an excellent start. All the old magic of Headhunters funk is fully intact from Herbie’s reverbed clavinets to the stop/start rhythms. “Skank It” actually ups the funk ante even more with some high octane rhythms and Bennie Maupin going right for it on saxes and reeds. “Watch Your Back” is the only number here featuring rapping. But the rap has jazz cultural value and the music around it is still the Headhunters funk. “Frankie And Kevin” is a more mellower recording with Davenport on lead vocals. She stretches out vocally even further on the catchy and jazzy funk piece “Tip Toe”,another of my favorites here. “Premonition” and “6/8-7/8” go right for the heavier jazz jugular with Bennie Maupin stretching out on the solos in a more abstract way he might’ve before his Headhunter years. Both are very strong again compositionally. “Kwanzaa” is another favorite of mine here. It has a long going on in it. There’s this polyrhythmic atmosphere, layered keyboard/synthesizer solos and some unusual but memorable melodic phrases.

Much more organic,better produced and featuring far far stronger compositions than Herbie’s previous album of all original material this actually served to re-introduce a musical collective/band that I still don’t feel is quite given the credit due them. The Headhunters cannot get the credit for out and out creating jazz-funk as a subgenre. But the sure pioneered it by really showcasing so many of it’s most important elements. There was the African rhythmic influence. That emphasis on stop/start rhythms on unexpected time signatures for another. And there was also that close and unique musical chemistry that all of these musicians had that made it all work. Truth be said this album has just a tad more vocals than the original Headhunter era albums ever had. Not to mention on that level how much more oriented it is around guests in that area. But it all functions very much as a complete musical unit rather than some example of one upsmanship. The Headhunters purpose as a band is ultimately fulfilled here as their strengths and weaknesses are complimented as well as they ever were. And this all makes this joyful,funky music to hear.


And there we have it: my own list of the Herbie Hancock albums that I feel represent the strongest of each period of his electronic jazz-funk oriented creations. The fact that the man has branched out so many tributaries as an electric player shows just the expansiveness not only of Herbie himself,but of the jazz/funk musical combination itself. And it’s an expansiveness that continues to develop here in the new millennium.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Acid Jazz, Bennie Maupin, Bernard Fowler, Bill Summers, Disco, electric jazz, Foday Musa Suso, Fusion, Harvey Mason, Headhunters, Herbie Hancock, Jazz-Funk, Mike Clark, Paul Jackson, Ray Parker Jr.

Andre’s Amazon Archive 4/11/2015: ‘So Excited (Expanded Edition)’ by Pointer Sisters

pointer-sisters---so-excited_-_expanded-edition__9025_0

I had this album for a long time on vinyl and while it was in excellent shape when I got,it wasn’t after a time. Reason being is because I used to play it from beginning to end over and over again because this happens to be one of those pop albums (honestly another in this style that comes to mind is Pet Sounds) where once you start it it’s likely you won’t want to skip cuts because these well crafted little pop-soul mini masterpieces just flow so well from one to the other your either dancing and/or singing along so much you just won’t want to be bothered shutting it off. And on CD this album is made even better (if Amazon allowed ten stars I’d give this eight to be honest) because you simply don’t have to switch sides. As with all albums some cuts are less perfect than others but when the weakest cuts are merely very good,one knows something greats going on.

Predating their major league success with Break Out by exactly one year this album expands on the sleek mixture of live musicianship,extremely rich vocal harmonies and dashes of synthesizers in just the right places. It is far,far from the heavy electronic production if the next album but up to this point qualifies as their slickest. The title track (the single version without of course the drum intro at the beginning)as well as “See How The Love Goes”,”Heart To Heart” and a very close to the original rendering of Prince’s “I Feel For You” two years before Chaka Khan’s famous hit version (the liners claim the Sisters considering Chaka’s the far superior version) all blend that 80’s pop/new wave sound of reverbed rhythm guitars and keyboard lines with some wonderfully soulful pop melodies. And those are actually the WEAKER cuts if you can imagine it.

“All Of You” is a sleek mixture of dreamy mid tempo Latin pop/funk and a modern country/pop type refrain-the combination works great and it’s easily one of the albums highlights. “Heart Beat”,a Ruth Pointer sung number and I find her voice one of the most husky and unique next to Mavis Staples and is definitely one of those “hits that never were” type of songs,again with that new wave/funk pop flavor. Now for SERIOUS GROOVES “If You Want To Get Back Your Lady” is a hefty naked funk gem,again with plenty of that country refrain on the vocal only and even a synthesized reference to “Purple Haze” towards the end I never noticed before. There’s also a remix as part of the bonuses that really extends the rhythmic aspect of the groove. Ditto for the title track. “American Music” is kind of a self homage to their own melting pot outlook on pop and has this retro soul/pop shuffle to it-sort of a slicker “Should I Do It”. Again I ask why this wonderful and highly consistent album hadn’t made it to CD before this. But I suppose the important thing is it’s here now and a strong reminder of just how high quality and consistent the Pointer Sisters were during this most successful time for them.

Originally Posted On May 16th,2011

Link to original review here*

Visit the BBR Records site here for more expanded and remastered funk and soul titles:

http://www.cherryred.co.uk/bigbreak.asp

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Anita Pointer, Big Break Records, Chaka Khan, Funk, June Pointer, Music Reviewing, naked funk, Pointer Sisters, pop funk, Prince, reissues, Richard Perry, Ruth Pointer, soul pop, Synth Pop

Anatomy Of THE Groove 4/10/2015: “Earth Mother” by Todd Rundgren

Soul and funk music have consistently been intertwined into Todd Rundgren’s solo career. It’s gone hand and hand with his ability to fuse his capabilities as a multi instrumentalist and working with other musicians with strong creative personalities-such as Utopia’s Roger Powell and Kasim Sulton. Celebrating an near half century in the music business? Rundgren is about to launch into a brand new tour with the boogie/electro funk revivalist Dam Funk as guest artist. His new album Global showcases how this has musically influenced him. Especially on one of it’s songs entitled “Earth Mother”.

A didgeridoo effect begins the song that goes into a hand clap powered rhythm as Rundgren does a call and response with female backup singers (including his wife Michelle) that goes into an isolated bass Vocoder vocal that goes into an organ sounding one before a slow,loping digitized go-go style drum stomp comes in accompanied by a round and again digitized bass synthesizer. This accompanies both the main lyrical body (where the synth bass line is expressed very subtly) of the song as well as the refrains. And in each refrain? A similar call and response vocal comes into play even up to when the song concludes on the Vocoder based statement.

Musically speaking? Rundgren does some amazing things with this song. He goes right for the jugular of the DC based go go funk sound-celebrating the idea of funkiness coming from slowing down a danceable tempo. Yet he also presents it in a song under four minutes as well. Instrumentally several things are happening here. The same gospel type call and response of the go-go/new jack era funk scene is present in the vocal arrangement. As well as the very strong aspect of the gritty “video game” style electronic bass synthesizer and digitized funk groove of early 80’s P-Funk that artists such as Dam Funk have bought into their musical orbit as well.

On the lyrical end Rundgren is paying serious tributes to woman’s right along racial and educational lines. The song itself references the Pakistani student activist Malala Yousafzai as well as the iconic historical story of Rosa Parks. This gives birth to my personal favorite lyrics from this song: “Rosa sat in the front of the bus/the driver start to make a fuss/the end result was so unjust/but she was sitting in front for the rest of us”. For his part, Rundgren clearly sees the entire matter of civil rights and racial justice as the ultimate service humanity can do itself. His frank yet thoughtful manner evokes genuine affection for the Curtis Mayfield’s,Stevie Wonder’s,Marvin Gaye’s and Gil Scott Heron’s who came before. And provides a modern day industrial electro go-go funk “people music” message song for 2015!

To learn more about Malala Yousafzai’s and Rosa Park’s importance in the history of human rights? Please click on the links provided below:

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2014/yousafzai-facts.html

http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/rosa-parks

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Filed under 2015, bass synthsizer, call and response, civil rights, Dam Funk, electro funk, go-go funk, Kasim Sulton, Malala Yousafzai, message songs, Michelle Rundgren, Rosa Parks, synth funk, Todd Rundgren

Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk: “Tis Your Kind Of Music” by Graham Central Station

Welcome to this first ever volume of Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk. This (so far) bimonthly segment is going to be devoted to classic songs in the jazz/funk/soul spectrum from the 60’s and 70’s. It was first conceived by friend and blogging partner Henrique Hopkins. It started to make sense,with this blog’s emphasis on newer grooves,to begin exploring their points of origin in a more in depth kind of way. Decided to take on this idea for now while I am flying solo with Andresmusictalk for a little while. In the spirit of my concept on writing about songs from the classic funk era that are lesser known? I’ll start the concept with one of my personal favorites.

Larry Graham was in a very interesting position during the first few years of his band Graham Central Station. Sly & The Family Stone were still operating and even having hits. So the two,with Larry being the connecting thread to both,were at this point very much in tandem. Larry’s own take music was on a very uptempo gospel oriented type of funk built around the interaction between keyboards and this iconic,thick slap bass playing. For the bands second release in 1974’s Release Yourself, the band forged ahead heavily into an instrumental direction that Sly actually began but which GCS were already about to take to the next level. And for me at least? The crowning achievement of this was in the song ‘Tis Your Kind Of Music”.

The song begins with a nasal burst of ARP synthesizer from Larry himself,which melds into pulsing bass tones playing the counter point to the main theme.All along with the pulsing burble of Patrice “Chocolate” Bank’s organ drum programming. After a bar of this,the synthesizer begins playing a staccato type of bluesy lead line-with a string synthesizer orchestration backing it up and the electric piano of Hershall “Happiness” Kennedy playing the different changes. Chocolate sings the first vocal verse of the song in her deep,thick churchy gospel wail-trading off with Larry’s deep bass voice on each refrain. Each of which is followed by a repeat of that second instrumental verse. The song closes out out with a band unison vocal of the songs title-sang as an exploratory chant.

On the very first time I heard this song? It’s instrumental boldness absolutely blew me away. Realized it would be a song I’d be learning from for years to come. And it has been for sure. Most importantly? It brings up a matter Henrique and I have recently been discussing about the pan ethnic forms of music. In fact,it’s very possible to have a situation on many songs with Afrocentric structure but European content. And vice versa. This is a song of a type that,very much in the original spirit of the Family Stone,blows that ethic right out of the box. It not only presents an almost totally electronic mix of still very new synthesizers and drum machines. But also does so with European classical orchestration,spiritual/gospel melodicism (especially on the vocal arrangements) and that heavy jazz oriented funk grind in terms of how the instruments themselves are played. In many ways? This song represents what the entire 70’s “united funk” age meant at it’s absolute,and most futurist pinnacle.

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Filed under 1974, ARP synthesier, classic funk, drum machines, Funk, Funk Bass, Gospel, Graham Central Station, Larry Graham, Sly Stone, synth funk