Perhaps in the US? It did seem as if the post disco backlash (and subsequent freeze out) did reduce the progress of black dance music to a slow crawl, at least commercially, during the early 80’s. Still there was boogie/electro funk,developing often rather more underground. On the UK music scene? The post punk and post disco scene were developing together,and very successful in it’s own context. There was no “death of” syndrome per se. The funky dance music scene was just allowed to evolve through the synthesizer/new wave era. Enter vocalist/keyboard player Leee John,guitarist/bassist Ashley Ingram and drummer Errol Kennedy.
The band emerged in 1981 with the album Body Talk and became a huge international success. Because John was also becoming interested in acting around this time? Their music started appearing in films-with John himself eventually appearing in the 1983 Doctor Who serial Enlightenment. A year before this in 1982? The trio of multi instrumentalists released their sophomore album In The Heat Of The Night. It continued the creative and commercial success as an album and through my personal favorite song from it “Music And Lights”.
It all begins with a round,mid toned bass synth pulse that goes into a slow,stomping rhythmic beat. Even with that? There’s also several pulsing melodic electronic keyboards each playing accompanying melodic parts. One is a straight up,bluesy melody. The other is a pulse that separates each instrumental refrain. And the final,which shows up in the first bridge of the song, is a glassy and almost otherworldly sounding jazzy piano. John’s vocals,presented both in his mid tenor and higher falsetto accompany the chorus and refrains until a complete break down of the chorus INTO the refrain near the end of the song.
To me anyway? This song represents some of the strongest musical qualities of the early 80’s electro funk sub-genre. Much in the style of the then enormously influential Minneapolis Sound pioneered by Prince,Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis? This song represents the idea of using synthesizers to replicate the horn and string parts that were still in use on some popular music even though-though for different reasons less so. While the music and lyrics have an airy space disco dressing-with it’s disco era glamour tale? The basic core of the song is a straight up blues/funk stomp-with a raw,prickly rhythm attitude. And that’s why,at least subjectively this song functions so well for me.
Filed under 1980's, Blues, Disco, Doctor Who, electro funk, Imagination, Jam & Lewis, Jazz, Leee John, Minneapolis, post disco, Prince, synth bass, synth funk, UK Funk
With the huge successes of songs such as “Three Times A Lady”,”Still”,”Sail On” and even “Lady” as recorded by Kenny Rogers? It was only a matter of time before Lionel Richie would leave the Commodores with a distinctive solo style of his own to draw on. As for The Commodores? They began the 80’s with their Heroes
album-which looked to grab a somewhat more rock ‘n soul sound on some of the more uptempo numbers. And frankly wasn’t among their more successful musical outings from a commercial standpoint. Well by 1981 things had changed a lot on the R&B/soul music scene. In the US,disco was out of fashion and the radio was freezing out anything dancebale or “black” oriented. Yes it was racist. Yes it was exlusionist. But the one thing Lionel’s hit ballads had contributed to The Commodores was a way from them to ride out that storm. And its likely that at this point? They might’ve been wondering how ,with Lionel already confirmed to be leaving how they could regain their commercial success while also recapturing some of the uptempo and funkier elements that had gradually been eroded in their sound. This was the album that would have to be the proof of the pudding in that regard.
“Lady (You Bring Me Up)” is actually one of my favorite Commodores songs. With it’s melodic electric piano intro and strong post disco rhythm and strings? This song is an almost ideal blend of Doobie Brothers/Steely Dan style West Coast pop and Motown soul/funk which likely both inspired each other from the outset. “Saturday Night” is a smoldering,smoothed out cinematic groove that is extremely funky and sexy-with McClary taking the lead vocal. “Keep On Taking Me Higher” has a strong bass line and a sleek,slinky Walter Orange synthesizer that is somewhat influenced by the then emerging boogie funk sound-only much more live band/late 70’s era funk with a strong percussive bridge. “Oh No” and in particular the epic,gospel inflected “Lucy” which closes the album are the two Richie penned ballads-again with a strong countrypoliton style flavor about both of them. “Why You Wanna Try Me Baby” is a somewhat more funk oriented variation on the catchy West Coast vibe that starts off the album. “This Love” is a heavy,soulful,Walter Orange penned soul ballad while “Been Loving You” is a thick,deep and sleekly produced funk number that,by blending more advanced studio production with the Sly Stone end of the bands vibe,anticipates the way much modern retro funk tends to sound.
On a purely musical level? This primarily uptempo and funk oriented album found the Lionel Richie era Commodores coming to a conclusion that was relatively close to how they began. Yet also taking into consideration their newer found popular success. The bands level of musicianship had consistently evolved. The funk here is of course of a more advanced recorded and lest punchier nature than the sound they started out with. But a sophistifunk record by The Commodores was certainly preferable to no funk at all. Its also become clear to me how Lionel was actually going for a country/soul sound on his ballads in a similar vein to Ray Charles. Difference was Lionel was a straighter,less individual vocalist than Ray. And he never did infuse his country/soul ballads with the same level of blues and gospel either. They always favored the pop side. But in hindsight? They were very well done in the context of this albums generally funky nature. For someone who tends to avert their eyes to latter day Commodores? Thinking their ears might get a little sticky? They might be surprised just how much grooving sweat this 1981 album is capable of creating!
Originally posted on June 21’st,2014
By the time 1980 rolled around? The new decade found The Commodores as basically Motown’s premiere band. One capable of delivering on the hardest funk and the most delicately crafted,down home country soul ballads. Considering the band members all met at Tuskegee Institute,at the height of the civil rights and black power movements? It only seemed appropriate that as the less than certain social/racial atmosphere of the then new decade began to reveal itself? That the band would find a meaningful way to comment on the situation. This came in the form of the title song to the bands release from that year entitled Heroes.
Walter Orange starts of the song with a loud drum kick and proceeds to brush away lightly. All over a string and horn chart that descends into a stripped down ballad with Lionel Richie’s plaintive vocal lead accompanied by Milan William’s acoustic guitar-with accents from Ron LePread’s round slap bass licks. On the choruses? The drum kicks off into more of a big beat type sound-along with an almost rather staccato Brazilian type guitar lick. On the final refrain of the song? The band all join together for a heavy,bass/guitar driven funk stomp where the string section plays the bluesy melodic accents of that very same bass/guitar interaction right along with it.
Instrumentally speaking? This song showcases the strong musical breadth that The Commodores possessed during their prime. The focus of this song is often very spare-with the acoustic guitar,light drum brushing and bass accents leading much of it. In the tradition of mid 70’s Motown hits such as “Love Hangover” that showcased strong juxtapositions of groove and changes in tempo? This song starts out in a manner that doesn’t particularly suggest it’s ever going to be a funk jam. Yet that’s just what it becomes by the end. And it’s not an abrupt change. The changes in tempo,rhythm and feeling changes throughout the song-so the transition into hard funkiness is totally natural.
Much of the strong mood music this song presents comes out of it’s lyrical content. In addition to their Southern American heritage? Growing up in the era of the major civil rights gains of the 1950’s? This song eloquently and beautifully pays tribute to many of the historical figures and leaders who helped to advance the cause of liberation for black Americans over time. And interestingly enough does so without naming specific names. Well aware of the importance and rarity of them having black management in the personage of the late Benny Ashburn? This song basically speaks to the vital significance of being able to have internal icons black American’s can celebrate. In today’s world where some black people seem to all too easily apologize for even the cruelest of white racists? This is a song that I feel more young people today should hear and know something about in terms of it’s subtext.
Filed under 1980's, ballads, Benny Ashburn, civil rights, Funk, Funk Bass, Heroes, Lionel Richie, Milan Williams, Motown, Ronald LePread, The Commodores, Tuskegee University
Cannot tell you why I spent almost a quarter of my life as an admirer of Miles Davis’s music and passed over this CD over and over again. No reason but,well the wait it over. Seems this album titled is based on a Zulu word meaning “power”. And Miles must’ve been feeling a lot of that musically. His body was swiftly deteriortating by the time this came out. But what mattered is that his 1986 Warner Bros. debut Tutu was triumph,for him and producer/writer/collaborator Marcus Miller. This album was to be the follow up to that. And essentially follow the same format: Miles would play his horn while Marcus did almost everything else. However Miles’ own personality was given somewhat more of a kick by the presense of Joe Sample,Omar Hakim and Joey DeFrancesco here. It may not have been the approach that many might’ve viewed as Miles’ own cup of tea,being as confident as he was creatively. But at this point putting his dwindling physical energy into his playing was paramount.
On the first two numbers,”Catembe” and the George Duke collaboration on “Cobra” that afrocentric polyrhythmic percussion flavor is continued on from where Miles left off on the previous album. Duke had the good sense to take some notes from Miller’s approach in that regard. “Big Time”,the more brooding “Jo-Jo” and of course “Jili” take a step forward. With the strong surge of success of go-go and it’s more commercialized cousin new jack swing Marcus Miller began to integrate those digitized funky shuffing beats into those songs,all of which have strong melodies and look ahead to the possibility of more hip-hop type music in Miles’ future. “Hannibal” is a very thick jazz-rock similar again to some of the music on the previous album. The title song is the slower number here with a melody teeter tottering between reflective and sunny. The closer “Mr.Pastorious”,a tribute to the than recently befallen Jaco is a strong song compositionally on the jazzier end.
Interesting thing about this album to me is that it was the final album Miles’ released in his lifetime. His final album Doo Bop was released a year following his passing in 1991. And even here with Marcus Miller you can hear the strong groundwork laid for some of the jazz/hip-hop fusions Miles would go for on his final recordings. Of course this is a fully instrumental album so he was not making the full change over to anything overtly hip-hop here. Just Marcus’ passing nods to the go-go and new jack swing sounds he was probably pretty interested in at the time. And likely had appeal to Miles because of their relation to the funk he’d fallen in love with. So it was great to see Miles,even as he was at the twilight of his career by this poing,still being two steps ahead of what else was happening in the jazz world of the time. Innovating all of ones life time is amazing. But being able to do that pretty much near your death bed? Well…maybe that’s just Miles for you.
Originally posted on June 20th,2012
*Link to original review here
Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Fusion, go-go funk, Jaco Pastorius, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, Joey DeFrancesco, Marcus Miller, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, Omar Hakim
It was through his collaboration with Phonte on the latest album by The Foreign Exchange that got me interested in the music of Matthjis “Nicolay” Rook. Now this is a Dutch native who has been creating both solo albums and different collaborations within the funkiest side of the electronica/hip-hop/soul spectrum of music. His emphasis on live musicianship with his acumen as a multi instrumentalist is a big part of his artistic appeal for me personally.
Over the past decade,Nicolay has released a series of solo records in his City Lights series. Generally weaving them directly in between his released as a member of The Foreign Exchange. I’ve never had one of these albums. Yet the newest volume of this was subtitled ‘Soweto’-as a tribute to the South African township of the same name. And through online streaming? It was it’s opening song “Tomorrow” which caught my ear the most.
Beginning and ending with the voice of what is perhaps Bantu language conversation in the back-round? The song begins with a round bass synthesizer chord-accompanied by breezy orchestral electronics. Suddenly a burst of intense percussion kicks in for the main rhythm of the song-with congas,high hat and other Afro-Latin percussive sounds. On the bridge of the song a high pitch,and still round toned series of synthesizers play a horn like jazzy riff before gearing down into a higher pitched synth scaling up and down. All before the song ends with a light Ebonic vocalese.
One of the things I enjoy about this song is some of the same quality I heard on “If I Knew Then” from The Foreign Exchange. This song is of course far faster and electronic in straight up instrumental tone. That being said? Nicolay borrows a lot of his technique from early/mid 80’s Prince. In the sense that he is a master programmer and creator of live rhythmic and warmer,brittle bass lines with electronic drums and keyboards. It also helps greatly that he’s also an electric bassist and guitarist as well. He therefore understands the importance of a fat,rhythmic groove. Whether or not it’s produced organically. Along with it’s similarity to 1980’s Miles Davis and Weather Report? This song brings out the link between funk and contemporary electronica very strongly.
Filed under 2015, Afro-Latin jazz, electro funk, Electronica, Fusion, Jazz-Funk, new music, Nicolay, Nu Funk, percussion, Phonte, South Africa, Soweto, synth funk, The Foreign Exchange
One of the keys to my personal understand of Prince would be flexibility. Expansion of ones tastes and thoughts would seem to be vital in order to have the appropriate appreciation for the art of Prince Rogers Nelson. Having reviewed and done at least two blog posts about the man already? It feels like exactly the right time to acknowledge the fact my experiences with his music spans across four decades-give or take a year or five. So on the man’s 57th birthday? I am going to run down,decade by decade, just where my path growing up intersected with his purple life.
There’s always a vague memory from a child’s point of view. But hearing “When Doves Cry” on my mom’s 45 RPM record of it,when it was brand new,was a very unusual musical experience for me. At the time? I didn’t know what I was hearing. On the beach near where we had a summer camp? The ground was littered with flat,slate like rocks with a red/indigo color that my mom referred to as “purple Prince rocks”. These rocks were collecting heavily in my room by the time I heard my next Prince song-a very choppy VHS recording my dad made me of the video to his song “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”. This was Prince’s commercial prime-his public decade as an artist. I knew of him,but perhaps took him a little for granted.
When Prince elected to change his name (amid record company hassles) to an unpronounceable symbol in 1994? My first reaction was actually laughter and eye rolling. By that point? Most of the artists I deeply admired were involved in some very public scandal. I felt the media were unfairly projecting Prince as being insane. Naturally this attracted me to his music. First came The Hits/The B-Sides. After that,while revisiting the salad years of this back catalog up to that point? My first experience with new Prince music came via multi CD sets such as Emancipation and Crystal Ball. If the 80’s were Prince’s prime decade? Then the 90’s were the prime decade of my personal experience with his artistry.
Becoming an adult was a happy time for me to be an admirer of Prince’s music. Mainly because he was calling himself Prince again. Of course another aspect of being an adult during the immediate post 9/11 years kept me from the latest news on the man. While Prince was at last a creative free agent? I was personally experiencing a great deal of difficulty managing life on my own. Issues I still face,to some degree, to this very day. Interestingly enough? Being able to delight in the exciting funkiness emerging from new Prince releases of the time such as Musicology,3121 and MPL Sound had me rooting for the man’s success as an example to myself: that an artist could be successfully and creatively free at the same time.
It’s been an interesting six year journey with Prince by this point. One had has yet to be complete. This decade started off with me being very disappointed,annoyed and angry with Prince’s business choices. Not only was he electing to release little to no music. But his live shows never came close to reaching my area. Not to mention him turning his nose up at the internet. Which was at this point becoming an enormous aspect of my own creative expression on every level: literately,artistically and photographically. This has all changed within the last year or so. Prince has re-signed (on his terms) with Warner Bros. and released two new albums. With the promise of more. Also he’s released a single to raise awareness for the BlackLivesMatter initiative with his racially charged single in “Baltimore” as well.
One element that has been enormous in my understanding of Prince during the past decade and a half or so has been the enormous presence of third person perspective. Facebook friends such as Brandon Ousley,Henry Cooper and in particular Henrique Hopkins have been instrumental in providing often illuminating insights into the creative and personal character of the often elusive Minneapolis native. One element of Prince’s recent character I appreciate is his public advocacy of albums as a vital musical concept. Especially in the retro 50’s/post MP3 attitudes of single songs again being the main source for popular music. If Prince and my own life progress forward along a similar clip to this? I might at last achieve a full appreciation in my art of understanding of the artist and his motivations.
Filed under 1980's, 1990s, 3121, 45 records, albums, BlackLivesMatter, CD's, Crystal Ball, Emancipation, Facebook, Funk, MPL Sound, Musicology, Prince, The Hits/B-Sides, When Doves Cry
Looks as if I’m going to have to add Mick Hucknall/Simply Red to my list of groups and artists with the “fine wine” syndrome-of just having a musical sound that just gets better with time. Since the group first implanted their ear worm of “Holding Back The Years’ from their debut Picture Book? Their music has always keenly interested me. The question I’m always asking myself is…why do I tend to ignore their new releases when they come out every 5-8 years or so? The answer is I didn’t know then,don’t know now. After 2008? I vowed that the next new Simply Red album I’d pick up because of my own negligence of this group I really enjoy and appreciate. Finally I made the right decision with this album all the way!
“Shine On”,opening with album with a big arrangement,”Daydreaming” as well as the more hyper-kinetic grooves of “Tight Tones” and “WORU” are all rhythm guitar heavy disco/funk dance numbers with creamy wah wah’s and uptown melodies all the way. The title song is a piano/guitar driven mid tempo soul ballad,with the sound and flavor that had me falling in love with the music of Simply Red from the get go. “The Ghost Of Love” and “Love Gave Me More” are lusciously orchestrated funky/soul numbers while “Love Wonders” and “Coming Home” are more atmospheric,cinematic numbers while “The Old Man And The Beer” is a ,slow swinging soul jazz style number. The album is rounded out with the more pop/rock style mid tempo melody of “Dad” and the more baroque pop ballad of “Each Day”.
From beginning to end? This album distills what makes this groups music flow as well as it does. For sure they have a well oiled sound that is distinctive and instantly recognizable. Yet it’s a style that can adapt itself to different variations very easily. The focus of this particular album is very much on orchestration. In this particular case in the Barry White/Marvin Gaye/Gamble & Huff mode. Happily Hucknall’s highly melodic and well constructed songwriting is of course very well suited to this. And everything from the rhythm section to the arrangements are extremely strong and well done. This is superb and mildly lyrically nostalgic/reflective adult funky soul from 2015 at it’s finest. And one I very highly recommend you give a try to!
Originally posted June 2nd,2015
Link to original review here*
Filed under 2015, Amazon.com, Barry White, cinematic soul, disco funk, Gamble & Huff, Marvin Gaye, Mick Hucknall, Music Reviewing, Simply Red, Soul, soul jazz
It wasn’t too long ago that I paid absolutely no mind whatsoever to the musical output of Brian McKnight. He seemed to be one of many groups and soloists who came out of the early/mid 90’s contemporary pop/soul scene. Most of these artists came across as possessing a docile performance ethic. And possessing little to no vocal and/or musical vitality. Without any undue cruelty? These artists didn’t seem capable of creating much in the way of uptempo dance music, let alone anything that was all that funky at all. One night while channel surfing half a decade ago,however? I came across The Brian McKnight Show.
This was an interview show at at contemporary artists involved in the creative process of music. Watching it a bit? McKnight revealed himself to be the same kind of multi instrumentalist (not merely a synthesizer/drum machine programmer),producer and composer he would generally be interviewing on the show. Often showcasing the artists and himself playing piano,bass and guitar? This got me curious enough to seek out some of McKnight’s current music. One such album, More Than Words opened with a song that continued this change of mind in the form of “Don’t Stop”.
Beginning with a jazz fusion style drum roll and synth-horn improvisation,the song goes into a pulsing drum beat (accenting by the snare on one occasion) that is accompanied by a thick,phat and very funky slap bass line mixed right up front. That drum then turns into a rolling dance floor friendly,slow groove while the rhythm guitar comes in to play the higher pitched variation of the bass line right along with it. Along with the fusion like intro introducing each chorus? Not to mention the electric piano accompanied refrain? This groove keeps grinding itself into the listeners subconscious until it finally comes to an end.
While McKnights light (and often mildly over souling) vocal doesn’t add a great deal to the song itself? The way the chunky style bass/guitar funk groove holds up the songs extremely sensuous lyrical content provide some of the heaviest and strongest funk that Brian McKnight has ever produced in his long career. In a similar manner to Trombone Shorty’s “Long Weekend”? This songs slow grinding uptempo groove evokes the work of the underrated Ohio funk band Slave. Especially the bass playing of the late Mark “Mr.Mark” Adams. By focusing more on the instrumental groove than the vocals? This song,as Rique might put it,evokes a hip young middle class black American male circa 1980 driving around in a small car blasting Slave’s song “Watching You”. That plus it’s jazzy flavor make this a high water mark for instrumental funkiness for Brian McKnight
Ever since my earliest days of listening to music more seriously? I developed a strong interest in 70’s Motown. This was a record label with a musical sound so distinctive? An entire sub-genre of pop/soul was named after the label itself-the first time I’ve ever heard of such a thing. One of the most fascinating bridges between the sunny melodies of Motown’s classic sound and the funk/psychedelic soul excursions to come was the burgeoning solo career of former Temptation David Ruffin.
For his part? Ruffin never got the chance to be the lead singer on Temptations’ game changers such as “Cloud Nine”,”Ball of Confusion” or “Psychedelic Shack”. But in the (at the time) long gap between his second solo album and his third? Ruffin had to be noticing the changes in music heavily-because he turned to Philadelphia soul producer Bobby Miller to helm his self titled 1972 comeback album. His new sound was typified wonderfully with the song “Blood Donors Needed (Give What You Can)”.
Opening with a dim wah wah and percussive intro,the rhythm guitar kicks into gear with a high pitched bluesy intonation. The bass also kicks with right in along with it-a higher bass line extremely reminiscent of the one on Aretha’s “Rock Steady” from the same year. The main drum beat of the song has a strident march while,on the ultra bluesy choruses,a melodic organ solo kicks into gear before Ruffin’s distinctive powerful,gravelly pipes are echo plexed. The song ends segues into the sound of an out of tune music box before returning to a melodic trumpet call to end out the song.
Instrumentally this is a wonderfully thick funk/blues/soul jam with a very unusual quality of sound about it. Everything on this song sounds extremely tinny and metallic . The wah wah in particular sounds recorded far away from the microphone. And the general production sounds purposefully sent through a hollow metal tube.With the mixture of modern stylistic signatures high on the funk? The stark,unpolished sound holds up just right with the harrowing lyrics about urban decay,violence and the need for medical assistance in the lower class communities. It’s a bit more overt and earnest than the Tempts more abstract takes on serious topics. But it’s a high water mark (if unsung) for David Ruffin’s 70’s era solo career.