Much as injecting personal affairs into this blog has been controversial on many different ends? It’s unavoidable in this case. 2015 has proven to be a year consisting of many hardships, challenges and often misery for humanity. On the creative end of that? It was deeply soul destroying for me when Ronnie and Charlie Wilson sued both Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for credit in their massive hit “Uptown Funk”. Unsure what upsets me more: that the surviving Wilson brothers were negating their own possible comeback over greed? Or because of the fact that they themselves could be accused of musical plagiarism of P-Funk with their 1979 hit “Oops Upside Your Head”.
The matter was so distressing on this end that it became one of a bucket list of reasons why I took a six month hiatus from this blog to begin with. And why it may not be as it was again in the future. Still? Nothing in creativity is carved in stone. Not funk music,not the Gap Band and not even the future of either. And it reminded me of a time (the late 1990’s) when I was collecting Gap Band CD’s with great enthusiasm. And noticing the resemblance of the vocal timbre of “Uncle” Charlie Wilson and Stevie Wonder. At the conclusion of their 1983 release Gap Band V: Jammin’? A collaboration between the Wilson’s and Wonder finally occurred with a song entitled “Someday”. And it had a lot more to say beyond even that.
It’s actually one of the few funk,soul or R&B numbers I’ve heard that not only has a cold start both musically and vocally. But it also maintains that basic character throughout the entire song. The rhythmic body of the song is a steady drum beat accentuated by rolling percussion-that train like motion the Wilson’s tended to specialize in. The main melodic phrase is a very Wonder-like synthesized Clavinet-like baroque classical one-though likely played by Charlie himself. And this is accessorized by a slippery synth bass line. On the bridge? Wonder does provide an appropriate harmonica solo before leading into the pleasing,gospel soul vocal coda as the song fades out.
Charlie,Ronnie and the late Robert Wilson were not only successful at adapting the approach of Stevie Wonder into their own funk style on this song, but also gave up the props by gleefully collaborating with the artist himself-without whom the sound of the song wouldn’t have been so possible. This spirit of creative unity goes well with the beautifully stated tribute to the struggle for civil rights. And to the then yet unrecognized holiday in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s one of the most eloquently layered and topical of the Gap Band’s songs. It may never have been recognized due to not being a hit. But it may be one of the Wilson’s crowning musical (and proudly funky) achievements.
When I was about 14-15 years old? I was listening to my parents original copy of the Michael Jackson album Off The Wall,which they’d gifted me a couple of years earlier-listening to the songs on the album that were not huge radio hits. This was actually something I found myself beginning to do a lot during adolescence-viewing many kinds of art on a broader level. One of these songs struck me so strongly that I began playing it over and over in succession. It was a Stevie Wonder composition entitled “I Can’t Help It”.
Musically it was played and written in a very otherworldly manner-with layers of synthesizers and keyboards creating a romantically sophisticated atmosphere. Thematically, it’s revealed itself to me as a song whose intent is very flexible depending on the interpretation. Between Rique and myself? Esperanza Spalding has come up a lot on this blog. And it was her interpretation of this classic Stevie Wonder song which, both instrumentally and lyrically, offered it that other kind of musical flight.
The song opens with what sounds to be an ascending, bubbling high pitched electric bass or low rhythm guitar (a difference I often find difficult to distinguish). It then eases smoothly into a marching Brazilian jazz/funk drum rhythm-which in itself is accompanied by a saxophone improvisation and a lightly processed electric piano playing the refrain. Esperanza’s vocals,themselves improvising by tempo and mood,perfectly accompany the instrumentation-which proceeds in and out of the same mixture of sounds that begins the song from refrain to the final and partially unaccompanied closing chorus.
Spalding’s multi faceted treatment of this song is enhanced by another element that’s narrative rather then musical. Still on it’s own, her version of this song (in the fine jazz tradition) expands it both rhythmically an harmonically. The feeling is therefore far looser than MJ’s original interpretation. It therefore has the flavor of how the song might’ve sounded had it been done by someone like Patrice Rushen around 1975 than something from later in the decade with a more structured pop craft about it.
It’s in Esperanza’s tonally diverse vocal interpretation that the difference in lyrical intent shines through. MJ’s made the lyrics sound coy and shy-more in tune with his own personality. On this version? It’s the narrative structure of the accompanying music video that sets the tone. We see Esperanza romantically disconnected from her boyfriend-all the while remembering a deeper romance she once had with a female artist. The more adolescent romantic fantasy of the original is replaced here by the confusion over ones sexual orientation as an adult whose already in a relationship. So in the case of both musical,lyrical and visual interpretation? This is by far the most powerful version of the song I’ve yet heard!
Filed under Afro-Latin jazz, bass guitar, Brazilian Jazz, classic funk, electric jazz, electric piano, Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Funk Bass, Fusion, jazz fusion, Jazz-Funk, LGBT rights, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized
For the past six months? Have been debating with myself as to how to reintroduce this blog. There were some personal matters involved. Yet I was continually discouraged by saturation news about one act of gun violence and other forms of terrorism right after another. And over and over people defending the right for this to keep happening-rather than striving to do something about it.
For over a decade since my own family started playing a vinyl to cassette dub of Kenny Loggins’ 1977 solo debut album Celebrate Me Home? There were a number of songs on it that made an impact me-especially with former partner in the famous singer/songwriter (itself a soul based sub genre of course) duo with John Messina creating such a soul/R&B oriented debut album with his strong lyrical and melodic sensibility. One of those songs has been ringing through my mind all month long. And it’s called “I Believe In Love”.
The song opens with the spirited,uptempo percussion of Sergio Mendes alumni Laudier de Oliveira and Steve Foreman. This is accompanied a melodically jazzy soprano recorder solo from Jon Clarke. Loggins ethereal falsetto rings in at this point over a short instrumental break to introduce the refrain-again sung in a whisper over Steve Gadd’s drums. Loggins drops into the lower end of his vocal range.
On the second chorus? Album producer Bob James kicks in for a spirited synthesizer accompaniment. This leads into the bridge of the song being lead by the lyrically narrative chorus-wherein Clarke’s recorder ,Lee Ritenour’s rhythm guitar and James’ synthesizer are both in strong harmony with Gadd’s drumming and Loggins spirited vocal inflections. At the conclusion of the song? There’s an alternately phrased variation of the chorus that concludes the song.
Instrumentally speaking,this song is absolutely phenomenal and happy spirited funky soul. It’s also from that mid/late 70’s period where this variation on of the genre was thriving and prevalent. And not only on the radio, but in private record collections from all sections of the record stores of the day just about. The participation of the most talented and prolific jazz/funk session players of the day of course really helped to give the song it’s driving,positive energy.
Considering contemporary fears,anxiety and often near inability of people to show affection to one another, as well as the tendency to feel blood lust in protecting the most violent and inhumane aspects of religion? Drawing on a late 70’s take on the 60’s era gospel/soul concepts of humanity such as the potential loss of soul runs very deep to me right now. Especially coming to the conclusion that believing in love as a broader concept is far healthier then people being guarded and “believin’ in gods that never knew them”. Perhaps it’s music such as this seemingly simple song that might hold the answers to major problems so many are refusing to deal with today.