Willie Bobo has somehow managed to be a huge part of my musical growth. Especially when it came to the transition from adolescence to adulthood. That being said,I haven’t really heard a great deal of his music. My father has two of his albums. One is a CD of his 1967 release Juicy and the other a vinyl of his 1978 Columbia release Hell Of An Act To Follow,produced by Crusaders’ founder Wayne Henderson. Bobo is better known to me as a session man,playing on dates such as Herbie Hancock’s Inventions And Dimensions in 1963. As well as being a regular part of the house band on Bill Cosby’s short lived 1976 variety show called ‘Cos.
Born William Correa in NYC’s Spanish Harlem with Puerto Rican ancestry, Bobo began his career while in his late teens studying with fellow percussionist Mongo Santamaria. As well as acting as Mongo’s translator. Gigs with Tito Puente,George Shearing and Cal Tjader led him to begin recording as a band leader during the early 60’s. All the while maintaining his session work,which always seems to be good for percussionists. He had two Columbia albums in the late 70’s. The second of which was simply entitled Bobo. While I regretfully passed up a vinyl copy of this not too long ago,one song from it caught my ears online. It is called “Comin’ Over Me”.
A rolling drum is assisted by Bobo’s percussion,which of course is the base of the song itself. The rhythm is accompanied by a ringing rhythm guitar and slap bass interaction-both of which are accompanied by horn charts that brightly expand on the melody with an intense amount of joy. Along with occasional bursts of electric piano. This repeats over two choruses-the second of which scales up with a rock guitar solo on the end. The bridge of the song features an instrumental break showcases a trumpet solo-before going back to the songs second chorus. The song concludes with those two percussive choruses repeating themselves until it fades out.
This is a strong,chunky Afro-Latin funk jam with a very strong pop/soul melody. It’s very much in the vein of some of what Carlos Santana (whom Bobo had done session work for) was doing at the time. It showcases how much Bobo’s Afro-Cuban percussion has extended itself up to the late 70’s funk era and even after. In fact his son Erin wound up becoming a percussionist for the hip-hop crew Cypress Hill. That idea of keeping a musical legacy in the family when it comes to Afro-Latin rhythm is very meaningful in terms of keeping the strength of the groove alive. And this song represents some fine funk from what turned out to be Willie Bobo’s final album.
Filed under 1970's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Funk, horns, Mongo Santamaria, percussion, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Uncategorized, Willie Bobo
Erykah Abi Wright,better known as Erykah Badu is going to be 45 years old today. One of the major events of the late 1990’s was when her debut album Baduism debuted. Her songs from this album were all over college radio-bringing her mixture of Afrocentric jazzy funk oriented neo soul into a community where such a thing hadn’t been heard for quite sometime. It would be some years later before I started digging deeper into her albums as a whole. Each of them is like a well made motion picture. Every time ones listens,it’s possible to receive something totally new from the audio experience. That quality has made her one of the more modern artists I’ve enjoyed.
In 2008 Badu launched her first in a series of albums entitled New Amerykah. As of this date,I am unsure if she will be continuing this loose series. But in 2010 she released her second album in the series,which was subtitled Return Of The Ankh. At the time,I remember far preferring the musical sound of this second album in the series. As a person who spent much of their 20’s listening to jazz/funk/fusion,the fact that Madlib and bassist Thundercat were present on this album probably has a lot to do with that appeal. Still there was one song on the album that leaped out at me from the moment I heard it. It’s called “Gone Baby,Don’t Be Long”.
The song begins with a slow drum rhythm using a heavy percussive trap,after which a two note rhythm guitar inaugurates the song. The entire song is based on this rhythm groove repeating over and over with a soulful,male vocal choir harmony sound. Badu’s chocked,slowly phrased vocal delivery offers a complete melodic counterpoint to the rhythmic body of the song itself. As the song progresses, a sea of different Erykah Badu’s mixing in multiple tracks of her own backup vocals chimes in. And the song grows more and more built around different variations of it’s own chorus-all before it finally all fades out.
It was only this past week did I realize that Madlib,one of my very favorite sample based producers was responsible for this track. He is always seeking out bass/guitar oriented rhythmic lines that are fluid and melodic at the same time.In this case,he sampled the relatively obscure late in the game Paul McCartney and Wings hit “Arrow Through Me” from 1979. The original’s disco friendly reggae/funk vibe is explored here by looping the chorus following it’s bridge as a musical theme for Badu to add her more jazz/funk vocal styling’s into. It’s not only a high water mark for Erykah Badu’s creativity,but for Madlib’s inventive understanding of jazz/funk loops and samples as instrumental elements.
David Fathead Newman is a name that I’ve been aware of for a long time. In fact it was hearing the name spoken by my father that introduced me to the music of Ray Charles-rather than the other way around as one might expect. A native Texan who, Newman came right out the jump blues R&B school to be one of the key musical figures to evolve the saxophone during the formation of soul music in the 1975’s. As part of Ray Charles band,he was iconic. During his years after leaving Ray,Newman did session work for people such as Aretha Franklin and BB King. Not to mentioning carrying on a successful solo career as a bandleader.
Recording for a series of different labels during the decade,Newman eventually landed at Prestige at the end of the disco era. With a musical pallet that painting it’s brushstrokes from soul to jazz,Newman had developed a strong funkiness that allowed him to find a way to put his horn into the key of the hottest dance music of the late 70’s. He bought in members of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters in Harvey Mason and Bill Summers. Stuff’s Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree-strong session musicians in their own right also came in for the 1979 album Scratch My Back-Newman’s one album for the label. The song that caught my ear most hear was “Rock Me,Baby (Like My Back Ain’t Got No Bone)”.
Summer’s percussion get’s the groove started out,while Mason comes in with a phat 4/4 beat shortly after. Newman’s sax plays a popping tone along with the thick slap bass line. The deeply voiced strings dart over the main rhythm like musical shooting stars. Vocalist Flame Braithwaite comes in and sings several different choruses of the songs title-with party sounds from Newman and the other musicians moving right along with the rhythm of the song itself. On the refrains of this mostly chorus based song, the bass line begins popping up and down in the classic disco bass style as the melody follows suit. The main chorus of the song maintains itself until the song fades out.
My friend and inspiration Henrique has referenced this song on a couple of occasions as an example of “funk functioning as disco”. And in every way,it’s a hot jam for sure. With Harvey Mason playing away at around 110BPM,this is relatively slow in tempo compared to the majority of disco records from the late 70’s. This fives the song an extra funkiness. Not to mention the thick slap bass thumping of Wilbur Bascomb,Jr. Newman’s sax takes on the same rhythmic character of the bass on this song too-popping along percussively rather than playing the melody. So this wonderful reworking of the BB King classic takes the blues straight into the disco funk territory wonderfully.
Filed under 1970's, BB King, Bill Summers, blues funk, David Fathead Newman, disco funk, drums, Eric Gale, Harvey Mason, percussion, Saxophone, slap bass, strings, Stuff, Uncategorized
Carl Anderson came from the world of Broadway into the soul/funk scene,in a manner similar to Stephanie Mills. The key difference is the level of success. The only reason I even knew about Anderson’s music was through a YouTube search. In the mid 70’s,the Jackson 5 had done some recording of songs composed by Stevie Wonder. The one song from these sessions that have publicly surfaced was the song “Buttercup”. Turns out Carl Anderson had done a version in the mid 80’s as well. Never heard of the man before. But was very impressed with what I heard. Turns out this was not the first time that Anderson had recorded this song.
In 1982 Anderson signed up with Epic Records. There he recorded his debut album entitled Absence Without Love. The title song of this album was a strong boogie funk number featuring a vocal duet with Teena Marie,who like Anderson has since passed away. Richard Rudolph,having produced Lady T a couple of years earlier,was also behind the recording console for Carl Anderson’s debut. He was now singing in an environment with session aces such as Smokey Robinson’s keyboardist Sonny Burke,Nathan East,Omar Hakim,Jerry Hey and Lee Ritenour backing him up. It was here that Anderson first introduced his version of the previously unreleased Stevie Wonder song “Buttercup”.
The drum starts out playing a sauntering Caribbean rhythm with a round,electrified bump on each accent. The main bass line accompanies this-scaling up and down right up with the groove. Suddenly the main melody comes in. This features fan faring horn charts,a high pitched rhythm guitar and an equally higher toned electric piano playing around the chords. On the refrains,the horns take a back seat to Anderson’s vocals. On the choruses,the horns and vocals take on a totally harmonious role. This happens on a bridge where Anderson is doing some percussive scat singing before going onto his vocalizing of the refrain. This pattern repeats a few times before the song fades out.
This song,especially in it’s original 1982 version is one of the finest example of an unheard Steve Wonder composition being done in a way that’s special and distinctive. On both the vocal and instrumental level,this song has so many elements of the popular Afrocentric musical spectrum within it. It has the Caribbean style rhythm and horns,the slowness of tempo and slap bass lines of hard funk along with the harmonic and vocal qualities of jazz. The deep,gospel drenched pipes of Carl Anderson expresses a fullness of range and dramatic presentation that adds even more musical excitement. As far as I’m concerned,this is one of the finest musical moments for Carl Anderson.
Filed under 1980's, Caribbean Funk, Carl Anderson, drums, Epic Records, funky soul, horns, Jerry Hey, Lee Ritenour, Nathan East, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Sonny Burke, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized
Yep, for years this had me pretty fooled. With a title such as ‘Collection’ it instantly implies an anthology. Well it is and it isn’t. What this offers IS a collection in fact,of the two albums Tony Williams and his New Lifetime released in the mid 70’s namely 1975’s Believe It (with which this CD shares the same basic cover art) and the following years Million Dollar Legs. Both albums are very different and both quite special. The term Lifetime has been used not only for Tony’s first acoustic solo album for Blue Note but also for another group he formed earlier in the 70’s.
And so it continued with these albums,this edition of the band featuring Allan Holdsowrth,Alan Pasqua and Tony Newton on bass and vocals were applicable. With years of experience and prestige in Miles Davis’s classic 60’s quintet Williams had the opportunity to keep going nearly indefinitely without the need to prove himself musically. All the same,even before the fusion years Tony Williams was a huge classic rock fan (Beatles,Rolling Stones,etc) so by the time the electric period of jazz/fusion came in he was more than prepped as a musician for the thudding loudness of rock n roll drumming and on all of the tunes here that’s very apparent.
Not only that but this is fusion that takes more cues even than usual from it’s rockier side with Holdsworth laying down some particularly gritty rock guitar solos on crawling,churning heavy jazz rockers such as “Fred”,the intense and tight “Red Alert”,”Mr’Spock” and Tony’s own composition “Wildlife” whereas “Snake Oil” and “Proto-Cosmos” favor a somewhat more funk centered sound with a bit more subtlety. By the time we get to “Sweet Revenge” from the second album presented there was a big change in sound. The thudding rock rhythms and guitar solos were replaced by a streamlined funk/fusion sound complete with horn charts,more prominent synthesizer textures and even pop/R&B style vocals from Tony Newton on “You Did It to Me”.
Now that’s not to say Williams neglected the heavier rock fusion element to his sound as “Million Dollar Legs”,”Joy Filled Summer”,”What You Do To Me” and the extended 9 minute workout of “Inspirations Of Love”, with it’s memorable catchy melody and BAAAAD drum solo from Tony towards the end show that he had absolutely no intention of neglecting his way with jazz musicianship and improvisation. Much as with his old boss Miles,Tony was able to allow huge changes in his music while still maintaining a style that was distinctly his as well as contributing positively to the continuing development of the then still relatively new genre of fusion.
*Review originally posted on November 5th,2010
Filed under 1970's, Alan Pasqua, Allan Holdsworth, Amazon.com, Blue Note, drums, jazz fusion, jazz rock, New Tony Williams Lifetime, Tony Williams, Uncategorized
Harvey Mason’s drum sound is one of the key elements in mid 70’s jazz-funk. Next to the Crusaders’ Stix Hooper,it was Harvey’s approach that really calcified the rhythm beat of that particular musical hybrid. Pretty much any band doing live instrumental based jazz-funk of the past decade and a half-including Lettuce,Greyboy and Snarky Puppy are all rhythmically built around what Harvey did on drums. Even for me, it’s very likely that Harvey Mason was the very first drummer I ever heard. With Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” being a very early musical memory. He is also important for another reason outside of those things.
Also similar to Stix Hooper, Harvey was a powerful session drummer too. Especially when it came to jazz and pop artists in the 70’s looking to make their sounds funkier. I’ve tended to notice when a musician does a great deal of session playing,they accumulate a good deal of musical allies. Many of Harvey’s were iconic soloists/session players in their own right such as Lee Ritenour,Ernie Watts,Chuck Rainey,Dave Grusin and Randy Crawford. All of these artists played a huge part on Harvey’s 1975 solo debut album Marching In The Street. And it was an album that really started right off with a bang with it’s monster title song.
Harvey starts out the song playing a steady,unaccompanied march which gradually adds funkier snare accents before Rainey’s bass chimes in along with Grusin’s electric piano. Ernie Watts,George Bohannon,Bobby Bryant and Oscar Brashear provide the accenting horn charts. By this point,Harvey’s playing both a double time drum solo-one very funky and a straight march along with a whistle. Watts adds a melodic Piccolo flute while the collective lead vocals (including Crawford) sing the repeated choruses and chants and along a round,muted trumpet solo. As the song progresses,the marching rhythm becomes more prominent before the song fades out with it being unaccompanied again.
Since Harvey Mason’s debut is so thick with heavy funk numbers, it was a bit of a challenge selecting just one. The reason the title song of the album stands out for me is how strongly linked it is with jazz history. From the days of Buddy Bolden’s “gutbucket” music of late 19th century New Orleans,the musical term funk was born at the core of the big four jazz rhythm. These earliest jazz bands were formed in many ways based on dis-guarded horns and drums left over from the Civil War,as well as local marching bands. So the idea of Mason returning this rhythmic concept to his 70’s sounds was sounding the call for the new revolutionary march of funk.
Filed under 1975, bass guitar, Dave Grusin, drums, Ernie Watts, Harvey Mason, horns, Jazz-Funk, Lee Ritenour, Randy Crawford, Uncategorized
Smokey Robinson had a hugely successful run with his 1981 album Being With You. He followed this up a year later with the album Yes It’s You Lady. The album was the exact opposite in terms of popular success. Of course that’s to say nothing for the quality of the music on a creative level. Could probably give this album a very strong review on the basis that the general musical mode of the album is funk based. That’s saying a lot for an artist whose been ballad oriented most of his career during the post disco radio freeze out. Still creative flexibility is vital no matter what the musical climate happens to be. And this was an album that always kept it’s eyes squarely on the groove.
In the late 90’s,I had a CD compilation of Smokey Robinson solo hits called the Ultimate Collection. It included the song “Tell Me Tomorrow”,which is included on this 1982 album as well. It was a favorite of mine on that CD collection. And since compilations of that era usually mentioned what songs came from what albums, it was easy enough to crate dig looking for vinyl copies of what was then (and often still isn’t) in print on CD or digital formats. The vinyl I found of this is in excellent condition-both the jacket and the actual record. Again it was the opener of side 2 which caught my funk seeking ears on this album-a tune called “The Only Game In Town”.
The song opens with an unaccompanied Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes solo. Then the drums kick in. And those drums stay on the one with thick hand claps and phat slap bass popping. A round synthesizer or very processed rhythm guitar allows the refrains to chug along with fan faring horn charts showing up strongly on the choruses,which turn out to be the main theme that opens the song itself. There’s a second refrain too. This one gets very powerfully funky-with a scaling down bass line and the rhythm guitar chugging tightly like a runaway freight train. On the final choruses of the song, songwriter/guitarist Mike Piccirillo sings the vocal harmonies with Smokey on his guitar’s talk box.
In many ways,this might be one of the heaviest straight up funk stomps Smokey Robinson ever made during his early 80’s run. The tempo is relatively slow,as it the case with much funk so I’m finding. The horns and keyboards maintain a maximum groove factor throughout the song. And the bass/guitar interaction on this song is some of the thickest I’ve heard on any 80’s Motown number. One of the main things I appreciate about early 80’s Smokey is how he ventured to find a new musical voice through a more uptempo groove. Especially in terms of the funk. And that is the ethic he pursued with a lot of vitality on this song.
Filed under 1980's, drums, Dyno-My-Piano, Fender Rhodes, Motown, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Smokey Robinson, synthesizer, Uncategorized, Vinyl
Somehow or other I remember being five years old and thinking the song “Being With You” was sung by a woman. Had no clue who Smokey Robinson was then,what a high male voice was,or for that matter how to sing well. Still loved the song though. What I didn’t know until much later was that it was the title song of a 1981 album that was part of a huge musical comeback. That title song was a huge hit for him. It was also his first new album to be issued on the CD format if I heard it right. From song to song if this album were a baseball game,it would have a high batting average in terms of quality. Still there was one song that really stood out for me.
As with many albums in my collection, I first had this on vinyl. And eventually tracked it down as part of a 1980’s Motown CD twofer packaged with Smokey’s 1979 album Where There’s Smoke. Because this early 80’s entry into his catalog had a different kind of production sleekness due to advances in recording during the time, there was actually something a bit lost on the scratchy vinyl of this that I had when compared to the digital version on the CD. This really bought out one song that really stuck out at me on this album from the moment I first heard it. Originally it opened up the second side of the vinyl. And it’s entitled “Can’t Fight Love”.
A fast Afro Latin percussion rhythm opens the song with a round,bouncing drum acting as popping metronome. A conga drum introduces the main body of the song. It’s a thick,brittle and fast paced rhythm guitar and bass line. This is accented by a Clavinet-like synthesizer line along with a string like synthesizer counter melody. Hard horn charts blast in and out of the chorus heavy song. The bridge of the song returns back to the percussion based intro-with Harry Kim playing a Herb Alpert style trumpet solo. Suddenly the drum comes back to the mix where Kim’s horn solo is supplemented by an alternately slippery and brittle bass synth before returning to the chorus until the groove fades.
The thing that really makes this song such a strong groove aside from it’s thick bass/guitar interaction is the entire musical structure. Basically it’s melody has the Brazilian vibe of the Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)” with a more steady disco era 4/4 funk beat plus percussion accents. What really does it with this song for me is that it works a wonderfully arranged sophistifunk groove in with a song that’s composed in Smokey’s classic 60’s style-full of choruses sung at varying speeds and loaded with his soulful lyrical wordplay. Though it’s an album track,it showcases just how powerful Smokey’s uptempo music can be.
Filed under 1980's, bass guitar, Brazil, CD's, disco funk, drums, Motown, percussion, rhythm guitar, Smokey Robinson, Uncategorized
William “Smokey” Robinson was not only one of the co founders of Motown with Berry Gordy. He and his group the Miracles were also key architects of the labels approach to production and songwriting. Throughout most of my life,Smokey generally came across as someone who specialized in intricately written slow to mid tempo romantic ballads. Many of these were composed in partnership with guitarist and former Miracle Marv Tarplin. At the same time,there was a side to Smokey capable of delivering some of the most powerful uptempo music. And on his birthday today,it’s that side of the man’s artistry that I wish to celebrate.
In 1975 Smokey released an album called A Quiet Storm. It’s conceptually and musically linked ballads actually helped to spawn an entire radio format,which was named for the title of that album. A year later Smokey put a new group together referred to as the Family Robinson. Key to this was Reginald Sonny Burke. The keyboardist had once been a member of Clarence Wheeler & The Enforcers. And had done session work for Bobby Womack and Wah Wah Watson. Burke’s experience with the soul to funk transition of the 70’s helped re-focus Smokey’s groove into a faster tempo. One major result,featured on the 1976 album Smokey’s Family Robinson was entitled “Open”.
A mix of live and organ rhythm box percussion starts the entire song out. Then the heavy bass line scales deep into this groove-just before the horns scale up into the mix and into the basic groove of the song. That basic groove features Tarplin’s guitar playing James Brown style rhythms along with Burke’s equally percussive and thick Clavinet riffing. The horns act as vocal lines leading the rhythm along. That also represents the chorus. The refrain,featured just after the intro,features a heavily echoed Clavinet and bass line playing in very close harmony together. The final refrains scales down several bars before fading out with the chorus.
This was by no means the first time Smokey Robinson had made a funky record. His second solo album for example contained some strong funk on it. This was however the first time he really got celebrated for doing a record that was specifically funk oriented. Sonny Burke’s added element of textured Clavinet with Tarplin’s grooving guitar gave this song the general flavor of Smokey’s equivalent to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” basically. He would focus primarily on ballads and disco for the rest of the 70’s decade. All the same,this would not be the last time that Smokey Robinson would make a powerful musical statement with funk as it’s instrumental basis.
Filed under 1970's, bass guitar, clavinet, Funk, Marv Tarplin, Motown, percussion, rhythm guitar, Smokey Robinson, Sonny Burke, Uncategorized