Monthly Archives: October 2016

Prince 1958-2016: “Rebirth Of The Flesh” (1986)

Prince’s history in terms of his unreleased vault material,shrouded in mystery as it is,does have a vital history all its own for the artist. He recorded during most of his free time. And loads of songs for each album project. One period that myself and many admirer’s of Prince’s music love to dip into is his huge 1986 production. In the early 80’s,Prince was seeking to make a name for himself as a new wave/synth pop artist with heavy rock overtones. And his funkiness would be a side dish. By 1985,Prince added The Family’s sax player Eric Leeds into the Revolution. And funk would no longer be a side dish for him.

There were two Prince projects that came and went in 1986. There was a Revolution album Dream Factory, a three album set called Crystal Ball (not to be confused with the self released 1998 outtake collection) and an album credited to the name Camille. This would feature Prince singing in a chipmunk-link voice he slowed down,then sped up. Many tracks from this album found their way onto albums and as B-sides. One,”If I Was Your Girlfriend” became a major hit later. One very exciting song I’ve heard from this album that hasn’t been widely distributed is “Rebirth Of The Flesh”.

An ultra sound like synth pulse starts out the song. And remains the primary percussive element throughout the song. Within a minutes time,Prince adds a brittle fuzzed out guitar and big,funky drums with tons of space in it as part of the mix. As the song progresses,with Prince’s vocals having a rangy and tonally complex conversation with itself,the horns of Eric Leeds and Matt Bliston accentuate the melody JB’s style. On the refrains,the deep fuzzy guitar and Leeds’ sax merge into a heavy sounding sustained melody. At the end of the song a goulish,thundering sound brings it to a halt.

“Rebirth Of The Flesh” was one of those songs that brought every element of Prince’s musical artistry together. Its got a hard driving funky rhythm-with some of the most intense horn lines Leeds and Bliston ever provided. It also has a very industrial rock tone-with some Hendrix like bluesy guitar licks. Its also got some of the melodic and rhythmic dissonances of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington. It lends much credence to George Clinton’s comment that Prince would be “one of the baddest out there if he released some of what he had in the can”. So here we have Prince’s funk at its hardest and most daring.

 

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Filed under 1986, Atlanta Bliss, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, funk rock, horns, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, rock guitar, Saxophone, synthesizer, unreleased

Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic@40: P-Funk Taking It To The People

tales-of-kidd-funkadelic

Funkadelic not only represented P-Funk’s rockiest side. They also represented their link to the late 60’s psychedelic scene from which it all began for George Clinton and company. Beginning as the backing band for The Parliaments before they shortened their name,Clinton revived the Parliament name in 1974-pursuing a more horn funk style under that name. In a couple of short years,a P-Funk formula of sorts began to emerge as the musicians within it exercised their most distinctive instrumental traits-especially Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell. 1976 was the key year for all of this to happen.

Tales of Kidd Funkadelic turned 40 just under a month ago. For me,it represents that transition from Funkadelic representing psychedelia and (as some P-Funk admirers have stated) becoming “Parliament without the horns”. Personally,the summer of 1996 was a time when I was going to Borders Books & Music in Bangor,Maine to purchase the then 2-3 year old Funkadelic CD reissues. I remember picking this particular one up while spending a weekend with my grandparents. It was with a warning I’d in a music guide that Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic was the bands least conceptually unified record.

Today,its to my understanding that the album was made up of material recorded at the same time as Funkadelic’s Capital records debut Hardcore Jollies. But Clinton was contractually obligated to Westbound to deliver them one more album. So lyrically,the songs didn’t follow a concept. What the Westbound label did do was give each side of the original vinyl a certain sense of musical unity. On a personal level,its probably the Funkadelic album I’ve returned to more over the years. And perhaps its the way its assembled that draws me to it so much.

“Butt-to-Butt Resuscitation” and “Let’s Take It To The People” could both be described as heavy funk/rock hybrids. At the same time,the emphasis is still on the stronger rhythmic complexity Funkadelic were developing. “Undisco Kidd” stuck out instantly because,from the bass to the vocal rap,it drips of Bootsy’s musical personality. It actually reminds me of something from Parliament’s Mothership Connection-especially with Worrell’s orchestral synth. “Take Your Dead Ass Home” is a thick bass/guitar built number with a really humorous take on 3rd and 4th base making out.

The second half of the album is another matter entirely. “I’m Never Gonna Tell It” is a P-Funk style mid tempo soul ballad-later re-done by Phillipe Wynn after he joined P-Funk. The title song of the album is a 12+ magnum opus centered on Bernie Worrell’s classically inclined jazz/funk cinematically orchestrated melodies. “How Do Yeaw View You” is actually one of my favorite songs on this album. Its a very rhetorically reflective song that has a slight reggae funk overtone. That essentially rounds this part of the album as being its “slower side”.

From the first song to the eighth, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic stands to me as a model for funk albums released to fulfill a contract. Clinton offered Westbound songs that were not only solid and complete. But in my opinion,they were also funk jams that held together in terms of the sheer quality of song. If any of these songs had been singled out to lead off a fully conceptualized P-Funk album,they’d probably have all been amazing. As it is,its hard to hear that these songs are outtakes. So on its 40th anniversary,the most important thing to say about this album is that represented P-Funk’s major transition in the 70’s.

 

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Filed under 1976, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, classic albums, classic funk, Funk Bass, funk rock, Funkadelic, George Clinton, P-Funk, synthesizers, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Bagtown” by Nu Shooz

Nu Shooz were an 80’s freestyle funk duo from the 1980’s who,among others,represented some of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio. Of course this came in form of the iconic 80’s hit “I Can’t Wait”. Hailing from Portland Oregon,currently 9 member group were led by the married couple of John Smith and lead singer Valerie Day. In the United States,they are considered something of a one hit wonder. Yet from the moment I began exploring that hit’s ultra funky flip side “Make Your Mind Up”,I know this would be a group worthy of exploration for any aficionado of strong 80’s soul/funk music.

Nu Shooz still record and perform today-occasionally recording independent online releases now and then. Its clear from listening to these new songs from them that they are indeed some of the funkiest bands of the 80’s still functioning today. Right up there Cameo to me,anyway. Over the years of course,there instrumental sound and priorities have changed. But there are still some core elements,such as emphasis on hummable melody,that remain intact.  That’s very much in the case in the title song of the newest release from May 2016 entitled Bagtown.

A thick hard bop style synth solo begins the song. Then the shuffling funky drum/percussion rhythm kicks into high gear. The chicken scratch rhythm guitar is accompanied by a phat bass line playing the empty spaces within that guitar riff. In and around this,the harmonically complex horns play musical hide and seek with Valerie Day’s lead vocals. Towards the middle of the song,a vibraphone enters the mix as both a melodic and percussive element before the drums lead into a lower guitar solo. The bass/guitar dynamic becomes the focus until the horn chart and percussion close out the song.

“Bagtown” really showcase Nu Shooz having evolved into a sharp,live instrumental based jazz/funk outfit. Everything from the drums,vibes,bass and guitar just smoke on this song with a super hot mix. The harmonic nature of the horn voices brings my mind to something else. Its like a mixture of the soul jazz inspired hip-hop of Us3 in the early 90’s and the final musical decade of Miles Davis. Its got the funk,its got the soul but when it comes to how the horns treat the melody,its built upon a hardcore hard bop/soul jazz foundation. That makes this a standout jazz/funk jam for 2016 so far.

 

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Filed under 2016, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, John Smith, new music, Nu Shooz, percussion, soul jazz, synthesizer, Valerie Day, vibraphone

Crate Digging in Reykjavik, Iceland

For the last several days, I’ve been on vacation in Iceland. Mostly, that means the usual things: visiting hot springs and gorges, eating overpriced (but delicious!) food, traipsing around landscapes that look straight out of Game of Thrones. But for a remote island nation with a relatively small population, Iceland also has a surprising amount to offer for the travelling pop music fan: including several record stores as good as any I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Here are my thoughts about two of them.

We visited the aptly-named Reykjavik Record Shop on our first day in the city, and it was a highlight of that (admittedly dreary, jet-lagged) day. Located downtown near the main restaurant strip, it belongs to the “small but curated” school of record stores, with a selection of new and used vinyl that is much more diverse than one would expect from a shop of its size. We picked up a very nice pressing of Parliament’s Chocolate City, complete with a misprint of Bootsy Collins’ name (“Bootsie”) that I initially assumed was European in origin, but upon further research seems to be a worldwide error:

It’s probably worth noting at this point that records (among other things) are expensive in Iceland, owing in large part to the fact that pretty much everything in the country is an import. New records seem to cost upwards of 5000 kroner (approximately $50), which is steep even by 2016 vinyl standards. But even in Iceland, it’s possible to score some sweet deals–like this German Colonel Abrams 12″ we picked up for less than the equivalent of a fiver:

There were even more finds to be had at the following day’s stop, Lucky Records on Rauðarárstígur. If Reykjavik Record Shop belongs to the “small but curated” school, then Lucky is the opposite: it’s a sprawling beast of a store, which I have to admit is slightly more to my taste (it’s also heavier on used than new–another completely subjective preference of mine). Honestly, Lucky Records might be my favorite record store I’ve ever visited. It’s the only record store I’ve seen where the soul section is as large or larger than the pop/rock section–plus there’s a whole separate room devoted to 12″ singles, where I found this beauty:

We also picked up some very reasonably-priced copies of Hotter Than July by Stevie Wonder and Don’t Be Cruel by Bobby Brown; and despite leaving with a bag full of eight records, I still felt like I’d barely even scratched the surface.

My personal preferences notwithstanding, both Lucky Records and Reykjavik Record Shop are world-class stores, and I’d love to visit them again if I’m ever back in Iceland. If anyone out there is considering a visit, consider both shops highly recommended. And for more on vinyl shopping in Iceland, look out next month on Dystopian Dance Party for new entries of my “Wrecka Stow” video series.

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Filed under 12 inch singles, Bootsy Collins, Parliament, record collecting, Record Stores, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized, Vinyl

Controversy@35: Funk For Those Who Don’t Want To Die So They Can Be Free

Controversy

Controversy,released on this day in 1981,is one of my very favorite albums of Prince’s immediate pre-crossover period. It came along at a time when he was heavily building his musical persona. Everything from his stripped down instrumental approach,the name Jamie Starr and around this period the introduction of The Time. First time I saw the album on vinyl,it was the basic Prince image I saw on the cover staring hard at me in front of some captivating faux newspaper headlines. The purple trench coat with the studded shoulder and his Little Richard inspired hairstyle were there-as well as the thin mustache.

Picked the album up on vinyl upon seeing this from Dr. Records,in its old location in Orono Maine.  Happily it still had the original poster inside showing Prince posing in the shower, wearing nothing but black bikini underwear.  Its also important to note I heard Prince’s albums almost in order,so heard this fourth in that line. The title track in its full version really got my attention. Especially where Prince is reciting the lords prayer over the pumping rhythm and funkified rhythm guitar before his chant at the end. My boyfriend told me this was the very first Prince song he heard while living Scranton,Pennsylvania.

That chant at the end of course was “people call me rude/I wish we all were nude/I wish there was no black or white/I wish there were no rules”. The albums major funky moments come in the slap bass and synth brass groove of “Lets Work”,one of his finest slices of funk of that time. He also provides one of his major funk ballads in the elongated workout of “Do Me,Baby”-written by Andre Cymone and featuring some lustful vocals and slap bass. “Sexuality” ably mixes a rockabilly rhythm and melody,chicken scratch guitar and new wave synthesizers. Lyrically it also provides a bit of the albums social manifesto.

“Private Joy” is a sleek post disco new wave pop number build around drums and synthesizers-plus a peppy,sexy falsetto chorus. “Ronnie Talk To Russia” is a short,punky new wave number with a rather narcissistic anti nuclear message asking the president to talk to Russia “before they blow up my world”. “Annie Christian” is a striking art rock type number metaphorically dealing with the issues of violence and gun control in the early 80’s. The album ends with sexually playful “Jack U Off”,which is a straight up synthesized version of 50’s rockabilly.

Musically speaking,this album really finds Prince solidifying his sound. The musical pallet is similar to its predecessor Dirty Mind. Production wise however,Controversy is a pretty slick sounding album that doesn’t have the previous albums raw demo like quality. The album also integrates funkiness into its instrumental approach. Many times in the general rhythm of the songs,a lot of them still fall into the retro 50’s rock n’ roll/rockabilly style Prince was dealing with at this time. At the same time,he showcased how R&B,funk and modern synth pop/new wave would represent a major part of the Minneapolis sound.

Conceptually this album is one of his most telling. The Prince of Controversy emerged as a concerned,conscious citizen who also had a mildly unknowing,socially conservative streak. A lot of it is Prince walking the classic soul music line between the secular and the spiritual. In one song alone for example he’s saying “sexuality is all we’ll ever need” and turns around to say “don’t let your children watch television until they learn how to read/or all they’ll know how to do is cuss,fight and breed”.  This mix of sexual freedom and social paranoia is a close early glimpse of Prince’s then developing social conscience.

Prince of course is no longer with us. And with a released catalog almost 40 albums strong in his lifetime,he’s told many different stories both musically and lyrically. My friend Henrique warned me not to try to chase Prince’s motivations because of how intentionally elusive the artist tended to be. For me,this album is probably the closest he came in the 1980’s to laying his soul bare. His feelings on sex,violence and religion are something he’s trying to reconcile throughout this album. Don’t know if he ever did fully reconcile them before he died. But the questions he asked here may be more important than the answers.

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Filed under 1980's, ballads, classic albums, Controversy, gun control, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, rhythm guitar, rock 'n' roll, slap bass, synth brass, synth funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “To The Top” by Omar

Omar first came to my attention via the Lenny Henry starring “brit-com” entitled Chef, with its theme song “Serious Profession” performed entirely by Omar. During the early to mid aughts,exploring Omar’s then very hard to find import albums on CD was like hunting for buried treasure. Thanks to my online friend Jeremiah,a lot more exposure to Omar’s music came my way a decade ago. What I noticed about Omar’s music was that,very different from American neo soul very much based in live instrumental hip-hop beats,Omar’s variety of the music concentrated heavily on ornate arrangements.

Born Omar Lye-Fook in London in 1968,he grew up in Canterbury,Kent. He was classically trained trumpet,piano and percussion at two separate conservatories in London and Manchester. He worked as a computer programmer for Microsoft before pursuing music full time. His first single and album There’s Nothing Like This became his first chart hit. And established him as a founding father of neo soul. Over the years his sound swelled to incorporate elements of Brazilian jazz,dance hall reggae and cinematic funk. On the latter end,one of my favorite songs from him is 2000’s “To The Top” from his album Best By Far.

A swinging mix of hollow percussion and piano walk down introduce the song. This kicks off into a sea of strings and melodic flute harmonies before Omar himself begins duetting with his swelling backup vocals. This represents the chorus of the song,for all intents and purposes. The refrains of the song find Omar’s lead and backup vocals playing more call and response to a shuffling,funky snare drum and piano. There are two repeating chorus/refrain bars of this song. On the final chorus before the song fades,Omar’s lead and back-round vocals become the full focus of the song over the instrumentation.

Omar does something that really gets to me musically on “To The Top”. Most neo soul/proto neo soul male artists who hailed as “the next Marvin Gaye” in the beginning. And truth be told,Omar’s style of arrangement and love of backup vocals singing lead is straight out of the Gaye school of cinematic funky soul on this particular song. What Omar does is brings in the heavy funk. As with most neo soul,its lacking in any synthesized electronics. What it does have is less of a stripped down sound,and more emphasis on orchestral production. That makes Omar one of the funkiest neo soulers of his generation.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2000, arrangement, backing vocals, cinematic funk, cinematic soul, drums, flute, funky soul, Neo Soul, Omar Lye-Fook, percussion, piano, strings, UK Funk

Look Out For #1@40-George & Louis Johnson Tell Us About The Funk That All Of Us Release

Somehow it never occurred to me that the Brothers Johnson’s debut album Look Out For#1 was celebrating its 40th anniversary. Sadly,it did so without the presence of the late great Louis Johnson-who passed away in the spring of 2015. One of the most important things to say about this album,released on new years day of 1976,is that it represents the very peak of #1 funk-a time when the music was at its strongest in terms of crossover. It was also Quincy Jones’ first major funk/soul production for another artist. Which in turn paved the way for Quincy’s success in that arena in the early 80’s.

George and Louis Johnson started playing professionally with Billy Preston as teenagers. As they approached adulthood,the guitar/bass duo backed up Quincy Jones on his 1975 album Mellow Madness. The setup was that the brothers wrote the songs,played the guitar and bass parts while George did the majority of the vocals with his high,percussive vocal stutter.  This was essentially the setup for Look Out For #1. Other prominent jazz/funk instrumentalists such as Dave Grusin,Ian Underwood,Lee Ritenour ,Billy Cobham,Toots Thielemans and Ernie Watts were among the musicians who played on the album as well.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about this album is how it presents funk at its best recorded,produced and with its highest variety. “I’ll Be Good To You”,the primary single for the album,has a strong Sly & The Family Stone melodic singability. The instrumental “Tomorrow” has a similarly melodic vibe about it. Of course the song that gets the most harmonically advanced about that style is “Land Of Ladies”,the one song sung by Louis in his grunting,cooing vocal approach. Of course,after one goes from there Look Out For #1 is extremely dense with funk.

“Get The Funk Out Of My Face” is the most commercially successful example of this albums funkiness-with its fast tempo and processed wah wah effects. “Free And Single” and ‘Dancin’ And Prancin'”,with their heavy horn charts,take that same sound to the next logical step. A version of The Beatles “Come Together” and the closing “The Devil” are slow,gurgling deep funk that just grind the groove into the subconscious very deeply. The groove that pulls the sound of this entire album together in one song is titled for the brothers nicknames “Thunder Thumbs And Lightin’ Licks”.

There’s a deep point to this album that actually passed by even me,an avid funkateer,for sometime. A lot of times,even the most classic funk albums of this period mixed heavy funk in with jazz,rock or heavily arranged ballad material on an album. Even though this album has at least one slower ballad type number,the main priority of this album is on heavy uptempo funk. The immense talent of the Johnson brothers,as well as the instrumentalists playing with them,showcase how much the funk genre celebrates instrumental,melodic and rhythmic complication at its finest.

Conceptually,this album attracted me from the first time I saw the album cover on CD 20 years ago this year. It was a fish eye view from below,featuring the brothers playing their bass and guitar in front of a bright blue sky-both seemingly in the middle of singing. George is wearing a silver shirt and slacks with Louis has a silky,Indian looking shirt draped over him while in jeans. The whole image is that of just what they were-two super hip young brothers looking to play funky music for the people with enormous skill,style and flair. And that is what Look Out For#1 represents to me as it turns 40 years old.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1976, Billy Cobham, Brothers Johnson, classic albums, classic funk, Dave Grusin, Ernie Watts, Funk, funk albums, Funk Bass, funk guitar, George Johnson, Ian Underwood, instrumental, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Quincy Jones, Toots Theilmans

‘Dirty Mind’ At 36: Prince Kicking Off His Prime Musical Decade

Dirty Mind

Prince was the topic of a conversation between myself and Henrique for much of this past summer. One of the big related topics had to do with an episode of Calvin Lincoln’s TV show Soul School TV out of Vallejo,California. The Prince tribute had a subtext involving its guest about Prince being the prime musical of all time. Henrique,Calvin and myself all ended up agreeing that Prince’s was the prime musical figure,but of the 1980’s-not of all time. The album that probably epitomizes this,as well as Prince’s main persona,came in the very first year of the 80’s decade Dirty Mind.

Last week,this album celebrated its 36th anniversary. Hard to believe Prince’s third album is the same as as I am. So no irony is lost on me that I’m a little late to the party over-viewing this album here. Most of the songs on this particular album came to me by way of their inclusion on the compilation The Hits/The B-Sides. Upon finally hearing the album in its entirety on vinyl,it became clear that this represented the beginning of an ongoing process on Prince’s part to gain the attention of the rock audience. His first two albums in the late 70’s were funk/soul with a West Coast soft rock twist. Dirty Mind changed all that.

The main characteristic of  Dirty Mind is the stripped down instrumental approach. As well as the raw demo style production. From my understanding and research,the post disco radio freeze out of black American music had a key tenant: using the than often maligned term of “disco” as a musically racist slur to keep uptempo hits from black artists from crossing over. Brittle,jerky guitar/synthesizer based new wave rock was the order of the day in the very early 80’s on pop radio. And for all intents and purposes Dirty Mind is Prince’s new wave rock album.

Most of the songs showcase pulsing synthesizers,stiffly grinding guitars with like minded bass lines and punkish “rage against the machine” attitude. What Prince added to this mix were melodic structures that were still very much in league with the funk/soul genre from which he came. He was still singing exclusively in his falsetto vocal register. The lyrical content also reflects elements of the sexual revolution from the disco era. The difference came from the explicit “punk” attitude with which Prince expressed what was generally only implied during the disco era itself.

Actually,this album is not particularly funky throughout. Even its ballads have more of a 1950’s doo-wop flavor about them. “Head”,with its naked electro Minneapolis funk,essentially set the stage for numbers such as The Time’s debut single “Get It Up” and his own “Controversy” from a year later. “Partyup”,with Morris Day on drums,closes the album with a tight new wave funk hybrid that lyrically sets the stage for his song “1999” a couple of years later. In the end Dirty Mind found Prince re-imagining his sound for what the decade required of it. And trying to reconcile the relationship between funk and rock.

With his next two albums Controversy and his breakthrough 1999, Prince pulled more funk into his mix of Minneapolis new wave. Sometimes even hybridizing for an entire song. This is the sound that Prince would make famous. Both of these albums were sleeker and had a hotter mix than anything on Dirty Mind. And of course Prince’s major breakthrough as a rock star would come in 1984’s Purple Rain. After that,Prince was primarily funk with some rock mixed in. Still Dirty Mind shows how Prince would still come into his own-even when the general music tide seemed to work against his style.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, classic albums, Dirty Mind, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, post disco, punk funk, rock guitar, sexual revolution, synthesizer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” by Hall & Oates

Daryl Hall & John Oates have been part of the soundtrack to the lives of millions of pop music lovers of the early/mid 1980’s. These Philly natives had a handful of smash singles in the mid to late 70’s. And unlike many white artists doing soul/funk they (in a similar manner to Boz Scaggs and The Rolling Stones),they innovated and embraced the side of the genre that was contemporary at the time. When they began producing their own records starting with 1980’s Voices,they soon found themselves the most commercially (and in my opinion,creative) American duo of the 80’s decade.

Personally I had the pleasure of seeing Daryl and John perform live at the Darlings Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor,Maine this past summer. It amazed my ears to not only hear them abstract on their classic hit songs in a very instrumental way,but how positively the audiences responded to them. One of these hits reminded me of the very first pop song I remembering hearing-likely at around 3 years old at the Bangor Mall. Over the years,its become of those songs that defines my listening tastes for its melodic and solid musicality. The name of the 1981 song is “I Can’t Go That (No Can Do)”.

Daryl Hall’s Roland CR-78 drum machine,reverbed by echo on each beat,begins the songs soloing before John Siegler’s upfront,8 note bass line chimes right in. Than Hall’s glistening,high pitched synthesizer comes in. That along with John Oates chunky rhythm guitar and another counter keyboard from Hall. That countering keyboard duets with Hall’s vocals-even on the chorus when he and Oates are harmonizing on the choruses. Charles DeChant takes a beautiful sax solo on the bridge that’s heavy on melodic sustain. All before Daryl and John riff on the chorus until the song fades out.

This is probably my very favorite Hall & Oates hit from their early 80’s run. It has all the hallmarks I love about them. The emphasis on the heavy drum machine rhythm/bass interaction,the choral modulations and harmonic complexity and still providing the capacity for the listeners to tap their foot and sing along to it. Its prime #1 funk for 1981. So much so that it inspired Michael Jackson while making his blockbuster album Thriller‘s hit “Billie Jean”. Its one of those great examples of how putting energy into the musical aspects of a song,not just the performance,that makes a huge hit funky and eternal.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Brothers Johnson, Charles DeChant, Daryl Hall, Funk, Funk Bass, Hall & Oates, John Siegler, rhythm guitar, Roland CR-78 drum machine, Saxophone, synthesizer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Biyo” by Earth Wind & Fire

Earth Wind & Fire’s eighth studio album Spirit is an album that did a lot to help me to personally conceive of #1 hit funk in terms of an album medium. It celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. And I’ve already covered the album itself here. First purchased it on a cassette tape about 22 years ago. At that time,I remember fast forwarding through it to get to funkier songs. Upon upgrading to a CD copy a year or so later,it became clear that this was one of those very special funk era albums. Each time I listen to these songs,they improve like fine wine with each listening. Almost to the point of transcendence.
One member of EWF,who joined up on the bands fourth album Head To The Sky in 1973 was Andrew Woolfolk. This multi reed player primarily played soprano sax within EWF. As he describes it in the documentary on the band Shining Stars, the elements that he added into the band came from the jazz and funk side. He enjoyed a strong,melodic groove. He also loved to improvise in such cases too. Throughout the years,he’s done just this on many of EWF’s most popular and enduring songs. One song from the Spirit  album that amazes me to this day is the Maurice White/Al McKay composed instrumental “Biyo”.
Larry Dunn’s glassy space funk synthesizers open the song before the opening fanfare kicks in. Its full on drums,Afro Latin percussion,Verdine White’s pumping bass line,McKay’s percussive rhythm guitar and the Phenix Horns running on their usual adrenaline. Verdine’s echoed five note bass slap,Maurice’s four note Kalimba melody and Johnny Graham’s bluesy guitar accents make up the refrains. Four members of the band get a chance to solo. Woolfolk does twice-starting and at the end. Graham and Dunn do a solo that dovetail right into each other before Maurice’s Kalimba solo before its fade out.
Earth Wind & Fire added many instrumental interludes/bridges to the albums from their late 70’s crossover period. But for me this is the finest full instrumental based on their sound of that time. The production and recording is a fine example of the band making some of the best recorded funk of that era. Its a melodically and instrumentally busy number with a lot going on sonically. But the powerful Afro-Caribbean funk arrangement still leaves enough room for several amazing solos to interlock with each other. And as a showcase for Andrew Woolfolk,its one of his shining moments of the mid/late 70’s.

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Filed under 1976, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Al McKay, Andrew Woolfolk, drums, Funk Bass, instrumental, Johnny Graham, Kalimba, Larry Dunn, Maurice White, percussion, Phenix Horns, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, space funk, synthesizer, Verdine White