Monthly Archives: November 2016

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Special” by Shuggie Otis

Shuggie Otis represents what I refer to as a “new old artist” who defined my musical interests just after the turn of the millennium. His only knowledge to me before that was a passing reference as the composer (and original recorder of) the Brothers Johnson hit “Strawberry Letter#23”.  It was through a Luaka Pop label reissue of his under sung 1974 album Inspiration Information that got my attention,through my father of course. My first thoughts hearing it was “this was a Prince/Stevie Wonder type musician who never was”.

Otis’s father Johnny was a very famous musical impresario,known in the lingo of his day as the “white negro” singer/musician/arranger/talent scout/DJ out of the Bay Area of California. Shuggie began playing with his dad in the end of the 60’s. But his own career never truly took off. In fact,he spent over 33 years tinkering with his follow up to Inspiration Information. The album was finally released in 2013 and was entitled Wings Of Love. Recorded over several decades,the first full song on the album (recorded around 1980) really caught my own ear. It was called “Special”.

A wooshing sound drives in the fuzz/ringing rhythm guitar combo of the intro as Otis responds to his own echoplex vocally. Than the main rhythm of the song kicks in-driving both the refrain and chorus whose changes are carried largely by Otis’s vocal changes. The drums have a heavy Brazilian march approach. The bass line loops around several guitar parts. One a phat wah wah,the other a light chicken scratch and another playing a quavering,high pitched ringing melody. On the refrain parts,Otis singing’s in a higher and calmer voice. And on the refrains,with a heavier shout along with the ringing guitar part.

Again,this was a song that seemed to be recorded in the early 80’s. Yet its origins seems to come out of the psychedelic/cinematic funk sound of the late 60’s/early 70’s. The production is very trippy-full of echo and fuzz filter on nearly every sound. Yet the groove is strong and funky all the way. In the intro especially,it reminds me a bit of Curtis Mayfield’s “(If There’s A Hell Below) We’re All Gonna Go”. Needless to say,this is generally punchier and more stripped down than that song was. Still,its one of the finest grooves I’ve heard Shuggie Otis throw down since the mid 70’s.

 

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Filed under 2013, chicken scratch guitar, cinematic funk, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, fuzz guitar, guitar, lead guitar, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar, Shuggie Otis, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “No Problem” by Chuck Mangione

Chuck Mangione is likely the most commercially successful jazz flugelhorn players of the 20th century. After attending the Eastman School Of Music,Mangione filled the esteemed trumpet chair in the iconic Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. For at least two decades,Blakey’s Jazz Messengers had mentore many new generations of talented jazz soloists. And after forming his own group The Jazz Brothers with his keyboardist brother Gap,he went onto a hugely successful solo career-with his “Chase The Clouds Away” being used as an Olympic games theme song to the iconic pop smash “Feels So Good” that he’s best known for.

Those events occurred in the mid to late 1970’s. Having listened to more of his music at the recommendation of my friend Henry Cooper,it became clear that Mangione’s talents lay in him being a groove loving melody man. A lighter improviser similar to Herb Alpert,he also brought some of Miles Davis’s modal instrumental style into the pop end of the jazz fusion era-tending to record with smaller groups. This also extended into the 1980’s as well. One such example is from a song off his 1982 album entitled  Love Notes. The name of that particular song is “No Problem”.

Gordon Johnson’s sustained bass line begins the song,and bops along with the main rhythm throughout the song. Playing the melodic counter to this is Peter Harris’s heavily filtered (and very processed electric piano like) electric guitar. Flutist Chris Vadala and Mangione play the same bugle call type melodic solo over this. And this makes up for the primary body of this 12+ minute song,save for one pitch heightening at the 7 minute mark. On two occasions,Vadala’s guitar and Johnson’s slap bass play a wah wah fueled “chase scene” style funk bridge with Magione blowing harder lines before the song finally fades.

“No Problem” is very stripped down for its length. It has Chuck Mangione’s love of minimalist cinematic grooves. Its also one of those grooves that sounds,in its entirety,like the intro to a song that doesn’t ever fully start. Therefore there is lots of drama about it. Everything playing around Everett Silver’s insistent beat on the drums give it a decidedly 70’s flavor for a song that comes out of the early 80’s. Because the rhythm and melody are defined by so many empty spaces,its the sort of groove that someone could actually tell a visual story too. And therefore a great example of dramatic mood funk.

Part II of “No Problem” to be heard here-courtesy of Henry Cooper

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Chris Vadala, Chuck Mangione, drums, Everett Silver, Flugelhorn, flute, Gordan Johnson, jazz funk, Peter Harris, pop jazz, rhythm guitar, slap bass, wah wah guitar

Dangerous 25:Ain’t Too Hard For MJ To Jam!

When Michael Jackson’s Dangerous hit the record racks on November 25th of 1991,I was very aware that it existed. All the videos for the album were premiering on the Fox television network. And tunes like “Jam”,”Remember The Time’ and “Black Or White” were part of the general pop culture soundtrack of the early 1990’s. At that point,my family didn’t have cable TV. And for that matter,little interest in pursuing new music by Michael Jackson at all. And neither did I. Recently,seeing the collectible 3-D diorama of the CD jacket painting purchased by my boyfriend brought back more memories.

On a family day trip to the city of Portland,Maine during 1994 I located  Dangerous on a brand new cassette tape,cannot recall the store exactly. But it was inexpensive. And I decided to pick it up. On the 2 1/2 hour trip back home from Portland,I listened to the 70+ minute album on my old Walkman via headphones. It was during MJ’s public trial by fire,so my first thoughts hearing it was that this would be the last new Michael Jackson that would ever be recorded. Luckily,that wasn’t the case. Yet during the internet age I was able to better articulate my views on the album via one of my Amazon.com reviews.


While not sure I entirely agree on this point. However there is a school of thought that,while containing many excellent songs and performances,Bad has often been viewed in revision as an album that was a bit musically behind the times. All I knew was that between there and here? Michael Jackson parted company from the production of Quincy Jones. Sure there were numerous reasons for this. One of them is why the two matters I just mentioned were interrelated.

Seems Mike had wanted to bring in Teddy Riley-the pioneering new jack swing producer,leader of Guy and by than already producing hits for Keith Sweat and Al B. Sure,to help out with his 1987 release. One can just imagine if MJ had songs like “Night And Day” or “Teddy’s Jam” on the radio during the time. But I can see Quincy’s side of it too. Why have too many cooks in the kitchen? Quincy and Bruce Swedien were almost too much on their own.

The project that eventually became this album began in the late 80’s-with Mike independent to choose Riley as producer but retain master engineer Swedien as well. But not only was Mike’s post record breaking status alienating him from the music loving public. But he was also about to branch off into a totally new,and perhaps even unexpected musical direction.

As usual,an enormous marketing campaign ensued between Mike and Epic-with the Fox TV network even agreeing to air a new MJ video as they came out. So MJ was all set for yet more record breaking for sure. And this time he was going to do so with music that was breaking some new ground as well.

Opening with a smashed glass and deep voiced countdown,”Jam” opens with the album with a spare,MIDI horn accented new jack funk masterpiece where along with a guest spot from Heavy D.Lyrically Mike is battling optimism and cynicism,from within and without,on this song. “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”,with MJ’s beat boxing part of the percussion along with Teddy’s ultra funky guitar and keyboard riffing suggests that,just perhaps,there were broader issues for people in the world to think about than Michael Jackson’s eccentric personal life.

“In The Closet” is a rhythmically amazing number. Mike’s acapella vocalese,beat-boxing and sensually hushed vocals make up the core of this number until Teddy’s popping synthesizers come into the sexually tense chorus. “She Drives Me Wild” is the most musically busy number here-instrumentally the melodic equivalent of being in a highway traffic jam of engines,car horns,breaks-the sounds of which are all heard as rhythmic elements as Mike sings of being extremely sexually aroused.

“Remember The Time” has the most slippery music and melody here-a very clean and typically Teddy Riley uptempo new jack number full of MJ’s trademark composition elements. “Can’t Let Her Get Away” is another highly funked up number-with Mike as a sexual pursuer.

“Heal The World”,a proclamation for his soon to launch foundation is a hyper melodic smooth jazz-pop type mid-tempo ballad while “Black Or White” takes a Stonsey,guitar fueled yet polyrhythmic rock/funk direction. While racially ambiguous on some levels,the bridge where Mike growls “I ain’t scared of your brotha’/I ain’t scared of no sheets” tells a whole other story entirely.

“Who Is It” is a rhythmically heavy,stripped down and very slow grooving funk groove with Mike as “the other man” whose contemplating his lover being unfaithful-and of course nervous it might be someone he knows well. “Give Into Me” is a slick,darkly hued rocker where Mike begs for sexual release over a chorus of loud power chords. Beginning with a vocal choir from the Andre Crouch Singers “Will You Be There”,of course to become the famous theme song to Free Willy is a beautifully orchestral blend of American gospel and South African choral music

The song not only shows African/African American musical connectivity instrumentally, but also lyrically has an aural vastness about it-with Mike himself emerging with a powerful vocal crescendo at the songs conclusion. One song I always personally loved from this album,and which I feel may be underrated by some, is “Keep The Faith”. This song starts off seeming like a melodic ballad. Until Mike sings “’cause you can climb the highest mountain” and suddenly the song transforms into melodically and rhythmically powerful modern gospel.

He’s not singing of any particular religion exactly. In his trademark pleas for univeralism Mike suggests here that faith isn’t necessarily something of a religious nature. One area where his univeralist attitudes may have had a really solid point to make. “Gone To Soon” is a very slow orchestral ballad (not written by Mike) and dedicated to his young friend Ryan White,the teenage boy who died after years of suffering from AIDS. The title song ends the album-with similarly powerful (if musically fuller) groove that begins the album-again focusing on Mike’s dejection when a lady is playing him for a fool.

While Teddy Riley should continue to get a big applause for being able to effectively modernize MJ’s production,it it Mike himself who really came through on this album. Musically speaking,this might well be the most successfully forward thinking and ambitious album Michael Jackson ever recorded in his entire career. One huge reason for that is that Mike,a man with an enormous amount of different ways he can musically utilize his voice,uses that element of his talent as a huge instrumental element on much of this album.

On the Teddy Riley produced uptempo numbers that begin this album,Teddy’s digitally sampled/synthesized instrumental effects are undoubtedly a big part of it. But also the fact that the percussion tracks come from Mike embracing the aural tradition from hip-hop,such as from rappers like Doug E. Fresh,of beat-boxing with their voice to provide both the main and counter rhythms as well. This created an entirely new (and very very funky) template for Mike’s uptempo music here.

Even when the tempo slows,and the subject matter becomes more trepidatious  on the second part of the album? Mike’s singing approach is also different. His voice here is almost exclusively in its lowest possible tenor range-growling and pounding out the lyrics,again rhythmically in the finest James Brown tradition. This is my personal favorite side of Mike’s vocal style.

One which he’d maintain for the rest of his musical career. Sadly,both personally and professionally,the years after this represented a sad and slow decline for MJ. With the smothering arrival of alternative rock on the pop scene later in 1991,this was probably the last time the public hung on every word about what Michael Jackson would do next. And is a rhythmically powerful,and sadly cut off new direction for MJ.


As indicated by my review,Dangerous was really the final time a Michael Jackson album happily stopped the world. The releases of his later albums,not to mention his death,also had mammoth effects on people. But at the time,they tended to come across as the surprise of a fallen cultural icon making major headlines. Even still on its quarter century anniversary,Dangerous  found MJ making his own musical history again. And for one last time perhaps,doing so in a manner that was as based in creative energy as it was trying to sell an album. So happy anniversary ,Dangerous!

 

 

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Filed under 1991, 25th anniversary, Amazon.com, Bruce Swedien, Michael Jackson, Music Reviewing, New Jack Swing, Teddy Riley

After 4Ever: Why We’re Still Waiting for a Definitive Prince Compilation

4ever

Earlier this week, Warner Bros. and NPG Records released the first of what will surely be many posthumous releases by PrincePrince 4Ever, a 40-track compilation of hit singles and a smattering of deep cuts from the most universally well-regarded 15 years of his career. For most longtime fans, this wouldn’t have been big news–except that 4Ever also included the first official release of music from Prince’s legendary “Vault” since his sudden passing in April: a long-bootlegged outtake from the 1999 sessions called “Moonbeam Levels.” I already wrote extensively on “Moonbeam Levels” and its place on 4Ever for my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance; you can also read Andre’s take on the release in this post from last month. What I’m interested in talking about today is 4Ever itself: its function in Prince’s discography, and the gap that still remains to be filled by a truly definitive compilation for one of the most significant pop artists of our time.

Prince The Hits-B-Sides

For an artist as prolific and popular as he was, there have been surprisingly few compilations of Prince’s work. The first–and, for my money, still the best–was 1993’s The Hits, released both as two separate single-disc volumes and as a package including a third bonus disc, titled The B-SidesThe Hits/The B-Sides is a somewhat idiosyncratic collection: produced with, at best, reluctant cooperation from the artist (he supplied background notes for many of the tracks, which were incorporated into the official liner notes by his former tour manager and R&B music historian, Alan Leeds), the discs are presented thematically rather than chronologically.

The Hits 1 is the poppier disc: opening with Prince’s most recognizable hit, 1984‘s “When Doves Cry,” followed immediately by “Pop Life” from 1985‘s Around the World in a Daythen backtracking for a run through the more radio-friendly tracks from 1978’s For You all the way to 1992’s Love Symbol Album,” his most recent release at the time. The Hits 2, meanwhile, was composed of raunchier cuts: opening with the respective title tracks from 1981’s Controversy and 1980’s Dirty Mind, followed by a roughly chronological trip through the seedier back alleys of his greatest hits, from “I Wanna Be Your Lover” to “Gett Off”–though the final track is the elegiac “Purple Rain,” presumably because it’s required by law to be the closing track on every Prince compilation.

Though some might quibble with the lack of strict chronology–and I certainly quibble with the use of inferior single edits for most of the songs–The Hits is a solid listen from beginning to end. But the real reason why it remains the O.G. is the aforementioned third disc: a generous sampling of B-sides, non-album singles, and rarities, the majority of which still aren’t available anywhere else on digital formats. For most artists, such a collection would be a mere curio; but any dyed-in-the-wool Prince fan knows that some of his most indispensable music came out on the flip sides of his singles, including bona fide standards like “Erotic City” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” The B-Sides isn’t perfect–nobody actually wants to listen to the 7″ mix of “Erotic City”–but it’s all we have, even almost 25 years later.

verybestofprince

At the time of its release, The Hits also held the dubious distinction of being something of a swan song for “Prince”: the collection was released shortly after he’d changed his name to the same unpronounceable symbol that had adorned his previous album, marking the beginning of an all-out war with Warner over the ownership of his music. In 2000, however, long after he’d departed to become an independent artist, Prince’s publishing contract with W.B. expired; this, presumably, left the label in need of alternative means to leverage his back catalogue, which they still technically controlled. There isn’t really much to say about the resulting compilation, 2001’s The Very Best of Prince: it’s a bog-standard “greatest hits,” a single-disc collection of Prince’s biggest singles from 1979 to 1991. The only real surprise is the inclusion of 1991’s low-key, proto-neo-soul “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night,” which hadn’t made the cut on the much more expansive Hits set. That being said, it does what it’s supposed to do: this is the single-disc sampler you buy if you like “1999” and for some reason don’t particularly care to dig much deeper. You weirdo.

20426-ultimate-prince

Warner had other ulterior motives for their next compilation, Ultimate Prince, released in 2006: simply put, for the first time in at least a decade, Prince was finally a hot commercial ticket again, thanks to his twin “comeback albums” Musicology and 3121. A two-disc set, Ultimate feels like an attempt to replace The Hits; the result is a noble effort, but ultimately a failed one. The hook this time around is certainly compelling: everybody knows Prince’s extended cuts trump his single edits 9 times out of 10, so Ultimate uses the extra running length to give us full-length versions of tracks like “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Kiss,” and even the little-heard (and awesome) “dance remix” of “Little Red Corvette.” The trouble is, it’s inconsistent: many of the tracks are still the lame single edits, and the presence of some extended mixes just ensures the absence of the others is felt more keenly. Perhaps worst of all, Ultimate is the only compilation to date to actually suffer from Prince’s involvement: the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince had final approval over the track listing, and deemed some of the selections–including the 12″ mix of “Erotic City”–too ribald for his (and our) delicate ears. If you can’t tell, I’m still not over it.

4ever-inner

Which brings us to 4Ever. It’s tempting to look at this latest compilation and see nothing but a cold-blooded cash-in on a beloved, recently-deceased artist–though, it’s worth noting, the set is actually the only one to be produced with Prince’s full cooperation. As a sampler of Prince’s W.B.-era peak, I’d rank it above Ultimate and The Very Best of, but below The Hits, simply because of the lack of a disc like The B-Sides; the track listing, however, is arguably the most balanced yet, with fan favorites like 1981’s “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)” and 1986’s “Mountains” appearing alongside the usual suspects. There are also some unadvertised benefits for completionists: the version of “Gett Off” included, for example, is the U.K. single edit, which for some reason bleeps out the word “ass,” but includes an additional verse from the extended version; the 7″ mix of “Alphabet St.” is also included, which is great for longtime haters of the album version’s “rap” by dancer Cat Glover (c’est moi). I don’t necessarily recommend 4Ever for hardcore Prince fans–though I bought it, because I wanted to put my money where my mouth is and pay the estate for a high-quality version of “Moonbeam Levels.” As a holiday gift for the Prince-curious in your life, however, it’s hard to criticize.

But the release of 4Ever still serves to underline something that I hope the preceding rundown made plain: simply put, Prince still needs a truly definitive compilation to his name. 4Ever is a good start, particularly as a replacement for Ultimate: it provides an extra layer beneath the surface for potential fans willing to dig deeper than The Very Best‘s single disc, whetting the appetite for his 1980s albums (all of which, with the exception of Batman, are essential purchases on their own). But what Prince really needs is a four-disc box set; he needs his version of the classic 1991 James Brown compilation Star Time. I want to see a fully chronological overview of the Warner years, integrating B-sides and extended mixes and maybe even a few judiciously-selected outtakes like “Moonbeam Levels,” that gives a full picture of his artistic development from 1978 to 1993. This is the kind of treatment Prince deserves, simply for the sake of his legacy: he’s not just a hitmaker for ’80s nostalgists, he’s an important artist for every serious listener of 20th century popular music, and he deserves to be treated as such. And yes, NPG, if you’re reading this, I will buy such a set, even though I already own all of his albums–if nothing else, as a gift to introduce someone else to his music.

But that’s not all. There’s an even more glaring hole in the compilations listed above: simply put, while “Prince” in his original public-facing incarnation might have died in 1993, Prince Rogers Nelson lived on for almost another quarter century, releasing over 20 albums that have never been officially collected in any form. And while not all of that material would be of interest to casual listeners, that if anything just means that his post-Warner material is even more due for a compilation to separate the wheat from the chaff. There are even genuine hits, from “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” in 1994 to “Black Sweat” in 2006, that have never appeared on a “Best-of.” This is all the more staggering now that Prince has passed, and many of us (myself included) have started to take a more judicious look at his much-misunderstood tenure as an independent artist. I hope NPG Records already has plans to remedy this hole in his discography with a follow-up compilation to 4Ever collecting material from 1994 to 2015; but just in case they need some ideas, next week, I’ll take a stab at putting together my own track list, and we can all have an argument discussion about it. I’ll see you then!

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Filed under 1980's, 1984, 1990s, Alan Leeds, NPG Records, Prince, Prince 4ever, Warner Bros.

Anatomy of THE Groove: “16” by Stacy Lattisaw

Stacy Lattisaw first came to my attention via reading Aretha Franklin’s first autobiography. She described Lattisaw’s duets with future New Edition vocalist Johnny Gill as inspiring her to choose Narada Michael Walden to produce her on 1985’s Who’s Zoomin Who album. Aretha made note of the strong production involved. A DC native,Lattisaw debut at age 12 in 1979,produced by the late Van McCoy. As soon as she began her involvement with Walden as her producer in 1981,he had a string of five albums through 1986. Not to mention being the opening act for the Jackson’s 1981 Triumph tour.

Along with the aforementioned New Edition and (solo) Johnny Gill,Lattisaw represented the major teen idols of the black community for America during the early/mid 1980’s. I made it my business to seek out her many find post disco records on CD over the last three or four years. Interestingly enough,I haven’t absorbed them in as strong a way as they probably deserve to be. One of these albums was 1983’s 16,released at a key transitional period between the live instrumental post disco sound and the electro funk/dance style that was about to emerge. So far,its opening title song says an awful lot.

A loud howl inaugurates Walden’s opening drum line-a strong 3-4 beat hit with pounding percussion accents. His synth bass collides with Randy Jackson’s ticklish 6 note bass line. On the many refrains and choruses, Corrado Rustici’s rhythm guitar either plays a straight one chord groove or a deeper liquid one. On the second half of each bridge,there’s a dance friendly,melodic digital bell sound. On the bridge,David Sancious plays an improvisational synthesizer solo. On the repeating choruses that lead the song out,the discordant sax improvisations of Marc Russo play on with Lattisaw’s vocals as the song fades out.

As with pretty much any uptempo number Narada Michael Walden sunk his teeth into in the early 80’s,”16″ grooves extremely hard. Its definitely possessed of the synth brass oriented electro dance/funk approach of its time. On the other hand,its electro dance/funk played by some of the most creative jazz/funk instrumentalists to emerge from the mid to late 1970’s. And none of them every simplify their talents to suit the more poppy electronic grooves. They and Lattisaw bring out the funk,and all the musical improvisation,they can in this song. Which in turn is some of the finest funk of its time.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Corrado Rustici, David Sancious, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, Marc Russo, Narada Michael Walden, percussion, Randy Jackson, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Stacy Lattisaw, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizer

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Condensate’ by The Time (Credited As The Original 7ven)

During the 2008 50th Grammy Award presentation,the original seven members of The Time appeared for a performance along with Rihanna. In the coming years,members such as Jesse Johnson began making some serious noise about a reunion tour and album. Of course nothing had come from the band since 1990. Only a Morris Day project featuring different members and a semi reunion on the Rosie O’Donnell show in the late 90’s.

Finally this album dropped in 2011,apparently independently distributed. It was credited to The Original 7ven-apparently at the bands own choice seeing as they didn’t want to keep delaying an album release simply due legal complications between them and Warner Brothers over their name The Time. The question was what would this album have to offer musically.

The album begins (and eventually continues) with an interlude where Morris Day is asked first by the band and by a mock news reporter if he’s “lost his cool” in terms of attitude. The musical response to this is “Strawberry Lake”-full on arena friendly Minneapolis style synth funk admirers of The Time should already know well. “#Trendin” uses a similar template and a lyrical theme humorously revolving around online social networking and the trendy phenomenon of hash tagging.

“Toast To The Party Girl” melds both the post punk guitar based new wave and hard JB style Minneapolis synth funk styles of the Time’s salad years perfectly together. The title song comes out with a heavier live band JB style bass and rhythm section while “If I Was Yo Man” is more a melodic pop/rock number with chiming,bell like percussion throughout.

“Role Play” brings out a far slower grinding bluesy funk flavor about it-with it’s witty fetish setup. “Sick” has a straight up hard rock flavor while “Lifestyle” has the flavor of a modern R&B ballad…inspired somewhat by Minneapolis though…melodically not quite as interesting. “Lifestyle” is another bluesier piece again in a modern setting while “Cadillac” comes at the music with some powerfully live band oriented funk.

“Aydkmn” brings back out the bluesy hard rock guitar groove again while “One Step” brings out a stomping juke joint style shuffle that actually goes perfectly with Morris Day’s funky gigolo persona. “Gohometoyoman” is a classic slow shuffling soul ballad to close out the album. Only “Hey Yo” seems like a very stereotypical contemporary R&B type of song from this album to me,anyway.

Overall? My impression of this album is that many of the tracks do keep the funk alive. In fact,the band add elements of the Afro futurist types of funk,which seeks to reconcile the past,present and continuing journey of the funk/soul music spectrum together,on many of these songs. In fact a lot of them sound as if they could come out of a Janelle Monae right now more than anything the Time were once associated with. The only quality about this album that drops it a bit in quality is that the handful of attempts to modernize their sound.

This modernization really drag the grooves and instrumentation of the album down a lot. I doubt many will remember the popular dance/R&B/hip-hop styles of say 2004-2008 as being any wondrous contributions to funk. And frankly? It just doesn’t seem like something a band of this caliber,whose members have been so responsible for key developments in funk based dance music in the last three decades,need to be at all concerned with. Aside from this,a decent album to get if you can still locate it inexpensively.

Adapted from my original Amazon.com review from December 13th,2014

Link to original review here!

 

 

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Filed under 2011, Amazon.com, Jellybean Johnson, Jerome Benton, Jesse Johnson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Monte Moir, Morris Day, Music Reviewing, synth funk, Terry Lewis, The Time

The Cover Story: Sometimes,It Really Was About Races

cover-story

All eight of the late 1950’s to mid 60’s album covers have two things in common. All of them feature white people’s faces on the cover. And all of them are by black artists.  This topic first came to my attention when my father purchased a coffee table book called 1000 Record Covers by former DJ/record company exec Michael Ochs. One section of the book specifically featured a series of album covers by black artists with the faces of white people on them. It even pointed out how,in general in the case of Motown,other albums by black artists featured cartoons on the covers.

Mister Ochs book brought up the reason for this-one I’ve generally accepted as the most prominent truth. During the late 50’s and halfway into the 60’s,the civil rights movement in American was making it clear for the 20th century that black lives did matter. Yet the American South in particular were concerned that albums by black artists would sell better to the area’s more heavily racist population if the artists faces weren’t pictured. This was done in many different ways. The reason why putting white faces on covers stood out so much for me is because it went along with a similar matter of the day: cover songs.

In the 1999 PBS documentary Record Row: The Cradle Of Rhythm & Blues,the topic of white artists covering songs from black artists was brought up. In that docu,the late Jerry Butler and Dick Clark gave counterpoints on the matter. Clark pointed out that most radio stations in the early civil rights era wouldn’t play original versions of songs by black artists. So,for example it was more common to hear Pat Boone’s infamous cover of “Tutti Fruiti” than Little Richard’s original.  Clark contended that this was a big deal over nothing as the original artists eventually got their due.

Jerry Butler’s comment on that issue was that it was easier to feel a personal injury was less severe is one wasn’t experiencing it themselves. He cited the higher levels of sales by white cover versions of R&B/soul songs by black artists. And the economic/racial schisms behind it. So taking all this together,the elimination of a black presence on 50’s and some 60’s R&B/soul/jazz/doo-wop songs and album covers comes across as yet another method by which white Americans subsidize black Americans,their accomplishments and creative innovations.

Is any of this shocking today? In doing research for this article,it would seem this matter is rarely discussed online. Even as part of America’s musical history. There are some personal observations I have about the matter though. Seeing a white infant on the cover of a James Brown album was particularly eyebrow raising. Especially in light of JB asserting he was black and proud eight years after said album was released. As far as the Isley Brothers’ This Old Heart Of Mine? That album came out in 1966,the same year as the founding of Oakland California’s Black Panther Party.

Miles Davis is especially interesting in this case. His autobiography with Quincy Troupe made it clear many times that he resented,as he stated “white people always trying to take credit for what black people did”. I know some who cite Miles as being a reverse racist for saying such things,in fact. He was known to have vocally objected to having a blonde white woman on the original cover for his 1957 release Miles Ahead. This lead him to fight Columbia records for his wife Francis to appear on the cover of his 1960’s album Someday My Prince Will Come. In the end,Miles’ point was entirely reality based.

One topic Henrique Hopkins and I often discuss is the rap segment of Michael Jackson’s song “Black Or White”-where the rapped bridge states “its not about races,its’ about faces/places”-even saying “I’d rather hear both sides of the tale”. As of this writing and the presence of president elect Donald Trump and a strong resistance to the idea that racism is still a problem has me thinking a lot. Sure there are many people who feel blackness in America can stand up for itself on its own terms. At the same time,people should understand history so it doesn’t repeat itself (in some form) in the future.

 

 

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Filed under 1950's, 1960's, 1966, Blogging, Dick Clark, Jerry Butler, Michael Ochs, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, racism

Alphonse Mouzon: Mind Transplant+ More

Mind Transplant

Alphonse Mouzon is turning 68 today. He’s a drummer that I first heard about via my father’s purchase of the double CD set Move To The Groove: The Best Of 70’s Jazz-Funk during the late 1990’s. The song of Mouzon’s featured from that compilation was 1981’s “Do I Have To”. It is currently not available on YouTube. So am doing a special review of the only album of Mouzon’s that I own on CD,1975’s Mind Transplant.  Its special because again,Amazon.com is no longer electing to leave my customer review of the album up. So am going to present it here for you again


As a drummer,keyboardist,composer and producer Alphonse Mouzon it’s funny that his solo career never really made as huge an impact as his main rival at the time Billy Cobham. As drummers,their specialty was dexterity as what you might describe as highly athletic drummers. But the difference’s might’ve lay in the bands they were associated with.

Cobham’s compositions tended to be very technically precise and complex in the manner of Mahavishnu Orchestra’s classic sound . Mouzon came out of Weather Report’s more fluid groove based style of playing. The sounds of those bands alternately effected and were effected by the presence of this two musicians. On here the opportunity presents itself here.

Recorded largely with the company of some enormous guitar talents such as Tommy Bolin,Jay Graydon and Lee Ritenour this album presents a very strong rhythm section exploring too often very different ends of the electric jazz spectrum. The title song explores a perfect mix of jazz-funk and jazz-rock fusions whereas “Snow Bound”,”Happiness Is Loving You” and the vocal number “Some Of The Things People Do”.

The later song addresess escapism through addictions and denial,are all heavy rhythmic funk of the highest (and best played) order. On the more instrumental jazz-rock fusion numbers such as “Carbon Dioxide”,”Golden Rainbows” and “Nitroglycerin” Tommy Bolin takes over as soloist with the exception of “Ascorbic Acid” with Lee Ritenour and Jay Graydon duetting.

As a jazz-funk drummer Mouzon showcases a great deal of talent in terms of his ability not only to express many different ways with the groove but also with his participatory relationship with the other musicians and their playing. On the more jazz-rock numbers his musical dexterity takes over and he falls right into formation with Tommy Bolin who,while only one of three guitar soloists,definitely dominates on the numbers he solos on.

Because there were so many drummers in the fusion genre at the time from Cobham,Stevie Gadd to Norman Connors it didn’t seem like there was much room for the likes of Mouzon. Though matched with more of a technical skill than Connors and possessing a far strong ability with song craft than the more musicianly Cobham,Mouzon probably didn’t enjoy the success he deserved with this album. But he did deserve it.


There is another reason why this overview is special. And its more personal.  A few months ago,Alphonse Mouzon was diagnosed with  Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. This is a rare form of cancer. And is apparently in its latter stages. With the very recent passing of Sharon Jones of another type of cancer, death hangs heavy over the year 2016. Mouzon is still alive though. And a GoFundMe page has been set up for helping out with costs and treatments. Please visit that page. And look to his Facebook page for regular updates on the health status of Mister Alphonse Mouzon.

PLEASE HELP ALPHONSE MOUZON on GoFundMe

 

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Filed under Alphonse Mouzon, Amazon.com, drums, Jay Graydon, jazz funk, jazz fusion, lead guitar, Lee Ritenour, Music Reviewing, Neuroendocrine Carcinoma, rhythm guitar, Tommy Bolin

Sharon Jones: 1956-2016- We Thank You For Your Funky Service!

DSCN3217

Sharon Fafaye Jones,born in August Georgia,has passed away at the age of 60. This after struggling with pancreatic cancer for four years. She died with family and her band The Dap Kings with her. This was such a moving event for me,this 2016’s seemingly endless parade of dying music icons,for a couple reasons. First and foremost,she was a throaty and big voiced soul singer-full of that Tina Turner type of performance fire,that was operating with a live band in the rather anti black band 21st century with the fine funk/soul band The Dap Kings.

The second reason this event has moved me is more personal. My paternal grandfather passed away of the exact same type of cancer on my 21st birthday. It was barely five months ago that I saw Sharon & The Dap Kings perform live in my hometown of Bangor,Maine. They were the second warm up act for Hall & Oates at the Bangor Waterfront Pavilion. There’s a vivid memory of Jones,dressed in gold and yellow as you see in the photo above that I took there,running ultra fast in place shouting in fine soul preacher style “I’VE GOT CANCER,CANCER DOESN’T HAVE ME!!!”.

Sharon Jones lived the life of a soul survivor if there is indeed such a thing. She moved from her hometown due to spousal abuse from her father to her mom,wound up in Brooklyn and went from the church to the clubs singing with a number of funk bands in 70’s. For years she struggled to gain notoriety,with one producer referring to her as “too short and too black” during the 90’s. She then became a guard at Riker’s Island prison for a time,where she adopted her tough stage persona. After getting her first official gig as a leader,she soon recorded her first album with the Dap Kings before the decade was out.

My friend and blogging consultant Henrique were just talking as this was being written on Facebook about what made Sharon Jones so important. Both of us agreed that her musical importance comes out of a stronger appreciation for strong,well produced live funk/soul in the 2010’s. And that after her years of struggling in the prime of her life,that period allowed her to break through in a huge way during middle age. And that’s a legacy that is too important to ignore in a time when,on the pop music front,vocalists are still far more publicized than musicians and bands.

Jones was a vocalist of course. But she never let her eyes off the fact that her big voice was part of a band with guitars,basses,drums and a horn section. And that represents the funkiest attitude of the vocalist. Even today,there are probably plenty of young brothers and sisters being told by reality TV minded producers they are “too black”,”too short” or even “too ugly” to be popular. But since Sharon Jones has been such a huge presence in the last couple of decades,her strongest legacy might be that the newer generation won’t have to endure the hardships she did.

Sharon Jones,I thank you for your service to music. And you will be missed by all of us funky people!

If you are able,please give what little you can to the Conquer Cancer Foundation in honor of Miss Sharon Jones!

https://secure2.convio.net/asco/site/Donation2?df_id=3292&3292.donation=form1

 

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Filed under 2016, cancer, funk bands, Nu Funk, Sharon Jones, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

‘Emancipation’@20: An Artist Free To Do What He Wants To

Emancipation

Prince’s 1996 triple CD set Emancipation is turning 20 today. I’ve read here and there that a lot of people consider this to album to be the  Sign O The Times for the 90’s in Prince’s catalog. In a lot of ways that’s true. Personally,these songs all sound as if they were recorded to go together from the outset,whereas Sign O The Times  was culled from three aborted album sessions. Whatever the case may have been, Emancipation was the ultimate flower of Prince’s 90’s sound. In the end,that’s not so much a matter of deciding if that’s a good or bad thing. But more looking at what Prince’s musical priorities were in the 90’s.

As one of my blogging partners Zach Hoskins pointed out on his own blog Dystopian Dance Party,Prince defined “Jheri curl music” in the 1980’s with the Minneapolis sound. By the mid 80’s many newcomers and funk veterans were embracing some variation of Prince’s stripped down electro grooves. As Prince’s music grew  into a more live band sound,it also grew somewhat more experimental. This resulted in a series of albums in the late 80’s that weren’t so commercially successful. With the major success of his 1989 soundtrack for Batman,Prince saw that his musical future may not lay in setting trends.

For his 1991 album Diamonds & Pearls,Prince heavily embraced the hip-hop sound. He had been weary and somewhat mocking of this genre in the late 80’s-almost behaving as if it was musically beneath his abilities.  Yet Diamonds & Pearls was his biggest commercial success in many years.  And he also found that,on album tracks that could be future hits,Prince could still exercise his eclectic musical outlook as he always had. Then came the battle with Warner Bros. By 1993-1994,Prince became very angry and frustrated at the music industry for what he saw as the financial enslavement of artists.

This anger and frustration began to become a key element of his songs. Interestingly enough,contemporary alternative rock and hip-hop became his primary musical focus. It all came down to Prince not using his own name anymore. I personally remember Prince appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show at the time (with then wife Mayte Garcia),and actually discussing how on a psychological level,he felt very distant from “Prince” as a personal identity. That was the framework I had to work with at the time the Emancipation album came out. This was Prince,a man freed from creative shackles.

When I actually heard the album,the most interesting part for me was that Prince’s “liberated” music actually made heavy creative concessions to smooth jazz and still hip-hop. And the frustrated lyrics remained intact. On the other hand,it was a broader mixture overall. It gave up the funk many times. And the 2nd disc of it was basically an elongated love ballad (in separate parts) to Mayte. So to me,Emancipation is one part the sound of freedom and another the sound of musical concessions.  Still a now unpublished Amazon review of mine on the album went into more depth than even that.


Probably the most significant aspect of this album was that it was the very first brand new Prince album I purchased after becoming a huge admirer of his work. There was a lot of publicity about this album when it came out. The people who I talked to in record stores at the time would often says things to the affect of “this is going to be the crowning achievement of Prince’s career” and so on. At the time? I wasn’t aware of the intense level of idolatry of Prince’s musical abilities that might’ve been behind a lot of this.

All I did know is that Prince was leaving behind Warner Bros. and launching his NPG Records.beginning his unshackling from the record company burdens he’d been dealing with for the past several years. I also wasn’t aware that any and all musical expectations were simply not part of the game when understanding Prince. And while I had mine? This,my second actual full listening to this since it came out,has really helped to resolve my views on his era of his creative output.

“Jam Of The Year” opens with a strong jazz/funk/hip-hop number-full of muted trumpet and piano. “Right Back Here In My Arms”,the Ice Cube collaboration of “Mr.Happy”,”Joint 2 Joint”,”Da Da Da” and in particular “Email” all follow that hip-hop style sound. On the other hand “Get Your Groove On”,the JB horn styled “We Gets Up”,the synth bass driven groove of “Sex In The Summer”-with it’s percussion effect from he and then wife Mayte’s baby’s ultrasound and the stomping,bass heavy title track represent the strongest funk element of the album.

The hip-hop oriented “Slave” and “Face Down” as well as the bumping bass/acoustic guitar driven pop/rock ballad “White Mansion” all discuss the consequences of his liberation from his recording contract. “Betcha By Golly Wow”,”I Can’t Make You Love Me”,”One Kiss At A Time”,Soul Sanctuary”,Curious Child”,”Dreamin’ Bout You”,”Let’s Have A Baby”,Savior”,”The Plain”,”Friend,Lover,Sister,Mother/Wife”,”La La Means I Love You”,”One Of Us” and “The Love We Make” are all powerful,often epic soul ballads.

“New World” marks something a return to his original Minneapolis sound with it’s brittle,stripped down synth driven dance/funk groove. The one man band rhythm section of “Courtin’ Time” and my favorite number here “Sleep Around” are both highly kinetic big band jazz oriented pieces-the latter what I’d describe as “horn house” I suppose.

“Style” is the best of the jazz/hip-hop numbers here-with it’s descriptions of different (often humorous,always clever) actions Prince equates with “style being the second cousin to class”. “The Human Body” has a Hi NRG industrial dance sound while “My Computer” is a gurgling synth jazzy/funk/fusion mid tempo piece. The acoustic folk based “The Holy River” and the uptempo guitar driven “D***ed If Eye Do” are both the rockier numbers here.

36 songs over a 3 CD set that clocks in at exactly 3 hours makes this a lot of music. There were and still are many mysteries regarding the origins of what’s on this album. For me? It’s surprisingly ballad heavy. Functioning as something of a love ballad to his then wife. The uptempo songs here also tend to follow the angry hip-hop/funk approach of a lot of his early/mid 90’s work. Not only is it clear the man was still very angry at record companies.

But the lyrics also showcase a burgeoning paranoia. With numerous references to mid 90’s period conspiracy theories such as the anti vaccination and “cows are for calves” anti diary movements. When he turns up the funk however? The groove is often heavy and horn filled. Even with his likable embrace of the jazz/hop hybrid here as well. That gives him and the ever expanding NPG to really stretch their instrumental muscles with phat bass lines,horn charts and rhythms. Certainly some areas of this album are very dated and stereotypical for it’s era. Yet it’s still likely Prince’s strongest overall release of the 1990’s.


A little healthy self criticism reveals that I have no great love for musicians who embrace negative ideas (or even musical styles that happen to be trendy at the moment) simply to maintain their popularity. And do actually think Prince did that to a tiny degree on Emancipation.  But Prince never was a particularly commercial minded artist either. As a musician,his first concern seemed to generally be about how new ideas would fit into his creative ethic. At the end of the day,its an album with many songs that maintain their strong grooves. And others that are simply indelibly linked to its time.

Perhaps one reason for why this and much of Prince’s 90’s output didn’t age as well was the general musical atmosphere of the day. When Prince first emerged as a major star in the 80’s,he was essentially spicing up a 60’s/70’s style funk-rock framework with newer instruments. But with that expansive musical period as his base,there was stronger room for flight. By the early/mid 90’s,Prince was starting to pre program more and more of his rhythms. So that left some of his music of the day having little base at all. Still, Emancipation showcased Prince on a strong path to even bigger and better musical things.

 

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Filed under 1990s, Amazon.com, classic albums, Emancipation, hip-hop funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, NPG Records, O(+>, Prince, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince