Monthly Archives: December 2016

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)” by Donna Summer

Donna Summer was an artist who could’ve suffered the worst face of the post disco demolition radio freeze out. Under the guidance of Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, Summer was responsible for developing different sub genres of disco. She also helped to conceptualize disco culture with a series of themed albums that established disco as an album based medium. At the end of the 70’s,she began to slowly change her style by singing in her amazing gospel belt of a lower voice. And releasing music with a more rock oriented flavor on 1979’s Bad Girls and even more so on the following years The Wanderer.

After one final (and sadly then unreleased album) in 1981 with Moroder and Bellotte called I Am A Rainbow,the owner of her new label David Geffen hooked her up with Quincy Jones for what turned out to be her self titled 1982 album. Her working relationship with Quincy was apparently difficult,as she didn’t feel she had as much creative input with him. At the same time,it produced some of her strongest music-accompanied by Quincy’s iconic early 80’s musicians. Among them was the hit single that opened up the album that was entitled “Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)”.

Paulinho Da Costa’s fast past percussion and Michael Sembello’s rhythm guitar open the song on the intro,just before Summer’s voice chimes in. Greg Phillinganes’  bass synth and Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements open into the main chorus of the song-playing call and response with Summer’s falsetto. On the refrains,Summer’s lower voice takes hold with the music emphasizing Phillinganes Clavinet like synth. After a couple more chorus and refrain exchanges,the bridge revisits the intro-adding in a disco whistle to accent the rhythm. After this the chorus repeats to the fade of the song.

Some may not necessarily agree but for me personally,”Love Is In Control” is one of the finest examples of the Quincy Jones/Westlake studio crew collaboration this side of  Thriller. Being its another song penned by the late and great Rod Temperton,the song just kicks with energy and funk with its excited horns,percussion and synth bass lines. It has a pronounced Brazilian pop/funk flavor overall. And Summer absolutely aces it vocally with vocal backup of Howard Hewett along with James and Philip Ingram. And it rightfully got her the Top 10 chart hit the strong post disco funk groove deserved.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Don’t Take Your Love Away” by Chris Jasper

Chris Jasper,a cousin of the Isley family,was a key member of the Isley Brothers 3+3 era lineup. And later the core of the mid/late 80’s spin off group Isley-Jasper-Isley,who are best known for their song “Caravan Of Love”. Jasper is a classically trained player who went began playing at the age of 7. And later attended Julliard. He graduated with a BA of fine arts in music under the tutelege of jazz icon Billy Taylor. And so I’ve recently learned,earned a Juris Doctorate degree from the Concord University School of Law. This broad academic back round helped his career in more ways than one.

As a member of the Isley Brothers in the 70’s and 80’s,his textural mix of filtered synthesizers and bass tones created a distinctive electronic funk backdrop for their music at the time. This sound would be influential on the boogie/electro funk sound of the 80’s. He carried that sound into that decade too,both with the Isley’s and his later solo work. In more recent years,his legal experience likely helped a great deal in launching his custom label Gold City Records. Of his own work on this label are albums such as 2010’s Everything I Do  and the song I’ll be discussing today called “Don’t Take Your Love Away”.

The song kicks off with the digitized Afro Caribbean rhythm that defines the entire song. Its main melody consists of a few layers high pitched synthesizers changing chords,while Jaspers trademark melodic synth bass takes care of the songs low end. Jasper’s voice passionately places itself into the phat array of sounds this mix creates. Along with this is a Clavinet/guitar type keyboard riff. Each chorus is buffeted by an interlude taken in a somewhat different (and more minor) key. One such interlude represents the bridge of the song as an instrumental as the song fades out on its own repeated chorus.

Musically “Don’t Take Your Love From Me” is right in the vein of Jasper’s solo work and that with Isley-Jasper-Isley. So much so it could’ve easily been recorded in that decade. The polyrhythmic sound of the song and its melody is very much in the vein of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” or Midnight Star’s far lesser known album track “Feels So Good”. Neither were slow jams,but were both somewhat more stripped down and seemed like it as a result. Jasper’s rugged layers of synthesizer really bring out the uptempo and brightly melodic nature of this electro/synth funk song very well.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “When You Gonna Learn” by Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai were probably the most commercially successful funk revivalists to come out of the UK acid jazz scene-right behind Incognito and Brand New Heavies in terms of influence.  The core rhythm section of the band consisted of lead singer Jason Kay,keyboardist Toby Smith and bassist Stuart Zender. Their sound was defined by the presence of the aboriginal Australian instrument the didgeridoo,played by Wallace Buchanan in the band. Visually,they were (and still are) known for Mr.Kay’s huge feathered hats. This gave them a distinctive look and approach to their jazz-funk sound.

My own experience with Jamiroquai is hard to condense,but important to the musical focus of this entire blog. During 1996,I was at Strawberries Records when a young,friendly employee named Jeb started discussing funk and jazz music with me. At the time,it was not a conversation I was expecting. He enthusiastically mentioned a band named Jamiroquai. They had a huge record out at the time called “Virtual Insanity”. The album he recommended was their then newest called Travelling Without Moving. My mom and I in particular were very enthusiastic about the band. With me even encouraging her to seek out their previous two albums. It was one of a few times our musical interests interlinked.

Over the next few years,my relationship with Jamiroquai was complicated by the musical zeitgeist of the late 90’s. With the written music press being the only way for most people to learn about music at the time,it was all too easy to be too informed by someone else’s subjective opinion. Jamiroquai were heavily criticized for two things. One was about Jay Kay as a white English man seemingly appropriating black American funk/disco styles.. Another was that the sociopolitical/environmentally based lyrics to Jamiroquai’s songs were seen as hypocritical due to Kay’s seemingly materialistic and drug obsessed attitude.

This was very confusing for me personally. Jamiroquai were the only new band I heard at the time who had the hopeful messages and strong Afro jazz/funk instrumental ethics in their music at the time. Most other newer music at the time were based in some variety of hip-hop or alternative/grunge rock. And where messages were present,they were often presented in what came across as a nihilistic and downbeat. That sense of musical starvation I personally experienced then motivated me to delve deep into Jamiroquai songs such as the opening track to their debut album “When You Gonna Learn?”

A hi hat heavy swinging drum opens the song with a droning didgeridoo solo over it. That solo soon gives way to a violin solo before the percussion and snaky bass line of the main song comes in in with a blasting horn chart. The violin,horn charts and percussive rhythm interact throughout the refrain-all before coming to a jaunty,horn fueled gallop on the refrain,accented itself by a descending flute solo. Wallace Buchanan’s didgeridoo takes a solo over the isolated drum/percussion rhythm before Stuart Zender’s bass line brings in another refrain/choral exchange for the song to fade out on.

The title of the Jamiroquai album this comes from is Emergency On Planet Earth. This opening song both musically and lyrically speaks to the potential for environmental destruction if we don’t learn to “play it nature’s way” as Jay Kay warns. It still amazes me to hear the multi ethnic fusions of Afrocentric percussion,jazzy styling’s and sunny melodic funk elements coming out of any nation on Earth during a time when most popular music seemed to be at its darkest and dreariest. Its songs such as this that really allowed Jamiroquai to become strong life support for me in a time when meaningfully funky music seemed to all be part of the past.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “All Out” by Edgar Winter

Edgar Winter is one of those artists whose musical arc I had extremely wrong most of my life. Knowing him only for the songs “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein” (which both come from the same album by the way),had him pegged as a progressive minded Southern rocker. Upon purchasing his debut album Entrance a decade ago,it introduced me to one of the most talented and musically distinctive artists this side of Prince,Todd Rundgren,Brian Wilson and even Miles Davis. His mixture of European classical,jazz,soul and blues instrumentation and harmonies made it quite a listening experience.

With The Edgar Winter Group he,Dan Hartman and Rick Derringer did indeed tend to explore their rockier side. He also had a band called White Trash who,on two occasions dealt with Winter’s gospel/funk/soul/blues side more. Much as with The Rolling Stones, Winter felt a deep affinity with black American music. And like the Stones,his music also evolved along with black American music in the 70’s. His next “solo” album was 1975’s Jasmine Nightdreams. This album was more a mixture of styles. And one song in particular that leaped out at me is entitled “All Out”

A drum roll quickly gives way to a slow shuffling swing. Winter than solos on the ARP synthesizer on a jazzy horn like melody before going into a solo on the ARP doing the refrain that improvises heavy on the 12 bar blues primarily. On both occasions,its backed up by a phat Moog bass playing an upfront descending line similar to what the upright bass would normally play. Winter takes off improvising the melody on sax before doing the same with his flamboyant,rangy scat singing. The choral theme repeats for a bar before the piano/synth arpeggio that segues into the next song.

Hearing this all out bop jazz number reminds me somewhat of how people like Thelonious Monk might’ve updated their distinctive style in the 70’s-with electronic instruments playing the roles the bass and organ normally would’ve. With a sound that suggests Winter likely played most of the instruments on this song himself,his improvisation of melody and spirited instrumental/vocal performance really showcase what a strong musician/composer Edgar Winter actually is. And having the understanding to have players in his circle who could help him flesh out his musical ideas even more so.

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Lonnie Liston Smith & His Funky Cosmic Echoes

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Lonnie Liston Smith represents for me the very reason why the icons of the 70’s jazz/funk genre should not be so unsung. I was exposed to Smith’s music during the late 90’s by my father. For the next decade and beyond,I deeply emerged myself in the in whatever music from him came my way. Having come up playing with free jazz icons Pharaoh Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk,he also worked with fusion pioneer Miles Davis. Smith would end up being a significant link between those two styles of jazz. His sound also opened the door  for contemporary chill jazz as well.

It was during the end of his time with Miles that Smith began putting together the Cosmic Echoes-some members coming right out of Miles’s band. He had bassist Cecil McBee,George Barron on saxes,guitarist Joe Beck and Miles alumni James Mtume as one of a quartet of strong percussionists. Was intending to do one of Smith’s songs as an Anatomy of THE Groove segment. At the end of the day though,Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes were album artists. So I am going to present an overview of their first five albums through my reviews of them from Amazon.com.


Astral Travelling/1973

With a pedigree extending from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers all the way up through his work with Pharaoh Sanders,it was very likely that keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith would have a good chance of changing the face of jazz as a leader. When Miles Davis made his earliest electric jazz works such as Filles De Kilimanjaro and Bitches Brew,he was inspired by psychedelia and the more avant garde side rock and jazz rather than anything pop oriented or commercial.

As a matter of fact Miles alum Herbie Hancock came at his earliest electric albums from the same approach. This would’ve been known as the “cosmic jazz” movement that embraced psychedelia,free jazz and electricity into exciting new combinations. For his part Smith was all set to take this already expansive music into a world of his own.

This album begins with the title song-filled with dancing percussion and the flowing scales Smith gets out of the Fender Rhodes electric piano. “Let Us Into The House Of The Lord” even more deeply explores the meaningful beauty of Smith’s electric keyboard textures-multi tracked for a wonderfully symphonic effect.

“Rejuvenation” and the closing “Aspirations” both extend from this joyous free-bop style rhythm with saxophonist George Barron inventing one penetrating melody after another harmonizing with Smith’s electric and acoustic piano. “I Mani (Faith)” starts off very gently but in the middle Barron’s sax solo begins to reflect the same intense,free associative playing associated with Smith’s former band leader Pharaoh Sanders. “In Search Of The Truth” finds both Smith and Barron again harmonizing their melodies beautifully over a round acoustic bass line interestingly reminiscent of the hook in “Love Potion Number 9”.

Every Lonnie Liston Smith album I’ve ever heard is like it’s own singular extension on a long and often continuing musical and,on later albums,lyrical journey. This album on the other hand is quite a different way to start even from that. Essentially it uses the Smith’s electric piano textures in what amounts to an acoustic free jazz setting with sax,bass,drums and percussion.

With it’s emphasis on rhythm through the heavy Afrocentric percussion and the swelling drum sound the music achieves,the melodies flowing from within them are more than capable of taking your thought process on a meaningful journey without the use of any mind altering chemicals. It’s very much an extension of the social ethic of the era when,for the first time perhaps ever the African American community were strongly emphasizing the regal and spiritual aspect of their heritage. This is a potent reminder of the importance of the funk/jazz era outside the stereotype of commercial dance music: music like this that contained the power to make the souls of the people move.

Cosmic Funk/1974

The spiritual musicality showcased on Lonnie Liston Smith’s first two albums were actually so individual they were in need of a word which would define what they were. They weren’t free jazz,the weren’t African music,they weren’t soul and they weren’t funk precisely. Somehow or other they embraced them all in new and unexpected ways.

It was very much a extension off of where jazz was starting to go in the junction between the avant garde and fusion. When your an artist however there does tend to be the need to be able to define the music you make outside a fairly impersonal label of a genre. It looks as if,very likely by coincidence,that Smith and the Cosmic Echoes actually came across that definition for the music they did with the title of this album.

The title song to his adds a much stronger (and somewhat more identifiable) funk influence to it-with the drum breaks,deep bass line and phat wah-wah guitar taking center stage along with Smith’s electric piano textures. On the vocal numbers “Beautiful Woman”,”Peaceful Ones” and the instrumental “Sais” the more cosmic end of the groove takes shape again on three wonderfully flowing numbers again strongly emphasizing the arrangements created with the dripping sound of Smith’s phase echoed Fender Rhodes.

“Footprints” has a more collective jazz flavor that goes back to a degree to the sound the Cosmic Echoes had on their debut album a year earlier. The album concludes with a wonderful vocal take on John Coltrane’s standard “Naimia”,again prominently showcasing Smith’s unique electric piano sound.

It’s very seldom in jazz funk circles outside the Crusaders do I ever hear a sound and instrumental style as well oiled and musically expansive as that of Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes. This album really served,along with their previous release Expansions to give their sound it’s signature quality that would make all the difference in the next few years.

Smith’s career would be a fairly long and creatively fruitful one. Much like Art Blakey,John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and the jazz greats he clearly admired he sought to uplift the spiritual quality of the music as it entered into it’s electric funk period. Creatively he succeeded on a level that it seems a lot of people with a great passion for music have embraced fully.

Expansions/1974

During the early 1970’s there was a massive change in the cultural consciousness of the African American community that changed the way they looked at themselves in the context of the world. African physical attributes,fashion,music and history was now understood to be a thing of great beauty and significance,rather than being some type of ignorant and primitive past that was in need of being rejected.

This had an enormous effect of literature,art,motion pictures and music. No coincidence that this all occurred surrounding what is sometimes referred to as the funk era. And jazz,enormous in the development of his new Afrocentric consciousness was making an enormous impact in and around all of this. Creatively speaking it was the idea creative environment for a talent with the creative stature of Lonnie Liston Smith.

The title song of this album could actually have been the anthem for Lonnie’s entire musical career. With fast faced,percussion poly-rhythms blending seamlessly with the meditative melodies of Smith’s phase-amp’d Fender Rhodes electric piano this funk mantra for peace and meaning in life extends beautifully into the instrumentals “Desert Nights” and “Voodoo Woman”,both of which stretch out that musical flavor into layers of flamboyantly beautiful,grooving electric piano improvisations.

“Summer Days” is a song that has a major key melody that expresses a great deal of joyousness and harmony as well,only on a mildly more active level,through a similarly themed impulse. “Shadows” takes you to a whole other place entirely with an electric piano effect like trickling water with these captivating horn phrases. “Peace” and the more uptempo “My Love” both express a similar harmonious impulse on very melodic vocal Latin jazz type numbers.

While his debut ‘Astral Traveling’ really got Lonnie Liston Smith on the map as a musical force on his own,this is the album that really went a long way at defining his sound. It’s also where he went for a heavier electric sound and began to thoroughly embrace the jazz-funk fusion sound with which he’s most often associated. He did non of this however to make a lot of money and/or sell out. His interest was in reaching the people with the power of his music and the spiritualism of his lyrical tones,both vocal and instrumental.

I realize a lot of people might get music like this mainly because they are fans of funk,rare groove or jazz and see it mainly for it’s nostalgic value. Fact is though it’s important that the message that this music,both instrumentally and lyrically,was trying to present not be forgotten either. This has the potential to be deeply influential for any funk,soul,R&B and jazz musician even today. And on a level they may not be able to put into words. That should also be considered when taking this album in.

Visions Of A New World/1975

The mid 1970’s were the prime years for what writer Ricky Vincent categorized as the “united funk” era. Music that celebrated the communal style of African American musicianship that was at the very core of funk’s creation from the beginning had become like a giant musical pine cone. It was a whole made up of many parts,scattering seeds everywhere and sprouting with new varieties of the groove from jazz to dance oriented sounds.

The last several Lonnie Liston Smith albums had been primarily jazz oriented affairs with a number of funk/R&B references-concentrating more on creating a unique instrumental feeling and flavor than with concentrating on being one genre or the other. However the jazz-funk movement of the time was almost ideal for Smith’s type of compositional style and playing. And since his previous album ‘Cosmic Funk’ was already headed straight into the realm of the groove,he went all the way there with this one.

“A Chance For Peace” is the song that really pulls it all together: the sound washes of echoed electric piano,heavier use of the ARP synthesizer and a beautifully percussive drum sound. “Love Beams” takes a very period Stevie Wonder-like rhythmic and melodic texture-adding a soprano sax melody that plays few notes but extends the ones it plays wonderfully.

“Sunset” evokes a similar flavor,only with Smith taking over on his beautifully trickling acoustic piano sound. “Colors Of The Rainbow” is a down and out electric jazz anthemic mantra with a dramatically sung and inspiring vocal part. “Devika (Goddess)” gets down deep into the most spiritual end of hard funk with a driving bass line leading the way. The title song however is a real centerpiece. Starting from a more atmospheric intro it goes into the Brazilian style,hyperactive and poly-rhythmic funk-jazz jam filled with bright melodic color,with it’s joyous Clavinet riffing.

“Summer Nights” ends the album on that same rhythmic and instrumental tone that is reflected throughout the slower songs on the album. At least to me this album stands as the most consistently fluid and funky album Lonnie Liston Smith and the Cosmic Echoes made during their salad years. It serves as every bit the culmination of where Smith was taking his musical vision since he left Pharaoh Sanders and released his debut ‘Astral Traveling’.

There was definitely something about this era of funk that was very special in general. If one marvels at the music recorded and played by Earth Wind & Fire,Kool & The Gang,Gil Scott Heron,Stevie Wonder,Curtis Mayfield,Rufus and the Isley Brothers during this time you’d be presented with rhythmically and melodically challenging music that was all at once catchy,wonderful to dance to and had your mind moving in directions you might never have suspected. And in it’s own way,this particular expression of that era almost captures that spirit on it’s highest level.

Reflections Of A Golden Dawn/1976

Visions of a New World was likely the most consistently flowing album Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes had done thus far,at least from the funk perspective. His instrumental and compositional style had fully grown into himself. He had entered into his peak period as a musician. And was poised as one of the major creative innovators of the spiritual end of the jazz-funk sound. In the year between that album and this,there began to be signs of a chance on the musical horizon in terms of funk.

The type of rhythm that would eventually evolve into the disco-dance style was beginning to make itself noticed. At the time,it actually seemed like a welcomed contribution compared to how it would be perceived by the public several years later. Lonnie Liston Smith’s musical path in the 70’s had basically been one of consistent rhythmic revolutions. And since there was something new on that horizon,Smith was enthusiastic to embrace the rhythms of the times.

“Get Down Everybody (It’s Time For World Peace)” approaches the new dance funk sound in a manner similar to Brass Construction-filled with high octane Afro-Latin percussion. On the other hand it keeps it’s foot firmly inside the message of his music,even adding a little melodic reference from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On on the refrain. It’s probably one of the strongest uptempo tracks Smith ever made.

“Quiet Dawn” and “Meditations” return to his signiature sound of richly melodic keyboard textures,only far sleeker and slippery than the usual open sound he got with this approach. “Sunbeams” and “Beautiful Woman” (revisited from his Cosmic Funk album) both have a bright sunshine funk groove to them-full of major key melodies and rhythmic joyousness. “Peace & Love” takes that to another level,reaching right into the hardcore uptempo funk end again with a meaningful message and one of the slipperiest bass lines Smith has ever had in his music.

“Goddess Of Love” and the slower “Golden Dreams” both musically come out of a place that’s hard to explain even for Smith. They are sleekly produced yet as meditatively swelling romantic jazzy grooves as he ever put down. On “Journey Into Space”,interestingly enough he presents one of his view songs with a very prominent African influence-both rhythmically and harmonically. Overall this album is very much an even stronger expansion on what came before.

In fact this and it’s predecessor could album be two parts. There are some differences though. The production on this is far more slick and the instrumental tone is somewhat less round than it was on earlier albums. That’s especially true to Smith’s keyboards. In the end the slight change in production style does the music good because it helps to add yet a new musical color to Lonnie Liston Smith’s already vibrant musical rainbow. Musically it’s another extremely strong release and definitely something to be proud of.


With those five albums reviews spanning 1974-1976,I hope that the general aura of Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes comes through. As John Coltrane had in acoustic jazz a decade before him,Smith viewed his style of jazz/funk as a medium that could speak to people’s souls. That there could be a certain harmonic atmosphere along with the rhythms. Its probably the closest jazz-funk got to what we’d call new age music now. Even so,all of it comes from completely Afrocentric terms. And that what makes Lonnie Liston Smith,however unsung,such an important figure in the world of 70’s jazz/funk.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Put The Word Out” by Rickey Vincent

Rickey Vincent is not only one of the key inspirations for this blog. But also for my own expanded funk education. Am sure that’s a story for many.  20 years ago,this occurred when Vincent’s guide book  Funk: The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One hit the stores. It not only offered a buyers guide,but serious literary commentary on funk as a genre and way of playing music. Vincent also hosts a radio show called ‘The History Of Funk’,whose Facebook group is also a key platform used to share the articles written here with the funk loving community.

On October 27th of this year,Vincent released an album called Phool 4 The Funk,which celebrates the genre Vincent has devoted his life to. Of all possible twists,I was personally interrupted in writing this article a month ago by the news that Donald Trump was suddenly winning the US presidential election. That event struck me with a bizarre sense of literary catatonia . Today is Mister Vincent’s birthday. So in tribute to him and his new album,wanted to discuss a version of a song he,Ziel McCarter and Will Magid did that I know very well. Its “Put The Word Out”,originally done by Heatwave.

An Afro Brazilian style conga/percussive rhythm opens the album with a jazzy bass improvising just below the groove. A somewhat scratchy synthesizer opens into the main groove. This consists if a loping drum,melodic organ along with 6 not bass riff and chunky rhythm guitar right up front with the hot horn charts. This represents the refrain. On the choruses,it comes to a hand clap/wah wah based breakdown after which Herb Alpert style trumpet solos on the bridge of the song. The chorus repeats to fade,with the trumpet eventually duetting right along with the vocals.

This might be one of the first times I’ve reviewed a cover of a classic funk song. And for what they are,both versions are theatrically funky. Rickey Vincent’s version however comes at a somewhat slower and more live band funk approach to it. And everything has a huge instrumental punch here. The drums,bass,guitar and horns all emerge as a rhythmic monster on this wonderful remake. Vincent and his band take the funkiest aspects of Heatwave’s already hard groove original.,and just builds them up with (as Vincent himself might call it) a great “united funk” groove mixed with a strong late 70’s influence too.

Rickey Vincent’s Phool 4 The Funk available in physical media here

*Also available for download on Amazon.com and iTunes

 

 

 

 

 

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George Michael 1963-2016: Tribute To Soulfully Rich Artist

Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou,known by his stage name of George Michael,was as much one of the last people I’d expect to pass away suddenly as Prince was nine months ago. Especially on Christmas day. Yet it has happened. There had been news reports of drug use,a brief prison sentence seven years ago along with a recent bout with pneumonia. But much as with Prince,nothing that equaled out to life threatening. Heard the news just before Christmas dinner from my boyfriend,who discovered the news through the Facebook news feed and was hoping it was yet more “fake news”.

George Michael was pretty well respected as an 80’s icon,with a very successful career behind him and someone who many people had on their “most welcomed comeback” lists for musical artists. When I first heard his music,I actually thought his name was Wham! because in 1984,I thought all groups were somehow named after the lead singer. As I grew older and my musical understanding grew,so did the admiration for George Michael’s music. Wham! started out as a live sounding post disco group with songs such as “Bad Boys” and “Club Tropicana”. After 1984,this all changed.

After four years as the leader of Wham!,George Michael went solo with his 1987 debut Faith.  Even when his music wasn’t particularly successful in the US after the end of the 80’s,his music still continued to be successful the world over. And he did that with a compositional and vocal sense the emphasized a strong sense of soul-always keeping some funky,jazzy or gospel oriented aspect in the mix. Some of Michael’s more recent material I wasn’t too familiar with. But as a tribute,wanted to into some of my favorite songs of Wham! and his solo career,and what made them so wonderful!


“Club Tropicana”

Overviewed this 1983 Wham! song already on this blog. Yet its live band post disco/Chic style funkiness stands as a strong basis for George Michael’s writing and vocals.

“Nothing Looks The Same In The Light”

This song musically segues directly out of “Club Tropicna” on the bands debut album Fantastic. With its jazzy chord changes and burbling synth bass,this song has a slinky slow,funky and melodic groove about it. Its a song my friend Thomas Carley and myself share as a mutual favorite from Wham!

“Everything She Wants”

Been hearing this particular 1984 song most of my life. In terms of it’s layered synthesizers (including bass and horn parts) along with a percussive electronic drum part,this is one of my favorite electro funk/pop hits Wham! made,especially with its intricate song construction and amazing vocal turns by George Michael.

“Careless Whisper”

Musically speaking,this is a very close cousin of “Nothing Looks The Same In The Light” from Wham’s debut,only less electronic. Especially with the melodic sax line on the intro. Its a strongly melodic jazzy mid tempo soul. Even to this day no matter how often I hear it on the radio,the composition and music become stronger and stronger with each listen.

“Last Christmas”

Instrumentally,this is a simple little electronic number. Melodically on the other hand,its one of the most beautiful (and soulful) Christmas songs from the 1980’s.

“I Want Your Sex”

Henrique and I talked about this last night. It is certainly one major funk thump to start George Michael’s solo career on,especially presented in in two parts with the horn driven live band funk sound on the final part of this 9+ minute opus.

“Monkey”

Dealing with the topic of addiction,this is one of the heaviest,bassiest late 80’s funk stomps George Michael ever made.

“Fast Love”

This hit from his 1995 comeback album Older is one of my very favorite of George Michael’s solo career-with its mixture of mid 90’s funk and disco revival and slow,humping shuffle.

“It Doesn’t Really Matter”

Even though some people I’ve know bemoaned the fact the instrumentation on this song is a bit artificial,everything from the electronic drums and keyboards accents on some very jazzy elements-even lyrically alluding to Burt Bacharach mid song. In terms of composition,this is among George Michael’s jazziest tunes.

“Freeek!”

On this song from George Michael’s…as its turned out final album Patience in 2004,the fact that the music video for the song got banned took attention away from the songs thumping,throbbing mix of EDM instrumental styles and a hard core funk stomp.This is probably my (and my boyfriend’s) favorite of his later years.


George Michael’s legacy as a musician comes from a number of sources. He actually sued CBS records because he felt the label were marketing him for his image rather than his talent. Some might see that as a form of egoism. Others (and I include myself in this) see this as a multi talented singer/songwriter/producer and (in many cases) multi instrumentalist with a wonderful grasp of rhythm and melodic electronic programming as well. He was an artist whose passing was one of the more shocking ones for me in 2016. And representative of the type of musical presence I (and many people) will truly miss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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James Brown: The Man’s Christmas Legacy & A Decade Without Him

James Brown will have been gone from the world a decade this coming Sunday. JB’s song “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” was part of a special Christmas themed cassette tape that my father and I recorded for his mom and dad in the early 1990’s. Usually during the holiday season,I have zero guilt about enjoying softer Christmas music. In particular jazzy music. Maine winters can be very icy,bitterly cold and generally somewhat harsh to the senses.  Hearing at least that one song from JB at the holidays goes right along with the season too. Especially for providing vitality in the cold weather.

Zach Hoskins just wrote an article on his blog about James Brown’s Christmas albums. This was an excellent chronological analysis of them. Wanted to do my own article as well. For reference,I went right to Henrique Hopkins. At least every other conversation we have references James Brown in one way or another. Either we are discussing what we already know,or I’m being taught something new. And while JB seemed to disappear off the map some from my viewpoint during his final decade,his presence was apparently being felt in ways I didn’t even now. One example came shortly before his passing.

During the first few weeks of December 2006,James Brown was ill with pneumonia. Finally it came time for one of his annual James Brown Toy Giveaway’s for children,which was to take place at the Imperial Theater in Augusta,Georgia that year. Brown made his final public appearance there and handed out some toys. One associate named Don Rhodes noticed how frail JB seemed to be,and many things he was letting other people do. Even though Brown would be gone shortly thereafter,the idea of this toy giveaway being his last public appearance showcased the sorts of things that were truly important for JB.

As a young man,JB had been dismissed from school for shabby cloths. His adolescence showcased him as something of a black Robin Hood: stealing clothes for himself and to help other kids. Considering the fact he’d funneled so much of the millions of dollars he earned during his 50 years as the “hardest working man in show business” into pro black businesses and charitable events,the spirit of giving at Christmas continued to bring out the best in Brown-giving back to the underprivileged in the black community after having done so well for himself. Its a story of Christmastime giving many should learn from.

*To learn more (and contribute to) the James Brown Family Foundation,perhaps to participate in future toy giveaways,click on the link below!

The James Brown Foundation Official Website

 

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Filed under activism, Christmas music, James Brown

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Jive Talkin'” by The Bee Gees

The Bee Gee’s had run their intricately constructed baroque ballad formula to the point of exhaustion by the mid 70’s. After a string of albums with only a moderately performed commercial performance Barry,Maurice and Robin Gibb regrouped with their producer at the time Arif Mardin to record an album in the style of the American R&B artists Mardin was producing,and that they were listening to at the time. The result was their 1975 album Main Course. The album succeeded not only in totally reviving them commercially, but reinventing them as contemporary artists with a different musical approach.

On a personal level,I grew up taking the Bee Gee’s mid/late 70’s heyday very much for granted. Not only were many of these songs played often. But the post disco push back didn’t exactly endear their music from the period to a lot of people around me. During the 90’s and 2000’s however,the Bee Gee’s of this period began to get  re-evaluation. And their songs from 1975-1979 are generally regarded as classics today. Main Course is one of my favorite albums of theirs from this period. Its pretty diverse,but filled with soulful and funky songs too. And it begins with a particular favorite of mine called “Jive Talkin'”.

A shuffling chicken scratch guitar opens the song. First,the snare drum builds into the groove,then the round Moog bass underneath-followed by a higher pitched rhythm guitar with more sustain to it. After this,the swinging 4/4 beat comes into the song-accented by a galloping snare on the second beat. This is what accompanies the vocals on both the chorus and refrains-the latter of which singles out the Moog bass more to accent the melody. Between each verse,a higher pitched synthesizer  plays a melodic horn line. The intro repeats at a choral bridge before the main chorus fades out the song.

One thing that songs such as “Jive Talkin” indicated was how much the Gibb brothers understood their funk and soul source material of the time. Their already complex songwriting style expanded outward here. Bee Gee’s songs had generally been built upon folk and Northern soul approaches in the beginning. On here,they began building on rhythm based melodies that bounced,sang and had plenty of contemporary touches (such as the synthesized bass) that made it clear that understood exactly what Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston had been musically innovating at this point in time.

 

 

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2016 In Music: The Past,The Present & The Undiscovered Country

2016 as a year in music is something I’ve been contemplating doing since the year began. One of my personal missions with Andresmusictalk is to input something positive about music,the people who create it and its influence on everyday life. There’s already enough of the “meat and potatoes ONLY” news out where their is importance for well rounded discourse. One thing readers of this blog might’ve noticed is the general lack of commentary on new funk/soul records this year. Just under a handful in fact. And the reason for that is that 2016 is a year marked by death.

The first day of the year didn’t exactly begin with a fresh start. It began with the news of Natalie Cole’s passing. It was just a week or so later that David Bowie passed away. A few weeks after that,EWF founder Maurice White. Then in April,very surprisingly,we lost Prince. It came to a point on this blog where I wasn’t actually preparing to write up on a new song. But was gearing up for the next tribute to a fallen musical icon. While it was a great honor to have lived with the music of these people for years,as well as pay tribute to them,the heavy concentration of death in under a years time even was formidable.

As for the new music coming out this year? With a few exceptions from Bruno Mars and Childish Gambino,there wasn’t a whole lot of funky,soulful music. Or songs with anything hugely positive to say. So its been a year that this blog has mainly paid tribute to the classics. And the people who created them,many of whom are gone now. So even though its not a huge list,here are some some of the albums that personally moved me in that funky and/or soulful way from 2016. I will also try to put them into some type of resonant category so people will catch onto the general “vibe” of each album:


THE JAZZY SIDE

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David Bowie-Blackstar

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Robert Glasper-Everything’s Beautiful

SOULFULLY FORWARD THINKING

 

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Solange-A Seat At The Table

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Alicia Keys-Here

ELECTRO NU FUNK

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FUNKY GROOVES

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Childish Gambino-Awaken My Love


Most people I’ve talked to have admitted freely that 2016 has been an extremely rough year. There was a traumatic election in America on top of all the death. As for the year to come,there’s no way of knowing who will pass away and when. That might come to a halt in 2017. Hope it does. As for the political trauma,that appears to be the most frightening concern at the moment. My one wish for 2017 and the “undiscovered country” to come after that is that the albums demonstrated here will prove a guiding musical light that will define what America’s people will be seeking-with its grooves and messages.

 

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