Monthly Archives: December 2016

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Send Out For Sunshine” by Heatwave

Heatwave are a band I tend to avoid writing about because of a perceived personal bias. Readers of this blog are well aware of how my moms 8-track copy of their Central Heating album started me on asking serious questions about music. Such as those about songwriting,instrumentation and production. The band members were and (of those still alive) are among the very best of late 70’s disco era funk. Yet this year,we lost the most prominent songwriters for Heatwave with the passing of Rod Temperton. Yet with him an Johnnie Wilder Jr now gone,one member of the band prominent for me is still alive.

Keith Wilder,brother of the late Johnnie,is celebrating his birthday today. It was an exciting day for me when Mister Wilder accepted my friend invite on Facebook. He actually contributed to a number of Heatwave songs I love in the focus department. His voice has similarities to his brothers. Yet was generally in a lower range. And while in Heatwave, Keith’s singing had a gruffer soul/funk attitude about it. That made it ideal for the bands harder edged songs. One of my favorite Heatwave songs is from Central Heating. And its called “Send Out For Sunshine”.

An catchy,up-scaling Clavinet opens before a processed guitar brings the song directly into the refrain. This is an extremely funky lead Clavinet riff on the bassiest end of the instrument,backed up by a thick conga/percussion rhythm. Some heavily filtered,bluesy guitar riffs and occasionally bouncy synthesizer effects accent this mix. Between each refrain,a chunky rhythm guitar plays along. This guitar extends into the chorus along with the strings. On the final choruses,the song moves up a chord while Keith and Johnnie Wilder duet off each other until the song fades away.

“Send Out For Sunshine” is a song that has everything a funk song could offer. The groove is very Afrocentric -especially with Johnnie on conga’s,the Clavinet grooves and rocks at the same time and the rhythm guitar of Eric Johns really brings the song to life. The production sonics on this also have a strong space funk vibe in with the rawer elements-giving it a futurist flavor as well. Lyrically,using what might’ve been seen by some as a drug metaphor really demonstrates the power of natural serotonin  from the sun as a positive element in the often bleak scenario’s painted in the songs lyrics.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, clavinet, Eric Johns, hard funk, Heatwave, Johnnie Wilder Jr., Keith Wilder, Rod Temperton

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Switch On Your Radio” by Maurice White

Maurice White,one of the musical icons who passed away this year,it best known as the founder of Earth Wind & Fire-the most commercially successful of the 70’s funk bands in terms of crossover. On the other hand,the band broke up in 1984. And one of the many reasons brought up was that White had it in his mind that Columbia (the bands record label) were looking for him to do a solo album. This album got released in 1985. Its biggest single was with a (mostly) uptempo version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”. But it still remains something of a footnote in EWF history.

When I first heard the album on vinyl album around 18-20 years ago,am not 100% sure it came off as anything all that exciting. Of course,that could’ve just been a case of seeking something different from it than what it was. And what Maurice White’s self titled (and sole) solo debut does is present a series of electronic,pan African rock/funk/soul fusions with a mild melodic pop new age vibe about them. The EWF message is still intact. Its just going more for an attitude than a sound by a large. The one song that always got my attention strongly was the opener “Switch On Your Radio”.

A totally electronic synth orchestration fades slowly on the intro. Than suddenly the song bursts with a bluesy funk melodic statement. And it has all the instrumental elements of the song itself. The drum machine and Paulinho Da Costa’s percussion play off the guitar,electronic hand clap and slap bass lines with this melodic electro funk wall of sound. This represents the choruses of the songs. On the refrains and the bridge,the mix is somewhat more stripped down to focus on the vocals a bit. An extended chorus with vocal ad lib’s finish out the song as it fades.

“Switch On Your Radio” has a sound that crosses a lot of musical bridges. The overall drum programming of the song has the bigness of sound that was very much of its time. Yet the live percussion accents along with Martin Page slap bass,Marlon McClain’s rock guitar and the ethereal synthesizers of Robbie Buchanan  make for a powerful sound that basically amounts to a progressive dance/funk sound. And the melody has that strong song construction White and Page are so noted for. Its an extension of the EWF sound for sure. And it also pointed to a possible future solo direction for White which didn’t continue.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1985, dance funk, drum machine, Earth Wind & Fire, elecro funk, Marlon McClain, Martin Page, Maurice White, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Robbie Buchanan, rock guitar, slap bass, synthesizer

Christmas is 4 Ever: The Bootsy Collins Holiday Album I Can’t Decide If I Like

bootsycollins-christmasis4ever

Of my many musical guilty pleasures, Christmas music is probably my guiltiest. I have a fascination that borders on the morbid for those silly, disposable albums of festive music popular artists tend to release between the months of September and November, to be listened to (if at all) between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. And while I certainly appreciate the classics–Bing, Elvis, Ella, Phil Spector, the Jackson 5–I almost prefer the also-rans: the goofy ones; the seasonal records few bother listening to and even fewer bother remembering.

The following is a review I wrote ten years ago (!) of one of those records: Christmas is 4 Ever by funk bass legend and real-life cartoon character Bootsy Collins. As you’ll see, I liked it a lot at the time. My opinion on it has fluctuated in the years since; these days, it’s pretty much a crapshoot whether I’ll think it’s a goofy good time or an infernal racket. But that’s the risk of pop Christmas music: depending on your mood, it can be as warm and nostalgic as a mug of hot cocoa or as obnoxious as a string of LED lights on the strobe setting. Sometimes, it can even be both at the same time. I haven’t given Christmas is 4 Ever my annual listen yet, but i think I will this week. Who knows, maybe I’ll finally like it as much as I did 10 years ago:

If anything about Christmas is 4 Ever is an unqualified success, it’s that the album is a blast from beginning to end–something that could probably be ascertained from a mere glance at its ludicrous snowglobe cover art and whimsically spelled track listing, with titles like “Jingle Belz,” “Chestnutz,” and “WinterFunkyLand.” Of course, as anyone who’s bothered to investigate his solo career can attest, Bootsy is nothing if not fun; and when it comes to the campy, cartoonish, but oh-so-heavy fun(k) that is his stock in trade, this Christmas effort does not disappoint. Just try to keep a grin off your face when “Boot-a-Claus” turns in a loose, effortlessly funky rendition of “Jingle Bells,” or when the man once dubbed “Player of the Year” (always the sexiest star in the P-Funk constellation) injects some lascivious eyebrow-wiggling into Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby,” crooning that he’s “about ready to come down your chimney.”

But Bootsy’s addition to the Christmas canon has more going for it than just kitsch appeal. For one thing, like all the best holiday R&B music, his arrangements boast an intuitive, yet unclichéd grasp on the Christmas mood. Boots’ version of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” (here rechristened as “Dis-Christmiss”) manages to conjure up images of snow-frosted windows and toasty firesides while retaining its essential throb and groove; “Silent Night,” while hardly guilty of taking its name literally (how could the Baby Jesus possibly have gotten any sleep with Bootsy slapping his Space Bass all over the other side of the manger?), adds the requisite dose of holiday sentimentality without ever laying it on too thick.

And even when Boots and company aren’t quite capturing the spirit of the season–it’s difficult to imagine the manic jam “Happy Holidaze,” complete with guest appearance by Snoop Dogg, getting much rotation in front of even the funkiest of Christmas trees–Christmas is 4 Ever succeeds in being the best straight-up album Collins has released in years. Not only is the material more consistent than 2002’s B-star studded Play with Bootsy, it just sounds like vintage Bootsy. It has that woozy, anarchic P-Funk clutter of horns, bass, guitars and synths: no doubt due at least in part to the presence of ex-Parliament keyboard legend Bernie Worrell, who rounds out a truly impressive guest list including former J.B.’s leader/trombone player Fred Wesley, ex-Zapp keyboardist Terry “Zapp” Troutman, former Rubber Band members Joel Johnson and Frankie “Kash” Waddy, ex-Funkadelic guitarist Michael Hampton, and soul institution Bobby Womack, as well as Bootsy’s own brother (and funk heavyweight in his own right) Catfish Collins. And if all that wasn’t enough, the songs themselves are littered with self-referential quips: a move typical of latter-day Bootsy, which could have been cloying if it wasn’t so goddamn fun to hear “Bootzilla”‘s indelible “wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind me up!” in its umpteenth incarnation.

Indeed, it may be Christmas is 4 Ever’s firm grounding in Bootsy’s past that makes it such an enjoyable listen, particularly for those who don’t happen to share my perverse love for holiday music. Listen to “Be-With-You” without paying attention to the lyrics and it sounds like exactly what it is: a pitch-perfect remake of the 1976 Rubber Band hit “I’d Rather Be with You,” amped up with Zapp-style Vocodered vocals and just maybe sounding better than ever. But place such autobiographical touches within the context of yuletide nostalgia, and what you have is an album which reflects on holidays past and present even while it serves as a summation of the now 65-year-old (!) Bootsy’s lofty position in popular music history.

Case in point: the legendary funkateer opens “WinterFunkyLand” with “thank you”s to his former mentors James Brown and George Clinton; elsewhere, he dedicates “Chestnutz” (a.k.a. “The Christmas Song”) to the man who made it famous, Nat “King” Cole (also, probably not coincidentally, the first Black man to find a place in mainstream America’s holiday songbook). And that’s where Christmas is 4 Ever really triumphs, both as a Christmas record and as a watermark release for Bootsy himself. With its warmth and sentimentality, the album feels like a stack of season’s greetings addressed to loved ones from years past, inviting us to bask in the glow of friends and family that seems to burn brightest late in the month of December. Granted, that sentiment might come off as a little goopy for some potential listeners–or, you know, pretty much anyone who might be reading this. But if Christmas is about anything, it’s goopiness, and Bootsy has done well to recognize as much.

Besides, what other Christmas album can you name that features a holiday message from reformed pimp/Snoop Dogg “spiritual advisor” Bishop Don “Magic” Juan? I’ll tell you one thing: it sure as hell ain’t Christmas with Perry Como. And that, my friends, is as good a recommendation as any.

Check out Dystopian Dance Party next week for more of my thoughts on recent and vintage Christmas music, including the holiday albums of James Brown and, um, R. Kelly. Happy holidays!

2 Comments

Filed under Bernie Worrell, Bobby Womack, Bootsy Collins, Christmas music, Donny Hathaway, Fred Wesley, James Brown, Snoop Dogg

Anatomy of THE Groove: “I Gitt Around” by Chuckii Booker

Chuckii Booker is one of those artists whose intricate history is equal to the seeming few who have a strong knowledge of him. He was perhaps better known as the musical director,producer and opening act for Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation tour at only 23-24 years old. His talents as multi talented singer/songwriter/producer/multi instrumentalist got him signed as a solo artist to Atlantic in 1988. Not because of his original talents as primarily a bass player. But because execs accidentally listened to the other side of the demo tape that featured his vocals.

If funk/soul music had followed a totally straight line in the late 80’s/early 90’s,Chuckii Booker would likely have been the intermediary step between Prince and D’Angelo. After a couple Top 10 R&B smashes,Booker became regarded as a producer. In that respect touching on the work of artists ranging from Vanessa Williams,his godfather Barry White and EWF alumni Phillip Bailey. It took me a couple decades to go out and pick up Booker’s two solo CD’s. One of them (and his final one to date) was 1992’s Niice ‘N Wiild. One of the songs that’s really gotten my attention off of it is called “I Git Around”.

After a brief moment of party dialog,the main groove of the song sets in. This is a pounding drum machine that hits a very strong,electrified snare drum sound on the second beat. Along with that are two bass lines. One is a pulsing synth bass,the other is “possibly” a live one playing a “duck face” funky wiggle. Booker brings explosive synth strings,horn lines providing a strong “video game” sound along with the bluesy accents of the chorus. Not to mention a chromatic piano walk down playing in and out throughout the song. Just before the song fades,Booker brings in a tough chicken scratch guitar.

The new jack swing style could (and often was) made extremely generic by many in its commercial heyday. Yet Chuckii Booker used this song (along with many of his others) to point out the sub genres roots in 80’s funk. And even with the mildly new jack friendly rhythm,the instrumental toughness and electronic flamboyance is straight up P-Funk. Everything from the instrumentation to the lyric is pretty much a direct extension of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” from a decade before it. Makes one wonder how different 90’s uptempo music might’ve been had it followed this ultra funky model.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1990s, chicken scratch guitar, chromatic walkdown, Chuckii Booker, drum machine, drums, Funk Bass, New Jack Swing, P-Funk, piano, synth bass, synth brass

Anatomy of THE Groove: “California Woman” by Eddie Kendricks

Eddie Kendricks was the one member of the classic Temptations lineup who had a consistently successful solo career. He had many hits,many of them strutting uptempo numbers such as “Keep On Truckin'”,”Boogie Down” and “Girl You Need A Change Of Mind”. Many of these songs were produced by Leonard Caston Jr.  After mixed results with two 1976 albums recorded with Norman Harris,Kendricks turned back to Caston to fully produce his final Motown solo album in 1977 entitled  Slick. One song from the album actually found its way into my musical rotation very heavily this past year.

During this past summer of 2016,I actually took the time to do more bicycle riding. Unlike previous years,decided to take advantage of my phone’s MP3 player to listen to music while on these bike rides. Most of these songs were endowed with an appropriate sense of motion. And all of them were from within the soul/funk/jazz/Latin spectrum of music. During the course of the summer,I brought different songs in and out of this rotation in order to keep things fresh. And one of them was an Eddie Kendricks song that originally concluded his final Motown album. Its called “California Woman”.

A pulsing bass and drum pulse starts the song out-accompanied only by low rumble of strings. Shortly after,a loud vocal chorus scales up into Kendrick’s refrain. Here,the bass the and stomping shuffle of the drums are accompanied by lightly harmonic strings and horns-along with the vocal chorus serving the same function. On the chorus the horns and backup vocalists melodically descend with Kendricks. After a reprise of the intro on the bridge,the chorus of the song repeats for a couple more bars before the song abruptly ends on an outro of a very similar nature to its beginning.

In some ways,this song has some of the hallmarks of Leonard Caston Jr’s productions with Eddie Kendricks from before. The difference here is there isn’t as much focus on the bass/guitar interaction as there is the orchestration. Its basically just the kind of “sound with a good melody” as Kendricks himself preferred-with much care put into the production to make sure the groove was funky and the sweeteners on top had plenty of life to them. The lyrical tale of a “down home lady” becoming a movie star goes beautifully with the music’s strutting “OG” style of cinematic funky soul.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, backup singers, California, cinematic soul, drums, Eddie Kendricks, Funk Bass, funky soul, horns, Leonard Caston Jr., Motown, strings

Funky Stuff-The Best Of The Funk Essentials: The Full Story Of Getting From There To Here

funk-essentials-sampler

One of the most referenced music related events,which has now conceptually spanned two separate music blogs here on WordPress,is the story of how I first became involved in listening to funk. Delivered the story in two little bite sized pieces. And for a long time,it seemed as if there was no problem just keeping it that way. At the same time,I’ve told so many friends on Facebook and such about one little cassette dub of a CD compilation that really did ratify my entire musical focus from that moment on. And that would be hearing the 1993 compilation  Funky Stuff-The Best Of The Funk Essentials for the first time.

Its important to not that the cassette dub I mentioned was not the compilation in the correct order. My father put the songs together by sound more than anything. So the first song I heard on it was Con Funk Shun’s “Chase Me”. My first reaction (at age 14) was something to the effect of “this is very heavy disco” upon first hearing it. No idea who Con Funk Shun were. But it just stirred my creative imagination in a way I cannot explain even now. It reminded me of jazz in its sophistication and melodic changes,but it had this explosive rhythmic power. It was high energy. It was…funk.

Hearing songs such as “Rigor Mortis”,”Jungle Jazz” and “Let’s Start The Dance” for the first time gave me insights into artists that were new for me,such as Bohannon. It also showed me an earlier side of bands such as Cameo who I’d known earlier. And was my first chance to experience pre JT Taylor Kool & The Gang. Needless to say,there was a strong urge for me to seek out these records. Since they were so danceable and singable,the first question I asked myself was “why haven’t I heard a lot of these songs on the radio?”. That led me to the discovery about how fragmented even mid 90’s radio actually was.

The road hearing Funky Stuff led me into a far stronger understanding of the firm racial divide in American popular culture. Personally,I’m about as post civil rights as one could likely be. Being born after the 70’s and at the very start of the Reagan era. In learning about funk based on the literature I sought out after first hearing it,it became apparent why I hadn’t heard 70’s funk on the radio too much. I knew about the presence of the R&B and pop charts. But was unaware of the demographics behind them. In my home state of Maine,there was (and still is) virtually no black population. And therein lay the main issue.

Bands such as Earth Wind & Fire and Motown related groups in the 60’s and early 70’s had successfully crossed over to pop radio,which is nationally available and recognized. Yet many 70’s funk (and certain elements of 80’s hip-hop) tended to remain on R&B (black) radio. And without a strong black population,Maine had no R&B radio. As a largely rural state,it had no urban (often shorthand for R&B) radio either. So the lack of racial diversity where I was created a lack of R&B radio which…created a lack of funk. My father just happened to be deep into black music. That’s the only reason I probably heard funk at all.

Later on of course,I realized funk had always been in my life through its 80’s cross over moments. Michael Jackson,Prince,Cameo had the funk. Even new wave oriented British groups such as Level 42,Eurythmics and Wham! were providing funk based music to me via radio. Just never connected it with that powerful,rhythmic sound until hearing Funky Stuff.  Of course as my understanding of funk music grew,it was when I was high school age and developing my own personality more-which is pretty standard for when musical preferences develop. But it also opened me up to a broader personal understanding too.

Before diving deep into funk,I didn’t have a hugely strong concept of my blackness. As a biracial person,it sometimes seemed more important to my mom (herself mostly black Puerto Rican) that I acknowledge my  Irish back round from my paternal grandmother’s side. As I “went for the funk” as it were,that totally changed. Realized I was actually something now called an Afro futurist. Hearing P-Funk (and later Janelle Monae) really put a strong cap on this understanding. I loved Star Trek and thoughtful science fiction along with funk,soul and jazz. It even resulted in new and thriving friendships.

Henrique Hopkins,with whom I started Andresmusictalk,met me all because of funk. He saw my Amazon.com customer reviews of funk albums during 2006. And the result is now a decade of friendship. And learning more about the complexities of America’s racial understandings from him than I could’ve ever imagined. This hasn’t always made for great harmony in my life. But it did initiate change and evolution. Now I am in the processing of trying to pass on this broader cultural understanding to my closest friends and family. And it all started with one cassette dub of a funk compilation.

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Black History, compilation albums, Funk Essentials, funk music

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Fishnet” by Morris Day

Morris Day has a long and storied history with the Minneapolis sound. Again,blogging partner Zach Hoskins pulled this all together so well in his overview of The Time. He was originally in the local band Grand Central with Prince and Andre Cymone. After that,he was a member of a band called Enterprise. During the early 80’s,he was considered to be part of Prince’s spin off band The Time-at which time he went from being a drummer to being a lead singer for the group. Needless to say his persona as the flashy,pimped out OG helped give The Time their performance personality.

After The Time originally broke up in 1984 (they’d reunite 7 years later),Day began a solo career starting in 1985 with his debut album The Color Of Success.  A couple of years later he released his follow up sophomore solo album entitled The Color Of Success. Had this album for years on vinyl but never listened to it much,until earlier this year. It was also around that time that I learned it didn’t do too well commercially. Still,there were a handful of songs on the album that still stood out as highly funkified moments. One of them was actually a hit entitled “Fishnet”.

A heavy,kicking drum shuffle starts out the song. A mix of synthesized and electric slap bass segue right into the main chorus of the song. That consists of a high pitched orchestral synths along with lower synth horns. On the refrains of the song,those are stripped out for what sounds like a low organ style rumble. This is accompanied by a piano playing a bouncing chromatic walk down up with Day’s vocals. There’s a heavy rock guitar solo that comes in as kind of a bridge on the middle chorus. The synth brass,Day himself and the piano all improvise in and out of that chorus until the song ends on applause.

“Fishnet” is one of my favorite Morris Day solo jams. Part of the reasoning for that is how it spans two eras of funky music. At the end of the day,its a Minneapolis take on the DC go go sound. And then cut down to a 6 minute song rather than the sometimes hour long go go jams. On the other hand,it has a jazzy vibe that kid of goes along with some of the jazz/hip-hop styled new jack swing songs that would become huge in a couple of years.Still,its synth brass and phat (often punishing) funky rhythms keep it going along with the most cutting edge Minneapolis funk of 1987.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under 1987, drums, go-go funk, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, rock guitar, slap bass, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E

Sheila E has been written about so well by blogger on here Zach Hoskins,in his segment about Prince’s female protege’s. Her back story is so well known,and that pulled it all together. It was my mom who gleefully encouraged me to pick up Sheila’s debut The Glamorous Life on CD on a 1997 visit to Rochester,New York. She has never been someone too emphatic about recommending music. But on this one,she was very insistent. Hearing the song had me interesting in hearing as much Sheila E as existed at the time. And luckily within the next 6-7 years,I had all her output up to that point.

In the immediate post Purple Rain period,Prince began pursuing a far jazzier style of music. He began augmenting the Revolution with horns-starting with sax player Eric Leeds. And the music he was producing for (and with) his proteges was really starting to reflect this. The songs continued to stretch out in length too. One such song was one Prince had recorded in August 1985. And it was actually done in very close collaboration with Sheila as well. It was the final track on the first side to her 1985 LP Romance 1600. It was called “A Love Bizarre”.

Prince’s classin LINN LM-1 with the flanger filter effect starts out as the main rhythm for the entire song. Than his round,popping synth bass comes in just before Sheila’s percussion. Eric Leeds’ presence on the song takes two forms. First there’s him playing the main vocal chorus of the song pretty much by rote. Than he continues with a jazzy improvisation throughout the rest of the song. Matt Bliston joins him of a very Sly & The Family Stone pitch dip on some of the rhythmic accents of the song. Prince provides a West Montgomery like guitar solo as the song finally fades out.

The central rhythm to “A Love Bizarre” is very basically funky. But its the many instrumental touches that add the bite to this driving groove. There are musical ideas from all across the spectrum of classic funk in the 60’s and 70’s. There’s the jazzy soloing on the final half of the 12+ minute opus. Also Prince’s guitar solo starts playing the melody for “Frere Jacques” on the bridge of the song. That rounds out to this being a strong collaborative effort between Sheila E.,Prince and his growing band. At the same time,its got that Minneapolis funk touch that just never quits.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1985, Eric Leeds, horns, jazz funk, jazz guitar, Linn Drum, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Saxophone, synth bass

The Funky History Lesson of Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic

bruno-mars-24k-magic

I have a confession to make: I like the new Bruno Mars album, 24K Magic. I like it a lot, actually. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s maybe the most pure, uncomplicated fun I’ve had with a record all year.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, that isn’t such a controversial statement. A lot of people like 24K Magic: it debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 when it was released last month, and the accompanying world tour sold over a million tickets less than 24 hours after they went on sale. A lot of people like Bruno Mars, too: the dude’s already performed at the Super Bowl twice, and he’s barely over 30 years old. But in today’s hyper-segmented pop music market, there’s a kind of shame that comes with admitting you like an artist with such mass appeal. Bruno Mars is the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte of music; by admitting I like him (or PSLs), I forfeit the air of aesthetic superiority that is the lifeblood of every hipster and amateur critic alike.

But hey, like all amateur critics and hipsters, I have a fragile ego, so let me try to explain myself. 24K Magic is a fun, hooky record, but it’s also a history lesson; and, as it turns out, making musical history lessons fun and hooky might just be Bruno Mars’ calling. Mars is a talented songwriter, singer, and (especially) performer, but his real brilliance is as a mimic: think back, for example, to his 2012 appearance on Saturday Night Live, when he became a human Pandora playlist with spot-on impersonations of everyone from Michael Jackson to Green Day. That skit was basically a microcosm for Mars’ whole schtick; his influences are as heterogeneous and easy to pick out as they come, from the Michael Jackson and James Brown moves he spent his early career pilfering to his more recent, post-“Uptown Funk” incarnation as a post-hip-hop Morris Day.

The beauty of 24K Magic is that its influences all sound fresh and contemporary, despite the fact that they’re of anywhere from 25 to 40 years vintage. The title track, for example, is pure Zapp, right down to the little synthesizer drop on the chorus (a direct quote from the beginning of 1982’s “I Can Make You Dance“). “Finesse” is straight out of the Bobby Brown/New Edition playbook. And the delightfully cheeky “Perm” is James Brown filtered through the aforementioned Morris Day and the Time. All of these sounds are perfectly viable for contemporary listeners; I should know, I listen to them pretty much exclusively every summer. But they’re all sorely missing from the current music landscape, and I for one am thrilled to see somebody bringing them back to the mainstream.

Of course, the typical critical backhand against this kind of “throwback” music is that it’s stultifying nostalgia, more interested in looking back at the past with misty eyes than in pushing things boldly forward. But I think the “history lesson” term I used earlier is more apropos. Bruno Mars’ take on ’80s and ’90s R&B never sounds stodgy or conservative; it lacks even the grumpy-young-man purism that is sometimes evident in Dam-Funk‘s work. Mars is clearly just having a blast, and making sure the listener does too; I guarantee that there’s a sizable segment of his audience that neither knows nor particularly cares that he isn’t doing anything Roger Troutman didn’t already do. Pop music is a young person’s game, and it is (for now, at least) inseparable from capitalism’s endless parade of novelty. There are, of course, plenty of obsessives out there willing to dig through its history–several of them either reading or writing for this very blog!–but the truth of the matter is, the only way to introduce most listeners to sounds from the past is to deliver them again in a shiny new package. 24K Magic is new, and it’s as shiny as the gold alloy from which it takes its name. And if it gets even a handful of millennials to do a little digging in their local record store’s R&B section, then that’s even better.

3 Comments

Filed under 2010's, 2016

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Stepping Into Tomorrow” by Donald Byrd

Donald Byrd is one of my favorite musicians during the 70’s Blue Note era especially. The Detroit native replaced the late,great Clifford Brown in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers after a stint in the US Air Force. After launching his career as a band leader in the late 50’s,Byrd’s became Blue Notes equivalent of Miles Davis in terms of transitioning from acoustic bop jazz to fusion. Along the way,he also helped launch one of jazz-funk’s seminal bands in The Blackbyrds. His mid 70’s collaborations with the Mizell brothers Larry and Fonce are actually in a class by themselves too.

Around 12 years ago,I began to listen heavy to both the Blackbyrds and Donald Byrd’s mid 70’s jazz-funk recordings. This came from my dad playing the music of Madlib for me. Now this is a DJ/musician/producer/rapper who loved 70’s Blue Note. And focused a lot on Byrd’s music from that period. It was through DJ/musician Nigel Hall and his radio show at WMEB in Orono,Maine that I learned where to find one of my favorite pieces Madlib had used,since I wasn’t accustomed to first hearing classic funk songs via samples. Turning out that the song in question was the 1974 album title track “Stepping Into Tomorrow”.

A thunder-like sound opens into the song. The main groove is established right away. This is a slow,percussive drum from Harvey Mason,a melody setting bass line from Chuck Rainey,Larry Mizell’s ARP strings and Byrd’s trumpet. As the vocals of Byrd and a trio of female backup singers harmonize on the choruses,a minor chord intro then extends into a series of solos. First Byrd on trumpet,then Gary Bartz’s sax and finally Jerry Peters’ organ. The main chorus/intro/refrain parts repeat to,with a number of psychedelic,synthesized sonics until the song fades out.

“Stepping Into Tomorrow” is one of those truly democratic jazz/funk numbers. Instrumentally,it was a dream team of the finest of jazz/funk players in that area. And each one is performing at some of their finest on this groove. Its a strong enough groove to stand on its own. Yet it can be sampled all on its own in a way that doesn’t destroy its special musical qualities. Its the songs elasticity that represents its strongest quality. While I personally feel original funk songs should be searched for on their own rather than via samples,whatever method one uses to get to this funk will be its own reward.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1974, 70's Blue Note, ARP string ensemble, Chuck Rainey, Donald Byrd, drums, Fonce Mizell, Funk Bass, Gary Bartz, Harvey Mason, jazz funk, Jerry Peters, Larry Mizell, organ, Saxophone, trumpet