Category Archives: 1980’s

Dystopian Dance Party presents Jheri Curl June: Stevie Wonder’s “Love Light in Flight”

It’s a well-known fact that most white music critics don’t “get” ’80s Stevie Wonder. And for a long time, I was no exception: I took as gospel the truism that it was all downhill for Stevie after Hotter Than July, and I levied what I considered to be the appropriate amount of scorn on his material from the era. You know that scene in High Fidelity where Barry throws the guy out of the store because he wants to buy “I Just Called to Say I Love You?” That was basically me.

But with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes a less snobby attitude toward popular culture. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” But I’m not too proud to say that I love another song from Wonder’s much-reviled 1984 soundtrack to The Woman in Red, “Love Light in Flight”–how could any self-respecting Jheri Curl fan not? Like another song I wrote about for Jheri Curl June this year–“Ooh Love” by Kashif–it’s a stellar example of a new subgenre I pulled out of my ass called “sophisticurl”: you can picture it being played at a yacht party, with discreetly jheri-curled attendees wearing Coogi sweaters and clinking their champagne glasses. It’s genteel, but indelibly funky: a vibe that Stevie Wonder nailed effortlessly in his middle years. And it doesn’t even require an appreciation of poorly-aged Gene Wilder comedies to enjoy!

As I explained back at the beginning of the month, I’ll be posting highlights from my blog Dystopian Dance Party’s annual celebration of ’80s R&B, Jheri Curl June, every Saturday this month (so, one more next week!). For more, you can visit Dystopian Dance Party every weekday.

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Filed under 1980's, 1984, Kashif, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized

A Few Words on Public Enemy, 30 Black History Months In

It’s almost too fitting that the anniversary of Public Enemy’s debut album should fall during Black History Month. For people like me–’90s kids from majority-white towns where “Black History” meant half a class period on George Washington Carver every February–Public Enemy was our connection to an invisible history of Black radical thought: from Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois to Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton. Their music opened me up to ideas I didn’t even know existed; ideas that, in the wilderness of White (supremacist) America, were truly life-altering. Discovering P.E. as a teenager was an experience as radicalizing as discovering punk rock; more so, in fact, because they represented a threat to racial hegemony that even the likes of the Clash did not. They were insurrection in musical form, with a visceral cut-and-paste aesthetic that continues to sound cutting-edge to this day.

None of that, of course, was the point of Public Enemy. More than any other rap group of their era, P.E. was music by and for Black people; the radicalized white kids like me were collateral damage. But I can only speak from my experience, as someone for whom Fear of a Black Planet and, especially, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were an introduction to an entirely new kind of politics, a new way of seeing the world. If nothing else, I have Public Enemy to thank for introducing me to a rich canon of African American literature and art: to Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and for that matter to James Brown, John Coltrane, and Gil Scott-Heron. Without that initial spark of interest I felt the first time I heard “Bring the Noise,” I might have missed out on a whole universe of ideas that have made me a definitively better person.

Granted, not everything about the group has aged well. Public Enemy may have exposed millions of listeners like myself to Black Power and the Panthers, but they also regurgitated a lot of less progressive influences: the anti-Semitism and homophobia of Louis Farrakhan, most famously, along with a host of conspiracy theories and pseudo-history that contemporary listeners are likely to file away as Hotep bullshit. Their politics are more akin to a firebrand anarchist zine than a well-reasoned essay–which is probably why they appealed more to my teenage self than they do to me as an adult. But there will always be a place for firebrands, and P.E. were as incendiary as they came: it was what made us sit up and listen in the first place. And in early 2017–a time when racism in America is arguably the worst it’s been in my lifetime–their fire might just be needed more than ever.

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Filed under 1980's, 1987, 1988, conscious rap, James Brown, John Coltrane, Malcolm X, Public Enemy, rap

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Time Out Of Mind” by Grover Washington Jr.

Grover Washington Jr. has often been referred to as one of the main progenitors of smooth jazz. This term extended from the softer toned end of 70’s and 80’s jazz/funk fusion. Grover always was a master of subtlety as a player. On the other hand,music production basically turned “smooth jazz” into a sub genre. And one that basically robbed the instrumentation of its vitality. Still,that music still reduced down to jazz/funk at its base. Especially when smooth jazz groups/soloists performed live. Towards the end of the 80’s,I tended to see Grover caught up in this musical conundrum.

When Grover passed away in 1996,I’d honestly started to forget about him. It wasn’t too long after that did I notice a new interest in his early to mid 70’s albums and songs such as “Mister Magic” and the first 70’s era Grover Washington Jr. song I heard “Lock It In The Pocket”. In  the years to come,I started to pay some more attention to Grover’s mid to late 80’s music that I’d tended to ignore whenever it showed up in record stores pre owned CD/vinyl bins. One such album was his 1989 release Time Out Of Mind. Never occurred to me until last night that the title song was a Steely Dan cover version.

A steady 4/4 dance beat on drums starts the song,accentuated by percussive congas. After this,the main keyboard line comes in on a ringing synthesizer. Accompanying that is a a gentle,bluesy guitar solo playing what was originally Walter Becker’s guitar line. Grover himself plays Donald Fagen’s lead vocal part on sax-adding many lyrical touches. On the choruses,he’s joined by a group of female backup singers. After a couple repeat plays of the songs bridge,Grover’s improvisations on sax take over much of the last minute or two of the song before it fades out on the chorus.

Steely Dan’s songs were always ripe (and perhaps even designed) for interpretation by jazz instrumentalists. And this cover is a very good example. It has some of the milder production elements of smooth jazz that were just beginning to occur in the late 80’s and early 90’s. For example,the guitar and keyboard parts aren’t quite as brisk and crisp as they were on the original. On the other hand,the bluesy jazziness that defines the songs content is brought right to life by Grover’s soloing. And even the rhythm section backing it up. So it ends up being a quality example of Grover Washington Jr’s latter period.

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, Donald Fagen, drums, Grover Washington Jr., jazz funk, percussion, Saxophone, smooth jazz, Steely Dan, synthesizer, Walter Becker

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Joy & Pain” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly

Maze are one of the early 70’s Bay Area groups whose sound has really taken different directions as I grew. At first,Maze were presented as a late 70’s band (brought into the music industry at the encouragement of Marvin Gaye) who somehow represent the epitome of anti disco soul music. For the most part,I discovered quite a lot of their music was very bare bones mid tempo and slow jams. And as Henrique Hopkins pointed out,not really related to the musical vitality so important to funk music.  As with the very bluesy and folksy Bill Withers before them,Maze come off now as predecessors to neo soul.

What the craggy (and very distinctive) voiced Frankie Beverley and Maze do have is a strong sense of song craft and thoughtful lyrics. Its not a particularly youthful sound though. Its what a lot of people now call “grown folks music”.  Rickey Vincent aptly referred to them as a “soul band”. Maze’s lyrical content is generally philosophizing in the manner of an adult whose kind of “seen it all” as they say. Sometimes the mood is joyous. Sometimes somber. And always reflective. A good example of their music that actually got a significant groove going to it was the title song to their 1980 album entitled  Joy And Pain.

A Brazilian tingled drum with electronic hand claps start off the song. For the next 1 minute and 50 seconds Fender Rhodes,a ten note bass line,Beverly’s rhythm guitar and harmonic layers of melodic and string synthesizer build slowly into the arrangement before Beverly’s vocals. This represents the main body of the song-save for a bridge where the string synthesizer leads a jazzier melodic movement. On the choruses,backup vocals assist Beverley. All the while with a group of chirping,bird like synthesizers tweeting in and out of the mix. This chorus extends to fade out the song.

As with most uptempo Maze songs,the production is bare bones. What gets me about this song is the electronic touches that serve to give the song some musical life to it. The melody has a lot of jazzy harmonies to it. And the fairly unadorned instrumentation helps accent its vocal/lyrical showcase. Lyrically,this song does impress me personally. Its basically Beverly musing on different variations of the chorus that says “joy and pain are like sunshine and rain”. In the end its not at all cynical because,as it points out,things we love give us so much pain is due to a matter of two sides of the same coin.

 

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", 1980's, Frankie Beverly, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Neo Soul, soul band

Kool & The Gang,By Any Other Name,Still Have The Groove

Kool & The Gang are one of a handful of bands whose music shaped the way I perceive music. They first did so with their early 80’s hits,which were newer in the years I growing up. Their 70’s era music had a similar effect when I was in my mid teens. During the 70’s,the were a jazzy funk band heavy on instrumentals. And with a trade off based collective vocal approach. In the 80’s,they’d turned into a hook filled post disco/funk pop band with lead singer J.T. Taylor. And they returned sporadically with other approaches after that. Each era was its own thing musically. But they were always Kool & The Gang.

With that being my own view on it,it really took me by surprise when reading Rickey Vincent’s book Funk! in the late 90’s that Kool & The Gang were seen by some as a band who’d gone “far beyond devoid of funk”. Opinions are opinions of course. But ever since that time,especially after going online,its a topic that I’ve wanted to explore with different people. And it would seem Vincent’s viewpoint is shared by many people who admire Kool & The Gang. Even apparently among some members. Today,I’m not writing to counter anyone’s opinion. Simply seeking to pull the whole situation together.

The band came together in 1964 when a group of high school friends,among them Robert and Ronald Bell,formed an instrumental group called the Jazziacs. Changing their names to Kool & The Flames,the replaced that word with “gang” to avoid confusion with James Brown’s backup vocal group. Signing with Dee Lite records in 1969,the band actually began to record a series of albums that showcases a percussive,horn based jazz/funk sound that had JB himself referring to the band as “the second baddest out there”,next to him of course.

Songs such as “Hollywood Swinging”,”Jungle Boogie” and “Funky Stuff” even crossed over onto the pop charts. 1974’s “Summer Madness” impressed Sylvester Stallone enough that it was used in the first Rocky movie. The bands 1976 hit “Open Sesame”,an middle Eastern influenced disco/funk groove,actually became part of the blockbuster  Saturday Night Fever  soundtrack. Kool & The Gang’s place in the pantheon of funk and now the disco scene was officially established. One thing that Kool & The Gang still lacked by the end of the 70’s though was a lead singer fronting them.

The same year as Saturday Night Fever, the band released a new album entitled  The Force. By this time,the female vocal quartet of  Beverley Owens, Cynthia Huggins, Joan Motley and Renee Connell were essentially acting as the bands lead voices. And the male group members,who once shared the leads,often did more backup vocals. 1978’s Everybody’s Dancing,as with its predecessor,was not a commercial success. But it did find the band creating a more pop oriented atmosphere with a sound that didn’t deviate much from their “Open Sesame” era sound.

Kool & The Gang’s 1977-78 albums were two of the most important albums in their musical evolution. Though not everyone realized that because they had no major single to anchor them in the public eye. By the end of the 70’s,Kool & The Gang actually had a commercially and creatively workable sound to deal with. But they needed a hit. And to do that,they’d need a lead singer. Enter North Carolina native James “JT” Taylor. He joined the band right around the time they began working with Brazilian jazz/funk producer Eumir Deodato to complete the alteration of their sound.

Deodato was deep in his disco period by 1979. Especially in his love of instrumental filters and singable melodies. The result of this new configuration for Kool & The Gang resulted in “Ladies Night”,their first R&B/crossover hit in several years. It had a strong funky strut to the groove. And also had a very melodic,singable chorus. The song was a smash,they had a follow up in the slower jam “Too Hot”,JT Taylor was a major success as a lead singer. And next up was their best known pop hit,1980’s “Celebration”.

Recently I learned the band didn’t particularly like that song. With one or two people I’ve talked to citing it as having more of a country pop influence than anything. On Kool & The Gang’s four albums produced by Deodato,hits such as “Get Down On It” and “Big Fun” were catchy,horn heavy pop funk pieces. Album tracks such as “Stand Up And Sing” and “Street Kids” (one of my personal favorites) dealt with lean,mean boogie funk with deep and dirty bass/guitar/keyboard riffing. After 1982,Deodato moved on. And so did Kool & The Gang.

The bands 1983 album In The Heart and its 1984 follow up Emergency showcased Kool & The Gang as mainly doing pop crossover material. Some with a pronounced new wave influence-even to the point of adding rock guitar solos. Still both of these albums contained funk oriented tunes such as “Rollin'”,”You Can Do It”,”Surrender” and even the hit “Fresh”. On their 1986 album Forever,some of the music leaned more towards danceable freestyle funk. But they were now using synthesized horns. And after this,their sound really wasn’t as strongly rooted anymore. Especially in terms of funk.

Many of the strongest and historic bands and soloists in black American music (Miles Davis for example) have a number of distinct creative periods. Some are motivated by desire to grow musically. Others are motivated by desire for commercial success. in Kool & The Gang’s case,it would seem both factors were in play. Their musical sound only ran out of steam when they’d been recording and touring non stop for over 20 years. And that’s perfectly understandable. Now personally,do I feel with all this being said that JT Taylor era Kool & The Gang was lacking in funk? Absolutely not.

To be frank,a degree of the criticism against 80’s Kool & The Gang has some of the ingredients that go into the making of jazz snobbery. The band brought a lot of collective improvisation into their sound. And along with it came a strong spiritual identity and a sexually implicit sense of humor. Often times when any group celebrated for their musically improvisational ability begin offering straighter melodies,such a group can find themselves looked down upon as no longer being artists. Of making music only for the purpose of financial gain. In short,becoming sellouts.

Because of their successful jazzy funk of the early/mid 70’s,Kool & The Gang have indeed seem to have met with a similar fate to other jazz improvisers,such as the aforementioned Miles Davis, who tweaked their sounds to get more people into their music. Kool & The Gang’s music was always about reaching people from the get go. But as it is in life,people’s musical tastes and interests changed. And so did the band. I applaud Kool & The Gang for so successfully reinventing their funk. Perhaps it will be the passage of time that will show more love for the reinvention of the original scientists of sound.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Disco, Eumir Deodato, jazz funk, Jersey City, Kool & The Gang, pop-funk, Robert Kool Bell, Ronald Bell

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

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: ‘Nard’ by Bernard Wright (1981)

'Nard

After hearing “‘Nard” the one definitive impression you’ll have is that New York pianist Bernard Wright has a large number of musical influences ranging from Herbie Hancock,George Duke,Lenny White and of course Dave Grusin (his producer) and Miles Davis.But one thing the 16 year old musician does very well is find unique and creative ways of gathering his influences into his own special kind of musical sound.

Released on vinyl in 1981 on GRP “‘Nard” is at it’s core a funk-jazz album,but all that means is that the backup has a rhythmic R&B style over which Wright plays very memorable and often improvised solo’s on his acoustic piano,Fender Rhodes and sometimes the occasional synthesizer.But only on the spiky funk of “Just Chillin’ Out” and “We’re Just The Band” do synths play that big a part.

“Master Rocker”,”Spinnin'”,”Firebolt Hustle” and the jamming “Bread Sandwiches” are all based on a chunky backup of guitars,rhythms and often sudden melodic exchanges,that plus the comically absurd vocals of “Haboglabotribin'” brings up the George Duke connection.The general sound (especially on the one ballad in Weldon Irvine’s “Music Is The Key” showcases Bernard Wright as an artist with a firmly established 1970’s-based sound..

The electronic and glossy sheen of 1980’s style jazz-funk an R&B in general are not to be found in huge doses on ‘Nard’.But thanks I’m sure to poor promotion on GRP’s part this album (and artist in general) have gone almost forgotten until this CD reissue.I brought it only on customer recommendation and I couldn’t be more pleased with what I heard.And despite it’s often hefty price tag ‘Nard’ will be more then worth the investment.I recommend it not only as an ear pleasing guidebook for other aspiring young musicians but to any fan of late 70’s/early 80’s transitional jazz-funk in general.

Originally Posted On November 15th,2004

Link To Original Review Here!

 

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Bernard Wright, Dave Grusin, Fender Rhodes, GRP Records, jazz funk, Music Reviewing, piano, synthesizer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Monster Man” by Jeff Lorber Fusion

Jeff Lorber has remained one of the major jazz/funk keyboard players whose continued through the smooth jazz era by remaining consistently funky. Music will always change. And artists will have to change with it. Lorber has realized that as long as he keeps the rhythms tough and strong,and his solos jazzy and hummable,that the jazz/funk/fusion sound he’s now a veteran of,he can modernize his sound but keep its basic flavors intact. This is something he’s shown with his recent comebacks. On the other hand,his grooves hit a fevered pitch in the early 1980’s.

About 12 years ago when discovering Jeff Lorber’s albums from approximately 1980 to 1986, it came to me how much he was able to do with in the time period when analog based synthesizers were transitioning to digital ones. This also arrived at the same time that the Jeff Lorber Fusion were beginning to focus on heavy rhythm along with improvised instrumental soloing. That played a big part in their final album together for almost 30 years entitled Galaxian. The opening track of this album is one of the best examples of this that I can think of. It was called “Monster Man”.

The thick drums and slap bass start out the song before a fruity voice does a short rap at the beginning-while the bass burbles with an accenting rhythm guitar beneath him. After this,Donnie Gerrard’s vocals come in. And each of his vocals lines is accented by the horn charts from Jerry Hey. This represents the chorus of the song. On the refrains,Lorber’s keyboards lead a group lead the harmony vocals. On the bridge of the song,the drums take on a Brazilian flavor as the slap bass gets a duetting solo from non other than Stanley Clarke himself before the song fades out on the main theme.

‘Monster Man” is indeed a heavy funk monster. The bass leads the way from beginning to end. And the entire song never takes its eyes off the groove. I dare say it is the most thoroughly funky song Jeff Lorber made in the 1980’s. I’m not entirely sure if Stanley Clarke plays all the bass lines here,or is accompanying bassist Danny Wilson (who plays on the rest of the album) on this song. Either way,its still one of those “bass in your face” songs where the funk is very accessible to identify. Since Lorber is celebrating his birthday today,this is just the song I’d personally chose to represent his groove.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Donnie Gerrard, drums, horns, jazz funk, Jeff Lorber, Jeff Lorber Fusion, Jerry Hey, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Stanley Clarke, synthesizer