Lee Oskar had been a major part of the band War (now known as the Lowrider Band) during their entire run. Aside from Stevie Wonder,he was one of a few funk based artists who emphasized melodic harmonica as a key part of that bands diverse musical repertoire. During 1976,Oskar took a break from War to release a self titled solo album. He had a hit from this record called “BLT”,and it was all successful enough to garner him a solo career of his own coinciding with War’s ongoing career in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Today he’s a renowned player in musicians circles. And he has parlayed his musicianship into other creatively minded ventures over the years.
Two things I didn’t know about him until recently represent these ventures. Henrique Hopkins informed me about Oskar’s line of custom harmonica’s for sale. Starting in 1983,Lee Oskar Harmonica (the company name) has been manufacturing harmonica’s suited for different Western and pan ethnic musical genres. In a manner similar to Joni Mitchell,Oskar is a fine painter with a vivid and colorful way with the paint brush from what I’ve seen. His rich,melodic and soulful approach to his craft came to light on a song from his 1981 solo record entitled My Road,Our Road. It was an extended number that was part of the album title itself entitled “Our Road”.
A sweeping string orchestration begins and ends the song-as a hot horn chart blasts into the main groove. This main groove has War member Harold Brown’s slow,deep in the clave drumming-with Lonnie Jordan’s timbales and Abraham Laboriel’s phat slap bass. At first Oskar duets with the synthesizer of Barnaby Finch. On the second refrain,Gary Grant and Pat Rizzo blows out loud (and somewhat discordant) jazz trumpet and sax solos. On the third chorus,hand claps and backup singers all join in for the title chorus. Everything quiets down midway-as the final half of the song focuses on Oskar’s solo upfront-with the ringing,bell like percussion of Airto Moreira and the vocals of his wife Flora Purim.
Produced by The Family Stone’s drummer Greg Errico,featured on percussion on this song as well,something about this song is very otherworldly. With a handful of it’s members aboard,this is still for all intents and purposes a War song. It has the bands signature bluesy Latin funk throughout it all. For the first half,it drives really hard. On the second,it becomes a more ethereal experience-with Airto and Flora’s Afro-Latin percussion and shamanistic vocal chanting providing a meaningful spiritual vibe. With the slap bass,the Brazilian percussive flavor as well as the blending of dreaminess and reality,this is some of the deepest instrumental funk of the early 80’s.
Filed under 1980's, Abraham Laboriel, Airto Moreira, Barnaby Finch, Brazilian Jazz, clave, drums, Flora Purim, Gary grant, Greg Errico, harmonica, Harold Brown, horns, jazz funk, Lee Oskar, Lonnie Jordan, Pat Rizzo, percussion, Saxophone, slap bass, strings, synthesizer, trumpet, Uncategorized, War
Larry Carlton has already shown up on this blog a year ago. In that case,it was talking about his 2001 solo remake of the Crusaders classic “Put It Where You Want It”,the original of course on which he played on as well. With eight years of recording with such vital instrumental luminaries behind him,Carlton signed with Warner Bros. records in 1977 and began recording his third solo album in his Room 335 studio. There he recorded with fellow session greats such as Paulinho Da Costa and Abraham Laboriel. The this self titled Warner Bros debut finally came out in 1978. It wouldn’t be for another seventeen years that I would pick up a copy on CD and get a chance to hear it.
The album began with a song named after Carlton’s studio. The song had the same basic rhythm and a faster tempo as Steely Dan’s “Peg”. Considering Carlton played on their Aja album the year before,it wasn’t surprising. Much of the album focused on replicating the sounds of many of the people he’d done session work for already. So the album had a very familiar approach to it all. In addition to a stripped down version of the Crusaders classic “Night Crawler”,one song on this album stood out to me for it’s own funky distinction. It was one of those songs I’d go back to over and over upon first picking up this album. It’s called “I Apologize”.
A deep piano chord opens up with the slow paced percussion grooving along. Laboriel’s slap bass plays on those percussive accents. Carlton sings the songs main melody while playing an amp’d up 12 bar blues solo right behind it. On the chorus of the song,the tempo slows into a peddle based,slow swinging jazzy melody featuring the backing harmony vocals of the Canadian rock band Motherlode’s William “Smitty” Smith. On the second verse,an electric piano adds it’s own accents. On the third there’s a full on guitar solo from Carlton before the song cycles up in pitch for the following chorus. The backing vocals of Smith plus Carlton’s guitar soloing close the song out until fade out.
In a similar manner to George Harrison’s “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me”,this song takes a full on 12 bar blues number and gives it a heavy contemporary funk treatment. Considering that funk is every bit as blues based as rock ‘n’ roll, this song has the effect of grooving and rocking hard with a sleek instrumental prescription. Carlton’s singing style presents an easy going smoothness that,while not overtly soulful in attitude certainly allows the rhythmic thickness of this funk to stand out on it’s more instrumental terms. Larry Carlton has certainly recorded some amazing funk over the years-whether it be as a session man,on his own or as a Crusader. And this is one of his strongest grooves for me.
Filed under 1970's, Abraham Laboriel, blues funk, guitar, Larry Carlton, Paulinho Da Costa, session musicians, slap bass, The Crusaders, Uncategorized, William Smitty Smith
Jimmy Smith helped redefine the vocabulary of jazz organ during the hard bop/soul jazz era. With his heavily blues and gospel based approach,his use of the Leslie speaker on his Hammond B-3 organ became defined by distinct clicking tones between each key stroke. This idea of instrumental technique combined with personal finger touch has made Smith’s sound extremely influential among jazz style organists for the remainder of the 20th century. And with bands such as England’s James Taylor Quartet utilizing this approach on the Hammond organ, Smith is along with Roy Ayers one of the main instrumental pioneers of the 1990’s acid jazz sound.
As of today,it’s been five days since Earth Wind & Fire bandleader Maurice White passed away. When I think about it,Maurice and Jimmy Smith were both members of America’s Silent Generation-only on earlier and later ends of it. During the mid 1970’s,Smith’s musical style made yet another transition. This one towards a hard funk oriented sound. Because of his blues roots and love of placing his organ soloing in the context of heavy rhythm,the funk genre was an ideal for Smith to deal with during the late 70’s. Recording both bop and funk for the Mercury label at the time,Smith and Maurice White’s music dovetailed beautifully in 1978 when Smith interpreted the EWF number “Serpentine Fire”.
The lightly fan faring intro of percussionist Stephanie Spruill introduces this groove,over which Smith plays a smooth version of the songs initial melody on his B-3. John Phillips tenor sax and and Nolan Smith’s trumpet play the role of a stripped back Phenix Horns going into Abraham Laboriel’s bass line-itself similar to the bluesy melodic line of Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island”. On the central refrains,Smith plays the chords of the melody very much in classic bop style-with later variations showcasing call and response dialog with the two horns. On the choral links with the scaled up horns,Smith accompanies his own organ with a beautiful round Moog synthesizer bass tone.
Of course EWF had a strong jazz basis at the very core of their sound. When jazz soloists began covering their huge hits during the 70’s,that element really came out a lot more. Jimmy Smith’s take on “Serpentine Fire” from his 1978 album Unfinished Business is a superb example. Not only is he rounding heavily on his bop approach of playing chords, but on many of his solos he’s hammering on the organ in a very aggressively rhythmic sustain. The rhythmic sound of the song is a bit smaller,more live oriented than studiocentric. Of course that allows for Smith’s soloing to take center stage. It also allows for his to be a fantastically funky re-imagining of an Earth Wind & Fire classic.
Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Abraham Laboriel, Acid Jazz, blues funk, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk Bass, Hammond B-3, hard bop, jazz funk, Jimmy Smith, Maurice White, Moog, organ, Phenix Horns, Silent Generation, Uncategorized
With now over four decades in the music business? Melissa Manchester has taken her soulfully theatrical wail of a voice and heavy melodicism as a songwriter from the singer/songwriter,blue eyed soul,new wave and synth pop genres of music. Since she comes from the pop music scene,having had her biggest hit album produced by one time Marvin Gaye producer and fine singer/songwriter in his own right Leon Ware? It’s no surprise that through it all,Manchester would maintain a strong jazziness about her sound as well.
After a decade as an adjunct professor at the USC Thornton musical school,Manchester was encouraged by some of her students to independently raise money for a new album she wanted to record. The album was released in February of 2015 along with a series of club dates to promote it,including a guest appearance on Tavis Smiley’s talk show on PBS. Including a bevy of powerful guests,including the the late Joe Sample,Bronx native Manchester’s title song to her brand new album You Gotta Love The Life really bought her back with a serious musical bang!
Starting off with a persistent kick drum from Mister Abraham Laboriel,the horn section of Tom Evans.Steve Baxter and arranger/trumpet/flugelhorn player Lee Thornburg make a serious rapid fire funky horn proclamation before a groove assisted ably by the bluesy piano of John Proulax,Hammond organ player Steve Welch-all led along by the percussion of Lenny Castro on a pumping dance floor friendly jazzy funk rhythm. On the bridge the rhythm,the piano breaks down to a cymbal based beat after which guitarist Peter Hume takes a fiery jazz/rock solo. After this Manchester’s toughly vocalized chorus kicks right back in and stays there until it comes right into the end with the songs title frankly sung.
With a guest of crackerjack musicians along with backup singers Vangie Gunn and Susan Holder? This song is of the sort that most professional musicians would want to begin their album with. The melody is bold,the rhythm is righteous and the band are absolutely on fire along with the performance of Manchester herself. She sings about devotion to the love of creating and performing music,even through all of the outside struggles that are put upon artists. Stating in the end that it’s all worthwhile since “you’ve gotta love the life”. The uptempo,hard horn packed jazzy funk vibe and the style of choruses,instrumental harmonies and rhythms are also right out of the Crusaders/Stuff/Steely Dan school as well-which also helps matters for the lover of a good groove. An excellent way for Melissa Manchester to launch her comeback album!
Filed under Abraham Laboriel, Bronx, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, John Proulax, Lee Thromburg, Lenny Castro, Leon Ware, Melissa Manchester, PBS, Steely Dan, Steve Baxter, Steve Welch, Stuff, Susan Holder, The Crusaders, Tom Evans, USC Thornton, Vangie Gunn
Singer/songwriter/producer/arranger/preacher Andrae’ Crouch already had a very success career with his group the Disciples during the 70’s before venturing out on a solo career during the early 80’s Always consistent in his ability to be musical mission to really bring out the strong gospel core in modern soul and funk music? Many of the musicians that he was working with during this time were likely bringing him a level of awareness that the danceable soul and funk music was adapting to new and electronic oriented instrumentation during the mid 80’s in particular. It was something any gospel act influenced by these changes would have to face. And bringing some familiar instrumentalists along with him? Crouch dealt with it as he always had.
“Got Me Some Angels” starts off the album with a brittle,new wave inflected sound that’s filled with sharp bass synthesizers and accented by the ever-present electric bass thumping of Abraham Laboriel. “Right Now” combines that same modern touch with the classic uptempo soul shuffle and gospel organ swirls with the vocals of Motown’s Tata Vega for one of the most musically powerful songs (and a personal favorite) from this album. “Jesus Come Lay Your Head On Me” and “Somebody Somewhere Is Prayin’ (Just For You)” are both funky slow jams featuring the sweet vocals of Kristle Edwards. The title song is another bass heavy electro funk number that sounds similar to a religious song the Dazz Band would’ve been comfortable with instrumentally at this time.
“Livin’ This Kind Of Life” is my favorite on here-a slinky jazz-funk groove featuring the late,great Joe Sample on some tasty Fender Rhodes electric piano licks while “His Truth Still Marches On”,”Oh,It Is Jesus” and “Always Remember” are swirling,chorus field gospel ballads in Crouches classic style. The only reason I know anything about Andrae Crouch at all is because my father played this album quite a lot on vinyl when I was a child. Coming from a a non Christian family who never,ever attended church? My father made sure to expose me to gospel music early on-with the idea that it was an integral part of black American culture (especially in terms of the civil rights movement) and that this variety of spirituality was an important part of my own cultural heritage as well. There’s many ways for non Christians to love gospel music. And the funky soulfulness of this 1984 album was how it entered into my own life.
Originally Posted On January 9th,2015
Link to original review here*