Category Archives: Acid Jazz

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Chanting” by Rasa

Henrique and myself were chatting online a couple of days ago about a favorite recurring topic between us. And that topic is funk music in every section of the record store. I remarked that it was unlikely that there would be any funk in a stores new age section. Henrique answered me with this video,featuring a song by a group known as Rasa. He described the album as consisting primarily of Hare Krishna chanting. This lead to the conclusion that new age music was a conceptual idea as opposed to a musical genre. Of course hearing new age music as being mostly piano based,it never occurred to me that new age themes are common in a lot of the funk I love.

After doing a bit of research via an article done  four years ago by Wax Poetics magazine,it turns out that Rasa was the brainchild of Christian oriented funk/soul artist Eugene McDaniels son London. He went to a  Krishna temple with his teenage brother Chris at the advice of their mother-during the time London was studying at the Berklee College Of Music. A few of the temple heads managed to convince the brother to record an album of contemporary Hare Krishna music. It has apparently become a favorite among crate digging DJ’s/hip-hop samplers. The song that introduced into all of this,courtesy of Henrique is actually entitled “Chanting”.

Roger Panansky’s round bass synthesizer starts things out playing along with Anthony Jackson’s electric bass guitar tones. As well as the slow paced percussive drumming of Webb Thomas. London’s JB style rhythm guitar comes in on the main refrains,while the horns of  (featuring Randy Brecker) melodically assist on the choruses. There is a two second break before a fluttering,round electric bass solo from Jackson bubbles up like instrumental champagne on the bridge-again with Brecker and sax player George Young playing call and response on their horns. These instrumental exchanges are accented by electric piano. The chorus and refrain repeat themselves until the song fades out.

This song is a wonderfully grooving jazz/funk piece,with a strong rhythmic thump and a full emphasis on the bass. Whether it be from a bass guitar or a synthesizer. The lead singer on this Vakresvara Pandit sings in a manner very similar to Jamiroquai’s Jason Kay. So this ends up being the type of spiritually inclined funk that would be the bass musical medium of the acid jazz/funk movement a couple of decades later. Though this album was apparently only ever sold at Krishna temples and events,it really fascinates me at the possibility that this famous offshoot of Vaishnaism based spirituality would chose “people music” funk as it’s own gospel. As it stands,it’s top notch late 70’s melodic jazz/funk!

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Filed under 1970's, Acid Jazz, Anthony Jackson, bass synthesizer, Berklee College Of Music, Chris McDaniels, crate digging, drums, Funk Bass, George Young, Hare Krishna, horns, jazz funk, London McDaneils, Randy Brecker, Rasa, Uncategorized, Wax Poetics magazine, Webb Thomas

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Serpentine Fire” by Jimmy 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.

 

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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

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 5/29/2015: “Fake Future” by Allen Stone

I’ve actually written on an Amazon.com review,which I posted on this blog in fact, about the Washington State native Allen Stone. He’s a rather interesting artist in many ways. His creative themes have a certain level of uncertainty and ennui that’s often inherent in the Northwest US bred alternative music scene of the past twenty years. But they also posses his funky soul musical calling’s fuller level of hope,love,caring and emotional expression. These qualities all came together wonderfully on his second full (self titled and released) album. Which was the first I’d ever heard of the man.

After a year or so of writing and recording a series of songs? He finally emerged with his third album Radius. While his love of the groove is sincere and honest? Most of the songs on the album didn’t move me enough on a positive musical level to buy it. Always felt that the most successful funk and soul come from a synergy of factors coming together to create hard grooving fire. While previewing these songs? There was one that actually leaped out as being the type of jam that successfully communicated Stone’s intention. It is entitled “Fake Future”.

The drum introduces the basic groove-with is a powerful boogie funk groove that’s presented very sparely. There a grinding,popping bass line is presented as an upfront melodic element with the bluesy funk choral body of the song. This is accented by some higher pitched Fender Rhodes piano solos. There’s a refrain that has some of that Afrocentric/Arabic style ascending/descending melody. All of these instrumental movements are punctuated rhythmically by bursts of strings-perhaps of the electronically simulated variety. These fade out the song as they slip off into the echoplex.

It’s a very short song at just under three minutes. Yet the groove has so many vital sources. Musically it has the vibe of the 90’s acid jazz/funk revivalism of bands like Jamiroquai,Brand New Heavies and DAG. Lyrically it could very possibly come from a twin creative consciousness within Stone himself. The core of the song is a right on time message about the vital importance of instrumentalists. Especially with lyrics such as “what good is my microphone if I don’t really sing?/What good is my music if it ain’t really me?”

Now the other side to these important rhetorical questions come when Stone is actually seeking possible answers to them. He’s beginning the song asking current musicians to chuck their laptops,lights,glitter and cash crop. Also citing himself as being on creative life support. The chorus points to recent concerns that much recent history will be lost due to lack of physical media in the online age. That serves to make this a musically clear cut post disco/funk groove that thematically contrasts the need for true creative expression and the mild paranoia that may come with what Prince refers to as “art official age”. So this groove presents a lyrical conversation more than worth having.

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Filed under 2015, Acid Jazz, Allen Stone, Brand New Heavies, disco funk, Funk, Funk Bass, Jamiroquai, post disco

Herbie Hancock: A Tribute To The Electronic Headhunter

Herbie Hancock Secrets

Celebrating the 75th birthday today? I began to realize the breadth and variety of the fantastic musical career of Mister Herbert Jeffrey Hancock.  From working with Donald Byrd very early on to his recent work with nu jazz artist Flying Lotus? Herbie has been much like his former employer Miles Davis in the sense that he has taken his own style as a pianist/keyboardist through a number of distinctly different musical periods.

Realizing that my knowledge of Herbie’s music lays mainly in his electric period? It became quickly apparent that there are actually a number of musical period’s in and of themselves during this one particular period. So I am going to present to you album reviews I’ve done for his music. With one album representing each different period of Herbie Hancock’s electric period which extended over three decades. Hope you all enjoy it!

The Blue Note Years

The Prisoner (1969)-Blue Note

Well,there’s no doubt that the last couple of years of the 60’s certainly provided a fertile musical ground for a jazz musician to create in. There were so many culturally/sociological transitions occurring at the same it,the importance of improvisation in general was paramount. Herbie Hancock himself was in a similar state of transition during 1969. He was easing himself out of Miles Davis’s 60’s era Quintet. And both he and Miles were about to about to enter into the world of electric jazz-making inroads into that area that were similar songs with a different tune-to extend on that little metaphor. For this album Herbie was playing with a 10 piece big band that included the likes of bassist Buster Williams,flutist Huber Laws,drummer Tootie Heath and saxophone extraordinaire Joe Henderson for an album that marked both the end of an era for him as well as the beginning of a new one.

“I Have A Dream”,a tribute to the recently slain MLK is a beautiful ten minute+ tone samba during which Henderson,Heath and Hancock expresses extremely conversational harmonies with themselves and each other that are bound to engender some emotional response. The title song as well as “Firewater” (the only non Hancock composition here” and “He Who Lives” are all a bit instrumentally cooler-focusing on swinging bop style numbers where the rhythm section takes presidents. And on which Herbie himself engages in plenty of his trademark bravely scaling piano arpeggios-harmonizing with himself between both bass and higher tenor tonalities. “Promise Of The Sun” seems to be indicate a similar rhythm section based bop number at first. Yet by the songs end? The melodic horn harmonics of the septet of horn players on this album provides a gently orchestral coda to the album itself.

This album doesn’t tend to rate as either great or terrible among Herbie’s many albums. And it isn’t 100% instrumentally groundbreaking exactly to be said. What does make this album rank so high to me was the feeling of it,which is key to jazz music anyway. The mixture of Herbie’s bluesy electric piano and virtuosic harmony style on the acoustic upright combine with the big band featured on this album to create a very probing musical atmosphere. The musicians are all searching. Not searching for a sound. But for a future that is yet to come for the nation and the world. Recorded in the spring of 1969,this albums looks ahead in its instrumental conceptions towards what the 1970’s would bring. For Herbie himself? It would bring a change in music completely opposite to this-as he was about to leave Blue Note for Warner Brothers after this album. His personal life and identity would soon make a change that would showcase that new evolution in his music. For a coda to the first phase of his career? It would be pretty hard pressed to find a more instrumentally fulfilling way to go about that than this!

Mwandishi

Fat Albert Rotunda (1969)-Warner Bros. 

Counting about 99.8 % of the music on this album ‘Fat Albert Rotunda’ is Herbie Hancock’s first dive into the world of funk-jazz,a just blooming genre in 1969 when this was recorded and a style he wouldn’t return to for another five years or so.As for the jazz side of his personality only “Tell Me A Bedtime Story”,with it’s gentle theatrics,works in this arena.Otherwise this album is pretty much instrumental funk,upbeat and well made but probably not quite as thrilling and DEFINITELY not as innovative as later such efforts as ‘Thrust’, “Man-Child’,’Secrets’ and of course ‘Headhunters’.But once fans of Herbie’s funkier style have purchased those recordings (which are essential) this album is the next logical step to walk in.

The Headhunters

Secrets (1976)-Columbia

It is from this album that I actually coined a whole definition for a certain kind of music from the 70’s,inspired by the title of a particularly funky song on this…particularly funky album. Herbie was on this huge musical winning streak in the mid 70’s and,even so this album really stands out very strong even for this period in his career! One of main reasons is the addition of Ray Parker Jr who,much as the Brothers Johnson had on the previous album Man-Child had really gone above and beyond in his ability to enhance and add great flavors to the already well established Headhunters sound. Not only is this one of Herbie’s most funky albums albums of this period but also his most thoroughly ear catching and….pretty melodic since Head Hunters and it’s also the most similar one they made to it. All their music from this period was that way but the previous two albums had gone after some more experimental type sounds. This one not only gets back to the basics but adapts on the sound in all kinds of different ways. In every measurable sense this is a funk album through and through but not every song is alike.

“Doin’ It” is…..well I’d say it was the best tune here but every one is so excellent that’s hard to say but it’s certainly one of the very strongest jams of 1976,a year full of ’em. The song starts from this Ray Parker riff that….builds into another riff until Herbie’s keyboards and synthesizers kick and and build on top of them unti Ray starts singing “just keep on doing it!”. This is a pointed reminder of the building nature of funk in it’s heyday. His remake of his own “Cantaloupe Island” adds a this Afro-Caribbean stomp,along with kind of this marching “big four” jazz beat to the funk and gives the tune some extra added bounce. “Spider” is just an amazing song;like the theme song to a kind of “techno-blacksploitation” movie never made with it’s bassy synth fanfare and that heavy chase scene rhythm. “Gentle Thoughts” is probably the most commercial sounding groove here as it sticks closest to the melody and sound fairly light for this type of album.

As for it’s overall atmospherics…well lets just say it’s most fittin that Lee Ritenour actually used this song as the title cut for his next album Gentle Thoughts. “Swamp Rat” is…among one of the most harmonically advanced tunes Herbie ever made with yet more fan-faring bass synths and,as for the second half of the song Paul Jackson’s bass and Bennie Maupin’s passionate work on sax and reeds carry that area. As for Maupin he gets a big kudos on his own “Sansho Shima” at the end of the album,which has this very strong Afro Cuban jazz flavor with the procrastination being bought to the forefront and the funk kind of riding along in the middle. This album is kind of ignored because it’s sandwiched after some well known classics and comes right before his disco-funk period-itself HIGHLY underrated. There is a progression from one to the other yet in terms of Herbie’s powers as a soloist,bandleader and composer in the 70’s,never-mind his funkiness this album is one of many that can’t be beat!

Funk/Disco Jazz

Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Now (1979)-Columbia

Often times I hear the late 70’s end of the funk era as being dismissed and harshly judged. Always chalked it up to the fact that the disco era,which came to an end in the year this particular album was released,attracted at least as many detractors as a genre as individual artists such as Beyonce do today. Aside from that music culture battle,nothing would keep funk,soul and dance artists from seeking new rhythmic ways with which to make their music as danceable and spirited as it could possibly be. I first heard this CD as part of my fathers collection. At the time I’d never heard any of the music Herbie Hancock had done between Head Hunters and Future Shock.

Nor was I aware that he even made any music between that time. So upon hearing this 1979 album for the first time? It was instantly exciting. Well at least tracks 1,3 and 4 were since they were the only ones I was fixated on for an unknown reason. Now over a decade and a half later I have the opportunity to view this album in the context of not only having heard Herbie’s other albums from the mid/late 70’s and early 80’s,but also other similar music from others artists made during this time period. So there is an understanding of the root of this sound that wasn’t present when I first heard this. So after so many years with this album,here are my current impressions of it.

The opener “You Bet You Love” is a glistening and rather enchanting disco friendly number with an extremely funky bass/guitar line that builds into Herbie’s swelling synthesizers-again married with a strong singalong melody that concludes with Herbie (as always during this time through his Vocoder) howling soulfully in the best manner of space-funk vocalizing. “Ready Or Not” is a Ray Parker Jr. penned funk groove filled with layered bass synthesizers along with Herbie’s melodic leads-featuring a choir of singers as opposed to Herbie and a sound very much out of the late 70’s Raydio type sound-only with a far more Afro-Latin oriented percussion break courtesy of Bill Summers.

“Tell Everybody” is a powerful,heavy bass/guitar led disco-funk jam with Herbie sharing vocals with the choir of singers on Vocoder-and again solid proof that Afro Latin percussion in the disco era did hold strong ethnic identification in the most instrumental oriented of hands. Now those are the numbers I was always most inclined towards here at the time of first hearing it. “Trust Me” is a slow,dripping samba type slow groove with a powerfully complex melody with Herbie vocoderizing a poignant lyric of romantic insecurity. “Honey From The Jar” is a slow crawling,bluesy and glassy dyno’d electric pinao driven slice of harder edged funk-showcasing a very chunky bass line. “Knee Deep” (not the Funkadelic classic of course) begins in a disco-funk oriented mode before descending deep into a heavily phased drum break/bass line for the deepest end of futurist funk.

Probably the most well know story of Herbie Hancock in the 1970’s was him always having to somehow justify his alternating between electric and acoustic playing throughout the decade. With that debate raging on among critics,he again ran into a similar musical syndrome to Miles that with all the controversy a lot of people missed out on the fact that,when playing funk oriented music,Herbie Hancock was helping to innovate even some unexplored tributaries of the funk-jazz genre. Because of Herbie’s assertion that funk’s strong roots in the Earth gave the music more room for rhythmic and melodic flight,he and Bill Summers in particular were able to use this music to fully explorer the percussively rhythmic possibilities that lay within the fact that the disco era funk music was extremely popular and even innovated on in Africa itself at the time.

And that is basically the spirit that comes from this particular album. It all the most shiny engineering and production gloss of any of Herbie’s 70’s funk-fusion albums. Yet at the same time,the rhythms that are colored by this effect are extremely strong and varied. The musical synergy that always seemed to exist between Herbie and Ray Parker Jr. is seen to enormous effect on this album. It showcases the strong instrumental compatibility that would show them collaborating so often during the years 1978-1981. So I must agree with writer Ricky Vincent that this was one of the strongest funk albums of the disco era. And one of Herbie’s strongest funk records as well.

Electro Funk/Hip-Hop

Sound-System (1984)-Columbia

With the success of Future Shock and its big hit “Rockit”,Herbie had made one significant musical contribution to the 80’s decade: he managed to put an instrumental dance record onto the pop charts and even the music video world. And opened up the door for other musicians such as contemporaries of his such as Jan Hammer to do the same. The following year Herbie was back in the studio with Bill Laswell to record the follow up to that album. As he was in the early 70’s,Herbie was continually fascinated by how to combine the modern electronic/hip-hop sample/scratch oriented effects that interested him with the heavily Afrocentric variety of funk. Again on the heels of another possible cultural innovation,Herbie bought in the Gambian musician Foday Musa Suso,who played an electrified African string instrument called the Kora,which produced a reverb laden Harp-like effect. This would have the effect of extending even further on the musical revelations he’d made on his previous album.

“Hard Rock”,”Metal Beat” and the closing title track are all very much in line with the approach of “Rockit”,but the instrumental sound is very different. The rhythmic patterns,keyboard parts and the addition of the Kora on the title song especially infuse these songs with an enormous Afro-Latin quality about them-which draws out the expansiveness of the groove and manage to make the electronics of it seem totally non-rigid. “Karabali” has almost no relation to these songs at all-its an almost totally African,almost Cameroonian Makossa beat type number built heavily around Suso’s Kora. “Junku” perfectly blends the tight and danceable electro-funk sound of Herbie’s with the same Kora sound. Bernard Fowler returns for another vocal number in the bluesy funk of “People Are Changing”,very much a generational cautionary take where Herbie delights on both synthesizer and acoustic piano alternately. The bonus track is an extended version of “Metal Beat”,which draws out the African percussion element even more.

Something tells me this album didn’t resonate with the public the same as its predecessor had. And it isn’t because the album is too repetitious of it. It actually isn’t at all. But the basis for all of the songs on this album are African oriented drum patters and different rhythmic ideas-with anything American blues based rarely being showcased. While this album is chocked full of massively grooving break dance friendly electro funk,the basis for it isn’t particularly American it all. It takes the heavy Afro-Latin influence of the previous album to a whole other level in fact. In many ways,that makes this one of Herbie’s best albums of the 80’s as the music is extremely close to his heart in the sense of being technically futurist yet rhythmically grounded in the tradition of the Earth itself. Manu DiBango himself could extend on the sound from his album in particular on his own release from the following year Electric Africa. As for this,Herbie may very well have sparked the public’s interest in Africa and African musical rhythms during the mid 1980’s. So again Herbie himself gained some success for himself while being a trailblazer.

Acid Jazz

Return Of The Headhunters (1998)-Universal

Herbie Hancock made a valiant but no altogether creatively vibrant comeback with Dis Is Da Drum. He began making acoustic records for the rest of the decade which,actually focused on reinventing songs that were originally done electrically. During this time there was a revival of funk in a more organic musical form. And later in a decade a particular focus on the jazz-funk side of things. New bands such as Brand New Heavies,Jamiroquai and a revived Incognito came out of the UK as part of this boom. The acid jazz boom. This was an excellent environment for Herbie to revive the band that got the ball rolling on the jazz-funk movement of the 70’s in the first place: The Headhunters. But would Paul Kackson,Bill Summers,Bennie Maupin and Mike Clark be interested in putting the band back together and…well doing “it” again? Looks like the did. This time to remain contemporary they bought in guests both old and new,from Patrice Rushen to BNH’s own N’Dea Davenport. And off the went!

“Funk Hunter” gets things off to an excellent start. All the old magic of Headhunters funk is fully intact from Herbie’s reverbed clavinets to the stop/start rhythms. “Skank It” actually ups the funk ante even more with some high octane rhythms and Bennie Maupin going right for it on saxes and reeds. “Watch Your Back” is the only number here featuring rapping. But the rap has jazz cultural value and the music around it is still the Headhunters funk. “Frankie And Kevin” is a more mellower recording with Davenport on lead vocals. She stretches out vocally even further on the catchy and jazzy funk piece “Tip Toe”,another of my favorites here. “Premonition” and “6/8-7/8” go right for the heavier jazz jugular with Bennie Maupin stretching out on the solos in a more abstract way he might’ve before his Headhunter years. Both are very strong again compositionally. “Kwanzaa” is another favorite of mine here. It has a long going on in it. There’s this polyrhythmic atmosphere, layered keyboard/synthesizer solos and some unusual but memorable melodic phrases.

Much more organic,better produced and featuring far far stronger compositions than Herbie’s previous album of all original material this actually served to re-introduce a musical collective/band that I still don’t feel is quite given the credit due them. The Headhunters cannot get the credit for out and out creating jazz-funk as a subgenre. But the sure pioneered it by really showcasing so many of it’s most important elements. There was the African rhythmic influence. That emphasis on stop/start rhythms on unexpected time signatures for another. And there was also that close and unique musical chemistry that all of these musicians had that made it all work. Truth be said this album has just a tad more vocals than the original Headhunter era albums ever had. Not to mention on that level how much more oriented it is around guests in that area. But it all functions very much as a complete musical unit rather than some example of one upsmanship. The Headhunters purpose as a band is ultimately fulfilled here as their strengths and weaknesses are complimented as well as they ever were. And this all makes this joyful,funky music to hear.


And there we have it: my own list of the Herbie Hancock albums that I feel represent the strongest of each period of his electronic jazz-funk oriented creations. The fact that the man has branched out so many tributaries as an electric player shows just the expansiveness not only of Herbie himself,but of the jazz/funk musical combination itself. And it’s an expansiveness that continues to develop here in the new millennium.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Acid Jazz, Bennie Maupin, Bernard Fowler, Bill Summers, Disco, electric jazz, Foday Musa Suso, Fusion, Harvey Mason, Headhunters, Herbie Hancock, Jazz-Funk, Mike Clark, Paul Jackson, Ray Parker Jr.

Anatomy of THE Groove 01/17/15 Rique’s Pick : “Forest Green” by Butcher Brown

One of both my blogging partner Andre Grindle and myself’s favorite subgenre’s of funk has to be jazz-funk, instrumentals in particular. The sophisticated funk flavors of George Duke, The Headhunters, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, Weather Report, Grover Washington Jr, The Crusaders and many other bands were a key point in my musical development, usually coming from the turntable of my mom and dad. If pops were still living, I know he’d dig “Forest Green” by Butcher Brown. Butcher Brown is a furiously funky quartet from Virginia. They first came to my attention on Mult Instrumentalist Nicholas Paytons 2013 release, “Numbers”, itself one of the funkiest and best musical releases of last year. The members are DJ Harrison on keys, Keith Askey on guitar, Andrew Randazzo on bass, and Corey Fonville on drums. “Forest Green” is the type of intense, kaeladescopic, frantically funky song that hasn’t been heard in quite some time. It was most def at the top of my personal funk charts for last year!

The song begins with a unison lick, played by the bass, and several keyboard sounds, including one with a wah wah. The opening lick is both brighter in tone than the rest of the song and also lands mostly on the upbeats. The instruments sustain their last note for a few bars and the drummer Corey Fonville, introduces the intricate fills he laces the whole track with. Then the main riff starts, which is also played in unison by several instruments, including the bass, guitars and keys. The main riff is agressive, very sharp and on top of the beat. The lead keyboard has a somewhat harsh, quacking filter tone to it. After that main riff is played, the band plays chords, with the bass playing the root of the chord and the keyboards and guitar playing sustained suspended chords. The clavinet sound has a wah wah attached to it, which makes the suspended chord come at you another kind of way. The melody goes through that cycle and when it reaches the end of it, Andrew Randazzo plays a fleet fingered bass line that leads you right back to the top of the cyle. DJ Harrison plays a melody type line on what sounds like a processed Rhodes, but gives you the feeling of machines or computers talking in an old science fiction movie.

The band soon switches to another intense section, lead by Randazzo’s bass playing a simple two sixteenth note line and leaving a lot of space.The whole band kills it on those two notes, jamming away furiosly, with Fonville’s drums leading the way with fills, leading you back up to the beginning of the pattern, and the band hitting a chord sequence before the new pattern begins. In between this there is plenty of room for DJ Harrison to jam on clavinet as well as playing his repetitive computer style melodic lines on top of that. After this the song comes back to the melody used at the beginning of the song, with Fonville going totally free on the drums, playing funky linear lines like Mike Clark of The Headhunters. The song basically repeats this two section pattern, with Fonville’s drummings becoming more powerful and noticeable as the song progresses, Harrison adding all kinds of beautiful texture on keys, Randazzo making you think about Paul Jackson on bass, and room for Keith Askey to solo over the top on guitar.

“Forest Green” is a terrific achievement and statement. The band sustains a high level of intensity and virtuosity over the course of an over six minute jazz funk piece. The song both grooves and takes you different places at the same time, with texture as well as punch. And its a great introduction to the tunes on their album “All Purpose Music.” Butcher Brown is most definitely one of those independent groups to watch. I’m looking for more great music from them and their label Jellostone!

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Filed under 1970's, Acid Jazz, Blogging, Crusaders, drums, Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/03/14 Rique’s Pick: “Chicken Grease” by D’Angelo

When D’Angelo and his fellow Soulquarians and other collaborators such as Questlove, James Poysuer, the late great J Dilla, Raphael Saddiq and Pino Palladino got together to produce what would become the landmark smoky funk masterpiece “Voodoo”, they took a deep and studious approach to their craft. What came out of that is an album, that, as Saul Williams spoke of in his wonderful liner note essay, distilled the essence of many of the great artists of the Funk/Jazz/Soul boom into D’s brew. One of the most prominent flavors in that brew was the mercurial and kalaedoscopic funk of the artist who went back to his birth name, Prince, in the same year D’s album was released. “Chicken Grease” is a funky stepper from that album that is my pick for today’s Friday Funk Feature. The song takes it’s title from one of Prince’s funk music concepts, a name he has for a sixteenth note, droning, unaccented funk guitar figure that goes back to things such as the intro to The Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces.” D’Angelo includes that “chicken grease” guitar part in this song, but the track itself was a manifesto of back to the basics new funk in the ’00s, with it’s dry sound and bopping, hip rhythm.

“Chicken Grease” begins with a drummer tapping out a New Orleans snare drum rhythm and people laughing and hanging out in the background. Soon after, Questlove kicks in with a dry, funky drum beat played in the classic rhythm style D and his co creators pioneered on this album. This album has been noted for it’s lazy, laid back swinging rhythms, mainly influenced by the late great Detroit Hip Hop and R&B Producer Jay Dee’s funky drum programming. Jay Dee went through great lengths to program his drums with the feeling of a human drummer. The result on “Voodoo” was an album whos beats felt like they came from an entirely different planet than what was popular on the radio at the time. Even live drummers had been focusing on making their drum beats as precise as the drum machine if they wanted to get work. The musicians on the tracks on this album adopted a laid back, behind the beat approach, the kind found in the work of Funk artists such as The Meters and Parliament-Funkadelic, and is a hallmark of New Orleans funk in particular.

After the drum beat kicks in, a clean guitar tone massages the ear, reminiscent of ’90s jazz-funk-hip hop fusions. A greasy, funky bass line soon joins it, totally avoiding the “one ” of the measure, letting the guitar part play on that beat, and playing off beat two. The guitar and bass points line up in holy matrimony on beat two. The bass rests and plays a funky phrase in the next bar. All in all the bass is a sparse, funky line that reminds one of the sparese type of funk you’d find on a hip hop record, but the tone is straight up dry funk!

As far as the “Chicken Grease” that Prince named, is it in the song? Yes, the droning funky guitar part can be found in several points of the tune, at one point in particular D asks for it and you can hear it chiming in in the background. As for the lyrics? D did something here close to a “true” funk song if you will. Funky beats can support any type of lyrical text, from political protest, to ballad themes, to sex, to novelty lyrics, to explicit gangster rap. But when James Brown made his seminal contribution to the funk groove with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, he hit with a lyrical text that simply described his amazement at the groove he had concocted with his band. From then on, a good portion of funk lyrics have simply described and reveled in how funky the groove was and what that groove would do to ‘ya. D’Angelo does this and approaches it in the manner of the original party starting hip hop M.C’s, even quoting one of the greatest, Rakim, saying, “Let the others go first/so the brothers won’t miss”, from the Eric B and Rakim classic “I Know You Got Soul.”

D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” was an album that surprised me when it came out. It promised a return to funk, but by the year 2000, Lauryn Hill and Outkast had already done that to various degrees with great success. But I never expected the type of lazy, dry toned, unaccented, grooving funk D’Angelo and co. gave us on this album, music inspired by the boom bap head nod of hip hop. Just as funk adapted itself to the up tempos of disco in the late ’70s, D tailored his funk to his love of the prevailing lyrically focused, slow but chunky hip hop of the ’90s. He also did it with a sound that used very few gimmicks or studio flourishes. I see that album more and more as D giving you the basic nutrients of funk, and he relaid the foundation so well he left artists coming behind him nothing to do but build up from there.

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Filed under 1990s, ?uestlove, Acid Jazz, Africa, Blogging, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jazz-Funk, Lauryn Hill, Music Reviewing

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 8/16/2014: ‘Black And White America’ by Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz

With this release Lenny Kravitz finds himself consummating the musical direction he began with his 5 but for some reason backed away from. As with myself Lenny is the product of a biracial family. And he likely faced some of the cultural ambiguities that I often had to contend with. Especially on the creative end. He spent much of his career on the path to being the modern equivalent of a Jimi Hendrix or Vernon Reid-using rock guitar and the rock ‘n roll style as his main choice of expression. On this album all of that is beginning to change. Recorded in the Bahamas with the environment having it’s own type of effect on the music this is also his debut for the Roadrunner label. It’s a branch of Atlantic-former home of famous soul icons Aretha Franklin,Ray Charles…the list goes on. So it’s only fitting,with the idea of the classic Atlantic soul style still felt today that this would be the album where Lenny would officially find the funk in all it’s fruitful forms.

This album begins with a serious punch on the title song,an autobiographic number fully exploring the pumping sophistifunk/dance style of the mid/late 70’s,celebrating his biracial heritage and how the modern age is far more accommodating to that despite the socio political racial tensions bought home in today’s world. On “Come And Get It”,”Superlove” and the JB sendup “Life Ain’t Ever Better Than It Is Now” he extends the funk into his sound more than he has on any other album. And he isn’t finished exploring this melodic groove after that either. On the pulsing “Liquid Jesus” where Lenny brings his falsetto back out and,the acid jazz ARP synth laden “Looking Back On Love” and the “boogie” style of “Sunflower” he’s fully acknowledging the 1980’s method of funk. It doesn’t end there. “Boogie Drop” featuring Drake explores a very unique direction in funk-finding Lenny being a pioneer for once in mixing modern electro revival with strong West Indian rhythms and hip-hop touches.

One of the best part of this album is on “Rock Star City Life”,”In The Black”,”Everything”,”The Faith Of A Child” and “Push” it’s clear the influence of 80’s new wave,itself heavily derived from funk and disco is having a very positive effect on these rockier songs. The noisy guitars are pushed to the backround as rhythm becomes the center of attention. On the hit “Stand” he’s come to the ultimate hybrid of Sly Stone,Prince and OutKast’s Andre 3000 in terms of delivering rock n roll influenced funk with a highly melodic nature. So for the first time I’ve heard Lenny delivers an album of sixteen songs where not one tune disappoints. From the wonderfully relevant cover artwork to the wonderfully way he’s embraced the production medium of the jazz,funk and danceable hip-hop he’s now bought into his orbit this finds Lenny at long last becoming himself as a musical entity. More over the fact that he’s broadened his message to showcase how his conscious bohemian outlook can benefit the current generational cycle. If this is to be the path he’s going to chose to develop in terms of funk,rock and/or the other in the

*Click here for original Amazon.com review!

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Acid Jazz, Amazon.com, Aretha Franklin, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Lenny Kravitz, Music Reviewing

Anatomy of THE Groove 7/25/2014: “Get Into My Groove” by Incognito

Following the post disco freeze out of most soul and funk music in the early 80’s? It would seem that the British music scene really kept the progression of that level of instrumental and melodic eloquence continuing. It can be heard in funk oriented bands of the new wave era such as Englands Spandau Ballet,Heaven 17,Level 42,Duran Duran and,on the rockier side of it The Clash and former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. There was also a strong multi racial jazz based end of this scene that would emerge with Matt Bianco, which originally featured their very soulful lead singer Basia,Sade and Jean Paul Maunik’s Incognito. After a one off recording in the early 80’s,the band didn’t re-emerge again until the 90’s. During this time Incognito helped pioneer with acid jazz fusion of American jazz/funk and house music. At the very end of the decade in 1999,they released their album ‘No Time Like The Future’-featuring the song that really got me deeply into their music entitled “Get Into My Groove”.

Kicking off with a counting down type snare drum,the song goes into what is basically a contemporary hip-hop/soul drum machine rhythm with some beautifully orchestrated,cinematic soul strings. Shortly after these spirited horn charts kick in,along with two prominant bass lines in a wah wah fueled electric solo and a walking Moog synth bass one. After a brief vocalese scat from Jamiroquai front man Jason Kay,Wonderlove alumni Maysa Leak comes in for the lead vocal. She is talking about someone,a politician maybe, who is willing to preach about the woes of the world while taking no specific actions to correct them-asking “tell me how do you change the world if you haven’t got the nerve”. On the melodically ascending chorus Maysa asks this invidual to come and feel her groove,step into her shoes and that to “get into my mind,you gotta get into my groove”. After a consoling and very jazzy bridge,the song repeats that chorus with variations to the songs conclusion.

On a personal level? I feel that the post Columbine/pre (alleged) Y2K world of 1999,one defined by a great deal of paranoia and lack of hope,was in need of “people music” with a message perhaps more so than any other time in history. In America people such as Erykah Badu were beginning to deliver an Afrofuturist musical vibration of their own. But this combination of a former Stevie Wonder singer,along with a British acid jazz band also featuring backup vocals from…the lead singer of the biggest crossover act of the British acid jazz funk scene in America made a bold statement (to me anyway) that the humanistic message of the funk/jazz spectrum was every bit as alive as the music was. And this was sophistifunk at that. Yes rhythmically it actually did incorporate some of the mechanized hip-hop/soul rhythm. Yet the arrangement-with elegantly produced live strings,horns and bass synthesizers gave it that flavor of a fully formed futurist groove,modeled on the EWF/Roy Ayers musical attitude to lead the way into the new millennium.

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Filed under 1990s, Acid Jazz, Disco, Funk, Hip-Hop, Incognito, Jamiroquai, Maysa, Stevie Wonder

The Anatomy of the Groove 7/18/14 Rique’s Pick : “Din Daa Da” by The Roots

There is no minimizing the good Philadelphia’s Legendary Roots Crew has done in their time in the public eye as a Hip Hop based band.  The Collective has produced critically acclaimed albums, had members produce legends such as Al Green, collaborated with idiosyncratic masters like Elvis Costello, backed great singers like John Legend, and spearheaded the Neo Soul movement through the Soulquarians collective. The Roots have shouldered a heavy burden, as Questlove is well aware, of being the most prominent black band in the world. This one band has taken over in public perception, for all the great bands of the past’s jazz, funk or soul. I imagine when a black kid plays drums now days, he might hear, “Go head Questlove”.  The thing with this flag bearing is, they’ve done it while also operating in an area of Hip Hop music that can often be limiting, especially apres the Late ’80s Early ’90s “Golden Era.” Roots albums have often left me disappointed, because brilliant lyricism , crisp snares, and cozy grooves notwithstanding, they’ve rarely brought the thunderous funk the way they’re known to bring on stage. 2004’s cover of George Franz’s ’80s dance classic, “Din Daa Daa” changed all of that.  This bonus track, buried at the tail end of their “Tipping Point” album, was a funky, imporvisatory “Dazz” (disco-jazz) track that finally unleashed Questlove’s drum kit with reverbed force.

George Kranz’s song “Din Daa Daa” was the soundtrack to a magical scene in the early Hip Hop dance movie “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo.  Kranz scatted drum figures to himself as he unleashed drum solos in a duet format. Black Thought and Questlove do the same here to devestating effect, with Questlove conjuring up the force of jazz drummers like Elvin Jones and Art Blakey. The track was a bonus on the album, coming after a wacky rap song featuring Dave Chappelle.

The song begins with voices singing “Din Daa Daa” against voices singing the bassline for the song. A cowbell marks the time as the groove builds. Black Thought begins to scat his rhythmic phrases, reminding me of his fellow Philadelphian Bill Cosby’s drum based jazz scatting language. Questlove comes in, not playing the exact same phrases at first, but accenting them and playing around them. Quest snare drum features something rare for him, reverb! Questlove usually goes for a dry, spare community center sound that will not overpower M.C’s. He shows no such concern here as he unleashes  thundering drum rolls that linger like a flare. Quest and Tarik (Black Thought) play off each other, talk to each other, one up one another, as well as support themselves through the first go round of the tune. Tariq escalates into orgies of mouth rhythms, rapping out millitary paraddidles and a Billy Stewart esque climax, with Quest ratcheting up the intensity until about 3:25, when the song hits it’s release. The release features a solid, crisp Neo-Philly drum beat and George Kranz’s brighter than bright, uplifting “Din Daa Daa” synthesizer tones. The song alternates between the long, funky, jazzy scat and drum sections and the bright dance funk of the chorus, until it hits a funky Neo Soul breakdown at the end. The song drops in tempo, and Questlove plays a funky beat thats a combo of a shuffle blues and his trademark ultra behind drumming style he once showcased with D’Angelo, Pino Palladino and Raphael Saddiq on D’s “Voodoo” album. This section is buried in underwater sounding, delayed keyboards. It sounds like stagehands taking down band equipment after a live show, or when the D.J puts on mid century pop ballads to clear the club at the end of the night. And so ends 9 of the most joyus minutes the Roots ever recorded.

This song was very important to me and my friends when it was released in 2004. It was inspiring for a top hip hop group like The Roots to release some improvisatory, live, jazzy instrumental funk like this. Beyond the industry aspects, it was also plain ol’ fun and a gas to groove to. We use to hit the hills in San Francisco with this song as the soundtrack to our journey. The groups trademark wit and intelligence is also at display in the song selection. They didn’t cover just any old instrumental, they covered an instrumental that is also related to the hip hop idiom, being featured in a magical dance scene in one of the early hip hop movies. That gave their audience some recognition, but they took it and flipped it like jazz or Afro-Latin dance pros on stage. I can also see the more joyus sound they introduced here as a segue to the Roots of the past decade or so, the musicians who play on The Tonight Show, collaborate with pop artists, and the Questlove that writes books about Soul Train. This record contains all those years of The Roots early live prowess on one cut. Bravo!

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Filed under 1980's, Acid Jazz, Africa, Blogging, Funk, Jazz

The Anatomy of THE Groove 6/6/14 Rique’s Pick : “Daft Funk” by Nathan East

Funky guitar. As much as I love bass, sometimes what I really miss more than anything is raw, uncut, rhythmic funky guitar. So I was in love when I heard the intro to Nathan East’s recent tune “Daft Funk.” The playing reminded me of one of my most cherished funk records, Herbie Hancock’s 1976 “Doin It”, played by guitarist Ray Parker Jr of “Ghostbusters” fame. I didn’t know if “Daft Funk” was him, but I knew it was for sure his style, and I found out very soon, the guitar part was being played by Ray! “Daft Funk” begins with Ray’s signiture funky guitar style, four bars of lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and riff all wrapped up in the hands of one funky musician. Parker Jr’s riff reminds one of Sly and Freddie Stone’s funky guitar playing. Parker Jr’s guitar is allowed the spotlight for the tunes four bar intro. He’s soon joined by killer cracking live drums from the late great Ricky Lawson, who sadly passed away in December of last year. Ricky’s drums are joined by the man of the hour, famed session bassist Nathan East. Nathan East, aside from his work with Fourplay, Earth, Wind & Fire, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, and his beginnings with Barry White, among others, was the bassist on Daft Punk’s worldwide smash “Get Lucky.” “Daft Funk”, written by guitarist Michael Thompson, is a tribute to Daft Punk, East’s work with the group, as well as the same big studio band, well produced L.A disco-funk vibe that inspired Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” success.

East comes in playing an 8th note, anticipation, pulse type of bassline that lines up perfectly with Ricky Lawson’s kick drum, playing a kind of 8th note pattern that lines up perfectly from a rhythmic standpoint with the accent points of Parker Jr’s guitar part. The track gets very full at that point, featuring Rhodes and horn charts, with the funky guitar starting to fade into the background. East slides into his bass part.

East utilizes a musical technique many bassists such as Marcus Miller use when they record albums as the featured soloist. The pulse, heartbeat bassline continues, but East adds a higher, melodic bassline, playing sliding, vocal lines. The bass line is playing the main melody of the song in concert with keyboards, and the melody sets a dark minor mood. The keyboards play the melody and the bass guitar awnsers it. This gives the listener two bass guitars playing, one in the traditional supportive role of the bass and the other in a melodic role. The melody and the way the keyboard is EQ’d is a very obvious nod to East’s musical collaborators, Daft Punk. The melody section also seems to be written with a minor melodic cycle that recalls sections of Herb Alpert’s 1980 disco-funk mid tempo classic, “Rise.”

The chorus kicks in around 1;57, and much like Punk’s “Get Lucky”, the mood on the chorus is more celebratory, after a somewhat moody, reflective verse section. The Talkbox vocals of the great player Byron “Talkbox” Chambers are introduced on the chorus. This is reminiscent of Daft Punk, but Chambers plays and sings with great facility on his Talkbox, more reminiscent of a musician such as Roger Troutman. Chambers sings triumphantly “Tonight we’re gonna celebrate.” Lawson’s drumming goes to straight disco fours on the chorus section, a pounding throb emenating from his kit. The way the beat switches up from more rhythmically accented funk drumming to the smooth, consistent rhythm of disco, reminds me of the writing technique’s Quincy Jones used in working with Michael Jackson on “Off the Wall”, on cuts such as “Off the Wall” and “Burn This Disco Out”, the usage of funk and disco styles and feels as a writing device and a way to divide the sections of the song up. The chorus features guitars, strings, synths, and is somewhat more alive and celebratory than the verse section, as befitting the songs theme.

The verse section returns, but East adds other textures to the song at this point. The Talkbox begins to sing long sustained whole notes, going down in very close intervals, a melody of long sustained notes that takes about four bars to complete itself. At 2:52 we get a funky break, where both the Talkbox and Parker Jr’s funky guitar riffs become more prominent.

The second chorus of the song features Nathan East really throwing down. He plays tasty riffs, quarter notes almost like Bernard Edwards’ “Good Times” bass line, octaves, and other things that really stand out. Around 4;27 he plays a soulful, bluesy riff, that eventually leads to the song ending as it began, with Ray Parker Jr’s extremely funky guitar riff playing by itself.

East’s song shows the vitality of what Daft Punk did with “Random Access Memories” and “Get Lucky.” One of the main things about that album was that Daft Punk wanted to record in the way musicians and producers did in “the old days”, the heyday of funk and disco. Everybody in a room recording together, instead of the incredible ability to collaborate with musicians continents away modern technology offers us. They felt this would bring back some of the spontanaiety recorded music used to posses. East was the bass player on that album, but he also was the bass player on some of the best music of the “old days”, such as Barry White’s productions, as well as being a transitional musician into the modern days of digital. East sounds reinvigorated on “Daft Funk”, able to take all that musical history he has participated in and have fun with it, making real live funk in 2014 along with his baad LA musican colleagues. “Daft Funk” is a great funk tune that illustrates how modern funk music not only passes funk on to the kids but reinvigorates the pro’s love for the One as well.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Acid Jazz, Blogging, Funk, Funk Bass