Category Archives: Afro Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “This Is This” by Weather Report

Joe Zawinul had a tremendous history in the development of hard bop jazz onto jazz fusion. He immigrated to the US from Austria in 1959. A year later he was part of Cannonball Adderley’s quintet. And he wound up being the composer of Cannonball’s best known song “Mercy Mercy Mercy”. By the late 60’s,Zawinul was playing and writing with Miles Davis on his fusion process album In A Silent Way. When he and another fellow Miles alumni Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report two years later,Zawinul was again pioneering jazz instrumentation into the era of synthesizers.

Between 1971 and 1984,Weather Report recorded 14 albums. Many of them were iconic in the annals of the fusion genre. The band was also well known for developing pioneering bass players. This included Miroslav Vitous,Alphonso Johnson and best known of all the late Jaco Pastorious. The bands final album in 1986 came totally by accident. They thought they’d fulfilled their Columbia contract with their previous album in 1985’s Sportin’ Life. This didn’t end up being the case,so they had to make one more album. And Zawinul really made it one for the road with the title song to their final album called “This Is This”.

Mino Cinelu starts off with some fast paced Afro-Latin  percussion mixed up high. Peter Erksine plays a steady,marching groove that fits like a glove into the spaces left in Cinelu’s percussion. Zawinul and new bassist Victor Bailey rolled right along upfront with one of Zawinul’s most melodically hummable synth bass lines. He provides two for this song-the other a deeper 8-note one later on. Carlos Santana also provides two different guitar parts here-one is high pitched,cosmic guitar atmospherics and some of his exciting lead soloing as well playing call and response to Zawinul’s synth bass lead..

Santana actually get’s accompanied by Zawinul providing two synth brass lines-the first orchestrated big band style ones. This part comes into play after the first few choruses. On the last few choruses of the song, the other synth brass part arrives playing more succinct,funkier charts. By this time Santana’s guitar,Cinelu’s percussion,Erksine’s drums and Zawinul’s synth bass all come together in a beautiful,rhythmic unison of colorful sounds. Little by little,each instrumental element drops out of the mix. And the song slows back into percussion,bass and guitar as it fades.

Before people like Billy Preston and of course Prince,Joe Zawinul was a major pioneer of the bass synthesizers. By 1986,synth brass was the big thing in American pop music with the advent of the Minneapolis sound. With Zawinul having worked it for years,”This Is This” is a highly underrated song for Weather Report-perhaps one of Zawinul’s strongest compositions. The groove is strongly Afrocentric,and the playing is as funky as they come. It really brings out the best in ever instrumentalist involved and allowed Weather Report to go out again innovating with some electro funk style world fusion.

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Filed under 1986, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Carlos Santana, Columbia Records, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, guitar, jazz fusion, Joe Zawinul, Mino Cinelu, percussion, Peter Erksine, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizers, Victor Bailey, Weather Report, world fusion

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Let Me Talk” by Earth Wind & Fire

Earth Wind & Fire are one of those funk bands who included two guitarists and two drummers. In terms of the latter,there was Maurice White’s brother Fred and their main drummer Ralph Johnson. Johnson for his part is still an active part of EWF to this very day. Upon seeing him interviewed,he discussed his close instrumental relationship with the bands bassist (also still actively involved) Verdine White. He stated that if he didn’t play drums,he’d have been a bass player due to his close musical relationship with rhythm. And rhythm remains one of the key elements of the Earth Wind & Fire sound.

After an enormous run of successful hits from 1975-1979,Earth Wind & Fire were likely the most popular band of that time period. At the strong encouragement of Maurice White,the band traveled to Egypt among other locations the world over. When they returned to record their next album,music and not sales figures was foremost on their mind. So they cut a musically elaborate double album in 1980 entitled Faces. While it had their signature melodic sound,the rhythms were major game changers for them. The opening song really emphasized this,and it was one that Ralph Johnson co-wrote: “Let Me Talk?

Larry Dunn’s deep bass synth tone begins this song. What accompanies it are the Phenix horns riffing at hyper-speed through the musical magic of a sped up tape loop. The rhythm behind this is the same as  the refrains: a danceable Afro-Brazilian samba deep in the Latin clave. As the rhythm guitar and glistening synth accents play along with the horns and vocals,the bass hugs the rhythm tightly. On the choruses,the beat becomes more conventionally funky/pop-with synth bass taking a strong roll. That musical pattern continues throughout  this song until a quirky bit of recorded conversation concludes it.

“Let Me Talk” begins an album that Verdine White describes as them thinking “let’s cut something we wanna cut”. It was actually one of Maurice White’s personal favorite albums by EWF. And this song begins the album with a bang. With it’s Afro-Brazilian/Cuban rhythms and percussion,it’s structurally somewhat closer to the type of song EWF would’ve done in 1973-74. It still has their melodic pop craft that developed later further later in the decade though. Ralph Johnson and Al McKay wrote a song together here. And the rhythms of the song really showcase their instrumental interactions.

Thematically, Maurice and Philip Bailey make this song a lyrical dialog  about America’s escape from the beauty of and attention to blackness as the 1980’s began. Maurice is saying that a message burns within him everyday,while Philip’s part has him countering with a request to “play your role just as you’ve been told. As I write this,America is still embroiled more than ever in this attempt to deny the potency of black culture within and without it. And for both Independence Day and Ralph Johnson’s 65th birthday,its just the right funky “people music” to project for this time and place.

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Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afro-Latin jazz, Afrocentrism, Al McKay, clave, drums, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk Bass, horns, Larry Dunn, Maurice White, message songs, percussion, Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synthesizer, tape loops, Verdine White

Grooves On Wax: Black Wax In Black Music Month

James Brown Showtime

James Brown’s albums up to the beginning of the mid 60’s seem to be helpful in showcasing what was influential on the future Godfather Of Soul. This 1964 album,his debut for Smash,is an excellent example of this. JB starts out with a spirited cover of the R&B classic “Caledonia”,originally by Louie Jordan & The Timpani Five. As a studio album overdubbed with applause,these songs find JB singing the blues on a number of rhythm & blues shuffles-removed for the most part from his typical live show of the era.

Key Jams: “Evil” and “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”

Mirium Makeba

Miriam Makeba is an artist I’ve always interesting in hearing more from. This is an excellent album from 1967 for her. It really does a lot to bring out the sound of African soul-with a lot of elements that would eventually go into the world fusion sound in the future. Especially with the songs not all being sung in English. She even adds a folk song called “A Piece Of Ground”-which runs down the horrid inequity of apartheid in South Africa.

Key Jam: “Pata Pata”

Odyssey Of Iska

Wayne Shorter made this 1971 avant garde jazz album as he was transitioning from Miles Davis’s second quintet of the mid/late 60’s onto fusion pioneers Weather Report. And it really shows as Gene Bertoncini’s guitar-with it’s rhythmic overdrive along with former quintet made Ron Carter’s bass and Alphonse Mouzan’s drumming give this album the kind of Afro-Brazilian jazz/funk process sound Miles himself was already diving headlong into.

Key Jams: “Storm”,“De Pois Do Amor,O Vazio” and “Joy”osibisa-woyaya(16)

Osibisa are a  British,mostly Ghanan Afro pop group who were first described to me as being called “Obsidica”,and sounding like the Isley Brothers. Neither of those things being true of course,this 1971 album is in the Afro-Latin funk/rock/soul collection jamming much in the style of Mandrill and Santana.

Key Jams: “Beautiful Seven” and “Move On.

robertaflack-quietfire-cover

Roberta Flack is someone who today could almost be considered the godmother of neo-soul. Her understated vocal approach and naturally based instrumental style was a precurser of that. Especially on her earlier albums.  On these records though,they caught some heavily funky fire on a song or two. This 1971 release actually has a bit more than others-especially her ultra gospel drenched version of the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody”.

Key Jams: “Go Up Moses” and “Sunday And Sister Jones”

Edwin Birdsong

Edwin Birdsong,keyboardist and songwriter for the Roy Ayers Ubiquity who later worked with Stevie Wonder,really put himself out on this ultra funky 1972 debut album. He was a heavy purveyor of sociopolitical “people music” message songs as well. Even the lone ballad “It Ain’t No Fun Being a Welfare Recipient” tells the kind of story you generally don’t hear on too many slow jams. Birdsong’s holds-no-barred approach to humanitarian lyricism really inspires my personal funky emotions.

Key Jams:”The Uncle Tom Game” and “When A Newborn Baby Is Born,The Gets One More Chance” 

Open Sesame

Kool & The Gang totally reinvent the chemistry of their groove on this 1976 album,in their positions as The Scientists Of Sound. The jacket folds in half on the front to find portraits of the band members in the garb of Morrish royalty. From the casting of the “genie of sound” on the title song onward,this album finds their sound in direct transition from the heavy jazz/funk based sound of their earlier music to the disco era soul/funk melodicism of their under appreciated late 70’s pre JT Taylor period.

Key Jams: “Open Sesame”,“All Night Long” and “Super Band”

brick------_goodhigh-_101b

Brick’s sophomore album was where I discovered this heavily jazz based disco funk band. This 1976 debut album for them really helped put together their “disco jazz” type of music very well-with songs that featured more instrumental oriented jamming on many of the songs rather than the more heavily constructed pop type songs they would be known for on their following recordings.

Key Jams: “Dazz” and “Brick City”

Melba Moore

Melba Moore’s Broadway experience really helped her theatrical variety of heavily orchestrated soul balladry and disco/dance records she recorded during the 70’s. This 1978 album from her,produced by the Philly team of McFadden & Whitehead,contains one of my very favorite songs by her in the funkified “You Stepped Into My Life”.

Key Jams: “You Stepped Into My Life” and “It’s Hard Not To Like You”

Ohio Players - Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee -

The Ohio Players final album for Mercury from 1978 has gotten very mixed views from fans of this classic funk band. Yet from the very beginning,they make it more than clear that the then burgeoning disco sound was not yet effecting their heavy funkiness. As a matter of fact,this particular album is home to some of the hardest hitting funk the band ever made.

Key Jams: “Funk-O-Nots”,“Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee” and “Dance (If You Wanta)”

Pleasure

Pleasure’s jazz-funk sound out of Portland,Oregon is one that I am just beginning to explore. This 1980 album of theirs has become something of a big deal in recent years. With their sophistifunk production and jazzy instrumental solos,the band seem to have made their mark in the annals of funk as it transitioned from the 70’s onto the 80’s.

Key Jams: “Now You Choose Me” and “Yearnin’ Burnin'”

brass-construction-attitudes-20120328040716

Brass Construction’s title song for this 1982 album was one I thought came from Cameo due to a mislabeled MP3 sometime ago. It led me to the vinyl album,which is now recognizable as the bands transition to the stripped down,electro/naked/boogie funk sound of the early 80’s. It’s almost completely uptempo funk based saved for the jazzy mid tempo ballad “ETC”.

Key Jams: “Can You See The Light”,“Forever Love” and “Attitude”

slave-bad-enuff-1089025-1437603644

Slave were the last and youngest of the classic Dayton,Ohio funk bands,and were some of the architects of the boogie funk sound. That’s very prominent on this 1983 album,their first album of the 80’s without Steve Arrington. Actually,it’s a strong transition from their original live band approach to their more electro funk oriented sound that was about to come.

Key Jams: “Steppin’ Out” , “Turn You Out (In & Out)” and “Show Down”

isley-jasper-isley-broadways-closer-to-sunset-blvd-bonus-track-version-5954759-1448546073

Ernie and Marvin Isley along with Chris Jasper struck out as their own trio in 1984. This debut album from the same year is actually one of the strongest boogie funk albums of its era. That’s because the brittle drum machines are accented by the same powerful percussion the 3+3 Isley Brothers were known for.  That rhythmic approach mixed with layers of synthesizers,bass and guitar make this an superb extension  of the Isley sound as heard on the Between The Sheets from a year earlier.

Key Jams: “Serve You Right” and “Break This Chain

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Afro Funk, avant-garde, Blues, Brass Construction, Brick, Edwin Birdsong, electro funk, Funk, funk albums, Isley-Jasper-Isley, James Brown, Kool & The Gang, Melba Moore, Miriam Makeba, Ohio Players, Osibisa, Pleasure, rhythm & blues, Roberta Flack, Slave, Uncategorized, Vinyl, Wayne Shorter

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Afrodeezia’ by Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller Afrodeezia

Much as I hate to admit it? As much of a Marcus Miller admirer as I am? Still don’t even come close to personally owning every single one of his albums over the years. It’s actually something on my musical bucket list though. Because Marcus is one of the bass players I admire most now because of his total involvement in any whole musical process he gets involved with. It’s not just that he’s a multi talented DIY artist.

Though he is that…multi talented DIY artist. But this album’s subtext represents what I appreciate most about him. Having recently became a spokesmen for UNESCO’s Slave Route Project? He has taken the Quincy Jones-style approach of using the connective thread of black American music to illustrate the struggles up from slavery. And this album actually reflects that ambition on a musical level as well.

One of the most interesting aspects of this particular album is that a good chunk of it follows an extremely specific rhythmic pattern,provided by a group of African and Caribbean instrumentalists whom I’ve never heard of before. “Hylife” begins the album on the funkiest end of this with Marcus’s slap bass leading the way alongside the percussion and accompanying melodic piano and vocalese. “We Were There” has a similar approach with more of a Brazilian jazz rhythmic twist.

The song also includes vocal scatting from Layla Hathaway and melodic horns in beautiful festive unison. “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” brings in Keb Mo for a very bluesy style take on the Norman Whitfield/Temptations funk classic. Same sound applies to the steel drum/rock guitar fueled “Son Of MacBeth”.”Preachers Kid” and “I Still Believe I Hear” are both somewhat more meditative numbers featuring vocal choirs and more Egyptian/Arabic style Afrocentric modalities.

The psychedelic electronica of the interlude “Prism” leads into the probing and expansively jazzy ballad “Xtraordinary” while “Water Dancer” has a bluesy jazz/fusion flavor with a great sax solo on the bridge. “I Can’t Breathe” ends the album with Marcus and Mocean Worker playing a thickly swinging funk showcasing bass clarinet and layers of guitar and keyboard with Chuck D rapping in fine form (as is typical) about the messiness of today’s revived racism.

First thing that can be said about this album is that it is political. Not in the lyrical sense as most of it is totally instrumental. But in the thoroughly musical statement it makes. With it’s basic percussive funk,fusion and blues approach? This albums brings African America and Africa itself both into clear creative focus with each other. It’s ever present sense of melody is alternately joyous,confused,sly,uneasy,romantic and sometimes even confrontational. Yet overall the general mood of the music is super relaxed and at ease with itself. It’s never just one sound. It’s a lot of different sounds meeting at their middles and harmonizing deeply. Of course,this is highly recommended as a meaningful new musical endeavor for Marcus Miller!

Originally Posted On March 17th,2015

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE

Read more about the Slave Route Project through UNESCO by clicking this link.

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Filed under 2015, Afro Funk, Afrocentrism, Amazon.com, blues funk, Brazilian Jazz, Chuck D, Keb Mo, Lalah Hathaway, Marcus Miller, message music, Mocean Worker, Music Reviewing, slap bass, Slave Route Project, UNESCO

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Jezebel Spirit” by Brian Eno & David Byrne

Brian Eno came out of Roxy Music in the early 70’s with a strong degree of musical and stylistic flair. With that bands variety of glam rock being highly jazz and soul informed,Eno left the band and turned his attention to a solo career. These included frequent collaborations with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. During the late 70’s,he began a musical relationship with Talking Heads front man David Byrne. Both men were fascinated with the idea of African polyrhythm-and the possibilities arising from it in terms of their mutual interest in funk and electronic music.

The idea of two European men totally embracing the idea of Afro Futurism was something that surprised me when my father first introduced me to Brian Eno and David Byrne’s 1981 collaborative album My Life In A Bush Of Ghosts well over a decade ago. This was around the same time I was exposed to Miles Davis’s On The Corner. This put funk rhythms into a very Afrocentric context for me. And made it the music that had the deep connection for me that jazz did with my father. One song from it really stood out personally as a superb example of this pan African funk ethic. It’s called “The Jezebel Spirit”.

The song itself is based on a vamp with a very phat body to it. It starts out with the bouncing polyrhythmic percussion -held together by an equally percussive guitar and melodic 60’s funky soul style slap bass. A variety of found objects clicking and clacking i rhythm and Eno’s high pitched synthesizer textures permeate this mix. A higher pitched rhythm guitar comes in along with sound samples of a gentleman performing an exorcism.  As this found dialog becomes more intense,the mix of bass/guitar,percussion and Eno’s bleeping, electronic melodic whistling synth fades out the song.

Much as with Miles Davis’s aforementioned On The Corner, this song functions as a funky soundscape as opposed to a structured pop song. It’s rhythmic and often melodic vamp serve to hold up the then highly innovative use of vocal sampling,which is now a standard for electronic music of all sorts. While the song and it’s accompanying album had more music lowers in awe at the time,it does surprise me a Rolling Stone article accused Eno and Byrne of trivializing exorcism with their sound sample. Considering the music’s overall embrace of tribalism, the nature of what is present on it goes right with the whole groove.

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Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Brian Eno, My Life In A Bush Of Ghosts, percussion, polyrhythm, rhythm guitar, Sampling, slap bass, synthesizer

Talking Heads Celebrated on Andresmusictalk: ‘Remain In Light’ (1980)-2006 Remastered DualDisc Edition from Andre’s Amazon Archive

Remain-in-light duel disc

In the history of recorded music there are a long series of recordings that simply forever stand the test of time for one reason or another.Sometimes they’re referred to as a bands “Sgt.Pepper”,in reference to the famous Beatles album but if it influences and inspires the entire creative scene in music for decades to come…….it goes beyond that cliched “classic” status.This would be one of those albums that fits easily into the latter. Throughout the 70’s the genres of funk and disco had embraced the concept of African inspired percussion was used in different ways in music.

But with the exception of a handful great funk bands such as Earth Wind & Fire and Mandrill not all of them completely realized the potential of this element in their music. During the late 70’s Fear of Music sessions the Talking Heads and Eno began integrating the concepts of polymeter and the musical concept of “communalism” into their music. It had always been boiling over since the beginning of their work with Eno. On this one the door broke all the way open.The addition of new musicians actually helped out:especially Adrian Belew and Jon Hassell.

Adrian’s “zoo guitar” style,using  his axe to crow,growl and snarl in a number of different ways created the impression of this great musical…safari.This is one of the first Talking Heads albums where the whole is more important then the parts:the cycle of songs (running in no particular order) from “Born Under Punches”,”The Great Curve” and “Houses In Motion” in particular are this glossy,echoed,almost beyond modern electronic mix of percussive funk,avant garde new wave sounds and…..some things you just have to hear to believe.

The greatest thing about this album is it isn’t some self indulgence that alienates the listener;it is based on musical communalism and it invites you to join right in.The fact that most of the lyrics have to do with body parts,movement,conformity or just the sounds of life in general you cannot help but feeling welcomed by this album.”Crosseyed And Painless” is,flat out one of the funkiest thing the Heads’ ever recorded,not to mention the fact it’s funk/rock combination worked far better then I am sure even they expected.”Once In A Lifetime” is one place where everything that makes this album great comes together all in one.

It was David’s self proclaimed “preacher song” questioning without resolution the things in life we value.The pure liquid thump of the song itself is really appropriate when the lyrical focus shifts to water.The most captivating song here is “Seen And Not Seen”-it reminds the funk fan listening to this record that one of the elements that made the best and most genuine funk recordings were the sound of being more like a ritual then a mere R&B/pop song with rhythm out front.To a thumping beat David chants a lyric that speaks of all the false values people often put into their surface features (hello Michael Jackson?).

“Listening Wind” keeps up a similar concept but there is more of a “techno drone” to that one,which of course goes in perfectly with the closing “The Overload”,somewhat dirge-like in a way compared to the heavy rhythms of the rest of the album.On to the bonus cuts well….it’s nothing BUT rhythm,from the NASTAY electronics on “Fela’s Riff” to the heavy Afro-Funk of “Double Groove” these keep kicking out the jams,where “Unison” and “Right Start” contain the embryo of some of the regular albums most important songs.

The most important thing about this album is that everything from the sound to the approach is completely ageless;to the point where,if you were to put this album on for me today and I didn’t know who made it and when it was I would actually think it was brand new.When I first heard this album…some eight years ago in fact I have to admit it felt very…familiar to me to hear this music.I am sure many others will have the same experience with this. Everyone today from Franz Ferdinand and every polyrhythmic,funk based rock outing one can think of owes itself to this album in some way. But the intermixing of ancient communal musical polyrhythm and modern electro funk still finds it’s true flower on this thoroughly excellent collection of music.

Originally posted on May 27th,2009

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE*

 

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Filed under 1980's, Adrian Belew, Afro Funk, Brian Eno, David Byrne, elecro funk, guitar, Jon Hassell, polyrhythm, Remain In Light, Talking Heads, zoo guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Feel Up” by Grace Jones

Grace Jones’ breakthrough album Nighclubbing is celebrating it’s 35 anniversary today. This album came along at a very significant time in the black musical spectrum. In 1981, America was deep in the throws of a radio freeze out of any uptempo music played by black artists. Meanwhile the synth dance/pop scene in England was gobbling up the funk and disco genres that the US was now rejecting. Into that mix came a group of Caribbean based artists who would help usher in a new fusion of world music sounds into that brew. Among them were Eddy Grant and Grace Jones.

Jamaican reggae producers/musicians Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare had produced Jones’ 1980 album Warm Leatherette  at Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point studios in Nassau. So the same group of people and musicians were involved in the creation of the followup. As an album, Nightclubbing  could be best described as an early precursor of the pop/world fusion sound that artists such as Peter Gabriel would pioneer mid decade. The array of styles on this album had a creative and commercial level of success in different areas of the world-not just the US and UK. One standout song on the album for me is “Feel Up”.

This extended mix of the song begins with a melodic pan flute-after which Dunbar’s bass drum comes in with Shakespeare’s thumping bass line. As the song builds, Shakespeare adds an addition layer of funkified slap bass along with a deep,percussive rhythm guitar along with genuine percussion. Wally Badarou’s quiet,high pitched synthesizer accents Jones’ vocal refrains. Towards the middle of the song,her vocals give way to rhythmic  breathing and popping . Her choruses of vocalizing the title heavy with echoplex make up the entire structure of this song as it fades out.

This is the one song Grace Jones herself wrote for this album. What’s so amazing about it is that it sums up not only the album,but the whole of Jones’s musical side. As an actress model,Jones brings out a strong mixture of African percussion rhythms,Jamaican and American funk bass lines. This entire song functions musically as layers of drums and bass-even the guitar. It also brings out Jones’ unique vocal conceptualization-acting out the rhythm of the song theatrically with her voice rather than simply interpreting the melody. So on this song,Grace Jones grew some serious funk of her own.

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Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Chris Blackwell, Compass Point, drums, Funk Bass, Grace Jones, percussion, rhythm guitar, Robbie Shakespeare, slap bass, Sly & Robbie, Sly Dunbar, synthesizer, Uncategorized, Wally Badarou, world fusion

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Yourself Go” by James Brown (April 1967)

James Brown made his name as a massively influential and inspiring bandleader and performer. The man was probably less regarded as an instrumentalist. He released a series of instrumental albums in the mid 60’s on the Smash record label. But he was also a drummer as well. That probably had a lot to do with his vision of turning his entire band into a drum. And this became the foundational rhythmic element of the funk genre he pioneered. As the 60’s entered it’s final three years, James Brown really began to allow his groove to expand on this path in earnest.

Because the key element to JB’s musical expression was pretty much nonstop touring,he and the JB’s didn’t often have the time to pop over to posh studios to record new singles right away. New songs would often come right out of the rhythms that came through from the stage performances. And James likely came at this with the attitude of “we’ve got to get this on wax while it’s hot!”. That’s likely just what happened on one chilly Philadelphia evening in mid January of 1967 at the Latin Casino nightclub where,after a performance there James and his band recorded “Let Yourself Go”.

Jimmy Nolan’s chicken scratch guitar starts the groove right off cold. The Motown style snare drum kicks right in,along with a scintillating up and down scaling jazzy bass line. The horns play either a 2 or 4 note chart between each guitar break-spiced up by some serious Afro-Cuban conga drums. On the breakdown of the song,the horns begin calling for a musical response while the guitar becomes a sustained rhythmic tone. The one turns right back around as this pattern repeats one last time. On the fade out,the breakdown finds the horns scaling up with increasing volume as the song rides away into the groove.

Around the time this song was recorded, James Brown and the Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti were said to have both been checking out each others shows. Eventually, both of their styles would influence the other. For James’s part,he took the more melodic horn sustains of popular African Highlife music. He also blended in the percussive congas from within the Afro-Cuban clave. That combined with the entire band becoming one big sheet of rhythm made this a key song in terms of where James Brown’s music was about to go. And probably one of the most Afrocentric examples of his time in the funk process.

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Filed under 1960's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, chicken scratch guitar, clave, drums, Fela Kuti, Funk Bass, funk process, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, percussion, The JB's, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funkentelechy” by Parliament

Not long ago,I learned that Parliament’s iconic 1977 album Funkentetelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome is turning 39 today. This album was extremely important in the P-Funk lexicon. It introduced some key concepts within such as the placebo syndrome. This reduced down to saying if you faked the funk,your nose would grow. It also introduced the character of Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk,the physical embodiment of George Clinton’s statement on the debut Funkadelic album seven years prior to this that “I was cool,but I had no groove”. Parliaments mid/late 70’s albums each extended on the theatrical structure of Clinton’s musical concept.  This one perhaps in at least two very significant ways.

When I first heard the album about twenty years ago,I wasn’t particularly impressed. The presence of slower ballad numbers such as “Wizard Of Finance” and the (as I know understand it funkier) “Placebo Syndrome” didn’t endear me much to this album as it’s most powerful songs seemed to be on the Tear The Roof Off compilation Parliament had out at the time. When I finally picked up the album on CD several years ago,there’d been years of experience with P-Funk experience in terms of albums to fully appreciate what this was. It contained the massively influential “Flashlight” of course. But probably the one song here that really advances it’s entire concept is the title song.

“Funkentelechy” has two distinct sections within ten minutes. The first one is built around the two constants that both sections have in common. One is a big drum beat that comes down heavy on the one and the close harmony African highlife style horn charts. It also has faster,more JB style horns and Junie Morrison playing what my friend Henrique referred to as a chromatic walkdown on piano. Bootsy’s duck face bass,which pops in and out of the mix with the low rhythm guitar on the first part, becomes consistently integral on the second half of the song. This half is more downbeat melodically and is based more on the harmonic horns and close vocal choruses. And this is where the song fades out on.

In a similar manner to the title song for the Mothership Connection,this song seems like two different musical themes put together. Though in this case,this is done more melodically than rhythmically as the one remains constant. Thematically it’s a commercial for funk as a musical/social ethic. Clinton introduces lyrical parodies on American commercial slogans such as “how do you spell relief?” and ‘fasten your safety belt”. Most importantly though he points out that “funk is not domestically produced”-perhaps pointing to the genre (and this songs) African origins in rhythm.  Both instrumentally and lyrically,this song goes really far in explaining why funk was no longer a bad word.

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Filed under 1970's, African highlife music, Afro Funk, Bootsy Collins, chromatic walkdown, drums, Funk Bass, George Clinton, horns, P-Funk, Parliament, piano, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized, Walter Junie Morrison

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Nobu” by Herbie Hancock (1974)

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Herbie Hancock’s 1973 number “Chameleon”was not only some of the first funk I ever heard. It was one of the very first songs I remember hearing at all. With each passing year,Hancock’s music has always been representative to me of new musical discoveries. From funk to disco to electro. After listening to him for years,it became clear fairly early that Hancock shared one creative quality with his mid/late 60’s musical boss Miles Davis. And that was that Hancock has had a number of distinctly different musical periods in his now 54 year strong recording career. In terms of over-viewing his career here,it seemed fitting to explore some of these periods’ lesser known innovations he helped to spearhead.

On July 29th,1974 Herbie Hancock recorded his sixteenth studio album live at Koseinekin Hall in Tokyo,Japan. The album was released only in Japan on the countries’ CBS affiliate. The album was divided  between four songs. The first two were performed acoustically and the final two would be performed electrically. Being this album would be sandwiched between Hancock’s two major funk breakthrough’s in 1973’s Headhunters and it’s followup Thrust from later this same year,this album entitled  Dedication received little attention at the time of it’s release. But one song on the album was one Hancock had never performed previously. It was called “Nobu”.

The song opens with a brittle,staccato Arp Odyssey provided the songs central rhythm. Then the ARP String Ensamble fades in with it’s otherworldly orchestral tones. Hancock provides to different musical lines with his Fender Rhodes on this song. One is a bluesy bass line that pumps hard up under the song. The other is a mid to high toned solo that plays some often spiraling melodic improvisations. Towards the middle of the song,this Rhodes solo becomes more rhythmic in tone. As the melody again becomes a prominent part,the ARP strings returns as Hancock’s Rhodes turn to an echoing dewdrop sound before the song reaches it’s end with a bang from the string ensemble and the Rhodes.

Many people (including myself) think of Herbie Hancock’s fully electro funk period at beginning with his work with Grand Mixer DST and “Rockit” in 1983. Even though it wasn’t heard stateside at the time,Hancock’s electro funk revolution actually got it’s start right here on “Nobu” in 1974. And it’s electro Afro-Funk at that. The ARP Odyssey Hancock uses for the rhythm of this song has a more percussive than a drum like tone. And therefore the flavor it creates is of a far more tribal nature than any early drum machine could create. So by fashioning futurist Afrocentric electro funk,Herbie Hancock was at this point already a decade ahead of his time.

 

 

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Filed under 1974, Afro Funk, Afro-Futurism, Afrocentrism, ARP synthesier, electric jazz, electro funk, Fender Rhodes, Herbie Hancock, jazz fusion, Uncategorized