Mothers and fathers are indirectly responsible for the first musical rhythms we experience as human beings. It’s the heartbeat of the child itself. Prince illustrated this in the mid 90’s on his jam “Sex In The Summer”. In terms of literal music,my mother’s own musical interests seem connected to her being a former modern abstract dancer/choreographer. I’d describe her musical tastes as being eclectic-perhaps even overreaching at times. But fundamentally,it’s still a good groove that inspires her. And as much as my father has been the main musical guiding light in my family? My mother has made her mark too.
Ramsey Lewis is an artist whom I discovered through my family about 20 years ago. It was during the time where I was really getting interested in funk. And asking my dad to pull funky music out of his vinyl collection whenever he could. Most of this came out of his jazz collection. However,there was one album that he and my mom purchased together when they were first married. The album was by Ramsey Lewis. And it was 1975’s Don’t It Feel Good. While the funk percolated across it with “Spider-Man” and “Fish Bite”,it was the opening title song that always caught my mothers ear. And later mine.
A deep,chunky rhythm guitar begins the song playing a deep in the pocket bluesy riff. Right into the middle of this pocket,a round and pulsing Moog bass settles right in. The drum keeps up the entire song with a slow,pulsing swing with plenty of rhythmic breaks. This is orchestrated by an ARP string ensemble. Ramsey’s Fender Rhodes solo improvises on the blusiness of the guitar. That same guitar buffets the refrain and chorus. Each chorus has a different vocal chorus. One has a Latin-jazz style vocalese. The other,which fades out the song,is based on the bluesy melody and states “don’t it feel good RAMSEY!”.
This is one of those funk jams that understands two of the most important things about the classic funk era. The deep in the pocket groove keeps the bluesy slowness in the rhythm and melody. Also the vocals really bring that element of jazz Miles Davis always championed,based on his mothers advice,for musicians to always play “something you could hum”. Added to all this,the song really knows how to stay on the one. The refrain/choral sequence is all based in advancing the melodic and rhythmic drama of this groove. And that makes it among Ramsey Lewis’s finest funk of the 70’s.
Filed under 1975, Afro-Latin jazz, ARP string ensemble, backup singers, blues funk, drums, Fender Rhodes, funk guitar, jazz funk, Moog, Mothers Day, synth bass, Uncategorized
Kraftwerk (German for “power plant”) were a group who came to my attention through a PBS documentary talking about electro funk pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. He was explaining how when he first heard the German groups album Trans Europe Express,he was convinced this would be the music for the future. Thanks to Bambaataa’s parties for his proto hip-hop collective Zulu Nation,late 70’s Kraftwerk records became major fixtures at black and Latino dance parties throughout the Bronx and Brooklyn. As krautrock’s prototype for what became today’s EDM sound,Krafwerk had an origin point all it’s own within their native country.
The group’s founders in keyboardist/guitarist Ralf Hutter and flutist/percussionist Florian Schneider,whose celebrating his 69th birthday today,came together at the very end of the 60’s in a psychedelic fusion oriented band known as the Organisation. After that bands first and only album, Ralf and Florian formed their first addition of Kraftwerk along with drummers Andreas Hohmaan and Klaus Dinger for their self titled debut. Released in 1970,it was produced by the iconic krautrock producer Konrad “Conny” Plank. Upon first hearing the album,the opening song stood out to me with heavy familiarity about it. The name of the song was “Ruckzuck”.
Florian begins the song with a double tracked flute solo playing very Arabic style scales. He then brings a very whisper,brittle violin solo which instantly kicks into the song itself. Hohmann’s hi hat heavy,rolling 2 by 2 beat snare drum pushes along at a hard grooving tempo with Hutter’s high pitched organ providing the main melody. Florian’s flute flows in and out of the mix. As Hutter’s organ grows more atonal and higher in the mix,the main melody of the song suddenly returns at an accelerated tempo. Then the whole disappears into a sea of tribal,very aboriginal African sounding percussion before that accelerated main theme fades back in to officially close out the song.
Henrique Hopkins and myself have had a number of discussions on Kraftwerk providing more raw instrumental material than strong melodic song content to those influenced by them. The Kraftwerk on this song are very different. Later member Karl Bartos said once that one the groups main key influences was James Brown. That can be heard on this song having such a complete relationship to rhythm-even the violin soloing. Because everything in this song is mixed in such close proximity,I cannot tell my next point for sure. But it does sound as if the rhythm is deeply locked into the Afro-Latin clave as well. That plus the very tribal pulse in the middle of the groove brings that out as well.
It was a few years ago that the songs familiarity came to me via YouTube. In the late 80’s and early 90’s,about 30 seconds of this song was used as the theme song to the PBS science program Newton’s Apple. The use of the song was apparently unauthorized and was replaced by a cover version during the shows later years. Part of the reasoning for this had to due with Ralf and Florian seemingly disowning this and Kraftwerk’s next two albums after the late 70’s-with Florian himself referring to them as “archaeology”. Even still,hearing Kraftwerk’s first song from their first album in such a progressive jazz-funk context showcases what their musical core has remained over the years.
Filed under 1970's, Afrika Bambaataa, Afro-Latin jazz, Andreas Hohmaan, clave, Conny Plank, drums, Florian Schneider, flute, Germany, James Brown, jazz funk, Kraftwerk, krautrock, organ, progressive music, Ralf Hutter, Uncategorized, violin
Herb Alpert was covered superbly by my friend Henrique eight months ago on his blog Riquespeaks. In his case he covered the 1987 duet with Janet Jackson entitled “Diamonds”. As someone who began his career as bandleader of the hugely popular band The Tijuana Brass and a record label owner with his and Jerry Moss’s A&M Records in the early 60’s, Alpert was continuing to evolve.As the 70’s came in,the sound of this band began to take on elements of Brazilian jazz in their radio friendly pop. He finally went solo in 1976-his debut followed by a couple duet albums (one studio and one live) with fellow trumpeter Hugh Masekela over the next couple of years.
The nucleus of Alpert’s next albums came through a conversation with his nephew Randy about updating Tijuana Brass hits for the disco era. The results sounded very corny to Alpert,so he and Randy engaged on another musical course. In writing a big keyboard oriented number for the upcoming Olympics in Mexico City entitled “1980”,the duo bought in a group of musicians to do an an album entitled Rise. It’s funky title song became the theme song of his solo career,and he did a version of the Crusaders “Street Life” on the album as well. The other song that caught my ear was it’s second,lesser known hit. The song is called “Rotation”.
Randy’s percussion starts out the groove deeply in the Afro-Latin clave. After an echoed whisper of the title song,a brittle Clavinet from the song’s co-writer Andy Armer launches into Alpert’s sustained trumpet solo. Randy backs him up with a pulsing synth bass. Armer’s Clavinet continues playing the counter melody to Alpert’s Spanish inspired trumpet soloing. Each chorus and refrain is punctuated by Julius Wechter’s ringing marimba. As Alpert’s solos becomes more and more jazzy and improvises over the melody-including a solo for Randy’s synth bass,the rhythmic keyboards grow in thickness until the song simply fades out on the percussion from where it begun.
The sound of this song is unique and distinctive on several different levels. For one,it brings the stripped down groove so common in the coming 80’s new wave sound into the Latin jazz idiom. For another, it uses both a Clavinet and synth bass as the main rhythmic body besides the drum. And most important perhaps of all,it finds Herb Alpert understanding what another fellow trumpet Miles Davis realized a decade earlier. And that was that an instrumental soloist could totally alter the rhythmic sound of their music and still play with their classic approach. In a lot of ways,this song is a fine example of uniquely produced Afro-Latin jazz/funk as defining Herb Alpert’s solo career.
Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Andy Armer, clave, clavinet, Herb Alpert, jazz funk, Julius Wechter, marimba, percussion, Randy Badazz Alpert, synth bass, trumpet, Uncategorized
George Benson is one of my favorite overall musicians. Both my friend Henrique and I both agree on this. For the last couple of years,one major topic between us is how much of a virtuoso player Benson is. Over years of playing and singing,the man developed a technique of scatting over his guitar playing that became part of his signature sound. When thinking about paying tribute to this man’s rich and full musical legacy,it seemed right to showcase his talents on two levels: as a singer and as an instrumentalist. And considering Benson’s vast body of recorded music,that is no easy task. There was one song that bounced right into my head however.
Growing up,I always spoke of Benson’s hit “Give Me The Night” and Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” in the same sentence. It wasn’t for years that I learned that both were in fact recorded with the same group of musicians. And both were produced by Quincy Jones. Give Me The Night is also Benson’s album from 1980. And a huge commercial success too on the strength of the title song and “Love X Love”. Taken as a whole it was a wonderful and diverse album. And there is one song on it that really catches my ear on a strictly musical level. It’s title is something an extension off another of Benson’s big hits from four years earlier and is called “Off Broadway”.
Rufus’s John Robinson’s drum kick gets the song rolling with Jerry Hey’s melodic horns, the late Louis Johnson’s bass thump and a duet between Benson’s bluesy guitar horn with Lee Ritenour’s more ticklish accessory line . Greg Phillinganes adds in blipping,chiming synthesizers along with a bass one. This goes into before Paulinho da Costa’s high every percussion comes in for the Brazilian style chorus where Benson plays the melodic solo. Hey’s horns and strings scale out of this-on two occasions within the song. The final refrains find Benson taking one of his chordally thick solos-vocalizing with it in his classic style on the final bars of the song.
Composed by Rod Temperton,one of my favorite jazzy funk/dance songwriters. The musicianship on this song is pretty close to amazing. Everyone involved is at their melodic and rhythmic best on this song. Although these are most of LA’s finest and most prolific session musicians of the day,Benson sounds as if he’s playing with a self contained jazz/funk band who’ve been playing for years like The Crusaders. Benson plays both a very basic melodic line on this song-one that’s very open and vocal in tone. That virtuoso style of soloing really lets go on those final refrains. And this song therefore gives you a groove that jams along by virtue of two different approaches of George Benson’s boss of a guitar.
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Latin jazz, drums, Funk Bass, George Benson, Greg Philinganes, guitar, horns, jazz funk, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, strings, synth bass, Uncategorized
Wanted to start this by giving thanks to two people who helped make today’s Anatomy of THE Groove occur. First is Brandon Ousley. It was through a Facebook post of his that I was made aware that today was the 40th anniversary of the release of Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You. When I first heard this album,it was a literal love affair for me in terms of appreciating it musically. It was an equal source of heartbreak after reading David Ritz biography of Marvin entitled Divided Soul. That book overly personalized Marvin’s 70’s albums for me to the point where the lyrics became uncomfortably subjective. It was my friend Henrique who I wanted to thank most for helping me on that level.
This 1976 Marvin Gaye album featured two of it’s songs in instrumental reprises. Including one of my favorites “After The Dance”. In an effort to stop getting the singer confused with the song,focusing on Marvin as a musical figure is a good way to go. And the subtext Henrique provided for me courtesy of Michael Eric Dyson’s book on Marvin called Mercy Mercy Me. It would seem that while recording this instrumental with writer/producer Leon Ware,Marvin had intended flutist Ernie Watts to play the main melodic solo. But he noticed the horns and strings were out of tune in some spots where he Watts’ solo wasn’t quite enough to compensate.
One Motown engineer Marvin was working with at that time was named Calvin Harris. He had a Moog synthesizer. Apparently Marvin was fascinated by the range of sounds this electronic instrument was capable of if multi tracked in the same way he did his vocals on the sung version of the song. Initially he did this only in order to cover the out of tune orchestrations that weren’t settling well with him. Then he realized he could use it to create his own musical world where Ernie’s solo’s just hadn’t worked for him. In the end,this was a totally different way of re-imagining the song on both the harmonic and melodic level. And it just opened up a whole new groove as it went along.
A slow crawling,percussive samba opens the album with rather Asian sounding chimes playing a similar melody to Marvin’s round and bubbling synthesizer. The chorus develops into a mix of jazzy piano voicing’s,elaborate string arrangements and the equally complex bass improvisations-so much so they aren’t always easy to hear for some people. On these choruses,Marvin’s Moog solos play in and around the chords of the melody in a similar manner to a bop jazz era pianist. As the intro to the song repeats,the Moog is really pushed up as a boiling round bass line until the main chorus fades out the song-this time with the Moog solo accompanying Watts flute soloing.
While I always loved the “sea of Marvin’s” vocal harmonizing that was present on the vocal hit version of this song,understanding the lyrics as I do now make them come off more as a tortured inner dialog than a beautiful vocal statement. This version focuses in on Marvin as an instrumentalist. And by using unusual melodic voicing’s that are more chord oriented,the range of emotion projected through the instrumentation allows the lyric of the song to be a lot more open to interpretation than the original words might’ve been. Hearing the instrumental made me fall in love with this musically sensuous Latin jazz soul/funk groove all over again. And that makes it all the more special.
Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Calvin Harris, Ernie Watts, flute, Leon Ware, Marvin Gaye, Moog, Motown, multi tracking, percussion, slow funk, synth bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized
Esperanza Spalding has always celebrated the ebb and flow of jazz in her career arc thus far. Being a bassist and therefore rhythm player,she’s adapted herself into a number of different tributaries of jazz. From small chamber groups,to vocal to funk. On the latter end her Radio Music Society album of five years ago dovetailed nicely into her work with Janelle Monae a year later on their collaborative song “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”. There is one concept that Spalding has been evolving over the last few years. It’s based on her understanding of the 60’s super group Cream consisting of jazz oriented members in Jack Bruce and the late Ginger Baker. And that’s her adapting her sound to a rock power trio.
That trio consists of guitarist Matthew Stevens,whose played with Christian Scott and on Harvey Mason’s newest album along with drummers Justin Tyson and Karriem Riggins-the latter of whom is also a DJ whose played for Erykah Badu and with Slum Village. Their brand new album is titled for an alter ego (Spalding’s middle name) called Emily’s D+Evolution. She describes this concept as dealing with a modern mind afflicted by a primal urge. And how great strides in creative development could be inspired from a less enlightened version of oneself. As applied to the music of Spalding’s new album, only one track with a groove that impacted strongly on me. And it is called “Judas”.
The song begins with the peddling swinging drum rhythm with Spalding scaling up and down on her electric bass. After that the high pitched electric/acoustic guitar comes in to accent the songs constantly scaling and complex chordal structure. The song itself is very chorus heavy-with the Afro-Latin rhythm breaks of the percussive,hi hat heavy drumming being the consistent element in a song where the main melodic change is from the major chords of the chorus to the more minor chords of the refrains. After each repeat,the calmer riff that opens the song repeats itself before the next set of choral refrains until Spaldings vocals and the hi hat cycle out of the song itself.
Because this song is stripped down with a vocal melody based around the chords of the rhythm section, this song has a similar musical technique to the be-bop styled singer/songwriter folk-pop of Joni Mitchell’s late 70’s work. Instrumentally the trio she’s playing with project a strong jazzy fluidity here. Having streamed this album early on,I was quite unimpressed with what came across as raggedy alternative rock instrumentation that seemed to get in the way of Spalding’s complex songwriting on the majority of the album. But the combination of the boppish Latin rhythms makes this one song stand out as both jazzy and funky.
About the “Emily” concept itself it’s effects on this song,Esperanza herself describes this musical character as someone she does not yet know fully. She’s been touring for a year or so now with what’s known as the ACS trio-also consisting of Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington with the songs from this album.Lyrically the song “Judas” comes across as the childhood dreams that inspired Spalding for this musical act. If I were to try to break it down,the lyrics to this song seem to be about just making it in a complex world. And it’s described more in terms of stream of conscious actions than realistic events. So the music and lyrics of this song really look to providing Spalding clarity for her new concept.
Filed under 2016, Afro-Latin jazz, alternative rock, bass guitar, drums, Esperanza Spalding, Jazz, jazz funk, Joni Mitchell, Karriem Riggins, Matthew Stevens, new music, Nu Funk, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized
Earth Wind & Fire had one of the most telling experiences with the post disco radio freeze out of the early 1980’s. Their inaugural album of the decade entitled Faces an alternately Afrocentric and idiosyncratic double album that was not as popular with audience as it’s sale figures indicated. Philip Bailey often mentioned he felt that when record label pressures began being put upon EWF to began courting their own classic sound, it actually began the downfall of that sound. Their subsequent album Raise! is actually among my favorites of theirs and got them a huge hit in “Let’s Groove”. The band indicate they felt that song signified them chasing success. Still this was a creative fertile period for EWF.
From their very first days at Columbia,EWF had always reserved some of their more experimental musical elements to linking interludes between songs. They were generally under a minute long. And the more pop oriented their sound became,the more anachronistic these interludes seemed to become. Still it was an excellent chance to showcase that they were still musicians. On vinyl the second side of the Raise! album began with such an interlude entitled “Kalimba Tree”. On the album it was under 30 seconds long. As featured in the 1982 EWF concert filmed in Oakland California,it was a lot longer. The new Funkytowngrooves reissue of the album features this longer version.
A round,space funk synthesizer wash opens up the groove. The percussion rings away as Verdine White’s bass line provides the most potent rhythmic element. As the higher key choral element comes in,brother Maurice’s Kalimba comes as Verdine’s bass scales down more. All along with one of Philip Bailey’s classic ebonic chants-later repeated on a second vocal course by Maurice. Roland Bautista plays a glassy guitar solo along with Don Myrick’s jazzy sax solo. On the final refrain,hand claps come deep into play with a more rocking solo from Bautista as the same space funk synth wash that opened the song closes it out.
Sometimes when I hear a song,the mind begins to wander in terms of what might’ve been. Earth Wind & Fire would only have two more albums out of their original Columbia run after 1981. Hearing what I only understood to be a brief interlude extended out in this fashion got me to think just how long numbers such as “Departure”,”Brazilian Rhyme” or even 1983’s “Mizar” might’ve actually been as originally recorded. In any case,this showcases that the mixture of Afro-Brazilian rhythm,funk and jazz that were at the core of EWF’s sound were still alive and well amid the technological changes during the 1980’s. And that the band were still thinking on that same level as well.
Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Afro-Latin jazz, Afrocentrism, Don Myrick, Earth Wind & Fire, Kalimba, Maurice White, Philip Bailey, post disco, Roland Bautista, Uncategorized, Verdine White
Chas Jankel is a very key figure in the development of the UK funk scene that thrived alongside new wave in the early 1980’s. Something of a child prodigy who began learning Spanish guitar and piano at the age of 7? Jankel joined up with Ian Dury in 1977. He was a part of their group together known as The Blockheads,who expertly integrated American funk and disco into their English pub rock framework. In particular on their heavily funkified 1979 double album Do It Yourself. In 1980, Jankel decided to leave the Blockheads in order to pursue a solo career. His self titled debut album,with it’s lead-off song “Ai No Corrida” even inspired a hit remake shortly after-courtesy of non other than Quincy Jones.
I personally first heard of the man through a book entitled Funk-The Essential Listening Companion. It mentioned Jankel with a thorough discography. But the fact that the book was highly critical of Chas’s creative choices was negated by the fact the entire book itself was very sloppily written and printed-full of typographical errors. So I sought out the man’s difficult to locate music on my own. Some years later? YouTube emerged as a huge help in this-with only his debut readily available on CD to this date. Deciding on which of his songs to discuss was like a chocoholic contemplating a Whitman’s Sampler from where I stood. Somehow? His 1981 song and accompanying music video “Questionnaire” came just a little ahead of the crowd in that regard!
The intro to this song builds up powerful musical drama by actually fading into the song in the same way most fade out. And it does so into a powerful swell of Afro-Brazilian percussion. Shortly the trumpets blare-accenting the jazzy salsa piano that changes melody in the primary chorus of the song. On the refrains,this is heavily accented by powerful bursts of Larry Graham-style slap bass-only appropriate as Sly & The Family Stone were apparently a major inspiration for Jankel getting into funk to start with The trumpets blare even louder on a chorus filled with a throbbing snare drum solo over the percussion before joining a full chorus of trumpets and organ solos. On the final instrumental refrain? A quieter and more plaintive trumpet solo leads out the song.
To my ears? This is one of the finest merging’s of Cuban jazz and poppy funk to come out of the early 80’s UK jazz/funk scene. The insertion of American funk elements such as thick slap bass goes right in perfectly with the unifying instrumental force joining Afro-Latin dance music and funk/soul together-thick and strong percussion accents. The lyrical content is simple enough. Just a single man daydreaming of a potential future lover in the form of a personal ad. Yet Jankel states it very eloquently-asking important questions of possible mates about people’s priorities in life rather than concerning himself totally with matters of economy . As the song implies? This is one musical journey that is indeed quite important!
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Latin jazz, bass guitar, Chas Jankel, Funk, Funk Bass, Ian Dury, Jazz-Funk, Larry Graham, lyrics, slap bass, Sly Stone, UK Funk