Betty Davis,nee’ Mabry was one of the few women deeply involved in the late 60’s/early 70’s funk process. This was both on a professional and personal level. She recorded her first single in 1964,and her work with the Chambers Brothers in 1967 prompted her to take the focus off her successful modelling career because she felt singing/songwriting challenged her mind more,stating “its only going to last as long as you look good”. She also had a relationship with Hugh Masakela and a marriage to Miles Davis. By these associations she was a key figure for helping launch the jazz/funk fusion genre.
She introduced Miles Davis to the music of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone-as well as to the people themselves. She was also as much of a fashion icon as Davis was. He produced her second major recording sessions (her first being in 1964) in the late 60’s before they divorced. Just about every liberated Afrocentric female artist from Chaka Khan,Grace Jones to Rihanna owe their persona’s to hers. Her second solo was called They Say I’m Different. Aside from the medium tempo tempo closer “Special People”,the rest of this 1974 album is hardcore uptempo funk/rock. Here’s my Amazon.com review of the album:
Betty Davis is an artist I’ve been hearing a lot of hype about for years.’They Say I’m Different’ is an album I’ve been hearing about forever as well.I was almost entirely certain there was no way that this album could possibly live up to the hype.Well when Light In The Attic records decided to put this out on CD,…..well to put it mildly this MORE then lived up to it’s long held mystique and hype.The best way to describe this music is unhinged and unpolished funk.EVERY song on it fits that description.As for Betty Davis’s singing,it lays somewhere between the the styles of Tina Turner,Sly Stone and Janis Joplin.
All of the songs celebrate her liberated spirit but there’s one that just blows you away in less then a second.”He Was A Big Freak”…….I don’t know WHAT MAN she was referring to but she really paints herself as a wild,wild funky diva BIG TIME here;she wails out about her “man” who enjoys being tied up.The Ohio Players did a lot of S&M based album art at the this time but TALKING OPENLY ABOUT IT,A FEMALE FUNK SINGER?And it never seems like a gimmick either because you actually believe she lived a lot of the “wild style” she speaks about.And the grooves on that and every other song here are as raw a funk as you’re probably ever going to hear.
With the likes of Azteca’s Pete Escovedo on percussion and Graham Central Station’s Hershall Happiness Kennedy on keyboards and trumpet,this album turned out to be the second of only a trio of albums Davis released during the 1970’s. With the documentary ‘Nasty Gal-The Many Lives Of Funk Queen Betty Davis” currently in production, the life of this influential and captivating personality may come to the fore. As it stands, Davis is a key reference point in the jazz/funk music that this blog stands for. And am happy to wish Davis a very funky 71st birthday today!
Filed under 1960's, 1970's, Afrocentrism, Amazon.com, Betty Davis, Betty Mabry, funk rock, Hershall Happiness Kennedy, jazz funk, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, Pete Escovedo, Uncategorized
Grace Jones is someone who feels a bit like a creative soul sister to me. Despite the 32 year age difference,we were both born on the same day of the year. As Tauruses, both of us very much contradict our supposed astrological traits. It’s kind of fun to think about the fact that both Grace Jones and myself revel in being somewhat daring. Yet both of us exact strong control over how said daring is projected. So far,she’s really made her controlled sense of performance art really function well for her. That’s made her something of a cultural icon for Afrocentricity from the beginning to the middle of the 1980’s.
Jones recorded three albums during between 1980 and 1982 for Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point studios. All would feature the production and instrumental talents of dub reggae pioneers Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. These albums all fashioned a funky,pan ethnic type of new wave dance/rock music. Her final album of this triad was called Living My Life. In many ways,it was the most fully realized of her albums in terms embracing different strains of Afrocentric musicality. And it all started off with a song that really summed this sound up in “My Jamaican Guy”.
Wally Badarou starts out with a synthesizer solo deep in the Asiatic pentatonic scale. Dunbar then comes in with the 8 beat,break heavy jazzy funk/reggae skank throughout the song. On the refrain there are two more layers of keyboard-one is a lower and more bluesy one,the other of is a higher pitched synth brass/horn chart type riff. Shakespeare’s bass and guitarists Barry Reynonds stay in chunky,syncopated interplay throughout-all the while a round,hiccuping electronic pulse adds a percussive thump. After a bridge that reduces the song back to the drum,the chorus lets the song come to a hand clapping stop.
Instrumentally speaking,this might be the most thoroughly pan ethnic funk jam of 1982. It’s got the Asian style melody,the stripped down dub funk drumming as well as the equally drum like bass/guitar interplay. Everything from Grace and Sly & Robbie’s grunts and calls to the electronic hiccups make this song one big sea of rhythm and movement along with it’s deep reggae melody and lyrics. The “laid back,not layed back” Jamaican guy Jones sings about turned out to be Tyrone Downie of Bob Marley’s Wailers. And this all makes up for one of the best examples of where the funky groove took Miss Grace Jones.
Filed under 1980's, Afrocentrism, Barry Reynolds, Chris Blackwell, Compass Point, drums, Funk Bass, Grace Jones, naked funk, pentatonic scale, rhythm guitar, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly & Robbie, Sly Dunbar, synthesizers, Uncategorized
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.
Filed under 1974, Afro Funk, Afro-Futurism, Afrocentrism, ARP synthesier, electric jazz, electro funk, Fender Rhodes, Herbie Hancock, jazz fusion, Uncategorized
Just over ten days ago Larry Payton,the drummer for the Brooklyn based band Brass Construction passed away at the age of 62. The man was considered in the funk community as one of the major drummers of the day. Especially as danceable rhythms became a major musical priority in the disco era. Being that my mother was working in the modern dance field in mid 70’s NYC and was herself a Brooklyn native,it amazes me to think of all the powerful funk bands from Brass Construction to the Fatback Band having their days in the sun during that era. The story of this band and their musical breakthrough also runs very deep as well.
One of the bands founders Guyanese born Randy Muller. Originally founded as Dynamic Soul in Muller’s adopted home of Bedford-Stuyvesant (also my mom’s origin point),Brass Construction came out of an area blanketed by music as the funk era developed. A huge fan of the Afro-Latin percussion strains of Mongo Santamaria,the intellectually minded Muller turned down an offer for the band to sign to Motown’s Rare Earth imprint and signed the band to United Artists. Their self titled debut dropped in 1975. And it began with a song that would not only launch the band success wise,but also change the face of the funk for the rest of the decade. It was entitled “Movin'”.
The song begins with one of the heaviest horn blasts in funk before going into a quiet Fender Rhodes solo that launches into the main song. It is a hard hitting,percussive drum groove driven by hand-claps right on every beat. The rhythm guitar and a pumping, chordally jazz phrased bass line holds the groove steady as the horns play the main melody. A series of scaling chimes create a dream like atmosphere on top. On the refrains of the songs brittle wah wah guitar,sci fi synthesizers and the horns themselves each take on upfront soloing time. As the song goes on,these many combinations of rhythm and melody work with each other in funky unison until song fades out.
In terms of bringing the Afro Funk sound with it’s tight melodic horn charts and percussive drumming to the American public,”Movin'” really can’t be beat. With the emphasis on the basic 4/4 dance beat at the core,it was the nucleus of the New York disco sound that emphasized heavy funkiness. Payton’s drumming on this song echoed on through what would be heard on jams like “Running Away” from the Roy Ayers Ubiquity a couple of years after this. And this song was also kept funk’s Afrocentric identification intact in order to get people to really dance to their tune. This has made it one of the most enduring and important uptempo funk numbers of the mid 1970’s.
Filed under 1970's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afrocentrism, Brass Construction, Brooklyn, disco funk, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Larry Payton, New York, percussion, Randy Muller, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, Uncategorized
Eddy Grant first came to my attention in the same manner as he did most people around the world. And that was through his massively successful 1982 new wave funk/rock hit “Electric Avenue”. Actually that’s an excellent introduction to this artist. Fact is,Eddy Grant is a pretty amazing artist. This Afro-Briton multi instrumentalist was born British Guiana. He recorded his first album on his own Ice House label. And that label has since developed the largest catalog of Caribbean music in the world.. In addition to providing a wonderful business model for black DIY artists,Grant was also someone who absorbed a great deal from the 70’s funk/soul groove aestetic.
Grant’s musical grounding is so strong that he actually invented a specific genre himself called ringbang. It functions as a combination of different Caribbean musical styles. Grant himself describes this genre in very Afrocentric terms-that is as a music that’s totally oriented around using rhythm to communicate messages between those listening. As his music progressed,it took on a great deal of sociopolitical messages within the lyrics. Specifically focused on ending Apartheid in South Africa. At the end of the 70’s as the disco era was coming to a close,Grant spun his own take on futurist dance music with his 1979 hit song entitled “Waling On Sunshine”.
An uptempo percussive beat begins the song right off and keeps itself going throughout the song. A bassy Clavinet plays a purely rhythmic role throughout the song right along with the main percussive fueling the groove. On each chorus and refrain,the Afro Beat/reggae styled horns pulse and play away. When the song reaches a bridge,there’s a round wah wah guitar playing an extremely funky riff that keeps on going through some sweaty vocal call and responses. On the next instrumental section,a popping early drum machine pulses up and down before the horns come back into play for some heavy charts. The song fades out with Grant harmonizing with himself on some jazzy falsetto vocals.
Having listened to this song several times all the way through online over the past couple of years,something important about it really occurred to me tonight. This song might very well come as close as the planet Earth can come to perfecting late 70’s pan African funk. Even though it would be well over a decade before Grant would coin his ringbang genre, songs such as this made it clear that funk played a huge part in it. The combination of African style horn charts and percussion with electric piano would resonate onto other Afro Funk classics in the coming years such as Rim & Kasa’s “Love Me For Real” four years later. And this song is a prime example of Eddy Grant at his most fully funky.
Filed under 1970's, Afro Funk, Afrocentrism, Caribbean Funk, clavinet, drum machine, Eddy Grant, horns, Ice House Records, percussion, ringbang music, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar
One of the things that struck me most about the 2005 (in my neck of the woods anyway) release of Earth Wind & Fire’s Illumination album is how much the social circumstances surrounding it were similar to how they’d been while EWF were in their peak period during the mid 70’s. There was an economic crisis,a resulting oil shortage and a good deal of cynicism about an unpopular war. To my thought and emotions? It was the perfect time for some serious funk to come in,move and than remove some of this negativity and hopelessness. And the release of this album,EWF’s final one with the participation of Maurice White was just what the doctor ordered.
Illumination was a very uptempo and funk oriented album. As with most records of it’s time,it featured a number of guest appearances. In this case from the Black Eyed Peas Will I.Am,Outkast’s Big Boi,Destiny’s Child’s Kelly Rowland,the British hip hop duo Floetry as well as Kenny G. It was very much a return to form in many ways for the band. My friend and fellow blogging inspiration Henrique already covered this albums wonderful opening number “Happy People” on Andresmusictalk. So this is dedicated as much to him as the late Maurice White-both huge inspirations in terms of this blog. One song on this album truly made the hair on my back stand up-an instrumental entitled “Liberation”.
The seaside sounds of the ocean and birds begin the song-followed by flowing wind chimes and it’s main melody on a high pitched synthesizer. This all bleeds into thick percussion punctuated by Verdine’s equally high pitched bass line. The thick rhythm guitar and piano come in as rhythmic elements. That piano and Fender Rhodes come in along with the bass line and now phase filtered percussion-providing a musical magic carpet for Philip Bailey’s transcendent vocalese. The third chorus of the song expands out into a massive chorus with everything all the elements coming together in a massive harmonic revelry. The percussion and rhythm guitar dovetails into Bailey’s Afrocentric chanting on the outro.
It’s difficult to count how many times people in the last decade and a half cynically claim music has no power whatever to change the world. For me,this song is a constant reminder that music not only does change but is crucial to the world. The Afrocentric percussion of this song reminds me of everything from sound of a walk to the motion of a road trip down the highway. It is right in line with EWF instrumental jams such as “Africano” from 30 years before it. Not only that but it succeeds as a totally melodically hummable instrumental where even veteran soul/funk artists were no longer making them. In many ways,it’s one of EWF’s finest songs ever.
Filed under 2005, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afrocentrism, Earth Wind & Fire, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, instrumental, Maurice White, Philip Bailey, piano, Uncategorized, Verdine White
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
Five years before he left to found Earth Wind & Fire, Maurice White was the second drummer for the Ramsey Lewis Trio. He had succeeded the groups original drummer Isaac “Red” Holt after he’d left to form Young-Holt Unlimited in 1966. That group in turn had a huge instrumental hit with “Soulful Strut” three years after leaving Ramsey’s trio. Maurice observed that while the trio played on a lot of college campuses while he was in it, most of the audience were more in his age group than Ramsey and bassist Cleveland Eaton. In the latter period of his being part of the trio,began to envision a jazzy funk/soul sound that would appeal more to latter silent generation people.
Maurice’s final album as the drummer for the Ramsey Lewis Trio was 1969’s Another Voyage. For the most part,it continued in the groove and rhythm centered soul jazz the trio had pioneered throughout the 60’s. A groove that became crucial to the development of the jazz/funk genre as much as that of the Jazz Crusaders. For his part,Maurice had already developed a strong interest in Egyptology. That cultural ethic and music had also been popular with free jazz pioneers such as Sun Ra beforehand. And Maurice was intent on integrating that into Ramsey’s trio by the end of the 60’s. The result was my favorite song on this particular album entitled “Uhuru”-the Swahili word for “freedom”.
Eaton’s funky upright bass popping opens the song. It lays the groundwork for the rhythm of the song-most of which is supplied courtesy of Maurice White himself. His percussive drumming on the song is based on a slower Clyde Stubblefield style rhythm with a lot of jazzier fills on brushing cymbals and hi hat. Over that Maurice brings in the main melody on the African thumb piano known as the Kalimba. This melodic statement evolves into a thick,purely rhythmic solo as the song continues. The sound of the trios members hooting and hollering ques to one another comes together with hand claps on the final verses of the song for an extra thick groove.
When I first heard this song,it occurred to me that the melody Maurice played on Kalimba here was one which I’d heard before. That same Kalimba melody did in fact show up 14 years later on the EWF album Powerlight in 1983. It was used on the more electronic interlude of “Mizar” at the end of the albums first side on vinyl. The sound on this song,it’s title and general atmosphere showcased the beginning of Maurice White’s expression of Afrocentricity as a positive social and musical force as the 1960’s transitioned into the 70’s. On the more personal level,it was exciting to hear the main framework of EWF’s sound begin while Maurice was the drummer in another group.
Filed under 1960's, Afro Funk, Afrocentrism, Cleveland Eaton, drums, Earth Wind & Fire, Egyptology, jazz funk, Kalimba, Maurice White, Ramsey Lewis, Ramsey Lewis Trio, soul jazz, Uncategorized, upright bass