Category Archives: Brazil

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Take It On Up” by Paulinho Da Costa

Paulinho Da Costa has probably played on more albums than any other musician of the late 20th century. Possibly thousands. So chances are if you look in the notes of any pop,soul,R&B,funk or jazz record of the 70’s or 80’s, Da Costa’s name will probably be on it.  The man began learning percussion as a child in Brazil-emerging from the samba genre to became one of the most regarded percussionists the world over. After playing with Sergio Mendes And The Brasil 77 in the early to mid 70’s, Da Costa got signed to Norman Granz’s Pablo label. This allowed him permanent residency in the US.

My first direct encounter with Da Costa’s sound was of course via his epic work with Michael Jackson on “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. All of a sudden his name appeared as the percussionist on album every bit of used vinyl I got my hands on. After browsing through a Fantasy Records CD catalog in the late 90’s,it listed a handful of solo albums Da Costa had recorded. One was from 1979 and called Happy People. It included some Earth Wind & Fire members along with Greg Phillinganes and Nathan Watts. One song I just heard from it really got my attention-called “Take It On Up”.

The sunny,melodic horn charts play festively over Da Costa’s intense percussion. A rhythmic electric piano,a revving high pitched rhythm guitar and an elaborately scaling bass line keep the rhythm steady throughout the song. Bill Champlin sings the lead vocal-accompanied on the chorus by a group of female backup singers. On the bridge of the song,all of this instrumentation comes to a high key pitched-with the fanfare of the horn charts filled with as much joy as funk can muster. One replay of this bridge comes into play before the chorus of the song fades it right out.

“Take It On Up” is one of those high energy Brazilian funk numbers that maintains a super high level of joyous musicality all the way. Surrounded by a group of A-1 session players from the jazz and funk scenes of the day,this is also some of the most well recorded (and generally presented) uptempo jams of it’s time. Da Costa’s percussion is mixed right up as the star of the show-right up with the blaring horns and Champlin’s tough, aggressive lead vocal. Happy People isn’t an easy album to locate these days. But with online video streaming,songs like this incredible melodic funk groove can be enjoyed by more people.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bill Champlin, Brazil, Brazilian Jazz, Funk Bass, Greg Philinganes, horns, Latin Funk, Nathan Watts, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, rhythm guitar, samba funk, session musicians

Smokey Robinson on Anatomy of THE Groove Part 2: “Can’t Fight Love”

Somehow or other I remember being five years old and thinking the song “Being With You” was sung by a woman. Had no clue who Smokey Robinson was then,what a high male voice was,or for that matter how to sing well. Still loved the song though. What I didn’t know until much later was that it was the title song of a 1981 album that was part of a huge musical comeback. That title song was a huge hit for him. It was also his first new album to be issued on the CD format if I heard it right. From song to song if this album were a baseball game,it would have a high batting average in terms of quality. Still there was one song that really stood out for me.

As with many albums in my collection, I first had this on vinyl. And eventually tracked it down as part of a 1980’s Motown CD twofer packaged with Smokey’s 1979 album Where There’s Smoke. Because this early 80’s entry into his catalog had a different kind of production sleekness due to advances in recording during the time, there was actually something a bit lost on the scratchy vinyl of this that I had when compared to the digital version on the CD. This really bought out one song that really stuck out at me on this album from the moment I first heard it. Originally it opened up the second side of the vinyl. And it’s entitled “Can’t Fight Love”.

A fast Afro Latin percussion rhythm opens the song with a round,bouncing drum acting as popping metronome. A conga drum introduces the main body of the song. It’s a thick,brittle and fast paced rhythm guitar and bass line. This is accented by a Clavinet-like synthesizer line along with a string like synthesizer counter melody. Hard horn charts blast in and out of the chorus heavy song. The bridge of the song returns back to the percussion based intro-with Harry Kim playing a Herb Alpert style trumpet solo. Suddenly the drum comes back to the mix where Kim’s horn solo is supplemented by an alternately slippery and brittle bass synth before returning to the chorus until the groove fades.

The thing that really makes this song such a strong groove aside from it’s thick bass/guitar interaction is the entire musical structure. Basically it’s melody has the Brazilian vibe of the Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)” with a more steady disco era 4/4 funk beat plus percussion accents. What really does it with this song for me is that it works a wonderfully arranged sophistifunk groove in with a song that’s composed in Smokey’s classic 60’s style-full of choruses sung at varying speeds and loaded with his soulful lyrical wordplay.  Though it’s an album track,it showcases just how powerful Smokey’s uptempo music can be.

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Filed under 1980's, bass guitar, Brazil, CD's, disco funk, drums, Motown, percussion, rhythm guitar, Smokey Robinson, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “F.I.M.A. (Funk In Mama Afrika)”

James Ambrose Johnson,better known as Rick James has very misunderstood legacy to a number of people. Due to the controversy surrounding his sexual and drug habits, his musical legacy has been somewhat buried in the public eye. He started out as a member of the group The Myna Birds featuring Neil Young. He signed to Motown successfully with his Stone City Band in the mid 70’s following only minor success on the A&M label. A year or so later,he helped champion the career of another fledgling Motowner known as Teena Marie on her first solo album. And by the time the 80’s rolled around,James’ was poised for a whole other level of super-stardom.

According to Rick’s autobiography Confessions Of A Super Freak he pointed out how,very much like Prince he was a multi instrumentalist capable of doing so in the recording studio. Still he felt that the interaction of a full band,with it’s different rhythm and horn sections,could provide a broader musical base for his songs. So in the very first year of the 1980’s decade,Rick recorded the first album on the Stone City Band alone called In ‘N’ Out.  I found a vinyl copy of this while crate digging over a decade ago. It’s an excellent big band funk album overall. It was the next to the last song on it that really caught my attention. It’s called “F.I.M.A. (Funk In Mama Afrika)”.

A space funk synthesizer starts everything off with accenting,marching conga drums. A shrieking Brazilian style disco whistle inaugurates the main song. From there it’s a ferocious mix of phat percussion,bassy wah wah Clavinet and horns playing to the Afrocentric vocal chanting. On the second refrain,this chanting becomes a call and response between the choral and solo voices. The percussion is also turned up louder in the mix at this particular point. The disco whistle and a slithery,liquid synthesizer emerge as the accompanying rhythm to this as well. The song fades out as this point with no break of the orchestration of the following tune leading it out.

There are times when listening to vinyl that I’ll move the needle on the record to one particular song that excites me-over and over again. And this groove is near the top of that list. Must admit that at the time of first hearing this, I had somewhat typecasted Rick James’ “punk funk” sound into too strict of a box. Was not expecting to hear such a hardcore Afro-Brazilian funk jam from the same man about to unleash “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak” into the world. This song finds Rick playing a similar role to his band as Barry White did to Love Unlimited Orchestra-acting a an arranger and band leader (rather than singer) for a festive,funky and meaningful instrumental revelry.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afrocentrism, Brazil, clavinet, Disco, horns, Motown, percussion, Rick James, Stone City Band, synthesizer, Uncategorized, wah wah

Anatomy Of THE Groove Special Presentation-Wishing A Happy Birthday To Maurice White: “Help Somebody” by Earth,Wind & Fire

Today Earth Wind & Fire founder Maurice White is turning 73. Out of all the funk bands to emerge out of the early 1970’s? EWF have always managed to maintain and enduring love and popularity. Even today,some of their lesser known albums are undergoing a slow reissuing process. Been thinking about finding an import CD version of the band’s debut album at the old Borders Books & Music 18 years or so ago. And about how I’ve kept going back to it again and again as my understanding of the bands history and significance developed.

It’s been over 44 years now since Maurice and Verdine White bought the original EWF sextet to Warner Brothers to record. And to their first show at Maverick’s Flat-courtesy of NBA great Jim Brown. Story goes their performance was so raggedy? The stagehands at Mavericks had to turn the lights down on them.  That history actually had the effect of helping me to really appreciate their pre superstar sound, and because of how different it was. So in tribute to Mr.White? I’m going to talk about the very first song from the very first EWF album entitled “Help Somebody”.

A chunky rhythm guitar groove from Michael Beal introduces the drum and horn salvo. The we’re onto a thick blend of fast paced percussion with both wah wah and JB like rhythm guitar. It’s a phat,funky gumbo in which Maurice trades off vocal leads with two band members in Wade Flemmons and Don Whitehead. The refrain of the song spins off into a slower Brazilian salsa rhythm before cycling back to main theme of the song for two additional choruses. One features the group all chanting “reach out your hand and help somebody”,the other featuring a trombone solo from Alexander Thomas before another horn salvo closes out the song.

It would appear that critical reaction to EWF’s debut has significantly improved with time. That being said? This particular lineup of the band had a very different focus for their funk. Considering their participation in the soundtrack for Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song? This song has a strong blacksploitation flavor-with it’s fast chase scene pace and up front wah wah guitar. Yet Maurice’s Brazilian influence also comes into play on the refrain. And the bands renowned humanistic message of kindness and fellowship oozes out of every lyric. Both vocally and instrumentally? It is a far looser sound than they’d be known for. But there’s no doubt the funk was already percolating right out of the box!

 

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Filed under 1970's, blacksploitation, Borders Books & Music, Brazil, classic funk, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, funk guitar, Jim Brown, Maurice White, Mavericks Flat, percussion, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation for Record Store Monday: ‘Black Messiah’ by D’Angelo

Black Messiah

For the last 16 years? D’Angelo has been missing in action as far as studio albums are concerned. While an enormous live revue in 2000 featuring his band the Soultronics-including people such as ?uestlove among the other members were hailed as some of the most promising new bands of it’s time. Of course so much as gone down in the music world since D’Angelo’s most recent and lengthy absences from recording. The call he and the Soultronics made about musicians taking the musical creative process back for themselves as really started to show itself during the latest recession-particularly within the last year or so. And with the reality of the need to free ourselves from racial hatred and privilege has all come together to create just the right atmosphere for D’Angelo and his new band the Vanguard-including former Time member in guitarist Jesse Johnson along with ?uestlove still on skins. And musically the man has a whole lot to say.

The album starts out with a deep,steely,thumping rock/funk number-both the guitar and bass lines possessed of massive funky bottoms and D’Angelo himself delivering his broad ranging,multi tracked Southern soul drawl of a voice. “1000 Deaths” samples a preacher talking about the idea of a nappy headed Jesus as the “new black messiah” over heavy funky drumming and slap bass thrusts with “D’Angelo’s heavily processed vocals accompanied closely by a staticky,revved up keyboard. “Sugar Daddy” gives a sitar led forwards/backwards looped drum oriented psychedelic soul rocker with a very probing melody. “Sugah Daddy” has this clapping,tickling percussion and this bluesy jazz/juke joint style piano commonly heard on many mid/late 70’s P-Funk records with some very scatting vocals-both solo and multi tracked. “Really Love” is a mixture of a hip-hop beat with a beautifully sensual Brazilian jazz melody.

“Back To The Future” is a two part number here-both of which take a strong countrified jazz-funk bounce with a melody that comes right from “The Charleston”,the iconic stride pianist James P.Johnson’s famous song that originated the famous dance. The second part coming near the closing of the album adds more of a bouncing Southern danceable funk rhythm to the outro. “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” is full of heavy bluesy guitar reverb and a very melodic slap bass line sharing the musical space with D’Angelo’s elaborate vocal turns. “Prayer” is a slow,dragging wah wah powered groove with a spacy synthesizer melody floating over the top. “Betray My Heart” is a swinging dyno’d up electric piano powered jazz-funk number with tons of liquid groove from top to bottom. “The Door” is a whistling powered instrumental slice of sweetly melodic sunshine pop/soul. “Another Life” closes the album with a beautiful orchestrated,thick soul ballad with D’Angelo’s high falsetto vocal calls and the ascending melody the perfect accent to the piano/sitar/drum/string swirls of the song.

One thing to say about this album is that it’s simply an amazing total musical experience! Yes that in a sentence does some it up! In fact I had to listen to much of it twice before this review to absorb just what comes out of it. If D’Angelo never recorded another album the rest of his life? This could easily be his defining swan song. Why is that? Well it just channels all the threads of D’Angelo’s musical influences. It has Stevie Wonder’s love of creating instrumentally new melodic sounds. Duke Ellington’s sense of swing and rhythmic dissonance. Al Green,Sly Stone and OutKast’s Andre 3000’s drawling vocal hiccups and stutters. Prince’s psychedelic mixtures of funk,rock and soul. Ron Isley’s high vocal cries and wails. And it doesn’t leave out the jazz age with it’s love of modern time and stride piano. And in the end? It’s all D’Angelo and all funky! Not to mention awe inspiring melodies with the power to connect to the people. And even if some of the lyrics are difficult to make out? The music says all it needs to say: differences should always be different,and lay comfortably side by side-not far apart. A grand comeback for D’Angelo linking the sociological and musical chains that made contemporary black America so special TO America!

Link To Amazon Review Here*

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Filed under 2014, Afro-Futurism, Afro-Latin jazz, Al Green, alternative rock, Amazon.com, Blues, Brazil, D'Angelo, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Jesse Johnson, Marvin Gaye, Memphis Soul, Minneapolis, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nu Funk, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, Sly Stone, Southern Soul, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove 12/12/2014 Andre’s Pick: “There’s A Better Way” by Jermaine Jackson

By the early 80’s Jermaine,the middle boy of the Jackson family,had developed something of a reputation of being a very singular musical talent and a mentor for the band Switch-thereby inadvertently introducing the DeBarge family to Motown in the process. How fitting it was that,by the time his career at Motown was coming to an end that the DeBarge’s were becoming sort of a new Jackson’s for the then less then certain record label. Of course even he was noticing his future might benefit from being elsewhere and left the label during 1983. His final Motown album was Let Me Tickle Your Fancy,which produced a title track that was a good sized pop chart hit that featured new wave band Devo. That songs bluesy funk/rock made up one of Jermaine’s finest and overall most funk oriented albums of his fine and funky Motown musical career. Still one song from this album continues to stand out uppermost in my mind in the almost twenty years since I first heard it. It’s called “There’s A Better Way”.

It all starts out with the the slow funky disco-dance 4/4 beat accentuated by a similar tempo’d Afro-Latin timed rhythm  percussion-as well as conga drumming from . This is soon joined by former  a deep,bassy Salsa style piano. Jermaine himself soon picks up on this playing a hiccuping jazzy funk bass/guitar interaction. After Jermaine’s lead vocals begin,each vocal chorus is accompanied by…well perhaps a Clavinet style keyboard melody. Jermaine accompanies himself vocally Marvin Gaye style-responding to himself vocally in his middle range and ethereal falsetto. During the middle bridge of the song,there is a flamenco style guitar melody accompanied by a steel drum like electronic synthesizer tone. The song fades back out into Jermaine’s original lead chorus. This has Jermaine singing a full on call and response vocal based on the songs title between his two distinct vocal personalities. This all combines to give the entire rhythmic and melodic core of the song,with it’s mixture of live drumming,percussion and electronic effects an extremely afro-futurist bent about it.

On a strictly personal level? This is one of those Jermaine Jackson songs that truly captivated me musically when I first heard. it. And the further along my own musical knowledge grows? The more this appreciation of this songs musical virtues does. Musically the influence of Stevie Wonder’s sound textures are very strong here. It has that mixture of Afro Latin percussion,thick layers of bass sounds and jazz oriented electronic synthesizer accents. The melodic progression of this tune is almost all vocal. Most of the instrumental elements are based almost entirely in rhythm. So it’s almost as if Jermaine was metaphorically singing while he were walking along to the steps of the shoes on his heat-each rhythm and melody has some type of counterpoint. This gives the possible effect that Jermaine,a known multi instrumentalist,may have played every instrumental part on this song. Considering the confusing nature of the album jacket listing talented jazz and funk players such as drummer Ollie Brown,guitarist Paul Jackson,Stevie Wonder keyboardist Ronnie Foster and Jermaine’s brother Randy on percussion? It’s not really known to me if this was done by one man or a group of musicians. The interaction could almost go either way sometimes.

When it all comes down to it? What really brings this song so much to life is the way in which the lyrical themes of the song correlates with the music. Marvin Gaye used a slow,almost proto Reggaeton rhythm on his song ‘Third World Girl” the same year as this. Though on this song? Jermaine showcases a slow,deep Afro latin style post disco friendly funky soul groove that’s stripped down and rhythmically chunky to illustrate his views on poverty. Very much in the spirit of Stevie Wonder on “Living For The City” and his brother Mike’s “Man In The Mirror” from six years after this? Jermaine points to people in any position of authority turning a blind eye to human suffering. As an individual artist? Jermaine’s lyrical message is more earnestly pleading. The chorus after all spells out that “you don’t know how it feels to be without/I don’t care what they say/I know there’s a better way”. Surely a “people music” pretext to the entire song. By also pointing out that “talk about generosity/it’s been done in other countries”,it’s clear Jermaine that the inequities in the treatment of black Americans and the exploitation of foreigners,some black themselves,are not at all lost on him. More over,he also sees other nations as being capable of helping themselves without anyone else’s assistance as well. So that cultural understand,plus the like minded instrumental approach,make this one of Jermaine’s most unsung musical standouts.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Africa, Afro-Futurism, Brazil, Brazilian Jazz, Disco, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz-Funk, Jermaine Jackson, Motown, Music, Soul, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove 12/5/2014 Andre’s Pick: “L.O.V.E and you & I” by Jazzanova

During the summer of 2002 my father was continually playing an album entitled In Between. It was by Jazzanova, Berlin based DJ/producer collective whose members are Alexander Barck, Claas Brieler, Jürgen von Knoblauch, Roskow Kretschmann, Stefan Leisering, and Axel Reinem. Every time the two of us would run an errand or go on a short road trip? My father would continually play the albums opening song “Love And You & I”. Even for years after? My dad and I would fun on one another about how entranced he seemed to be with playing this song so often. But as is often the case with my musical influences such as my father? As my understanding and tastes in music continued to expand and grow,so did my appreciation of what this particular song,which I heard so often,was really all about.

The song starts out with a dragged out sounding sample of what I recognize easily as “Something’s Missing” by the Five Stairsteps,followed by the the same line sung by a 50’s type pop vocal choir. After a female singer responds “Could It Be Love” that slowly descends into a choir of the same phrase and a lower female singer simply singing “love”,the instrumental part comes in with a mellow jazzy piano punctuated by breaks of slow latin percussion and electric piano bursts. On the second refrain of this,the song goes into a deep male vocal chorus-followed by a solo voice singing “the sun,the moon,the sky and you and I”. This is accompanied by a hip-hop type funk drum beat-different and more flamboyant variations of which come in throughout this refrain into a female chorus returns,amid calling trumpet solos “love bum,bum,bum,bum”.

After all of this the song begins an entirely new instrumental cycle-going from a trumpet choir into a lightly Brazilian style funky electronic piano rhythm-before returning to a repeat of the first chorus. After this the song abruptly slows to a crawl before an EWF style vocal chorus of “LOVE LOVE LOVE” followed up by a complex string and acoustic guitar driven latin jazz rhythm kicks in with both the first and second vocal chorus responding the sound and emotional attitude. That leads into an instrumental bridge showcasing tbe upright bass of Paul Kleber accompanying vibist David Friedman. As Friedman’s bass fades out,Kleber’s bass fades back into a fade out of all the variations of the different “love” related vocal refrains from throughout the song-accompanied by a swinging,acoustic guitar led bossa nova up to the very end of the song itself.

What can I say about this song today? To boil it down? It just has everything. It has the funky electric guitar,the swinging jazzy drum brushing,the Brazilian percussion flavor and a harmonic mood that lays somewhere in the middle between wonder,anticipation,relaxation and of course love. Generally speaking in hip-hop,sampling of any sort is used as a form of archival musical identification. In this case a range of samples from everyone from  70’s jazz and jazz/fusion groups such as Catalyst,Bobby Hutcherson,Branford Marsalis,Antonio Carlos Jobim,Les DeMerlealong with soul/funk from The Sueremes with the Temptations and The Sylvers to create a live band Latin jazz/funk fusion flavor. Each sample is arranged in such a way where it sounds like a band actually interacting off their strengths and weaknesses as musicians-though the broken up nature of sampling is still made clear to the ears as well. It’s one of my very favorite examples and uses of jazz and funk sampling in the immediate post millennial era.

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Filed under 2002, Brazil, Brazilian Jazz, DJ's, Funk, Funk Bass, Fusion, Hip-Hop, Jazzanova, Motown, Sampling

Anatomy of THE Groove 12/5/14 Rique’s Pick: “Cant Turn Around” by The Foreign Exhange ft Gwen Bunn

With Stevie Wonder descending on Oakland, California tonight to perform the “Songs in the Key of Life” album in its entirety, I thought it would be good to give you a taste of Stevie’s vibes for todays “Anatomy.” A casual glance at “American Idol” would very quickly tell you Stevie Wonder is one of the most imitated singers today. His style, which was once considered highly unique even in the context of soul and funk music is now a bedrock of R&B vocalizing, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Throughout the ’90s and ’00s, various male singers, from R Kelly to Glenn Lewis, were judged by how close their vocals came to Stevie’s melismatic style. Something that was imitated far less than his vocals however, was Stevie’s expansive, electric and electronic, harmonically progressive, rhythmically vital musical style. However, as the time has progressed more and more artists have attempted aspects of this too. Todays song, “Can’t Turn Around” by Foreign Exchange, is a record, like Janelle Monae’s “Ghetto Woman”, Nicholas Payton’s “Freesia”, and the ending coda of Justin Timberlake’s “Strawberry Bubblegum”, that evoke an uptempo, synth heavy Stevie Wonder vibe. It expands upon the unique stylings of songs such as “Bird of Beauty”, “Superwoman”, and especially “As if You Read My Mind”, and “Can’t Help It” from Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall”, among others. This is a style that features a mid to uptempo Afro Latin beat, modernized with analog synths, both playing the bass and complimentary textures. Add to that Phonte’s steady midrange vocals, beatiful harmonies and pads, and Gwen Bunns vocals and you get a special brand of Afro Latin dance ecstacy.

On The Foreign Exchange’s LP “Love in Flying Colors”, “Cant Turn Around” follows a song called “The Moment.” “The Moment” itself is a triumph of ’90s house music vibes. “Cant Turn Around” follows in a seamless DJ disco mix segue. The song begins extremely hot on the tail of the peak in the preceding song, with an up front drum mix of a syncopated Afro Latin funk drum beat. Sweeping takeoff type sounds provide atmosphere, perhaps the “Flying Colors” of love the album is based on? After the already highly danceable four bar drum intro, the bass comes in stridently on the “One.” The bass part is a phat, analog sounding synth bass tone, playing a very staccato, short attacking bass line. The bass is happily married to the drums, especially the kick, but syncopated in Afro Latin dance fashion. In the second bar of the pattern, towards the end, the bass notes jump upward and tumble back down in a way that leads us back to the strong on the beat bass pattern. The beat builds itself up in layers, adding congas, muted guitar and a rising sound, along with what sounds like some chopped up vocal parts from Phonte.

After the beat is established, Phonte’s smooth, melodius multi tracked vocals come in singing “Flying High.” The groove is sweetened underneath his singing, with Rhodes tones, and rhythmic synth parts sequenced to provide backing rhythm. When Phonte says “Lets Ride”, they give you another harmonized vocal to the lyric, “Baby don’t look back/cause we can’t turn around.” Lead synthesizer lines are added. The synth parts are constantly changing and adding nuance, just as Stevie Wonder did in his 1970s classics. These parts add greatly to Phonte’s dulcet low mid range singing.

Around 2:30 the beat changes up, changing key and somehow intensifying an already intense groove, adding the vocals of Gwen Bunn with one of the catchiest lyrics on the whole album, “If you wont stop/then I won’t stop/Baby lets make a way/If you hold on I wont let go/cause baby you saved the day.” Acoustic piano sounds and synthesizer lines envelop and support her vocals, with Phonte vocalizing soulful ad libs. The song grooves out from there on one of the best joyful funky dance climaxes I’ve heard in a LONG time. The vocals and music just keep building intensity on a groove that sounds like it could go on and on and on.

I must admit, certain aspects of Stevie Wonder’s ’70s style I never even thought about being replicable. The care and creativity he put to his synth lines in particular, which was as much a matter of necessity as creativity, seemed too tedious for musicians to match today. So of course I’m thrilled when I hear a “Ghetto Woman”, a “Freesia, and a “Cant Turn Around.” “Cant Turn Around” is a song that has it all, exciting Afro Latin rhythm, extended dance structure, well arranged male and female vocals, and an insane amount of TEXTURE, an incredible arrangement of keyboards and other instruments that enables the listener to visualize the music. In short, the “Love in Flying Colors” the album promises. As Stevie himself wraps up his tour performing one of the greatest albums of all time, “Songs in the Key of Life”, I have to give the highest props to Nicolay, Phonte, Zo and the rest of The Foreign Exchange for using the synth based style that Stevie helped introduced and making their own thing out of it. Stevie himself moved on to other styles, but as any great artist his ouvere is full of sound that can be taken up by other creators to give their expressions of love color.

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Filed under 1970's, Brazil, Jazz-Funk, Music Reviewing, Stevie Wonder, The Foreign Exchange

Antomy of THE Groove 10/17/14 Rique’s Pick : “Lovely People” by Earth, Wind & Fire

There are certain songwriting and producing jobs in music that just stand out above all others if you’re a fan of music. One of them, that will.i.am was able to achieve for my side of todays “Anatomy of THE Groove” figure, was writing and producing a song for Earth, Wind & Fire’s 2005 album “Illumination, called “Lovely People.” It was not the first comeback I’d witnessed from EWF, a group who’s peak was right before I was born yet who’s music was an essential part of my upbringing. 1987 and ’88 were one of my favorite times ever in my young life for music. EWF had a great album called “Touch The World” at that time with a fantastic electro funk single called “System of Survival”, one of my favorite songs ever. But while “System of Survival” employed a treacherous electro funk beat put together by a writer/producer named Skylark, that contained a dope and classic EWF lyrical story, the beat was a whole other edge of the 21st Century thing. on “Lovely People” will.i.am takes the classic EWF joyful funk Afro-Diasporic dance sound and edits it for modern sensibilities. The results are a reinvigorated EWF, soudning as if they continued as a group with Maurice White from the end of their run to the present day. Mainly, it’s a song with that true Earth, Wind & Fire message of joy, love and blessings.

Right off the bat, the Kalimba sounds along with harmonizing let us know it’s EWF. The track begins with snippets of Kalimba, electronically processed and running in reverse, backed by what sounds like vocals from the song running in reverse. The sound of the Kalimba and the obscured vocals immediately put one in that EWF “Pyramid” frame of mind, like some of their mystical concert entrances and exits. The next thing in the arrangement is another band signifier, the horn section playing a magisterial ascending riff. And just like that, we’re back in the zone of the elements of Earth, Wind & Fire!

A thunderous groove kicks off, a real rollicking, rolling Native American sounding groove, remeniscent of the types of drum beats Maurice White’s fellow Memphis native Al Jackson Jr would play behind Al Green, and that Syliva Robinson copped on her classic, “Pillow Talk.” The guitar plays very short, clipped chords, and Verdine White slides down his bass. The feeling is that of a tremendous groove motor beginning to rev up, as will.i.am plays the party M.C.

After that intro, the horn phrase announces the beginning of the chorus section. The verse drops right there at the top of the song, “To all of my Lovely People/step to the floor and disco.” The phrase “Lovely People” is one that caught my attention when the song first dropped. What struck me is that it was such an EWF, Maurice White phrase, full of optimisim and love for humanity. It impressed me that an outside writer such as will.i.am could come up with that with the group in mind! The vocals are backed by a lively Afro-Carribean dance funk groove. In addition to EWF’s obvious and classic Brazillian stylings, they were also a master of integrating other grooves from the African diaspora. They had the greasy grooves of Memphis and the transplanted blues, soul and gospel of Chicago deep in their musical DNA. The cool of California lent a shiny sheen to their recordings. But also in the mix, was the sound of the festivals of the Carribean, found on such EWF classics as “As Love Goes On”, which was itself recorded in the Carribean.

The Afro-Carib groove features lively rhythmic guitar strumming with the classic high EWF guitar tone, innovated and promulgated by Al McKay, Johnny Graham and Roland Bautista. will.i.am’s vocals in the mix with the bands helps provide the Carribean element as well.The verse groove is definitely influenced by the more spare modern hip hop/R&B approach, with the guitar playing a busy rhythm, horn stabs in and out, and Verdine White’s bass only providing occasional funky accents. All in all its a model of economy of groove. As the “Lovely People” verse ends, the next section features classic worldess EWF harmonizing around the solfeggate of “La”, with “Lovely People” being sung by Phillip Bailey. Verdine White is also allowed more room to stretch out on bass on that section.

Around 1:45 in, the band hits a nice EWF musical interlude, with will playing MC over the lively beat and harmonizing. After that he comes in with a rap, not too much, just lyrics with the intention of moving the party on. That is followed by a lively horn riff that supports some vocalinzing from will. The song has a long groove fade out with another EWF signifier, an actual Kalimba solo!

Songs like this always fascinate me. I was always interested in how to bring the classic funk sound into the here and now. Not by sampling it, but by a more subtle process of incorporating elements, including some and exvluding others. “Lovely People” features the Kalimba, an Afro Carribean rhythm, harmonizing, the horn section, and many other elements of EWF’s classic sound. It also has a lyric, that while not dealing with any heavy topic of inspiration, still manages to inspire through its positivity matched with an uplifting groove. will.i.am accomplished what any modern musician would want to, updating his influences sound to what it would sound like TODAY. It’s almost like a father figure or uncle wanting you to help them pick out some modern clothes, and you show them pictures of themsevles when they were younger and then go into their closets and pick out some things they already have. Then you might add a touch or two from your closet to top it off. The results here were a fresh look that still said “Earth, Wind & Fire”, rather than the band simply trying to look fresh.

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Filed under Brazil, Contemporary R&B, Earth Wind & Fire

Anatomy of THE Groove for 9/12/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Dondi” by Ed Motta

One thing that seems to be a constant in funk,both during its process on up through present day,is its strong connections to Latin America. In particular Brazil,whose polyrhythmic Afro-Latin percussion rhythms were part of the foundation of the genre. So it makes sense that the massive cross pollination of funk,jazz and Afro-Latin percussion coming out of and through Brazil would continue to spawn artists creating from within that expansive musical spectrum. One musician who emerged from that talent pool during the new millennium is Rio’s Ed Motta. This singer/songwriter/multi instrumentalist has connections into music far deeper than recording. And today I am going to talk about a song from his newest album,2013’s AOR called “Dondi”. And I wound like to thank my Facebook friend (and funkateer) Andrew Osterov of Kiev,Ukraine for introducing this song to me.

The song starts off with the traditional neo soul device of the sound of scratchy vinyl before going into a concise,highly melodic jazz/funk groove. Musically the song is built around a drum line and chordal changes that lay somewhere between the approach of George Duke and Stevie Wonder-a full on appropriation of funky soul and jazz that seems to be feeding into both styles. The instrumentation is hard hitting,yet gentle and coaxing as the big voiced Motta talks things out with his lady love about how they might want to consider more romance and less merely talking of it. Accended by flute accents and big popping slap bass between the choruses,the song has a strong major/minor chord bridge with David T. Walker’s fluid,virtuoso guitar taking a strong solo on the songs outro.

As with a lot of “nu funk” that I’ve come to be acquainted with,Ed Motta was an artist who came to me via Wax Poetics magazine-the only funk musician oriented periodical that I know of to be in existence. This particular song not only embodies all of the qualities that drew me to the funk/soul spectrum of music,but the qualities of it that I try to extol to others to get an introduction to this music. As with Eumir Deodato before him,Ed Motta brings Brazilian melodic and rhythm flavors to a highly singable pop-funk-jazz sound on this song. And very much in the attitude of the post Prince years? Motta is a DIY multi instrumentalist who also maintains a band with a stripped down yet expansive instrumental sound. However,simply the fact that this instrumentally crackerjack type of funky music will have most people humming along says a great deal for the songs virtues. And outside all of that,Motta is an avid vinyl record collector-understanding his music from both a listener’s and instrumentalists perspective. That makes him potentially one of the most well rounded DIY artists in the funk/soul/jazz spectrum today.

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Filed under Brazil, Brazilian Jazz, Ed Motta, Funk, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Neo Soul