Category Archives: Brooklyn

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Rough Times” by Angela Bofill

Angela Tomasa Bofill was part of a group of singers and musicians whom I refer to as as the original Brooklyn funk essentials. Coming from a Hispanic back round,she studied classical music as a child-all the while absorbing the Latin and soul/funk music scene happening right around her. Jazz flutist and bassist Dave Valentin is the one who introduced her to Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen. Her first album Angie was released in late 1978. With it’s critical and commercial success, Bofill was set up for a decades worth of soulful success.

One of the earliest artists at GRP Records along with Tom Browne,Bofill is turning 61 today. About a decade ago,she suffered two strokes a year or so apart. The second of which sadly robbed her of the ability to sing. Luckily her manager Rich Engel and the NYC radio stations Kiss FM and CD 101.9 held a benefit concert to help defray her mounting medical expenses. Being a native New Yorker,Bofill seemed to have a pretty keen understanding of the dramatic ups and downs life could offer. That’s why one song off her’s that really moves me personally is one from that 1978 debut entitled “Rough Times”.

A stinging Afro-Latin percussion begins the song,written by Ashford & Simpson, accompanying the Valentin’s thick slap bass. This forms the basic refrains of the song that supports Bofill’s vocals. As the chorus rolls in,an extra snare drum along with call and response horn charts enter into the groove as her vocal sustains push this chorus forward. The opening refrain is also the source of the songs instrumental bridge,where session icon Eric Gale played a crying,bluesy rhythm guitar around the main melody. The chorus of the song repeats itself afterwards until the song’s fade-out.

Ashford & Simpson seemed to really strike musical gold twice in 1978. First with Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and than this. Though it’s an album cut,”Rough Times” shows the GRP instrumentalists at their very funkiest-with it’s composers writing very much in awareness of Bofill’s Latina heritage. While blending the Latin jazz and disco-funk styles expertly,the lyrics to the song stand as something of a warning to people that violence and fear were reaching a fevered pitch in urban America by the late 70’s. And it expressed the power of funky “people music” to perhaps inspire an alternative.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Angela Bofill, Brooklyn, Dave Grusin, Dave Valentin, disco funk, drums, Eric Gale, funk guitar, GRP Records, message music, message songs, New York, percussion, slap bass, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Movin'” by Brass Construction

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.

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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