Hugh Masekela first came to my attention in the late 80’s/early 90’s. During that time,local oldies radio would often play his original instrumental version of “Grazing In The Grass”,complete with cowbell followed by the vocal version by Friends Of Distinction. Both versions were recorded only a year apart. And what caught my attention most was the fact that Masekela’s version was a lot slower-with a strong Latin/funk flavored soul jazz flavor about it. To this day,exploring Masekela’s rich and varied catalog of music hasn’t been nearly as a high a priority on my list as it should be. So today is the beginning of remedying that musical oversight to a degree.
The South African flugelhornist is turning 77 today. In the mid 90’s my father played for me the second song I heard of his-a heavy jazz/funk number from 1975 entitled “The Boy’s Doin’ It”. It was from an album of the same title,which marked the beginning of Masekela’s three album/two year stint on Casablanca Records. With Parliament being signed ot the label,P-Funk was entering it’s peak on the same record label during the same period. And Masekela gave up plenty of his own funk there as well. His final album for the label was 1977’s Melody Maker. And it contained one of these funk numbers he made entitled “Toejam”.
Yaw Opoku’s phasered ascending/descending bass line and Papa Frankie Todd’s slow,funky drumming starts out the song. Then Adaloja Gboyega’s electric piano comes in to play the bass accents. Throughout the song he also plays some bluesy synthesizer riffs as well. Percussionist Isaak Asante plays rhythmic chimes off the intro-as well as on the instrumental breakdown which showcases Masekela’s horn playing the descending melody. On the second refrain,Masekela plays a full flugelhorn solo thats full of sustained improvisations. Before the songs final chorus,the percussion rolls into the drum / bass/ keyboard intro before fading out entirely.
What really stands out about this song is how succinct the funk of it all is. A band consisting of a good bassist,drummer,keyboardist and horn soloist could almost take a school lesson based on how it’s construction. Most of the solos find each instrumental element taking their turns that are singled out whilst also playing in grooving unison. Also even with the presence of Afrocentric percussion,this song is straight out of the jazz-funk school of the Headhunters and Crusaders of the time. With a filtered bass line that also continues with P-Funk’s love of scaling melodic bass lines,this was also a good closeout jam of sorts of Masekela’s period on Casablanca.