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
I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who would look back on this album who’d feel something of a guilt complex for liking an album whose musical virtues lay so heavily in it’s production. Sad to say even….a member of my family who I won’t name out of respect didn’t find this album particularly to their liking for a long time. Perhaps one of the reasons why this album has such a different reputation is that it represents a somewhat different Quincy Jones than the one who recorded Sounds & Stuff Like That several years earlier. That was a recording that owed a great deal of it’s musical energy to funk and R&B.
This on the other hand showcased a lot more sleek urban contemporary pop considerations and in the end sounds perhaps like a slightly more commercial record that Quincy had done up to this point. This was released around the time of Mike’s Off the Wall,Johnson’s Light Up the Night and Patti Austin’s Every Home Should Have One. If your already fully familiar with those three albums, than it may not be too necessary for you to read this review since you already sort of know the sound of it. For those who aren’t,here’s what this is.
One of the singer/songwriter/instrumentalists who caught Quincy’s ear around this time was England’s Chas Jankel from Ian Dury’s Blockheads. His debut Chas Jankel contained a song called “Ai No Corrida” that is presented here and,while not as musically abstract it is more “Quincified” along with the lead vocals of Charles May who takes the very British vocal affectations of Chas away from this version. The title song is the most thoroughly funk oriented number here with a stomping beat,bassline and keyboard solo with Q himself rapping as “the dude” along with an artist Quincy was at the time just in the process of developing-James Ingram.
The multi talented singer/musician/songwriter is featured on the slower ballads here such as “Just Once” and “One Hundred Ways”,which without surprise became the biggest hits. But they’re actually far from the best songs. Those were sung by Patti Austin. “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me” and the compulsive “Razzamatazz” are both key uptempo songs here with a vibrant sophistifunk sound to them. “Somethin’ Special” is a similar but slower sort of song,maybe even a little more jazzy and another highlight with a rather adult romance audience in mind. “Velas” is a similarly themed instrumental featuring one of Q’s old hands Toots Theilmans on harmonica and whistling. There were stories I heard that the closing dance funk of “Turn On The Action” was originally intended for Michael Jackson. And honestly it does rather sound like him.
Believe it or not,a persons appreciation of this album will probably have to stem from whether they really take the urban contemporary jazz-sophistifunk sound of the early 80’s very seriously. Coming during the first years of the post disco era,where music of a certain rhythmic and racial signitures couldn’t be played on a lot of radio stations this along with similarly style albums during this time by people like Grover Washington Jr,Al Jarreau and Michael Franks also receive a similar treatment as being at best “a guilty pleasure” and as worst “a sell out”. Honestly I have absolutely no guilty feelings whatsoever in the level of enjoyment I have for this album.
If your a fan of edgy,angst ridden albums filled with a “keeping it real” attitude or something with a variant of hip-hop or neo soul rhythmic pattern to it…no I’d have to agree this album probably isn’t going to be your cup of tea. Whenever you have the level of production,musicianship and songwriting/vocal power you have with something like this it’s from a time and a place where the musical approach was very different. And above all being done by a whole other generation as well. No putting down anyone. But there’s just a different spirit behind this than much of…well even what Quincy himself is currently doing musically. And happily many people in the music world are still paying careful attention to works such as this.
Originally posted on November 6th,2011
Link to original review here*
Filed under 1980's, Brothers Johnson, Chas Jankel, James Ingram, Jazz-Funk, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, pop jazz, Quincy Jones, The Dude, Toots Theilmans