Category Archives: chromatic walkdown

Anatomy of THE Groove: “I Gitt Around” by Chuckii Booker

Chuckii Booker is one of those artists whose intricate history is equal to the seeming few who have a strong knowledge of him. He was perhaps better known as the musical director,producer and opening act for Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation tour at only 23-24 years old. His talents as multi talented singer/songwriter/producer/multi instrumentalist got him signed as a solo artist to Atlantic in 1988. Not because of his original talents as primarily a bass player. But because execs accidentally listened to the other side of the demo tape that featured his vocals.

If funk/soul music had followed a totally straight line in the late 80’s/early 90’s,Chuckii Booker would likely have been the intermediary step between Prince and D’Angelo. After a couple Top 10 R&B smashes,Booker became regarded as a producer. In that respect touching on the work of artists ranging from Vanessa Williams,his godfather Barry White and EWF alumni Phillip Bailey. It took me a couple decades to go out and pick up Booker’s two solo CD’s. One of them (and his final one to date) was 1992’s Niice ‘N Wiild. One of the songs that’s really gotten my attention off of it is called “I Git Around”.

After a brief moment of party dialog,the main groove of the song sets in. This is a pounding drum machine that hits a very strong,electrified snare drum sound on the second beat. Along with that are two bass lines. One is a pulsing synth bass,the other is “possibly” a live one playing a “duck face” funky wiggle. Booker brings explosive synth strings,horn lines providing a strong “video game” sound along with the bluesy accents of the chorus. Not to mention a chromatic piano walk down playing in and out throughout the song. Just before the song fades,Booker brings in a tough chicken scratch guitar.

The new jack swing style could (and often was) made extremely generic by many in its commercial heyday. Yet Chuckii Booker used this song (along with many of his others) to point out the sub genres roots in 80’s funk. And even with the mildly new jack friendly rhythm,the instrumental toughness and electronic flamboyance is straight up P-Funk. Everything from the instrumentation to the lyric is pretty much a direct extension of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” from a decade before it. Makes one wonder how different 90’s uptempo music might’ve been had it followed this ultra funky model.

 

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Filed under 1990s, chicken scratch guitar, chromatic walkdown, Chuckii Booker, drum machine, drums, Funk Bass, New Jack Swing, P-Funk, piano, synth bass, synth brass

STEVIEWONDERLAND!: Celebrating An Icon In Three Decades-“Sensuous Whisper” by Stevie Wonder (1996)

Stevie Wonder seemed to have suffered a little writers blocks following his (subjectively) wonderful 1987 album Characters. Aside from performing the soundtrack to the Spike Lee Joint Jungle Fever in 1991,it seemed as if Wonder would continue his infrequency of releases in the 90’s as he had in the 80’s. When President Jerry John Rawlings invited Wonder to spend his weeks in the African nation of Ghana,Wonder wrote 40 new songs. He also stated the artist formerly know as Prince “helped him to see music again” in the liner notes to the 1995 album that came out of Wonder’s African visit: Conversation Peace.

Personally I have a vivid memory of hearing a new reggae styled song by Stevie Wonder called “Take The Time Out” used during the 1994 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to encouraging people to give food to the needy. It was a comforting reminder of Wonder’s ever present humanitarianism.And his new album finally came out in January of the following year. Took me a year or so to really give it a good listen. And a decade or so more to begin singling out my personal favorites songs from the last Stevie Wonder album of the 20th century. One of the strongest for me is a song called “Sensuous Whisper”.

Wonder gets the song rolling with a hi hat heavy drum swing and a shuffling bass with an Arabic type tone. Then he kicks into a funky chromatic walkdown on piano. This consists of the basic body of the song. Stephanie Andrew’s sexually charged grunts provide a vital percussive element as the sax of Branford Marsalis and trumpet of Terrence Blanchard provide unison horn breaks on the vocal changes. Wonder swings and scats the lyrics on the refrain,while Anita Baker sings the song title chorus as the back-round with Wonder’s call and response vocal lead.

The bridge of the song features Wonder singing a harmonically complex set of notes that I personally couldn’t begin to describe-scaling up and down between each phrase. He backs himself up with the same instrumentation as the rest of the song that,along with the horn charts,improvise strongly on the chordal changes he’s making throughout. After this,the song returns to the drum/bass intro before seguing back into the chorus of the song. This chorus repeats itself over and over again-with Wonder scatting the vocals more and more until the song itself just comes to an abrupt stop.

Stevie Wonder was always someone my family and I recognized as having a strong jazz influence-from his 1963 instrumental debut album to his 1991 song “Make Sure Your Sure”. This song not only found him collaborating up front with jazzy players and jazz derived singers,but also embracing the funkified jazz/hip-hop hybrid that the Native Tongues groups like Tribe Called Quest and even Miles Davis himself had started to embrace. So Wonder was not only heavily embracing jazz here,but showcasing it’s possibilities for the newer hip-hop informed style of funky soul.

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Filed under 'Conversation Peace', 1990s, Anita Baker, bass guitar, Branford Marsalis, chromatic walkdown, drums, funky soul, hip-hop jazz, horns, piano, Saxophone, soul jazz, Stephanie Andrews, Stevie Wonder, synth bass, Terrence Blanchard, trumpet

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funkentelechy” by Parliament

Not long ago,I learned that Parliament’s iconic 1977 album Funkentetelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome is turning 39 today. This album was extremely important in the P-Funk lexicon. It introduced some key concepts within such as the placebo syndrome. This reduced down to saying if you faked the funk,your nose would grow. It also introduced the character of Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk,the physical embodiment of George Clinton’s statement on the debut Funkadelic album seven years prior to this that “I was cool,but I had no groove”. Parliaments mid/late 70’s albums each extended on the theatrical structure of Clinton’s musical concept.  This one perhaps in at least two very significant ways.

When I first heard the album about twenty years ago,I wasn’t particularly impressed. The presence of slower ballad numbers such as “Wizard Of Finance” and the (as I know understand it funkier) “Placebo Syndrome” didn’t endear me much to this album as it’s most powerful songs seemed to be on the Tear The Roof Off compilation Parliament had out at the time. When I finally picked up the album on CD several years ago,there’d been years of experience with P-Funk experience in terms of albums to fully appreciate what this was. It contained the massively influential “Flashlight” of course. But probably the one song here that really advances it’s entire concept is the title song.

“Funkentelechy” has two distinct sections within ten minutes. The first one is built around the two constants that both sections have in common. One is a big drum beat that comes down heavy on the one and the close harmony African highlife style horn charts. It also has faster,more JB style horns and Junie Morrison playing what my friend Henrique referred to as a chromatic walkdown on piano. Bootsy’s duck face bass,which pops in and out of the mix with the low rhythm guitar on the first part, becomes consistently integral on the second half of the song. This half is more downbeat melodically and is based more on the harmonic horns and close vocal choruses. And this is where the song fades out on.

In a similar manner to the title song for the Mothership Connection,this song seems like two different musical themes put together. Though in this case,this is done more melodically than rhythmically as the one remains constant. Thematically it’s a commercial for funk as a musical/social ethic. Clinton introduces lyrical parodies on American commercial slogans such as “how do you spell relief?” and ‘fasten your safety belt”. Most importantly though he points out that “funk is not domestically produced”-perhaps pointing to the genre (and this songs) African origins in rhythm.  Both instrumentally and lyrically,this song goes really far in explaining why funk was no longer a bad word.

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Filed under 1970's, African highlife music, Afro Funk, Bootsy Collins, chromatic walkdown, drums, Funk Bass, George Clinton, horns, P-Funk, Parliament, piano, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized, Walter Junie Morrison