Category Archives: cinematic funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Special” by Shuggie Otis

Shuggie Otis represents what I refer to as a “new old artist” who defined my musical interests just after the turn of the millennium. His only knowledge to me before that was a passing reference as the composer (and original recorder of) the Brothers Johnson hit “Strawberry Letter#23”.  It was through a Luaka Pop label reissue of his under sung 1974 album Inspiration Information that got my attention,through my father of course. My first thoughts hearing it was “this was a Prince/Stevie Wonder type musician who never was”.

Otis’s father Johnny was a very famous musical impresario,known in the lingo of his day as the “white negro” singer/musician/arranger/talent scout/DJ out of the Bay Area of California. Shuggie began playing with his dad in the end of the 60’s. But his own career never truly took off. In fact,he spent over 33 years tinkering with his follow up to Inspiration Information. The album was finally released in 2013 and was entitled Wings Of Love. Recorded over several decades,the first full song on the album (recorded around 1980) really caught my own ear. It was called “Special”.

A wooshing sound drives in the fuzz/ringing rhythm guitar combo of the intro as Otis responds to his own echoplex vocally. Than the main rhythm of the song kicks in-driving both the refrain and chorus whose changes are carried largely by Otis’s vocal changes. The drums have a heavy Brazilian march approach. The bass line loops around several guitar parts. One a phat wah wah,the other a light chicken scratch and another playing a quavering,high pitched ringing melody. On the refrain parts,Otis singing’s in a higher and calmer voice. And on the refrains,with a heavier shout along with the ringing guitar part.

Again,this was a song that seemed to be recorded in the early 80’s. Yet its origins seems to come out of the psychedelic/cinematic funk sound of the late 60’s/early 70’s. The production is very trippy-full of echo and fuzz filter on nearly every sound. Yet the groove is strong and funky all the way. In the intro especially,it reminds me a bit of Curtis Mayfield’s “(If There’s A Hell Below) We’re All Gonna Go”. Needless to say,this is generally punchier and more stripped down than that song was. Still,its one of the finest grooves I’ve heard Shuggie Otis throw down since the mid 70’s.

 

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Filed under 2013, chicken scratch guitar, cinematic funk, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, fuzz guitar, guitar, lead guitar, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar, Shuggie Otis, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “To The Top” by Omar

Omar first came to my attention via the Lenny Henry starring “brit-com” entitled Chef, with its theme song “Serious Profession” performed entirely by Omar. During the early to mid aughts,exploring Omar’s then very hard to find import albums on CD was like hunting for buried treasure. Thanks to my online friend Jeremiah,a lot more exposure to Omar’s music came my way a decade ago. What I noticed about Omar’s music was that,very different from American neo soul very much based in live instrumental hip-hop beats,Omar’s variety of the music concentrated heavily on ornate arrangements.

Born Omar Lye-Fook in London in 1968,he grew up in Canterbury,Kent. He was classically trained trumpet,piano and percussion at two separate conservatories in London and Manchester. He worked as a computer programmer for Microsoft before pursuing music full time. His first single and album There’s Nothing Like This became his first chart hit. And established him as a founding father of neo soul. Over the years his sound swelled to incorporate elements of Brazilian jazz,dance hall reggae and cinematic funk. On the latter end,one of my favorite songs from him is 2000’s “To The Top” from his album Best By Far.

A swinging mix of hollow percussion and piano walk down introduce the song. This kicks off into a sea of strings and melodic flute harmonies before Omar himself begins duetting with his swelling backup vocals. This represents the chorus of the song,for all intents and purposes. The refrains of the song find Omar’s lead and backup vocals playing more call and response to a shuffling,funky snare drum and piano. There are two repeating chorus/refrain bars of this song. On the final chorus before the song fades,Omar’s lead and back-round vocals become the full focus of the song over the instrumentation.

Omar does something that really gets to me musically on “To The Top”. Most neo soul/proto neo soul male artists who hailed as “the next Marvin Gaye” in the beginning. And truth be told,Omar’s style of arrangement and love of backup vocals singing lead is straight out of the Gaye school of cinematic funky soul on this particular song. What Omar does is brings in the heavy funk. As with most neo soul,its lacking in any synthesized electronics. What it does have is less of a stripped down sound,and more emphasis on orchestral production. That makes Omar one of the funkiest neo soulers of his generation.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2000, arrangement, backing vocals, cinematic funk, cinematic soul, drums, flute, funky soul, Neo Soul, Omar Lye-Fook, percussion, piano, strings, UK Funk

Stanley Clarke: His First Solo Decade

Stanley Clarke painting

Stanley Clarke showcases yet another example of how the City Of Brotherly Love sometimes comes across like the most musical city north of New Orleans. Since NYC and Miami lays between them,it’s more complex than that. That describes Stanley’s approach to bass playing too. He was of course one of the premier jazz fusion bass players of the 70s alongside Jaco Pastorious-with whom he recorded.  He also had a distinct style on the two different bass types-a Larry Graham inspired slap on the electric,and a smooth vamp on the upright acoustic. That helped give his playing style it’s distinctiveness.

I’ve covered one Stanley Clarke song from his most recent album Up,as well as having him be a part of my list of key funky bassists. Thought of covering one or three of his songs on this blogs Anatomy of THE Groove feature. But there’s something about the breadth and expansion of Stanley’s career that lent itself to something else. Recently I’ve been doing individual articles that focus on a large number of songs by such artists with vast musical catalogs. So here is a rundown of the Stanley Clarke numbers that made the funkiest impact on me personally out of his now 44 year old solo career.


“Vulcan Princess”/1974

This song rips right out of Stanley’s self titled sophomore album as a vital extension of Return To Forever’s   (with whom he was bass player still) “Vulcan Worlds”. This version takes the powerful Minimoog based melody into a phat funky slap bass groove on the refrain. Actually,my very first time hearing Stanley Clarke playing funk.

“Hot Fun”/1976

It is very easy to lean on the title song of Stanley’s 1976  release School Days. While that has one of the most iconic funk bass lines in history,something about the horn arrangements building up this song and it’s slap bass improvisations really bring out the funk. And showcases Stanley really developing as a cinematically strong composer.

“Modern Man”/1978

Stanley Clarke really paved the way for his ability to score arrangements with this song. With it’s multiple sections ranging from jazzy ballad to melodic uptempo pop-funk,this busily cinematic groove also showcases Stanley playing a lot of higher toned bass links and really working very well with his developing vocal abilities.

“Just A Feeling”/1979

Stanley’s partner in funky music,the late George Duke,provided some bluesy chromatic walks on the Yamaha electric piano on this bouncy disco-funk tribute to Louis Armstrong. On the choruses,Duke and Tom Scott on wah wah lyricon provide a sunny and triumphant melody.

“Together Again”/1979

On this very hummable disco pop number,Stanley Clarke plays all the instruments. Again it points to his talents to score a number that could’ve easily been a film or television show theme song of the time. Has some similarities to a Bob James composition in that area,only with a more stripped down instrumental style.

“We Supply”/1980

With it’s slow dragging beat,horn charts,synth washes and intense slap bass ruffs from Stanley this song was a great way for Stanley to bring in the 80’s with one of the heaviest P-Funk inspired grooves the man ever came up with.

“New York City”/1982

Stanley Clarke was working with Carlos Santana a lot during this time. Both artists were pursuing a vocally oriented boogie/post disco pop-funk sound. Stanley’s Let Me Know You album is defined by it and this stripped down number-with it’s drumming that seems to gradually slow on the intro and the bubbling bass licks help this tribute to NYC come right to life.

“Are You Ready (For The Future)”/1984

With it’s use of sequencers,brittle synthesizer riffs and drum machines this song is one fellow blogger Zach Hoskins might refer to as “the Jheri curl sound”. With it’s use of processed,ghostly back vocals and chipmunk’d leads,the real star of the show on this song is Ray Gomez’s scratching rhythm guitar along with Stanley’s equally chugging lines.

“Time Exposure”/1984

The title song to Stanley’s 1984 album stands as a synth pop/new wave showcases for some of Stanley’s heaviest slap bass riffs-even playing in a duet style with his own higher pitched riffs.


It’s true that Stanley Clarke has recorded many albums and many songs since the mid 1980’s. At the same time,very little he has done since that time has stood out in terms of individuals songs. He became more of an album artist. And one of the best in terms of bass at that. Of course he continued to parlay his talents in scoring films and television. So it felt important to showcase how funk helped Stanley to develop the compositional style that has served him well-both creatively and commercially.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, cinematic funk, elecro funk, Funk Bass, funk rock, jazz funk, Moog bass, Ray Gomez, slap bass, Stanley Clarke, upright bass

Michael Jackson-The First Solo Career

Photo of JACKSON FIVE and Michael JACKSON

Michael Jackson shared one major thing in common with fellow Motowner Stevie Wonder: both of them had two distinct solo careers. Stevie’s was as a child prodigy musician who mostly played harmonica and bongos. And only singing a little bit. Of course his breakthrough was still on the Motown label. But on independent, fully adult terms. Michael had his first career in his early/mid teens on Motown as well. He differs from Stevie mainly in that his adult solo breakthrough came through the guidance of Quincy Jones and his crew of musicians. And it happened on the Epic label rather than Motown.

Michael’s solo career on Motown was linked very closely to the Jackson 5ive’s. His brothers often continued to sing backup for him during this time. And he continued to work with the writers and producers who made up The Corporation-the creative team who helped to create the Jacksons’ sound while they were on Motown. In addition to providing the teenage Michael with fresh new material,they also developed his strong vocal ability into that of an interpretive singer-even as his voice began to change. And it’s that first solo career (from 1972 to 1975) that I want to represent Michael Jackson with today.


“I Wanna Be Where You Are”/1972

This is probably my personal favorite of Michael’s solo hits from before his voice really changed. The rhythm guitar/harpsichord heavy uptempo funkiness has a strong J5 flavor still. But Leon Ware and T-Boy Ross’s songwriting has a lot of those jazzy chord changes,from major to minor,that Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson were using at the time. Michael handles the melodic complexity of the song with seeming ease and emotional power.

“Ain’t No Sunshine”/1972

With it’s fuzzed out guitar and slow shuffling beat,this Bill Withers cover comes instrumentally right out of the early P-Funk albums from Funkadelic in 1970-71. But it’s raw blusiness is slickened up far more than anything George Clinton was doing at this time. Always loved Michael’s spoken intro where he says “you ever want something that you know you shouldn’t have? The more you know shouldn’t have it,the more you want it”.

“People Make The World Go ‘Round”/1972

One thing that really makes this song stand out as an interpretation is how much different it is from the Stylistics original. Thom Bell’s slow tempo is raised up a notch,and the music is a more less orchestrated. Not only that but the lyrics are simplified,to the point of being totally altered,to make more sense that a 14 year old is singing it. It was a moment when someone else’s song was tailored more to Michael’s maturity level-rather than the more experienced and adult sociopolitical elan of the original.

“Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day”/1972

This Stevie Wonder interpretation is amazing. It sounds based more on the faster,more clavinet driven live versions Stevie performed in the late 60’s than the studio original. Also Michael begins utilizing more of the vocal hiccups and ad libs from his Epic era solo career here. What shocked me is to hear the chorus at the very beginning sung in Michael’s fully changed adult voice,but the rest in his higher childhood one. Almost as if vocal parts were recorded at totally different times.

“All The Things You Are”/1973

Michael Jackson became fascinated with the Philly soul sound of Gamble & Huff during his mid teens. And this interpretation of the Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern showtune really showcases the orchestral proto disco funkiness spirit of the city of brotherly love. Michael utilizes his changing voice beautifully here-singing the more dramatic parts in his childhood voice and the more nuanced ones in his mature voice.

“Euphoria”/1973

Leon Ware provided this jazzy,cinematic mid tempo Clavinet/string orchestration based funky soul to Michael Jackson at a time when he was right on the cusp of finding his identity as a solo performer for Motown. He’s spelling the words out of the song title in the manner a parent might  do for a child. Yet the choruses make it clear Michael is really beginning to understand the meaning of the word euphoria.

“We’re Almost There”/1975

Michael’s voice had fully matured by the time his final Motown album Forever,Michael dropped in early 1975. This amazingly cinematic groove from Brian and Eddie Holland-with it’s funky wah wah and high stepping Afro Brazilian dance rhythm really allowed Michael’s voice to soar to the romantically hopeful revelry of the lyrics.

“Dapper Dan”/1975

This album track from the Forever,Michael is the one song from that album that you won’t find on any of the many Motown era solo Michael Jackson best of compilations out there. But it is by far the funkiest song on the album. Written primarily by Hal Davis,it channels the sort of New Orleans stomp that an Allen Toussaint might cook up for Dr.John at that time. And showcases Michael getting down hard with some super heavy funk.


Michael Jackson has been dead for seven years as if this writing. I was motivated to explore this side of Michael’s artistry because it showcased his personal interests guiding those people still guiding Michael. And his first four solo albums recorded on Motown helped prepare him to develop his focus in terms of the kinds of writers,producers and musicians he’d work with as a grown adult. His second solo career is well illustrated in the Guinness Book Of World Records. But his solo trajectory really took off while still on Motown.

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Filed under 1970's, cinematic funk, Funk, Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Motown, Motown Sound, Philly Soul, Stevie Wonder, The Corporation

The O’Jays: My Favorite Jams From On Board The Philly Foursome’s Love Train

O'Jays Painting

The O’Jays have always been a part of my musical core. And so much personal understanding of the Philly sound came by way of this vocal trio. From the first time hearing “Back Stabbers” on the radio and singing along with my mom all the way to ringing in the new millennium to the tune of their song “The Year 2000”. When looking upon a single song or album to break down,it didn’t quite feel right. So with Eddie Levert turning 74,and so many his generations music peers dying off this year,I decided to break down my favorite O’Jays uptempo grooves-song by song. So here come the Philly jams!


“Back Stabbers”/1972

Henrique Hopkins and I once discussed this and the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” as being Watergate era cinematic soul anthems of paranoia. With the sauntering,theatrical proto disco Philly soul “Back Stabbers” made the darker social climate of the early 70’s wiggle and wobble with a type of excitement and joy.

“For The Love Of Money”/1973

The first time I heard this song,it reminded me of the song “Poppy Girls” from Quincy Jones’s production of The Wiz.  Turns out that was an instrumental recasting of this song’s classic bass line. The original hear is a whole different thing-a frank bit of people funk declaring “some people gotta have it/some people really need it”. No irony is lost that the group performed this song one time on Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice.

“I Love Music”/1975

Always loved this fast paced slice of ultra fast tempo’d Philly dance music. It’s an anthem to the disco era of funk as representative of the love of music for both dancing to and playing it as well as for singing. The most humorous part is the first did I heard it-as part of a VH1 bumper featuring a stereotypical female librarian listening to it on an MP3 player on a subway. Really showcased the funky power of this groove.

“Travelin’ At The Speed Of Thought”/1977

The sheer drama of this Afro Cuban percussion/disco bass driven jam made an immediate impact on my ear holes. Hearing the trio sing to the tune of some serious space funk synthesizer’s  lyrics like “Come with me/unsolve the mystery/the mystery of you and  me” alone made my hairs stand up on end with funky emotion.

“Strokety Stroke”/1978

So Full Of Love was an album that was always available brand new from Borders Books & Music since they opened in 1995. That very same copy was still there when I finally picked it up on closeout when the Borders chain closed 15 years later. It was a big surprise to hear this hardcore rocking funk on the same album that delivered the sleek Philly jump of “She Used Ta Be My Girl” and the harmony drenched ballad “Brandy”. One of my favorites in a funk context on this wonderful 1978 album.

“Out Here In The Real World”/1981

This song probably has the most personal resonance in my personal life. Musically,it’s light shuffle isn’t too big a deal for me. Vocally it has some of Eddie’s strongest vocals and the trios fine harmonies. Lyrically,this was a song my own mother often referenced to me (via my own record collection-this song turned into a favorite of hers at the time) when I was facing the difficulties of employment and a future on my own. Long story short,it’s an ongoing journey of many unexpected challenges. Still it’s sometimes good to hear Eddie Levert’s opening line of “oh man,I’ve got to get myself together” for perspective.

“Can’t Slow Down”/1985

The only reason I found out about the O’Jays 1985 album Love Fever was because I found it in the $5.99 bin,again at Borders. Much to my surprise it showcased the O’Jays doing a style of music I’d never have expected to hear from them at that time: brittle synth/electro funk. The opener “Can’t Slow Down” was my favorite. Showcases how some of soul finest harmony singers can bring out at the best in vocal samplers and other mid 80’s technology.


There are many O’Jay’s albums that are not represented with songs on this particular list. That’s because the O’Jays discography is so large,I have yet to hear all of their studio albums. These are just some of the ones that stuck out to for me. What the O’Jays have always represented to me is Gamble & Huff parlaying their talent for writing message songs. Than utilizing their most powerful vocal trio to preach the gospel of humanism. And on Eddie Levert’s birthday this year,that is what I want to celebrate most about them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, cinematic funk, disco jazz, Eddie Levert, Funk Bass, Gamble & Huff, message songs, Philly Soul, The O'Jays

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Do Do Wap Is Strong In Here” by Curtis Mayfield

There was a concept perpetuated in much literature I read for years about Curtis Mayfield’s music. This had to do with Curtis’s music going on something of a slow decline after the mid 70’s-in similar manner to Stevie Wonder during the mid 80’s. Looking back on it all now,a lot of this might come from a popular/commercial standpoint. As independent as Curtis Mayfield was creatively,nothing he did stopped radio and chart formats from being racially divided. As based in Chicago blues,funk and soul as his music was Curtis continued to maintain his ceaselessly committed following among the black soul/funk listeners.

Curtis dealt with this head on when recording his second soundtrack album for the movie 1977 ‘Short Eyes’. This was a Robert W. Young adaptation of the Miguel Pinero. The film’s story revolved around the racial divide in a largely Hispanic and black men’s prison in New York-centering around a white middle class pedophile. Curtis himself made a cameo in the film as an inmate-performing the hit single taken from the film. It’s a song I first heard as an edited single on the compilation CD The Anthology 1961-1977. The name of the song in any version was “Do Do Wap Is Strong In Here”.

A grinding percussion accented funky drum opens the album-punctuated by an approaching wah wah guitar and a down scaling bass. The vocal part of the song opens with the refrain-finding the wah wah and bass accenting the vocal lines with a thick bed of fuzzed out blues/rock guitar in the back-round. Suddenly the song reintroduces itself with an orchestra of up-scaling strings. Then the song cuts down to the percussion and drums with that rocking fuzz guitar playing a spicy,bluesy solo over it. Then the chorus comes in,the backup singers doing leads with Curtis as the refrain/chorus repeats to it’s fade out.

“Do Do Wap” definitely has a stripped down funk aestetic all the way. The orchestral strings have a very menacing quality about them that advances the cinematic quality of the song. It’s also a strong reminder of the fact that the songs on Curtis Mayfield’s two soundtrack albums often tended to be on the stripped down side rhythmically. Especially when it came to the uptempo,funkier ones. In a lot of ways,this is my favorite Curtis Mayfield song of his solo career during the 70’s. And the continued re-use of it’s rhythmic break over the years showcases just how musical an impact it made.

 

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Filed under 1970's, blues funk, Chicago, cinematic funk, Curtis Mayfield, drums, Funk Bass, message songs, percussion, rock guitar, Short Eyes, Soundtracks, strings, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Mr. Mean’ by Ohio Players-Rest in P Marshall Jones

Mr.Mean

Considering the fact that it was sheer luck that I discovered this nearly impossible to find CD in a used CD store,it’s amazing how often I refer to and come back to this particular album. Always been fascinated by the impact of the album cover,a rare and topical group portrait in proto “gangsta” garb (something hip-hop has latched onto in many areas) as well. Interestingly enough this serves as a possibly loose soundtrack to a film of the same title,itself a rarity as well.

So basically it gave the Ohio Players a change to stretch out their music in a more cinematic arena. On the other hand,even as the membership of the band swelled from seven to nine members on this album all was not well within. Financial difficulties revolving around Clarence Satchell’s extravagant lifestyle were catching up to all of them. And…honestly it was their final album of all new material for Mercury.  All the same it is an album that,for sure get’s a very unbalanced and unfair reputation to say the least.

To clear up one of the most popular misconceptions,this is by no stretch of the imagination an “unfunky album” as so many listeners and critics charge. Quite the contrary it’s MOSTLY funk,albeit often of the more futurist and experimental variety. Mixing a strong rhythm box drum machine with almost Tangerine Dream/Kraftwerk style atonal electronic synthesizers “The Controllers Mind”,in it’s briefness in length finds Billy Beck WAAAY ahead of the game.

It was especially in terms of hip-hop’s later use of what some call the “video game” sound. P-Funk were just getting in on it too around this time and the Players took it way ahead here. On “Magic Trick”,basically a smooth late 70’s melodic dance-funk there are even more hints of that same atonal electronic jazz-funk keyboard sound. “Fight Me,Chase Me” and “The Big Score” limit the vocals primarily to the song title as the band flex their collective,cinematic jazzy funk muscles otherwise,with heavy emphasis on the jazz end of it.

The title song and the closing “Speak Easy” are the most conventionally funky numbers here. And even for that you’ll find the band driving the groove even harder into the ground than usual. The albums longest number is the nearly ten minute,moody “Good Luck Charm”,another Ohio Players bluesy style mid-tempo funk groove with some well executed use of ARP strings and a somewhat romantically tortured lyric. There’s a degree of complexity with the song,as it is on most of this album.

Actually musically stronger and FAR more ambitious than either Contradiction or Angel this album reaches out more into what was to come into and from funk music in the future more than it does deal with it’s past and present. In fact newer genres of techno dance and hip-hop might’ve benefited more from some of these musical ideas that the funk and disco of the era. In many ways I suppose we could only wonder. If this lineup of the Ohio Players hadn’t drawn to a halt and this album was a jumping off point as opposed to a conclusion……just what might’ve been.

Originally posted on July 29th,2016

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

*Listen to the title song of this album here!

*Listen to “The Controllers Mind” here!

*Listen to “Magic Trick” here!

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, Billy Beck, blacksploitation, cinematic funk, Clarence Satchell, electro funk, jazz funk, Leroy Sugarfoot Bonner, Marshall Jones, Music Reviewing, Ohio Players, Soundtracks, synthesizers