Gino Vanelli is someone who was not the type of artist I’d always imagined he was. My earliest understanding of him was as a melodic pop balladeer. During the summer of 2008 I was pretty absorbed in his music,as well as learning about Gino’s ever evolving depth of character. And the most important thing about his music is that he allowed it to evolve. That’s because he was and still remains a jazz/funk based singer songwriter-an expressive songwriter,dramatic vocalist and a poetic lyrical storyteller right up there with the best in his respective genre of music.
His very first album was 1973’s Crazy Life on A&M. For all intents and purposes,this album was a duet album between Gino and his keyboardist brother Joe,who’d of course remain by his side for the rest of Gino’s musical career. The album has a pronounced Brazilian jazz rhythmic flavor about most of it-with just a touch of blues. But it’s stripped down,cozy night club flavor sets it apart from the cinematic fusion pop masterpieces Gino would turn out during the mid to late 70’s. One song on the album that truly stood out on my fourth full listen to Gino’s debut was a tune entitled “Great Lake Canoe”.
A processed Fender Rhodes electric paino starts off the groove-underpinned by a floating two note bass line. As the refrain starts up in earnest,the drum and percussion pump right up into the cleanest end of the Afro-Cuban rhythmic clave. That Rhodes piano and bass churn right away as Gino sings right there with the same major/minor chord melodic transition. Before each chorus a brittle,metallic synthesizer plays the change. On the bridge,that synth introduces a melodically improvised Clavinet solo before the final refrain and chorus of the song-where that metallic synth fades the rhythm right out.
It’s taken many listens to realize just how strong a Brazilian jazz-funk song “Great Lake Canoe” actually is. The groove never loses focus of the melodic content of the song. But the Fender Rhodes is a reverb laden friendly,funky giant on this song. Processed in the finest tradition of Steely Dan,Joe Vanelli hits the keys hard on this. While Crazy Life is a slower,mellower album this for sure is it’s funkiest moments. Gino sings of the natural beauty of a boat ride on America’s Great Lakes as a source of perspective on reality. And this groove gives a strong perspective itself on the funkiest side of Gino Vanelli’s sound.
Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, clave, clavinet, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Joe Vannelli, percussion, reverb, Uncategorized
Tom Scott and the band T-Connection are two artists whom I’ve never discussed. Scott himself is turning 68 today-another musician who shares a birthday with yours truly. Both of us have played alto sax. Difference is Scott made a very successful career out of it,and I did the same with photography and music blogging. He was most famous as the funkiest side of the 70’s TV theme song genre such as Starskey & Hutch and The Streets Of San Francisco. Not to mention he and his band LA Express backing artists such as Joni Mitchell as they transitioned to a more jazz and soul oriented sound.
T-Connection meanwhile were a disco era funk band hailing out of Nassau,Bahamas. They truly lived up to the phrase “funky Nassau” in terms of bringing a thick,phat funk bottom to uptempo music during the height of the four on the floor beat era. The first such song I ever heard by them was titled after them and truly embodied that spirit. Just a couple hours ago, I was at the local record store Bull Moose and saw a pre-owned vinyl copy of their 1983 album The Game Of Life. It turns out Tom Scott participated in one groove from the album called “I’ve Got Good News For You”.
The song starts out with a bluesy processed Fender Rhodes before the cymbal heavy,fast drum shuffle kicks in. This is accompanied by a liquid boogie funk rhythm guitar and jazzy funk bass line. This encompasses the choruses of the songs. On the refrains,the melody and the stop/start drums enter deep into the Afro-Latin rhythmic clave-in a manner similar to the Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground”. Interludes between the two sections of the song showcases some brittle synth brass. Whereas the Rhodes and Tom Scott (on alto sax) improvise on the chorus as the song closes out.
One thing I’ll say for Tom Scott is that,when he wasn’t recording as a bandleader or solo performer,he had his high session credentials. And even though a good chunk of his solo material is funky as you wanna be,he was such a key part of the LA musician scene that it seemed appropriate to celebrate him blowing some funky sax with another group known for their funky music. Session playing allowed musicians to explore different sides of their creative personality. And Tom Scott had a long history of bringing his grooves into the many different tributaries of funk music.
Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, clave, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Los Angeles, Nassau, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, session musicians, synth brass, T-Connection, Uncategorized
Stevie Wonder’s life was almost lost on August 6th,1973. A truck driven by his late brother Calvin hit the back of a truck. Wonder was in a coma for four days. And the ensuing health complications almost denied him his sense of taste and smell. Blind from shortly after birth due to overexposure to an incubator leaving him with retinophothy of premurity, this knowledge of near death combined with losing two more of his senses had a profound effect on Wonder’s artistry. Already in a state of commercial and creative revelry with his music,these events deeply informed his music that was just yet to come.
Having dealt with a near death experience really informed Wonder’s next album entitled Fullfillingness’ First Finale. It was originally planned (and seemingly recorded) as a double album that Wonder decided to release in two parts. He never did. The part we did get in 1974 was a more somber,reflective album with a more stripped down instrumental approach. With songs such as “They Won’t Go When I Go” and “Creepin'” being fairly representative of the albums overall sound,it’s interesting that the album closes with two more upbeat songs. The first of which was called “Bird Of Beauty”.
Wonder begins the song with a 2 beat salsa rhythm-sticking the clave percussion in around the middle while Bobbye Hall plays a solo on the hollow sounding guica drum. The main body of the song has intertwining,jazz melodies played on the Clavinet and Fender Rhodes electric piano-with a rhythmic Moog bass bubbling in around the bottom. The chorus of the song has Wonder building up the hi hats before returning to the refrain. In addition to a bridge sung in Portuguese Denise Williams,Lani Groves and Shirly Brewer provide the backing vocals-with the song extending ethereally on the chorus as it fades.
Stevie Wonder’s fascination with Brazilian rhythms became very apparent after he gained his creative freedom in the early 70’s. They were very prominent before this on “I Love Every Little Thing About You” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”. This songs blend of sunny Latin jazz/salsa rhythms and funky rhythmic keyboards really emphasize it’s joyous sound. One that allows it to instrumentally dance and sing in so many different ways-all at the same time. Rhythm,melody and harmony all come together in the most beautiful ways here-all under the light of the musical sun Wonder creates.
The songs lyrical content has a double meaning for me. One is very personal. To overcome a fear of flying,my mother went skydiving 14 years ago. The words of “mind excersions” of this song made it part of the soundtrack to the video they assembled of the dive for her. It’s actually a song about altering ones state of consciousness naturally-without “black,white or yellow pills”. One could speculate this may have derived from Wonder having perhaps been given pain killers after his accident. With the recent and possibly pain killer related death of Prince,this is something to think about.
Filed under 1970's, backup singers, Bobbye Hall, Brazilian Jazz, clave, clavinet, Denise Williams, drums, Fender Rhodes, guica, Lani Groves, Latin Funk, Moog bass, Motown, Shirley Brewer, Stevie Wonder
James Brown and his sax player Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis wrote and recorded a song during JB’s 34th birthday month in 1967 called “Cold Sweat”. As with many James Brown songs,it was developed from part of an earlier song. In this case,a soul ballad entitled “I Don’t Care” from his 1962 album Tour The U.S.A. Ellis had heard James grunting out a very rhythm bass line. He had been listing to the Miles Davis song “So What” a lot at the time. And was thinking a similar horn chart would work well as James Brown was rebooting his song for what he called “the funky bag I’m into right now”.
Speaking personally,this song is actually the very root of Andresmusicalk. My father once wrote a musical breakdown of War’s The World Is A Ghetto album while in college. And he suggested that myself and my friend Henrique Hopkins do a two part breakdown of “Cold Sweat”,the James Brown song that inaugurated the funk sound we all really love. Many things have happened since than. But with my father and Henrique’s encouragement and information,I’m going it alone on talking about this song that not only launched this blog in a way,but did the same for an entire genre.
Clyde Stubblefield throws down his funky drum as the bass of this song right in the center of the Afro Cuban rhythmic clave. Both the rhythm guitar of Jimmy Nolan,Alphonso Kellum and the bass of Bernard Odum all utter a series of harmonically complex scaling lines in close concert with one another-with the JB horns playing those two note modal jazz style charts as Stubblefield comes down on the hi hats. On the refrains,James’s lyrical screams of “I DON’T CARE” keep the progression forward-until on the chorus,the drum breaks right out for the horns to scale right up with James’s vocals.
After the first vocal chorus,Maceo Parker delivers an expansion on the main horn charts of the song on his tenor sax solo. That’s also the first bridge of the song.After this,James calls out “GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME!” repeatedly to Stubblefield,who promptly delivers the percussive,break heavy drum solo that defines the whole groove. After this,the chorus refrain patter comes right back in. As the song begins the fade out,the second refrain becomes the main one. A refrain where the horns and Nolan’s guitar play in near perfect unison with the beat before the song does indeed fade away.
There are some times where studying any art you admire can dampen ones appreciation of it. That hasn’t been the case with myself and “Cold Sweat” at all. The more I learn about the nature of it’s instrumental content,the more musically revolutionary it reveals itself to be. James of course strips out most of the straight melodic elements to the point where the horns,drums,guitar and bass are playing melody,harmony and rhythm all at the same time. It truly was an extremely unique way to present music. And perhaps represents the very moment when James Brown forever reshaped American popular music.
Filed under 1960's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Alphonso Kellum, Bernard Odum, chicken scratch guitar, clave, Clyde Stubblefield, drum breaks, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Uncategorized
James Brown made his name as a massively influential and inspiring bandleader and performer. The man was probably less regarded as an instrumentalist. He released a series of instrumental albums in the mid 60’s on the Smash record label. But he was also a drummer as well. That probably had a lot to do with his vision of turning his entire band into a drum. And this became the foundational rhythmic element of the funk genre he pioneered. As the 60’s entered it’s final three years, James Brown really began to allow his groove to expand on this path in earnest.
Because the key element to JB’s musical expression was pretty much nonstop touring,he and the JB’s didn’t often have the time to pop over to posh studios to record new singles right away. New songs would often come right out of the rhythms that came through from the stage performances. And James likely came at this with the attitude of “we’ve got to get this on wax while it’s hot!”. That’s likely just what happened on one chilly Philadelphia evening in mid January of 1967 at the Latin Casino nightclub where,after a performance there James and his band recorded “Let Yourself Go”.
Jimmy Nolan’s chicken scratch guitar starts the groove right off cold. The Motown style snare drum kicks right in,along with a scintillating up and down scaling jazzy bass line. The horns play either a 2 or 4 note chart between each guitar break-spiced up by some serious Afro-Cuban conga drums. On the breakdown of the song,the horns begin calling for a musical response while the guitar becomes a sustained rhythmic tone. The one turns right back around as this pattern repeats one last time. On the fade out,the breakdown finds the horns scaling up with increasing volume as the song rides away into the groove.
Around the time this song was recorded, James Brown and the Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti were said to have both been checking out each others shows. Eventually, both of their styles would influence the other. For James’s part,he took the more melodic horn sustains of popular African Highlife music. He also blended in the percussive congas from within the Afro-Cuban clave. That combined with the entire band becoming one big sheet of rhythm made this a key song in terms of where James Brown’s music was about to go. And probably one of the most Afrocentric examples of his time in the funk process.
Filed under 1960's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, chicken scratch guitar, clave, drums, Fela Kuti, Funk Bass, funk process, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, percussion, The JB's, Uncategorized
Narada Michael Walden,who got his current first name from guru Sri Chimnoy in the early 70s,was probably one of the busiest musician/producers of the 1980’s. The Kalamzoo,Michegan born drummer/vocalist started out as the successor to Billy Cobham in the Mahavishnu Orchestra-working with Cobham later on his solo dates as well as playing with the late guitar hero Tommy Bolin. In the mid 70’s he began making solo records. While his 1976 debut Garden Of Love Light followed in the jazz-rock fusion mode he’d been in,his solo works veered towards funky soul by the late 70’s. These albums had a big Quincy Jones type arrangement style,often with a pronounced rock edge.
His theatrical style of melodic funk transitioned from the disco era to the electro/boogie one with ease as his solo career continued into the 1980’s. During that time,he began a career as a producer of largely female talent in a similar vein to Luther Vandross. This went from working with Sister Sledge in 1981 to his stellar work introducing Whitney Houston to the world in the mid/late 80’s. His work with Stacy Lattisaw and Johnny Gill got him hooked up with Aretha Franklin for her big comeback. In 1983 he recorded his third solo album of the decade called Looking At You,Looking At Me. One song it really achieves full funkiness in “Shake It Off”.
Walden and Sheila E open up the brittle, polyrhythmic drums/percussion of this song on the intro. Walden asks a musician named RJ to “play it right” before a thick slap bass line comes churning in scaling down and around the melodic chord changes. “RJ” turns out to be bassist,arranger and more recently American Idol talent scout Randy “The King” Jackson. This combination of drums,percussion and phat slap bass holds in the funk heavy by the time two densely arranged horn charts from Jerry Hey come in. That along with glossy synthesizer washes of Frank Martin and some churning chicken scratch guitar of Carrado Rustci. There’s also a vocal bridge where Walden provides a full jazz scat.
The adenoidal talk singing approach of Walden plays call and response with the rhythm for most of the song. On the chorus and it’s refrains,he’s in direct contact on that same level with the darting horns. On the bridge,the horns subside for Jackson to thump out his thick slap bass solo over the rhythm before the choruses re-emerges to close things out. All of these qualities make this song perhaps one of the most unsung examples of how the boogie funk era blended together both the live band flavors of the 70’s with newer synthesized/electronic touches. The instrumentation is brittle while still keeping deep in the Afro-Latin rhythmic clave. For me,it’s one of Walden’s finest funk numbers ever!
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, Carrado Rustci, clave, drums, elecro funk, Frank Martin, horns, jazz funk, Jerry Hey, Narada Michael Walden, percussion, Randy "The King" Jackson, rhythm guitar, Sheila E., slap bass, synthesizer, Uncategorized
Kraftwerk (German for “power plant”) were a group who came to my attention through a PBS documentary talking about electro funk pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. He was explaining how when he first heard the German groups album Trans Europe Express,he was convinced this would be the music for the future. Thanks to Bambaataa’s parties for his proto hip-hop collective Zulu Nation,late 70’s Kraftwerk records became major fixtures at black and Latino dance parties throughout the Bronx and Brooklyn. As krautrock’s prototype for what became today’s EDM sound,Krafwerk had an origin point all it’s own within their native country.
The group’s founders in keyboardist/guitarist Ralf Hutter and flutist/percussionist Florian Schneider,whose celebrating his 69th birthday today,came together at the very end of the 60’s in a psychedelic fusion oriented band known as the Organisation. After that bands first and only album, Ralf and Florian formed their first addition of Kraftwerk along with drummers Andreas Hohmaan and Klaus Dinger for their self titled debut. Released in 1970,it was produced by the iconic krautrock producer Konrad “Conny” Plank. Upon first hearing the album,the opening song stood out to me with heavy familiarity about it. The name of the song was “Ruckzuck”.
Florian begins the song with a double tracked flute solo playing very Arabic style scales. He then brings a very whisper,brittle violin solo which instantly kicks into the song itself. Hohmann’s hi hat heavy,rolling 2 by 2 beat snare drum pushes along at a hard grooving tempo with Hutter’s high pitched organ providing the main melody. Florian’s flute flows in and out of the mix. As Hutter’s organ grows more atonal and higher in the mix,the main melody of the song suddenly returns at an accelerated tempo. Then the whole disappears into a sea of tribal,very aboriginal African sounding percussion before that accelerated main theme fades back in to officially close out the song.
Henrique Hopkins and myself have had a number of discussions on Kraftwerk providing more raw instrumental material than strong melodic song content to those influenced by them. The Kraftwerk on this song are very different. Later member Karl Bartos said once that one the groups main key influences was James Brown. That can be heard on this song having such a complete relationship to rhythm-even the violin soloing. Because everything in this song is mixed in such close proximity,I cannot tell my next point for sure. But it does sound as if the rhythm is deeply locked into the Afro-Latin clave as well. That plus the very tribal pulse in the middle of the groove brings that out as well.
It was a few years ago that the songs familiarity came to me via YouTube. In the late 80’s and early 90’s,about 30 seconds of this song was used as the theme song to the PBS science program Newton’s Apple. The use of the song was apparently unauthorized and was replaced by a cover version during the shows later years. Part of the reasoning for this had to due with Ralf and Florian seemingly disowning this and Kraftwerk’s next two albums after the late 70’s-with Florian himself referring to them as “archaeology”. Even still,hearing Kraftwerk’s first song from their first album in such a progressive jazz-funk context showcases what their musical core has remained over the years.
Filed under 1970's, Afrika Bambaataa, Afro-Latin jazz, Andreas Hohmaan, clave, Conny Plank, drums, Florian Schneider, flute, Germany, James Brown, jazz funk, Kraftwerk, krautrock, organ, progressive music, Ralf Hutter, Uncategorized, violin
Herb Alpert was covered superbly by my friend Henrique eight months ago on his blog Riquespeaks. In his case he covered the 1987 duet with Janet Jackson entitled “Diamonds”. As someone who began his career as bandleader of the hugely popular band The Tijuana Brass and a record label owner with his and Jerry Moss’s A&M Records in the early 60’s, Alpert was continuing to evolve.As the 70’s came in,the sound of this band began to take on elements of Brazilian jazz in their radio friendly pop. He finally went solo in 1976-his debut followed by a couple duet albums (one studio and one live) with fellow trumpeter Hugh Masekela over the next couple of years.
The nucleus of Alpert’s next albums came through a conversation with his nephew Randy about updating Tijuana Brass hits for the disco era. The results sounded very corny to Alpert,so he and Randy engaged on another musical course. In writing a big keyboard oriented number for the upcoming Olympics in Mexico City entitled “1980”,the duo bought in a group of musicians to do an an album entitled Rise. It’s funky title song became the theme song of his solo career,and he did a version of the Crusaders “Street Life” on the album as well. The other song that caught my ear was it’s second,lesser known hit. The song is called “Rotation”.
Randy’s percussion starts out the groove deeply in the Afro-Latin clave. After an echoed whisper of the title song,a brittle Clavinet from the song’s co-writer Andy Armer launches into Alpert’s sustained trumpet solo. Randy backs him up with a pulsing synth bass. Armer’s Clavinet continues playing the counter melody to Alpert’s Spanish inspired trumpet soloing. Each chorus and refrain is punctuated by Julius Wechter’s ringing marimba. As Alpert’s solos becomes more and more jazzy and improvises over the melody-including a solo for Randy’s synth bass,the rhythmic keyboards grow in thickness until the song simply fades out on the percussion from where it begun.
The sound of this song is unique and distinctive on several different levels. For one,it brings the stripped down groove so common in the coming 80’s new wave sound into the Latin jazz idiom. For another, it uses both a Clavinet and synth bass as the main rhythmic body besides the drum. And most important perhaps of all,it finds Herb Alpert understanding what another fellow trumpet Miles Davis realized a decade earlier. And that was that an instrumental soloist could totally alter the rhythmic sound of their music and still play with their classic approach. In a lot of ways,this song is a fine example of uniquely produced Afro-Latin jazz/funk as defining Herb Alpert’s solo career.
Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Andy Armer, clave, clavinet, Herb Alpert, jazz funk, Julius Wechter, marimba, percussion, Randy Badazz Alpert, synth bass, trumpet, Uncategorized
Milan Williams,having been gone for ten years now,seemed to have come into playing piano due to mild sibling worship because of his multi instrumentalist brother Earl. This Mississippi native met the other members of the Commodores while he was a freshman at Tuskegee Institute. In 1974 the band signed to Motown and released their debut album Machine Gun in July of that year. This particular album was one of a handful of albums in the mid/late 70’s that were 100% funk-featuring no slow ballads. Milan would go on to write or co-write many of the Commodores big uptempo numbers,including their best known funk number in “Brick House” four years after their debut.
During the 1980’s,founding members Lionel Richie and Thomas McClary left the Commodores to pursue solo careers. The main instrumentalists of the band stayed on and recorded with former Heatwave vocalist JD Nichols. Milan left the band in 1989. The reason for his departure was when the commercial decline of the Commodores in the late 80’s led them to accept an offer to tour in South Africa. While Milan considered the band members his musical brothers,he could not bring himself to financially feed into the racist Apartheid system of that country. As for his contributions to the band,few stand as tall on the funk level as the title song of their 1974 debut album itself.
Milan begins the song with a big scaling piano. Walter Orange’s drums along with his accompanying percussion accents open up the clave for Milan to expand on the rhythm. The main melody of the song is a very bluesy one played on Clavinet. Below that is a fast bumping synth bass line while a higher pitched synth bursts out from that…indeed in the manner rapid gun fire. The refrain adds a thick wah wah guitar to the Clavinet and synth bass line before returning to the chorus. The second time around on this theme,the higher lead synth is a bleeping pulse. This goes into a bridge that showcases the percussion and chugging rhythm guitar before fading out on it’s chorus.
This debut song from the Commodores really solidified the bands uptempo funk sounds. In terms of it’s fastness and the heavily rhythmic use of electric piano/synthesizers,this song echoes Billy Preston’s early/mid 70’s funk instrumentals in terms of predating the electro funk of the coming decade of the 1980’s. This is especially true with Milan,playing most of the instruments on this number,utilizing the round and bubbling synth bass as the bottom of the song,is one of the most technically expert examples of an earlier synth bass line. The musical attitude is also in the countrified Southern Funk sub-genre. So on an instrumental level,this song is one of the Commodores most powerful grooves.
Filed under 1970's, clave, clavinet, Commodores, drums, instrumental, Milan Williams, Motown, percussion, rhythm guitar, Southern Funk, synth bass, synthesizer, Tuskegee University, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar, Walter Orange