Category Archives: clavinet

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Dance America” by Charles Earland

Charles Earland passed away 17 years ago this year. He was yet another Philly based musician in this most musically soulful city of brotherly love. Now he was a composer and sax player,but his primary contribution was as a organist/keyboard player. He started out backing up Jimmy McGriff in his late teens. After similar stints with Pat Martino and Lou Donaldson,Earland struck out on his own. His career as a leader began primarily in the hard bop/soul jazz idiom. Of course being of the American generation known as Silent,it wasn’t long before his music grew into full blown funkiness.

In 1978,Earland recorded an album entitled Perceptions.  The album focused heavily on the writing,production and occasional keyboard support of Randy Muller. Muller had headed up the Brooklyn based proto disco funk band Brass Construction. As well as being the mastermind behind the boogie funk sensations Skyy. Muller’s “Let The Music Play” actually got Earland a lot of disco/club action-keeping the funky dancers moving during the late 70’s. There’s another song from this album I just heard,and it just about blew my mind. The name of this jam is “Dance America”.

Skyy’s Anibal “Butch” Sierra revs up the deep rhythm guitar hard before the main groove kicks in. This main groove consists of a thick percussion accents supporting the upfront funky drumming. Earland’s Clavinet,a bass line that’s in the “Brick House” style school and Sierra’s processed rocking guitar all provide phat melodic AND rhythmic support all at once. The snare hits hard on the chorus-which is accented by a heavy space funk synth. The bridge features some hot horn charts. Then Earland begins rapping JB style about the different cities he and band intend to do their dance in before the song fades out.

“Dance America” sounds like one of the heaviest funk stomps to throw down during the height of the disco era. Backed up vocally and instrumentally  by members of Skyy along with Earland’s band, this also delivers on some of the driving hard rock guitar solo flavor that bands such as the Isley Brothers and the teenage newcomers Slave were doing around this time. Earland’s growling enthusiasm on the rap that closes out the song not only adds to the funkiness of the song, but is part of what defines it. It’s a monster jam of an example for that musically collaborative spirit at the very core of funky music!

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Anibal "Butch" Sierra, Charles Earland, clavinet, disco funk, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, percussion, Randy Muller, rock guitar, Skyy, synthesizer, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Good Times” by Cameo

Cameo started off under the name of the New York City Players-changing their name when they signed Cassablanca’s generally funk based Chocolate City imprint. The reason for that is thought to be avoidance of a lawsuit by the Ohio Players. Either way,they evolved from Larry Blackmon’s first band East Coast. That group had included the late vocalist Gwen Guthrie.  By the time of their 1977 debut album Cardiac Arrest,the now septet had spent nearly two years polishing their grooves based on everything from the dance floor friendly grooves of Brass Construction to the sounds of P-Funk.

With each successive Cameo album,the band developed a sound that grew more and more distinctive. Most interestingly how they kept the growling flavor of hard Southern funk while adapting to the stripped down instrumentation of 1980’s naked funk. There are far too many wonderful and influential Cameo songs to discuss here on Andresmusictalk. With “I Just Want To Be”,”Shake Your Paints” and “Flirt” being just a few of a couple dozen. For the sake of Larry Blackmon’s 60’s birthday,I’m going to cover a song from their debut that epitomized their overall musical focus called “Good Times”

Dancable,cymbal heavy drums and hand-clapping start out the song-accompanied by a round grooving Clavinet. That’s when the low rhythm guitar comes in-along with a gurgling synth bass and a jazzy electric bass line jam their way into the mix. On the refrains,smoothly melodic electric piano gooses all the other instrumentation right along. On the choruses that start the song and repeat throughout,the horn section play some sharp and intensely rhythmic charts. Towards the end of the song,the drum begins fan-faring around a squirrely space funk synth before closing out on the chorus.

Musically speaking,this song showcases the early Cameo sound extremely well. In terms of sound,it is built around the thick wah wah sounds that defined their first hit “Rigor Mortis” from the same album-while also maintaining it’s jazzy harmonics as well. It also has the faster tempo and loose jamming style that would show up on “It’s Serious” from their sophomore album We All Know Who We Are from later that same year. Upon first hearing Cameo with this fuller sound some years ago,it came as a bit of a shock. It all showcased the versatility of funk that is the Cameo sound.

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Filed under 1970's, Cameo, clavinet, dance funk, drums, electric piano, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, Larry Blackmon, New York, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synthesizer, wah wah

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Bodytalk” by Cerrone

Marc Cerrone was right up there with Giorgio Moroder in terms of popularizing the Euro Disco sub-genre of music. His 1977 song “Supernature” essentially got the modern EDM genre started the same year as Moroder’s “I Feel Love”,performed by Donna Summer. The French born but Italian raised Cerrone was playing drums just before he entered adolescence. He was deeply interested in American soul,funk and rock music from artists such as Otis Redding-and later in the 60’s Jimi Hendrix,Santana and Blood,Sweat & Tears. This meant that his understanding of rhythm was off to a great start.

His first gig as a musician came as part of the psychedelic soul group Kongas. Their music became part of the underground  psych/soul/rock  sound that really got  DJ’s spinning  records in dance clubs. This helped initiated the early disco scene. After that,he went on to record at least a couple dozen albums between 1976 to present. These ranged in sound from disco,electro pop to hardcore funk. His most recent recording is an EP called  Afro. This features collaborations with African musicians such as Manu Dibango and former Fela Kuti band mate Tony Allen. The song that  got my attention on it is called “Bodytalk”.

Darting synth brass starts off the song with a heavy 2 by 2 beat drum kick. Cerrone keeps the 4/4 beat going with some thick percussion accents most of the way along. The main rhythm of the consists of a thick interaction between a churning rhythm guitar, a ultra funky bass line as well as keyboard parts consisting of a filtered Clavinet and Fender Rhodes. The horns act as the backing vocals to the melody. The bridge of the song really brings up the drums with the hard grooving slap bass soloing. That dynamic comes into play on the Afro Latin percussive part that leads back into the fade out of the main chorus.

Cerrone is dealing with some serious,live band oriented post disco/boogie funk of the highest order here. Musically it has a sleek production atmosphere,a very hummable melody but most importantly some heavily funkified rhythmic instrumentation. It reminds me of a Brass Contruction record from the mid to late 70’s in that regard. What my friend Henrique calls funk functioning as disco. It’s a wonderful thing to see how Marc Cerrone here has taken his intrumentality as a drummer and maintained his focus on hard driving,funky rhythms in his music into the 2010’s.

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Filed under 2016, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, Cerrone, clavinet, disco funk, drums, Fender Rhodes, Manu Dibango, percussion, post disco, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Tony Allen

Anataomy of THE Groove: “I Wanna Talk To You” by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder’s musical artistry is completely effected by the 60’s social explosions. These changes in American society defined the baby boomer generation,of which Wonder was a member of. The 70’s emerged finding the civil rights and black power movements influencing that entire 60’s era counterculture. One issue,bought up again by Prince three decades later,was the idea of recording contracts as a form of artistic slavery. Wonder’s music had grown behind what Motown expected him to create. And just prior to his 21st birthday,Wonder decided to do as Curtis Mayfield had done and take control of his music.

This April 12th was the 45th anniversary of Stevie Wonder’s album  Where I’m Coming From. This album represented a time when Wonder insisted his contract to Motown be voided until they worked out a deal that gave him full creative autonomy. The album featured a sound that represented the funk process,and Wonder’s use of it to advance his own musical independence. The themes of the songs dealt with anti war ideas ,drug abuse, racism and his new marriage to Syreeta Wright,who collaborated with him on the album. Today,one song on this album rings through my head very loudly: “I Wanna Talk To You”.

Wonder starts out the song with a down and dirty 12 bar blues piano solo straight out of the Ray Charles school of soul. He responds to this vocally on his refrain-just him and the piano. Than Stevie imitating an older voice comes in for the chorus,solo at first. During the rest of the chorus,layers of fuzzed out Clavinet and huge,percussive soul/jazz style drums come into play. After a few rounds of this literal refrain/choral conversation the music comes to an instrumental bridge. This extends into an elongated chorus of these reverbed,heavy groove keyboards until the song breaks apart lyrically and fades out.

Musically, Stevie Wonder is speaking the same musical language here as Sly & The Family Stone were with their Stand album from a couple years earlier. It brings in the raw R&B attitude out of the 50’s blues clubs and juke joints into the slick,churchy use of reverb and instrumental filters. This is what the funk process was all about. And by having fully realized the strong instrumental influence of the Ray Charles comparison that made his childhood career,Wonder was able to bring the then recent musical past into a new and evolving future. And right around the time Marvin Gaye put out What’s Going On at that.

On the lyrical end, I was inspired to write about this song was by seeing a meme that showed members of Black Lives Matter and saying “the most racist people are the ones crying ‘racist’ all the time’. This meme was posted to the Facebook timeline of a friend of mine whose not only gay,but works in a mental health facility. It got me to thinking that perhaps,racism is indeed a form of mental illness. It encourages irrational,murderous behavior. For years “I Wanna Talk To You” was presented in literature as being a song about the generation gap. In a way it is. But it actually goes far deep than that in content.

As it stands,the reason this occurrence inspired me to think of this songs lyrics is how Wonder plays it out. It’s essentially a one man show-style musical theater production,if one were based in straight up post WW2 black American attitude and funkiness. Wonder plays himself singing about the frustration of being black in America. He also plays the voice of an old Southern (most likely white) bigot who insists “my world can be true if you do what I tell you to”. At the end,it all breaks down when they character calls out “ah Stevie boy” and Wonder responds with “hey I don’t need you for nothin'”.

Stevie Wonder throws down an amazing ethic on this song. What amazes me is that Where I’m Coming From is the only one of his adult albums not domestically in print on physical media. In terms of this song in particular,it finds Wonder coming into rising adulthood at the dawn of the post civil rights era in America. Between the black American revolutionary music of funk and the message of organizations like the black panthers, Wonder completely realizes the connections between the two factors. And he plays out American’s racist default setting beautifully on this song with maximum soul and funkativity.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Black Lives Matter, blues funk, clavinet, drums, funk process, message songs, Motown, piano, racism, reverb, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Say You Do” by Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson is turning 50 today. It’s amazing to think her music career is 34 years old now. She was groomed by her family to be an actress-doing Mae West impressions on the Jackson 5’s Las Vegas shows in the mid 70’s and staring on Norman Lear’s Good Times as Penny,an abused child adopted the Evans’ next door neighbor Willona Woods on the show. Just before Mothers Day this year,Janet announced she was 2 weeks pregnant with her first child by her husband of five years Wissam Al Mana. Would like to wish these expectant parents all the happiness in the world for this happy event.

Growing up Janet was actually interested in becoming a horse racing jockey or an entertainment lawyer- supporting herself through acting. By her early teens,she’d become committed to being an entertainer. With the help of her father Joe,she got a contract with A&M Records in 1982. The album had an incredible array of session musicians,songwriters and producers working with an appropriate sound for Janet’s still developing vocals. The album itself did chart in the R&B Top 10. But somehow never produced any hit singles. One big potential one was the opener “Say You Do”.

Starting out with a hard hitting 5 beat pattern on the snare drum,a thunder like sound allows a thumping bass line and a cosmic space funk synthesizer to ascend in sound and pitch into the refrain. After this,a liquid rhythm guitar protects the groove with several accenting keyboard patterns. One is a horn type Clavinet accent,the other is an orchestral Fender Rhodes-themselves accompanied by aggressive Chic-like bursts of disco era strings along with Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements. These work tightly in concert with those Chic style strings arranged by Benjamin Wright.

After several choruses and refrains of Janet’s vocals-featuring the singer accompanying herself with several layers of lead and back-round choruses,there’s a thick and funky drum/Clavinet/synth bass funky bridge before a symphonic chorus of Janet’s vocals comes in. Janet’s voice is elaborately echoed in a rather psychedelic manner-again accompanying herself with her lower and higher range over the 5 beat drumming.After this, that drum breaks off into the thunder sound that started the song concluding it-with the synthesizer that fades up into the intro fading out in the exact opposite manner.

When I first heard this album 20 years ago,it came as a total surprise that so much elaborate musicality would go into an unproven teenager singer-even if she did carry the famous Jackson name. For awhile now,almost no thought goes into the majority of teen singer/boy band/girl group style musical productions. With the entire focus being on the singer’s vocal persona and the songs hook. This Rene & Angela composition that starts out Janet’s debut album takes a totally different approach-much like an early 80’s update of the sound Norman Whitfield got for The Temptation on songs like “Masterpiece”.

The incredible instrumentalists on this song might have a lot to do with this sound. Rufus’s rhythm section Bobby Watson,Tony Maiden,John Robinson AND Andre Fischer are all over this groove. Not to mention James Jamerson Jr. coming in on bass too along jazz oriented keyboardists/synthesizer players  Jeff Lorber and Frank Zappa’s Ian Underwood. Janet’s teenage voice is very impressive on this song. Her maturing vocals not only scale from a low tenor to her high mezzo soprano by turns-along with the multi tracked and echo-plexed symphony of her voice added to the mix too.

Of course there’s also the influence of her brother Michael here too. Michael Jackson was one of the biggest personalities in the music world in 1982,and only about to get bigger on that level. Janet does her own versions of his vocal hiccups and range on this song for sure. But the idea of combining a tight rhythm section of strong session instrumentalists with the horn arrangements of Jerry Hey,also working with Quincy Jones and MJ at the time,showcased her influence from her brother was as much musical as it was from the performance standpoint of her presentation.

Musically this song also bridges two generations of funk as well. It has the elaborate arrangements of the cinematic soul sound of Isaac Hayes and Barry White that inaugurated the disco era. But the clipped,stripped down presentation of the rhythm section and spare bursts of strings and horns also fall in line with the new wave influenced Minneapolis sound of Prince. Which was one Janet would embrace more fully in the next several years. This sort of instrumental thoughtfulness and funkiness stands for me as a superb model for teen singers. And stands as a highly unsung debut song from Miss Janet!

 

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Filed under 1980's, Andre Fischer, Angela Wimbush, Benjamin Wright, Bobby Waton, Boogie Funk, cinematic soul, clavinet, dance funk, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Ian Underwood, James Jamerson Jr, Janet Jackson, Jeff Lorber, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Joseph Jackson, Michael Jackson, naked funk, Rene & Angela, Rene Moore, rhythm guitar, strings, synth bass, synthesizer, teen pop, Tony Maiden, Uncategorized

STEVIEWONDERLAND!: Celebrating An Icon In Three Decades-“Bird Of Beauty” (1974)

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.

 

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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

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Me In Your Life” by Ronnie Foster

Ronnie Foster was one of Buffalo,New York’s prime funkateers next to the far more famous Rick James. The primary reason for this was likely because Foster was a session keyboardist who recorded solo albums rather than a headliner. That meant a lot though because the man played on some of the finest sessions of the mid 70’s to early 80’s by Roberta Flack,The Jacksons,Flora Purim and Earl Klugh. He was particularly involved musically with George Benson-playing and composing for his blockbuster mid/late 70’s releases.

What first got me into Ronnie Foster was a funk based blog some years ago that linked the man with Stevie Wonder. Foster was one of an enormous cast of players who participated on Wonder’s magnum opus Songs In The Key Of Life. That led me to his two late 70’s Columbia albums entitled Love Satellite  (1978) and the following years Delight. Wonder played drums on one song for each album. On Love Satellite, he did so on the instrumental”Happy Song”. On the follow  up Delight,Wonder did the drumming on a vocal tune this time. And the name of that song was “Let Me In Your Life”.

Foster starts the song with an elegant,jazzy melodic phrase played on polyphonic synthesizer-with his acoustic piano tickling the chord changes. After two phrases of this,Wonder’s drums come dancing with their funky swing. On the refrains,the piano and synthesizer are joined by a rhythmic Clavinet and bouncy Moog bass.  On the chorus,the melody descends into a minor key gospel key as a synth string ensemble accents the vocal. The bridge of the song features Foster playing a rhythmic electronic organ type solo over a popping disco bass line before the song closes out with the repeating chorus.

Ronnie Foster and Stevie Wonder were born in the same year,one day apart. Today Foster turns 66. This number showcases how much of Wonder’s compositional influence Foster had absorbed while working with him. Playing every instrument on this song,with backing vocals from people such as George Benson himself,Stevie’s musical sound is omnipresent. It’s in the layers of rhythmic keyboards. Not to even mention those Duke Ellington/George Gershwin style chord/melodic exchanges Wonder used. It really showcased what a strong and thoroughly musical influence Stevie Wonder could have on another instrumentalist.

 

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Filed under 1970's, clavinet, drums, jazz funk, Moog bass, piano, Ronnie Foster, session musicians, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Woo Together” by Bernie Worrell

Bernie Worrell is turning 72 today. He was part of P-Funk from it’s earliest inception-being entrenched as a member of Funkadelic when they were still the instrumental backing band for George Clinton’s doo-wop group The Parliaments. This child prodigy from Plainsfield,New Jersey was of course writing a piano concerto by 8 years old. And went onto study music at Julliard and the New England School Of Music. As grim as this sounds,Worrell is still battling stage 4 lung cancer. So there’s no telling how long he’ll be with us. While I’ve covered his work as a member of Funkadelic,his solo career is a key aspect of his career.

When Worrell introduced his thundering minimoog bass to Parliament’s highly successful groove “Flashlight” in 1977,he basically wrote the blueprint for the synth/electro funk sound that would emerge in the decade to come. By the time that song really broke out,P-Funk began sprawling into a number of spin off groups and soloists. And Worrell decided to make a contribution of his own to the burgeoning outgrowths of P-Funk. The result was his first solo album entitled  All The Woo In The World. The entire group of P-Funk musicians from George Clinton himself,Bootsy,Mudbone,Gary Shider,Billy Bass Nelson,Fred and Maceo were all involved-including the opening number “Woo Together”.

Worrell’s Clavinet opens the song as part of a thick,cinematic intro along with the phat,squawking bass and low rhythm guitar. These are accented by the string arrangements of Dave Van De Pitte. The main thrust of the song is a bluesy groove where the strings keep on playing along with the bass line along with Clavinet and the ever present backing vocals of George,Bootsy,Junie and the Brides Of Funkenstein. There are also several instrumental bridges throughout the song that buttress each chorus and refrain exchange. These feature the strings playing call and response style along with Worrell’s Clavinet. The refrain is where the groove officially fades.

As a whole the P-Funk sound was pretty unique. In his autobiography George Clinton mused that many in the music industry were concerned he was creating another Motown on the terms of mostly black musicians. One thing he did take from that record labels approach was being able to add the touches of individual artists to a distinct instrumental approach. And Bernie Worrell’s debut certainly begins with that ethic. The strings of Dave Van De Pitte act in the same fashion that Fred and Maceo’s Horny Horns normally would-dancing directly by the beat of the rhythm section. Therefore Worrell was able to revive his own type of cinematic soul within the heavy P-Funk instrumental spectrum.

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Filed under 1970's, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, cinematic soul, clavinet, Dave Van De Pitte, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, P-Funk, strings, Walter Junie Morrison

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Rotation” by Herb Alpert

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.

 

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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

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Machine Gun” by The Commodores

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.

 

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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