The late saxophonist Michael Brecker and his older,trumpet playing brother Randy were major session fixtures in the mid/late 1970’s. They would go on to have a 30 year long career both together and apart,with Michael often being touted as the most influential jazz sax player since John Coltrane.It was through George Clinton’s P-Funk that the Brecker’s entered the Library Of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2011. That’s because Parliament’s 1975 album Mothership Connection was added to that registry. Funk officially became notarized in the capital in Chocolate City itself that day. And even so,the Brecker’s contributions didn’t end there.
Between 1975 and 1977,the Brecker’s released three studio albums as a duo. These albums were very heavy with funk. Not to even mention the horn blowing pair maintained their session work with P-Funk. They played with the JB’s own Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker on two albums by the Horny Horns. And through them they participated in albums by Bootsy’s Rubber Band as well. In 1978 they released a live album entitled Heavy Metal Be-Bop. The album showcased the brothers usage of Eddie Harris inspired electric sax and trumpet. It also contained a brand new studio track with additional personal that was entitled “East River”.
A thundering drum solo and discordant horn fanfare opens the song. A thudding,slow tempo funky drummer and a round,popping drum-like bass from Neil Jason.Barry Finnerty adds a thick layer of amp’d up rock guitar to the vocal changing and Michael’s bop style sax solos. The song breaks right down to an ultra funky mix of clanging percussion,hand claps,Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes,rhythm guitar,horns and Jason’s lead vocals. This stomping refrain returns after an additional repeat of the chorus. That main chorus of the song basically repeats itself throughout the rest of the song-allowing Michael Brecker to take a solo bridge along with the lead guitar before fading out.
In addition to being a strongly P-Funk inspired jam,this song is a sonically impressive example of hard rocking funk at it’s most fiery. Barry Finnerty’s guitar solo rocks hard indeed. But as with the rest of the music here,it’s a total rhythmic element. It’s the horns,both as a collective and solo element,that are truly the instrumental voice of this groove out front. The high recording quality,with everything about the rhythm popping out with amazing clarity,has a punchy live sound. It showcases just how far P-Funk’s instrumental reach was by 1978. And how much musicians like Michael Brecker played in the evolution of the uncut groove itself.
Filed under 1970's, Barry Finnerty, bass guitar, drums, Dyno-My-Piano, Fender Rhodes, funk rock, horns, Michael Brecker, Neil Jason, P-Funk, percussion, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, trumpet, Uncategorized
Smokey Robinson had a hugely successful run with his 1981 album Being With You. He followed this up a year later with the album Yes It’s You Lady. The album was the exact opposite in terms of popular success. Of course that’s to say nothing for the quality of the music on a creative level. Could probably give this album a very strong review on the basis that the general musical mode of the album is funk based. That’s saying a lot for an artist whose been ballad oriented most of his career during the post disco radio freeze out. Still creative flexibility is vital no matter what the musical climate happens to be. And this was an album that always kept it’s eyes squarely on the groove.
In the late 90’s,I had a CD compilation of Smokey Robinson solo hits called the Ultimate Collection. It included the song “Tell Me Tomorrow”,which is included on this 1982 album as well. It was a favorite of mine on that CD collection. And since compilations of that era usually mentioned what songs came from what albums, it was easy enough to crate dig looking for vinyl copies of what was then (and often still isn’t) in print on CD or digital formats. The vinyl I found of this is in excellent condition-both the jacket and the actual record. Again it was the opener of side 2 which caught my funk seeking ears on this album-a tune called “The Only Game In Town”.
The song opens with an unaccompanied Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes solo. Then the drums kick in. And those drums stay on the one with thick hand claps and phat slap bass popping. A round synthesizer or very processed rhythm guitar allows the refrains to chug along with fan faring horn charts showing up strongly on the choruses,which turn out to be the main theme that opens the song itself. There’s a second refrain too. This one gets very powerfully funky-with a scaling down bass line and the rhythm guitar chugging tightly like a runaway freight train. On the final choruses of the song, songwriter/guitarist Mike Piccirillo sings the vocal harmonies with Smokey on his guitar’s talk box.
In many ways,this might be one of the heaviest straight up funk stomps Smokey Robinson ever made during his early 80’s run. The tempo is relatively slow,as it the case with much funk so I’m finding. The horns and keyboards maintain a maximum groove factor throughout the song. And the bass/guitar interaction on this song is some of the thickest I’ve heard on any 80’s Motown number. One of the main things I appreciate about early 80’s Smokey is how he ventured to find a new musical voice through a more uptempo groove. Especially in terms of the funk. And that is the ethic he pursued with a lot of vitality on this song.
Filed under 1980's, drums, Dyno-My-Piano, Fender Rhodes, Motown, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Smokey Robinson, synthesizer, Uncategorized, Vinyl
With the passing of Joe Sample in 2014 and Wilton Felder just last year, I had a plan to pay tribute to The Crusaders here in a major way. In a similar manner to Earth Wind & Fire and James Brown, the music of the Crusaders were a key reference point for everything Henrique Hopkins and myself have done as bloggers. Now today is the birthday of Randy Crawford. Her own solo body of work contains some strong funk,soul and jazzy pop on it’s own. But it was through the Crusaders that I even discovered that she existed. To goes back to listening to that double Crusaders cassette at age 14 in the car stereo with my father. One of those albums was 1979’s Street Life. And it’s title song.
A brushing cymbal opens the song-joined shortly by a soulful sax solo from Wilton. After that the strings come into play as the main melodic theme that Randy is singing-along with Sample’s accents on the Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes. After the strings fade out,the song pauses for two seconds before the scaling horn charts and drums introduce the main body of the song. This main body of the song features Stix Hooper’s disco friendly funky shuffle that swings along at a thick 112 beats per minute. EWF’s Roland Bautista is one of the guitarists providing a liquid rhythm guitar in fine rhythmic harmony with Wilton’s popping bass line.
At the conclusion of each refrain,the strings come back into play as the rhythm increases in strength. The percussion and the horn charts accessorize the melody even further on the chorus of the song. After these,a second whole refrain chimes in. Here the liquid guitar pulses along with the low swing of the cymbal based percussive groove behind it while the strings scale over and around it. The next part of the song features the main body featuring Wilton improvising the vocal chorus on sax. After Randy comes in for another vocal chorus,the second refrain concludes the album. The percussion evolves into a marching drum in this section as the song fades out.
Over twenty years of listening to this song has engendered a huge growth process for my musical ear. At the time I first heard it,I was listening to a lot of late 70’s and early 80’s Jacksons/Michael Jackson. And heard a lot of sonic similarities while listening to this song. Of course with the participation of percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,plus the Crusaders participation on many early 70’s Jackson 5 records that comes as no surprise now. Instrumentally,it’s nearly 12 minute length blends the jazz orchestration of people such as Gil Evans with the band disco era jazz/funk rhythms. The addition of additional session musicians into the brew further beefs up the core Crusaders sound as well.
Another friend of mine named Calvin Lincoln hosts a TV program called Soul School in Vallejo,California on Saturday evenings. One time he and Henrique did an episode together following Joe Sample’s passing discussing how many records different Crusaders played on throughout the 70’s as session musicians. That really bought out what a clean,well oiled sound this song had. As Henrique also once pointed out to me, this song has the aural vibe of a slick OG walking down an urban downtown sidewalk after dark. It’s one of the finest,most multi faceted examples of funky jazz/pop/soul and a defining moment for both the Crusaders and Randy Crawford.
Filed under 1970's, Calvin Lincoln, disco funk, drums, Dyno-My-Piano, Fender Rhodes, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Randy Crawford, Roland Bautista, Soul School TV, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, Uncategorized, Wilton Felder