Category Archives: elecro funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Switch On Your Radio” by Maurice White

Maurice White,one of the musical icons who passed away this year,it best known as the founder of Earth Wind & Fire-the most commercially successful of the 70’s funk bands in terms of crossover. On the other hand,the band broke up in 1984. And one of the many reasons brought up was that White had it in his mind that Columbia (the bands record label) were looking for him to do a solo album. This album got released in 1985. Its biggest single was with a (mostly) uptempo version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”. But it still remains something of a footnote in EWF history.

When I first heard the album on vinyl album around 18-20 years ago,am not 100% sure it came off as anything all that exciting. Of course,that could’ve just been a case of seeking something different from it than what it was. And what Maurice White’s self titled (and sole) solo debut does is present a series of electronic,pan African rock/funk/soul fusions with a mild melodic pop new age vibe about them. The EWF message is still intact. Its just going more for an attitude than a sound by a large. The one song that always got my attention strongly was the opener “Switch On Your Radio”.

A totally electronic synth orchestration fades slowly on the intro. Than suddenly the song bursts with a bluesy funk melodic statement. And it has all the instrumental elements of the song itself. The drum machine and Paulinho Da Costa’s percussion play off the guitar,electronic hand clap and slap bass lines with this melodic electro funk wall of sound. This represents the choruses of the songs. On the refrains and the bridge,the mix is somewhat more stripped down to focus on the vocals a bit. An extended chorus with vocal ad lib’s finish out the song as it fades.

“Switch On Your Radio” has a sound that crosses a lot of musical bridges. The overall drum programming of the song has the bigness of sound that was very much of its time. Yet the live percussion accents along with Martin Page slap bass,Marlon McClain’s rock guitar and the ethereal synthesizers of Robbie Buchanan  make for a powerful sound that basically amounts to a progressive dance/funk sound. And the melody has that strong song construction White and Page are so noted for. Its an extension of the EWF sound for sure. And it also pointed to a possible future solo direction for White which didn’t continue.

 

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Filed under 1985, dance funk, drum machine, Earth Wind & Fire, elecro funk, Marlon McClain, Martin Page, Maurice White, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Robbie Buchanan, rock guitar, slap bass, synthesizer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “16” by Stacy Lattisaw

Stacy Lattisaw first came to my attention via reading Aretha Franklin’s first autobiography. She described Lattisaw’s duets with future New Edition vocalist Johnny Gill as inspiring her to choose Narada Michael Walden to produce her on 1985’s Who’s Zoomin Who album. Aretha made note of the strong production involved. A DC native,Lattisaw debut at age 12 in 1979,produced by the late Van McCoy. As soon as she began her involvement with Walden as her producer in 1981,he had a string of five albums through 1986. Not to mention being the opening act for the Jackson’s 1981 Triumph tour.

Along with the aforementioned New Edition and (solo) Johnny Gill,Lattisaw represented the major teen idols of the black community for America during the early/mid 1980’s. I made it my business to seek out her many find post disco records on CD over the last three or four years. Interestingly enough,I haven’t absorbed them in as strong a way as they probably deserve to be. One of these albums was 1983’s 16,released at a key transitional period between the live instrumental post disco sound and the electro funk/dance style that was about to emerge. So far,its opening title song says an awful lot.

A loud howl inaugurates Walden’s opening drum line-a strong 3-4 beat hit with pounding percussion accents. His synth bass collides with Randy Jackson’s ticklish 6 note bass line. On the many refrains and choruses, Corrado Rustici’s rhythm guitar either plays a straight one chord groove or a deeper liquid one. On the second half of each bridge,there’s a dance friendly,melodic digital bell sound. On the bridge,David Sancious plays an improvisational synthesizer solo. On the repeating choruses that lead the song out,the discordant sax improvisations of Marc Russo play on with Lattisaw’s vocals as the song fades out.

As with pretty much any uptempo number Narada Michael Walden sunk his teeth into in the early 80’s,”16″ grooves extremely hard. Its definitely possessed of the synth brass oriented electro dance/funk approach of its time. On the other hand,its electro dance/funk played by some of the most creative jazz/funk instrumentalists to emerge from the mid to late 1970’s. And none of them every simplify their talents to suit the more poppy electronic grooves. They and Lattisaw bring out the funk,and all the musical improvisation,they can in this song. Which in turn is some of the finest funk of its time.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Corrado Rustici, David Sancious, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, Marc Russo, Narada Michael Walden, percussion, Randy Jackson, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Stacy Lattisaw, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizer

Bootsy At 65: The Funky Bassology Of William Collins

William “Bootsy” Collins represents the key aspect of funk for me. He was the first “bass hero” as it were. As part of the funk process,Larry Graham developed the vocabulary for it all to happen. And it was Bootsy who became in P-Funk what most lead guitarists do in rock bands. His bass was huge and flamboyant. And he made his “space bass” sound and image the start of the show with his Rubber Band,on his own and later with different session work. Of course,the story of how the Cincinnati native found fame through membership in the JB’s is well known. His beginnings with P-Funk are another matter.

Before Bootsy became a major player in the P-Funk arena,Funkadelic were more or less a groove acid rock jam band. And they had a slow,instrumentally raggedy approach. Especially in terms of rhythm. That gave them their uniqueness in the early 70’s. Bootsy arrived for their 1972 album America Eats Its Young. And he brought with his his profound sense of rhythm,and love of the singable melody. His personality shortly became as vital to P-Funk as George Clinton’s. In that way,he was able to change the face of P-Funk in the way he wasn’t as able to do in the strictly structured James Brown camp.

In all honesty,I haven’t yet heard everything that Bootsy has been instrumentally involved in. Especially in the 90’s,a number of musical projects in the Bill Laswell camp were  utilizing Bootsy’s talents to provide the driving groove element to them. Today,I’d like to present to you some of the Bootsy solo/Bootsy related session work that I’m personally aware of. And that are personal favorites of mine. I am excluding his contributions to Parliament and Funkadelic,since that’s an article in and of itself. So here is Andresmusictalk’s rundown of personal Bootsy favorites.


‘Ahh,The Name Is Bootsy,Baby” (1977)

The groove on this song is both super clear and super punishing in terms of the funk. The deep,descending synth bass line alone makes the song. Not to even mention the horns and call/response vocals. Pretty much Bootsy’s defining song while leading the Rubber Band.

“Very Yes” (1978)

This punchy 1978 funk ballad was one I thought was sung by a very whispery female singer at first. Turns out this slow thump’s lead vocals were the work of Robert “P-Nut” Johnson. Just the combination of funkiness and quirkiness make this a very defining Bootsy number for me.

“She Jam” (Almost Bootsy Show)” (1979)

One of the reasons I enjoy this so much is that its a thick,throbbing Bootsy funk groove,as well as being an intricately written pop song. The combination of heavy funk instrumentation and melodic songwriting really make songs like this stand out.

“Its A Musical” (1980)

Bootsy utilizing his trademarked flamboyant,revved up bass style as the basic for every other instrumental and melodic idea of a song came to fruition on songs such as this “Its A Musical” did for Bootsy at the start of the 1980’s what “Bootzilla” and “Roto Rooter” had done a few years before.

“Hyper Space” by Sweat Band (1980)

This particular song by the Bootsy spin off Sweat Band is an instrumental that showcases P-Funk at its most melodically strong. The groove is an intense mix of synth bass,Clavinet and piano. The synthesizer plays a strongly modulating,jazzy theme as the main melodic theme,one the Clavinet also repeats. Some of P-Funk’s strongest music period.

“Shine-O-Mite (Rag Poping’)” (1982)

The bass/guitar interaction and sizzling synth interludes that define this groove make this what is,to me,some of the most slept on P-Funk of the early 80’s.

“Party On Plastic” (1988)

Took Bootsy awhile to make a comeback. But he came back in 1988 with a roar on his What’s Bootsy Doin’ album,a hard hitting electro funk set that is really defined by the sound of this song,its opener. It combines electronic drums,percussion and huge slap bass.

“Love Song” (1988)

Bootsy always had a way with writing funky love songs. On this,he did so in a pounding,ultra melodic Cameo-like funk manner. Always one of my favorite Bootsy numbers.

“Groove Is In The Heart” by Deee Lite (1990)

This funky house jam by the DJ collective Deee-Lite showcases not only Bootsy’s playing and influence. But is also loaded with his attitude and presence. In particular when he comes in saying “ASK YOUR MAMA!”.


So there you have it,my rundown on personal favorite Bootsy jams. There were others that were more defining and influential to other musicians,of course. Still,one of the most important aspects of Bootsy’s talents was being able to make hard funk somehow singable and accessible to people who were not heavily instrumentally inclined. That’s a combination that takes a lot of understanding. And generally a positive attitude. And those are two of the qualities that keep Bootsy’s music moving straight ahead onto where his funk will take him on its next journey.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Bootsy's Rubber Band, Deee-Lite, elecro funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, P-Funk, Sweat Band, synth bass

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Never Knew Love Before” by Bobby Caldwell

Bobby Caldwell is someone whom I’ve tended to view as a artists musician and something of the epidome of what they often call “grown folks music” these days. Another native New Yorker deep into jazz and classic pop/rock,Caldwell found musical homes in both Memphis and Miami. These cities are strong musical melting pots in and of themselves. Having myself recently dug right into his late 70’s/early 80’s albums,Caldwell has revealed himself to something of a solo multi instrumentalist Steely Dan musically. Only with rather more emotionally earnest and romantic lyrical content.

Caldwell’s West Coast style jazzy funk sound is best known to most through 1977’s “What You Won’t Do For Love”. Recently,Caldwell met up with producer Jack Splash while on tour-which Caldwell does frequently while also recording fairly consistently. Splash has been noted for his retro styled productions with folks such as Alicia Keys,Mayer Hawthorne,Cee Lo Green and many other similar artists in the neo soul/electro funk vein. Last year he and Caldwell collaborated on a project entitled Cool Uncle. One song that got my attention from this strong album is called “Never Knew Love Before”.

A thick,funky drum begins the song starts the song with pounding,right in the Afro Latin clave percussion. A slap bass brings in two different keyboard lines. One is a brittle synthesizer line playing the chord changes,and a splinkling electric piano plays the main melody somewhat in the back round. The drumming solos for a moment before the chorus comes in,which in turn adds a sustained slap bass line to the keyboards,drums and percussion. Breezy accenting horn charts (or samples-difficult for me to tell) play along with the song until the electric piano and sustained cymbal closes the it all out.

Caldwell’s talents as a multi instrumentalist are at top form on this song. One thing this song totally brings out about Caldwell’s talent is that he doesn’t write simplistic songs on any level. The boogie/electro funk has modern instrumental sounds for sure. Yet the entire musical content is hard core 80’s funkiness. Also its a song that celebrates arrangements. In a day and age where a lot of contemporary R&B songs have three or four basic chords, Caldwell delivers refrains,choruses and bridges with strong melodic differences. This really makes “Never Knew Love Before” stand out all the stronger as top notch nu funk.

 

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Filed under 2015, Bobby Caldwell, Boogie Funk, drums, elecro funk, electric piano, horns, Jack Splash, jazz funk, multi instrumentalists, Nu Funk, percussion, slap bass, synthesizers

Prince Summer: “Lavaux” (2010)

Prince’s album 20Ten is celebrating its sixth anniversary this summer. It was Prince’s final album before laying low in terms of full length album released until he resigned with Warner Bros in 2014. It’s available for streaming and download today through the Tidal service. However not too many years ago,it was among the many rare Prince studio albums that wound up having a quirky distribution in terms of physical media. Personally, it’s one of the favorite Prince albums of his last decade. My favorite of that time period  being Hitnrun Phase II-initially a Tidal exclusive until it’s CD release shortly after his death.

Always one to look to the futurism of his music,Prince seldom returned back to the stripped down,synth based Minneapolis sound he helped pioneer during his salad days. Wasn’t until well into the new millennium that he started to realize just how much the style of funk he’d spearheaded was effecting contemporary music. On the 20Ten album,he showcased this very successfully on a musical level. At the same time,these MPLS grooves were accompanied by his more matured lyrical content throughout a good majority of the album. One fine result of this is a song called “Lavaux”

A two beat drum machine pulse kicks off the song. A thick slap bass line comes in as part of the songs main section. This finds the thick sheets of analog synth brass accompanied by thick bass/guitar interaction and rhythm right in the pocket of the Afro-Latin clave. The rhythm guitar is very much out of the classic Prince school-chunky and played relatively high up on the neck of the instrument. Only on the choruses does the song break-changing melodic pitch with Prince’s vocals. After another few rounds of the songs main section,it very abruptly comes to a sudden stop.

In many ways,this song could’ve been something Prince had recorded during the 1999 sessions. Especially with it’s phat analog synths and the masterful drum programming. What makes this song stand out from Prince’s early 80’s sound is its thematic content. This isn’t a young man with seemingly conservative attitudes about fearing nuclear war and indulging in hedonism. This is a song from a middle ages artist who’s travelling across Europe because being back home is “another form of slavery” and that”the cost of freedom is anything but free”. Its therefore the MPLS sound most fully realized.

 

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Filed under 2010's, analog synthesizers, drum machine, elecro funk, Funk Bass, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, synth brass, synth funk, Tidal

Prince’s (Minneapolis Sound) Summer: “Play” by Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez,that Bronx born Nuyorican “Jenny from the block”,had a fabulous career as an actress in the mid 80’s. Her fame skyrocketed when she stared in the title role of the biopic Selena,the story of the murdered Latin pop pioneer. When she began her musical career a couple of years later,she still held fast by her Latina heritage in that medium as well. Over the years,Lopez’s music has drifted further into hi NRG techno pop territory. In the beginning of her musical career however,she developed a creative team who helped her fashion danceable music that became popular by being pretty daring musically.

Racially speaking,I tend to culturally identify with my own Nuyorican back around-though it was my mother who was born in Brooklyn,NYC. So even though I never followed Lopez’s career intently,songs such as “If You Want My Love”,”Let’s Get Loud”,”Love Don’t Cost A Thing” and “Jenny From The Block” were always around on the radio and TV video shows during my early rising adulthood. Many celebrities get abbreviated nicknames. And  Lopez set her’s up very early on-as the title for her sophomore album J.Lo in 2001. This album had a huge hit with what’s probably my favorite song of hers, entitled “Play”.

A deep choral synthesizer starts off the jam,essentially playing what becomes the regular bass line of the entire song. Than the drum machine kicks in playing an ultra funky, kicking shuffle. The lead synth and bass line are accompanied by a higher pitched trumpet like synth accent,and another that resembled a barking dog. A thick chicken scratch rhythm guitar introduces J.Lo’s vocal choruses and refrains. After one of the longest calculated musical pauses/breaks I’ve heard in modern music,that instrumental groove plays out the song as it fades out.

In the end,what does this song have to do with Prince? Obviously,he’s not creatively involved. But the musical approach,from the synthesizer arrangements to the rhythm guitar,are based in his approach to stripped down electro funk. With it’s fast tempo and heavy emphasis on danceability,this song also furthers the collaborative nature of the Minneapolis sound by taking a nod to the sound Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis got with Janet Jackson in the late 80’s/early 90’s. “Play” showcases the durability of Minneapolis funk during the synth dominated early aughts. And is strong pop/funk for it’s time as well.

 

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Filed under 2001, chicken scratch guitar, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, funky pop, J.Lo, Jennifer Lopez, Latin Funk, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers

George Clinton: Computer Games & Some Of His Best Jokes

George Clinton Album

George Clinton,at age 74 is among the final two principle architects of funk left alive. The other being Sly Stone. It was through his music,among others,that inaugurated me into the wondrous world of musical funkiness when I was a teenager. And that’s probably true for many people within a decade or so of my age. Clinton was the major funk innovator for the baby boomer up through the millennial generation. After a decade of leading the mammoth P-Funk ensemble,George Clinton introduced his music in a solo context in 1982. Here are two reviews of his first and second solo albums-from 1982 and 1985.


Computer Games (1982)

During the first five years of me getting into P-Funk? Part of my ever continuing education on the subject was the understanding of internal connectivity. When most people think of George Clinton? Motherships and clones might come to mind. Somehow the term I associate with him is atomic. An atomic detonation comes from a chain reaction of split atoms.

Originally from one source but,when unleashed,create a powerful burst of energy. That describes P-Funk extremely well to me: the forces of it are many,and ALWAYS behind it’s musical might. So this is not Parliament,Funkadelic or even P-Funk All Stars we’re talking about here. This is George Clinton. Yet Bootsy,Junie,Gary Shider,Fred Wesley are all still here on this 1982 debut of the man now recording under his own name. And as always? He had a lot to say,in his own kind of way.

“Get Dressed” is something of a “star is born” type setup to begin the album with it’s thick,bass heavy stomp with the Horny Horns really getting going with Junie’s funky stride piano for a classic call and response P-Funk jam. “Man’s Best Friend/Loopzilla” is a 12+ minute groove that…well as I told my friend Henrique? Could easily write an entire book chapter on this one song.

It begins with an electronic extension of “(Not Just) Knee Deep” basically. Than it goes directly into this stripped down,early hip-hop type pulse that lyrically references classic Motown to Sir Nose himself. “Pot Sharing Tots” combines reggae and jazzy electric piano for a very insinuating type of melody. The title song combines a scintillating rock solo on the choruses and a funkier rhythm guitar on the refrains.

“Atomic Dog” is the song this album is most remembered for-with it’s double live/backward looped drum machine rhythm and jagged bass synths with it’s bubblin bluesy  melody and iconic singalong choruses of the title and “bow wow wow/yippy yo/yippy yay”. “Free Alternations” is basically a new wave pop/soul re-imaging of the early Detroit R&B sound. “One Fun At A Time” is a sleek pop funk/bubbling bass synthesized fueled ode to romantic commitment.

At least three of these songs follow a conceptual thread of their own-seemingly about the hero’s journey of a player. Yet the concept of funk as a musically fissionable force is explored not only through the lyrics,but the music. Everything from bass,drums, guitar, keyboards and horns bubble up bigger perhaps than anything in P-Funk that came before. It was not only Clinton’s own debut. But the debut for the 80’s variant of P-Funk itself.

Some Of My Best Jokes Are Friends/1985

One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is the potency of P-Funk during the 1980’s. It was a musical organization that was still touring,still recording music and still maintaining a loyal fan base even when the societal odds were rather against what it stood for. And even with that? Some of the most challenging music from the band was being created during time time as well.

Difference was it was mainly being channeled through George Clinton albums where his personality was the central focus. But all the elements of the band were there. In this cast of musical characters we have future Living Color member Doug Wimbish and new wave/funk hit maker Thomas Dolby along for the ride. And it’s one that deserves to be taken more than once.

“Double Oh-Oh” is an electrified march extenuated by very Minneapolis style synthesized horns and female choir vocals. “Bullet Proof” is intense industrial funk-layer upon layer of bass synth combined with high pitched,laser like electronics and that Arabic type melody used in a lot of dance music of that era.

“Pleasures Of Exhaustion (Do It ‘Til You Drop)” is a long,extended jam with a jagged rhythm with both synthesized and electric slap bass accents-along with flutes. “Bodyguard” is a piano,drum and keyboard led dance/funk jam while “Bangladesh” is a slow,doo wop styled ballad. “Thrashin'”,featuring Dolby and the closing title song are both live bass//guitar and horn based P-Funk that only leaves in the contemporary drum machine for the electronic element.

Very much like it’s predecessor? This album ushered P-Funk into the fully electro funk edge. There’s no irony lost on me there since the band were even in their 70’s heyday pioneers of that sub-genre of funk-with Bernie Worrell’s “video game” style synthesizers. Conceptually this album is probably one of Clinton’s most important in the 80’s. It’s apparent that the Reagan era of SDI and the final days of the Cold War were proving fertile ground for his lyricism.

Again the metaphor of the atomic chain reaction is an important part of this album. But is used to make important points about how Clinton’s “pimping of the pleasure principle” prediction seemed to be coming true before his eyes. Yet both musically AND lyrically? He understood that black America had basic human feelings too. And were in the mind to demand another,better way to live. An album that’s a lot funkier and more significant in it’s day than one might think it to be.


Of course George Clinton’s solo debut Computer Games is now pretty much revered as a classic album. The reason why I included Some Of My Best Jokes Are Friends along with this album is that both of them represent an important transition in the focus of Clinton’s musical conception. On these albums,P-Funk met an electronic sound beyond even what it had already helped to bring to the funk genre. And of course George’s sociopolitical commentary never moved an inch either. So with Bernie Worrell now gone,we can only hope George is around long enough to give up just a little more funk.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Atomic Dog, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, elecro funk, George Clinton, message songs, Music Reviewing, P-Funk, synth funk, Walter Junie Morrison

Grooves On Wax: 12″ inch Singles On The One!

Upon starting this new feature on Andresmusictalk, the subject of 12″ inch singles was something that was always intending to be covered. With their extended,often remixed versions of the original album versions,the 12″ inch single is a format that derived from the disco era. And actually started in it with DJ’s playing the records for dancers as opposed to live bands. It was about a year or so ago that I started collecting these 12″ inch extended/remix singles again. So here is the first ones of this semi regular aspect of this feature. And it actually starts out just as the disco era had peaked.


On Your Knees (1979) is a very funky Eurodisco number,whose single featured  eye catching cover art by Bronx born art/fashion photographer Richard Bernstein. The B-side “Don’t Mes With The Messer” deals more with the Broadway musical style of theatrical disco Grace was so known for in her 70’s era music. So you hear two sides of Tom Moulton’s late 70’s disco productions for Grace.

Listening to Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein 84 remixes from…1984,it becomes clear just how much this early 70’s glam rock classic makes a lot more sense in a mid 80’s electro funk setting. With the used of sequencers and Vocorders,Winter creates a break beat/hip-hop friendly variation on himself. Especially when his very strong,often outright growling,rap comes in on the “Monster Rap” mix.

1987’s Characters  album is my favorite Stevie Wonder album of the 1980’s. On his 12″ inch single for “Get It”,his duet with Michael Jackson from that album,the drums shuffle more than on the album. And the break beats are re-sampled heavier. This gives it a flavor closer to the then emerging new jack swing variety of funk coming out of people such as Teddy Riley and Chuckii Booker.

The 12″ inch single for “Skeletons” from the same Stevie Wonder album is it’s own matter entirely. The DX-7 synthesizer on the intro is replaced with a thick,funky rhythm guitar for one. Also on the drum and synth bass interludes,Stevie’s call and responses of “hmm hmm hmm” and “oh wow” are set to samples of Ronald Reagan speeches. It really showcases what Stevie means singing”somebody done snitched on the news crew/it’s gettin’ ready to break”.

It was somewhat surprising to find a 12″ inch vinyl single from 1999. But on this set of remixes of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name”,you get Rodney Jerkin’s original hip-hop/pop version,a Daddy D remix that has an Afrika Bambaataa style electro funk groove while Maurice’s Last Days Of Disco has a late 70’s dance/early 90’s house flavor. It showcases how the song might’ve sounded in three different eras of time.


One thing about 12″ inch singles that I’ve forgotten about is how much they bring out that punchy,analog sound that vinyl is so renowned for. Some of these were actually 33 RPM,but the majority were 45 RM so that probably helped out a big in that regard. It also lasted far longer than I knew-about up to the advent of the MP3 and today they are making a comeback with the big vinyl revival. Creatively speaking,they allow remix producers, sometimes even the artists themselves,re-imagining their own work in new,unexpected ways. And this makes the 12″ inch vinyl single a format worth expanding on.

 

 

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Filed under 12 inch singles, 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Destiny's Child, Disco, Edgar Winter, elecro funk, extended mixes, Grace Jones, remixes, Rodney Jerkins, Stevie Wonder, Tom Moulton, Vinyl

Anatomy of THE Groove: “This Is This” by Weather Report

Joe Zawinul had a tremendous history in the development of hard bop jazz onto jazz fusion. He immigrated to the US from Austria in 1959. A year later he was part of Cannonball Adderley’s quintet. And he wound up being the composer of Cannonball’s best known song “Mercy Mercy Mercy”. By the late 60’s,Zawinul was playing and writing with Miles Davis on his fusion process album In A Silent Way. When he and another fellow Miles alumni Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report two years later,Zawinul was again pioneering jazz instrumentation into the era of synthesizers.

Between 1971 and 1984,Weather Report recorded 14 albums. Many of them were iconic in the annals of the fusion genre. The band was also well known for developing pioneering bass players. This included Miroslav Vitous,Alphonso Johnson and best known of all the late Jaco Pastorious. The bands final album in 1986 came totally by accident. They thought they’d fulfilled their Columbia contract with their previous album in 1985’s Sportin’ Life. This didn’t end up being the case,so they had to make one more album. And Zawinul really made it one for the road with the title song to their final album called “This Is This”.

Mino Cinelu starts off with some fast paced Afro-Latin  percussion mixed up high. Peter Erksine plays a steady,marching groove that fits like a glove into the spaces left in Cinelu’s percussion. Zawinul and new bassist Victor Bailey rolled right along upfront with one of Zawinul’s most melodically hummable synth bass lines. He provides two for this song-the other a deeper 8-note one later on. Carlos Santana also provides two different guitar parts here-one is high pitched,cosmic guitar atmospherics and some of his exciting lead soloing as well playing call and response to Zawinul’s synth bass lead..

Santana actually get’s accompanied by Zawinul providing two synth brass lines-the first orchestrated big band style ones. This part comes into play after the first few choruses. On the last few choruses of the song, the other synth brass part arrives playing more succinct,funkier charts. By this time Santana’s guitar,Cinelu’s percussion,Erksine’s drums and Zawinul’s synth bass all come together in a beautiful,rhythmic unison of colorful sounds. Little by little,each instrumental element drops out of the mix. And the song slows back into percussion,bass and guitar as it fades.

Before people like Billy Preston and of course Prince,Joe Zawinul was a major pioneer of the bass synthesizers. By 1986,synth brass was the big thing in American pop music with the advent of the Minneapolis sound. With Zawinul having worked it for years,”This Is This” is a highly underrated song for Weather Report-perhaps one of Zawinul’s strongest compositions. The groove is strongly Afrocentric,and the playing is as funky as they come. It really brings out the best in ever instrumentalist involved and allowed Weather Report to go out again innovating with some electro funk style world fusion.

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Filed under 1986, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Carlos Santana, Columbia Records, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, guitar, jazz fusion, Joe Zawinul, Mino Cinelu, percussion, Peter Erksine, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizers, Victor Bailey, Weather Report, world fusion

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Shakedown” by Evelyn Champagne King

Evelyn King’s origin story as a profession singer is one that you seldom hear any more. She was discovered on a TV show and (obviously) through a a YouTube video. Another Philly native,King was discovered singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” while working as an office cleaner for her mother at Philledelphia International Records. Her future producer T (Theodore) Life overheard the teenager’s husky and rangy voice and began coaching her. In 1977 he signed up as her producer on at MCA records where she recorded her debut album Smooth Talk and it’s massive disco smash hit “Shame”.

One thing about King’s career arc is how much her strong,soulful voice was developed in terms of quality albums as well as singles. This is something usually done with instrumentalists,whereas singers are generally expected to churn out successful single records. In 1981 her music began moving in the boogie/post disco direction under the guidance of her new producer Kashif. In 1983,she moved onto Minneapolis Prince alumni Andre’ Cymone along with Leon and Foster Sylvers. This 1983 albume Face To Face contains one of my favorite grooves from King during era in “Shakedown”.

Phat orchestral synthesizers playing along with a snare sound heavy drum machine begins the song. After this,the drum machines goes naked with only live percussion providing some instrument undergarments-along with bursts of slap bass. Then the brittle synth brass comes in-eventually accentuating bluesy vocal lines on the refrains. This pattern continues throughout the song-with the choral bridge being sung over the more orchestral intro. On the bridge,Shalamar guitarist Miki Free provides scintillating layers of rocking lead guitar before the drum/bass/percussion based refrain fades out the song.

As a vocalist whose career generally celebrated quality album runs,Evelyn King also made funk as much a part of her sound as the disco-dance records she made. And her funk numbers have really served her well creatively and commercially as an uptempo based artist.  This one has really grown with me because it’s a great combination of boogie’s live bass and percussion with a Minneapolis style synth brass/drum machine powered groove. This type of sound would evolve into what Jody Watley did on “Looking For A New Love”-also produced by Andre’ Cymone. So on that level,this funk is a pretty big deal.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Andre Cymone, Boogie Funk, drum machines, elecro funk, Evelyn Champagne King, Foster Sylvers, Funk Bass, Leon Sylvers, Micki Free, Minneapolis Sound, percussion, Philadelphia, rock guitar, synth brass, synthesizers