Category Archives: electric piano

Anatomy Of The Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Talk To The People” by Les McCann

Les McCann was,in terms of my own personal musical exploration,an artist I was introduced to by my father exactly between my explorations of Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis. And that actually isn’t a bad way to describe the middle ground McCann’s sound had in terms of Miles’s harmonic richness and Stevie’s unusual melodic senses. After all,both artists were pretty equally jazz in terms of composition. Les McCann was a brilliant composer in his own right. So much so his album Invitation To Openness  was one which my father kept out at our old family summer camp at Pushaw Lake the entire year round.

Les McCann is probably most famous for his song recorded by electric sax pioneer Eddie Harris (another important jazz/funk story I’ll get into another time) called “Compared To What”. That song was written by another frequent collaborator in Eugene McDaniels. McCann just seemed to be bursting with creative energy as a pioneer of synthesizers along with Herbie Hancock in the emerging jazz/funk idiom during the first half of the 1970’s. Albums such as Layers explored this most fully. Both musically and conceptually,the Les McCann song that says it all for me is the title song to his 1972 album Talk To The People.

A gentle electric piano melody from McCann starts off the song before a ringing,bell like percussive rhythm comes in on the drums. As McCann raps,his band are whispering the song title in rhythm in the back round. That turns to lead and backup singing (McDaniels included) as the song begins. A heavily filtered bluesy wah wah rhythm guitar and a thick,bouncing bass line joins in as a huge swell of backup vocals joins in on the choruses. As each refrain and chorus progresses,the instrumentation builds to climactic intensity. And it gradually fades out until only the sound of people talking exists as it fades.

In today’s age of reactionary racism,sexism and general prejudice,”Talk To The People” exists in the world as almost an anthem for a possible solution. Its slow funk,penetrating rhythms and emotionally charged jazzy modulations do indeed speak a very important message for the human race. McCann talks about how a lot of the worlds problems even then stemmed from lack of communication and empathy. Lyrically he comes to the conclusion,even before the song gets going,”lets hate all that does not allow us to love”. That makes this a shining example of why jazz/funk is such an important music.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, backup singers, drums, electric piano, Eugene McDaniels, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Les McCann, message songs, people music, rap, rhythm guitar

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

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Razzamatazz” by Patti Austin

Harlem born Patti Austin actually had a couple unique musical careers before her 70’s and 80’s breakthroughs. She was singing at the Apollo by age 4,and had a recording contract with RCA a year later. After her career as a child star,she became a teen queen of the commercial jingles during the mid to late 60’s. During the 70’s she began her career as a backup singer for Franki Valli and The Four Seasons as well as Japanese fusion artist Yutaka’s debut album in 1978. By then,she’d already recorded two solo albums of her own in End Of The Rainbow and Havana Candy.

First time I ever heard of her was through her work with Quincy Jones in the late 70’s and early 8o’s.  Big examples would be songs like “Its The Falling Love” and “Baby,Come To Me” from 1979 and 81-duetting with Michael Jackson and James Ingram respectfully. Austin has a plaintive tone and elastic vocal range. This alternating voice makes her adept in jazz,funk and pop. One of the few versatile singers with a truly distinctive style to her that I know of. One of her shinning moments was on Quincy Jones 1981 album The Dude in 1981,where she sang frequently throughout. The name of the song is “Razzamatazz”.

Greg Phillinganes,Steve Lukather and Herbie Hancock start off the song with some viruosic electric piano/guitar interaction before Jerry Hey’s horn blasts get the song going. The refrain consists of Hancock’s electric piano,Lukather’s rhythm guitar and the drum/Moog bass of Rufus’s John Robinson and David Hawk Wolinski. On the choruses,Phillinganes adds his own melodic synthesizer touch. There are three different bridges here. One showcases the horns and Paulinho Da Costa’s percussion,the other reduces down to Phillinganes synth solo,and another is Lukather soloing over the refrain.

The song itself actually fades out on its second refrain. Patti Austin really gives her all on this song. This Rod Temperton composition is a very busy number,with a thick sophistifunk groove encompassing a number of powerful musical ideas. Especially its brittle,boogie funk juxtaposition of live horn arrangements,percussion and synth bass. On the second chorus,there’s an entire symphony of multi tracked Patti Austin’s singing the line “make it better with a little bit of razzamatazz”. Its a very melodic jazz/funk/post disco number whose energy level truly lives up to the exciting sound of its title.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, David Hawk Wolinski, electric piano, Greg Phillinganes, Herbie Hancock, horns, jazz funk, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, post disco, Quincy Jones, rhythm guitar, Rod Temperton, Steve Luckather, synth bass

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Game Number Nine” by Ray Charles

Ray Charles represents soul music’s very beginnings to such a degree,I really have yet to meet anyone who wouldn’t associate him with that word. Probably why he’s referred to as the Genius Of Soul.  The man’s 12 original Atlantic Records album from 1957 through 1961 still remain testaments to the genre as it was developing itself. He even helped create the framework for funk along with James Brown on his Wurlitzer electric piano solo on the song “What’d I Say”. While his ABC label albums were often ballad heavy country/western oriented concept albums,Brother Ray always burned brightly when the tempo went up.

In 1977,Ray Charles decided to sign back with the Atlantic label. Times had changed since he’d left them 16 years earlier. The funk was in full throttle,and disco was coming in fast. Now when I first discovered these albums from Ray’s second Atlantic tenure even existed, there didn’t seem to be much said about them. But a few years ago,they started showing up more often at flea markets and used record stores in my area of Maine. So decided to pick a few of them up. That includes the first of them in 1977’s True To Life. It’s a great album,but the one song on it that really caught my attention was “Game Number Nine”.

A thick polyphonic synthesizer opens the song playing a straight up 12 bar blues breakdown. Then the slow crawling drum kicks in with the simmering,complexly noted Moog bass bubbling underneath-itself accompanied a higher pitched synth tone. This represents the main body of the groove itself. On the choral breakdowns, Ray sings call and response to bleeping space funk synths and his own groove Wurlitzer soloing. By the time the song is nearing it’s end,Ray is accompanying that electric piano soloing with some very nasal blues synth accents as the song fades out.

Billy Preston had been a member of Ray Charles’ band in 1967. The one thing I find most interesting about “Game Number Nine” is how close it was with Preston’s then current approach to funk. The song brims with Ray’s own personality-from his electric piano style and sly,girl chasing lyrics. Him bringing in that chunky rhythm and blues approach into the heavy funk groove did remind me of Preston’s approach. Especially the way Ray also used synths to play the guitar and bass parts. It’s a great and  unsung example of Ray Charles not only giving up the funk,but keeping current with the progress of the genre.

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Filed under 1970's, Atlantic Records, blues funk, drums, electric piano, Ray Charles, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizer

Anatomy Of The Groove: “Spur Of The Moment” by The Jeff Lorber Fusion

Jeff Lorber is another example of how Philadelphia remains one of the East Coast’s most musical cities. He released his first two albums as a bandleader with The Jeff Lorber Fusion in 1977 and 1978-the later of which featured guest appearances from jazz fusion luminaries in Miles Davis alumni Chick Corea and Corea’s own protege Joe Farrell. Following signing to Arista in 1979 and his label debut Water Sign,Lorber bough in Seattle saxophonist Kenny Gorelick for their 1980 album Wizard Island.  Gorelick would pursue a solo career a few years later under his better known moniker of Kenny G.

The first time I ever heard the name Jeff Lorber was when DC native musician/DJ Nigel Hall loaned me his copy of Lorber’s 1983 solo album In The Heat Of The Night. Being that period was also my early years on the internet,there was the ability for me to go out and research Lorber’s music further. And then purchase albums that looked interesting. One such purchase,made on Ebay was a vinyl copy of the 1980 Jeff Lorber Fusion album Galaxian. It was filled with strong grooves. And one that still stands out for me was co-written by Kenny Gorelick. It was called “Spur Of The Moment”.

The groove starts right off cold with driving 4/4 beat. The chorus features Gorelick playing the singable funky melody on his processed sax. Below this,Lorber comes in with a snaky  synth bass while Marlon McClain comes in with a high pitched rhythm guitar. On the refrains,Lorber brings it on home on the electric piano with Gorelick’s bluesy exchanges. On the bridge,Lorber plays a heavy melodic synthesizer improvisation over a full electric bass. On the final choruses of the song,Lorber plays this synth solo and a honky tonk electric piano call and response with a full horn section before the song fades out.

The ultra melodic jazz/funk/pop style instrumentation and melody of this song is right in line with the streamlined sound Quincy Jones was getting with the Westlake studio crew at the same time. Yet with Gorelick’s brittle,succinct solos on his processed wah wah sax (as well as the somewhat stripped down rhythm) put this song right into the boogie/post disco funk mode of the era. The way the solos become more melodic grand and improvisational in scope showcase the talent of this band when they played together. It’s by far one of my favorite songs that the future Kenny G would ever be associated with.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, drums, electric piano, jazz funk, Jeff Lorber, Jeff Lorber Fusion, Kenny Gorelick, Marlon McClain, post disco, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, synth bass, synthesizers

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Skin Tight” by Ohio Players

Ohio Players emerged in the early 70’s as the first wave of Dayton funk bands-which would later go on to include Sun,Heatwave,Slave and Zapp among others. Clarence Satchell,Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks and bassist Marshall Jones were originally members of the Ohio Untouchables. They started out as a backing group for The Falcons-whose members included Wilson Pickett,Eddie Floyd and the Untouchables original lead singer/guitarist Robert Ward.  The apparently unreliable Ward was replaced by Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner . The band changed their to name to the Ohio Players by 1965.

The band signed to Westbound in 1970. There they added musicians such as Walter Junie Morrison. He provided their first major hit in the humorous funk groove of “Funky Worm” a couple of years later. In 1974,the band left Westbound and signed to Mercury while Junie stayed behind for a solo career and eventually joining George Clinton’s P-Funk-with George being an admirer of Ohio Players. Right out of the box on Mercury they had a hit which I discovered over 20 years ago in my parents 45 collection. But the album version is another entity altogether. It’s the title song to their Mercury debut Skin Tight.

Marshall Jones gets the party started with one of the most iconic bass lines in 70’s funk-with it’s bluesy base. Wah wah guitar joins in shortly before conga drums lead into the main song. It starts with ascending and descending horn charts. The drum plays a fast tempo that hits heavy on the snare on every other beat. The wah wah and percussion zero right in on the rhythm while the electric piano provides melodic accompaniment. Throughout the song,ascending horns define the chorus while descending horns define the choruses. After an electric piano solo on the bridge,the chorus fades out the song.

The first time I heard this song,it didn’t really occur to me that this was hearing funk 101 as it were. In terms of the mid/late 70’s sound of the genre,this song had it locked down. The call and response lead/falsetto vocals and horns,and the chorus staying right on the one for nearly eight minutes on the album version. Of course,Jones’ bass line became (as my friend Henrique pointed out) the signature riff on songs such as The Commodores “Brick House” a several years later. Ohio Players always gave up the funk after this. But “Skin Tight” is the song that truly got the party going for them on Mercury!

 

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Filed under 1974, Clarence Satchell, Dayton Ohio, drums, electric piano, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Leroy Sugarfoot Bonner, Marshall Jones, Ohio Players, percussion, Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Show Bizness” by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson

Gil Scott Heron described himself as a “bluesologist” in his 1982 concert film  Black Wax. In a lot of ways,that pretty much describes the entire lexicon of black American music. From jazz up to funk. In the beginning of his recording career in the late 60’s/early 70’s,Heron was recording primarily spoken word poetry over Afro-Latin percussion. Gradually the arrangements swelled to included jazzier electric pianos and bass lines. By the time he began collaborating with keyboardist Brian Jackson in the mid 70’s,Heron was singing. And his music was on the forefront of socially conscious,poetic jazz-funk music.

After having been signed to Arista since 1975,Gil and Brian eventually reduced the participation of their instrumental ensemble The Midnight Band and began working more with Malcolm Cecil on his TONTO synthesizer complex. Their 1977 album Bridges began the pairs focus on creating new synthesized musical worlds for Heron’s songs to live in. Their follow up album was 1978’s Secrets. This album garnered Heron a Top 20 R&B hit in the funky groove of “Angel Dust”. This was an album chocked full of funky grooves. But the one that’s standing out for me right now is called “Show Bizness”.

The song starts off with a high pitched synthesizer playing “There’s No Business Like Show Business” in the minor key. This is done over a brittle electric piano and a thick layer of synth bass and steady drumming. The remainder of the song lays that grooving, percussive synth bass down-and locks it right in tightly. From the chorus to the refrain, higher pitched synth lines play melodic call and response support to Heron’s vocal leads. And to that of the upfront backup singers as well.  That lead synth that started out the sng brings it on home with a very jazzy blues style melody.

Instrumentally speaking,this album was presented to me by friend Henrique as being an example of Stevie Wonder’s sonic influence on musicians. And this song in particular does have a similar musical vibe to Stevie’s “Jesus Christ Children Of America”. With the decedent wealth of Donald Trump making this current US presidential election such a high stakes,yet almost farcical mess this song has deep resonance now. And with the future election of President Reagan.  It takes of ignoring social decline when gaining fame. And that makes it a strong synth funk process number aimed at the idea of celebrity itself.

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Filed under 1970's, blues funk, Brian Jackson, drums, electric piano, Gil Scott Heron, Malcolm Cecil, message songs, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizers, TONTO

Miles Davis 1968: ‘Miles In The Sky’-The Road To Funk From Andre’s Amazon Archive

Miles In The Sky

Miles found himself in 1968 in a very new world of music. Psychedelic sounds were everywhere and different sorts of music were bleeding together into all kinds of combinations and ending up becoming a whole new form.Sly & The Family Stone and Hendrix were popularizing it and on one of his later album with his classic quintet Miles very obviously had his ears all the way open. On the majority of this album Miles,a musician who had been edging towards a kind of avant garde sound on his previous few albums such as Miles Smiles and now a new kind of rhythm was coming into the equation.

From “Paraphernalia” to “Black Comedy” onto “Country Son”,even with the presence of George Benson,Miles was putting everything happening musically here into the context of rhythm. Believe it or not this was part of the beginning of the jazz-funk movement of the 70’s. Recently a discussion I had with my good friend from Oakland (who I realize I name drop a lot in these reviews) bought up the point that much of jazz even at this point was not as on the stop as it seemed;that there was a deeper understanding among jazz musicians who were able to translate their musical traditions from a basic theme into something very original.

The themes here do seem to be buried somewhat if your not listening close enough.But the truth is it’s because their all based in some form of communal rhythm: Wayne’s sax,Ron’s bass and Tony?Well let’s just say that his drumming on everything here is far heavier-not necessarily loud but full of a weighty bottom that stands as more then steady support for Miles’ playing,itself usually associated with “tugging at you a little softer” by his own description. The tune that pulls everything together here is the opener “Stuff”. It opens it all up-EVERYTHING Miles would do on his breakthrough electric albums such as Bitches Brew and even to some extent On the Corner begins here.

Herbie’s newly found electric piano soloing,the bass leading the whole way from the bottom up and…….a rhythm that comes in and around the psychedelic stew to what is possibly Miles’ first released tune in the funk genre,then a fairly new genre to most people. Even though not psychedelic music in the traditional sense of the word,everything from the trippy album cover all the way down to the rhythms and instrumentation all bleeding together find the influence firmly in place. This is the kind of jazz and funk I can imagine having a lot of appeal to people who usually listened to things like Country Joe & The Fish or even the Grateful Dead. And even for them Miles and the kind of rooted,complex funky music his quintet were making on albums like this will hopefully bring them into a good place to begin grooving to rhythms that were at once communal,improvisations AND jamming!

Originally posted July 6th,2009

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

*Listen to “Stuff”,Miles’ second quintet presenting prototype jazz/funk fusion.

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Filed under 1960's, Columbia Records, drums, electric piano, funk process, Herbie Hancock, jazz funk, Miles Davis, Psychedelia, Ron Carter, Saxophone, Tony Williams, trumpet, upright bass, Wayne Shorter

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 Post-Mothers Day Special Part 2: “Westchester Lady” by Bob James

Bob James is actually an artist whom I discovered within the last decade and a half. A Missouri native whose music was informed by (and on) the city of New York,his sound drew a great deal of inspiration of theatrical Broadway musicals and film scores. This goes into James’ talents as a pianist,composer and arranger. His jazz bass and embrace of the 70’s funk sound led him to being one of the progenitors of the production style referred to as smooth jazz. His solo career has carried on for over four decades. And he was also a founding member of the smooth jazz group Fourplay.

It was actually due to another conversation with my parents that got me into first hearing Bob James music. The question posed to them was that,as a choreographer,had my mother ever done a piece based on a popular song. While the exact information was somewhat vague,she did remember that sometime in 1976 she had heard the Bob James song “Westchester Lady”. And something about it’s progression made it sound like it would be a good song for all the members of her troupe to choreograph as a group piece. So today,I’m going to endeavor to overview this song on a musical level.

Harvey Mason’s hi hat drum swing hugs Will Lee’s upscaling 7 note bass line on the intro,as Hugh McCracken’s mutron filtered electric guitar rhythmically plucks away. This is the entire rhythmic base of the entire song. The main melody of the song finds James’ electric piano playing a very riff filled with blue notes. That’s when the strings come in-at first playing along with the bass line. On the choruses,a huge horn ensemble comes in playing a very cinematic melody-accompanied by ringing bell like percussion along with the sweeping strings that grow in intensity.

The second refrain of the song features a bluesy sax solo from Grover Washington Jr. as the main instrumental part. The second chorus of string actually extends for a much longer time-adding more fluttering violins on the second turn of it. On the final refrain of the song,James’ electric piano and Eric Gale’s guitar play some bluesy call and response solos duets with the darting horn charts. As this bridge continues,their playing grows more intense and dramatic. Then the song simply goes back into the quiet groove of the first refrain as it proceeds to fade out entirely.

Considering the emergence of Isaac Hayes and Barry White during the first half of the 1970’s,it was no surprise that Bob James and the productions he did at CTI and on his forthcoming solo career would become part of the evolving jazz/funk fusion genre. The nature of this groove,with funkiness being the supporting element and the orchestration accenting it,indeed makes it ideal for a contemporary modern dance piece of it’s day for an ensemble of dancers. Each musician brings something important to this song’s funky dramatics. And that’s what brings this instrumentally danceable funk to life.

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Filed under 1970's, Bob James, choreography, cinematic soul, drums, electric piano, Eric Gale, Funk Bass, Grover Washington Jr., Harvey Mason, horns, Hugh McCracken, jazz funk, New York, rhythm guitar, strings, Uncategorized, Will Lee