Category Archives: Eumir Deodato

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Skatin'” by Deodato

Deodato was one of the first major artists I had a experiences with during my early crate digging exercises. So much so that looking back, I wonder if the people in charge of stocking their 50 cent-$1 used vinyl bins had any idea who Eumir Deodato was. The history of this artist is something I thoroughly addressed last year with an overview of his 1978 song “Area Code 808”. This year, wanted to share a song connected to a one of these crate digging sessions that occurred in the early 2000’s. One that really taught me how to better scope out vinyl.

About 14 years ago, I was visiting the city of Portland Maine with my family. We found a new shop there-one we often still visit to this day. Its called Strange Maine. They sell old video games,books,movies and used vinyl. On the first visit,the store had a sizable jazz section. Flipping through it, I came across a 1980 Deodato album called Night Cruiser. Upon turning it over, the back cover proclaimed it featured a sax solo from Khalis Bayyan. Which made sense since Deodato was producing Kool & The Gang at the time. The song on the album that leaped out at me upon hearing it is called “Skatin'”.

A slow dragging 4/4 beat starts off the song with a flange filtered slap bass line and processed Fender Rhodes as the intro. The high pitched rhythm guitar joins in halfway through-with the scaling up strings getting into the main chorus. This showcases the rhythm section of the intro with a horn like synthesizer playing the leads. On the refrain,an ascending synth bass provides the backup to a melodic trumpet solo and string synthesizer.  As each chorus goes on,the lead synth becomes more bell like in tone. Even the pitch of the song goes up on the last chorus before it fades out.

“Skatin'” is a song that truly plays up to both Deodato’s talents as both a funky musician and a cinematic,melodic arranger. This was a mixture that extended from the blacksploitation soundtrack to the extended disco mix. Its surely a disco era song if there ever was one. At the same time,the groove is slowed down to give it a deeply funkified crawl. And the fact that the song is as driven as much by a punched up slap bass as well as string and horn orchestrations makes this as strutting a jazz funk jam as The Crusaders “Street Life” in a way. Very much an unsung musical treasure from Deodato.

 

 

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Kool & The Gang,By Any Other Name,Still Have The Groove

Kool & The Gang are one of a handful of bands whose music shaped the way I perceive music. They first did so with their early 80’s hits,which were newer in the years I growing up. Their 70’s era music had a similar effect when I was in my mid teens. During the 70’s,the were a jazzy funk band heavy on instrumentals. And with a trade off based collective vocal approach. In the 80’s,they’d turned into a hook filled post disco/funk pop band with lead singer J.T. Taylor. And they returned sporadically with other approaches after that. Each era was its own thing musically. But they were always Kool & The Gang.

With that being my own view on it,it really took me by surprise when reading Rickey Vincent’s book Funk! in the late 90’s that Kool & The Gang were seen by some as a band who’d gone “far beyond devoid of funk”. Opinions are opinions of course. But ever since that time,especially after going online,its a topic that I’ve wanted to explore with different people. And it would seem Vincent’s viewpoint is shared by many people who admire Kool & The Gang. Even apparently among some members. Today,I’m not writing to counter anyone’s opinion. Simply seeking to pull the whole situation together.

The band came together in 1964 when a group of high school friends,among them Robert and Ronald Bell,formed an instrumental group called the Jazziacs. Changing their names to Kool & The Flames,the replaced that word with “gang” to avoid confusion with James Brown’s backup vocal group. Signing with Dee Lite records in 1969,the band actually began to record a series of albums that showcases a percussive,horn based jazz/funk sound that had JB himself referring to the band as “the second baddest out there”,next to him of course.

Songs such as “Hollywood Swinging”,”Jungle Boogie” and “Funky Stuff” even crossed over onto the pop charts. 1974’s “Summer Madness” impressed Sylvester Stallone enough that it was used in the first Rocky movie. The bands 1976 hit “Open Sesame”,an middle Eastern influenced disco/funk groove,actually became part of the blockbuster  Saturday Night Fever  soundtrack. Kool & The Gang’s place in the pantheon of funk and now the disco scene was officially established. One thing that Kool & The Gang still lacked by the end of the 70’s though was a lead singer fronting them.

The same year as Saturday Night Fever, the band released a new album entitled  The Force. By this time,the female vocal quartet of  Beverley Owens, Cynthia Huggins, Joan Motley and Renee Connell were essentially acting as the bands lead voices. And the male group members,who once shared the leads,often did more backup vocals. 1978’s Everybody’s Dancing,as with its predecessor,was not a commercial success. But it did find the band creating a more pop oriented atmosphere with a sound that didn’t deviate much from their “Open Sesame” era sound.

Kool & The Gang’s 1977-78 albums were two of the most important albums in their musical evolution. Though not everyone realized that because they had no major single to anchor them in the public eye. By the end of the 70’s,Kool & The Gang actually had a commercially and creatively workable sound to deal with. But they needed a hit. And to do that,they’d need a lead singer. Enter North Carolina native James “JT” Taylor. He joined the band right around the time they began working with Brazilian jazz/funk producer Eumir Deodato to complete the alteration of their sound.

Deodato was deep in his disco period by 1979. Especially in his love of instrumental filters and singable melodies. The result of this new configuration for Kool & The Gang resulted in “Ladies Night”,their first R&B/crossover hit in several years. It had a strong funky strut to the groove. And also had a very melodic,singable chorus. The song was a smash,they had a follow up in the slower jam “Too Hot”,JT Taylor was a major success as a lead singer. And next up was their best known pop hit,1980’s “Celebration”.

Recently I learned the band didn’t particularly like that song. With one or two people I’ve talked to citing it as having more of a country pop influence than anything. On Kool & The Gang’s four albums produced by Deodato,hits such as “Get Down On It” and “Big Fun” were catchy,horn heavy pop funk pieces. Album tracks such as “Stand Up And Sing” and “Street Kids” (one of my personal favorites) dealt with lean,mean boogie funk with deep and dirty bass/guitar/keyboard riffing. After 1982,Deodato moved on. And so did Kool & The Gang.

The bands 1983 album In The Heart and its 1984 follow up Emergency showcased Kool & The Gang as mainly doing pop crossover material. Some with a pronounced new wave influence-even to the point of adding rock guitar solos. Still both of these albums contained funk oriented tunes such as “Rollin'”,”You Can Do It”,”Surrender” and even the hit “Fresh”. On their 1986 album Forever,some of the music leaned more towards danceable freestyle funk. But they were now using synthesized horns. And after this,their sound really wasn’t as strongly rooted anymore. Especially in terms of funk.

Many of the strongest and historic bands and soloists in black American music (Miles Davis for example) have a number of distinct creative periods. Some are motivated by desire to grow musically. Others are motivated by desire for commercial success. in Kool & The Gang’s case,it would seem both factors were in play. Their musical sound only ran out of steam when they’d been recording and touring non stop for over 20 years. And that’s perfectly understandable. Now personally,do I feel with all this being said that JT Taylor era Kool & The Gang was lacking in funk? Absolutely not.

To be frank,a degree of the criticism against 80’s Kool & The Gang has some of the ingredients that go into the making of jazz snobbery. The band brought a lot of collective improvisation into their sound. And along with it came a strong spiritual identity and a sexually implicit sense of humor. Often times when any group celebrated for their musically improvisational ability begin offering straighter melodies,such a group can find themselves looked down upon as no longer being artists. Of making music only for the purpose of financial gain. In short,becoming sellouts.

Because of their successful jazzy funk of the early/mid 70’s,Kool & The Gang have indeed seem to have met with a similar fate to other jazz improvisers,such as the aforementioned Miles Davis, who tweaked their sounds to get more people into their music. Kool & The Gang’s music was always about reaching people from the get go. But as it is in life,people’s musical tastes and interests changed. And so did the band. I applaud Kool & The Gang for so successfully reinventing their funk. Perhaps it will be the passage of time that will show more love for the reinvention of the original scientists of sound.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Disco, Eumir Deodato, jazz funk, Jersey City, Kool & The Gang, pop-funk, Robert Kool Bell, Ronald Bell

Grooves On Wax: Summer Day Funk Spinning Under The Needle

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Quincy Jones has always had a way of gearing people up for new directions in black American music . My friend Henrique and I were talking while I had this vinyl going about how much Q’s take on the title track,originally from the Broadway musical Hair got on the same head trip electric jazz flavor that Miles Davis was on with albums like Bitches Brew. Again as Henrique pointed out,this was more tightly arranged. And at home on an album with a swinging soul jazz vibe about it all.

Key Jams: “Walking In Space” and “Killer Joe”

Al Wilson

Al Wilson’s 1969 debut album was recommended to me by Don Menninghaus,owner and proprietor of the local record haunt in the Bangor,Maine area Dr. Records. This Mississippi native had a unique blend of jazzy vocalizing and Southern style gospel/soul. The song that Mr. Menninghaus bought out on this album was “The Snake”,an uptempo version of a cautionary romantic number I originally heard sung in an episode of the TV show Northern Exposure. Al’s version here is of course from a whole other place.

Key Jams: “The Snake” and “Brother Where Are You”

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It was the soul food depicted on the cover of this album that got my attention most actually. Of course this is the Main Ingredient,a Harlem trio who always had the ability to bring out the heavy groove in with their lush three part “cool group” harmonies.  They took ballads into the stratosphere that way. But when the tempo went up,so it went to the next level on albums such as 1970’s Tasteful Soul here.

Key Jams: “Need Her Love (Mr Bugler)” and “Magic Shoes”

Deodato Airto in concert

Eumir Deodato and Airto Moreira’s 1973 concert album from their show at Madison Square Garden is one of the most exciting live albums I’ve ever heard. Especially when it comes to the second half-dominated by Airto’s percussively powerful Afro-Brazilian jazz funk jams on the second half of the record. Deodato gets seriously funky on this album as well.

Key Jams: “Tropea” and “Parana” 

george-benson-good-king-bad

George Benson’s 1975 soundtrack to the film Good King Bad was the final album that Benson recorded for the CTI label. The outer sleeve of my vinyl version is in such poor shape,someone patched it up with Scotch tape. The condition of the actual vinyl however is good enough for the powerful sonics of album to shine through. James Brown’s keyboardist David Matthews arranged this album to be one of the best recorded examples of cinematic jazz/funk of the mid 70’s

Key Jams: “Em” and “Theme From Good King Bad”

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Now that I’ve explored Barry White more in a musical context than his typical thematic one,its more clear that some of his melodic string arrangements of the 1970’s could get a bit samey with time. And this 1975 Love Unlimited Orchestra album is no exception. Yet when the funky groove burns underneath his sometimes stock type orchestrations,the cinematic jams really burst out at you.

Key Jams: “I Wanna Stay” and “Midnight Groove”

 

Deniece Williams Songbird

Deniece Williams’ first two albums on Columbia were as strong an adjunct to Maurice White and Earth Wind & Fire. ‘Niecy’s 1977 sophomore album here features most of the EWF crew in both the production area-thinking more of playing behind a vocalist as opposed to be instrumentalists with vocalists. They really help her increase her range too-from harder funk to reggae and more elaborate jazzy arrangements.

Key Jams: “Time”,“Be Good To Me” and “The Paper”

Sylvester Sell My Soul

Sylvester’s powerful vocals were musically molded by the same man who gave Marvin Gaye his start-Mister Harvey Fuqua. This was his first album of the 1980’s. It deals with a transition from the gospel drenched Hi NRG disco sound Sylvester specialized in during the late 70’s and towards a far funkier post disco sound. This especially comes to mind when he was acting as an interpreter as well.

Key Jams: “Change Up” and “Fever”

change-sharingyourlove(1)

Change really had me going with their post disco sound of the early 80’s upon first hearing their 1980 debut album The Glow of Love. This 1982 album featured this group being produced in a very different direction-one that emphasized a harder boogie funk sound. Not to mention a more stable and distinctive group lineup as well.

Key Jams :“Hard Times (It’s Gonna Be Alright)” and “Take You To Heaven”

Ronnie Laws Mr Nice Guy

Ronnie Laws is basically the sax version of George Benson in terms of his ability to play and sing. While he obviously isn’t quite as distinctive (or virtuosic) on either level as Benson,his instrumental and vocal style have that amiable big brother type attitude that translates well across each album. On this set,he began to add more synth horns and new wave style instrumentation into his general mix. But his love of classic R&B shuffles and funky grooves remained fully intact.

Key Jam: “Can’t Save Tomorrow” 

Phyllis Hyman Living All Alone

Phyllis Hyman seems to have had a quality similar to Anita Baker and Chaka Khan. No matter what era she recorded in,if the song was a slow ballad for fast funk or disco, Hyman’s music never ceased to endow full albums with anything less than first rate musical content. This 1986 album is a latter day Gamble & Huff production-a classy mixture of jazzy urban contemporary soul with some serious funk in their for good measure.

Key Jams: “If You Want Me” and “Screamin’ At The Moon”

Morris_Daydreaming

Morris Day’s second solo album from 1988 features a somewhat more pop oriented type of dance funk than his old group The Time had. Again though,the man has a knack with both uptempo tunes and ballads-especially featuring the piano work of Herb Alpert alumni Salvatore Macaluso on side 1’st closing torch ballad “A Mans Pride”.

Key Jam: “Fishnet”

 

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Filed under 1980's, Airto Moreira, Al Wilson, Barry White, Change, cinematic soul, Deniece Williams, disco funk, elecro funk, Eumir Deodato, Funk, George Benson, jazz funk, Morris Day, Phyllis Hyman, Quincy Jones, Ronnie Laws, Sylvester, The Main Ingredient, Vinyl

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Area Code 808” by Deodato

Eumir Deodato de Almeida, generally referred to as merely Deodato,is probably the finest jazz/funk keyboardists to emerge from the Brazilian scene in the 1970’s. This Rio native was a natural prodigy-almost mastering the piano,Accordion and even arrangement skills before he began recording bossa nova based albums starting at age 17. Far as I was concerned,Deodato was the producer who helped popularize Kool & The Gang’s 80’s funk sound on songs such as “Big Fun” and “Get Down On It”. As my own adolescence continued,it became more and more clear just how amazing Deodato was as his own artist.

There was a period about 12-15 years ago where it seemed like Deodato albums were turning up everywhere I went. And somehow I wound up buying them every time too. My first exposure to him came with my father playing me Deodato’s version of “Also Sparch Zarathustra”,the theme from one of my favorite sci fi films 2001: A Space Odyssey. It wasn’t long before I picked up an inexpensive copy of his 1972 album Deodato 2 from one of my mom’s co-workers at the time who also distributed CD’s to record stores-and was selling the leftovers at a discount price.

Deodato himself recorded on a number of different labels during the height of his career. This had a lot to do with the fact he often switched between his original style of bossa nova/Brazilian jazz onto jazz-funk approach that showcased his arrangement talents and electric piano playing. Between then and the late 80’s,Deodato moved from CTI,MCA and finally to Warner Brothers-where he remained up to 1989. His Warner Bros. debut was 1978’s Love Island. Picked up the now hard to find Wounded Bird CD up while traveling with my ex over a decade ago. It blew me away right off with it’s opener “Area Code 808”.

A very theatrical Moog bass sustain starts out the album before a growling,rocking rhythm guitar crunch comes in. Gradually a marching funky shuffle rhythm,cascading strings and Deodato’s bluesy Fender Rhodes solo comes in. On the opening chorus,Deodato duets with himself playing two synth horn lines-accenting one another very much like a trumpet and saxophone. Pops Popwell plays a counterpoint bass line,even a slap  bass one accenting every horn-like chord of Deodato’s. Ray Gomez plays a blistering bluesy rock guitar solo in front of some ultra funky chicken scratch rhythm guitar on the second refrain.

The most amazing thing about this song is what happens during the second refrain,which sustains itself for the remainder of the song. The string play the melody that leads directly from Gomez’s guitar solo into Deodato accenting the two rhythm guitar licks and bass line with his Fender Rhodes piano. After this both the strings and woodwinds play a theme that leads back to Deodato playing a stomping riff on the acoustic piano. The arrangement then takes the rhythm guitar into playing another,more elaborate riff before the woodwinds and hi hats take over just as the song begins to fade.

Deodato has made some of the strongest jazz/funk of his era-not doubting that. There is just something about “Area Code 808” that strikes out from the Love Island album as being especially grooving. Harvey Mason delivering a drum part that’s in a similar family to James Brown’s “Funky President” helps out a lot. Deodato’s synth horn and Rhodes soloing really add something spicier to the live string and horn arrangements. In that way,it has a foot in the past,present and future for cinematic jazz funk of it’s day. The groove is ultra funkified. And a major musical triumph for Deodato.

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Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Eumir Deodato, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Harvey Mason, horns, jazz funk, Moog bass, Pops Popwell, Ray Gomez, rhythm guitar, strings, synthesizers, Uncategorized