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.
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
Mayer Hawthorne’s musical vitality has continued to grow on me every time I hear his music. As many times as he’s been written about musically here,his own story as a musician is a very important one to this day and age. Born Andrew Mayer Cohen in Ann Arbor,Michigan the man came out of loving hip-hop growing up-inspired by his father Richard being a bass player in a local rock band called The Breakers and his mother Kathi having once played guitar. He took his stage name from the street he grew up on. After moving to LA, the multi talented instrumental/arranger/producer/singer/songwriter signed up with Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stone Throw Records.
Hawthorne originally recorded instrumental tracks for the label specific purpose of sampling by other artists on the label. When Wolf heard them,he decided they were worthy of a solo album for Hawthorne. After three of his solo recordings released between 2011-2013,Mayer Hawthorne teamed up with hip-hop producer Jake One for the electro funk/boogie album project entitled Tuxedo. Hawthorne was more a musician than a vocalist. But his soulful phrasing and range lends itself well to the instrumental craft he has continued to develop. His newest album is entitled Man About Town and the song that perhaps best shows off all his talents here is “Book Of Broken Hearts”.
The drum patter that opens up the album sounds (and possibly is) directly from the early 70’s drum machine the Maestro Rhythm King. Than Hawthorne’s revving bass lines opens into the song-whose main chorus is build around sunny rhythm guitar strumming. He surrounds this with several equally melodic layers of electric pianos and horn charts. On the refrains of the song,he builds this instrumentation on the pumping rhythm of the bass line. His vocals have the same propulsive quality. On a bridge of the song towards the end,Hawthorne sings with a sea of his own vocal harmonies before it all closes out on the chorus that began the song.
The fact that Hawthorne’s chief musical inspirations are producer/arranger’s such as Isaac Hays,Curtis Mayfield and Barry White it’s no surprise how he approaches his grooves. His vocal arrangements on this song come out of the Daryl Hall school. At the same time his West Coast style of funk sound has the heavy pop craft of Sly Stone and Quincy Jones’ productions for the Brothers Johnson in the mid 1970’s. Hawthorne doesn’t concentrate on trying to be new and original rhythmically,an approach which can lead to cold and boring music today. Instead he focuses on a solid pop/funk groove based on the time honored musical process that created so many of the classics of the genre he admires.
Filed under 2016, electric piano, Funk Bass, funky pop, funky soul, horns, Maestro Rhythm King, Mayer Hawthorne, Peanut Butter Wolf, rhythm guitar, Stone Throw Records, Uncategorized, West Coast
James Ingram is an artist whose contributions to the disco/post disco era musical continuum are ones that I’d totally neglected. Conversations with Henrique revealed the man to have started out as a guitar and keyboard player on the Dolemite movies. That while being a member of the band Revelation Funk as well. And that Motown funk band Switch’s Philip Ingram was in fact James’ younger brother. All I’d previously known about the man was as a man who’d duetted with Patti Austin and Linda Ronstadt. As well as his early 80’s songs such as “Just Once” and “One Hundred Ways”. The revelation of Ingram having a history with strong uptempo funk/soul was a very happy one for me.
Following session word for Leon Haywood and The Stylistics in the late 70’s and early 80’s,Ingram signed with Quincy Jones’ Qwest as a solo act. His debut set was called It’s Your Night. It featured many of the famous Westlake Studio session crew such as Jerry Hey,Paulinho Da Costa,Nathan East,Larry Carlton and David Foster. It had a big hit with the Westcoast inflected uptempo groove of “Ya Mo Be There” with Michael McDonald. Upon hearing the generally ballad themed album in it’s entirety,it was another uptempo song that actually caught my attention very heavily. It was written by Heatwave’s Rod Temperton and was called “One More Rhythm”.
A swinging cymbal heavy drum roll starts the groove off. Suddenly the equally swinging horn charts dramatically roll right in as the rest of the song sets off. The refrain of the song features a stride style honky tonk piano solo from Ingram-along with a brittle synth bass line. This is set up with a steady post disco rhythm accented with a clapping on each beat. On the choruses the horns start up again before the theme that starts out the song chimes back into another refrain. The bridge of the song the song finds Ingram vocally scaling upward towards an organ solo from the late,great Jimmy Smith. The chorus returns for the songs fade out in a slightly higher key.
In many ways this song presents itself musically as an early/mid 80’s variant of what Stevie Wonder did eight years earlier with “Sir Duke”. It comes out of the harmonic flavors and arranging style of big band swing and Kansas City jazz. Than it adds to that contemporary instrumental and production touches. In this case a synth bass line mainly. Ingram’s soulful wail of a voice,Jimmy Smith’s solo and Temperton’s good understanding of jazz styled melodies makes this an interesting retro futurist big band pop/jazz/funk number in it’s time. And both compositionally and rhythmically,it’s a song that might be difficult to get out of one’s brain and booty.
Filed under 1980's, big band swing, funky pop, horns, James Ingram, Jerry Hey, Jimmy Smith, Nathan East, Paulinho Da Costa, Quincy Jones, QWest, Rod Temperton, Uncategorized