Category Archives: hard bop

Anatomy of THE Groove: “James Brown House Party” by James Brown & The Famous Flames (1966)

James Brown began recording instrumental albums in 1963. At this point,James tended to think very much like jazz and blues musicians when recording. Meaning that he tended to think in terms of sides in the studio rather than the relatively new (at the time) long playing record. On these instrumental albums played both originals or reboots of songs he’d already recorded with vocals. As an instrumental leader,he sometimes played drums. But quite a lot of the time he played organ. And that bought out another important factor to how the man approached his non vocal musical approach as well.

James Brown actually had a recording contract that positioned him as recording his vocal numbers for the King label,and instrumentals for the Smash label. That created some conflict when he released a vocal album Out Of Sight on Smash in 1964-only to have it swiftly withdrawn. That probably had a lot to do with a point that Henrique and I discussed about James competing more with hard bop jazz players such as Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff as an instrumental organist. Still it was a lot more likely James was playing drums on a 1966 instrumental he did entitled “James Brown House Party”.

Jimmy Nolan’s low chicken scratch guitar defines the groove. The JB horns generally play a bluesy 7 note horn chart-going from major to minor chord on each melodic phrase. Maceo abstracts on this theme as the first instrumental soloist to appear on this song,with his tenor sax. Nolan plays the second solo on this song,which has a more open string approach to his guitar than usual. Towards the end of the song,there’s a trumpet solo that comes in playing a fast theme that follows right along with the bluesy horn charts of the song that themselves serve to fade out the very song they begin.

“James Brown House Party” is another wonderful example of James Brown developing a brand new song from an old one. And it’s interesting on two levels. For one,the song is based on his 1962 song “Mashed Potatoes U.S.A”. For another,the key difference between the original and this instrumental is that latter version is significantly faster. James’s foray’s into uptempo funk in the mid 60’s is showcased here by showcasing how he already had the funky approach from the hard bop/soul jazz players down pat on the original version. Which makes this an important showcase for his musical creativity.

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Filed under 1960's, chicken scratch guitar, drums, hard bop, horns, instrumental, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, Maceo Parker, Saxophone, soul jazz, trumpet, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Serpentine Fire” by Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith helped redefine the vocabulary of jazz organ during the hard bop/soul jazz era. With his heavily blues and gospel based approach,his use of the Leslie speaker on his Hammond B-3 organ became defined by distinct clicking tones between each key stroke. This idea of  instrumental technique combined with personal finger touch has made Smith’s sound extremely influential among jazz style organists for the remainder of the 20th century. And with bands such as England’s James Taylor Quartet utilizing this approach on the Hammond organ, Smith is along with Roy Ayers one of the main instrumental pioneers of the 1990’s acid jazz sound.

As of today,it’s been five days since Earth Wind & Fire bandleader Maurice White passed away. When I think about it,Maurice and Jimmy Smith were both members of America’s Silent Generation-only on earlier and later ends of it. During the mid 1970’s,Smith’s musical style made yet another transition. This one towards a hard funk oriented sound. Because of his blues roots and love of placing his organ soloing in the context of heavy rhythm,the funk genre was an ideal for Smith to deal with during the late 70’s. Recording both bop and funk for the Mercury label at the time,Smith and Maurice White’s music dovetailed beautifully in 1978 when Smith interpreted the EWF number “Serpentine Fire”.

The lightly fan faring intro of percussionist Stephanie Spruill introduces this groove,over which Smith plays a smooth version of the songs initial melody on his B-3. John Phillips tenor sax and and Nolan Smith’s trumpet play the role of a stripped back Phenix Horns going into Abraham Laboriel’s bass line-itself similar to the bluesy melodic line of Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island”. On the central refrains,Smith plays the chords of the melody very much in classic bop style-with later variations showcasing call and response dialog with the two horns. On the choral links with the scaled up horns,Smith accompanies his own organ with a beautiful round Moog synthesizer bass tone.

Of course EWF had a strong jazz basis at the very core of their sound. When jazz soloists began covering their huge hits during the 70’s,that element really came out a lot more. Jimmy Smith’s take on “Serpentine Fire” from his 1978 album Unfinished Business is a superb example. Not only is he rounding heavily on his bop approach of playing chords, but on many of his solos he’s hammering on the organ in a very aggressively rhythmic sustain. The rhythmic sound of the song is a bit smaller,more live oriented than studiocentric. Of course that allows for Smith’s soloing to take center stage. It also allows for his to be a fantastically funky re-imagining of an Earth Wind & Fire classic.

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Abraham Laboriel, Acid Jazz, blues funk, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk Bass, Hammond B-3, hard bop, jazz funk, Jimmy Smith, Maurice White, Moog, organ, Phenix Horns, Silent Generation, Uncategorized