Category Archives: Harvey Mason

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Stepping Into Tomorrow” by Donald Byrd

Donald Byrd is one of my favorite musicians during the 70’s Blue Note era especially. The Detroit native replaced the late,great Clifford Brown in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers after a stint in the US Air Force. After launching his career as a band leader in the late 50’s,Byrd’s became Blue Notes equivalent of Miles Davis in terms of transitioning from acoustic bop jazz to fusion. Along the way,he also helped launch one of jazz-funk’s seminal bands in The Blackbyrds. His mid 70’s collaborations with the Mizell brothers Larry and Fonce are actually in a class by themselves too.

Around 12 years ago,I began to listen heavy to both the Blackbyrds and Donald Byrd’s mid 70’s jazz-funk recordings. This came from my dad playing the music of Madlib for me. Now this is a DJ/musician/producer/rapper who loved 70’s Blue Note. And focused a lot on Byrd’s music from that period. It was through DJ/musician Nigel Hall and his radio show at WMEB in Orono,Maine that I learned where to find one of my favorite pieces Madlib had used,since I wasn’t accustomed to first hearing classic funk songs via samples. Turning out that the song in question was the 1974 album title track “Stepping Into Tomorrow”.

A thunder-like sound opens into the song. The main groove is established right away. This is a slow,percussive drum from Harvey Mason,a melody setting bass line from Chuck Rainey,Larry Mizell’s ARP strings and Byrd’s trumpet. As the vocals of Byrd and a trio of female backup singers harmonize on the choruses,a minor chord intro then extends into a series of solos. First Byrd on trumpet,then Gary Bartz’s sax and finally Jerry Peters’ organ. The main chorus/intro/refrain parts repeat to,with a number of psychedelic,synthesized sonics until the song fades out.

“Stepping Into Tomorrow” is one of those truly democratic jazz/funk numbers. Instrumentally,it was a dream team of the finest of jazz/funk players in that area. And each one is performing at some of their finest on this groove. Its a strong enough groove to stand on its own. Yet it can be sampled all on its own in a way that doesn’t destroy its special musical qualities. Its the songs elasticity that represents its strongest quality. While I personally feel original funk songs should be searched for on their own rather than via samples,whatever method one uses to get to this funk will be its own reward.

 

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Filed under 1974, 70's Blue Note, ARP string ensemble, Chuck Rainey, Donald Byrd, drums, Fonce Mizell, Funk Bass, Gary Bartz, Harvey Mason, jazz funk, Jerry Peters, Larry Mizell, organ, Saxophone, trumpet

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

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

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Satin Doll” by Bobbie Humphrey

Bobbie Humphrey stands along with Mary Lou Williams,Melba Liston and Patrice Rushen as one of the rare female instrumentalists in the jazz world. This Texas native was creature during the same time as Patrice. Main different was she was a flutist,so melodic soloing  was her priority. She recorded her first album on Blue Note in 1971. Two years later she released her third album Blacks and Blues. This is as of now the only the Bobbie Humprey CD I personally own. It began her musical relationship with producer Larry Mizell. He and his brother Fonce  were major creative forces at Blue Note at the time. They were than working with Donald Byrd after several years of recordings hits for Motown’s Jackson 5.

Humphrey was one of those artists who seems to have successfully adapted to changes in the music world. From jazz-funk,the disco era and even the new jack swing sound of the late 1980’s. Much as guitarist Bobby Broom played for R.Kelly in the early 90’s,Humphrey played on Gwen Guthrie’s 1988 song “Send Me Somebody” in a similar manner. Of course most famously she joined Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove for his 1976 song “Another Star” from his blockbuster Songs In The Key Of Life.  While digging deeper into her music,I discovered an amazing musical reboot of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s standard “Satin Doll”,also the title song for her fourth album.

Wah Wah Watson’s multiple shades of guitar come in and out of the swelling Brazilian style snare drum heavy rhythms of Harvey Mason on the intro-along with Chuck Rainey’s one,two,three punch on bass. Larry Mizell’s synth introduces the main melody of the song. Jerry Peters’ piano than kicks into the mix-just before Humphrey’s flute begins playing the main melody-accompanied call and response style with Mizell’s synth and Peters’ piano. Her high, ethereal singing voice matches the huge arrangement-even as Peters’ solos find him coming down almost as hard on the piano keys as Duke might’ve himself before the song fades out with a male backup chorus singing the main melody.

Bobbie Humphrey and the entire 70’s Blue Note crew really do Ellington’s musical vision proud on this album. Humphrey tended to follow Duke’s concept of adapting her playing to changing styles of music. This takes the by this time late composer’s into the mid 70’s cinematic soul era. The highlight of this groove along with Humprhey was Melvin Ragin. He delivers three shades of his wah wah guitar in the first minute of the song alone-from a sharp stinging tone to a melodic ring. The classic mixture of futuristic melodic ideas and chase scene paced rhythms makes this a Duke Ellington interpretation to remember.

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Filed under 1974, 70's Blue Note, Billy Strayhorn, Bobbie Humphrey, Brazilian Jazz, Chuck Rainey, cinematic soul, drums, Duke Ellington, flute, Funk Bass, Harvey Mason, jazz funk, Jerry Peters, Larry Mizell, piano, Satin Doll, synthesizer, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar, Wah Wah Waston

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Nature Boy” by George Benson (1977)-Vocal

George Benson’s vocal style always reminded me a great deal of a higher pitched Donny Hathaway,with just a touch of Stevie Wonder’s melisma for good measure. His vocal tone had such a general strumming quality,his technique of scatting with his guitar became a signature technique. So it was no surprise for me to find out that Benson was in fact someone who knew personally. And they had a musical connection with Phil Upchurch as Benson later covered Hathaway’s “The Ghetto”. Also important is that Benson had always sang AND played throughout his career-long before his 70’s commercial peak. So he is very accessible to appreciate on a purely vocal level as well as instrumental.

In 1976 Benson had a humongous bit of luck with his album Breezin’-produced by Tommy Lipuma and featuring the Bobby Womack penned title hit and his iconic cover of the Leon Russell ballad “This Masquerade”. Also being his debut for Warner Bros. records,Benson was now firmly positioned as a singer/musician who’d have a strong ear as an interpreter. Especially with his back round as a viruosic jazz guitar improviser. His second Warner Bros. release came out in 1977 and was called In Flight. It featured the same lineup of musicians as it predecessor. My personal favorite song from this album is a version of the Nat King Cole standard “Nature Boy”.

Cinematic strings sweep through the beginning of the song. These strings literally segue into Harvey Mason’s drums clipping along at roughly 96 bpm along with Stanley Banks’s two note popping bass,while Jorge Dalto’s Clavinet drives right in the groove along with it. Ralph McDonald’s percussion takes that rhythmic stroll along the way as Ronnie Foster’s electric piano plays along with bell like beauty. This basic groove is the musical atmosphere of the entire song-with the strings moving to the forefront for every other chorus. Benson’s lead vocal carries the first half of the song. On the final minute or two, the melodic focus is on Benson’s guitar/scatting hybrid technique he is so well known for.

When I first heard this,I had no idea Nat Cole wrote  it. Benson sings the original melody very faithfully. At the same time,his timing along with the slow crawling, percussive romantic funk called to mind Marvin Gaye’s musical sound of the same period. Gaye had already done a version of this song in 1965. His interpretation was very close to the original. What Benson bought to the song vocally was not only a more modern gospel/soul flavor,but also that more contemporary Brazilian style jazz/funk instrumental atmosphere. It did an excellent job showcasing the evolution of black American music and to me represents an important milestone for George Benson the singer.

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Filed under 1970's, bass guitar, clavinet, drums, electric piano, George Benson, Harvey Mason, jazz funk, Jorge Dalto, Marvin Gaye, Nat King Cole, percussion, Phil Upchurch, Ralph McDonald, rhythm guitar, Ronnie Foster, Stanley Banks, strings, Tommy Lipuma, Uncategorized, Warner Bros.

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Rock Me,Baby (Like My Back Ain’t Got No Bone)” by David Fathead Newman

David Fathead Newman is a name that I’ve been aware of for a long time. In fact it was hearing the name spoken by my father that introduced me to the music of Ray Charles-rather than the other way around as one might expect. A native Texan who, Newman came right out the jump blues R&B school to be one of the key musical figures to evolve the saxophone during the formation of soul music in the 1975’s. As part of Ray Charles band,he was iconic. During his years after leaving Ray,Newman did session work for people such as Aretha Franklin and BB King. Not to mentioning carrying on a successful solo career as a bandleader.

Recording for a series of different labels during the decade,Newman eventually landed at Prestige at the end of the disco era. With a musical pallet that painting it’s brushstrokes from soul to jazz,Newman had developed a strong funkiness that allowed him to find a way to put his horn into the key of the hottest dance music of the late 70’s.  He bought in members of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters in Harvey Mason and Bill Summers. Stuff’s Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree-strong session musicians in their own right also came in for the 1979 album Scratch My Back-Newman’s one album for the label. The song that caught my ear most hear was “Rock Me,Baby (Like My Back Ain’t Got No Bone)”.

Summer’s percussion get’s the groove started out,while Mason comes in with a phat 4/4 beat shortly after. Newman’s sax plays a popping tone along with the thick slap bass line. The deeply voiced strings dart over the main rhythm like musical shooting stars. Vocalist Flame Braithwaite comes in and sings several different choruses of the songs title-with party sounds from Newman and the other musicians moving right along with the rhythm of the song itself. On the refrains of this mostly chorus based song, the bass line begins popping up and down in the classic disco bass style as the melody follows suit. The main chorus of the song maintains itself until the song fades out.

My friend and inspiration Henrique has referenced this song on a couple of occasions as an example of “funk functioning as disco”. And in every way,it’s a hot jam for sure. With Harvey Mason playing away at around 110BPM,this is relatively slow in tempo compared to the majority of disco records from the late 70’s. This fives the song an extra funkiness. Not to mention the thick slap bass thumping of Wilbur Bascomb,Jr. Newman’s sax takes on the same rhythmic character of the bass on this song too-popping along percussively rather than playing the melody. So this wonderful reworking of the BB King classic takes the blues straight into the disco funk territory wonderfully.

 

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Filed under 1970's, BB King, Bill Summers, blues funk, David Fathead Newman, disco funk, drums, Eric Gale, Harvey Mason, percussion, Saxophone, slap bass, strings, Stuff, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Marching In The Street” by Harvey Mason

Harvey Mason’s drum sound is one of the key elements in mid 70’s jazz-funk. Next to the Crusaders’ Stix Hooper,it was Harvey’s approach that really calcified the rhythm beat of that particular musical hybrid. Pretty much any band doing live instrumental based jazz-funk of the past decade and a half-including Lettuce,Greyboy and Snarky Puppy are all rhythmically built around what Harvey did on drums. Even for me, it’s very likely that Harvey Mason was the very first drummer I ever heard. With Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” being a very early musical memory. He is also important for another reason outside of those things.

Also similar to Stix Hooper, Harvey was a powerful session drummer too. Especially when it came to jazz and pop artists in the 70’s looking to make their sounds funkier. I’ve tended to notice when a musician does a great deal of session playing,they accumulate a good deal of musical allies. Many of Harvey’s were iconic soloists/session players in their own right such as Lee Ritenour,Ernie Watts,Chuck Rainey,Dave Grusin and Randy Crawford. All of these artists played a huge part on Harvey’s 1975 solo debut album Marching In The Street. And it was an album that really started right off with a bang with it’s monster title song.

Harvey starts out the song playing a steady,unaccompanied march which gradually adds funkier snare accents before Rainey’s bass chimes in along with Grusin’s electric piano. Ernie Watts,George Bohannon,Bobby Bryant and Oscar Brashear provide the accenting horn charts. By this point,Harvey’s playing both a double time drum solo-one very funky and a straight march along with a whistle. Watts adds a melodic Piccolo flute while the collective lead vocals (including Crawford) sing the repeated choruses and chants and along a round,muted trumpet solo. As the song progresses,the marching rhythm becomes more prominent before the song fades out with it being unaccompanied again.

Since Harvey Mason’s debut is so thick with heavy funk numbers, it was a bit of a challenge selecting just one. The reason the title song of the album stands out for me is how strongly linked it is with jazz history. From the days of Buddy Bolden’s “gutbucket” music of late 19th century New Orleans,the musical term funk was born at the core of the big four jazz rhythm.  These earliest jazz bands were formed in many ways based on dis-guarded horns and drums left over from the Civil War,as well as local marching bands. So the idea of Mason returning this rhythmic concept to his 70’s sounds was sounding the call for the new revolutionary march of funk.

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Filed under 1975, bass guitar, Dave Grusin, drums, Ernie Watts, Harvey Mason, horns, Jazz-Funk, Lee Ritenour, Randy Crawford, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk for 5/25/2015: “Thunder Thumbs And Lightnin’ Licks” by The Brothers Johnson

1976 now emerges for me as a tremendous year in funk. Name dropping in this case doesn’t only seem required, but very necessary. You had Earth Wind & Fire with “Getaway” and “Saturday Night”,The Isley Brothers with “People Of Today”,Graham Central Station With “Entrow” and “Mirror”,Isaac Hayes’s “Groove-A-Thon”,Kool & The Gang with “Open Sesame”,Herbie Hancock’s “Doin’ it”,The Crusaders with “Spiral” and “Feeling Funky”,Stevie Wonder with “I Wish” and “All Day Sucker”.And the list goes on.

Even in the jazz and rock sections of record stores? The funk seemed to be everywhere by this time with Steely Dan,Jeff Beck,The Doobie Brothers and Edgar Winter. Also during this year? There were the appearances of a few new artists who my friend Rique described so well as basically saying to the world “we’re the new generation of funk”.

George and the now late Louis Johnson were an LA bass/guitar duo who began their career as session people for big name stars of the early 70’s such as Bill Withers,Bobby Womack and Billy Preston. On an apparent audition for Stevie Wonder’s band Wonderlove? They were overheard by Quincy Jones. He bought them in to play,write and sing on his 1975 album Mellow Madness.

The Johnson’s could not have had a more totally complete introduction if they tried. They had the support of Quincy,the access to the huge bevy of instrumentals that his reference provided and signing to the (at the time) artist owned A&M Records for their 1976 debut Look Out For #1. The second song on this album is an instrumental that, for me, showcases what really made them musically. It’s titled after the brothers nicknames-“Thunder Thumbs And Lightnin’ Licks”.

The song begins with a delayed drum from Harvey Mason-accented by a bassy,greasy Clavinet solo from Dave Grusin introducing the first refrain. He then comes in with a higher,pitched bent synthesizer playing a bluesy guitar like riff that launches into a similarly themed full on melody of the song. This main chorus features George and Louis bass/guitar interaction mixed up high along with the melody. On the second refrain? Sahib Shihab plays an improvisation of the bluesy theme on flute.

After another chorus and refrain that again improvises on their two melodic themes? There’s a bridge which heavily emphasizes the timbale work of Billy Cobham-with a little vocal jiving from the brothers themselves. After this the song returns to the man chorus-with swells into a James Brown like sustained rhythm guitar-let along by Glenn Farris’s trombone to the fade. Throughout the song? The trumpets and sax’s of Chuck Findley,Ernie Watts and Bill Lamb  play call and response to everything else going on in the song itself.

The first time I ever heard this song,when I was about 11 years old? It was played at the beginning of a late 70’s Saturday Night Live sketch starring Steve Martin,which took place in a disco. I instantly loved the groove,though it was a very minor aspect of the sketch itself. But did not know what it was. Nor who the Johnson brothers were. First time I heard this album in my early 20’s? It was very exciting to be able to identify this song I’d loved for years.

While I have many examples of this I could rattle off? This is one of those songs that, for me, represents funk at it’s most solid and complete. Both instrumentally and production wise. Quincy polishes up the sheen of this groove-featuring jazz/funk session greats with the new artists’ for some of the most expertly enthusiastic playing of the 70’s funk era. Rhythmically it’s a direct transition from the thick,phat approach of the “united funk” years to the more polished rhythms of the disco era to come. It’s one of the my favorite, and most defining funk instrumentals of all time.

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Filed under 1970's, Billy Cobham, Brothers Johnson, Dave Grusin, Ernie Watts, Funk, Funk Bass, George Johnson, Harvey Mason, Jazz-Funk, Louis Johnson, Quincy Jones, Sahib Shihab

Herbie Hancock: A Tribute To The Electronic Headhunter

Herbie Hancock Secrets

Celebrating the 75th birthday today? I began to realize the breadth and variety of the fantastic musical career of Mister Herbert Jeffrey Hancock.  From working with Donald Byrd very early on to his recent work with nu jazz artist Flying Lotus? Herbie has been much like his former employer Miles Davis in the sense that he has taken his own style as a pianist/keyboardist through a number of distinctly different musical periods.

Realizing that my knowledge of Herbie’s music lays mainly in his electric period? It became quickly apparent that there are actually a number of musical period’s in and of themselves during this one particular period. So I am going to present to you album reviews I’ve done for his music. With one album representing each different period of Herbie Hancock’s electric period which extended over three decades. Hope you all enjoy it!

The Blue Note Years

The Prisoner (1969)-Blue Note

Well,there’s no doubt that the last couple of years of the 60’s certainly provided a fertile musical ground for a jazz musician to create in. There were so many culturally/sociological transitions occurring at the same it,the importance of improvisation in general was paramount. Herbie Hancock himself was in a similar state of transition during 1969. He was easing himself out of Miles Davis’s 60’s era Quintet. And both he and Miles were about to about to enter into the world of electric jazz-making inroads into that area that were similar songs with a different tune-to extend on that little metaphor. For this album Herbie was playing with a 10 piece big band that included the likes of bassist Buster Williams,flutist Huber Laws,drummer Tootie Heath and saxophone extraordinaire Joe Henderson for an album that marked both the end of an era for him as well as the beginning of a new one.

“I Have A Dream”,a tribute to the recently slain MLK is a beautiful ten minute+ tone samba during which Henderson,Heath and Hancock expresses extremely conversational harmonies with themselves and each other that are bound to engender some emotional response. The title song as well as “Firewater” (the only non Hancock composition here” and “He Who Lives” are all a bit instrumentally cooler-focusing on swinging bop style numbers where the rhythm section takes presidents. And on which Herbie himself engages in plenty of his trademark bravely scaling piano arpeggios-harmonizing with himself between both bass and higher tenor tonalities. “Promise Of The Sun” seems to be indicate a similar rhythm section based bop number at first. Yet by the songs end? The melodic horn harmonics of the septet of horn players on this album provides a gently orchestral coda to the album itself.

This album doesn’t tend to rate as either great or terrible among Herbie’s many albums. And it isn’t 100% instrumentally groundbreaking exactly to be said. What does make this album rank so high to me was the feeling of it,which is key to jazz music anyway. The mixture of Herbie’s bluesy electric piano and virtuosic harmony style on the acoustic upright combine with the big band featured on this album to create a very probing musical atmosphere. The musicians are all searching. Not searching for a sound. But for a future that is yet to come for the nation and the world. Recorded in the spring of 1969,this albums looks ahead in its instrumental conceptions towards what the 1970’s would bring. For Herbie himself? It would bring a change in music completely opposite to this-as he was about to leave Blue Note for Warner Brothers after this album. His personal life and identity would soon make a change that would showcase that new evolution in his music. For a coda to the first phase of his career? It would be pretty hard pressed to find a more instrumentally fulfilling way to go about that than this!

Mwandishi

Fat Albert Rotunda (1969)-Warner Bros. 

Counting about 99.8 % of the music on this album ‘Fat Albert Rotunda’ is Herbie Hancock’s first dive into the world of funk-jazz,a just blooming genre in 1969 when this was recorded and a style he wouldn’t return to for another five years or so.As for the jazz side of his personality only “Tell Me A Bedtime Story”,with it’s gentle theatrics,works in this arena.Otherwise this album is pretty much instrumental funk,upbeat and well made but probably not quite as thrilling and DEFINITELY not as innovative as later such efforts as ‘Thrust’, “Man-Child’,’Secrets’ and of course ‘Headhunters’.But once fans of Herbie’s funkier style have purchased those recordings (which are essential) this album is the next logical step to walk in.

The Headhunters

Secrets (1976)-Columbia

It is from this album that I actually coined a whole definition for a certain kind of music from the 70’s,inspired by the title of a particularly funky song on this…particularly funky album. Herbie was on this huge musical winning streak in the mid 70’s and,even so this album really stands out very strong even for this period in his career! One of main reasons is the addition of Ray Parker Jr who,much as the Brothers Johnson had on the previous album Man-Child had really gone above and beyond in his ability to enhance and add great flavors to the already well established Headhunters sound. Not only is this one of Herbie’s most funky albums albums of this period but also his most thoroughly ear catching and….pretty melodic since Head Hunters and it’s also the most similar one they made to it. All their music from this period was that way but the previous two albums had gone after some more experimental type sounds. This one not only gets back to the basics but adapts on the sound in all kinds of different ways. In every measurable sense this is a funk album through and through but not every song is alike.

“Doin’ It” is…..well I’d say it was the best tune here but every one is so excellent that’s hard to say but it’s certainly one of the very strongest jams of 1976,a year full of ’em. The song starts from this Ray Parker riff that….builds into another riff until Herbie’s keyboards and synthesizers kick and and build on top of them unti Ray starts singing “just keep on doing it!”. This is a pointed reminder of the building nature of funk in it’s heyday. His remake of his own “Cantaloupe Island” adds a this Afro-Caribbean stomp,along with kind of this marching “big four” jazz beat to the funk and gives the tune some extra added bounce. “Spider” is just an amazing song;like the theme song to a kind of “techno-blacksploitation” movie never made with it’s bassy synth fanfare and that heavy chase scene rhythm. “Gentle Thoughts” is probably the most commercial sounding groove here as it sticks closest to the melody and sound fairly light for this type of album.

As for it’s overall atmospherics…well lets just say it’s most fittin that Lee Ritenour actually used this song as the title cut for his next album Gentle Thoughts. “Swamp Rat” is…among one of the most harmonically advanced tunes Herbie ever made with yet more fan-faring bass synths and,as for the second half of the song Paul Jackson’s bass and Bennie Maupin’s passionate work on sax and reeds carry that area. As for Maupin he gets a big kudos on his own “Sansho Shima” at the end of the album,which has this very strong Afro Cuban jazz flavor with the procrastination being bought to the forefront and the funk kind of riding along in the middle. This album is kind of ignored because it’s sandwiched after some well known classics and comes right before his disco-funk period-itself HIGHLY underrated. There is a progression from one to the other yet in terms of Herbie’s powers as a soloist,bandleader and composer in the 70’s,never-mind his funkiness this album is one of many that can’t be beat!

Funk/Disco Jazz

Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Now (1979)-Columbia

Often times I hear the late 70’s end of the funk era as being dismissed and harshly judged. Always chalked it up to the fact that the disco era,which came to an end in the year this particular album was released,attracted at least as many detractors as a genre as individual artists such as Beyonce do today. Aside from that music culture battle,nothing would keep funk,soul and dance artists from seeking new rhythmic ways with which to make their music as danceable and spirited as it could possibly be. I first heard this CD as part of my fathers collection. At the time I’d never heard any of the music Herbie Hancock had done between Head Hunters and Future Shock.

Nor was I aware that he even made any music between that time. So upon hearing this 1979 album for the first time? It was instantly exciting. Well at least tracks 1,3 and 4 were since they were the only ones I was fixated on for an unknown reason. Now over a decade and a half later I have the opportunity to view this album in the context of not only having heard Herbie’s other albums from the mid/late 70’s and early 80’s,but also other similar music from others artists made during this time period. So there is an understanding of the root of this sound that wasn’t present when I first heard this. So after so many years with this album,here are my current impressions of it.

The opener “You Bet You Love” is a glistening and rather enchanting disco friendly number with an extremely funky bass/guitar line that builds into Herbie’s swelling synthesizers-again married with a strong singalong melody that concludes with Herbie (as always during this time through his Vocoder) howling soulfully in the best manner of space-funk vocalizing. “Ready Or Not” is a Ray Parker Jr. penned funk groove filled with layered bass synthesizers along with Herbie’s melodic leads-featuring a choir of singers as opposed to Herbie and a sound very much out of the late 70’s Raydio type sound-only with a far more Afro-Latin oriented percussion break courtesy of Bill Summers.

“Tell Everybody” is a powerful,heavy bass/guitar led disco-funk jam with Herbie sharing vocals with the choir of singers on Vocoder-and again solid proof that Afro Latin percussion in the disco era did hold strong ethnic identification in the most instrumental oriented of hands. Now those are the numbers I was always most inclined towards here at the time of first hearing it. “Trust Me” is a slow,dripping samba type slow groove with a powerfully complex melody with Herbie vocoderizing a poignant lyric of romantic insecurity. “Honey From The Jar” is a slow crawling,bluesy and glassy dyno’d electric pinao driven slice of harder edged funk-showcasing a very chunky bass line. “Knee Deep” (not the Funkadelic classic of course) begins in a disco-funk oriented mode before descending deep into a heavily phased drum break/bass line for the deepest end of futurist funk.

Probably the most well know story of Herbie Hancock in the 1970’s was him always having to somehow justify his alternating between electric and acoustic playing throughout the decade. With that debate raging on among critics,he again ran into a similar musical syndrome to Miles that with all the controversy a lot of people missed out on the fact that,when playing funk oriented music,Herbie Hancock was helping to innovate even some unexplored tributaries of the funk-jazz genre. Because of Herbie’s assertion that funk’s strong roots in the Earth gave the music more room for rhythmic and melodic flight,he and Bill Summers in particular were able to use this music to fully explorer the percussively rhythmic possibilities that lay within the fact that the disco era funk music was extremely popular and even innovated on in Africa itself at the time.

And that is basically the spirit that comes from this particular album. It all the most shiny engineering and production gloss of any of Herbie’s 70’s funk-fusion albums. Yet at the same time,the rhythms that are colored by this effect are extremely strong and varied. The musical synergy that always seemed to exist between Herbie and Ray Parker Jr. is seen to enormous effect on this album. It showcases the strong instrumental compatibility that would show them collaborating so often during the years 1978-1981. So I must agree with writer Ricky Vincent that this was one of the strongest funk albums of the disco era. And one of Herbie’s strongest funk records as well.

Electro Funk/Hip-Hop

Sound-System (1984)-Columbia

With the success of Future Shock and its big hit “Rockit”,Herbie had made one significant musical contribution to the 80’s decade: he managed to put an instrumental dance record onto the pop charts and even the music video world. And opened up the door for other musicians such as contemporaries of his such as Jan Hammer to do the same. The following year Herbie was back in the studio with Bill Laswell to record the follow up to that album. As he was in the early 70’s,Herbie was continually fascinated by how to combine the modern electronic/hip-hop sample/scratch oriented effects that interested him with the heavily Afrocentric variety of funk. Again on the heels of another possible cultural innovation,Herbie bought in the Gambian musician Foday Musa Suso,who played an electrified African string instrument called the Kora,which produced a reverb laden Harp-like effect. This would have the effect of extending even further on the musical revelations he’d made on his previous album.

“Hard Rock”,”Metal Beat” and the closing title track are all very much in line with the approach of “Rockit”,but the instrumental sound is very different. The rhythmic patterns,keyboard parts and the addition of the Kora on the title song especially infuse these songs with an enormous Afro-Latin quality about them-which draws out the expansiveness of the groove and manage to make the electronics of it seem totally non-rigid. “Karabali” has almost no relation to these songs at all-its an almost totally African,almost Cameroonian Makossa beat type number built heavily around Suso’s Kora. “Junku” perfectly blends the tight and danceable electro-funk sound of Herbie’s with the same Kora sound. Bernard Fowler returns for another vocal number in the bluesy funk of “People Are Changing”,very much a generational cautionary take where Herbie delights on both synthesizer and acoustic piano alternately. The bonus track is an extended version of “Metal Beat”,which draws out the African percussion element even more.

Something tells me this album didn’t resonate with the public the same as its predecessor had. And it isn’t because the album is too repetitious of it. It actually isn’t at all. But the basis for all of the songs on this album are African oriented drum patters and different rhythmic ideas-with anything American blues based rarely being showcased. While this album is chocked full of massively grooving break dance friendly electro funk,the basis for it isn’t particularly American it all. It takes the heavy Afro-Latin influence of the previous album to a whole other level in fact. In many ways,that makes this one of Herbie’s best albums of the 80’s as the music is extremely close to his heart in the sense of being technically futurist yet rhythmically grounded in the tradition of the Earth itself. Manu DiBango himself could extend on the sound from his album in particular on his own release from the following year Electric Africa. As for this,Herbie may very well have sparked the public’s interest in Africa and African musical rhythms during the mid 1980’s. So again Herbie himself gained some success for himself while being a trailblazer.

Acid Jazz

Return Of The Headhunters (1998)-Universal

Herbie Hancock made a valiant but no altogether creatively vibrant comeback with Dis Is Da Drum. He began making acoustic records for the rest of the decade which,actually focused on reinventing songs that were originally done electrically. During this time there was a revival of funk in a more organic musical form. And later in a decade a particular focus on the jazz-funk side of things. New bands such as Brand New Heavies,Jamiroquai and a revived Incognito came out of the UK as part of this boom. The acid jazz boom. This was an excellent environment for Herbie to revive the band that got the ball rolling on the jazz-funk movement of the 70’s in the first place: The Headhunters. But would Paul Kackson,Bill Summers,Bennie Maupin and Mike Clark be interested in putting the band back together and…well doing “it” again? Looks like the did. This time to remain contemporary they bought in guests both old and new,from Patrice Rushen to BNH’s own N’Dea Davenport. And off the went!

“Funk Hunter” gets things off to an excellent start. All the old magic of Headhunters funk is fully intact from Herbie’s reverbed clavinets to the stop/start rhythms. “Skank It” actually ups the funk ante even more with some high octane rhythms and Bennie Maupin going right for it on saxes and reeds. “Watch Your Back” is the only number here featuring rapping. But the rap has jazz cultural value and the music around it is still the Headhunters funk. “Frankie And Kevin” is a more mellower recording with Davenport on lead vocals. She stretches out vocally even further on the catchy and jazzy funk piece “Tip Toe”,another of my favorites here. “Premonition” and “6/8-7/8” go right for the heavier jazz jugular with Bennie Maupin stretching out on the solos in a more abstract way he might’ve before his Headhunter years. Both are very strong again compositionally. “Kwanzaa” is another favorite of mine here. It has a long going on in it. There’s this polyrhythmic atmosphere, layered keyboard/synthesizer solos and some unusual but memorable melodic phrases.

Much more organic,better produced and featuring far far stronger compositions than Herbie’s previous album of all original material this actually served to re-introduce a musical collective/band that I still don’t feel is quite given the credit due them. The Headhunters cannot get the credit for out and out creating jazz-funk as a subgenre. But the sure pioneered it by really showcasing so many of it’s most important elements. There was the African rhythmic influence. That emphasis on stop/start rhythms on unexpected time signatures for another. And there was also that close and unique musical chemistry that all of these musicians had that made it all work. Truth be said this album has just a tad more vocals than the original Headhunter era albums ever had. Not to mention on that level how much more oriented it is around guests in that area. But it all functions very much as a complete musical unit rather than some example of one upsmanship. The Headhunters purpose as a band is ultimately fulfilled here as their strengths and weaknesses are complimented as well as they ever were. And this all makes this joyful,funky music to hear.


And there we have it: my own list of the Herbie Hancock albums that I feel represent the strongest of each period of his electronic jazz-funk oriented creations. The fact that the man has branched out so many tributaries as an electric player shows just the expansiveness not only of Herbie himself,but of the jazz/funk musical combination itself. And it’s an expansiveness that continues to develop here in the new millennium.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Acid Jazz, Bennie Maupin, Bernard Fowler, Bill Summers, Disco, electric jazz, Foday Musa Suso, Fusion, Harvey Mason, Headhunters, Herbie Hancock, Jazz-Funk, Mike Clark, Paul Jackson, Ray Parker Jr.

Rique & Andre Proudly Present 2014: A Year In Funkativity For Andresmusictalk!

Andresmusictalk Year In Review 2014

 

Have to totally agree with my blog partner here Rique and fellow WordPress blogger The International Review Of Music that 2014 has been a tremendous all around year for funky music. And funky is Rique and my favorite kind of music from my understanding. And this year we’ve had that become popular on a massive level thanks to starting the year out grooving with Pharrell William’s “Happy”. This was a global phenomenon-with people all across the world doing their dance to the song on YouTube. For the first time in history,a number one funk song connected billions of people in the internet age. And that alone is no small feat. And one Pharrell should be proud of  for his entire life.

If “Happy” was standing by itself this year? That would have been wonderful. But it did so much more. Kelis and even 90’s quiet storm soul singer Joe released tremendously funky music this year! And massively welcomed comebacks from Prince,Funkadelic,War,D’Angelo and posthumously from the late Michael Jackson were also enormously successful events. In fact D’Angelo’s Black Messiah ended off the year with a major surprise release in the wake of the tragic and highly topical police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. That album may have had to wait until 2015 to see the light if that dark day hadn’t have shinned the light on the need to talk,sing and play about it.

Since funk was the key to providing not only great music but positive and enriching messages this year? I wanted to conduct our first interactive blog here on Andresmusictalk. There have been many wonderful releases this year in the funky spectrum of sound. Hoping all of you have been enjoying them. So presented below is a list of key funk,jazz and soul related albums from 2014.  Inviting all of you to select which ones interested you most! Wishing everyone a new dance and new vitality of life for the year to come and enjoy the polling everyone! Thank you!

 

Hear Some Of The Best Music In The Soulful Spectrum Of 2014

2014 Remembered: A Year Of Funk-Written By The International Music Review

HAPPY FUNKING NEW YEAR TO ALL!!!!!

 

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Filed under 2014, Chromeo, D'Angelo, Disco, Funk, Funkadelic, Fusion, Harvey Mason, Jazz-Funk, Joe, Kelis, Late 70's Funk, Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Stansfield, Michael Jackson, Pharrell Willaims, Prince, Robin Thicke, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings