Category Archives: Herbie Hancock

Bitches Broth: Betty Davis, The Columbia Years, 1968-69

bettydavis1

Betty Davis is, as her ex-husband Miles would undoubtedly have put it, a bad bitch. Her trio of mid-1970s albums–including 1974’s They Say I’m Different, which Andre posted about last summer–constitute some of the rawest, nastiest funk-rock ever released. Imagine prime Tina Turner, but with a heavier rock influence; and what she lacks in vocal prowess, she makes up for with a persona so aggressive, you’d swear she was the one beating up on Ike. If you’re even the slightest fan of powerful women and/or heavy funk, then you need to hear Betty Davis.

That being said, my recommendation for the latest release of Betty Davis’ music, The Columbia Years, 1968-69, is a little more conditional. I received the compilation’s (gorgeous!) vinyl release for Christmas last month, and I love it; it sits proudly on my shelf even as we speak. But I can also understand why it wasn’t officially released until last year.

Comprised of two sessions recorded for Columbia Records in 1968 and 1969–the first produced by trumpeter Hugh Masekela, the second by Betty’s then-husband Miles Davis–The Columbia Years is, if nothing else, a fascinating historical document. For fans of the more famous Davis, it’s effectively ground zero for jazz fusion: the moment Miles hooked up with the circle of acid rockers and funkateers in Betty’s orbit, including Jimi Hendrix sidemen Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell. Without Betty, there would be no Bitches Brew (in more ways than one–that album’s title is said to have referred to Betty and her entourage of countercultural socialities). According to the compilation’s liner notes, Betty’s come-hither purr in her cover of Cream’s “Politician” even ended up inspiring Miles’ song “Back Seat Betty,” a full 12 years after the couple split.

But just as Betty was never “Mrs. Miles Davis,” The Columbia Years is also of interest for reasons beyond its significance in Miles’ body of work. You can hear the seeds of Betty’s own unique stylistic hybrid being planted, as she tries her hand at a version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou” heavily indebted to “Stone Free” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience; or even her own composition “Hangin’ Out,” which comes across as a tamer version of later party-girl anthems like “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up.” For existing devotees, the opportunity to hear her earth-shaking style in embryonic form is priceless.

For newcomers, though, I’m afraid the appeal will be significantly lessened. The fact is, in 1969 Betty Davis didn’t really sound like Betty Davis yet; her vocals are thin, and she hadn’t yet developed the hellion’s rasp that made her voice on later records so distinctive. And, while the personnel on the sessions is impressive–not only Cox and Mitchell, but also John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and others–the arrangements lack grit and verve; they have the slightly patronizing feel that comes with the territory of crack jazz musicians slumming in “lesser” genres. It’s telling that Davis’ best music would be recorded with players who were funk and rock musicians first: her 1973 debut, for example, featured Santana‘s Neal Schon, Larry Graham, and other members of Graham Central Station and the Family Stone. It’s also telling that her music got better the more she was at the helm: her second and third albums, in 1974 and 1975 respectively, were both self-produced.

So, yes, everyone should listen to Betty Davis; and, since to know Betty Davis is to love her, then sure, eventually everyone should probably listen to The Columbia Years. But if you’re just getting started, don’t start at the beginning. Check out Betty DavisThey Say I’m Different, or Nasty Gal; hell, check out her canned 1976 album Crashin’ from Passion, later reissued as Is It Love or Desire? Then, circle back to The Columbia Years and see how it all began. With records like this being released and a new documentary set to premiere this summer, the time has arguably never been riper to rediscover Betty Davis. I can attest that she’s a discovery well worth making.

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Filed under 1960's, Betty Davis, Columbia Records, funk rock, Graham Central Station, Herbie Hancock, Hugh Masekela, Ike & Tina Turner, Jimi Hendrix, Larry Graham, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, Sly & The Family Stone, Wayne Shorter

Grooves On Wax: 1-9-8-4 Albums And 12″ Inch Singles

Ghetto Blaster

1984 was far from the Orwellian dawn of “big brother” in reality. As a matter of fact,artistic expression was such a diverse blend of older and newer influences. Music was feeling this most heavily. Synthesized new wave and electro styles had taken over in a major way. Yet there were still many live instrumental post disco/boogie funk offerings where electronics were mainly there as an accompanying sweetener. As much as many seem to dislike it,the Crusaders Ghetto Blaster is a superb example of this. It has both their strong live camaraderie and many of the newer synth funk elements as part of their brew.

Key Jams: “Dead End”,”Gotta Lotta Shakalada”,”Night Ladies” and “Zalal’e Mini”

Junie

This solo album by Walter Junie Morrison is one I’ve had since I started crate digging heavily in the late 90’s. And knew his name only because of his involvement with P-Funk. In keeping with mid 80’s recorded P-Funk,this album has a very pronounced electronic flavor-especially considering P-Funk helped pioneer electro funk to start with.

Key Jams: “Stick It In” and “Techno-Freqs”

Shalamar

Post disco veterans Shalamar went totally Minneapolis on their first album following the departure of Jeffrey Daniels and Jody Watley. Keyboardist/songwriter/singer Delisa Davis and guitarist/songwriter Micki Free (later referenced as part of a gag on the Dave Chappelle show about Prince and Charlie Murphy) give the album a more thoroughly electronic sound,yet filled with Shalamar’s customary melodicism.

Key Jams: “Dancing In The Streets” and “Melody ( A Melodic Affair)”

Human League

Human League are an excellent example to me of how many synth pop/new wave bands of the early/mid 80’s made very funk/soul structured music. Especially with the advent of the equally new wave/synth pop oriented funk of the Minneapolis sound during this same time. This was certainly their most danceable,funky and pop oriented record they had yet made. And with the production of Jam & Lewis right around the corner,it would only get even more so from here.

Key Jams: “Rock Me Again (Six Times)” and “The Sign”

Patti Austin

Patti Austin’s sophomore album for QWest  is a very different musical affair than her first from 1981. This album featured writing from Narada Michael Walden,and many of his musicians along with Quincy Jones. Overall the album generally has a more synthesized new wave rock flavor to it,especially on the first half. On the flip side however,Austin’s soulfulness and jazziness is given much more musical space to work with.

Key Jams: “Hot! In The Flames Of Love”,”Shoot The Moon” and “Fine Fine Fella (Got To Have You)”

One Step Closer

The Dells were a group I was first exposed to through…well my first exposure to vinyl collecting in 1994 when the local college radio station WMEB was giving away all their vinyl for free-seeing no future in the format (little did they know). From what I know of them now,this mildly jazzy boogie funk album is not the sound that The Dells are generally known for. But its still an excellent mid 80’s comeback for this classic Chicago soul group.

Key Jams: “Love On”,”Come Back To Me”,”Don’t Want Nobody” and “Jody”

Bonnie Pointer

Bonnie Pointer’s third (and until 2011 final) solo album was revealed to me as being a main cause of her retirement from music. Considering her personal situation,that is likely untrue. And its an unsung album at that since it very much mirrors the strong focus on electro funk and soul that her other three sisters were doing at the time. Of course in this case,with more of Bonnie’s own flavors added to the mix.

Key Jams: “Your Touch”,”Johnny” and “Tight Blue Jeans”

Windjammer II

Windjammer are a fairly obscure post disco band,who recorded three albums on MCA records between 1982 and 1985. This is their second album. This New Orleans based band had a musical approach similar to  Earth Wind & Fire,Con Funk Shun and Heatwave. That is in the sense that they emphasized a blend of strong vocals,melody,arrangement and top shelf musicianship in their mixture of funk and soul ballads. Makes me wonder what forces didn’t allow this very commercially viable group to take off they way they deserved to.

Key Jams: “Call Me Up”,”You’re Out The Box” and “Sneak Attack”

Shannon

Shannon’s “Let The Music Play” has become something of a classic in what is referred to as the Latin freestyle genre of techno dance music. That is blending synthesizers and drum machines with percussive Afro-Latin rhythms and melodies. And there’s no way I’ll disagree with that. Still this album isn’t one that generally lets up on the party atmosphere either-adding only the occasional slow ballad to change things up.

Key Jams: “Let The Music Play” and “Give Me Tonight”

1984 were a tremendous year for 12″ inch singles. One that I recently got a hold of was the one for the Jacksons’ 1984 song “Torture” from their  Victory album. The extended remix really brings out that funky synth bass pulse on the intro,which is also prominent on the instrumental version on the flip side.

Interestingly enough,one of these singles is just a 7 inch 45. And its for Sade’s ‘Hang Onto Your Love”. For me anyway,that particular song needs no introduction for its stripped down sophistifunk vibe. I brought this because it had a non album flip side called “Should I Love You”,which turned out to be a melodically sunny pop/funk uptempo number of the highest order.

Herbie Hancock really got the “electric Afro-pop” sound flowing on his 1984 album Sound System. And this 12″ incher for its song “Metal Beat”,given to me for my birthday one year by Nigel Hall,really emphasizes this aspect with the very tribalistic aspects Hancock and Bill Laswell bring to this extended dance mix.

“The War Song” is one of my favorite Culture Club songs. It blends their Caribbean soul/funk sound with a social message that sounds silly on the chorus,but during the refrain becomes quite dramatically poetic. This single is very interesting is that each extended mix it has,from vocal to instrumental,bring in an strong sense of Afrocentric tribalism as each progresses.

The first time I heard The Police’s Andy Summer’s remake of “Also Sparch Zarathustra” was on a local cable access music video program hosted by local DJ Chuck Foster in the late 90’s. The video to this song was once used on the closing credits for that show. Being a lover of science fiction and the two films in Arthur C Clarke’s “space odyssey” series,Summer’s dance/funk remix really caught my ear. The flip is the brittle new wave rock of “To Hal And Back”,which a very strong jazzy melody to it.

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Filed under 12 inch singles, 1984, 45 records, Also Sparch Zarathustra, Andy Summers, Bonnie Pointer, Culture Club, electro funk, Herbie Hancock, Human League, Human Leagye, Let The Music Play, Patti Austin, Sade, Shalamar, Shannon, The Crusaders, The Dells, The Jacksons, Vinyl, Walter Junie Morrison, Windjammer

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: “Black Satin” by Miles Davis

Miles Davis seemed to record a lot of his electric music of the early 70’s with his noted sense of spontaneity. He had his producer Teo Macero just record whatever he and his players were doing-all of it. And than have individual songs cut for albums later on. He did this on his fusion breakthrough Bitches Brew. And it’s a strong possibility he approached his 1972 album On The Corner in much the same way. That accounts for why there have been so many “complete sessions” box sets during the CD era for Miles. And it also points to the general approach Miles came at the whole idea of grooves and rhythm.

Miles said of On The Corner that he recorded the album as a way to “reach the kids” as he put it. Henrique and myself had a very meaningful discussion on this recently. And he bought out an excellent point. Miles was a member of America’s silent generation. Musically,this was a generation who championed melody. His own mother had advised him to “always play something you can hum”. As an innovator of modal jazz in the late 1950’s, Miles tended to view funk’s rhythmic base as solely for a dancing mindset. However ,he was able to fuse rhythm and melody here on the song “Black Satin”.

Badal Roy’s tabla drums and Khalil Balakrishna’s electric sitar washes introduce the album. After that Mtume’s percussion and Michael Henderson’s up-scaling three note bass line kick in to fatten up the groove. Miles plays a high medium pitched,processed trumpet fanfare. He punctuates with single note,percussive hits throughout the song. All between bursts of wah wah guitar,Herbie Hancock’s tweeting synthesizer and manic hand claps. On the last section of the song,Miles’ solo fives way to the cinematic organ of Harold I. Williams before the tabla/sitar intro that opened the song fades it out.

Miles’s On The Corner album is almost like one 54 minute jam sliced into four pieces. “Black Satin” would function as the second segment of that jam. But it has the most melodic content of the entire album. And it comes from Miles’ solo too-that aspect of the song you can hum. In terms of harmonic atonality, Miles was inspired by the experimental composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Henderson’s bass line and the fast,percussive tempo tell another story. It’s based very much on the chase scene music of the blacksploitation films of the day. And this song was used as such in Don Cheadle’s film Miles Ahead.

The very first time I heard On The Corner,it was like being transported into a funky utopia. Part of the appeal was that the melodies were so minor or absent. It was like music where every aspect of it was doing it’s own dance. As time as passed,this song with it’s budding melody epidermises Miles’ extending on James Brown’s concept of turning his whole band into a drum. Also with the poly rhythms of this groove and the psychedelic sitar soloing, “Black Satin” also blends Afro-Caribbean and Indian flavors for pan ethnic funk delight. It brings Miles’ sound into the early forefront of the world fusion jazz/funk sound.

 

 

 

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Filed under 'On The Corner', 1970's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Badal Roy, blacksploitation, electric sitar, Funk Bass, Harold I. Williams, Herbie Hancock, jazz funk, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Khalil Balakrishna, Michael Henderson, Miles Davis, Mtume, organ, percussion, Psychedelia, synthesizer, tabla drums, Teo Macero, trumpet, wah wah guitar, world fusion

Miles Davis 1968: ‘Filles De Kilimanjaro’-The Road To Funk From Andre’s Amazon Archive

Filles De Kilimanjaro

While I am sure Larry Coryell deserves a lot of credit for his innovations in fusion the concept of jazz-funk fusion probably starts with this album. Basically what Miles and his quintet are dealing with here is transitions of both a musical and personal nature. Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea alternate (on various cuts) on electric piano and the same goes for Ron Carter and Dave Holland. I’ve heard it said that had to do with the fact that while he had nothing against fusion jazz,Ron Carter wasn’t as comfortable playing electric bass as he was an acoustic one.

But no matter who is playing what this album is,as they might’ve said in the late 60’s,”now”. For the past several album Miles and his Quintet created a unique type of jazz that blended be-bop with avant garde techniques and on this album,Miles’s strong influence from soul and R&B (from listening to Sly Stone and James Brown and perhaps his wife Betty Mabry) has had an impact on the music as well. For one Tony Williams,always a rock and R&B fan himself was still improvising on drums as only he could but his general rhythm has a funkier,more syncopated tone here…at times.

That being said,perhaps that colliding with the Fender Rhodes soloing “Frelon Brun” is definitely in on the new jazz-funk style completely.Even though they wiggle and wobble between what Herbie Hancock calls “jazz and rock n roll back beats” jumping in and around each other “Petits Machins” and the title song both illustrate something of the same feeling.”Toute De Suite” and the alternate take of it presented here are as we see now yet another innovation:the beginnings of what we might call “acid jazz” now;mid-tempo funky rhythms,LOTS of Fender Rhodes solos and a bluesy jazz feel-amazing tune either way you cut it.

In dedication to his wife Davis also included “Mademoiselle Mabry”,a elongated blues showcasing,as the rest of these songs do a very pretty melody. One thing Miles managed to do on this album was maintain his melodic jazz flair and also cloth it in a brand new setting. This is definitely one of those albums where Miles begins to lean heavily into the style that would soon become known as fusion.Not too long after this Miles would release his landmark In a Silent Way and it was off to the races for him;his songs developed more concise grooves and became even longer in length. Nonetheless this will always hold a very special place in Miles’ vast musical legacy.

Originally posted on May 6th,2008

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

Listen to “Frelun Brun”,a key funk/jazz process number on YouTube here.

 

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Filed under 1960's, Betty Mabry, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, drums, electric jazz, Fender Rhodes, Fusion, Herbie Hancock, jazz funk, Miles Davis, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, trumpet, upright bass, Wayne Shorter

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: “The Twilight Clone” by Herbie Hancock (1981)

Herbie Hancock’s four pre Future Shock albums in the early 80’s albums have always been very special to me personally. They may not have been massively successful commercially, but were some of his most potent jazz/funk masterpieces of his electric period. One of my favorite albums of this period was his third released from the 1981’s entitled Magic Windows. The album was by and large a heavy funk set including heavy participation from Ray Parker Jr.,who’d been working with Hancock for six years and for whom  Hancock composed the song “Tonight’s The Night” for his Raydio project a year before-during which Hancock released two albums of his own in Monster and Mr.Hands.

This album was recorded at David Rubinson’s Automat studio’s in San Francisco,a studio known for it’s early embrace of automatic mixing technology as well as some of the biggest producers and musicians who recorded there. Perhaps realizing how his using synthesizers to play horn charts was influences the oncoming 80’s boogie/electro funk sound,Hancock touted this album as having no strings,brass or other orchestral elements on this album outside his electronics. Having been inspired by Talking Head’s electronic Afro-Funk explosions on their Remain In Light album,Hancock bought in Adrian Belew from their band for the his new albums finale entitled “The Twilight Clone”.

The song builds from the funky shuffle of Hancock’s drums and Paulinho da Costa’s percussion (along with a host of others) accents. Louis Johnson chimes in with one of his thickest slap bass lines before Hancock comes back in with a brittle LinnDrum beat and  bubbling,mechanical and percussive synths. George Johnson joins in for chugging rhythm guitar,and all of this is accented by Hancock’s own synth bass line. Belew’s trademark “zoo guitar” sound plays the lead line with a very Arabic style melody. Shortly after the song goes up in pitch melodically,the bridge showcases a guitar/percussive breakdown between Da Costa, Johnson and Belew before fading out on it’s own main chorus.

On many levels,this is my favorite Herbie Hancock song of the 1980’s. It’s a perfect example of the electro funk process functioning strongly on the rhythm of the one. Hancock sets the pass as the drummer on this song,as well as providing his synthesizers as a percussive element in much the same way as he had on “Nobu” eight years earlier. He brings in the Arabic melodic tones of Adrian Belew’s horn-like guitar into the Afrocentric percussion Paulinho Da Costa brings to it. Of course the heavy funk element is locked down tight by the Brothers Johnson. So this song essentially acts as the total nucleus of what Hancock’s mid/late 80’s sound would be on a technological and structural level.

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Filed under 1980's, Adrian Belew, Boogie Funk, Brothers Johnson, David Rubinson, drums, elecro funk, George Johnson, guitar, Herbie Hancock, Linn Drum, Louis Johnson, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, rhythm guitar, San Francisco, synth bass, synth brass, Synth Pop, synthesizer, The Automat, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “You Bet Your Love” by Herbie Hancock (1979)

Many jazz musicians made funk albums during the late 60’s and throughout the following decade. Being that this was a music based primarily in rhythm,starting with James Brown’s concept of his entire band becoming a drum,it was a wonderful new medium for melodic piano and horn players to improvise over. Herbie Hancock took a very different path than his ex boss in this area,with Miles Davis playing his horn primarily over funky vamps. Hancock took the time to create strong funk compositions that are today considered jazz/funk standards. And both musicians innovated enormously during this time with their approaches to the jazz/funk sub genre.

By the middle of the decade,Miles had gone into temporary retirement. And Herbie continued to forge ahead musically. His relationship with producer David Rubinson dated back to his arrival at Columbia. As the 70’s progressed, jazz/funk began to evolve towards what the band Brick would describe in song as dazz-short for a new subgenre called disco jazz. With the new four on the floor dance beats providing optimal opportunities for a composer as keen as Hancock’s,he allowed his musical imagination to take flight right across the dancefloor in the same way he had with earlier forms of funk. The result was his 1979 album Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Know and it’s opening number “You Bet Your Love”.

The drum and percussion rhythm laid is laid down the the Headhunters’ Bill Summers and Kansas City session ace James Gadson. Ray Obiedo’s rhythm guitar and Eddie Watkins’ phat slap bass introduces Hancock’s spacy synth orchestrations. His lead vocals on vocoder are introduced by a breathy female backup group singing the chorus. These vocals continue throughout the refrain and with Hancock on the main choruses. They also introduce the bridge of the song where Watkin’s and Obiedo again solo with Hancock’s synths playing the horn charts-plus his Fender Rhodes soloing. The song concludes with a continual repetition of the chorus with vocoder improvisations from Hancock himself.

Writer Rickey Vincent referred to Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Now as being one of the best records of 1979. Sonically and in terms of funk,I have no argument with him. This song is important for Herbie Hancock in two ways. For one,the song is structurally right out of the big band swing school. At the same time,thick and phat bass/guitar lines and percussion beef up it’s glossy space disco/funk sound. This allows for the second important aspect of this song. On it’s bridge,Hancock uses polyphonic synthesizers to simulate big band horn charts-actually his variation of the Minneapolis sound on the jazz level. That makes this a rhythmically vital and musically innovative Herbie Hancock groove.

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Filed under 1970's, Bill Summers, David Rubinson, disco funk, disco jazz, drums, Eddie Watkins, Fender Rhodes, Herbie Hancock, James Gadson, jazz funk, percussion, Ray Obiedo, rhythm guitar, slap bass, space funk, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Nobu” by Herbie Hancock (1974)

Han

Herbie Hancock’s 1973 number “Chameleon”was not only some of the first funk I ever heard. It was one of the very first songs I remember hearing at all. With each passing year,Hancock’s music has always been representative to me of new musical discoveries. From funk to disco to electro. After listening to him for years,it became clear fairly early that Hancock shared one creative quality with his mid/late 60’s musical boss Miles Davis. And that was that Hancock has had a number of distinctly different musical periods in his now 54 year strong recording career. In terms of over-viewing his career here,it seemed fitting to explore some of these periods’ lesser known innovations he helped to spearhead.

On July 29th,1974 Herbie Hancock recorded his sixteenth studio album live at Koseinekin Hall in Tokyo,Japan. The album was released only in Japan on the countries’ CBS affiliate. The album was divided  between four songs. The first two were performed acoustically and the final two would be performed electrically. Being this album would be sandwiched between Hancock’s two major funk breakthrough’s in 1973’s Headhunters and it’s followup Thrust from later this same year,this album entitled  Dedication received little attention at the time of it’s release. But one song on the album was one Hancock had never performed previously. It was called “Nobu”.

The song opens with a brittle,staccato Arp Odyssey provided the songs central rhythm. Then the ARP String Ensamble fades in with it’s otherworldly orchestral tones. Hancock provides to different musical lines with his Fender Rhodes on this song. One is a bluesy bass line that pumps hard up under the song. The other is a mid to high toned solo that plays some often spiraling melodic improvisations. Towards the middle of the song,this Rhodes solo becomes more rhythmic in tone. As the melody again becomes a prominent part,the ARP strings returns as Hancock’s Rhodes turn to an echoing dewdrop sound before the song reaches it’s end with a bang from the string ensemble and the Rhodes.

Many people (including myself) think of Herbie Hancock’s fully electro funk period at beginning with his work with Grand Mixer DST and “Rockit” in 1983. Even though it wasn’t heard stateside at the time,Hancock’s electro funk revolution actually got it’s start right here on “Nobu” in 1974. And it’s electro Afro-Funk at that. The ARP Odyssey Hancock uses for the rhythm of this song has a more percussive than a drum like tone. And therefore the flavor it creates is of a far more tribal nature than any early drum machine could create. So by fashioning futurist Afrocentric electro funk,Herbie Hancock was at this point already a decade ahead of his time.

 

 

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Filed under 1974, Afro Funk, Afro-Futurism, Afrocentrism, ARP synthesier, electric jazz, electro funk, Fender Rhodes, Herbie Hancock, jazz fusion, Uncategorized

The Brothers Johnson-Stomping Thunder & Lightning

Brothers Johnson Artwork

Michael Jackson was likely the first artist who ever focused my attention on instrumentalists. While admiring the vocal,songwriting and performance ability of the Jackson brothers in general? My attention would focus on the liner notes of their albums. This came after watching The Jackson’s-An American Dream mini series on TV. And my parents loaning me their Michael Jackson/Jackson related albums. I personally wanted to know more about the musicians whose sound made the rhythms snap,crackle and pop with funkiness and soul the way they did. It has gone on to be a tremendous learning experience for me.

Two of these musicians that I noticed on the liner notes to Mike’s iconic Off The Wall album,from my mom and dad’s original vinyl copy,were guitarist George Johnson and his bassist brother Louis. Considering my interest in bass players even then? It was amazing to learn just what a bass icon Louis Johnson in particular was. Not to mention his enormous debt to the 1980’s by his iconic electric bass line on Mike’s “Billie Jean”. While I knew who Quincy Jones was of course? I had no idea of the breadth and scope of his musical outreach until learning more about the Brothers Johnson.

A few years later during mid adolescence? I was browsing the CD racks at the now defunct Borders Books & Music. I noticed a collection of four newly arrived releases by…The Brothers Johnson. The earliest one, 1976 album called  Look Out For #1 showed a photographically powerful image,take from below,of two super hip looking young musicians playing bass and guitar and singing with enormously enthusiastic expressions and stances. All of these album covers projected intensity. Album art is just art of course. But the best part was,as I veered toward adulthood, was discovering that these albums were musically just as energetically funkified as their cover art implied.

During my early 20’s? Something began to become uppermost in my understanding of the Johnson brothers musicality. Free jazz/bluesgrass/rock guitarist and writer for Allmusic.com Eugene Chadbourne perhaps worded it best about the revelation I had-when Mister Chadborne described the Johnson’s as coming from a period where musicians in the jazz/funk/soul genre were judged by the dues they paid in professional situations. As opposed to being judged by a romantic notion of street credibility. Since that latter notion totally defined the local understanding of musical appreciation around me at that time? This led me to more research,both through physical literature and my earliest experiences online, about the Johnson’s and other funk era instrumentalists.

By the time 2004 rolled around? And I was connecting with a group of local musicians/DJ’s as something of a local funk bands volunteer videographer? It was the story arc of how musicians such as George and Louis Johnson became musical icons that was fascinating me most. The brothers started playing with the Billy Preston band while still in high school. Quincy Jones then became taken with the duos talents. And he bought them in to record with his mid 70’s band on his 1975 release Mellow Madness-much of which qualifies as the earliest introduction of the Johnson’s duel playing and vocal harmonies. And the rest was history. In addition to success as a duo with their own albums? They would go from blistering session work with Herbie Hancock and George Duke to 80’s era work with Leon Sylvers and Slave’s Steve Arrington.

Looking back on it all now? The Brothers Johnson are the main reason why I have continued to focus so heavily on the instrumentalists relationship in the creation of the funk,soul and jazz music that has become such a source of creative and emotional inspiration for me. Getting back to the Michael Jackson angle? Now that the man sadly isn’t with us anymore? Whenever I hear his first two Quincy Jones produced solo records? It’s a lot more easy to tune into how Mike’s vocal hiccups take their turns popping right along with George and Louis’s instrumental licks on songs such as “Get On The Floor”,”Burn This Disco Out”,”Baby Be Mine” or the aforementioned “Billie Jean”. So among all the wonderful funky soul the Johnson’s have made? What I’d personally thank them for is helping increase my level of understanding of why playing in the groove works in music.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Allmusic.com, Billie Jean, Billy Preston, Borders Books & Music, Brothers Johnson, Eugene Chadbourne, Funk, Funk Bass, George Duke, George Johnson, guitar, Herbie Hancock, Leon Sylers, Look Out For #1, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Off The Wall, Quincy Jones, Steve Arringon, The Jacksons, Thriller