For the past six months? Have been debating with myself as to how to reintroduce this blog. There were some personal matters involved. Yet I was continually discouraged by saturation news about one act of gun violence and other forms of terrorism right after another. And over and over people defending the right for this to keep happening-rather than striving to do something about it.
For over a decade since my own family started playing a vinyl to cassette dub of Kenny Loggins’ 1977 solo debut album Celebrate Me Home? There were a number of songs on it that made an impact me-especially with former partner in the famous singer/songwriter (itself a soul based sub genre of course) duo with John Messina creating such a soul/R&B oriented debut album with his strong lyrical and melodic sensibility. One of those songs has been ringing through my mind all month long. And it’s called “I Believe In Love”.
The song opens with the spirited,uptempo percussion of Sergio Mendes alumni Laudier de Oliveira and Steve Foreman. This is accompanied a melodically jazzy soprano recorder solo from Jon Clarke. Loggins ethereal falsetto rings in at this point over a short instrumental break to introduce the refrain-again sung in a whisper over Steve Gadd’s drums. Loggins drops into the lower end of his vocal range.
On the second chorus? Album producer Bob James kicks in for a spirited synthesizer accompaniment. This leads into the bridge of the song being lead by the lyrically narrative chorus-wherein Clarke’s recorder ,Lee Ritenour’s rhythm guitar and James’ synthesizer are both in strong harmony with Gadd’s drumming and Loggins spirited vocal inflections. At the conclusion of the song? There’s an alternately phrased variation of the chorus that concludes the song.
Instrumentally speaking,this song is absolutely phenomenal and happy spirited funky soul. It’s also from that mid/late 70’s period where this variation on of the genre was thriving and prevalent. And not only on the radio, but in private record collections from all sections of the record stores of the day just about. The participation of the most talented and prolific jazz/funk session players of the day of course really helped to give the song it’s driving,positive energy.
Considering contemporary fears,anxiety and often near inability of people to show affection to one another, as well as the tendency to feel blood lust in protecting the most violent and inhumane aspects of religion? Drawing on a late 70’s take on the 60’s era gospel/soul concepts of humanity such as the potential loss of soul runs very deep to me right now. Especially coming to the conclusion that believing in love as a broader concept is far healthier then people being guarded and “believin’ in gods that never knew them”. Perhaps it’s music such as this seemingly simple song that might hold the answers to major problems so many are refusing to deal with today.
Even before yesterday’s birthday celebrator Philip Bailey joined them in 1972, Earth Wind And Fire were beginning to prove themselves quite expert and bringing the music of the funk era to the people with their musical and lyrical eloquence. Band originator Maurice White maintains it was always his intention to have the vocally elastic Bailey-able to jump from a preaching tenor to his distinctive,tremolo filled falsetto at a moments notice,would do all the singing in the band. Of course Maurice felt his lower voice might benefit the band too singing along with Bailey as well. While White has forced himself out of direct participation in EWF due to the burgeoning effects of Parkisons Disease,he appears to have left his musical legacy to the one man he knew who’d remained part of the band since the day he joined: Philip Bailey. And last year Earth Wind & Fire made of or their many happily surprising comebacks and delivered an album called ‘Now,Then And Forever’-which began with another of their joyfully inspiring anthem’s in “Sign On”.
Beginning with the fan fare of the current Phenix horn members in sax player Fred Jackson Jr with trumpeters San Cracchiolo,James Ford and Christopher Gray as well as trombonists Duane Benjamin,Nicholas Lane and Reginald Young they continue to stay on the one with the songs bright,strong melody throughout through the gospel-inspired joy that oozes out of whatever their blowing from their horns. Drummer John Paris holds down an spirited marching band style rhythm with Verdine White’s bass playing its thickly percussive role alongside it. On the jazz oriented “blue notes” of the refrain,the return of Larry Dunn on keyboards and synthesizers also comes to the forefront. Lyrically this insistent groove makes complete sense considering the songs lyrical content-finding Bailey’s now smokier falsetto duetting with the creamy middle tenor of guest singer Daniel McClain. Bailey starts out singing “are you tired of insanity” and sets up an endless creative set of variations on how,if people have had enough of poverty and war they should “sign on for a better way” as the chorus suggests.
As par Earth Wind & Fire’s consistent standard of delivering what I refer to as “people music”-funk grooves with an inspiring lyrical message,this song seems to alternately refer both to humanity seeking to embrace an inner philosophy and hope and love over cynicism and uncaring. Its also been suggested that the song also references many people of a younger generation than the band members to volunteer for positive political action and,much as their song “Freedom Of Choice” had thirty years ago, to vote in both local and national elections. Far aside from being a mere propaganda song, it just delivers on what EWF always has with their customary vitality. Even outside of that,the instrumental approach tells its own meaningful story. From Prince’s Minneapolis Sound on through the hip-hop inspired neo-soul genre,the general instrumental style used for playing retro soul and funk has tended to be very stripped down and electric piano based-focusing attention mainly on the singer and the material.
On this song EWF deliver on their classic funk style as an artistic vision as opposed to a mere trend. They make sure the vitality of the very live horns and drums are mixed high with their customarily powerful vocal harmonies. Frankly I rarely here most contemporary funk numbers so heavily based on horns. Of course this is likely due to the fact that the band emerged from a strong jazz back round with Maurice White having played with Ramsey Lewis’s trio and the participation of bassist/trombonist Louis Satterfield during their salad years. Its also a testament to what they’ve always musically stood for. Even though essentially boiling down to a trio of Philip Bailey,Verdine White and Ralph Johnson Earth Wind & Fire are true musical survivors-even when a given trend seems to have left them in the dust. They keep coming back and are more beloved each time they are. And this serves as the latest examples of EWF as the musical ambassadors of the true nature of funk.
I would like to welcome everyone to Andresmusictalk,my newest blog here on WordPress. This blog is going to serve as a collaborative effort between myself and Henrique Hopkins-a main inspiration for creating my first blog here The Rhythmic Nucleus. For those of you who familiar with that blog,it was primarily focused on funk music and its many tributaries. Since of course my own personal musical pallet of interests is very eclectic,the topics on that blog began to drift into different musical territories.
The purpose of this blog is to expand the level of dialog regarding the full spectrum of music. Regarding its history,creation,generational potency and anything else of interest in that regard. Just about every musical form on Earth bleeds into each other over time. The “rhythmic nucleus” of it all likely began in Africa. But it has spread across the world over millennium after millennium in a symphonic gumbo-with each subculture of humanity making wonderful new contributions as it goes. If that sounds like a big deal,it is. And music grows into even more of a big deal as time progresses.
The levels of experience and perceptions of music between Henrique and myself have many similarities. Yet our environments have shaped them in very different ways between us. This will be an important element in our two literary styles that will be presented here. And to paraphrase one of Henrique’s own quotations,this will also serve as a possible springboard for broader articles that might one day find they’re way into the realm of professional publication. So as the two of us continue to grow as human beings,so will go the breadth and scope of our writing here.
On some occasions,I would like to see the two of us engage in call and response type writing-wherein myself or Henrique create a blog post here in direct response to the others. Not only would that reflect the spirit of the soul/funk music we love,but help us grow as writers and continue that educational experience. In this age where the “less is more” adage has perhaps been too readily applied to human conversation,it is actually in our dialog that we learn most from. And the best forum to give and receive our knowledge. So enjoy what is to come! Many exciting things to read,see and hear await you!
Filed under Africa, Blogging, Dialog, Earth, Funk, Humanity, Literacy, Music, Rhythm, Soul, Time