Category Archives: Janelle Monae

Stevie Wonder-Happy Birthday!

Stevie Wonder - Copy

Thus far? 2015 has proven itself to be an important year for Stevie Wonder. He was the beneficiary of an all star Grammy tribute that included the likes of John Legend,Janelle Monae,Jill Scott and India.Arie. In addition he has recorded on two major records this year in-including “Crack In The Pearl Part II” and “Uptown ‘s First Finale” on Mark Ronson’s massively successful album Uptown Special, as well as on the latest collaboration between Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams Bush-playing and singing on the opening song “California Roll”

In addition to all this powerful musical activity? It’s been announced that Stevie is planning on releasing two separate albums this year. One is said to be a gospel album and the other a collaboration with David Foster. It’s unknown as to whether these or any other album project from Stevie is actually on the horizon. But one thing that’s been uppermost in my mind,as Stevie Wonder turns 65 today? It’s the prevailing attitude today that,much as James Brown was The Godfather Soul? It would seem that Stevie Wonder is now considered something of a godfather of neo soul.

One excellent example of this is the 1999 song “All That I Can Say”,performed by Mary J. Blige and composed by Lauryn Hill.  The multi layered,jazzy and melodic synthesizers and the easy going percussive rhythm define the songs core. And those are both signatures of Stevie Wonder’s musical approach: utilizing new electronic technology to create brand new structures of sound that could be emotionally felt as well as heard. Of course neo soul in particular hasn’t always come to grips very well with the strong control Stevie has over his idiosyncratic vocal approach. And that soft yet powerful rhythmic fullness only comes into the music on fairly rare occasions.

In the end? It all comes down to a conversation Rique and myself have had over and over again. That the most positive creative flower of Stevie Wonder’s musical influence comes from those inspired by his musical approach, rather than his vocal one. Composing music with the type of jazz phrasings Stevie tends to use broadens songwriting possibilities for contemporary musicians. And his emphasis on modern electronics to create emotional textures of sound is extremely useful as well. Since the past decade or so seems to showcase Stevie’s instrumental and compositional talents rather than merely less than satisfactory imitations of his vocal ones? The man’s influence,at least at present,seems to be in very good hands. Stevie Wonder,happy birthday to ya’!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, India.Arie, Janelle Monae, Jazz, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, Mavis Staples, Neo Soul, Pharrell Willaims, Snoop Dogg, Stevie Wonder

Stevie Is Wonderful: Inner Visions Of Songs In The Key Of Life-An All-Star Grammy Tribute To Stevie Wonder

Janelle,Jill And India Pay Tribute to Stevie

On Presidents Day evening,the Grammy Awards association aired a television special on CBS featuring contemporary artists,many of them award winners themselves,in order to pay tribute to Mister Stevie Wonder. Not only was this a tribute to an artist I completely admire creatively. But someone who won awards and earned his success and fortune through the true innovation of sound. It was an event filled with many surprises. And today I would like to talk about what I saw,sung,laughed and danced to watching that night right along with so much of America!

ed_sheeran_beyonce_stevie_wonder_tribute_h_2015

The evening began with Beyonce performing a medley of Stevie’s first hit “Fingertips” and “Master Blaster” joined by guitar player Ed Sheeran. The highlight of this intro was from the guitarist Gary Clark Jr,who played a rocking blues electric guitar solo on a rendition of “Higher Ground”.

LL Cool J

LL Cool J was of course MC’ing the entire affair as he has the previous two Grammy Award ceremonies. He began by talking about Stevie Wonder’s effect on his life-as many of the artist this night did. Wonder was visibly moved to tears by this level of affection for his art. Towards the end of the special,LL asked the audience all over the world to close our eyes for a moment to contemplate the level of vision Wonder projects into his music. A very meaningful gesture.

Gaga doing I Wish

Lady Gaga’s performance of “I Wish” moved me perhaps the most on this special. Playing the Fender Rhodes electric piano with the help of keyboard maestro (and former Wonderlove member) Greg Phillinganes, Gaga was moved to move rhythmically to the music as Phillinganes took over the keyboard soloing. Not only was this a pronounced celebration of the instrumental ability of an artist mainly acknowledged as a performer. But was a pretext to a beautiful shout out and citation to the often very unsung talent of Greg Phillinganes himself-especially as a participant in Stevie’s ascent into iconic status in music.

Annie Lennox Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life - An All-Star GRAMMY Salute

Annie Lennox took on “My Cherie Amour”,vocally taking on a full bodied understanding of the emotional juxtaposition between passion,flirtatiousness and awkwardness expressed in this song. Jill Scott,Janelle Monae and India Arie-pictured at the top of this blog paying tribute to their favorite Stevie Wonder albums,gave a truly powerful group duet of the song “As”. Not only did they successfully pay tribute as presenter Mary Wilson indicated of the classic girl group dynamic? But each of them took a try at imitating Stevie’s famous growled vocal bridge of the song.

ryan_tedder_pharrell_stevie_wonder_tribute_h_2015

Pharrell Williams and Ryan Tedder did a spirited duet version of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”-pointing out that often a song intended as a singular expression by an individual can be reflected by two as well.

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson bought her powerful gospel fueled pipes to a passionate take on the renowned ballad “All In Love Is Fair”. She maintained the flavor of the song as a secularized romantic hymn until the very last note was sung. Stevie’s daughter Aisha joins Ne-Yo in a duet of “Isn’t She Lovely”-essentially paying it forward to her fathers musical tribute to her birth.

andre-bocelli

Andrea Bocelli shares physical blindness in common with Stevie Wonder and for this particular occasion? He gives his own vocally expression rendition of “I Just Called To Say I Love You”. Ed Sheeran did an acapella/guitar rendition of “I Was Made To Love Her” showcasing Wonder’s talents as a multi instrumentalist.

ariana-grande-and-babyface-stevie-wonder-tribute

Relative newcomer Ariana Grande performed “Signed Sealed and Delivered” in an acoustic bluesy soul flavored rendition with Babyface performing the vocal duet and playing acoustic guitar in accompaniment. Another example of a song intended from one person’s point of view-this time taken from a male/female dynamic.


Overall this was a very impressive tribute. All of the participants did something totally unexpected with Wonder’s songs. And most importantly? There was a great deal of understanding of the man’s musical visions from them as well. Paul McCartney made a brief guest appearance sharing personal reminiscences of knowing “Little Stevie” as a teenager. And perhaps Tony Bennett before his performance of “For Once In My Life” said one key artistic point-that Stevie Wonder’s vocal and compositional spontaneity made him one of the best jazz artist Tony’d ever heard.

Perhaps the best observations came from Stevie Wonder himself. Having been cited for his often unsung importance as the public consciousness of the crusade to make Martin Luther King Jrs birthday a national holiday in 1980? Stevie played a medley of his fusion instrumental “Contusion” and “Sir Duke”. He than spoke to the audience about how the only way humanity could deal with it’s present cultural clashes would be to come together with our differences,not use them as a wedge. The fact Stevie’s views on humanitarianism have remained consistent throughout the years says the most important thing about the interconnection between this man and his musical offerings.

Leave a comment

Filed under Andrea Bocelli, Annie Lennox, Ariana Grande, Babyface, Beyonce', Ed Sheeran, India.Arie, Janelle Monae, Jennifer Hudson, Jill Scott, Lady Gaga, LL Cool J, Paul McCartney, Pharrell Willaims, Ryan Tedder, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett

Albums Matter: Andre’s List Of The Top Funky Full Length Albums Of From The Past Five Years

Prince At the grammys

The 57th annual Grammy Award ceremony’s this past Sunday seemed to have surprised everyone. Many performances had a far more serious, even evangelical tone with references to domestic violence and the revived understanding of racism bought on by the police violence of 2014. Maturity and growth were very heavily emphasized on every level-performance and presentation wise. It was Prince,who just released two albums at the end of the last year,who got everyone’s attention-with the words printed above spoken as he presented the Grammy for the best album of 2014.

Prince’s words are what moved me to pick this particular topic for this weeks blog. One very important musical factor shared with my blogging partner Rique is our appreciation and advocacy for the full length album as an important artistic format in terms of how the music we love and are socially moved by is presented. To have someone with as rich a musical history as Prince bring this up at a major award ceremony confirmed the 2010’s have been all about the revival of the album as a driving force in the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum in particular. So here’s my list,year by year of the music on that particular playing field that’s deeply effected my listening.

2010

Erykah Badu Return Of The Ankh

Erykah Badu is always one to throw the unexpected into her grooves. Here her thick,burbling jams blend into songs that are not only a cohesive statement but when sampling is used? They are of things like Paul McCartney album tracks of AOR oriented fusion artists such as David Sancious or Roy Ayers’ Sylvia Striplin. A wondrously sexy celebration of the funk album.

?????????????????

Janelle Monae here was a key figure in the focus of both my music related blogs with her multi-genre embrace of the Afro Futurist ethic. This album was and is a true game changer in that regard.

John Legend Wake Up!

With both artists always edging just on the border of funk with their own respective releases? The groove burst out completely and with a total fluidity for John Legend and his backing band The Roots-including drummer/producer ?ueslove, for this (so far) one time musical collaboration.

2011

Beyonce 4

Known more for being innovative in terms of single songs,Beyonce’s fourth solo album gained a complete full length flow with a much more mature sound. Including the very polished Quincy Jones/Westlake style production of “Love On Top”.

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz always had loads of funk in him. Here and there. Took him a long time before he fully identified with that funkier instrumental groove. And did so on one of his most thorough musical statements to date.

2012

Chris Brown Fortune

With contemporary electronic pop/hip-hop/dance music usually having enough energy to stretch only across a few songs? Chris Brown,during a less than satisfactory period for him personally no less,managed to take the contemporary musical end of his genre and stretch it out successfully longer than I’ve heard most do such a thing in some time.

Antibalas

This explosively percussion Afro-Funk group recording for Daptone were so connected to the original Afrocentric  pulse that spawned the original funk process groups such as Santana,Mandrill and War that following this album they became the backing band for the Broadway musical Fela! A rebirth of full length poly-rhythm at it’s finest!

Kaleidoscope Dream

Psychedelic,meditative and non traditionally structured sophomore release from new comer Miguel.

Victor Wooten

Bassist Victor Wooten saw such depth in this material that he released it both as a vocal and instrumental piece. Very original musical presentation at this time.

Macy Gray Talking Book

Macy Gray bought out her inner Sly Stone for this literal celebration of the album-re-making every song in original order from Stevie Wonder’s 1972 breakthrough album Talking Book on it’s 40th anniversary.

Talented bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding brings out the sprawling mid 70’s jazz/funk vibe for what is probably her most defining album as of yet.

Radio Music Society

Electronica meets boogie funk from a very interesting source blending a hard grooving as well as an ethereal quality.

2013

Toro Y Moi

Potent mix of electronica and boogie/synth funk.

Jyoti

Very bold sound from Georgia Anne Muldrow that embraces dramatic jazz/funk with a boom rap approach to production.

Trombone Shorty

Crescent City native Trombone Shorty presents the instrumental style of horn funk as a genre of sorts all it’s own,with many different tributaries,on this one album.

Apocalypse

Flying Lotus bassist Thundercat brings a huge,cinematic approach to psychedelic jazz-funk.

20 20 Experience

The first of two Justin Timberlake comeback’s this year. Probably a huge re-awakening for the album length music format,complete with 7-8 minute jams,that bough extended soul/funk to the broader contemporary pop audience.

2014

Pharrell

Long time producer emerges as a fully complete solo artist-full of funkified rhythmic energy and shook the world up in a way no funky music has in over three decades with “Happy”.

Kelis-Food

Kelis returns with an album that takes a very JB like organic instrumental soul/funk turn.

Paula

Robin Thicke’s emotionally charged break up album is a full on raw, muscular funk/soul extravaganza

Plectrumelectrum

Prince and the female instrumental trio 3rdEyeGirl become part of the double edged album sword in his studio comeback. It showcases a multi hued psychedelic funk/rock sound where the whole is definitely more important than the sum of it’s parts.

Goapele-Strong-As-Glass

Oaklands own Goapele lends the funk of Pharrell Williams and flowing,piano based jazzy soul/pop on an album that celebrates the flow of musical depth,dignity and elegance.

Black Messiah

D’Angelo shakes the world up with an extremely funkified statement that is still,at the time of this writing,showing people that black lives (and black music) matter a great deal.

2015 (So Far)

Uptown Special

With the month of January often being a driftwood month for new music? Mark Ronson brings Bruno Mars,Mystikal and Stevie Wonder together for some serious,churning “uptown funk? of many colors!


There were honestly more albums than I could’ve seriously listed in this blog that also fit right into it. But these ones made the most important statements on their own terms perhaps. A single song will always say a great deal. But if one impulse or a series of musical/lyrical impulse can be expanded out in a way that expands the mind naturally through a powerfully grooving auditory experience? Than I saw so much the better. So let’s all have it for the musical impact of the album! It’s a key organ in the anatomy of the groove!

1 Comment

Filed under Beyonce', D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Goapele, Janelle Monae, John Legend, Justin Timerlake, Kelis, Lenny Kravitz, Macy Gray, Mark Ronson, Miguel, Pharrell Willaims, Prince, Robin Thicke, The Roots, Trombone Shorty

Keeping It Live: My Own Experiences Taking Music To The Stage

Get On Up

This past Saturday I picked up and watched the biopic Get On Up,staring Chadwick Boseman  as The Godfather Of Soul himself. My comments on the film itself are something that’ll be dealt with at another time and place. Yet the striking recreations of James Brown’s iconic live performances stood out on another level. It is those performances that made James the icon he became. Everything he did in his music surrounded his dance moves. So much so he took the thinking of many jazz musicians a step further by recording his most powerful funk sides between gigs. That’s also what earned him the nickname,one of many,of The Hardest Working Man In Show Business.

No one in my family,including myself ever had the privilege of beholding James Brown in his onstage domain. Yet my blogging partner and game changing friend Henrique Hopkins did have that opportunity,and in JB’s twilight years as well. The reason I tended to enjoy hearing him repeat the story of how James was still kicking onstage well into his 70’s reminded me of my own significant experiences with live music. While the level of available performances in my own state varies extremely over time? It’s been my honor to see almost a dozen concerts in my lifetime. Note my parents have seen many many more-I simply declined the invitation due to lack of interest in the performing artist(s). These ten performances I’m talking about changed the way I viewed music. So let’s get it started!

Bela Fleck

The first adult concert that I remember attending was with Bela Fleck & The Flecktones at the University Of Maine in Orono,which has been a hotbed of the local music scene in my neck of the woods for decades. The two most striking members of the gypsy jazz/fusion group was the fluid bass player Victor Wooten and his brother who called himself Futureman. He played an instrument called a drumitar-a customized synthesizer guitar that allowed him to created many different levels of rhythm. There was a meet and greet I had with my mother and the other band members after the show. It was my very first time actually speaking with live musicians. The most exciting part of the concert was when Bela himself asked the audience to shout “Yee haw” during the opening bass line of their song “Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo”. A lot of fun for an 11 year old.

OJ Ekemode & His Nigerian All Stars

When I was 12 years old OJ Ekemode and his Nigerian Allstars,an Afro-pop band of some note came to the Grand theater in downtown Ellseworth. Thus far this was my first and only exposure to live world music. The colorful,tribal dances and clothes were more educational than anything I ever learned from a school book about Nigerian culture. The most exciting part was the multi part encore-which came off as a hyper percussive eternal dance. Only problem was that everyone had to remain seated as I recall. The best way to march to the beat of your own drummer is to be able to dance to it.

Medeski Martin & Wood

1996’s summer concert of Medeski,Martin & Wood came during a time when I was deeply exploring the funk music genre in the studio sense. My father introduced me to the talented jazz-funk trio and was exciting about going. He really enjoyed it. However at the time,I found their slow jam band music to be deadly dull compared to the exciting funk coming out of my CD player and turntable from Prince,George Clinton,Bootsy,Cameo and The Bar Kays. A small crowd of what my folks and I affectionately referred to as “Charlie Brown Dancers” up near the stage added a comic bent to it. Though the smell of reefer upfront was pretty thick. My first exposure to jam band culture basically.

Rippopotamus-at-Montreal-Jazz-Festival-1998

A family vacation to the Montreal Jazz Festival of 1998 was exciting to me because we were supposed to go see the falsetto singer Jai,whose album Heaven  was a family favorite at the time. My father got see a number of jazz acts that year. One night we all went to see a funk band called Rippopodamus. They performed a medley of funk classics including The Time’s “Jungle Love”. Not only did this coincide with my interest in the Minneapolis sound at the time,but was the first full on funk concert I ever had a chance to see.

Dr.John

The most thrilling concert experience I had before turning 21 was in the summer of 2000. My family and I were walking around downtown Portland Maine and came across a concert poster saying Dr.John was performing at the State Theater that night. So we decided to go see the show. It was a nice,intimate little club. And the Night Tripper strutted out to his piano playing a grooving remake of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” from his than current tribute to Duke called Duke Elegant. Hearing “In The Right Place” from the man himself up on the stage is an amazing experience for a great admirer of the funk such as myself.

billybang

My parents had already seen Billy Bang and his band,including the late sax player Frank Lowe,when they both convinced me to see him at another show he did in the town of Waterville in 2002. The show was a recreation of Bang’s album Vietnam: The Aftermath which had just come out. “Saigon Phunk” was the song that had me and my family bopping up and down to the jazz violinists music. There was a meet and greet with the band after the show,which led to an interesting encounter with stand in drummer Michael Carvin. In every way,it was quite a show however.

entertainment-sonny-fortune-half-note-jazz-club

This concert coincided directly with my interest in Miles Davis. My father encouraged me to see Mister Fortune play in Waterville the autumn after seeing Billy Bang with the knowledge he played with Miles during the height of his fusion breakthrough in the mid 1970’s. Fortune played brilliantly. Yet there wasn’t much of a performance involved. More the type of jazz playing that really does lend itself better to audio than the visual element. Still seeing this man was an exciting experience for me in far later hindsight.

NIGEL AND RODERICK

Who you see here are (right) bassist Roderick Pinkney and (left) keyboard player Nigel Hall. In 2004,they were key members of the first local funk band in Bangor Maine called Funkizon. The membership at the time also included guitarists Bill Mayo and Anthony Druin as well as drummer Spencer Nelson. How this local group were significant to my experience with live music was that I saw them nearly every weekend during their 2004 residency at the old Waterfront Bar & Grill on the Bangor waterfront.

I became very much acquainted with all the musicians personally thanks to my father introducing me to Nigel personally,and I’d known Roderick as a childhood chum. They played a mixture of James Brown inspired instrumental originals along with Nigel’s take on George Duke songs such as “Don’t Be Shy” and occasionally Rick James’ “Super Freak”. They also gave me my first experience with concert filming-allowing me to record their shows with my used VHS camcorder. My first and only direct involvement with a live funk band,or any band for that matter.

Janele_Monae_WorkMusicBalance

So far this is probably the most profound live experience I ever had a chance to have. So much so that I actually discussed it in detail on my old blog The Rhythmic Nucleus. She ran through the aisles of the auditorium before her opening act .Fun,went on to do some fancy JB style footwork,danced the Charleston with a group of extraterrestrial clad dancer/band members and sat on a stool playing her acoustic guitar in her tuxedo all at random within her 90 minute or so  long set. It was like watching the last century of black American music come together through a magical musical world!  This eclectic mix of James Brown,P-Funk and Prince in one talented young lady provided the most complete example of the funk I’ve had yet to see.

BBKing

Reason for this even happening at all was a co-worker of my fathers not being able to attend the concert. And giving two tickets to him. He decided to bring me along. Seeing Dickey Betts and The Allman Brothers Band as the opening act was wonderful as well as some of the other acts. And BB’s band,including an amazing horn section,were loose as a goose funky blues. BB himself was clearly nearing the end of his game in terms of his performance ability. But just being able to see the legend and Lucille said all it needed to say.


While there are many live performances that came this way which I didn’t have a chance to see-in particular Ray Charles and Steely Dan? The ten live shows I saw here gave me a fairly well rounded viewpoint on the concert experiences. Honestly? My preferred method of receiving music is through listening to records,in whatever format they are in. At the same time? It’s still fun to imagine being onstage in front of an audience,a mic in front of you with your interested and offering your art live in person for the ears of many.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1990s, BB King, Bela Fleck, Blues, Dr.John, Funk, James Brown, Janelle Monae, Live music, Montreal Jazz Festical, Nigel Hall, Portland Maine, University Of Maine, Victor Wooten

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 7/12/2014-Janelle Monae’s ‘The Electric Lady’

Janelle Monae The Electric Lady

It actually took several listens to Janelle Monae’s full length album debut The ArchAndroid to fully grasp it’s musical virtues before even being able to review it in my head,lead alone here in black and white. That was several years ago. And the review I did do here only came after seeing her live in concert a year after that. It was a truly captivating experience: “united funk” all the way-meaningful grooves,messages and an enormous amount of involvement and communication with the audience. Strangely enough after that,a certain level of cynicism began to sink in on my part. Attitudes like…what if Monae’s intense creativity was a gimmicky fluke? Would she become a generic artist pimping the pleasure principle like so many the next time,to sell more albums? And had the early 1990’s style critical negativity gotten to me at last? How selfish of me. Here was the very fulfillment of the musical desires and imaginative ideas I’d had since adolescence manifesting itself before my eyes. Why reject that for the sake of psychically numb realism? When I heard earlier in the year her follow up was about to arrive,it was a summer of waiting with baited breath to here the musical fruits of her passions. With no hyperbole intended,I am astounded with what was heard!

Beginning with “Electric Overture”, Suit IV a swirling blend of cinema and surf rock guitar we go into “Givin’ Em What They Love”-a thudding and minimal funk-rocker featuring of course Prince himself. Having heard a version of “Q.U.E.E.N” during the summer,this Erykah Badu duet is a superbly realized Minneapolis style rhythm guitar/spicy boogie funk synthesizer. “Electric Lady” slows the groove right down to a crawl with this heavily texturized electronics bubbling up from an heavily reverbed drum and bass line-Monae and Solange Knowles’s voice blending into perfect harmony. On “Primetime” Janelle and Miguel’s male/female duet is set within the musical framework of another spare,lightly beat heavy (and therefore very funky) mid tempo ballad. “We’re Only Rock ‘N Roll” jumps right into a sleeker interpretation of the classic James Brown groove than on the previous albums “Tightrope”-as well as having a more melodically constructed song craft about it. “The Dance Apocalyptic” goes right for the heart of this uptempo Caribbean-type funk jaunt while “Look Into My Eyes” brings in the Spanish tinge with a sensually flamenco inflected tango.

Suit V begins with the beautifully cinematic orchestral 60’s type next part of the “electric overture” before going into the early 70’s Chicago soul inspired “It’s Code” which,along with “Can’t Live Without Your Love” and “Victory” bring out that “sweet funk” sound of that specific musical ethic. With it’s theatrical blend of synthesizer bass and intense rhythm “Ghetto Woman” is complexly melodic electronic funk like you’ve never heard it before-asking for sympathy for it’s character rather than the derision of society.”Sally Ride” is a tight,slowed down foot stomper of a jam that’s full of honesty and a little attitude. “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”,with the equally talented Esperanza Spalding,is absolutely amazing-with it’s thorough understanding of jazzy style keyboard textures and sensual,truth telling rhythms. Not to mention melodic and harmony suggestions that are alternately passionate and paranoid in the best heavy on easy sophistifunk fashion before ending the album with the slow and dynamic boogie funk of “What An Experience”.

Many of the songs on this album feature interludes such as “Good Morning Midnight”,”The Chrome Shoppe” and “Our Favorite Fugitive”,narrated by DJ Crash Crash that illustrate this albums concept. Cindy Mayweather,the space faring archandroid has arrived at the threshold of an apocalypse-with only a group of Mayweather clones called the Electric Ladies providing a degree of satisfaction. Is it another P-Funk like conceptual tract? Not at all. This album is full of many different variations of what actually turns out to be a very important message to the listener. In an environment where a culture itself is almost entirely ruled by fear of one thing or another without realizing it,the best way to live life is to be aware and gain knowledge. But also to be in a position where you can change things for the better. This theme isn’t illustrated by mere preaching. There’s a theatrical storyline just as with her first two releases,as well as a set of characters with their own situations. The stage was set,the players were in place for this album and Janelle Monae more than showed she could dance-literally and figuratively. She has affirmed her place as the much needed innovator of the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum and did so by diving head long into the funky gumbo of Stevie Wonder,Prince,James Brown,Gil Scott Heron and Curtis Mayfield that she channels into her musical orbit. An amazing piece of music that,on many levels,words may not be able to adequately describe.

*For Original Amazon Review,Follow This Link:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R33EVJELK0U6SA/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00DNDR29I

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Janelle Monae, Minneapolis, Prince, Solange', Soul, Stevie Wonder, Women

Andre’s Amazon Archive for March 29th,2014: The Foreign Exchange ‘Love In Flying Colors’

Love In Flying Colors

Just 24 hours prior to writing this review, a friend of mine named Thomas Carley recommended I seek out the latest release from The Foreign Exchange. Came into streaming some of their songs without knowing anything about the band members or their histories. Even now I still know very little. All I do know of them comes from another friend Henrique. He informed me that the bands founder Phonte was apparently a member of a group called Little Brother-a hip-hop group hailing from Durham,North Carolina. Knowing how hip-hop groups often spin off into completely alternate musical projects such as this,none of that information surprises me one bit. What did surprise me was how they musically presented themselves in the accompanying CD booklet. Some of the music of course is supplied by keyboardist/multi instrumentalist Nicolay. But this album also features,and credits with a great deal of enthusiasm,their 19 piece string section as well as it’s arrangers and conductors. That level of respect for the ethic of cinematic music production correctly led me to believe I would be in for a real treat with this album.

“If I Knew Then” opens the album with a wonderfully expansive funk/jazz fusion number-with melodies and rhythms elevating right up there with the many classics of the late 1970’s end of that genre. “Right After Midnight” continues on with a powerful synthesizer boogie funk number. This returns to even greater effect on “On A Day Like Today”-a number with enough early 80’s post disco rhythm box/electronic invention and song craft to make it a potentially enormous hit somewhere even today. The more acoustically textured guitar led jazz-pop of “Better” is equally wonderful-especially Phonte’s obviously growing vocal turns. Only wild card is a somewhat foul mouthed rap insert from him that,while delivering what turns out to be a good message,is more than a little out of place. “Listen To The Rain” returns to that flavor with a full vocal take with no rap. “Call It Home” brings a drum-n-bass rhythm flavor to this jazzy funk compositional attitude whereas the house fusion of “The Moment” recalls Incognito to some degree.

“Can’t Turn Around” returns to the expansive 70’s fusion-funk take and “Dreams Are Made For Two” returns to the drum machine led boogie funk before blending the two seamlessly for the closing “When I Feel Love” which,through that hybrid sounds close as this album comes to a modern hip-hop based funk-pop production. This album actually succeeds on every level it’s creators intended it to. The harmonically rich female vocals of Carmen Rodgers,Shana Tucker,Gwen Bunn,Carlitta Durand and Jeane Jolly combine with Phonte’s creamy delivery for a very meaningful and poetic combination of instrumentation and lyricism. The two rap inserts are both well harmonized from the music and are at least from within,which is refreshing in the tail end of the guest rapper age. The way the albums themes are presented are very much in tune with something of a cornucopia of the tail end of the funk era-the stylings from roughly 1977 through 1983 coming into full flower here. The Foreign Exchange are not new and are apparently a live act of high quality. Personally I’d say if this is the direction Phonte is taking them? I’d keep going for it if I were him.

Originally Written On September 29th,2013

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, Funk, Janelle Monae, Jazz, Late 70's Funk, Phonte, The Foreign Exchange

Anatomy Of THE Groove 3/7/14 Part II: “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” by Janelle Monae And Esperanza Spalding

When someone is living in an age when most female soul artists are presenting themselves largely through the most shallow end of physical sexuality, it can be easily to become cynical that well rounded feminine sensitivity had been lost along with an overall sense of poetry. The same goes for male artists in the same position.  Two people who are looking towards the Afrocentric futurism that the jazz-funk era represented in the 1970’s in today’s music world are the bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding and Janelle Monae. While recognized by a certain creatively minded musical community,deserved recognition by the masses still evades them. Most still obsessed with sexually profane “contemporary R&B” female artists who are often more photogenic than innovative. Some react to this by assigning blame to past decades political problems,others blame the genre of hip-hop. However at a time when music wasn’t exactly having the usual healing effect on my soul? A song came my way that was a collaborative effort between Spalding and Monae. It’s called “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”.

Instrumentally the song begins with a slow and steady Afro-Cuban conga based percussion line,over which is played a slippery and multi tracked high synthesizer solo-in which each track has the effect of a round echoplex type reverb effect which gave it the glistening glassy effect. After this introduction a live drum sound enters as Janelle begins singing a lyric that describes a very glamorous yet mysterious feminine figure (possibly Janelle’s android doppelganger character Cindy Mayweather)  whose has a romantically bewitching persona. At the end of each chorus a high trombone is heard almost like an apparition in the back round of the song. The bassline weaves in and out of the rhythmic and melodic aspects of the song very much in the manner of a thread through a sewing needle,which maintains the jazz oriented flavor of the chord progressions of the song. The bridge is composed entirely of Esperanza engaging in some powerful multi tracked vocalese as the melody of the song entirely changes before going into the refrain-after which Janelle herself presents a romantic spoken word verse before the powerful jazz-rock guitar solo which closes out the song-accompanied by the chorus of “She’s got Dorothy’s eyes”.

Deeply inspired by the vital instrumental and production dynamics of late 70’s Stevie Wonder/Quincy Jones style jazz/funk/soul/rock hybrids,this is the type of somewhat minor chorded funk with a dreamy atmosphere that might fool the listener into believing its a slow jam ballad. But actually its uptempo funk in the vein of a Michael Jackson number such as “Rock With You” and “I Can’t Help It”. On the other hand,what distinguishes this song from them,and almost all contemporary funk/soul music is the heavy jazz elements. I didn’t realize until researching this song that Esperanza and Janelle both shared the vocal refrains throughout this song. Their vocal styles are so close and compatible its often hard to tell when one is singing-especially when their vocals are melded into the others through the production like melted aural caramel. Because of cultural changes in the perception of music production that occurred in the post Prince era, most modern funk in a band context even tends to prefer to keep a live instrumental aestetic with no frills.

This song clearly utilizes live instrumentation but enhances them with the most magical end of studio production. The song openly celebrates  not only studiocentric musicality,but also showcases a strong female characterization of someone who is of great physical beauty yet is also astute enough to be able to bring out emotional fantasies in potential suitors as physical ones. There’s a strong sense of adult sensuality in this song-instrumentally and lyrically reflecting the hopes,desires and mysteries of someone secure enough with themselves to view romance beyond simply the physical desire. Not to mention paying tribute to the historically significant movie star who gave the song its title,”Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”-featured as the next to last song on Janelle’s September 10th album release The Electric Lady  is not only a beautifully eloquent jazz funk song but an important blueprint for all modern female artists in this musical spectrum who are in all truth in need for a new and more meaningful creative voice.

1 Comment

Filed under Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Janelle Monae, Jazz, Quincy Jones, Rhythm, Soul, Stevie Wonder