Prince was recording a lot of music during 1983 and early 1984 in preparation for his feature film debut that was Purple Rain. This included his own recordings with his band the Revolution. But it also included songs intended for the debuts of Sheila E and a second Vanity 6 album that grew into sessions for what became the Apollonia 6. Not to mention a huge cluster of B-sides. There were also many additional songs recorded during this period,some of which are still unreleased to this very day. And which add to the mythos about Prince’s legendary vault of unreleased music.
One of the first things I learned about Prince when really getting into his music was about his lifelong fascination with the career of Joni Mitchell. Having achieved fame in the early 70’s as a singer/songwriter,she left that behind to pursue a jazzier style of music. Prince was aware that his highly electronic new wave funk/rock based Minneapolis Sound was really catching on. But he himself wanted to diversify his own approach. One such song for his 1985 album Around The World In A Day was recorded during the Purple Rain sessions in early 1984. It was called “Pop Life”.
Layers of tape loop like pitch bent synthesizers begin the song,just before a thick slap bass brings in the rest. The song has three different counter melodies-all very vocal in nature over a steady funky drum. One is a thick, funk slap bass line mixed up high. The other are big block piano chords Prince is hammering out. The final one are two counterbalanced synthesizers-playing a high melody and the other a lower one. These elements all make up the refrains and choruses of the song-both of which are rather similar. There’s a bridge of audience sound before the song fades back in for a final chorus before fading back out.
A little history on the audience sounds during the bridge of this song: they are from a 1981 concert where Prince opened for the Rolling Stones. A restless and unsatisfied crowd had among them someone yelling “THROW THE BUM OUT”. Prince exited the stage with his band,only to return to a more reasonable crowd-though there was still some booing. This songs lyrics do stand with the same share of ambiguity as a lot of Prince’s songs did. Yet at the same time,this sampling of the Rolling Stones tour incident might well be pointing to a lot of the points this song makes about Prince’s mindset at the time he recorded it.
In a lot of ways,this is one of my very favorite Prince songs of the 80’s. It has that Larry Graham slap bass in your face funkiness-mixed with a cinematic jazzy soul flavor that’s very pop friendly and hummable. It showcases how Prince’s more musically ambitious ideas could still be funky and pop friendly too. Lyrically it could be taken two ways. I recently heard it was written about his departed girlfriend Vanity. As I personally read it,its Prince dealing with how super-stardom can have the effect of making artists take themselves for granted. So on all levels,it was an important hit song for him to have.
Filed under 1985, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz-Funk, piano, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, psychedelic soul, synthesizers, Uncategorized
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.
Filed under 1975, bass guitar, Dave Grusin, drums, Ernie Watts, Harvey Mason, horns, Jazz-Funk, Lee Ritenour, Randy Crawford, Uncategorized
In a lot of ways, the song being presented here today represents the passing of two great and different artists whom I admire. That was the actor Leonard Nimoy from Star Trek,who passed last year and the jazz pianist George Duke-who left us four years ago this coming august. It was about a dozen years ago now that I became very immersed in all things related to George Duke. This was thanks in part to my acquaintanceship with DJ/musician/Duke aficionado Nigel Hall. This led me to George Duke Online. It was on this site that George actually reviewed his own discography. This allowed people such as myself to get inside the man’s views on his own musical past.
In the early/mid 70’s during his tenure with Frank Zappa, Duke signed a solo deal with the German jazz label MPS. When he departed the label to sign with CBS/Epic in 1976, he recorded what amounted to a solo piano album where, with the help of Genesis drummer Chester Thompson, Duke played other instruments as well. It was released in America in a slightly altered form in 1982. But throughout most of Europe in 1978 as the now quite rare record entitled The Dream. The song I’m going to talk to you about today is one whose sound and title were originally quite different from the early 80’s variation. The name of the original song was “Spock Does The Bump At The Space Disco”.
Duke starts off the song with a lone funky drum-accented by a percussive bump on between the first and second beat. Starting with some of his own grunts and groans, Duke’s low piano than comes in playing the songs bluesy theme along with a distant, popping bass ARP synthesizer in the back round. A huge,deeply popping slap bass chimes in along with another theremin like synthesizer solo pipes up in the back round. Duke’s Fender Rhodes electric piano than comes in playing an accessory solo. By which time all the instrumentation that built up from the beginning of song all comes together beautifully before the song ends on a three note slap bass riff.
George Duke was the man behind some of the most potent and experienced funk that the jazz world had to offer from the early 70’s up until his death. And in every possible way? This song is among his very funkiest. It falls somewhere between the stripped down funk of Rufus and Prince. The one man band that is George Duke on this album does something fairly unique. Though multi tracked in creation? This groove showcases Duke’s experience as both a session player and band leader by being able to play off his own instrumental strengths and weakness. It does in fact sound like a band playing together-with the pianos and synthesizers creating a thick bed of funk one can always swim deeply within.
Filed under 1970's, Chester Thompson, drums, Epic Records, Fender Rhodes, Frank Zappa, George Duke, George Duke Online, Jazz-Funk, Leonard Nimoy, piano, slap bass, Spock, Uncategorized
Grover Washington Jr. holds a somewhat unique position for my appreciation of instrumental music. He was my introduction to jazz/funk sax with “Just The Two Of Us”. That meant he was a key part of my musical core without me fully realizing it. Reading my close friend and musical blogging colleague Henrique Hopkins most recent overview of the nu funk band The Internet? It inspired me to realize something about my interest in funk. While that interest has evolved into one where I strongly appreciate studio coloring along with my favorite grooves? Learning about the music involved experiencing the strong,bright musical hues created by a straighter live instrumental aspect of the music.
During the summer of 1996? WMEB through the University Of Maine aired their first funk radio show. It was interesting as it always played the song before announcing who the artist was. One such case hit me with a song called “Lock It In The Pocket”. I remember being in the car and dancing in place while on the passenger seat. When the song was over,the DJ announced it was Grover Washington Jr. Learned later this song,recorded in 1977 live at the Bijou in the man’s native Philadelphia, was recorded with his band Locksmith. They made a record of their own around this time. And since I haven’t yet over viewed any of Grover’s music? This is the one I’m most moved to do.
The fun in the funk begins when when the high rhythm guitar keeps a steady groove going along with the enthusiastic hand claps of the audience. The percussion builds right into that-right before the song’s funky drummer Millard Vinson chimes in. Grover himself takes a detour from this a refrain themed around an Afro-Cuban salsa style melody while easing onto the chorus with the band. Grover plays with ever growing improvisational fire along with the steady guitar and percussion that builds exactly as the sax solo does. The melody then goes into minor chords-with keyboardist James Simmons on piano and ARP string accompaniment before Grover’s refrain closes it all out.
As my interest in 70’s jazz/funk has led into it becoming one of my favorite types of music to listen to? This song continues to stick by me all the more. Each time I hear it? There’s something new to learn. Since Grover was primarily known as a soloist? The biggest aspect of this jam is how much it emphasizes the importance of bands in the genre. As in any tributary of jazz,as Henrique has pointed out? A horn player can blow over almost anything. Here-with Grover’s improvisational excitement? Locksmith really allow him to maintain that danceable and rhythmic thickness that would allow Grover (and likely his audience) to keep their bodies,minds and hearts moving to the groove!
Chas Jankel is a very key figure in the development of the UK funk scene that thrived alongside new wave in the early 1980’s. Something of a child prodigy who began learning Spanish guitar and piano at the age of 7? Jankel joined up with Ian Dury in 1977. He was a part of their group together known as The Blockheads,who expertly integrated American funk and disco into their English pub rock framework. In particular on their heavily funkified 1979 double album Do It Yourself. In 1980, Jankel decided to leave the Blockheads in order to pursue a solo career. His self titled debut album,with it’s lead-off song “Ai No Corrida” even inspired a hit remake shortly after-courtesy of non other than Quincy Jones.
I personally first heard of the man through a book entitled Funk-The Essential Listening Companion. It mentioned Jankel with a thorough discography. But the fact that the book was highly critical of Chas’s creative choices was negated by the fact the entire book itself was very sloppily written and printed-full of typographical errors. So I sought out the man’s difficult to locate music on my own. Some years later? YouTube emerged as a huge help in this-with only his debut readily available on CD to this date. Deciding on which of his songs to discuss was like a chocoholic contemplating a Whitman’s Sampler from where I stood. Somehow? His 1981 song and accompanying music video “Questionnaire” came just a little ahead of the crowd in that regard!
The intro to this song builds up powerful musical drama by actually fading into the song in the same way most fade out. And it does so into a powerful swell of Afro-Brazilian percussion. Shortly the trumpets blare-accenting the jazzy salsa piano that changes melody in the primary chorus of the song. On the refrains,this is heavily accented by powerful bursts of Larry Graham-style slap bass-only appropriate as Sly & The Family Stone were apparently a major inspiration for Jankel getting into funk to start with The trumpets blare even louder on a chorus filled with a throbbing snare drum solo over the percussion before joining a full chorus of trumpets and organ solos. On the final instrumental refrain? A quieter and more plaintive trumpet solo leads out the song.
To my ears? This is one of the finest merging’s of Cuban jazz and poppy funk to come out of the early 80’s UK jazz/funk scene. The insertion of American funk elements such as thick slap bass goes right in perfectly with the unifying instrumental force joining Afro-Latin dance music and funk/soul together-thick and strong percussion accents. The lyrical content is simple enough. Just a single man daydreaming of a potential future lover in the form of a personal ad. Yet Jankel states it very eloquently-asking important questions of possible mates about people’s priorities in life rather than concerning himself totally with matters of economy . As the song implies? This is one musical journey that is indeed quite important!
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Latin jazz, bass guitar, Chas Jankel, Funk, Funk Bass, Ian Dury, Jazz-Funk, Larry Graham, lyrics, slap bass, Sly Stone, UK Funk
When I was about 14-15 years old? I was listening to my parents original copy of the Michael Jackson album Off The Wall,which they’d gifted me a couple of years earlier-listening to the songs on the album that were not huge radio hits. This was actually something I found myself beginning to do a lot during adolescence-viewing many kinds of art on a broader level. One of these songs struck me so strongly that I began playing it over and over in succession. It was a Stevie Wonder composition entitled “I Can’t Help It”.
Musically it was played and written in a very otherworldly manner-with layers of synthesizers and keyboards creating a romantically sophisticated atmosphere. Thematically, it’s revealed itself to me as a song whose intent is very flexible depending on the interpretation. Between Rique and myself? Esperanza Spalding has come up a lot on this blog. And it was her interpretation of this classic Stevie Wonder song which, both instrumentally and lyrically, offered it that other kind of musical flight.
The song opens with what sounds to be an ascending, bubbling high pitched electric bass or low rhythm guitar (a difference I often find difficult to distinguish). It then eases smoothly into a marching Brazilian jazz/funk drum rhythm-which in itself is accompanied by a saxophone improvisation and a lightly processed electric piano playing the refrain. Esperanza’s vocals,themselves improvising by tempo and mood,perfectly accompany the instrumentation-which proceeds in and out of the same mixture of sounds that begins the song from refrain to the final and partially unaccompanied closing chorus.
Spalding’s multi faceted treatment of this song is enhanced by another element that’s narrative rather then musical. Still on it’s own, her version of this song (in the fine jazz tradition) expands it both rhythmically an harmonically. The feeling is therefore far looser than MJ’s original interpretation. It therefore has the flavor of how the song might’ve sounded had it been done by someone like Patrice Rushen around 1975 than something from later in the decade with a more structured pop craft about it.
It’s in Esperanza’s tonally diverse vocal interpretation that the difference in lyrical intent shines through. MJ’s made the lyrics sound coy and shy-more in tune with his own personality. On this version? It’s the narrative structure of the accompanying music video that sets the tone. We see Esperanza romantically disconnected from her boyfriend-all the while remembering a deeper romance she once had with a female artist. The more adolescent romantic fantasy of the original is replaced here by the confusion over ones sexual orientation as an adult whose already in a relationship. So in the case of both musical,lyrical and visual interpretation? This is by far the most powerful version of the song I’ve yet heard!
Filed under Afro-Latin jazz, bass guitar, Brazilian Jazz, classic funk, electric jazz, electric piano, Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Funk Bass, Fusion, jazz fusion, Jazz-Funk, LGBT rights, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized
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.
Cannot tell you why I spent almost a quarter of my life as an admirer of Miles Davis’s music and passed over this CD over and over again. No reason but,well the wait it over. Seems this album titled is based on a Zulu word meaning “power”. And Miles must’ve been feeling a lot of that musically. His body was swiftly deteriortating by the time this came out. But what mattered is that his 1986 Warner Bros. debut Tutu was triumph,for him and producer/writer/collaborator Marcus Miller. This album was to be the follow up to that. And essentially follow the same format: Miles would play his horn while Marcus did almost everything else. However Miles’ own personality was given somewhat more of a kick by the presense of Joe Sample,Omar Hakim and Joey DeFrancesco here. It may not have been the approach that many might’ve viewed as Miles’ own cup of tea,being as confident as he was creatively. But at this point putting his dwindling physical energy into his playing was paramount.
On the first two numbers,”Catembe” and the George Duke collaboration on “Cobra” that afrocentric polyrhythmic percussion flavor is continued on from where Miles left off on the previous album. Duke had the good sense to take some notes from Miller’s approach in that regard. “Big Time”,the more brooding “Jo-Jo” and of course “Jili” take a step forward. With the strong surge of success of go-go and it’s more commercialized cousin new jack swing Marcus Miller began to integrate those digitized funky shuffing beats into those songs,all of which have strong melodies and look ahead to the possibility of more hip-hop type music in Miles’ future. “Hannibal” is a very thick jazz-rock similar again to some of the music on the previous album. The title song is the slower number here with a melody teeter tottering between reflective and sunny. The closer “Mr.Pastorious”,a tribute to the than recently befallen Jaco is a strong song compositionally on the jazzier end.
Interesting thing about this album to me is that it was the final album Miles’ released in his lifetime. His final album Doo Bop was released a year following his passing in 1991. And even here with Marcus Miller you can hear the strong groundwork laid for some of the jazz/hip-hop fusions Miles would go for on his final recordings. Of course this is a fully instrumental album so he was not making the full change over to anything overtly hip-hop here. Just Marcus’ passing nods to the go-go and new jack swing sounds he was probably pretty interested in at the time. And likely had appeal to Miles because of their relation to the funk he’d fallen in love with. So it was great to see Miles,even as he was at the twilight of his career by this poing,still being two steps ahead of what else was happening in the jazz world of the time. Innovating all of ones life time is amazing. But being able to do that pretty much near your death bed? Well…maybe that’s just Miles for you.
Originally posted on June 20th,2012
*Link to original review here
Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Fusion, go-go funk, Jaco Pastorius, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, Joey DeFrancesco, Marcus Miller, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, Omar Hakim
It was through his collaboration with Phonte on the latest album by The Foreign Exchange that got me interested in the music of Matthjis “Nicolay” Rook. Now this is a Dutch native who has been creating both solo albums and different collaborations within the funkiest side of the electronica/hip-hop/soul spectrum of music. His emphasis on live musicianship with his acumen as a multi instrumentalist is a big part of his artistic appeal for me personally.
Over the past decade,Nicolay has released a series of solo records in his City Lights series. Generally weaving them directly in between his released as a member of The Foreign Exchange. I’ve never had one of these albums. Yet the newest volume of this was subtitled ‘Soweto’-as a tribute to the South African township of the same name. And through online streaming? It was it’s opening song “Tomorrow” which caught my ear the most.
Beginning and ending with the voice of what is perhaps Bantu language conversation in the back-round? The song begins with a round bass synthesizer chord-accompanied by breezy orchestral electronics. Suddenly a burst of intense percussion kicks in for the main rhythm of the song-with congas,high hat and other Afro-Latin percussive sounds. On the bridge of the song a high pitch,and still round toned series of synthesizers play a horn like jazzy riff before gearing down into a higher pitched synth scaling up and down. All before the song ends with a light Ebonic vocalese.
One of the things I enjoy about this song is some of the same quality I heard on “If I Knew Then” from The Foreign Exchange. This song is of course far faster and electronic in straight up instrumental tone. That being said? Nicolay borrows a lot of his technique from early/mid 80’s Prince. In the sense that he is a master programmer and creator of live rhythmic and warmer,brittle bass lines with electronic drums and keyboards. It also helps greatly that he’s also an electric bassist and guitarist as well. He therefore understands the importance of a fat,rhythmic groove. Whether or not it’s produced organically. Along with it’s similarity to 1980’s Miles Davis and Weather Report? This song brings out the link between funk and contemporary electronica very strongly.
Filed under 2015, Afro-Latin jazz, electro funk, Electronica, Fusion, Jazz-Funk, new music, Nicolay, Nu Funk, percussion, Phonte, South Africa, Soweto, synth funk, The Foreign Exchange