Level 42 are one of those bands along with Earth Wind & Fire,Heatwave,Sly & The Family Stone,James Brown and Kool & The Gang where I could write about their songs for a month. And not get board doing so. Even though Level 42’s identity didn’t become known to me until 12 years ago or so,their four piece jazz/funk sound was approached in such a wonderful way. And one that was very suited for its time as well. This is especially true with Level 42’s first six albums-from their self titled debut in 1981 to 1985’s breakout album World Machine.
Right around the time I was first getting into Level 42,Polydor reissued Level 42’s first eight studio albums on four 2 CD sets. These sets not only included informative notes,but also the addition of unreleased demos and 12″/7″ single mixes of some of the songs. The most fascinating of these sets were the first two-especially the second volume. That one began with Level 42’s second proper studio release The Pursuit Of Accidents. This particular album represents the height of the band’s instrumentally inclined,contemporary jazz/funk approach. A perfect example is its opening track “Weave Your Spell”.
Mike Lindup’s synthesizer and Phil Gould’s cymbal kick provide the intro to the song. After that the rest of the band,especially Mark King’s bass,enter the mix in full musical motion. On the refrain,the percussive drums and King’s bass provide an ultra phat rhythm. Lindup’s different synths provide both high and low call and response to his and Mark’s vocal harmonies. This is especially true on the musically and vocally thick chorus. There is a musical bridge where King’s slap bass becomes the star of the show-with Lindup assisting on synth brass before the chorus fades out the song.
“Weave Your Spell” might be the definitive musical example of Level 42’s general sound. At its core,its an uptempo jazz funk song filled with a lot of dancability. Mike Lindup’s synthesizer’s have that strong new wave quavering reverb about them too. King’s slap bass and Phil Gould’s progressive fusion drumming give this song its own kick. The loose jamming feel of it,especially on the instrumental bridge,remind me of a sleeker version of Prince’s approach to funk-especially with the synth horn responses. So over the years,this has become one of my very favorite Level 42 grooves.
Nu Shooz were an 80’s freestyle funk duo from the 1980’s who,among others,represented some of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio. Of course this came in form of the iconic 80’s hit “I Can’t Wait”. Hailing from Portland Oregon,currently 9 member group were led by the married couple of John Smith and lead singer Valerie Day. In the United States,they are considered something of a one hit wonder. Yet from the moment I began exploring that hit’s ultra funky flip side “Make Your Mind Up”,I know this would be a group worthy of exploration for any aficionado of strong 80’s soul/funk music.
Nu Shooz still record and perform today-occasionally recording independent online releases now and then. Its clear from listening to these new songs from them that they are indeed some of the funkiest bands of the 80’s still functioning today. Right up there Cameo to me,anyway. Over the years of course,there instrumental sound and priorities have changed. But there are still some core elements,such as emphasis on hummable melody,that remain intact. That’s very much in the case in the title song of the newest release from May 2016 entitled Bagtown.
A thick hard bop style synth solo begins the song. Then the shuffling funky drum/percussion rhythm kicks into high gear. The chicken scratch rhythm guitar is accompanied by a phat bass line playing the empty spaces within that guitar riff. In and around this,the harmonically complex horns play musical hide and seek with Valerie Day’s lead vocals. Towards the middle of the song,a vibraphone enters the mix as both a melodic and percussive element before the drums lead into a lower guitar solo. The bass/guitar dynamic becomes the focus until the horn chart and percussion close out the song.
“Bagtown” really showcase Nu Shooz having evolved into a sharp,live instrumental based jazz/funk outfit. Everything from the drums,vibes,bass and guitar just smoke on this song with a super hot mix. The harmonic nature of the horn voices brings my mind to something else. Its like a mixture of the soul jazz inspired hip-hop of Us3 in the early 90’s and the final musical decade of Miles Davis. Its got the funk,its got the soul but when it comes to how the horns treat the melody,its built upon a hardcore hard bop/soul jazz foundation. That makes this a standout jazz/funk jam for 2016 so far.
Filed under 2016, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, John Smith, new music, Nu Shooz, percussion, soul jazz, synthesizer, Valerie Day, vibraphone
Larry Young is a jazz organist who I didn’t know anything about until meeting Henrique a decade ago. He introduced me to his 1975 album Fuel when discussing the many acoustic jazz artists doing different tributaries of funk. Young came to prominence during the early 1960’s. In terms of innovation,he did with the Hammond B-3 organ for modal jazz what Jimmy Smith did for the hard pop and soul jazz sub genres. He worked with many jazz greats from that era including Lou Donaldson,Elvin Jones and Hank Mobley. He also became one of the architects of fusion as a member of Tony William’s Lifetime.
In the final few years of his life,Larry Young formed his own fusion group called Fuel-titled after his 1975 album. These group leaned heavily towards the funky end of the genre. Because Young died mysteriously in 1978 at the age of 37,this project was sadly cut short with only two albums released. One of them was an album entitled Spaceball,released in 1976. I just learned about this album writing this. And wound up exploring many of its songs on YouTube. It was the opener of this album that made the strongest impact on me in terms of funkiness. Its entitled “Moonwalk”.
Jim Allington’s fast paced Brazilian drum swing opens the album. Shortly thereafter,Dave Eubanks three on four note bass line kicks in. This represents the entire rhythm body of the song. As for the melodies of the song,there are many provided from Larry Young himself. There’s a high and low pitched sustained organ roll playing call and response with itself. He also adds in some spacey electronic synthesizers almost as percussion accents-in particular towards the last minute or so of the song. On the bridge,Larry Coryell plays a rolling guitar solo before a final refrain closes the entire song out.
“Moonwalk” is a really amazing jam. Its basis is thoroughly Brazilian funk. On the other hand,the harmonic complication of the soloing is almost beyond belief. The female backup singings “doo doo wopp”-ing throughout the early parts of the song adds a certain verbal encouragement to the entire musical movement. With the sometimes atonal electronics, this has some of the spacey,ethereal free jazz elements of people such as Sun Ra’s Arkestra mixed into the otherwise funky grooves. It really shows just what an innovative jazz musician could do in terms of soloing with a strong funk rhythm accompanying them.
Filed under 1976, Brazilian Jazz, Dave Eubanks, drums, Funk Bass, Hammond B-3, Jazz, jazz funk, jazz guitar, Jim Allington, Larry Coryell, Larry Young, organ, synthesizers
Ronnie Laws is one of my favorite contemporary sax players of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Along with people such as David Sanborn,Laws’ sound bridged the gap between the bar walking sax style of the 60’s and the sleek smooth jazz sound that was to come. He’s someone who has a way of driving a melody into ones sub-conscience with the power and beauty of his tone. He was also a fantastic soul/funk vocalist. While he obviously can’t vocally accompany his sax the way George Benson can his guitar, his ability to switch off works the funky emotions in the studio.
Laws had worked primarily with EWF keyboardist Larry Dunn as his producer in the mid to late 70’s. The sound they forged together started with a hard bass/guitar centered jazz/funk sound. Later in the decade some of the most cutting edge,spacey electronics /synthesizer orchestrations became an integral aspect of Laws’ sound. . In the early 80’s, the pair continued to adapt their synthesizer based jazz/funk sound into a decade that would be defined by it. One of my favorite examples of this is the lead off track from Law’s 1983 album Mr.Nice Guy entitled “Can’t Save Tomorrow”.
Laws starts out the song sing to the accompanying bass plucks of multi instrumentalist Leon Johnson. Its Johnson who provides most of the instruments on this song. After this intro,Laws’ voice and the bass line dovetail into the main rhythm of the song. That is a fast,funky shuffle consisting of several metallic synthesizers and Roland Bautista’s guitar harmonizing with a jazzy melody to Johnson’s slap bass. On The choruses,Laws sings his lead vocals in falsetto. There are two bridges here. One a sax solo from Laws,the other one of Larry Dunn’s spacey synth interludes before the refrain fades the song out.
All summer long,I’ve had this song on my phone’s MP3 player while peddling my bicycle around town. Its the perfect song for such physical activity because the song is propelled by a lot of forward motion. The drums,the bass,the synths,the vocals and the sax are all extremely earnest here-almost like a musical manifestation of the heart Laws’ lyrics indicate is pounding with intense passion. On the other hand,the production and overall sound of the song remains just about as sweet as any kind of funky music can be. And that’s what makes it one of my favorite Ronnie Laws jams.
Filed under 1980's, drums, jazz funk, Larry Dunn, Leon Johnson, rhythm guitar, Roland Bautista, Ronnie Laws, Saxophone, slap bass, synth funk, synthesizers
Patrice Rushen is an artist I’ve been wanting to write about for some time. And one of the key reasons behind starting Andresmusictalk. She is best known for her hits in 1979’s “Haven’t You Heard” and 1982’s “Forget Me Nots”. The LA native is turning 62 today. Earning her music degree from the University Of California. By the age of 20,her debut album Prelusion had been released-presenting her as an instrumental jazz artist. By the time she signed to Elektra in 1978, Rushen was already a major player in the jazz-funk genre which was deep in its peak period during that time.
A gifted multi instrumentalist,Rushen began singing on her albums after 1975’s Before The Dawn. By the early 80’s,she’d made the transition into a soul/funk singer who still maintained her high quality jazz/funk instrumental backing. Her 1982 album Straight From The Heart is perhaps her most famous album-containing one of her biggest hits in “Forget Me Nots” and showcasing some of her most creatively satisfying and funky music. Being a lover of the Fender Rhodes piano,which is one of Rushen’s passions,one of my very favorite songs from this album is entitled “All We Need”.
This is a song that just starts right off ready for action. The beat maintains a consistent post disco stomp while the rhythm section maintains its fatness throughout. Paul Jackson’s guitar is snapping throughout this song with a hard punchy sound. And the slap bass line of Freddie Washington is popping just as heavy with the dramatic chordal modulations Rushen’s Rhodes and her vocal duet with Roy Galloway provide. The change in melody on the changes of the song add a glistening high tone on the roads before the basic chorus of the song fades it right out.
One thing that strikes me about this song is that instrumentally,its mostly chorus. And its one of the funkiest choruses of the post disco era-with a phat funky bass/guitar interaction and Rushen’s Fender Rhodes carrying the Stevie Wonder like jazz/funk chord modulations. In that way,its probably the ideal jazz/funk song for the post disco era. The instrumentation is very live sounding,the melody is very singable and the composition is full of Rushen’s signature jazz phrasings. So on those levels,its just the type of song that really epitomizes her approach to jazzy pop/funk.
Filed under 1980's, drums, Fender Rhodes, Freddie Washington, jazz funk, LA, Patrice Rushen, Paul Jackson, post disco, rhythm guitar, Roy Galloway, slap bass
It was Henrique who brought to my attention today that Kashif Saleem,born Michael Jones in NYC,passed away this last Sunday. The causes is still unknown as of now,and not that important. What does matter is that while Kashif was well known as a producer for other artists,it all stemmed from lesser sung achievements of his own. He joined the disco funk band B.T Express as a teenager for their third album Energy To Burn in 1976. He began producing for Evelyn King on her 1981 hit “I’m In Love”-beginning a long tradition of him producing funky female talent in the early 80’s. His talent went even further than that.
Alongside Stevie Wonder,Kashif is known as a synthesizer pioneer in funk/soul. He extended on Wonder’s work by creating sounds that became known as the boogie funk sound. That is mixing live rhythm sections with electronic orchestrations and melodies. He was an orphan who managed to get up of a very abusive foster family. While in primary school,he focused strongly on music. Even learning woodwind instruments-pretty rare for even multi instrumentalists. His self titled solo debut came out in 1983. The song that epitomizes his artistry on it for me is an instrumental entitled “The Mood”.
A strong,space heavy Afro Latin snare/hi hat drum starts off the song. The remainder of the song consists primarily of Kashif’s vocals and many layers of synthesizers. There’s a fluttering synth string,a wispy higher tones one in the back round and a brittle bass one accompanying the multi tracked layers of Kashif’s almost operatic,jazzy vocalese. On the refrains of the song,the melody goes into a higher key and a high funky rhythm guitar assists the melody. On the final choruses of the song,Kashif sings vocalese through a Vocoder before the song fades out.
Kashif’s boogie funk production style is generally spare but glistening enough to appeal to 80’s soul singers. But the moment I heard this instrumental 12 years ago,it was entrancing what a sonic marvel this really is. Its basically an Afro Latin jazz/funk number produced in the more electronic boogie style-with some beautiful chordal modulations and…just a general magical quality to the synthesized sounds created. Kashif will be remembered for me as someone able to get the most warmth out of 80’s era synthesizers. And I am hoping that will continue to be his most enduring musical legacy.
Earl Klugh is an artist who really changed my perception of the acoustic guitar. Growing up,I saw it as sounding a somewhat trite sound. Primarily a folk instrument to accompany singers doing verse upon verse type songs. That changed a bit when hearing my dad play records by the classical guitarist Julian Bream. But Klugh blew it out the box for me. He really brought out the gutbucket blues and jazzy licks on his guitar. And got me closer to the understanding that the earliest blues numbers were written and played on acoustic guitar.
A Detroit native,Klugh was inspired to play guitar by first hearing Chet Atkins play on TV. As he grew as a player Wes Montgomery,Ray Parker Jr. and pianist Bob James (with whom he’d later collaborate) became huge influences on him. Not just his sound,but his smooth jazz/funk rhythm section. This ethic bought him multiple Grammy nominations and wins over the years. One of my favorite grooves of his came…from his 1981 album Crazy For You-given to me on a cassette a janitor at my dad’s old job saved from the dumpster. The song on this album that keeps my attention up to this very day is called “Twinkle”.
Greg Phillinganes and Pauliho Da Costa start the song off with a percussion/Fender Rhodes melody before Raymond Pounds’ drums kick in over Phillinganes synth solo and the slap bass of Louis Johnson. The refrain adds Pounds drums to the opening melody as Klugh’s guitar is playing and improvising off the bluesy main melody. On the choruses,the same rhythm section play closer to Klugh’s melody. On the second refrain,Philliganes Rhodes takes a bit more presidents. On the bridge,Johnson’s slap bass solo is accompanied by Da Costa’s percussion Phillinganes’ synth brass and Klugh’s guitar riffs fade out the song.
With 16 years to live with this song across the tape,vinyl and CD formats,this represents as close to sheer musical perfection in the sophistifunk end of the jazz funk/fusion genre. The Westlake studio musicians bring to this song the same level of production sheen,razor sharp instrumental chops that Quincy Jones would’ve brought to his productions at the same time. Klugh’s guitar solos had a somewhat old timey blues/jazz flavor in the melodic department. Yet the modernistic early 80’s instrumental production gave the song a sparkling blend of old and new.
Filed under 1980's, acoustic guitar, drums, Earl Klugh, Fender Rhodes, Greg Philinganes, jazz funk, Louis Johnson, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Raymond Pounds, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizers, West Coast
During the mid/late 80’s,Prince was refashioning the MPLS sound into something far beyond its stripped down drum machine/synth brass based new wave style groove it started out as being.His music was becoming far more orchestral and jazzier-showcasing a more live instrumental approach and more improvisational horn charts and solos. In 1986 however, Prince was still close enough to his signature sound to expand on it with some of his newer musical ideas. This came to fruition on the unreleased album Dream Factory,which evolved into Sign O The Times.
When I first started collecting Prince CD’s,Sign O The Times was on my bucket list of albums in terms of introductions to his music. It was actually the last on this list I ended up getting. It was a 2 CD set that I actually had to listen to several times in order to gauge what each song meant to me. Looking back on it now,the album has o conceptual unity as its cobbled together from several unreleased sessions. Yet all the songs sound like they belong together. One of a handful of album tracks that really stood out for me on this particular,the top of that list would be “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker”.
A drum kick on the Linn LM-1 starts out the song. A steady Linn drum track,with a number of call and response Afro Latin percussion accents and claps,remains the main rhythm of the entire song-save for another drum kick before another refrain. The bass line is an intricate,snaky movement sewing the song together. Prince provides a number of unique synth leads here. One is a high,pitch bent one that sounds almost out of tune. The other is a similarly toned line if a bit lower-both improvising on the series of melodies throughout the song until it ends on the same theme on which it began.
Especially since this same man sang “its time for jazz to die” in 1982,this song shows how much Prince had integrated jazz improvisation and Latin drum patterns into his one man band approach by the mid 80’s. Some of the unusual,improvised modulations of the synthesizers on this sound have a similarity to Joni Mitchell’s music,of which Prince was a major fan growing up. He even name drops her as an element in the story told by the lyrics-a rye musing on Prince being played by a cocktail waitress. In terms of his multi instrumental jazz/funk approach,this is among my very favorite Prince songs.