Category Archives: jazz fusion

Alphonse Mouzon: Mind Transplant+ More

Mind Transplant

Alphonse Mouzon is turning 68 today. He’s a drummer that I first heard about via my father’s purchase of the double CD set Move To The Groove: The Best Of 70’s Jazz-Funk during the late 1990’s. The song of Mouzon’s featured from that compilation was 1981’s “Do I Have To”. It is currently not available on YouTube. So am doing a special review of the only album of Mouzon’s that I own on CD,1975’s Mind Transplant.  Its special because again,Amazon.com is no longer electing to leave my customer review of the album up. So am going to present it here for you again


As a drummer,keyboardist,composer and producer Alphonse Mouzon it’s funny that his solo career never really made as huge an impact as his main rival at the time Billy Cobham. As drummers,their specialty was dexterity as what you might describe as highly athletic drummers. But the difference’s might’ve lay in the bands they were associated with.

Cobham’s compositions tended to be very technically precise and complex in the manner of Mahavishnu Orchestra’s classic sound . Mouzon came out of Weather Report’s more fluid groove based style of playing. The sounds of those bands alternately effected and were effected by the presence of this two musicians. On here the opportunity presents itself here.

Recorded largely with the company of some enormous guitar talents such as Tommy Bolin,Jay Graydon and Lee Ritenour this album presents a very strong rhythm section exploring too often very different ends of the electric jazz spectrum. The title song explores a perfect mix of jazz-funk and jazz-rock fusions whereas “Snow Bound”,”Happiness Is Loving You” and the vocal number “Some Of The Things People Do”.

The later song addresess escapism through addictions and denial,are all heavy rhythmic funk of the highest (and best played) order. On the more instrumental jazz-rock fusion numbers such as “Carbon Dioxide”,”Golden Rainbows” and “Nitroglycerin” Tommy Bolin takes over as soloist with the exception of “Ascorbic Acid” with Lee Ritenour and Jay Graydon duetting.

As a jazz-funk drummer Mouzon showcases a great deal of talent in terms of his ability not only to express many different ways with the groove but also with his participatory relationship with the other musicians and their playing. On the more jazz-rock numbers his musical dexterity takes over and he falls right into formation with Tommy Bolin who,while only one of three guitar soloists,definitely dominates on the numbers he solos on.

Because there were so many drummers in the fusion genre at the time from Cobham,Stevie Gadd to Norman Connors it didn’t seem like there was much room for the likes of Mouzon. Though matched with more of a technical skill than Connors and possessing a far strong ability with song craft than the more musicianly Cobham,Mouzon probably didn’t enjoy the success he deserved with this album. But he did deserve it.


There is another reason why this overview is special. And its more personal.  A few months ago,Alphonse Mouzon was diagnosed with  Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. This is a rare form of cancer. And is apparently in its latter stages. With the very recent passing of Sharon Jones of another type of cancer, death hangs heavy over the year 2016. Mouzon is still alive though. And a GoFundMe page has been set up for helping out with costs and treatments. Please visit that page. And look to his Facebook page for regular updates on the health status of Mister Alphonse Mouzon.

PLEASE HELP ALPHONSE MOUZON on GoFundMe

 

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Filed under Alphonse Mouzon, Amazon.com, drums, Jay Graydon, jazz funk, jazz fusion, lead guitar, Lee Ritenour, Music Reviewing, Neuroendocrine Carcinoma, rhythm guitar, Tommy Bolin

Anatomy of THE Groove: “In Spiritual Love” by Jean-Luc Ponty

Jean-Luc Ponty is an artist who probably most represents my adult focus on jazz fusion/funk. A virtuosic violinist from Avranches,France Ponty was born into a family of classically trained musicians.  While graduating fairly young from the  Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris with their highest honor,he began listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane while playing with one of the countries major symphony orchestra’s  Concerts Lamoureux. Ponty became known by the end of the 60’s as being a premier example of “jazz fiddle”.

The jazz community at the time had similar doubts as to the violin’s viability in jazz as they had when Rufus Harley introduced bagpipe into the genre. But with his mixture of be-bop phrasings and European classical movements,Ponty became part of the link between jazz fusion and what would become the new age music genre. He released his first solo album at the age of 22 in 1964’s Jazz Long Playing. He played with key members of the modern jazz movement until Frank Zappa wrote songs for his 1969 album King Kong.  He emigrated with his family to America when asked to join Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention.

Ponty participated in the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra albums in the early 70’s as well,before restarting his solo career in 1975. By the early 80’s,he’d toured the world and recorded more than a handful of premier jazz/rock fusion albums. In 1983 he released his 15th studio album Individual Choice. The title song was given one of the first jazz music videos. He also re-ignited his collaboration with the late George Duke. He and Duke recorded a collaborative album together in 1969. And he was the chief composer of my favorite song on Ponty’s 1983 release entitled “In Spiritual Love”.

The main body of this song entirely surrounds the rhythm. Its a funky R&B shuffle done up on a brittle drum machine-surrounded by multiple synthesizer parts. One is a jangling guitar like one,the other is a bluesy bass line while a low and high orchestral one accent both. The melody begins with Ponty plucking the main melody,than playing the last part out on his violin. The song also contains two separate instrumental solos. The first is a classic Minimoog solo from George Duke. The second one is is a full violin solo from Ponty before the song fades back out on its main theme.

Over the last decade or more,I’ve heard most of Jean-Luc Ponty’s 70’s and 80’s studio albums. And enjoyed them strongly based on their album oriented context and impeccable playing. Yet of all the individual songs he’s done,”In Spiritual Love” is one of a handful that stand out strong on its own. The solos are strongly based on Ponty and Duke’s keen understanding of harmonic virtuosity and an inviting sense of melody. But the rhythmic base of the entire song is,outside its electronic presentation,a very funky rhythm & blues shuffle. So this really puts Ponty’s entire musical focus into excellent perspective.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, France, George Duke, jazz fusion, jazz violin, Jean-Luc Ponty, Minimoog, rhythm & blues, synth bass, synthesizers

Anatomy of THE Groove: “This Is This” by Weather Report

Joe Zawinul had a tremendous history in the development of hard bop jazz onto jazz fusion. He immigrated to the US from Austria in 1959. A year later he was part of Cannonball Adderley’s quintet. And he wound up being the composer of Cannonball’s best known song “Mercy Mercy Mercy”. By the late 60’s,Zawinul was playing and writing with Miles Davis on his fusion process album In A Silent Way. When he and another fellow Miles alumni Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report two years later,Zawinul was again pioneering jazz instrumentation into the era of synthesizers.

Between 1971 and 1984,Weather Report recorded 14 albums. Many of them were iconic in the annals of the fusion genre. The band was also well known for developing pioneering bass players. This included Miroslav Vitous,Alphonso Johnson and best known of all the late Jaco Pastorious. The bands final album in 1986 came totally by accident. They thought they’d fulfilled their Columbia contract with their previous album in 1985’s Sportin’ Life. This didn’t end up being the case,so they had to make one more album. And Zawinul really made it one for the road with the title song to their final album called “This Is This”.

Mino Cinelu starts off with some fast paced Afro-Latin  percussion mixed up high. Peter Erksine plays a steady,marching groove that fits like a glove into the spaces left in Cinelu’s percussion. Zawinul and new bassist Victor Bailey rolled right along upfront with one of Zawinul’s most melodically hummable synth bass lines. He provides two for this song-the other a deeper 8-note one later on. Carlos Santana also provides two different guitar parts here-one is high pitched,cosmic guitar atmospherics and some of his exciting lead soloing as well playing call and response to Zawinul’s synth bass lead..

Santana actually get’s accompanied by Zawinul providing two synth brass lines-the first orchestrated big band style ones. This part comes into play after the first few choruses. On the last few choruses of the song, the other synth brass part arrives playing more succinct,funkier charts. By this time Santana’s guitar,Cinelu’s percussion,Erksine’s drums and Zawinul’s synth bass all come together in a beautiful,rhythmic unison of colorful sounds. Little by little,each instrumental element drops out of the mix. And the song slows back into percussion,bass and guitar as it fades.

Before people like Billy Preston and of course Prince,Joe Zawinul was a major pioneer of the bass synthesizers. By 1986,synth brass was the big thing in American pop music with the advent of the Minneapolis sound. With Zawinul having worked it for years,”This Is This” is a highly underrated song for Weather Report-perhaps one of Zawinul’s strongest compositions. The groove is strongly Afrocentric,and the playing is as funky as they come. It really brings out the best in ever instrumentalist involved and allowed Weather Report to go out again innovating with some electro funk style world fusion.

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Filed under 1986, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Carlos Santana, Columbia Records, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, guitar, jazz fusion, Joe Zawinul, Mino Cinelu, percussion, Peter Erksine, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizers, Victor Bailey, Weather Report, world fusion

Miles Again: Don Cheadle and Robert Glasper Being Very Musical About Selim Sivad

Miles Again!

Miles Davis was possessed of a character that was elusive to biographical translation. When Don Cheadle began work on his largely crowd funded motion picture Miles Ahead,the best approach to Miles’ story would be more a personal ambiance than informational. Cheadle imagine Miles Davis as he would like to have seen himself. Along with bits of half remembered personal history and playing witness to fragmented pieces of himself.

Robert Glasper is a modern day pianist who feels exactly the same as Miles did about music in general. That the improvisational art of jazz consistently has to be re-invented with new themes,new standards all the time. And that’s it’s the musician, not the writers/ critics, who sets that tone. Since Cheadle worked with Glapser on  the music surrounding the film,it seemed appropriate to explore the full spectrum of this musical project.

Miles Ahead-Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Over the years,I’ve generally avoided soundtrack albums. It seems all too easy for someone to simply pile a series of songs onto the CD and call it a soundtrack. Don Cheadle’s film Miles Ahead takes a more cinematic approach to the Miles Davis attitude as opposed to being a straight biographical narrative. Cheadle was joined by 80’s era Miles alumni in drummer Vince Wilburn and the defiant pianist Robert Glasper in terms of producing this album. The selection of songs for the project could’ve been exhaustive-considering the breadth of Miles’s recorded catalog of music. So instead of going with the traditional method of soundtracks that keeps me away from most,this takes another sort of approach.

Songs that represent Miles’ modal period such as “So What” flow along into “Solea”,the uptempo “Seven Steps To Heaven” and “Nefertiti”. These represent his acoustic period on this collection It goes from there into what Miles referred to as his “directions in music” with songs like “Frelon Brun” and the 6th take of “Duran”. His full blow fusion sound is represented by “Go Ahead,John”,an edit of “Black Satin” and “Back Seat Betty” from 1981. Glasper provides the sax heavy jazz-funk of “Juniors Jam”,the orchestral electric piano heavy ballad “Francessence”. “What’s Wrong With That?” is a flowing fusion/funk jam with Cheadle actually playing trumpet with the surviving members of Miles second quintet of the 1960’s.”Gone 2015″ ends the album with an big horn fanfare of a jazz/hip-hop number from Glasper and rapper Pharoahe Monich.

This album traces the musical legacy of Miles Davis from 1959 through his early 80’s comeback-the time period dealt with in the film. What really makes it a standout motion picture soundtrack is that it takes the Spike Lee approach in telling a story through the full album format. Moments of Cheadle portraying Miles’s famous quotes and statements are put into the mix as interludes between songs. This allows for the soundtrack to feel like a journey one is taking through the mind of Miles. Which essentially reduces down to an audio version of the films intent. Ending with Miles inspired new numbers from Robert Glasper makes this perhaps the sonic film soundtrack experience of 2016.

Everything’s Beautiful/Miles Davis & Robert Glasper 

Over the last several years,Robert Glasper has been seeking to change the vocabulary of jazz. His approach has always seemed to me very similar in that regard to the late Miles Davis. He often has made similar references that jazz needed to look outside itself for new standards on which to create new improvised art. From what I’ve heard of Glasper,he’s largely looked to hip-hop as a musical medium for the nu jazz sound of which he’s a major player. He ended up being the musical directer behind the new Don Cheadle film Miles Ahead. So it was very exciting for me to see Glasper create an entire project based on the man whose musical ethnic most shaped his own.

“Talking Shit” opens the album with a rhythmic sample of Miles’ 1969 discussion with drummer Joe Chambers that sets up the album title-the trumpet players view on music itself basically. “Ghetto Talk” features the soaring vocals of longtime Glasper collaborator Bilal and while “They Can’t Hold Me Down” brings in rapper Illa J. These songs all have blunted hip-hop beats with jazzy funk atmospherics. “Violets” brings in the Foreign Exchanges’ Phonte in for a brooding,slow swinging piano based groove. “Maiyshia (So Long)” has Erykah Badu dealing with an electronic bossa nova with a sassy rhythm. “Little Church” and “Silence Is The Key” deal with a modern electronica reboot of Miles’ classic modal sound.

“Song For Selim” takes on the same effect of re-imagining modality in a current context while Georgia Anne Muldrow sizzles up the electro swing big time for a makeover of “Milestones”. “I’m Leaving You” is one of my favorites here-thick bluesy funk sampling Miles himself with Ledisi’s vocal leads and John Scofield’s guitar. Stevie Wonder comes in for the closer “Right On Brother”-looking Miles’ solo from “Right Off” into a synth bass heavy funk/house context. Glasper didn’t want a trumpet based tribute to Miles here. He knew the man wouldn’t have wanted that. Instead,he showcased Miles Davis’s influence on musicians as a whole. And did so by again re-inventing the nu jazz sound in the most funky possible manner.

Everyone involved in both of these projects understood very well the creative daring and self absurdness that defined Miles Davis’s music during his lifetime. When it came to Robert Glasper creating his own music based on the Miles attitude and musical school,he did so with the maximum amount of strong,extended melody and funkiness wherever it was needed. So for what would’ve been Miles’ 90th year of life,this is a special occasion.

 

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Filed under 2016, Amazon.com, Don Cheadle, hip-hop/jazz, Jazz, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, nu jazz, Robert Glasper, Soundtracks, trumpet

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Crosswind” by Billy Cobham

William Emanuel “Billy” Cobham shared the same Panamanian heritage with members of the 70’s Latin-funk band Mandrill. After his family moved to New York and playing drums throughout childhood,Cobham attended the New York High School For Music And Art-after which he had a brief time in the army where he played in their band. Upon discharge, he played in Horace Silver’s band-in addition to doing sessions with Stanley Turrentine, Shirley Scott and George Benson. He was part of the original lineup of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early 1970’s before branching out into a solo career.

His solo debut Spectrum was released in 1973 while he was still in the Mahavishnu Orchestra-with band mate Jan Hammer helping out on keyboards. This album is considered a fusion classic. Though it’s funkiness comes mainly as bridges amidst elongated,speedy hard rock rhythms with elaborate improvisations. His sophomore album Crosswinds got far deeper inside the groove-especially with folks like George Duke and the Brecker brothers aboard. And it’s the closing title song that makes that point best.

Cobham set’s the groove up with a slow,funky drum with Lee Pastora providing some thick percussion accents. George Duke lays down a strong bluesy groove of his own with a loud,fuzzed out Fender Rhodes while John Williams brings in an excellent foundational bass line. The Brecker’s and trombonist Garnett Brown provide some accenting,melodic horn charts. John Abercrombie,who worked with Cobham for years,provides some brittle,scintillating hard rock guitar solos until the rhythm section and the horn section brings the entire groove to an abrupt halt.

This song is a fantastic rocking funk-played by some talented jazz players who KNEW how to play funk and do some heavy rock soloing. Though the instrumentation is quite a lot more sleek and tight on this song,the shuffling drum/percussion part and slow,bluesy melody has a similar flavor to Funkadelic’s song “Nappy Dugout” from the same general time period. It really showcases how high the then fairly new funk sound was effecting the most technically inclined of jazz/rock fusion players at the same time that genre was beginning to enter it’s own peak period of musical excellence.

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Filed under 1974, Billy Cobham, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Garnett Brown, George Duke, horns, jazz funk, jazz fusion, John Abercrombie, John Williams, Lee Pastora, Michael Brecker, percussion, Randy Brecker, rock guitar, Saxophone, trombone, trumpet

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

Han

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Andre’s Amazon Archive: Tony Williams Lifetime-The Collection

Tony Williams The Collection

Yep, for years this had me pretty fooled. With a title such as ‘Collection’ it instantly implies an anthology. Well it is and it isn’t. What this offers IS a collection in fact,of the two albums Tony Williams and his New Lifetime released in the mid 70’s namely 1975’s Believe It (with which this CD shares the same basic cover art) and the following years Million Dollar Legs. Both albums are very different and both quite special. The term Lifetime has been used not only for Tony’s first acoustic solo album for Blue Note but also for another group he formed earlier in the 70’s.

And so it continued with these albums,this edition of the band featuring Allan Holdsowrth,Alan Pasqua and Tony Newton on bass and vocals were applicable. With years of experience and prestige in Miles Davis’s classic 60’s quintet Williams had the opportunity to keep going nearly indefinitely without the need to prove himself musically. All the same,even before the fusion years Tony Williams was a huge classic rock fan (Beatles,Rolling Stones,etc) so by the time the electric period of jazz/fusion came in he was more than prepped as a musician for the thudding loudness of rock n roll drumming and on all of the tunes here that’s very apparent.

Not only that but this is fusion that takes more cues even than usual from it’s rockier side with Holdsworth laying down some particularly gritty rock guitar solos on crawling,churning heavy jazz rockers such as “Fred”,the intense and tight “Red Alert”,”Mr’Spock” and Tony’s own composition “Wildlife” whereas “Snake Oil” and “Proto-Cosmos” favor a somewhat more funk centered sound with a bit more subtlety. By the time we get to “Sweet Revenge” from the second album presented there was a big change in sound. The thudding rock rhythms and guitar solos were replaced by a streamlined funk/fusion sound complete with horn charts,more prominent synthesizer textures and even pop/R&B style vocals from Tony Newton on “You Did It to Me”.

Now that’s not to say Williams neglected the heavier rock fusion element to his sound as “Million Dollar Legs”,”Joy Filled Summer”,”What You Do To Me” and the extended 9 minute workout of “Inspirations Of Love”, with it’s memorable catchy melody and BAAAAD drum solo from Tony towards the end show that he had absolutely no intention of neglecting his way with jazz musicianship and improvisation. Much as with his old boss Miles,Tony was able to allow huge changes in his music while still maintaining a style that was distinctly his as well as contributing positively to the continuing development of the then still relatively new genre of fusion.

*Review originally posted on November 5th,2010

 

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Filed under 1970's, Alan Pasqua, Allan Holdsworth, Amazon.com, Blue Note, drums, jazz fusion, jazz rock, New Tony Williams Lifetime, Tony Williams, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “On The Case” by Alphonso Johnson

Alphonso Johnson seems to me as a bassist whose contributions to the iconic fusion band Weather Report are rather under heralded. That could be because he was sandwiched in between their original bass player Miroslav Vitous and of course Jaco Pastorious. As a session man,he joined up with Billy Cobham on and off for many years. He also had stints back up Genesis/Phil Collins on multiple occasions as well playing on former LTD lead singer Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 solo debut. The reason I personally tend to view Johnson as a rather obscure artist is because I only found out that he even had a solo career at all just under a decade ago. And have the feeling I may not be the only one.

One of the greatest things to happen in the post millennium internet age is the advent of two things: reissue record labels and YouTube. If it weren’t for those two things, this blog would be a lot different than it is. In 1976-1977 during his years with Cobham,Alphonso Johnson recorded three solo albums on the Epic label. These featured the backing of some of the major fusion instrumentalists of the time-all touched by the music of Alphonso in some kind of way. I have two on vinyl,since the CD versions were difficult to locate upon going out of print. Only his second album Moonshadows was something I was able to locate on CD. And one song that stood out on it for me was “On The Case”.

Alphonso starts off with a shuffling bass solo that has a bluesy,up-scaling melody that is very similar in tone to the electric piano solo on Steely Dan’s ” Black Friday”. Drummer Narada Michael Walden keeps that shuffle going while Dawilli Conga adds a counter melody on electric piano. Separated by progressive fusion bursts of intense drums, Alphonso’s solos expand along with the electric piano into fuzz toned psychedelia. On the second refrain,Lee Ritenour plays a mid toned rhythm guitar solo. This grows to a heavier intensity with the solo Lee takes on the third and final refrain of the song. Conga’s electric piano leads the shuffling rhythm to the songs fade out.

This particular song always stuck out to me with how much it finds the funk in the blues and the blues when it rocks. The rhythmic base of the song is in a strong groove-with Narada staying on the one primarily through the use of hi hat. And all of the musicians understanding of the jazz/rock fusion style comes out here as well. Alphonso’s funkiness on the bass gives it all a phat center that keeps the focus consistent.  I’ve started to realize that rock ‘n’ roll is often a far simpler musical form than it might like itself to be. Yet with the combination of jazz harmonies and electric funk within the fusion genre,songs like this found a great middle ground in which to rock up the funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Alphonso Johnson, bass guitar, Blues, Epic Records, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lee Ritenour, Narada Michael Walden, Psychedelia, rock 'n' roll, Steely Dan, Uncategorized, YouTube

Anatomy Of THE Groove Special Presentation-Wishing A Happy Birthday To Lenny White: “Universal Love” (1978)

Somehow I  clearly remember first hearing jazz/fusion icon Lenny White as solo artist first. And never even having heard him as the drummer for Chick Corea’s Return To Forever from 1973 through 76.  My first impression,through DJ/musician Nigel Hall’s radio show at the University Of Maine,was via White’s debut solo album Venusian Summer from 1975. Had to warm to that album. At the time? The Wounded Bird label was reissuing White’s 70’s solo catalog on CD. So it was exciting to know I’d be hearing more of his music.

Now eventually ended up with all of those reissues. But the one that caught my years most was a 1978 album called The Adventures Of Astral Pirates. It blended some of the sci fi elements of RTF’s music,not to mention the spirituality of EWF and the narrative style of P-Funk with it’s comic strip style liner notes. However there was one song on this wonderfully space funk/fusion recording that really caught my ear in a big way. It was sung by the late Don Blackman,soon to be part of White’s group Twennynine. And it was called “Universal Love”.

It all gets started with Blackman’s piano and and Jeff Sigman’s Brazilian style rhythm guitar,which quickly morphs into a thick and fat funky bass/guitar interaction to sequel into Blackman’s first vocal refrain. The first chorus begins with a falsetto vocal that goes into a sleek,electric piano led late 70’s jazz/pop melody before going into an instrumentally chunkier version of the refrain before going into an extended version of the chorus and the intro itself. And it all concludes with very final crescendo’s for each of the songs musical themes.

This song stands as a fine example of the dreamiest end of the space funk sound. The atmospheric jazz/fusion element that comes from bassist Alex Blake and Don Blackman’s touches put this right tune with what I call “people music”. Even with the talented Lenny White’s fast paced,spasmodic progressive style of drumming? It’s impressive to hear how much he seems to have learned from Clyde Stubblefield about what not to play as a funky drummer. The space White puts into this song really allows the powerful groove and melody to be at it’s most expansive.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Alex Blake, bass guitar, Don Blackman, drums, Funk Bass, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lenny White, Uncategorized, Wounded Bird Records

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 11/29/2015: “I Can’t Help It” by Esperanza Spalding

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!

 

 

 

 

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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