Category Archives: jazz rock

Prince Summer: “Computer Blue” (1984)

In taking to a lot of people with a casual knowledge of Prince,Purple Rain is often their favorite album. And song. Its the period most associated with him. And it isn’t hard to see why. The man had a blockbuster album and motion picture out in a year dominated by Michael Jackson,Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen. It was Prince’s most thoroughly rock album but to that point. At the same time,it was a new wave/synth pop record with a lot of black American musical content-such as jazz and gospel melodic/rhythmic references. As for myself,I do have personal favorite songs on the album.

One of these songs was a song Prince conceived in a very grand way. It would seem that he conceived this song as a 14 minute opus-likely with multiple complex parts. But it does seem interference from Warner’s had him edit the song down intensely. One possible reason for its length was the co-writing credit for his father,John L. Nelson on an element he referred to as “Father’s Song”. This still ended up in the song. Conceptually the song dealt with Prince’s love triangle between himself,Apollonia and Morris Day in the film. The name of this song was called “Computer Blue”.

A classic Minnapolis Linn LM-1 drum clap opens the song-over which Wendy and Lisa have a bit of mildly S&M inspired dialog about hot water in the bath tub. Over this,the main keyboard melody plays over which Prince plays some shrieking guitar flourishes. His piercing scream breaks into the main song. This consists of a quavering,high pitched digital synthesizer,that Linn drum rhythm that opens the song and call and response rock guitar from Prince. On an instrumental bridge Prince plays a fast paced,hard rocking guitar solo before segueing into the “Father’s Song” sequence.

“Fathers Song” is more or less the instrumental bridge of the song. It finds Prince playing his father’s melody on a jazz-rock style guitar solo-accompanied by equally jazzy acoustic piano touches. Prince’s guitar solo begins to rock harder again. And the song returns to its main theme-ending with the same shriek with which it began. This might be the most thoroughly musical song on the Purple Rain  soundtrack. The “Computer Blue” part an economical,brittle new wave synth rock. Than Prince brings in his father’s jazzier tones over his Linn for that bridge. This takes “Computer Blue” to its own unique musical level.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1984, jazz rock, John L. Nelson, Linn Drum, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, piano, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, rock guitar, Soundtracks, synthesizers, Wendy Melvoin

Prince Summer: “Annie Christian” (1981)

 

Prince fourth album,1981’s Controversy  was one of the most fascinating of his career. With the exception of the song “Partyup” at the end of his previous album Dirty Mind, Prince had yet to make any songs with an overt sociopolitical statement. Prince himself claimed that during this time,he was involved in some anti war/anti violence activism in his home town of Minneapolis. This seemed to have been a little known but private affair. After some of the localized and national violence occurring during 1980-81 however,Prince made up his mind to face them more directly on his next album.

Controversy was important for Prince on many levels. It established his own take on the spirituality of secular sexuality that was the mainstay of soul/funk music from the outset. Also it polished up the raw new wave-funk/rock hybrid of the Minneapolis sound of Dirty Mind. And point the way to his immediate musical future of 1999 and Purple Rain in doing so. While it took on the public’s perception of himself (and had it’s share of self centered cockiness),there were many songs here that showcased Prince’s empathy for broader matters. One of the most riveting is a song called “Annie Christian”.

Prince’s Linn drum machine starts out playing a fast paced,brittle samba rhythm. Suddenly an orchestral synth part scales upwards playing what amounts to a jazzily atonal horn chart- as a synth bell descends shortly after. Throughout much of the song,Prince provides a low rock guitar growl-with a low bass line and a hollow keyboard part playing very probing Arabic melodies. On the choruses,this same instrumentation comes into a more melodic context. On the closeout of the song,Prince does a fluid guitar solo while the high pitched synth bell and a Devo-like new wave synth take over on the fade out.

On an instrumental level,”Annie Christian” might be one of the most intricate rock oriented numbers of Prince’s pre-superstar period.  The melodic phrasings of the song incorporate elements of Spanish balladry,Afro-Latin salsa as well as the stiff rhythmic timing of the tango. This is presented through the chilly,electronic synth pop/new wave approach of the instrumentation. The several main synth solos on this song seem to be having a heated,spirited musical conversation. While the rumbling rock guitar of Prince exists to to keep the focus of the music in as simple a state as it can.

This new wave take on Latin rock has a lyric that I’ve been thinking about all day so far. As of this writing,an investigation is being conducted about a mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando,Florida that’s killed 50 people so far. Prince talk sings/raps the story here of the character of Annie Christian,a whore who personifies the anti christ. The murder of black children in Atlanta by Wayne Williams,John Lennon’s murder at the hands of Mark David Chapman and John Hinkley’s attempted murder of Ronald Reagan come together in Prince’s most potent anthem in support of gun control.

*To Support Victims Of The Orlando Mass Shooting,Click here!

 

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Filed under 1980's, gun control, jazz rock, Latin Rock, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, Prince, rock guitar, synth brass, synthesizers

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Slew Foot” by Norman Connors

Norman Connors is a fascinating artist to me. Starting out as a free jazz drummer with people such as Archie Shepp and Pharaoh Sanders,Connors was something of an internal talent scout during the 1970’s. His early solo career consisted of solo albums with an avant garde fusion style that somewhat anticipated the rise of the new age musical concept. By the end of the decade,Connors was known primarily for romantic soul ballads featuring the lead vocals of artists such Jean Carn,the bassist Michael Henderson and his major pet project in the late Phyllis Hyman. One of these ballads,”You Are My Starship” is still his best known song.

Over the past decade or so,I’ve been progressively exploring the music of Norman Connors album by album. Even though he became known for his slow numbers,it was through his uptempo material that his music really evolved. And it was an exciting time too because Connors original run as a solo artist started at the dawn of the funk era and came to a conclusion around the beginning of the post disco period. One major period of his career that has attracted me was from when Connors began transitioning from jazz to a more funk/soul sound in the mid 70’s. And one major cornerstone of that was the title song to his 1974 album Slew Foot.

A hard,fluttering horn chart led by Eddie Henderson opens up the groove as  Connors in similar manner to the Bar Kays’ choral horns from 1967’s “Soul Finger”.  The Clavinet of Hubert Eaves plays additional rhythm support-as each refrain is separated by a break featuring a bluesy amp’d guitar from future Mtume member Reggie Lucus. He is supported on bass by Anthony Jackson on those scaling,cinematic refrains before Lucas gets a chance to really rock out on the middle chorus of the song. The rhythm scales back down to the drums,bass line and Clavinet on the final part of the song. Especially right as the horns fanfare the song right into fade out.

Norman Connors really lifted up cinematic funk at a very important time. This was during the blacksploitation era when Isaac Hayes was winning best musical score for his work on Shaft. Not to mention Curtis Mayfield’s huge success with Superfly  and Roy Ayers with Coffey. Even though this song wasn’t in a movie,it was surely funk that moved itself on every level. Both rhythmically and melodically. It was also a building block in the evolution of Reggie Lucus’s transition into funk with the late 70’s edition of Mtume as well. So as a musician and a major talent assembler,this was some of Norman Connors’ finest funk!

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Anthony Jackson, cinematic soul, clavinet, drums, Eddie Henderson, Funk, Funk Bass, guitar, horns, Hubert Eaves, jazz funk, jazz rock, Norman Connors, Reggie Lucus, 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