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.
Esperanza Spalding has always celebrated the ebb and flow of jazz in her career arc thus far. Being a bassist and therefore rhythm player,she’s adapted herself into a number of different tributaries of jazz. From small chamber groups,to vocal to funk. On the latter end her Radio Music Society album of five years ago dovetailed nicely into her work with Janelle Monae a year later on their collaborative song “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”. There is one concept that Spalding has been evolving over the last few years. It’s based on her understanding of the 60’s super group Cream consisting of jazz oriented members in Jack Bruce and the late Ginger Baker. And that’s her adapting her sound to a rock power trio.
That trio consists of guitarist Matthew Stevens,whose played with Christian Scott and on Harvey Mason’s newest album along with drummers Justin Tyson and Karriem Riggins-the latter of whom is also a DJ whose played for Erykah Badu and with Slum Village. Their brand new album is titled for an alter ego (Spalding’s middle name) called Emily’s D+Evolution. She describes this concept as dealing with a modern mind afflicted by a primal urge. And how great strides in creative development could be inspired from a less enlightened version of oneself. As applied to the music of Spalding’s new album, only one track with a groove that impacted strongly on me. And it is called “Judas”.
The song begins with the peddling swinging drum rhythm with Spalding scaling up and down on her electric bass. After that the high pitched electric/acoustic guitar comes in to accent the songs constantly scaling and complex chordal structure. The song itself is very chorus heavy-with the Afro-Latin rhythm breaks of the percussive,hi hat heavy drumming being the consistent element in a song where the main melodic change is from the major chords of the chorus to the more minor chords of the refrains. After each repeat,the calmer riff that opens the song repeats itself before the next set of choral refrains until Spaldings vocals and the hi hat cycle out of the song itself.
Because this song is stripped down with a vocal melody based around the chords of the rhythm section, this song has a similar musical technique to the be-bop styled singer/songwriter folk-pop of Joni Mitchell’s late 70’s work. Instrumentally the trio she’s playing with project a strong jazzy fluidity here. Having streamed this album early on,I was quite unimpressed with what came across as raggedy alternative rock instrumentation that seemed to get in the way of Spalding’s complex songwriting on the majority of the album. But the combination of the boppish Latin rhythms makes this one song stand out as both jazzy and funky.
About the “Emily” concept itself it’s effects on this song,Esperanza herself describes this musical character as someone she does not yet know fully. She’s been touring for a year or so now with what’s known as the ACS trio-also consisting of Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington with the songs from this album.Lyrically the song “Judas” comes across as the childhood dreams that inspired Spalding for this musical act. If I were to try to break it down,the lyrics to this song seem to be about just making it in a complex world. And it’s described more in terms of stream of conscious actions than realistic events. So the music and lyrics of this song really look to providing Spalding clarity for her new concept.
Filed under 2016, Afro-Latin jazz, alternative rock, bass guitar, drums, Esperanza Spalding, Jazz, jazz funk, Joni Mitchell, Karriem Riggins, Matthew Stevens, new music, Nu Funk, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized