Category Archives: Kool & The Gang

Kool & The Gang,By Any Other Name,Still Have The Groove

Kool & The Gang are one of a handful of bands whose music shaped the way I perceive music. They first did so with their early 80’s hits,which were newer in the years I growing up. Their 70’s era music had a similar effect when I was in my mid teens. During the 70’s,the were a jazzy funk band heavy on instrumentals. And with a trade off based collective vocal approach. In the 80’s,they’d turned into a hook filled post disco/funk pop band with lead singer J.T. Taylor. And they returned sporadically with other approaches after that. Each era was its own thing musically. But they were always Kool & The Gang.

With that being my own view on it,it really took me by surprise when reading Rickey Vincent’s book Funk! in the late 90’s that Kool & The Gang were seen by some as a band who’d gone “far beyond devoid of funk”. Opinions are opinions of course. But ever since that time,especially after going online,its a topic that I’ve wanted to explore with different people. And it would seem Vincent’s viewpoint is shared by many people who admire Kool & The Gang. Even apparently among some members. Today,I’m not writing to counter anyone’s opinion. Simply seeking to pull the whole situation together.

The band came together in 1964 when a group of high school friends,among them Robert and Ronald Bell,formed an instrumental group called the Jazziacs. Changing their names to Kool & The Flames,the replaced that word with “gang” to avoid confusion with James Brown’s backup vocal group. Signing with Dee Lite records in 1969,the band actually began to record a series of albums that showcases a percussive,horn based jazz/funk sound that had JB himself referring to the band as “the second baddest out there”,next to him of course.

Songs such as “Hollywood Swinging”,”Jungle Boogie” and “Funky Stuff” even crossed over onto the pop charts. 1974’s “Summer Madness” impressed Sylvester Stallone enough that it was used in the first Rocky movie. The bands 1976 hit “Open Sesame”,an middle Eastern influenced disco/funk groove,actually became part of the blockbuster  Saturday Night Fever  soundtrack. Kool & The Gang’s place in the pantheon of funk and now the disco scene was officially established. One thing that Kool & The Gang still lacked by the end of the 70’s though was a lead singer fronting them.

The same year as Saturday Night Fever, the band released a new album entitled  The Force. By this time,the female vocal quartet of  Beverley Owens, Cynthia Huggins, Joan Motley and Renee Connell were essentially acting as the bands lead voices. And the male group members,who once shared the leads,often did more backup vocals. 1978’s Everybody’s Dancing,as with its predecessor,was not a commercial success. But it did find the band creating a more pop oriented atmosphere with a sound that didn’t deviate much from their “Open Sesame” era sound.

Kool & The Gang’s 1977-78 albums were two of the most important albums in their musical evolution. Though not everyone realized that because they had no major single to anchor them in the public eye. By the end of the 70’s,Kool & The Gang actually had a commercially and creatively workable sound to deal with. But they needed a hit. And to do that,they’d need a lead singer. Enter North Carolina native James “JT” Taylor. He joined the band right around the time they began working with Brazilian jazz/funk producer Eumir Deodato to complete the alteration of their sound.

Deodato was deep in his disco period by 1979. Especially in his love of instrumental filters and singable melodies. The result of this new configuration for Kool & The Gang resulted in “Ladies Night”,their first R&B/crossover hit in several years. It had a strong funky strut to the groove. And also had a very melodic,singable chorus. The song was a smash,they had a follow up in the slower jam “Too Hot”,JT Taylor was a major success as a lead singer. And next up was their best known pop hit,1980’s “Celebration”.

Recently I learned the band didn’t particularly like that song. With one or two people I’ve talked to citing it as having more of a country pop influence than anything. On Kool & The Gang’s four albums produced by Deodato,hits such as “Get Down On It” and “Big Fun” were catchy,horn heavy pop funk pieces. Album tracks such as “Stand Up And Sing” and “Street Kids” (one of my personal favorites) dealt with lean,mean boogie funk with deep and dirty bass/guitar/keyboard riffing. After 1982,Deodato moved on. And so did Kool & The Gang.

The bands 1983 album In The Heart and its 1984 follow up Emergency showcased Kool & The Gang as mainly doing pop crossover material. Some with a pronounced new wave influence-even to the point of adding rock guitar solos. Still both of these albums contained funk oriented tunes such as “Rollin'”,”You Can Do It”,”Surrender” and even the hit “Fresh”. On their 1986 album Forever,some of the music leaned more towards danceable freestyle funk. But they were now using synthesized horns. And after this,their sound really wasn’t as strongly rooted anymore. Especially in terms of funk.

Many of the strongest and historic bands and soloists in black American music (Miles Davis for example) have a number of distinct creative periods. Some are motivated by desire to grow musically. Others are motivated by desire for commercial success. in Kool & The Gang’s case,it would seem both factors were in play. Their musical sound only ran out of steam when they’d been recording and touring non stop for over 20 years. And that’s perfectly understandable. Now personally,do I feel with all this being said that JT Taylor era Kool & The Gang was lacking in funk? Absolutely not.

To be frank,a degree of the criticism against 80’s Kool & The Gang has some of the ingredients that go into the making of jazz snobbery. The band brought a lot of collective improvisation into their sound. And along with it came a strong spiritual identity and a sexually implicit sense of humor. Often times when any group celebrated for their musically improvisational ability begin offering straighter melodies,such a group can find themselves looked down upon as no longer being artists. Of making music only for the purpose of financial gain. In short,becoming sellouts.

Because of their successful jazzy funk of the early/mid 70’s,Kool & The Gang have indeed seem to have met with a similar fate to other jazz improvisers,such as the aforementioned Miles Davis, who tweaked their sounds to get more people into their music. Kool & The Gang’s music was always about reaching people from the get go. But as it is in life,people’s musical tastes and interests changed. And so did the band. I applaud Kool & The Gang for so successfully reinventing their funk. Perhaps it will be the passage of time that will show more love for the reinvention of the original scientists of sound.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Disco, Eumir Deodato, jazz funk, Jersey City, Kool & The Gang, pop-funk, Robert Kool Bell, Ronald Bell

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Wild And Peaceful’ by Kool & The Gang (1973)

Wild And Peaceful

It would take a very long time to even begin to explain why I’ve neglected purchasing this album for such a long time. It would also take a long time to explain my viewpoints on funk music at this point. All I can say is this. A friend of mine once described funk as the “punk music of the black community”,mainly in the sense it was the hardest edge (and by and large most sociopolitical) of the soul music genre. Difference was funk required a very high level of musicianship,usually in a band context to bring out the best in it.

When this album came out Kool & The Gang had been a musically successful recording and performing band for almost half a decade. And had released loads of excellent music,both in the studio and live. But something clicked with this release. It was the “united funk” era. And the music in every sense was in it’s peak period. And this is one of a slew of albums that represents that.

This album got three big pop chart hits for Kool & The Gang,their first if I recall with “Funky Stuff”,”Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”. These songs are 100% first period era K&TG: with the heavy horns,dynamic rhythms and these looseness of playing that defined the bands sound. Aside from that this albums goes deep into another important factor of the funk. Though almost a breezy ballad the conversational “Heaven At Once” finds an adult and teenage man engaged in a dialog over what they should expect of themselves in society.

“This Is You,This Is Me” offers a really charged up rhythmic section,with a churning bass/guitar and the message of “in the ghetto I’ve never seen a tree/this is you/this is me” indicating funks central message of the celebration of difference rather than us all being alike. On “Life Is What You Make It”,it’s a very upbeat and empowering groove. The album ends on the 9+ minute title song,a soothing jazz oriented instrumental number giving members Spike and Dee Tee,on trumpet and flute respectively more chances to solo.

In a way this album links one era of Kool & The Gang to the next. Earlier on in their career,before this album they’d been a band that emphasized instrumentation more than vocals. Their vocal set up was even looser than their sound was. Even when the harmonies were looking to be close. They seemed to be a band more about music than getting pop hits. Somewhere along the line with this album,pop hits found them. Although in two cases on songs that had a very implicit sexual impulse and one that celebrated their success.

At least I’d like to hop it attracted people to the album because the non hit material is often what has the most musical and lyrical value. The message of this album is one that the band would continue on with over the next several albums: a strong awareness of Afrocentric spirituality and a call for unity among all those deemed as unique. This was the conclusion of one era for the band but the beginning of another. But that’s another story.

Originally posted on July 25th,2012

Link To Original Review Here*

 

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Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, classic albums, classic funk, Funk, jazz funk, Kool & The Gang, Music Reviewing

Grooves On Wax: Black Wax In Black Music Month

James Brown Showtime

James Brown’s albums up to the beginning of the mid 60’s seem to be helpful in showcasing what was influential on the future Godfather Of Soul. This 1964 album,his debut for Smash,is an excellent example of this. JB starts out with a spirited cover of the R&B classic “Caledonia”,originally by Louie Jordan & The Timpani Five. As a studio album overdubbed with applause,these songs find JB singing the blues on a number of rhythm & blues shuffles-removed for the most part from his typical live show of the era.

Key Jams: “Evil” and “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”

Mirium Makeba

Miriam Makeba is an artist I’ve always interesting in hearing more from. This is an excellent album from 1967 for her. It really does a lot to bring out the sound of African soul-with a lot of elements that would eventually go into the world fusion sound in the future. Especially with the songs not all being sung in English. She even adds a folk song called “A Piece Of Ground”-which runs down the horrid inequity of apartheid in South Africa.

Key Jam: “Pata Pata”

Odyssey Of Iska

Wayne Shorter made this 1971 avant garde jazz album as he was transitioning from Miles Davis’s second quintet of the mid/late 60’s onto fusion pioneers Weather Report. And it really shows as Gene Bertoncini’s guitar-with it’s rhythmic overdrive along with former quintet made Ron Carter’s bass and Alphonse Mouzan’s drumming give this album the kind of Afro-Brazilian jazz/funk process sound Miles himself was already diving headlong into.

Key Jams: “Storm”,“De Pois Do Amor,O Vazio” and “Joy”osibisa-woyaya(16)

Osibisa are a  British,mostly Ghanan Afro pop group who were first described to me as being called “Obsidica”,and sounding like the Isley Brothers. Neither of those things being true of course,this 1971 album is in the Afro-Latin funk/rock/soul collection jamming much in the style of Mandrill and Santana.

Key Jams: “Beautiful Seven” and “Move On.

robertaflack-quietfire-cover

Roberta Flack is someone who today could almost be considered the godmother of neo-soul. Her understated vocal approach and naturally based instrumental style was a precurser of that. Especially on her earlier albums.  On these records though,they caught some heavily funky fire on a song or two. This 1971 release actually has a bit more than others-especially her ultra gospel drenched version of the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody”.

Key Jams: “Go Up Moses” and “Sunday And Sister Jones”

Edwin Birdsong

Edwin Birdsong,keyboardist and songwriter for the Roy Ayers Ubiquity who later worked with Stevie Wonder,really put himself out on this ultra funky 1972 debut album. He was a heavy purveyor of sociopolitical “people music” message songs as well. Even the lone ballad “It Ain’t No Fun Being a Welfare Recipient” tells the kind of story you generally don’t hear on too many slow jams. Birdsong’s holds-no-barred approach to humanitarian lyricism really inspires my personal funky emotions.

Key Jams:”The Uncle Tom Game” and “When A Newborn Baby Is Born,The Gets One More Chance” 

Open Sesame

Kool & The Gang totally reinvent the chemistry of their groove on this 1976 album,in their positions as The Scientists Of Sound. The jacket folds in half on the front to find portraits of the band members in the garb of Morrish royalty. From the casting of the “genie of sound” on the title song onward,this album finds their sound in direct transition from the heavy jazz/funk based sound of their earlier music to the disco era soul/funk melodicism of their under appreciated late 70’s pre JT Taylor period.

Key Jams: “Open Sesame”,“All Night Long” and “Super Band”

brick------_goodhigh-_101b

Brick’s sophomore album was where I discovered this heavily jazz based disco funk band. This 1976 debut album for them really helped put together their “disco jazz” type of music very well-with songs that featured more instrumental oriented jamming on many of the songs rather than the more heavily constructed pop type songs they would be known for on their following recordings.

Key Jams: “Dazz” and “Brick City”

Melba Moore

Melba Moore’s Broadway experience really helped her theatrical variety of heavily orchestrated soul balladry and disco/dance records she recorded during the 70’s. This 1978 album from her,produced by the Philly team of McFadden & Whitehead,contains one of my very favorite songs by her in the funkified “You Stepped Into My Life”.

Key Jams: “You Stepped Into My Life” and “It’s Hard Not To Like You”

Ohio Players - Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee -

The Ohio Players final album for Mercury from 1978 has gotten very mixed views from fans of this classic funk band. Yet from the very beginning,they make it more than clear that the then burgeoning disco sound was not yet effecting their heavy funkiness. As a matter of fact,this particular album is home to some of the hardest hitting funk the band ever made.

Key Jams: “Funk-O-Nots”,“Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee” and “Dance (If You Wanta)”

Pleasure

Pleasure’s jazz-funk sound out of Portland,Oregon is one that I am just beginning to explore. This 1980 album of theirs has become something of a big deal in recent years. With their sophistifunk production and jazzy instrumental solos,the band seem to have made their mark in the annals of funk as it transitioned from the 70’s onto the 80’s.

Key Jams: “Now You Choose Me” and “Yearnin’ Burnin'”

brass-construction-attitudes-20120328040716

Brass Construction’s title song for this 1982 album was one I thought came from Cameo due to a mislabeled MP3 sometime ago. It led me to the vinyl album,which is now recognizable as the bands transition to the stripped down,electro/naked/boogie funk sound of the early 80’s. It’s almost completely uptempo funk based saved for the jazzy mid tempo ballad “ETC”.

Key Jams: “Can You See The Light”,“Forever Love” and “Attitude”

slave-bad-enuff-1089025-1437603644

Slave were the last and youngest of the classic Dayton,Ohio funk bands,and were some of the architects of the boogie funk sound. That’s very prominent on this 1983 album,their first album of the 80’s without Steve Arrington. Actually,it’s a strong transition from their original live band approach to their more electro funk oriented sound that was about to come.

Key Jams: “Steppin’ Out” , “Turn You Out (In & Out)” and “Show Down”

isley-jasper-isley-broadways-closer-to-sunset-blvd-bonus-track-version-5954759-1448546073

Ernie and Marvin Isley along with Chris Jasper struck out as their own trio in 1984. This debut album from the same year is actually one of the strongest boogie funk albums of its era. That’s because the brittle drum machines are accented by the same powerful percussion the 3+3 Isley Brothers were known for.  That rhythmic approach mixed with layers of synthesizers,bass and guitar make this an superb extension  of the Isley sound as heard on the Between The Sheets from a year earlier.

Key Jams: “Serve You Right” and “Break This Chain

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Afro Funk, avant-garde, Blues, Brass Construction, Brick, Edwin Birdsong, electro funk, Funk, funk albums, Isley-Jasper-Isley, James Brown, Kool & The Gang, Melba Moore, Miriam Makeba, Ohio Players, Osibisa, Pleasure, rhythm & blues, Roberta Flack, Slave, Uncategorized, Vinyl, Wayne Shorter

Anatomy of THE Groove:”Ancestral Ceremony” by Kool & The Gang

With the beginning of the third official year of Andresmusictalk? It’s hard to realize that Kool & The Gang have never been officially covered in the Anatomy of THE Groove segment. James Brown himself referred to them as “the second baddest out there” during his prime funk period. And  at least somewhere in their now 46 year strong career?  The band have continued to find some way to give up the funk,and grow with it’s changes to meet great success. Still,it was the early to mid 1970’s that really showed just what Kool & The Gang were musically capable of.

Starting off primarily as an instrumental group with occasional unison vocals? The mid 70’s bought more concise and pop hook driven numbers that focused on individual vocal trade off’s. This resulted in their first massive crossover hits such as “Jungle Boogie”, “Funky Stuff” and “Hollywood Swinging”. In 1975 the band released their sixth studio album entitled Spirit Of The Boogie. It helped define them,and the Bell brothers burgeoning Muslim spirituality,through a stronger Afrocentrity. The song that pulls that all together for me is “Ancestral Ceremony”.

The chant”yeah yeah YEAH!” from the bands female backup singers Something Sweet begin it all with the accompaniment of Kalimba and nothing more. Shortly thereafter,drummer George Brown’s phased hi hat roll rings in the percussion,than the steadier main rhythm. A phat and thumping symphony of synthesized and electric bass sets the stage for the bands trademark horns to join into the musical festival. The entire group along with the backup singers join back into the opening chant with Khalis Bayyan’s jazzy tenor sax solo to close out the groove.

While just about any funk from Kool & The Gang in this time period is cream of the crop of it’s genre? Something about the instrumental,vocal and thematic attitude of this song sums up the “united funk” era in just over three minutes. 1974-1976 found them at the height of their artistic and commercial pinnacle. And it was good for them personally because the lyrics to this song found them with the understanding of being “scientists of sound,rhythmatically puttin’ it down” while “making merry music” all the way. So this is some of the very finest funk ever recorded!

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Filed under 1970's, Afrocentrism, bass synthesizer, classic funk, drums, Funk Bass, George Brown, jazz funk, Kalimba, Khalis Bayyan, Kool & The Gang, Muslim, percussion, Uncategorized