Category Archives: Marvin Gaye

‘What’s Going On’ at 45: The Time Marvin Gaye Reminded Us That Only Love Could Conquer Hate

Marvin Gaye (1971) - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition 2001) (A)

Marvin Gaye had to fight Berry Gordy at Motown to get this album made and released. The label was transitioning from Detroit to Los Angeles at the time. Vietnam kept raging on,President Nixon was blowing a dog whistle to bring down the sociopolitcal revolts of the 60’s and Marvin was depressed. He decided to write an album from the point of view of his brother Frankie-coming back into an unwelcoming America from Vietnam. With the help of the Four Tops’ Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Motown’s bass maestro James Jamerson, Marvin came up with a musical masterpiece whose appeal is still evolving.

What’s Going On has a basic groove-a cinematic soul jazz sort of sound on just about every song. Marvin scats and improvises many of the vocal adlibs himself. The title song begins the album on a happier note-hoping that people will come to deal with the racial,political and ecological concerns Marvin is so troubled by. By the time of the instrumentally brilliant,percussive Latin soul stomp of “Inner City Blues”,Marvin has given up. He sings “make me wanna holler/throw up both my hands”. To this day,it’s really up to the given listener whether they feel Marvin’s mixed emotions here are cathartic or enervating.

Berry Gordy turned out to be very wrong that this album had no potential. Not only was it a huge commercial success for Marvin Gaye,but he could hardly go one concert after this without inserting the title song of this album into his set. That goes to show how sometimes,the artist making the music really has more of a finger on the pulse of the people than those peddling their raw creative material. In 2001,the album was expanded into a 2 CD deluxe edition. Upon hearing it,I went to Amazon.com and reviewed this new presentation of this 1971 classic on thoroughly musical terms:

How do you make a overly reissued album classic better? Well actually this one DOES-I love all the songs on ‘What’s Going On’-it’s a great album but I always felt that it was highly overproduced.This one starts with the original followed by a different variation on the same album called ‘the original Detroit Mix’-THIS version is far more understated in the finest Donny Hathaway tradition and truly brings out the richness of Marvin’s voice and the depth of his vision-the sparer arrangement actually better expresses the music’s message of urban and environmental blight.There’s still orchestration but it isn’t mixed so high.

It’s also forcing one to acknowledge how great a pianist Gaye is.And that’s why I highly recommend that those who purchased previous issues of this CD should go out and pick this set up-that along with a bonus disk of live material and outtakes make this the definitive version of this album-to such an extent myself bought this and gave my original CD issue of this album (in this case the tepid ripoff of 1994’s so called ‘deluxe edition’) to my dad,a fellow music lover who I felt would benefit from having the album in his collection alongside his other classics like The Beatles White Album,Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Superfly’ and John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ where it belongs!For those who want to replace an old copy of this CD with a better one LOOK NO FURTHER!For those you for whatever reason haven’t been initiated-well,what more can I say-there is no better place to come!

Marvin was seeking with this album,to quote George Clinton about funk in general,not to tell people what to think but that they CAN think. It begins with a black man who’d made good in the world. And him looking through the eyes of a loved one who wasn’t so lucky in that regard. He starts out with a degree of optimism. By the end of the album,one realizes how much of a thoroughly human figure Marvin Gaye was. By the time it ends, he has almost lost  hope. Especially with Jamerson’s bass lines,the instrumentation is what tends to carry the positivity through when even Marvin can’t anymore.

This is the type of album inspired a lot of artists to make what I refer to as “people music”-a type of message music that takes the ethnocentric melodies and rhythms of the artists back-round to express important ideas. Unintentionally, this album became the “people music” for Generation X . This is an intelligent and aware generation of Americans who often lacked focus and interest. And with the election of Gen Xer Barack Obama for two presidential terms in America, this album seemingly succeeded in getting a generation who didn’t want to get involved to find that way to bring  loving here today.

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1971, Berry Gordy, cinematic soul, Detroit, Frankie Gaye, Generation X, James Jamerson, Los Angeles, Marvin Gaye, message music, Motown, people music, Renaldo Obie Benson, Vietnam War, What's Going on

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Nature Boy” by George Benson (1977)-Vocal

George Benson’s vocal style always reminded me a great deal of a higher pitched Donny Hathaway,with just a touch of Stevie Wonder’s melisma for good measure. His vocal tone had such a general strumming quality,his technique of scatting with his guitar became a signature technique. So it was no surprise for me to find out that Benson was in fact someone who knew personally. And they had a musical connection with Phil Upchurch as Benson later covered Hathaway’s “The Ghetto”. Also important is that Benson had always sang AND played throughout his career-long before his 70’s commercial peak. So he is very accessible to appreciate on a purely vocal level as well as instrumental.

In 1976 Benson had a humongous bit of luck with his album Breezin’-produced by Tommy Lipuma and featuring the Bobby Womack penned title hit and his iconic cover of the Leon Russell ballad “This Masquerade”. Also being his debut for Warner Bros. records,Benson was now firmly positioned as a singer/musician who’d have a strong ear as an interpreter. Especially with his back round as a viruosic jazz guitar improviser. His second Warner Bros. release came out in 1977 and was called In Flight. It featured the same lineup of musicians as it predecessor. My personal favorite song from this album is a version of the Nat King Cole standard “Nature Boy”.

Cinematic strings sweep through the beginning of the song. These strings literally segue into Harvey Mason’s drums clipping along at roughly 96 bpm along with Stanley Banks’s two note popping bass,while Jorge Dalto’s Clavinet drives right in the groove along with it. Ralph McDonald’s percussion takes that rhythmic stroll along the way as Ronnie Foster’s electric piano plays along with bell like beauty. This basic groove is the musical atmosphere of the entire song-with the strings moving to the forefront for every other chorus. Benson’s lead vocal carries the first half of the song. On the final minute or two, the melodic focus is on Benson’s guitar/scatting hybrid technique he is so well known for.

When I first heard this,I had no idea Nat Cole wrote  it. Benson sings the original melody very faithfully. At the same time,his timing along with the slow crawling, percussive romantic funk called to mind Marvin Gaye’s musical sound of the same period. Gaye had already done a version of this song in 1965. His interpretation was very close to the original. What Benson bought to the song vocally was not only a more modern gospel/soul flavor,but also that more contemporary Brazilian style jazz/funk instrumental atmosphere. It did an excellent job showcasing the evolution of black American music and to me represents an important milestone for George Benson the singer.

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Filed under 1970's, bass guitar, clavinet, drums, electric piano, George Benson, Harvey Mason, jazz funk, Jorge Dalto, Marvin Gaye, Nat King Cole, percussion, Phil Upchurch, Ralph McDonald, rhythm guitar, Ronnie Foster, Stanley Banks, strings, Tommy Lipuma, Uncategorized, Warner Bros.

Anatomy of THE Groove: “After The Dance (Instrumental)” by Marvin Gaye

Wanted to start this by giving thanks to two people who helped make today’s Anatomy of THE Groove occur. First is Brandon Ousley. It was through a Facebook post of his that I was made aware that today was the 40th anniversary of the release of Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You. When I first heard this album,it was a literal love affair for me in terms of appreciating it musically. It was an equal source of heartbreak after reading David Ritz biography of Marvin entitled Divided Soul. That book overly personalized  Marvin’s 70’s albums for me to the point where the lyrics became uncomfortably subjective. It was my friend Henrique who I wanted to thank most for helping me on that level.

This 1976 Marvin Gaye album featured two of it’s songs in instrumental reprises. Including one of my favorites “After The Dance”. In an effort to stop getting the singer confused with the song,focusing on Marvin as a musical figure is a good way to go. And the subtext Henrique provided for me courtesy of Michael Eric Dyson’s book on Marvin called Mercy Mercy Me. It would seem that while recording this instrumental with writer/producer Leon Ware,Marvin had intended flutist Ernie Watts to play the main melodic solo. But he noticed the horns and strings were out of tune in some spots where he Watts’ solo wasn’t quite enough to compensate.

One Motown engineer Marvin was working with at that time was named Calvin Harris. He had a Moog synthesizer. Apparently Marvin was fascinated by the range of sounds this electronic instrument was capable of if multi tracked in the same way he did his vocals on the sung version of the song. Initially he did this only in order to cover the out of tune orchestrations that weren’t settling well with him. Then he realized he could use it to create his own musical world where Ernie’s solo’s just hadn’t worked for him. In the end,this was a totally different way of re-imagining the song on both the harmonic and melodic level. And it just opened up a whole new groove as it went along.

A slow crawling,percussive samba opens the album with rather Asian sounding chimes playing a similar melody to Marvin’s round and bubbling synthesizer. The chorus develops into a mix of jazzy piano voicing’s,elaborate string arrangements and the equally complex bass improvisations-so much so they aren’t always easy to hear for some people. On these choruses,Marvin’s Moog solos play in and around the chords of the melody in a similar manner to a bop jazz era pianist. As the intro to the song repeats,the Moog is really pushed up as a boiling round bass line until the main chorus fades out the song-this time with the Moog solo accompanying Watts flute soloing.

While I always loved the “sea of Marvin’s” vocal harmonizing that was present on the vocal hit version of this song,understanding the lyrics as I do now make them come off more as a tortured inner dialog than a beautiful vocal statement. This version focuses in on Marvin as an instrumentalist. And by using unusual melodic voicing’s that are more chord oriented,the range of emotion projected through the instrumentation allows the lyric of the song to be a lot more open to interpretation than the original words might’ve been. Hearing the instrumental made me fall in love with this musically sensuous Latin jazz soul/funk groove all over again. And that makes it all the more special.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Calvin Harris, Ernie Watts, flute, Leon Ware, Marvin Gaye, Moog, Motown, multi tracking, percussion, slow funk, synth bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke,Pharrell Williams & T.I.

Robin Thicke’s musical star has always shined a lot of classic soul links onto the pop charts during the new millennium. First saw the white suited Thicke on late night TV during the early autumn of 2002 performing the song “I’m ‘A Be Alright”. As time marched on and I began to explore his subsequent album,a wonderful creative evolution unfolded from him. He started out doing a lot of heavy retro styled funk and soul,with some contemporary alternative touches. As the aughts transitioned into the 2010’s,his sound began to include more contemporary hip-hop/R&B elements such as guest rappers and cut up rhythm break samples.

In 2006 Thicke’s sophomore album The Evolution Of Robin Thicke began his relationship with Pharrell Williams as producer and collaborator. He had signed to the Star Track record label,originally founded by The Neptunes-themselves consisting of Pharrell and Chad Hugo. Thicke’s sound continued to evolve it’s mixture of phat grooves and melodies over the course of his next four albums in as many years. In 2013 Pharrell found himself on a commercial role with Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers for “Get Lucky”-helping to bring instrumentally strong funky disco-dance music strongly into the public eye. And that roll continued with the title song to Thicke’s album that year called “Blurred Lines”.

The song begins as many of Pharrell’s songs do-with a re-sampled electric piano playing a three hit horn chart. That Rhodes (or Rhodes-like) solo serves as the songs bass line. The instrumental end of the rhythm of this song is basically a clanking,rolling percussion. It’s serves to accent in,on and around a shuffling drum part. The vocal call and responses from Thicke and Pharrell provide as much rhythmic content in this song as it does melodic. Especially as they talk sing in equal measure to vocalizing them melodically. After T.I’s additionally rhythmic rap,the song strips itself down to the drum/percussion line before fading out on it’s main chorus.

Analyzing this song musically really gives me a chance to try at setting the record straight on another matter relating to this song. Itself a Grammy winner,one which he performed with Earth Wind & Fire at the ceremonies themselves,there was a bit of controversy over the perceived sexism of the lyrics and accompanying music video. Still the song represented a huge upsurge in instrumentally strong uptempo funk for the 2010’s in terms of pop success. But it was a law suit the next year by Marvin Gaye’s widow Janis Hunter and adopted son Marvin III that has dogged this song. The suit alleges that “Blurred Lines” plagiarized the sound of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” from 1977.

One of the things about music that’s continued on through Africa up through hip-hop is respect for the oral tradition. A musical idea begins with one person and is passed down from parents,to child,to friend and so on. It allows for music to progress through influence as well as individual innovation. As for “Blurred Lines”,the songs only resemblance to Marvin’s “Got To Give It Up” is the clinging percussion sound and use of electric piano. This song has quite a lot less melodic vocal content. What Thicke,Pharrell and T.I. do on vocal level here is focused more heavily on rhythm as well-rather than conventional pop song structure.

Of course as of today,Pharrell and Thicke lost the lawsuit. And it seems to be that a series of similar lawsuits such as the one by The Gap Band (regarding Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk”) last year seem to have created a conflict of interest in the 2010’s #1 funk revival. Most of the songs to emerge for the past year or so from funk oriented modern artists have gone more for an electro hip-hop sound or an alternative rock one. Something that can denote a non litigious  sense of musical originality. It may not be that concerning as these things can come and go in phases. But as it stands in funk’s strong place in the musically oral tradition,”Blurred Lines” is very significant modern funk.

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Filed under 2013, copyright, Fender Rhodes, law suits, Marvin Gaye, Nu Funk, percussion, Pharrell Willaims, Robin Thicke, T.I., Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross

Diana Ross is by far the most enduring female personality to emerge from Motown’s 1960’s heyday. As the lead singer of the Supremes, she was one of the finest straight up melodicists that ever came out of the Motor City pop/soul scene the label helped to create. In the 70’s she became both a solo artist and actress on television and screen. Her musical output gradually withered away as Berry Gordy and the public became more and more fascinated by her visual appeal. After the early part of that decade,it did seem that her musical career was a very minor aspect of her celebrity. By the middle of the decade,the focus of Diana Ross’s art would return to the recording studio.

It was songwriter Pamela Sawyer and producer Hal Davis of Jackson 5 fame who came up with the song I’m going to talk to you about today. Her and Davis came up with the track with either Ross or Marvin Gaye in mind as the lead singer. Both were in need of comebacks in mid 70’s. Gaye wound up working with Leon Ware. And Diana Ross ended up with the Sawyer/Davis composition that would not only reinvent her as a musical entity,but help usher Motown into a totally different era. Especially at a time when most of the classic artists at the label were leaving it behind. The song itself,released on Diana’s self titled album  in 1976 was called “Love Hangover”.

A scaled up string arrangement intros into the songs slow funky rhythmic ballad shuffle. This is accompanied by a popping electric bass line that hits every note of the bluesy acoustic piano. That in turn is accompanied by a glassy,high pitched processed Fender Rhodes with lighter strings in the back round. About two minutes into the song,the horn phrased string parts suddenly burst the song into an uptempo percussive groove. And the bass line is turned right in the mix and plays it’s own memorable phrase throughout the remainder of the song. It continues to be chased along with the string arrangements and the jazzy electric piano parts all the way to the songs conclusion.

Repeated listening to this song amidst discussion with my friend and blogging inspiration Henrique have revealed to me that this is one of the most instrumentally fluid grooves to come out of the disco process of the mid 70’s. It’s straight up funk all the way in fact-the jazz/funk flavor of the live instrumentation and the vital 70’s Motown trait of upfront bass lines locked into a sensuous embrace with the 4/4 beat. And even that accented by Brazilian funk percussion accents.  The fact that it melds together two different tempo variations of proto sophistifunk gives it the ideal sound for the “funk functioning as disco” concept that represents a musical transition for the next half decade or so.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Diana Ross, disco funk, Fender Rhodes, Funk, Funk Bass, Hal Davis, Marvin Gaye, Motown, Pam Sawyer, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/14/2015: “Holiday Love” by Tuxedo

Tuxedo have already been pretty thoroughly covered on Andresmusictalk already. And it looks like Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One are at it again. Just in time for the holidays too. Since I got back into doing this blog with my “five days of funk” concept?  Have had some difficulty finding any nu funk to cover,which was part of my original intention. And this single of a new Stone’s Throw label compilation came at me via my YouTube subscription to the duo’s channel on that site. And the name of the song is “Holiday Love”.

The groove gets going with a percussive,mid tempo drum machine rhythm. This is first accompanied by a glossy orchestral keyboard harmony, along with a round and brittle synth bass line. The chorus is sung Roger Troutman style by Jake through a Vocoder. On the second chorus sung with Hawthorne harmonizing on lead? It’s all accompanied by the sound of sleigh bells in a similar manner to the Average White Band’s “School Boy Crush” from 40 years ago this year. It all outro’s it begins, along with the orchestral synth wailing away.

In many ways? This song completes an important multi generational triad of Christmas themed funk. It probably began with James Brown’s “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” in the late 60’s,continued on a couple years later with Donny Hathaway’s iconic funky soul of “This Christmas” and ends with the 80’s electro funk revivalism of this jam from Tuxedo. Musically it blends elements of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and Zapp’s “Computer Love”. Topped off with Mayer Hawthorne’s soulfully honey’d lead vocals.

Message wise the song is right on time. The music video depicts Mayer and Jake pitching woo to their girlfriends-culminating with drinking wine in bed-while all sharing in their musically creative process. It’s just a simple idea of setting time aside for your romantic partner as a holiday gift. Since the last three holiday seasons have consisted mainly of depressing,gun related mass shootings and the conservatively motivated contrivance of the “war on Christmas”? This funk will not only move,but might just remove those undesired effects this holiday season.

 

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", 2015, bass synthesizer, Christmas music, Donny Hathaway, drum machine, elecro funk, Jake One, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Mayer Hawthorne, Stone Throw Records, synth bass, synth funk, Tuxedo, YouTube

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 6/6/2015: ‘Big Love’ by Simply Red

simply red

Looks as if I’m going to have to add Mick Hucknall/Simply Red to my list of groups and artists with the “fine wine” syndrome-of just having a musical sound that just gets better with time. Since the group first implanted their ear worm of “Holding Back The Years’ from their debut Picture Book? Their music has always keenly interested me. The question I’m always asking myself is…why do I tend to ignore their new releases when they come out every 5-8 years or so? The answer is I didn’t know then,don’t know now. After 2008? I vowed that the next new Simply Red album I’d pick up because of my own negligence of this group I really enjoy and appreciate. Finally I made the right decision with this album all the way!

“Shine On”,opening with album with a big arrangement,”Daydreaming” as well as the more hyper-kinetic grooves of “Tight Tones” and “WORU” are all rhythm guitar heavy disco/funk dance numbers with creamy wah wah’s and uptown melodies all the way. The title song is a piano/guitar driven mid tempo soul ballad,with the sound and flavor that had me falling in love with the music of Simply Red from the get go. “The Ghost Of Love” and “Love Gave Me More” are lusciously orchestrated funky/soul numbers while “Love Wonders” and “Coming Home” are more atmospheric,cinematic numbers while “The Old Man And The Beer” is a ,slow swinging soul jazz style number. The album is rounded out with the more pop/rock style mid tempo melody of “Dad” and the more baroque pop ballad of “Each Day”.

From beginning to end? This album distills what makes this groups music flow as well as it does. For sure they have a well oiled sound that is distinctive and instantly recognizable. Yet it’s a style that can adapt itself to different variations very easily. The focus of this particular album is very much on orchestration. In this particular case in the Barry White/Marvin Gaye/Gamble & Huff mode. Happily Hucknall’s highly melodic and well constructed songwriting is of course very well suited to this. And everything from the rhythm section to the arrangements are extremely strong and well done. This is superb and mildly lyrically nostalgic/reflective adult funky soul from 2015 at it’s finest. And one I very highly recommend you give a try to!

Originally posted June 2nd,2015

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 2015, Amazon.com, Barry White, cinematic soul, disco funk, Gamble & Huff, Marvin Gaye, Mick Hucknall, Music Reviewing, Simply Red, Soul, soul jazz

Andre’s Amazon Archive 3/28/2015-‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke

robin-thicke-blurred-lines-album-cover-1373911639

Within the past decade the musical career of Robin Thicke has progressed very nicely. When he first emerged with A Beautiful World,there really weren’t a great deal of popularly inclined musical artists who were taking an interest in 70’s funk and soul. That ethic was largely taken up by what were than relatively left of center retro and neo soulers One might look about Thicke in those terms. But he always had a strong operation in the popular idiom,with the intent on having hits. But also on his own terms. That served him quite well through some musically dismal times. And the fact that his music was always highly sexually charged gave some the impression he was shallow and one dimensional. Of course this last year the popular idiom of music is showing signs of going where people like Robin Thicke have been trying to lead it. And he is more than willing to lead the pack along for the ride.

The title song,video buzz aside is a stripped down naked funk revelation-steady percussion,dancing bass line and insistent electric piano pulses that put it somewhere between the influence of Prince’s “Kiss” and “Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”. “Take It Easy On Me” and “Give It You You”,with Kendrick Lemar both start off sounding like shallow dance/hip-hop until at the bridge this heavy bass/guitar funk kicks in-revealing the songs true intent. “Ooo La La”,”Ain’t No Hat 4 That” and “Get In My Way” are all upbeat melodic dance/funk grooves directly from the Michael Jackson/Quincy Jones/Con Funk Shun/Earth Wind & Fire league-some of the best songs of Thicke’s career. “Feel Good” blends that sound with some modern electro pop synthesizer orchestration for a potent blend of old and new school funk. “Go Stupid For You” loops the synth pops from Message into a unique funk/dance/hip-hop hybrid. “4 The Rest Of My Life” revisits his signiture spare soulful ballad style and,after the empowering funky soul/rap of “Top Of The World” ends off the album with the doo wop of “The Good Life”.

Much has been made based on the video for this albums title track being highly sexualized. If you ask me? I don’t see what all the fuss is about. In fact it detracts from the fact that this is the most consistently funky album I’ve ever heard Robin Thicke make. He explores the late 70’s sophistifunk (the genre that got lumped in with disco originally),80’s naked grooves and difference hip-hop based hybrids of the music in a manner that is very true not only to his own vision but to the rhythm of the one. Not only that the album actually follows a firm conceptual course. He starts out “looking for a good girl”, dates many and finds out the type he thinks he’s looking for are shallow and self centered. In the end he realizes the importance of settling into a functional and adult romantic life. Its a great album for men to here especially because while their busy shaking their groove thing to the music, they may just learn a little something about themselves and how they could be if they aren’t already. A wonderfully realized rebirth for the funk from Robin Thicke.

Originally Posted July 31st,2013

Link to original review here*

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Filed under Disco, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Kendrick Lemar, Marvin Gaye, Neo Soul, Pharrell Willaims, Prince, Quincy Jones, Robin Thicke, Soul

Andres’ Amazon Archive for 2/21/2015: ‘Love Sex Passion’ by Raheem DeVaughn

Love Sex Passion

Musically the New Jersey born singer/songwriter Raheem DeVaughn’s music has interested me for some time. However something about his previous album A Place Called Loveland left me cold enough to return this album back to the store. The first time I ever actually did so with an album. When I heard the follow up was being realesed this year? I approached it with the idea of having an open mind and heart to an artist that presented the ability with what I’ve heard from him to do wonderful things musically. So considering the fact that DeVaughn seems to be linking each successive album in terms of a conceptual pattern? This still presented it’s own distinctive type of musical power even within that context.

This album essentially balances itself out across several stylistic approaches to it’s cycle of romance lyrical concept. After opening up with a musical recap of the previous album? Songs such as “Black Ice Cream”,”Miss Your Sex”,”Strip” and “Sun Proof (50 Shades)” all evoke different end of the Minneapolis approach to romantic soul balladry with a mixture of multiple vocal responses and dramatic drum machine and synthesizer orchestration-as well as some Southern Soul rhythm guitar riffing on the latter. “Queen” is a thick piano driven slow crawling funky soul ballad while “Nothing Without You” deals with a rhythmically percussive yet stripped down jazzy funk number. “Pretty Love” meanwhile is a passionately rhythmic dance/funk groove featuring the talents of Trombone Shorty-showcasing another strong Afro-Latin inspired percussion solo on the bridge.

“Temperature’s Rising” is a locked right in,bass synth accented slowed up funk stomp with DeVaughn and his own harmony’s acting equally as melodic and percussive elements. “All I Know In My Heart” is a pulsing,stripped down contemporary number while “When You Love Somebody”,”Terms of Endearment” and “Baby Come Back” are all greasy Southern Soul rhythm guitar and organ oriented ballads. “The last section of the album is something of a miniature cinematic soul suite of songs starting with the Leon Ware inspired string and rhythm section uptempo movement of “Countdown To Love,with it’s Brazilian drum pattern. “Feather Rock Lovin'” combines the approaches of Boney James along with The Illadelph Horns to express a mildly slower tempo’d variation of that sound with DeVaughn responding again between his vocal sighs,coos and cries. “Infiniti” ends the album with a climactic piano driven gospel soul tribute to romantic success.

So many male soul/funk artists since the mid 80’s have been somewhat recklessly declared “the next Marvin Gaye. From what I hear from this particular album? Raheem DeVaughn is one of a few artists in contemporary music who truly embody that identity. DeVaughn showcases on this album his grasp of the link in the chain between Marvin and Prince’s lustfully passionate themes as well as their two very different techniques of orchestration big,dramatic soul/funk music. The neo soul aspects of DeVaughn’s basic sound are there-from the vinyl scratch effects to the Southern style rhythm guitars. But the man’s powerfully jazzy gospel/soul pipes and dramatic instrumentation add a vitality and funkiness to the overall sound I seldom hear from artists who came out of neo soul. Honestly one of the very finest and complete musical statements I’ve heard Raheem DeVaughn do thus far!

Originally posted on February 17th,2015

Link to original review here*

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Filed under Amazon.com, Boney James, Illadelph Horns, Marvin Gaye, new music, Nu Funk, Raheem DeVaughn, Southern Soul, Trombone Shorty

Seeing The Music: Andre’s Guide To Funk,Soul & Jazz Documentary Essentials!

SONY DSC

                   During the time I was growing up,the majority of men  around me were mainly interested in watching sports on television and action films in the movie theaters. From adolescence onward, the one thing that moved me in both media were musical documentaries about the black American musical spectrum that I was then absorbing like a sponge. The understanding of rhythm and harmony I received from seeing these musicians perform,speak of their histories along with the music they made provided me with a full sensory experience far beyond what I could’ve received from the limited literature of the era I was receiving.

                        Initially I was going to combine documentary films with biopics in the same blog. Since dramatizations  are a completely different medium of film making technique? Decided instead to break them up in separate but related blogs. Also because I received a very different level of education from them as well. Before hand,some of these documentaries are very hard to find even on YouTube. Many have never even been issued on DVD. Yet I highly recommend seeking all of them out if you are looking to seek out a first hand education on the soul,jazz,funk and R&B musical spectrum.

rock-n-roll

        This aired on PBS in 1995. The eighth part of it focused specifically on the genre of funk and it’s development from James Brown on through George Clinton. The final volume focused on hip-hop. The names of Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash first came to me through watching this documentary. Not to mention the knowledge of rap’s musical roots in Jamaican reggae DJ’s such as Kool Herc. While some of the narrative commentary shows a limited understanding of the connectivity of black American music’s connectivity? The insights of interviewees such as Maceo Parker,Alan Leeds,George Clinton,Afrika Bambaataa and Chuck D are extremely insightful to what drove the music forward.

record row cradle of rhythm and blues

Narrated by the late Chess Records icon Etta James,this documentary not only opened my eyes to understanding the history of blues,soul and funk in 60’s Chicago. But was also the first glimpse I got into the idea of black American financial empowerment. Jerry Butler explained it best in this when describing how Curtis Mayfield starting his Curtom label,taking control of his publishing,took the Chicago scene into the funk era by closing down the era of people such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker functioning as “musical sharecroppers”.

The strong emphasis this has on United Record Distributors,the only black American record distributors  in their time run by the Leaner brothers,proved extremely significant in my understanding of black America’s experience with capitalism for years to come. And the level of communication in the civil rights era through the iconic radio station WVON,such a significant force in the city that if an artist wasn’t on their play list,record stores would not stock their music. Possibly my favorite musical documentary all told.

motown40

It was this epic documentary mini series,hosted by Diana Ross that really allowed me to understand the internal workings of Motown records. From it’s foundational years when Berry Gordy,having failed as a record store owner in Detroit,began writing songs for Jackie Wilson. And then borrowed $800 from his family to start what become an American musical institution. A black American institution. The interviews follow Motown’s changes from it’s salad period in the mid 60’s,through the funk and disco era when the artists had the most creative control,on through Berry deferring ownership of the company in the mid 80’s through it’s resurgence with vocal boy bands and then Puff Daddy Combs remixing the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. A very complete and thorough history on The Sound Of Young America.

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Overall I’d apply the same viewpoint to this documentary as I would apply to PBS’s  Rock ‘N’ Roll from seven years earlier. It’s understanding of musical connectivity,absolutely key to jazz,is more limited to the participants (such as Ken Burns  and Wynton Marsalis) perceptions of the music than it is lacking. Yet the decision to weave an internal documentary on the life and career of Louis Armstrong as a key figure in jazz is double edged: it didn’t quite succeed in term of historical continuity but did showcase how the aspect of modern black American musical might’ve derived from Armstrong’s approach. I learned about important sociological figures in the music such as Buddy Bolden,James Reese Europe and Sidney Bechet here as well. With the help of my father’s asides,this helped complete my historical understanding of jazz.

Scratch

Went to Portland Maine to see this movie,in a little movie theater underground of a local clotherie. It was actually a suitable environment for this film. It traces Grand Mixer DST’s pioneering turntable work with Herbie Hancock on his “Rockit” project. It than goes on to discuss the fine art of crate digging for used vinyl by hip-hop scratch artists. There was no irony to the fact that I was myself crate digging myself,only for my personal listening pleasure and musical enlightenment,less than an hour after seeing this in the used record stores of the city of Portland. One of those films that was both influential and validating exactly at the time I saw it.

Earth Wind & Fire Shinning Stars

Probably the one documentary I was the most excited to learn about upon it’s release. It follows the ascension of Maurice White from his childhood in Memphis to switching his college major from premed to music and playing with the Ramsey Lewis Trio before forming his first and second incarnations of Earth,Wind & Fire. The fact that bassist/trombonist Louis Satterfield,saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk,drummer Ralph Johnson and guitarist Al McKay go deeply into their own insights on how music functioned in terms of being a member of Earth Wind & Fire during it’s prime period.

Stevie Wonder Classic Albums

In terms of the Rhino Classic Album series? This now very hard to find DVD interviews all of the musicians involved in the long winded and dramatic recording sessions to what is considered Stevie Wonder’s shinning musical pinnacle. Stevie demonstrates the double keyboarded Yamaha GX-1 (known as the Dream Machine)- a polyphonic synthesizer I find sonically and visually impressive. Another favorite part is where Stevie showcases how his musical acumen allowed him to cover over for a harmonic solo at the end of “Isn’t She Lovely” that a harmonica player of his caliber shouldn’t have made. Hearing the musical insights of this mans inner visions was a hugely important musical milestone for me.

Marvin Gaye Life & Death Of

Marvin Gaye’s history has,especially in the hands of author David Ritz,was generally depicted for me literarily in extremely magisterial terms. This BBC documentary,one that came my way through a life changing act of barter in itself,really did a lot to put more of a human face on the complexities of Marvin Gaye’s musical and personal life. Through interviews with the artist himself and penetrating reenactments of the even of his childhood? I’d recommend this as the best available visual documentation on Marvin Gaye.

Tom Dowd

Tom Dowd is probably listed as the producer of more albums than anyone in American music history. This man started out working for the Manhattan Project on the atomic bomb. And his career as a producer extends throughout both the black music and rock era spectrum-an array of artists as diverse as John Coltrane to Lynyrd Skynyrd. The amazing about this documentary isn’t merely the musical history. But Down provides an inside look,right at the mixing board,onto how he instrumentally layered songs such as “Layla”. A key story for understanding the intricacies of the musical creative process.

Bob Marley

For many years Bob Marley was mainly known to me as a superficial icon of a certain local stoner culture,one that tended to feel sociopolitical change derived solely from drug use and how it changed the consciousness. This story chronicles the complex wheel of Marley’s musical life-starting from his childhood in Trenchtown,Kingston in Jamaica through his near assassination attempt in 1976 through his passing on from Melanoma in 1981. This really broke it down exactly what about his back-round and viewpoint on the Jamaican music industries corruption that motivated the sociopolitical consciousness of the reggae music he helped to pioneer and export the world over in his lifetime.

Respect Yourself

It was thanks to Netflix that I found out about this documentary about Soulville USA! Stax Records were both the rival and opposite to Motown’s business model during it’s mid 60’s heyday. This is extremely thorough on it’s representation of Stax literally rising back from the dead following the double cross of Jerry Wexler’s Atantic Records ownership over Stax’s catalog following the death of Otis Redding, the labels burgeoning social consciousness embodied in Isaac Hayes,the Staple Singers and Wattstax during the early 70’s and financial bloating bringing the label down mid decade. Than Stax came back decades later-with a music school for young musicians to boot. Especially following the creative managing of Al Bell and interviews with many of the artists from Stax’s heyday? This is the essential story of Southern Soul from when Stax really bought the funk into the music.

Michael Jackson Life Of An Icon

Michael Jackson’s story has been re-purposed in the media so many times? It is nearly impossible to approach his life story with total objectivity. Thus far,this is one documentary that does the best job of doing so. For one,it concentrates on Mike’s late teens and early adulthood in terms of his musical development. And by interviewing everyone from Bobby Taylor,who first discovered the Jackson’s performing onto 80’s era manager Frank Dileo? It strips away some of the overbearing adulation and downright hero worship that this distinctive and funky musical talent found somewhat responsible for his own end. An end that came far too soon. Probably the essential Michael Jackson documentary thus far.

unsung_logo2012-wide

Unsung is an unprecedented documentary series on the cable network TV One. The reason for it’s importance is that it profiles an often underrated musical icons from within the soul/funk spectrum. And does so with a great level of care and compassion. As of now I’ve not been privileged to see every episode of the series. Yet the stories of people such as Tammi Tarrell,David Ruffin,Donny Hathaway,Full Force,Angela Bofill and Heatwave lead singer Johnnie Wilder provided an excellent insight into artists either misrepresented or not even spoken of broadly in other media circles.

Finding Fela

It was a reference in Paul McCartney’s documentary Wingspan that first gave me indication to the name Fela Anikulapo Kuti. This story probably brings my understanding of the African American musical spectrum near to it’s final stages. My conversations with blogging partner Rique are consistently referencing Kuti. And this film really expands on that understanding. The understanding of Fela as the Nigerian James Brown,whom he in fact was very highly influenced by through travelling through America during the years of black power in the late 60’s.

While the man bought the sound and social consciousness of total rhythm into his combination of African Highlife and jazz-funk?  He also set upon living a lifestyle of breaking down conventions,largely coming out of the corruption that led to tragic events such as the murder of his own mother. This really embodies the full spectrum of emotion a life can have-from pioneering,to humorous to tragic. And it also helps bring out peoples understanding and misunderstanding of what African culture is really all about.


Sometimes when I try to encourage people to watch more documentaries,they often respond by saying that they find them boring. At the end of the day they say? They want to escape,not learn. What I’ve personally come to understand is that knowledge functions as both a destination and an escape. Just depends on how you receive it. Being lectured at about topics by a teacher isn’t always the idea method of education. Yet through documentaries on a favorite subject? One can experience first hand,sometimes comic history,joy and tears from the viewpoint of all involved.  And for me? These have all provided the ultimate in learning while being simultaneously entertained.

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Filed under 1990s, Bob Marley, Chicago, crate digging, Earth Wind & Fire, Etta James, Fela Kuti, Funk, George Clinton, Heatwave, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Jazz, Ken Burns, Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Maurice White, Mavis Staples, Memphis Soul, Michael Jackson, Portland Maine, reggae, Stax, Stevie Wonder, Tom Dowd, Unsung series, Vee-Jay