Category Archives: Michael Henderson

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Love Enter” by Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson is right up alongside Larry Graham in terms of cracker jack bass player/composers with his baritone singing voices. As a Detroit native,he was most influenced by  Motown Funk Brother (and bass guitar icon) James Jamerson. Jamerson played a lot of jazzy riffs-especially backing up Stevie Wonder. So it made sense that Henderson,a pioneer fusion jazz bassist,would bring his own bass complexity to Wonder’s music in the late 60’s/early 70’s along with session work for Marvin Gaye,Aretha Franklin, The Dramatics and Dr. By then,Henderson was moving further into his jazz chops.

Henderson transitioned from a soul session player into a jazz one during the early/mid 70’s. Working with drummer/talent scout Norman Connors and jazz pioneer Miles Davis found Henderson helping both artists transition into a soul and funk based approach-especially with  Miles’ On The Corner in 1972 and Connors You Are Starship in 1976. That same year Henderson inked a solo deal with Buddah records. His solo debut Solid is a masterpiece of his multiple talent-with its strongly funky title song. For me,another song that pulls together Henderson’s talents on the album is “Let Love Enter”.

Muruga Booker’s conga drum roll and percussion introduces the the song. It features the acoustic piano,Henderson’s bass and the ongoing percussion playing a funky variation of the Brazilian samba rhythm. The melody of it all,as illustrated by Henderson’s scaling voice and lyricism,is based in Brazilian jazz with it’s major and minor chord changes. A straight up percussion part bridges the similarly themed refrain and choruses together. On the bridge,trumpeter Marcus Belgrave delivers a succinct accompanying horn solo as Henderson’s backup singers improvise the melody with him to the songs fade out.

This  song reveals itself as having taken a lot of influence from both Norman Connors and Miles Davis. Most of the playing has Miles and Norman’s  light musical touch. It also  celebrates that Brazilian flavor that Stevie Wonder often had. What bridges these influences is that jazzy funk/soul attitude. It has a strong,melodic groove to it, and its not a simple song either. The chord progressions can be sung and hummed. Yet they offer a lot of challenge for musicians and vocalists who wish to do so. As such,its something of a defining musical moment for Michael Henderson from the beginning of his solo years.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Marcus Belgrave, Michael Henderson, Miles Davis, Muruga Booker, Norman Connors, percussion, piano, samba funk, session musicians, Stevie Wonder, trumpet, vocal jazz

Phyllis Hyman Double Feature

Phyllis Hyman

Phyllis Hyman comes across as someone with a strong creative ethic. She was a strong soul/gospel/jazz vocal powerhouse,not to mention an attractive,stylish 6′ tall physical presence. The arc of her life somewhat resembled Whitney Houston’s however,aside from the fact Hyman lack Houston’s family musical pedigree. Hyman’s adult life was marred by romantic woes,mental illness and addiction problems. This led to Hyman’s tragic suicide in 1995 before she ever saw her 50th birthday.  Still her music still connects with soul/funk music lovers with its spectrum of joy and pain.

After watching some of TV One’s series Unsung‘s episode about Hyman,it fairly quickly became apparent that throughout her recording career,record producers and songwriters simply didn’t know how to handle her voice. This tends to be a reoccurring theme with vocalists who are not in complete creative control of their songwriting and production. Her time in the late 70’s and early 80’s at Arista Records didn’t seem to be her happiest,as she and label head Clive Davis often clashed. Yet the two CD’s I have by her are her most commercially successful for the label. So I am going to overview them here today.

You Know How To Love Me/1979

Of course cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard Phyllis Hyman’s name dropped. And of course how little I’d actually heard of her. Well I blame myself. No good reason. I had this idea in my head she was primarily a balladeer. And there seemed to be a dime a dozen of those out there. Kind of the old idea about uptempo tunes dating fasted and slower ones being more timeless.

Well either way I must say that after hearing this album,I must say Phyllis was possessed of a vocal instrument defined by both great confidence and vulnerability. Now tonally? She’s a soul belter out of the blues/gospel school of singing. And her voice has a nice raspy huskiness to it that is actually quite appealing. Produced by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas I’d actually highly recommend this album as a possible first Phyllis Hyman album. There are reasons.

Two of those reasons right off the bat are the title song and “You’re The One”,both seriously intense gospel fueled Philly type danceable soul perfect for the disco floor and will have you singing to yourself with the same firey and intelligent tone as Phyllis herself. Of course there are two slower grooves here that blow me away too “Some May” and “Give A Little More” both find Hyman’s experienced voice working it’s way through some choppy sophistifunk type grooves.

On “Complete Me” it turns to this flat out epic type gospel/soul ballad type thing,the sort of sound I suppose I always associated with Phyllis. “But I Love You” has this tense and rather fanfare based disco-dance sound while the only song really bound by the era might be “Heavenly”. However nothing to worry about for the discophobes because even for them Phyllis gives it her all as she does throughout.

In the end the impression I get from Phyllis Hyman here is that she seems to function best as an album artist. Her vocal style has a need to stretch itself throughout the spectrum of soul musics sub-genres. And it’s a much wider spectrum than people think. Even within each off shoot of the music. There’s music here that has the ability the impact on fans of Philly soul,disco dancing and even foot stomping funk fans.

True it’s as bubbly and sophisticated a production as good champagne is to the taste. On the other hand every sound here serves to emphasize the talent whose getting the most credit. The participation of the Mtume band didn’t do any harm either. This was a recording oriented around a group of people with unique and special talent. And in this case,they got something extremely special out of Phyllis Hyman. So even if she’s not with us anymore,there’ll always be records like this.

Can’t We Fall In Love Again/1981

Admittedly I’m a bit late entering into the musical world of the late Phyllis Hyman. At this point? I actually only have two of her albums. She was one of those vocalists who moved between the worlds of jazz and funky soul. And always having an extremely talented bevy of instrumentalists at her disposal courtesy of her producer and original musical paramour Norman Connors.

Her entire creative approach matches up to the very qualities that have continually created some of the most dynamic and stunning music in the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum. This 1981 album was her first of that particular decade. And upon locating it on CD? Picked it up without hesitation. Absolutely no regrets.

“You Sure Look Good To Me” is an extremely melodic horn and upbeat synthesizer based pop/boogie funk/post disco number-like a harder edged variation of the sound Richard Perry was then getting with the Pointer Sisters. The title song is a dynamic,Thom Bell like electric sitar led mid tempo love song duet between Hyman and the rich voiced baritone singer/bass player Michael Henderson.

“Don’t Tell Me,Tell Her” is a high stepping horn and slap bass Brazilian funk jam while “I Ain’t Asking” is an assertively romantic number from Ashford & Simpson-with their classic piano heavy and melodic early 80’s gospel/soul/funk style.

“The Love Too Good To Last” and “The Sunshine In My Life” are polished up,medium tempo pop/soul ballads while “Tonight You And Me” as a mixture of that Afro-Latin style drum and bass keyboard chorus of The Jackson’s “Shake Your Body” with a powerful post disco/funk/soul refrain. “Just Another Face In The Crowd” is a melodically epic slow pop ballad to conclude the album.

Well this is one of those albums where all eight songs are uniformly excellent,superbly produced and played on. Hyman herself provides the gospel/soul vocal phrasings of a jazzier and ballsier Dionne Warwick. At least to me anyway,and with an incredibly slippery and husky range as well. For lovers of early 80’s funk/soul music that’s powerfully performed and filled with a jazzy flavor? This might just be an album for you!


Phyllis Hyman offered us some fantastic soulful music. She also lived with bipolar disorder. And this possibly motivated her to end her life prematurely. For more information on bipolar disorder,or feel you may have it yourself,please go to the website below. Life is worth living!

National Alliance on Mental Illness’s Page On Bipolar Disorder

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Amazon.com, Arista Records, Ashford & Simpson, ballads, Clive Davis, disco funk, James Mtume, Michael Henderson, Music Reviewing, Phyllis Hyman, Reggie Lucas, soul singers, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Black Satin” by Miles Davis

Miles Davis seemed to record a lot of his electric music of the early 70’s with his noted sense of spontaneity. He had his producer Teo Macero just record whatever he and his players were doing-all of it. And than have individual songs cut for albums later on. He did this on his fusion breakthrough Bitches Brew. And it’s a strong possibility he approached his 1972 album On The Corner in much the same way. That accounts for why there have been so many “complete sessions” box sets during the CD era for Miles. And it also points to the general approach Miles came at the whole idea of grooves and rhythm.

Miles said of On The Corner that he recorded the album as a way to “reach the kids” as he put it. Henrique and myself had a very meaningful discussion on this recently. And he bought out an excellent point. Miles was a member of America’s silent generation. Musically,this was a generation who championed melody. His own mother had advised him to “always play something you can hum”. As an innovator of modal jazz in the late 1950’s, Miles tended to view funk’s rhythmic base as solely for a dancing mindset. However ,he was able to fuse rhythm and melody here on the song “Black Satin”.

Badal Roy’s tabla drums and Khalil Balakrishna’s electric sitar washes introduce the album. After that Mtume’s percussion and Michael Henderson’s up-scaling three note bass line kick in to fatten up the groove. Miles plays a high medium pitched,processed trumpet fanfare. He punctuates with single note,percussive hits throughout the song. All between bursts of wah wah guitar,Herbie Hancock’s tweeting synthesizer and manic hand claps. On the last section of the song,Miles’ solo fives way to the cinematic organ of Harold I. Williams before the tabla/sitar intro that opened the song fades it out.

Miles’s On The Corner album is almost like one 54 minute jam sliced into four pieces. “Black Satin” would function as the second segment of that jam. But it has the most melodic content of the entire album. And it comes from Miles’ solo too-that aspect of the song you can hum. In terms of harmonic atonality, Miles was inspired by the experimental composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Henderson’s bass line and the fast,percussive tempo tell another story. It’s based very much on the chase scene music of the blacksploitation films of the day. And this song was used as such in Don Cheadle’s film Miles Ahead.

The very first time I heard On The Corner,it was like being transported into a funky utopia. Part of the appeal was that the melodies were so minor or absent. It was like music where every aspect of it was doing it’s own dance. As time as passed,this song with it’s budding melody epidermises Miles’ extending on James Brown’s concept of turning his whole band into a drum. Also with the poly rhythms of this groove and the psychedelic sitar soloing, “Black Satin” also blends Afro-Caribbean and Indian flavors for pan ethnic funk delight. It brings Miles’ sound into the early forefront of the world fusion jazz/funk sound.

 

 

 

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Filed under 'On The Corner', 1970's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Badal Roy, blacksploitation, electric sitar, Funk Bass, Harold I. Williams, Herbie Hancock, jazz funk, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Khalil Balakrishna, Michael Henderson, Miles Davis, Mtume, organ, percussion, Psychedelia, synthesizer, tabla drums, Teo Macero, trumpet, wah wah guitar, world fusion

Bosses Of The Bass: Andre’s Top 12 Funk/Jazz/Soul Bass Players

Space Bass

Ever since my fourth grade music teacher Mrs. Gockle forced me to give up the upright bass due to her fascination with the melody based violins and violas? A deep life long interest in the bass as a musical instrumental emerged. Started listening for it closer in my fathers jazz records. And it was the foundational element in my favorite form of music-funk.  As time went on? I understood the sound it made to be so flexible,it could bring the melodies right out of the rhythms it created-when in the right hands of course.

As an adult? I’ve gravitated towards listening for how the bass is used on a song. It may have something to do with the old saying about how funk/soul lovers want to turn up the bass with rock fans prefer to turn up the treble. Since my understanding of the bass is almost totally oral rather than academic? The bass players I’m talking about here today may not all be the most renowned or well know. Though many of them are. These are people who have a distinctive approach that just reaches my type of musical ear. So here are my twelve (current) bosses of the funk bass.

James_Jamerson

James Jamerson is one of those bass players even non instrumentalist music lovers can pick out of the crowd in a second. Just listen to the opening of Motown hits he played on like “My Girl”,”Reach Out I’ll Be There”,”Don’t Mess With Bill” and “Just My Imagination”? And you understand how this key member of Motown’s now iconic Funk Brothers house band opened up the melodic possibilities of the electric bass probably more than anyone of his day. Jamerson’s sound probably got stuck in my consciousness those mornings half asleep going into town,from our family summer camp,in 1991 listening to the radio’s Motown Monday’s before I even realized it.

Larry Graham

Larry Graham,Bay Area bass player extraordinaire for Sly & The Family Stone,basically created the slap bass approach to playing that became one of the rudiments of the 70’s funk sound. Even before venturing out on his own with Graham Central Station,a solo career and session playing with Prince later on? Larry had already innovated the fuzz bass as well with the Family Stone’s breakout hit “Dance To The Music”. He’s probably one of the most renowned and famous funk bassist ever of course. And whatever I hear other bassists playing after? In some way it comes down to Larry in the end.

Bootsy Collins

Bootsy Collins,having spanned playing with the JB’s and than George Clinton’s P-Funk,picked right up in terms of bass innovation where Larry Graham left off. Bootsy’s effect on how I listen to music is one of personality. Rock musicians often call themselves guitar gods. And if I ever wanted to use such a term? Bootsy,with his glittering outfits and superhero like persona,is something of a bass god in that regard. He doesn’t just slap the strings. He pops out thundering,round tones. He snarls his bass like a guitar as well. Collins therefore probably has the most flexible and diverse style of playing the electric bass than many that I’ve heard.

Louis Satterfield

Fellow Earth Wind & Fire member Verdine White once said that everything he learned about bass came from this man,Louis Satterfield. One thing that really makes Satterfield fascinating to me is that he plays two low toned musical instruments: the trombone and the upright/acoustic bass. Often regarded more as a member of the iconic Phenix Horns,Satterfield has a long history playing for Chicago blues greats before essentially becoming the musical godfather of the totally rhythmic experience the bass played in EWF during their key years of the 70’s.

Wilton Felder

Wilter Felder,speaking of horn players,was only known to me to be a bass player as well when my blogging partner Rique informed me one day that Felder played bass on the Jackson 5’s first hit “I Want You Back”. As a bass player? Wilton did the reverse of what Louis Satterfield did. He helped to bring his melodic saxophone approach to his bass playing. Quite appropriate with the key role all the Crusaders played in late 60’s/early 70’s Motown-a label whose music always had a core of the melodic style of bass playing.

Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson,a musical disciple of James Jamerson,helped me to completely come to  terms with my understanding how the bass could be a powerful compositional instrument. Henderson played with Stevie Wonder,Miles Davis,Aretha Franklin and Dr.John in his earlier years before venturing out on his own solo career as a singer. He continued the tradition of melodic bass playing that came directly from his Motown education. And than took it onto a career as a premiere funk performer as well as being an instrumentalist.Louis-Johnson

Louis Johnson,much like James Jamerson before him,entered into my subconscious without me even fully realizing it the very first time I heard Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Johnson’s major contribution to my understanding of the bass came from his fusion of Larry Graham’s slap bass approach with the melodic innovations of Jamerson. This man was a monster play in the Brothers Johnson with his guitarist brother George. Not to mention an enormously important part of Quincy Jones’ iconic Westlake Studios instrumental crew who shaped much of the way I hear pop,funk and soul of the 70’s and 80’s

Bernard Edwards

Bernard Edwards,late of Chic and partner to iconic musician/producer Nile Rodgers in that band,probably did more for innovating the disco bass style within the musical sub-genre of funk than anyone else in his day. One of my very favorite basslines in fact comes from Edwards-the slippery jazz oriented intro to Chic’s 1977 hit “Everybody Dance”. Pretty much every electric bass player today playing danceable pop music has something of Edwards in what they’re playing.

Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller not only helped engineer the early 80’s comeback of Miles Davis. But he also went on to become a star producer and bass player for Luther Vandross at the same time. All before launching his own solo career in the 90’s up to the present day. What gets me about Marcus is how he took the slap bass approaches of funk players such as Larry Graham and Louis Johnson and bought jazz improvisation into the equation-a more hyper melodic alternative to earlier slap bass jazz icon Stanley Clarke. As a multi instrumentalist,he was also able to construct heavily funkified soundscapes with the bass as it’s core rhythmic element as well.

Mark King

Mark King was key of bringing of bringing the fast paced,jazzy slap bass style of Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller into the new wave world as the bandleader for the UK’s jazz/funk/pop band Level 42 during the early/mid 1980’s. Also quite a fluid composer,King was a bass player that I came to love and appreciate within the last decade. And has actually helped me a great deal to understand new wave/synth pop as often being an instrumental outgrowth of American funk.

© Sasa Huzjak

Jamaaladeen Tacuma came out of jazz great Ornette Coleman’s 70’s and 80’s group Primetime to have his own solo career in the 1980’s. Tacuma bought together the free harmelodic approach of Ornette to his bass playing. Listening to his abstract slaps,thumps and vamps really fuel my imagination on just how much the electric bass can really do.

Peter Muller 2

Peter Muller,Berlin resident and modern day bassist,is one of my most recent discoveries. Muller’s sound comes out of the slap bass flower that Larry Graham got going almost half a century ago now. And he’s channeled it all into the jazz-funk revival that’s grown out of the smooth jazz production approach and is currently independently releasing some seriously strong bass oriented jazz/funk albums that have really peaked my interest as a listener.


While I am aware that people such as Stanley Clarke and the late Jaco Pastorious didn’t make this list? Well,these are only the bassists that had the most personal musical influence on me. And the appreciation of what we listen to and for in the music in our lives has a highly individual approach too. At the same time? If you can dance to the beat of the drum? Your probably already on the road to being able to pop to the beat of the bass line as well.

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Filed under Bernard Edwards, Bootsy Collins, Crusaders, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Funk Bass, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, James Jamerson, Jazz, Larry Graham, Louis Johnson, Louis Satterfield, Marcus Mller, Mark King, Michael Henderson, Motown, Peter Muller, Wilton Felder