Category Archives: multi instrumentalists

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Never Knew Love Before” by Bobby Caldwell

Bobby Caldwell is someone whom I’ve tended to view as a artists musician and something of the epidome of what they often call “grown folks music” these days. Another native New Yorker deep into jazz and classic pop/rock,Caldwell found musical homes in both Memphis and Miami. These cities are strong musical melting pots in and of themselves. Having myself recently dug right into his late 70’s/early 80’s albums,Caldwell has revealed himself to something of a solo multi instrumentalist Steely Dan musically. Only with rather more emotionally earnest and romantic lyrical content.

Caldwell’s West Coast style jazzy funk sound is best known to most through 1977’s “What You Won’t Do For Love”. Recently,Caldwell met up with producer Jack Splash while on tour-which Caldwell does frequently while also recording fairly consistently. Splash has been noted for his retro styled productions with folks such as Alicia Keys,Mayer Hawthorne,Cee Lo Green and many other similar artists in the neo soul/electro funk vein. Last year he and Caldwell collaborated on a project entitled Cool Uncle. One song that got my attention from this strong album is called “Never Knew Love Before”.

A thick,funky drum begins the song starts the song with pounding,right in the Afro Latin clave percussion. A slap bass brings in two different keyboard lines. One is a brittle synthesizer line playing the chord changes,and a splinkling electric piano plays the main melody somewhat in the back round. The drumming solos for a moment before the chorus comes in,which in turn adds a sustained slap bass line to the keyboards,drums and percussion. Breezy accenting horn charts (or samples-difficult for me to tell) play along with the song until the electric piano and sustained cymbal closes the it all out.

Caldwell’s talents as a multi instrumentalist are at top form on this song. One thing this song totally brings out about Caldwell’s talent is that he doesn’t write simplistic songs on any level. The boogie/electro funk has modern instrumental sounds for sure. Yet the entire musical content is hard core 80’s funkiness. Also its a song that celebrates arrangements. In a day and age where a lot of contemporary R&B songs have three or four basic chords, Caldwell delivers refrains,choruses and bridges with strong melodic differences. This really makes “Never Knew Love Before” stand out all the stronger as top notch nu funk.

 

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Filed under 2015, Bobby Caldwell, Boogie Funk, drums, elecro funk, electric piano, horns, Jack Splash, jazz funk, multi instrumentalists, Nu Funk, percussion, slap bass, synthesizers

Prince Summer: “We Can Work It Out” (1977)

Prince Rogers Nelson was no stranger to recording by the time he’d signed with Warner Bros. in 1977. He was barely 19 at the time. And had already had some experience in recording with Pepe Willie’s 94 East along with his own demos from 1976. Around the time he got signed by Warner’s in 1977,he,Owen Husney and Chris Moon were putting together Prince’s official press kit  (a rather unconventional one with photos and an accompanying haiku on each one) and his first proper studio recordings at Minneapolis’s Studio 80. These songs passed into legend during the years before internet.

With the advent of online music and YouTube,these unreleased songs that have been circulating for years have come to light in a whole other way.  One of these songs just leaped out at me when I first heard it. As I’ve made clear many times,I have a special affinity for early Prince. Especially as it set the stage for his greatest musical moments yet to come. The interesting thing is,it would prove quite significant in years to come,even if it was never officially released. But I’ll talk about the song first,and tell you the rest of the story later. And the name of this song is “We Can Work It Out”.

Bobby Z’s drums kick off with a chime,and maintains a percussive funkified back beat throughout. On  the chorus and refrain of the song,Prince’s processed bass/guitar/Clavinet interaction plays in an upbeat,melodic fashion as he sings both the lead lines and the breakdowns in his most ethereal falsetto. On the bridge,that same bass/guitar/keyboard interaction starts playing in a more bluesy funk style-playing in that loose jamming instrumental style typical of Prince’s songs from this era. At the end of the song,this musical into the sound of a thunder storm before fading out.

Musically this song is structurally very in keeping with the sound of his debut For You-the key difference being that his Minneapolis Sound synth brass style wasn’t present yet. It’s brightly melodic,disco era pop/funk sound has a very sunny atmosphere. Lyrically speaking,the song is almost an audio press kit as it’s essentially a love letter to Warner Brothers. Especially singing lines such as “Music for the young and old, music bound to be gold” showcasing his hopes as well as his self confidence. Still the album ends with another lyric that would tell another story.

Prince’s last line is spoken in his best DJ style voice saying “Makin’ music naturally,me and WB”. While it’s apparent Prince was excited about being signed to a major record label,the line also signifies some of the matters that would one day set Prince at odds with the company.  Throughout the song,Prince is telling the label “hope we work it out” over and over. The fact that he adds the line “Put your trust in me, I’ll never let you down/ cause  I know I can count on you to help me make it”. By ending the song with the sound of a storm,its clear even early on Prince knew his future musical road would be complex.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bobby Z, clavinet, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Late 70's Funk, Minneapolis, multi instrumentalists, Prince, rhythm guitar, Warner Bros.

Improvisations – Joe McPhee

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Improvisations

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Filed under avant-garde, free jazz, Joe McPhee, multi instrumentalists, Ron Wynn, Saxophone

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Night Train” by Steve Winwood

Steve Winwood is someone whom I don’t believe has been covered anywhere on Andresmusictalk as of yet. His musical conception is interesting because of his talent across two spectrum’s.  Winwood is a multi instrumentalist across a broad variety of string and keyboard instruments-as well as drums. At the same end,he also parlayed his talents as a member of bands such as The Spencer Davis Group,Blind Faith and finally Traffic. By the time of Steve Winwood’s solo debut in 1977,the man was already a stand up band leader at least twice over-while still being able to do it all on his own.

The Birmingham,England native began his career playing in his father and brother’s jazz band. And became active on the areas blues scene-his vocals being compared to Ray Charles. So a strong sense of soul always defined his creativity. His second solo album was 1980’s Arc Of A Diver. Much as Stevie Wonder,Prince and Todd Rundgren had done he really exercised his multi instrumental talents here-playing and producing the entire album with only Will Jenning’s co-writing some songs. It re-invented him as a commercial viable artist. And the song that musically expresses this best for me is “Night Train”.

A revving guitar starts up this groove before the percussive synthesizer comes in. After that a bluesy amped up guitar solos directly into the bouncy dance beat of the drums and the very funky bass line that responds to the rhythm in kind. Before the next part of the song starts up,the synth solo that begins the song is accented with a a synthesized string ensemble. Winwood plays a straight blues guitar solo to his vocals along with the synth strings. On the choruses,the melody merely goes into the minor chord. After a rather Brazilian style drum break on the bridge,the song plays out it’s refrains until it fades out.

On a personal level,it still makes me crack up a little bit to remember the first time I ever heard this song. At the age of 11,my parents would set our VCR to record the original Star Trek series for me late at night-commercials and all. One which was constantly repeated was a PSA for the local ABC affiliate about how advertising on TV worked. I loved the funky jam playing in the back-round. Only a decade later when I purchased the Modile Fidelity edition of Arc Of A Diver did I realize the song from that commercial was “Night Train”. Really shows you how funky instrumental music is dismissed as muzak sometimes.

One thing I’ve noticed about the most successful of multi instrumentalists is the level they utilize their talents to express their full abilities. Of course one has to be instrumentally humble in the more democratic environment of bands. On this song,Winwood brings together all of his musical influences into the synth pop of the early 80’s. The song itself is structured closely to the 12 bar blues. Still the rhythmic synthesizer and general keyboard vibe is straight out of the disco/funk sound of the late 70’s. So the end result comes out as a rock musician making his own type of uptempo boogie funk record in the end.

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Filed under 1980's, Arc Of A Diver, blues funk, Boogie Funk, drums, Funk Bass, lead guitar, multi instrumentalists, Steve Winwood, synth funk, synthesizer, Will Jennings

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sexy Dancer” by Prince

 

Prince’s 1978 debut album For You really helped establish the Minneapolis sound instrumentally. At least as far as I’m concerned. What made it different from Prince’s albums that would come along in the next  half decade was that everything from the synth brass to the percussion was full and heavily orchestrated. Just after being asked by Warner Bros. to follow up this album,Prince began recording his sophomore album. As with his debut,he was still in a complete one man band approach in terms of the instrumentation. But seemed to be thinking more in terms of a distinctive instrumental approach.

Personally? I tend to be somewhat partial to the sound of For You in terms of projecting a very futurist,dreamy funk and soul soundscape. Prince’s self titled second album seemed  heavy on slow,West Coast style ballads upon first listening to it. Over time,it became clear how much funk was  actually present on this album. As Prince himself felt that this 1979 album was actually pretty contrived for hit singles. There is one song from this  album that my friend Henrique Hopkins and I are often referencing in terms of typifying Prince’s entire approach to funk. And the name of this song was called “Sexy Dancer”.

A trumpet like blast of Polymoog synthesizer opens up the song. Following Prince’s sustained falsetto wail,the main rhythm of the song gets itself going. This consists of a driving 2 on 1 live drum beat holding down the fort. Above that is Prince playing his trademark high up on the neck rhythm guitar playing,with his slap bass solo mixed close and essentially acting as the lower end of the guitar tone. On the chorus of the song,Prince’s vocals play call and response to the synthesizer-with the break that opened the song separating each refrain/choral part of it.

The song itself features two separate bridges. The first one takes out all the instrumentation save for the drums-with one of the rhythm accents removed as well. Prince breaths and pants as a percussive element-again in call and response style to the synth brass. After another play of the chorus/refrain,there’s a snare heavy segment showcasing Prince’s bass/guitar interaction before the second bridge comes in. This one deals more with the bass backup up a very Ramsey Lewis style soul jazz/hard bop solo on what sounds like a Yamaha electric piano before the refrain closes the song right out.

Perhaps more than any song on his two late 70’s album,”Sexy Dancer” really points towards what would be his classic 80’s era sound. As with most of the uptempo music on this album,the instrumentation is very stripped down. Here it’s down to just spare rhythm-most importantly with his bass playing being primarily a low adjunct of his high pitched guitar approach. Using sexual panting as percussion also helped provide the song with the intense rhythmic bit it has. It was a major dance hit in the UK as well. In the end,the Prince sound that made him so famous probably started right here.

 

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Filed under 1970's, call and response, drums, electric piano, Funk, multi instrumentalists, naked funk, Polymoog, Prince, rhythm guitar, slap bass, synth brass, Uncategorized