Thundercat (born 1984 in LA as Stephan Bruner) is an artist I’ve wanted to profile for quite some sometime now. He’s had a very diverse career as a bass/guitar player. He began in the thrash metal band Suicidal Tendencies. As well as working close to nu jazz mainstay Flying Lotus. On his own,he has brought his talents to a diverse range of artists from Kamasi Washington,Erykah Badu and Kendrick Lamar. He began his solo career in 2011. While it maintains his diversity of sound to a degree,his focus has tended to be on the modern nu jazz/funk approach in terms of his own material.
The only Thundercat solo album I have is 2013’s Apocalypse. Its mix of electronica and jazz/funk was a very moving one. Cannot honestly say I was too crazy about all of his lyrics. And that is the main reason I’ve avoided covering the music of this child prodigy up until this point. Just a personal preference that funky music be a very complete package. That being said,he is about to drop a new album called Drunk. And his first song released from this album was introduced to me both by friends Andrew Osterov and Henrique Hopkins. Its a duet with Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins called “Show Me The Way”.
A processed Fender Rhodes piano,with Thundercat’s bass line tickling the chord changes next to his falsetto voice,opens the song before the drum-itself a three snare/two cymbal hit,comes in. During the choruses of the song,the Rhodes is phasered very heavily with a twinkling high pitched synthesizer. On the refrains,the arrangement calms down to a meditative soft jazz/funk/pop Rhodes and bass line. On two of these refrains,McDonald’s and Loggins’ vocal parts are introduced by Thundercat and light applause noise. The synthesizer/Rhodes duet improvises its way all the way to the songs fade.
“Show Me The Way” is an excellent tribute to the reality of the “soft rock” or “yacht rock” label often disguising strong jazzy funk/pop artists-that “funk/soul in every section of the record store”. Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald were prime examples of this ethic. Thundercat clearly understands how to compose such melodic and instrumentally intricate jazzy/pop/soul tunes with a strong funky groove as they did in their time. This mid tempo number features a lot of elaborate melodic improvisations-always very hummable. And is a superb comeback for all three artists involved for 2017!
About five years ago,I got seriously into the whole Daptone label music scene. The whole theme they had was very authentically retro. It wasn’t just the instrumental style of the music that came out of it. It was the sound of the recordings,even the old school film based photographic style of cover art. Charles Bradley is their key male solo artist. And his chief musical influence was James Brown-even working part time impersonating the man. As for me I have his first two albums. And was very excited to pick up his third when it came out. Again,there’s no disappointment.
The album opens with a partially spoken word,organ/piano based version of “God Bless America” where Bradly discussed the pros and cons of being black in this country. “Good To Be Back Home” is stomping,bluesy funk with phat electric guitar and horn accents throughout. “Nobody But You”,the title song,”Crazy For Your Love” and the closer “Slow Love” are all reverbed guitar heavy ballads.
“Ain’t Gonna Give You Up” is a thick,slow deep funk groove with a bee like synthesizer buzzing. “Things We Do For Love” is a brightly melodic uptempo gospel/soul number filled with multiple backup singers and “You Think I Don’t Know (But I Know” has the same vibe about it. “Change For The World” is an brief late 60’s/early 70’s Ike Hayes like psychedelic funk message song warning about the revival of segregationist racial behavior.
In a lot of ways,this might just be the very best album Charles Bradley has made thus far. The backup instrumentation of instrumentals such as the Budos Band provide a sound that is squarely in both the deep Southern soul and psychedelic funk sound of the late 60’s. The vocals and arrangements are full of enormous drama as well. Bradley’s voice,especially on his impassioned howls,are echoed intensely throughout nearly every song here. With a large focus on uptempo songs,this really brings out the full power of what this artist has had to offer up musically from his very outset.
Originally posted on April 8th,2016
Link to original review here!
Nu Shooz were an 80’s freestyle funk duo from the 1980’s who,among others,represented some of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio. Of course this came in form of the iconic 80’s hit “I Can’t Wait”. Hailing from Portland Oregon,currently 9 member group were led by the married couple of John Smith and lead singer Valerie Day. In the United States,they are considered something of a one hit wonder. Yet from the moment I began exploring that hit’s ultra funky flip side “Make Your Mind Up”,I know this would be a group worthy of exploration for any aficionado of strong 80’s soul/funk music.
Nu Shooz still record and perform today-occasionally recording independent online releases now and then. Its clear from listening to these new songs from them that they are indeed some of the funkiest bands of the 80’s still functioning today. Right up there Cameo to me,anyway. Over the years of course,there instrumental sound and priorities have changed. But there are still some core elements,such as emphasis on hummable melody,that remain intact. That’s very much in the case in the title song of the newest release from May 2016 entitled Bagtown.
A thick hard bop style synth solo begins the song. Then the shuffling funky drum/percussion rhythm kicks into high gear. The chicken scratch rhythm guitar is accompanied by a phat bass line playing the empty spaces within that guitar riff. In and around this,the harmonically complex horns play musical hide and seek with Valerie Day’s lead vocals. Towards the middle of the song,a vibraphone enters the mix as both a melodic and percussive element before the drums lead into a lower guitar solo. The bass/guitar dynamic becomes the focus until the horn chart and percussion close out the song.
“Bagtown” really showcase Nu Shooz having evolved into a sharp,live instrumental based jazz/funk outfit. Everything from the drums,vibes,bass and guitar just smoke on this song with a super hot mix. The harmonic nature of the horn voices brings my mind to something else. Its like a mixture of the soul jazz inspired hip-hop of Us3 in the early 90’s and the final musical decade of Miles Davis. Its got the funk,its got the soul but when it comes to how the horns treat the melody,its built upon a hardcore hard bop/soul jazz foundation. That makes this a standout jazz/funk jam for 2016 so far.
Filed under 2016, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, John Smith, new music, Nu Shooz, percussion, soul jazz, synthesizer, Valerie Day, vibraphone
Spring and summer are always good times for releasing new funk grooves,no matter from what era of the music they might derive from. As my friend Henrique pointed out in one of his articles a bit back,it’s a time of a lot weekend getaways and being outdoors. So with so much activity,the dance of life is officially commencing. And that dance needs some funky music to go with it. Two years ago,Pharrell Williams gave us such as song in the culturally influential “Happy”. Again it would seem that that the same thing is about to happen again,only this time from Justin Timberlake.
Timberlake really excited the pop music world four summers ago with the first volume of his two part 20/20 Experience. This helped herald in the modern pop world’s reboot of appreciating full length albums as both musically and commercially vital.. As well as giving the cinematic soul/funk genre a big leg back up on that same level as well. Since then,even greater such experiences as D’Angelo’s Black Messiah were set upon the public. And now Timberlake is is returning with a new groove from the forthcoming DreamWorks film Trolls. It’s appropriately entitled “Can’t Stop The Feeling”.
The song starts out with a deep piano based melody accompanied by some swinging hi hat. Hand claps enter the mix before the snare drum kicks into the 4/4 beat of the song. This accompanies Timberlake’s voice,a round and bubbly synthesizer line and one of the most funky dance oriented bass lines this side of the late Bernard Edwards of Chic. On the choruses,rhythm guitars and later in the song string and horn effects enter the mix. A breakdown bridge near the end of the song builds back up from the bass,guitar and back on into the song-closing it all out with a gospel like vocal choir of the songs chorus.
Justin Timberlake premiered this song six days ago. The song was co-written with Swedish music producers Max Martin and Shellback. These two have been responsible for hits from Ariana Grande,Pink,Taylor Swift and Adele in recent years. Doing this song really brings out the tradition of European producers continuing to have a firm grip on the soul/funk/disco sound that black America has struggled to find success with on their own terms for decades. In any case,the fact that a new Justin Timberlake song is proudly based in the disco funk vibe says a lot for his potential future musical priorities.
Filed under 2016, disco funk, drums, Funk Bass, hand claps, Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, new music, nu disco, Nu Funk, rhythm guitar, Shellback, Uncategorized
What a wonderful Prince album for lovers of the funk! And on a strictly personal note, a vast improvement on it’s predecessor. As good a move it was for Prince to have hired young producer Joshua Welton for HITNRUN Phase One,I had the concern that album would stand alongside many of the artists mid/late 90’s releases in terms of not aging well. Attempts made by Prince to incorporate current production trends generally resulted in showcasing what an unhealthy state soul/R&B music was at these given times. He and the NPG were (and in the case of the band still are) hardcore funk musicians. So on Prince’s swansong,he and the band basically worked it back to the rhythm of the one.
“Baltimore” is beautifully melodic soul rocker paying tribute to young Freddie Gray due to police brutality,as well as offering some some sage advice for modern civil rights activism. “Rocknroll Loveaffair” is a bass pumping,danceable country rocker with a sleek bluesy attitude while “2 Y.3.D” a James Brown style horn heavy pop funk jam. “Look At Me,Look At U” is a rolling,mid tempo jazz/funk groove full of slap bass,Fender Rhodes and flute while “Stare” takes that bass,drums,guitar,horns and turns up the funk heavy. “Xtraloveable” turns up the bass synth and the strong pop melody for a thick boogie funk stomp where “Groovy Potential” is another slinky mid tempo jazz/funk ballad with some sexy guitar.
“When She Comes” brings out that classic 60’s southern soul ballad with that slow scaling guitar while “Screwdriver” brings in a rhythmic riffing of a driving pop/rocker. “Black Muse” is a nice,chunky down home funky soul tune-one full of hit horns and chugging rhythm that deals with how important black American music is to the history of the artistic medium itself. “Revelation” is a gentle,spare ballad that again features a strong electric piano presence along with Prince’s ethereal falsetto vocal mix. The album concludes with “Big City”. It begins with that P-funk style chromatic walk-down before getting into some wah wah heavy melodic funk.
More than anything,what this album does is showcase just how much Prince’s musical evolution came out of funk-despite the modern perception that his rockier hits represented the baseline of his entire creative ethic. On that note,even the guitar rockers here return to the happily melodic,hook filled nature of his 80’s era music of this genre-as opposed to the aloof weariness of some of Prince’s recent rock oriented music Primarily though,this album emphasis Prince as a straight up band leader-getting funkiest drums,horns and jazzy keyboards out of the NPG. Prince’s sudden and young death is still a tragedy. But especially for the funk lover,this album is one bang of a way to go out!
Originally written on April 29th,2016
*LINK TO ORIGINAL AMAZON.COM REVIEW HERE. PLEASE GO TO THE REVIEW,TELL ME IF IT WAS HELPFUL TO YOU AND COMMENT BOTH HERE AND ON THAT SITE. THANK YOU!
Filed under 2016, Amazon.com, Baltimore, drums, Fender Rhodes, Freddie Gray, Funk, horns, jazz funk, Music Reviewing, new music, New Powe Generation, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, slap bass, Uncategorized
Generally speaking I wouldn’t qualify myself as a “buy it for the cover” type when it comes to approach new music. But while browsing the new release rack at Bull Moose Books & Music last weekend,I came across one particular CD that did catch my eye. It featured 1980’s pop culture inspired artwork-including characters usually associated with McDonald’s. Luckily the store has a listening station where you can scan a CD and preview the contents. This doesn’t often work with new release music. But in some cases,such as this,it does. And the music was impressive enough where it caught my attention. On the other hand,I didn’t know anything about the group who made it.
M83 are actually an electronica group out of Antibes,France.It was started by singer/songwriter Anthony Gonzalez. And since than it’s membership has had a pretty consistent revolving door of personnel coming in and out. This new album of theirs I speak of is entitled Junk. It’s their seventh full length release and features guest musicians ranging from Beck Hanson to an uncredited appearance by Steve Vai. Gonzalez and M83 profile their music as celebrating the melodic and rhythmic approach of 80’s synth/electro instrumentation. The song that struck my particular musical ear the most on this overall strong album was called “Bibi The Dog”.
Starting off with a brittle 808 style drum machine stomp,the groove starts right out a stomping synth bass and wavering,orchestral lead line. By the time lead singer Mai Lan Chapiron begins rapping in French,the orchestration takes a total backseat for heavier percussive effects-including electronic ones. On the first chorus,she is singing with another vocoderized voice a very big band jazz phrased melody. On the second and third repeating of this chorus,horn charts accent this main melody. In between that,a sped up voice sings the lyric of the chorus in a Chipmunk-like tone before a chorus led by the wavering synth tones and horns lead the track to it’s sudden conclusion.
This groove is an excellent example of contemporary electro/boogie revival. It has a strong sense of song construction with a pronounced Parisian cabaret jazz flavor. Most important though is how well the musicians involved understand the importance of keeping the funk percolating within the groove. Bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen actually provides a thick, almost boppish electric bass line filled with fast paced chord fills.The horns and percussion play that vital call and response with the electronic orchestrations on this song. The strong rhythmic foundation of this electronic groove make it (to my ears anyway) one of the funkiest to emerge from this genre so far in 2016.
Filed under 2016, 80's revival, Andrew Gonzalez, Boogie Funk, elecro funk, France, Funk Bass, horns, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, M83, Mai Lan Chapiron, new music, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder
Esperanza Spalding has always celebrated the ebb and flow of jazz in her career arc thus far. Being a bassist and therefore rhythm player,she’s adapted herself into a number of different tributaries of jazz. From small chamber groups,to vocal to funk. On the latter end her Radio Music Society album of five years ago dovetailed nicely into her work with Janelle Monae a year later on their collaborative song “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”. There is one concept that Spalding has been evolving over the last few years. It’s based on her understanding of the 60’s super group Cream consisting of jazz oriented members in Jack Bruce and the late Ginger Baker. And that’s her adapting her sound to a rock power trio.
That trio consists of guitarist Matthew Stevens,whose played with Christian Scott and on Harvey Mason’s newest album along with drummers Justin Tyson and Karriem Riggins-the latter of whom is also a DJ whose played for Erykah Badu and with Slum Village. Their brand new album is titled for an alter ego (Spalding’s middle name) called Emily’s D+Evolution. She describes this concept as dealing with a modern mind afflicted by a primal urge. And how great strides in creative development could be inspired from a less enlightened version of oneself. As applied to the music of Spalding’s new album, only one track with a groove that impacted strongly on me. And it is called “Judas”.
The song begins with the peddling swinging drum rhythm with Spalding scaling up and down on her electric bass. After that the high pitched electric/acoustic guitar comes in to accent the songs constantly scaling and complex chordal structure. The song itself is very chorus heavy-with the Afro-Latin rhythm breaks of the percussive,hi hat heavy drumming being the consistent element in a song where the main melodic change is from the major chords of the chorus to the more minor chords of the refrains. After each repeat,the calmer riff that opens the song repeats itself before the next set of choral refrains until Spaldings vocals and the hi hat cycle out of the song itself.
Because this song is stripped down with a vocal melody based around the chords of the rhythm section, this song has a similar musical technique to the be-bop styled singer/songwriter folk-pop of Joni Mitchell’s late 70’s work. Instrumentally the trio she’s playing with project a strong jazzy fluidity here. Having streamed this album early on,I was quite unimpressed with what came across as raggedy alternative rock instrumentation that seemed to get in the way of Spalding’s complex songwriting on the majority of the album. But the combination of the boppish Latin rhythms makes this one song stand out as both jazzy and funky.
About the “Emily” concept itself it’s effects on this song,Esperanza herself describes this musical character as someone she does not yet know fully. She’s been touring for a year or so now with what’s known as the ACS trio-also consisting of Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington with the songs from this album.Lyrically the song “Judas” comes across as the childhood dreams that inspired Spalding for this musical act. If I were to try to break it down,the lyrics to this song seem to be about just making it in a complex world. And it’s described more in terms of stream of conscious actions than realistic events. So the music and lyrics of this song really look to providing Spalding clarity for her new concept.
Filed under 2016, Afro-Latin jazz, alternative rock, bass guitar, drums, Esperanza Spalding, Jazz, jazz funk, Joni Mitchell, Karriem Riggins, Matthew Stevens, new music, Nu Funk, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized
It was through his collaboration with Phonte on the latest album by The Foreign Exchange that got me interested in the music of Matthjis “Nicolay” Rook. Now this is a Dutch native who has been creating both solo albums and different collaborations within the funkiest side of the electronica/hip-hop/soul spectrum of music. His emphasis on live musicianship with his acumen as a multi instrumentalist is a big part of his artistic appeal for me personally.
Over the past decade,Nicolay has released a series of solo records in his City Lights series. Generally weaving them directly in between his released as a member of The Foreign Exchange. I’ve never had one of these albums. Yet the newest volume of this was subtitled ‘Soweto’-as a tribute to the South African township of the same name. And through online streaming? It was it’s opening song “Tomorrow” which caught my ear the most.
Beginning and ending with the voice of what is perhaps Bantu language conversation in the back-round? The song begins with a round bass synthesizer chord-accompanied by breezy orchestral electronics. Suddenly a burst of intense percussion kicks in for the main rhythm of the song-with congas,high hat and other Afro-Latin percussive sounds. On the bridge of the song a high pitch,and still round toned series of synthesizers play a horn like jazzy riff before gearing down into a higher pitched synth scaling up and down. All before the song ends with a light Ebonic vocalese.
One of the things I enjoy about this song is some of the same quality I heard on “If I Knew Then” from The Foreign Exchange. This song is of course far faster and electronic in straight up instrumental tone. That being said? Nicolay borrows a lot of his technique from early/mid 80’s Prince. In the sense that he is a master programmer and creator of live rhythmic and warmer,brittle bass lines with electronic drums and keyboards. It also helps greatly that he’s also an electric bassist and guitarist as well. He therefore understands the importance of a fat,rhythmic groove. Whether or not it’s produced organically. Along with it’s similarity to 1980’s Miles Davis and Weather Report? This song brings out the link between funk and contemporary electronica very strongly.
Filed under 2015, Afro-Latin jazz, electro funk, Electronica, Fusion, Jazz-Funk, new music, Nicolay, Nu Funk, percussion, Phonte, South Africa, Soweto, synth funk, The Foreign Exchange