Donald Byrd is one of my favorite musicians during the 70’s Blue Note era especially. The Detroit native replaced the late,great Clifford Brown in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers after a stint in the US Air Force. After launching his career as a band leader in the late 50’s,Byrd’s became Blue Notes equivalent of Miles Davis in terms of transitioning from acoustic bop jazz to fusion. Along the way,he also helped launch one of jazz-funk’s seminal bands in The Blackbyrds. His mid 70’s collaborations with the Mizell brothers Larry and Fonce are actually in a class by themselves too.
Around 12 years ago,I began to listen heavy to both the Blackbyrds and Donald Byrd’s mid 70’s jazz-funk recordings. This came from my dad playing the music of Madlib for me. Now this is a DJ/musician/producer/rapper who loved 70’s Blue Note. And focused a lot on Byrd’s music from that period. It was through DJ/musician Nigel Hall and his radio show at WMEB in Orono,Maine that I learned where to find one of my favorite pieces Madlib had used,since I wasn’t accustomed to first hearing classic funk songs via samples. Turning out that the song in question was the 1974 album title track “Stepping Into Tomorrow”.
A thunder-like sound opens into the song. The main groove is established right away. This is a slow,percussive drum from Harvey Mason,a melody setting bass line from Chuck Rainey,Larry Mizell’s ARP strings and Byrd’s trumpet. As the vocals of Byrd and a trio of female backup singers harmonize on the choruses,a minor chord intro then extends into a series of solos. First Byrd on trumpet,then Gary Bartz’s sax and finally Jerry Peters’ organ. The main chorus/intro/refrain parts repeat to,with a number of psychedelic,synthesized sonics until the song fades out.
“Stepping Into Tomorrow” is one of those truly democratic jazz/funk numbers. Instrumentally,it was a dream team of the finest of jazz/funk players in that area. And each one is performing at some of their finest on this groove. Its a strong enough groove to stand on its own. Yet it can be sampled all on its own in a way that doesn’t destroy its special musical qualities. Its the songs elasticity that represents its strongest quality. While I personally feel original funk songs should be searched for on their own rather than via samples,whatever method one uses to get to this funk will be its own reward.
Filed under 1974, 70's Blue Note, ARP string ensemble, Chuck Rainey, Donald Byrd, drums, Fonce Mizell, Funk Bass, Gary Bartz, Harvey Mason, jazz funk, Jerry Peters, Larry Mizell, organ, Saxophone, trumpet
Larry Young is a jazz organist who I didn’t know anything about until meeting Henrique a decade ago. He introduced me to his 1975 album Fuel when discussing the many acoustic jazz artists doing different tributaries of funk. Young came to prominence during the early 1960’s. In terms of innovation,he did with the Hammond B-3 organ for modal jazz what Jimmy Smith did for the hard pop and soul jazz sub genres. He worked with many jazz greats from that era including Lou Donaldson,Elvin Jones and Hank Mobley. He also became one of the architects of fusion as a member of Tony William’s Lifetime.
In the final few years of his life,Larry Young formed his own fusion group called Fuel-titled after his 1975 album. These group leaned heavily towards the funky end of the genre. Because Young died mysteriously in 1978 at the age of 37,this project was sadly cut short with only two albums released. One of them was an album entitled Spaceball,released in 1976. I just learned about this album writing this. And wound up exploring many of its songs on YouTube. It was the opener of this album that made the strongest impact on me in terms of funkiness. Its entitled “Moonwalk”.
Jim Allington’s fast paced Brazilian drum swing opens the album. Shortly thereafter,Dave Eubanks three on four note bass line kicks in. This represents the entire rhythm body of the song. As for the melodies of the song,there are many provided from Larry Young himself. There’s a high and low pitched sustained organ roll playing call and response with itself. He also adds in some spacey electronic synthesizers almost as percussion accents-in particular towards the last minute or so of the song. On the bridge,Larry Coryell plays a rolling guitar solo before a final refrain closes the entire song out.
“Moonwalk” is a really amazing jam. Its basis is thoroughly Brazilian funk. On the other hand,the harmonic complication of the soloing is almost beyond belief. The female backup singings “doo doo wopp”-ing throughout the early parts of the song adds a certain verbal encouragement to the entire musical movement. With the sometimes atonal electronics, this has some of the spacey,ethereal free jazz elements of people such as Sun Ra’s Arkestra mixed into the otherwise funky grooves. It really shows just what an innovative jazz musician could do in terms of soloing with a strong funk rhythm accompanying them.
Filed under 1976, Brazilian Jazz, Dave Eubanks, drums, Funk Bass, Hammond B-3, Jazz, jazz funk, jazz guitar, Jim Allington, Larry Coryell, Larry Young, organ, synthesizers
Prince recorded so much music in his lifetime,there were going to be moments that would be left neglected by some people. The Gold Experience was such an album. It was recorded in 1993 during the most bitter stages of his legal battles with Warner Bros. The end result is that it was the very first album released under the name of O(+>,itself actually functioning as the title for his 1992 album a year before this was recorded. The album was released on Warner’s yet distributed by Prince’s own NPG Records on September 26th,1995. Because of all the hype surrounding Prince’s name change,this album seemed to be a big deal.
It was a man named Andy,who worked behind the counter of the local branch Strawberries Music chain,who first bought this album to my attention. He asked me if I was a Prince fan. Said I hadn’t heard a lot of his music,which was not a lie at the time. It was that conversation that actually got me interested in revisiting Prince’s music and learning about his history-which was then a bit more recent than it is today. I picked up a pre-owned CD of The Gold Experience a year later. I still seldom listen to it all the way through. One song that I just happily revisited on it was “Billy Jack Bitch”.
Prince starts off the song singing the songs title,accented by a vocal sample from Fishbone’s song “Lying Ass Bitch” over a fast funky drums of Michael Bland-along with a higher and lower toned synthesizer squiggle. A snare kickoff brings in the thick,pulsing bass line of Sonny T. along with the pumping organ of Tommy Barbarella. This rhythm keeps the same flow through several verse/chorus exchanges before Barbarella takes a steamy organ solo on the bridge-just around the same time Prince accents his melody with sheets of rock guitar. The NPG horns fanfare away just as the song begins to fade out.
Prince and the New Power Generation really do their stuff so well on this song. As my friend Henrique pointed out to me very recently,this is a pretty straight up P-Funk style jam out of the “One Nation Under A Groove” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep” school. Rhythmically it’s a wonderful blend of the NPG’s band interplay with Prince’s instrumental and production touches-not to mention the harmony vocals of Lenny Kravitz-which brings the two contemporary funk/rockers together. That along with the tightly chorded horn voicing’s that come in at the songs concluding segment.
Lyrically this song has similar content to Michael Jackson’s Tabloid Junkie” from the same vintage. The focus is more personal-as Prince accuses the songs antagonist of “calling him silly names” as well as not being willing to confront him face to face. The song was recently confirmed to have in fact been a direct statement about Minneapolis Star Tribute gossip columnist CJ,whom Prince saw as an enemy of his within the press. Even though it did have it’s place in the rather paranoid anti tabloid sentiment of it’s day,Prince and the NPG endowed it with some strong Minneapolis style P-Funk power.
Filed under 1990s, Billy Jack Bitch, diss songs, drums, Fishbone, Funk Bass, horns, Lenny Kravitz, Michael Bland, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, organ, P-Funk, Prince, rock guitar, Sampling, Sonny T, synthesizers, Tommy Barbarella, Warner Bros.
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.
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
During the first six or seven years of his career James Brown was essentially known for his energetically performed soul ballads and stage shows. That is generally what soul was at the time. When the music was uptempo, it was generally considered to be rhythm & blues. And soul was generally the romantic ballad end of that still new spectrum of music. Only in revision to many people realize that even from the get go, James Brown was always changing the rules.
He vocally performed his soul balladry with the theatrics and passion of the salvation gospel tent show. As the 1960’s began to come in, James began to embrace rhythm & blues to a greater degree. He was also listening to another type of music called boogaloo coming out of New York-with it’s African pop influence and use of musical breaks. With this new outlook on uptempo music in his arena, James’ music was beginning to change.
“Mashed Potatoes USA” is a very compelling song-a dancable yet fairly slow tempo rhythm & blues piece with a very raw rhythm attitude-filled with drum and horn breaks. Its quite possibly his first foray into the funk process,if not the full on funk itself. “Choo-Choo (Loco Motion)”,”Three Hearts In A Triangle” along with the instrumentals “Doin’ The Limbo”,”Joggin Along” and “Sticky” are all heavily rocking and organ/horn based R&B with a consistent and chunky rhythmic flavor that on the other hand is decidedly unbroken.
“I’ve Got Money” returns for a bit to the possibility of the funk process again. “I Don’t Care”,interestingly one of the few examples of his original soul ballad style, actually begins the lyrical process for his funk innovation “Cold Sweat” with him stating “I DON’T CARE about your past”. “Like A Baby”,”Every Beat Of My Heart” and “In The Wee Small Hours” are examples or James’ earlier instrumental organ blues throwdowns to round this out.
Often mistaken for a live album because of its title, this 1962 studio recording by James Brown and his Famous Flames is a neglected but very important album for James’ catalog. Its his first album to put a significant amount of attention on heavy rhythm and uptempo tunes. You begin to hear him and his band beginning to find their signature instrumental style that they were still ironing out, by trying out different styles from soul to R&B to blues on their earlier recordings.
Being from the era that it is, this album is of course likely a collection of James Brown “sides”,recorded originally in intention for release on 45 A and B and cobbled together on this long player to bring them together into a loose theme to resell them. Of course less cynically this also is influenced by Ray Charles’ intentionally conceptualized ABC-Paramount era albums as well. So this also finds James discovering the possibility that he could develop as an album artist perhaps. Despite its lack of popularity in James vast and vital recorded catalog, this album is an important dry run for his future.
Originally posted on July 14th,2013
*LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!
Filed under 1960's, Amazon.com, concept albums, Famous Flames, Funk, funk process, instrumental, James Brown, Music Reviewing, organ, rhythm & blues, Soul, Uncategorized
James Brown’s grooves importance to me is that they came to me pretty late in the game. That is in terms of discovering funk. Long before that happened on a personal level,the discovery of The Godfather within the newly emerging musical genre of hip-hop came at the same time as the advent of the computer sound sampler. Public Enemy’s Bombsquad made samples of JB’s music a mainstay in their rhythmic based sound. While I feel it important for the funk to always remain it’s own reward,JB’s music in particular would probably not be so well known to so many American’s between the ages of 20-50 without the funk archive that is sampling.
There are many JB numbers that remain a key part of the vocabulary of the samples library. One of them however remains key. It was recorded on November 20th,1969. And was released as a single five months later. Originally it was released at a two part single version-each of the parts less then three minutes a piece. When I first heard the full version on the JB box set Star Time,it made little impact on my ears or me feet. After coming back to it over a decade later,it became clear how much an understanding of JB’s rhythmic intent opened this song right up. And the name of of this important groove is called “Funky Drummer”.
The trumpets of Joe Davis and Richard Kush Griffith both play right on the beat with the songs own funky drummer Clyde Stubblefield. The main groove of the song is a vamp based on Stubblefield hitting the snare high on the second or third beat-depending on where Kush,Fred Wesley,Maceo Parker and the rest of the JB horn section happened to be hitting on the groove from. Of course Jimmy Nolan’s trademark chicken scratch guitar locks it all down along Charles Sherrell’s busy,jazzy bass line. JB plays a number of organ solos-starting short and ending more elaborately near the end of the groove while sharing a space for Maceo to solo too.
Of course what really gets it going is when JB calls out Stubblefield solo with just his snare-on-the-one beat twice in the groove. That’s the part that became the nucleus of the hip-hop beat during the sampling age. As it’s own groove,”Funky Drummer” is a straight vamp without any long musical breaks or changes in melody. In a lot of ways,it almost stands as pretty raw funk material from the JB’s. What keeps it so fresh and exciting is the amazing musical precision involved. This is probably where JB himself might’ve fully succeeded in his ambition to get his entire band to sound like a drum. And that will probably continue to remain this songs legacy in the anatomy of the funk groove.
Filed under 1970's, Charles Sherrell, chicken scratch guitar, Clyde Stubblefield, drums, Fred Wesley, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, Maceo Parker, organ, Richard Kush Griffith, Sampling, Saxophone, The JB's
Kraftwerk (German for “power plant”) were a group who came to my attention through a PBS documentary talking about electro funk pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. He was explaining how when he first heard the German groups album Trans Europe Express,he was convinced this would be the music for the future. Thanks to Bambaataa’s parties for his proto hip-hop collective Zulu Nation,late 70’s Kraftwerk records became major fixtures at black and Latino dance parties throughout the Bronx and Brooklyn. As krautrock’s prototype for what became today’s EDM sound,Krafwerk had an origin point all it’s own within their native country.
The group’s founders in keyboardist/guitarist Ralf Hutter and flutist/percussionist Florian Schneider,whose celebrating his 69th birthday today,came together at the very end of the 60’s in a psychedelic fusion oriented band known as the Organisation. After that bands first and only album, Ralf and Florian formed their first addition of Kraftwerk along with drummers Andreas Hohmaan and Klaus Dinger for their self titled debut. Released in 1970,it was produced by the iconic krautrock producer Konrad “Conny” Plank. Upon first hearing the album,the opening song stood out to me with heavy familiarity about it. The name of the song was “Ruckzuck”.
Florian begins the song with a double tracked flute solo playing very Arabic style scales. He then brings a very whisper,brittle violin solo which instantly kicks into the song itself. Hohmann’s hi hat heavy,rolling 2 by 2 beat snare drum pushes along at a hard grooving tempo with Hutter’s high pitched organ providing the main melody. Florian’s flute flows in and out of the mix. As Hutter’s organ grows more atonal and higher in the mix,the main melody of the song suddenly returns at an accelerated tempo. Then the whole disappears into a sea of tribal,very aboriginal African sounding percussion before that accelerated main theme fades back in to officially close out the song.
Henrique Hopkins and myself have had a number of discussions on Kraftwerk providing more raw instrumental material than strong melodic song content to those influenced by them. The Kraftwerk on this song are very different. Later member Karl Bartos said once that one the groups main key influences was James Brown. That can be heard on this song having such a complete relationship to rhythm-even the violin soloing. Because everything in this song is mixed in such close proximity,I cannot tell my next point for sure. But it does sound as if the rhythm is deeply locked into the Afro-Latin clave as well. That plus the very tribal pulse in the middle of the groove brings that out as well.
It was a few years ago that the songs familiarity came to me via YouTube. In the late 80’s and early 90’s,about 30 seconds of this song was used as the theme song to the PBS science program Newton’s Apple. The use of the song was apparently unauthorized and was replaced by a cover version during the shows later years. Part of the reasoning for this had to due with Ralf and Florian seemingly disowning this and Kraftwerk’s next two albums after the late 70’s-with Florian himself referring to them as “archaeology”. Even still,hearing Kraftwerk’s first song from their first album in such a progressive jazz-funk context showcases what their musical core has remained over the years.
Filed under 1970's, Afrika Bambaataa, Afro-Latin jazz, Andreas Hohmaan, clave, Conny Plank, drums, Florian Schneider, flute, Germany, James Brown, jazz funk, Kraftwerk, krautrock, organ, progressive music, Ralf Hutter, Uncategorized, violin