Category Archives: piano

Anatomy of THE Groove: “I Gitt Around” by Chuckii Booker

Chuckii Booker is one of those artists whose intricate history is equal to the seeming few who have a strong knowledge of him. He was perhaps better known as the musical director,producer and opening act for Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation tour at only 23-24 years old. His talents as multi talented singer/songwriter/producer/multi instrumentalist got him signed as a solo artist to Atlantic in 1988. Not because of his original talents as primarily a bass player. But because execs accidentally listened to the other side of the demo tape that featured his vocals.

If funk/soul music had followed a totally straight line in the late 80’s/early 90’s,Chuckii Booker would likely have been the intermediary step between Prince and D’Angelo. After a couple Top 10 R&B smashes,Booker became regarded as a producer. In that respect touching on the work of artists ranging from Vanessa Williams,his godfather Barry White and EWF alumni Phillip Bailey. It took me a couple decades to go out and pick up Booker’s two solo CD’s. One of them (and his final one to date) was 1992’s Niice ‘N Wiild. One of the songs that’s really gotten my attention off of it is called “I Git Around”.

After a brief moment of party dialog,the main groove of the song sets in. This is a pounding drum machine that hits a very strong,electrified snare drum sound on the second beat. Along with that are two bass lines. One is a pulsing synth bass,the other is “possibly” a live one playing a “duck face” funky wiggle. Booker brings explosive synth strings,horn lines providing a strong “video game” sound along with the bluesy accents of the chorus. Not to mention a chromatic piano walk down playing in and out throughout the song. Just before the song fades,Booker brings in a tough chicken scratch guitar.

The new jack swing style could (and often was) made extremely generic by many in its commercial heyday. Yet Chuckii Booker used this song (along with many of his others) to point out the sub genres roots in 80’s funk. And even with the mildly new jack friendly rhythm,the instrumental toughness and electronic flamboyance is straight up P-Funk. Everything from the instrumentation to the lyric is pretty much a direct extension of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” from a decade before it. Makes one wonder how different 90’s uptempo music might’ve been had it followed this ultra funky model.

 

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Filed under 1990s, chicken scratch guitar, chromatic walkdown, Chuckii Booker, drum machine, drums, Funk Bass, New Jack Swing, P-Funk, piano, synth bass, synth brass

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Nard’ by Bernard Wright (1981)

'Nard

After hearing “‘Nard” the one definitive impression you’ll have is that New York pianist Bernard Wright has a large number of musical influences ranging from Herbie Hancock,George Duke,Lenny White and of course Dave Grusin (his producer) and Miles Davis.But one thing the 16 year old musician does very well is find unique and creative ways of gathering his influences into his own special kind of musical sound.

Released on vinyl in 1981 on GRP “‘Nard” is at it’s core a funk-jazz album,but all that means is that the backup has a rhythmic R&B style over which Wright plays very memorable and often improvised solo’s on his acoustic piano,Fender Rhodes and sometimes the occasional synthesizer.But only on the spiky funk of “Just Chillin’ Out” and “We’re Just The Band” do synths play that big a part.

“Master Rocker”,”Spinnin'”,”Firebolt Hustle” and the jamming “Bread Sandwiches” are all based on a chunky backup of guitars,rhythms and often sudden melodic exchanges,that plus the comically absurd vocals of “Haboglabotribin'” brings up the George Duke connection.The general sound (especially on the one ballad in Weldon Irvine’s “Music Is The Key” showcases Bernard Wright as an artist with a firmly established 1970’s-based sound..

The electronic and glossy sheen of 1980’s style jazz-funk an R&B in general are not to be found in huge doses on ‘Nard’.But thanks I’m sure to poor promotion on GRP’s part this album (and artist in general) have gone almost forgotten until this CD reissue.I brought it only on customer recommendation and I couldn’t be more pleased with what I heard.And despite it’s often hefty price tag ‘Nard’ will be more then worth the investment.I recommend it not only as an ear pleasing guidebook for other aspiring young musicians but to any fan of late 70’s/early 80’s transitional jazz-funk in general.

Originally Posted On November 15th,2004

Link To Original Review Here!

 

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Bernard Wright, Dave Grusin, Fender Rhodes, GRP Records, jazz funk, Music Reviewing, piano, synthesizer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Adventures In Paradise” by Minnie Riprton

Minnie Riperton is one of my favorite female vocalists of the 1970’s. It went far beyond her 5 octave vocal range. The choices of musical setting she and her collaborating husband Richard Randolph made for this voice always operated on different ends of the soul/funk idiom. That meant the songs were not going to be simplistic. Nor could they merely rely on Riperton’s voice as the sole draw for the songs. Especially as that ethic of showcasing a strong singer with less then stellar music is almost a given today,this really spoke to the level of musical artistry that went into Riperton’s work.

In 1975,Riperton’s label Epic were interesting in a follow up to the massive success of the Perfect Angel and its single “Loving You” after its run was over. Since Stevie Wonder,who’d helmed that album,was busy producing his own Songs In The Key of Life at the time,Stewart Levine ended up helping out with the production on the 1975 album Adventures In Paradise. Working with musicians such as Crusaders’ Joe Sample and Larry Carlton,this albums jazz funk flavor was epitomized extremely well by the Sample co-penned title song that opened its flip side on the original vinyl.

Dean Parks’ deep 10 note rhythm guitar riff opens the song along with Jim Gordon’s funky drum and Sample’s bluesy Fender Rhodes piano licks. Along with Sample’s thick roadhouse style acoustic piano chords on the vocal refrains,this is the main body of the song. Ascending yet subtle strings show up on the chorus,where Riperton soars into her trademarked high F-sustaining across several chords. This refrain/chorus refrain sequence is repeated for one more round. Riperton improvises a bit on the high F aspect of the song as the song fades out on its main instrumental refrain.

“Adventures in Paradise” is a terrific example of Minnie Riperton really riding a strong jazz/funk groove for all that it could offer her. Even though not strictly so,this song has a heavy Crusaders vibe about it. Found over the years that whenever Joe Sample is in a leadership position instrumentally and compositionally,the other musicians involved tend to feel right at home instantly. And that happened with the rhythmically thick and melodically strong nature of this song. Minnie Riperton recorded some amazing music in the funk genre. But for me personally,this would probably top that list.

 

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Filed under 1975, Dean Parks, drums, Fender Rhodes, jazz funk, Joe Sample, piano, rhythm guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “To The Top” by Omar

Omar first came to my attention via the Lenny Henry starring “brit-com” entitled Chef, with its theme song “Serious Profession” performed entirely by Omar. During the early to mid aughts,exploring Omar’s then very hard to find import albums on CD was like hunting for buried treasure. Thanks to my online friend Jeremiah,a lot more exposure to Omar’s music came my way a decade ago. What I noticed about Omar’s music was that,very different from American neo soul very much based in live instrumental hip-hop beats,Omar’s variety of the music concentrated heavily on ornate arrangements.

Born Omar Lye-Fook in London in 1968,he grew up in Canterbury,Kent. He was classically trained trumpet,piano and percussion at two separate conservatories in London and Manchester. He worked as a computer programmer for Microsoft before pursuing music full time. His first single and album There’s Nothing Like This became his first chart hit. And established him as a founding father of neo soul. Over the years his sound swelled to incorporate elements of Brazilian jazz,dance hall reggae and cinematic funk. On the latter end,one of my favorite songs from him is 2000’s “To The Top” from his album Best By Far.

A swinging mix of hollow percussion and piano walk down introduce the song. This kicks off into a sea of strings and melodic flute harmonies before Omar himself begins duetting with his swelling backup vocals. This represents the chorus of the song,for all intents and purposes. The refrains of the song find Omar’s lead and backup vocals playing more call and response to a shuffling,funky snare drum and piano. There are two repeating chorus/refrain bars of this song. On the final chorus before the song fades,Omar’s lead and back-round vocals become the full focus of the song over the instrumentation.

Omar does something that really gets to me musically on “To The Top”. Most neo soul/proto neo soul male artists who hailed as “the next Marvin Gaye” in the beginning. And truth be told,Omar’s style of arrangement and love of backup vocals singing lead is straight out of the Gaye school of cinematic funky soul on this particular song. What Omar does is brings in the heavy funk. As with most neo soul,its lacking in any synthesized electronics. What it does have is less of a stripped down sound,and more emphasis on orchestral production. That makes Omar one of the funkiest neo soulers of his generation.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2000, arrangement, backing vocals, cinematic funk, cinematic soul, drums, flute, funky soul, Neo Soul, Omar Lye-Fook, percussion, piano, strings, UK Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Junie” by Solange

Solange Knowles turned 30 this year. The period since her last release in the EP True and today has been a long and significant one. In 2013,she moved to New Orleans with her then 8 year old son Daniel. The Crescent City has long been known as a spiritual home for black American culture-starting with the birth of jazz in the city over a century and a half ago.  A year later,she re-married music video directer Alan Furguson while living there. Considering she views her sister (and frequent public comparison) Beyonce as a prime role model for her,its no surprise she is taking a similar outlook on America today.

The America that Solange has been looking at the last couple of years has been an all out yet not officially spoken assault on African American’s. Its seen the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. As well as an accompanying upsurge in understanding how how truly bigoted the fundamentals of America are-in no small thanks to the internet’s vast library of historical knowledge. Police brutality is at an all time high. And the black community has had a wide range of reactions. Some have even chosen to deny their heritage and defend a police force they know to be in the wrong.

Musically the consequences have been unusual. Even the usually topical genre of hip-hop,let along soul,have avoided message songs to a big degree. Instead favoring variants of the modern trap sound. Solange,along with her sister’s song “Formation” have elected to address this more. For her own part,Solange addressed it with a brand new album (now available as a digital file only) entitled A Seat At The Table. Its definitely a return to the album based format of the 1970’s conceptually. But if there were only one standout song I had to pick as a favorite from it,it would be the song “Junie”.

The song begins with a six note bass line with a hard cymbal kick over which Solange improvises along vocally. Then the drums kick into a heavy snare/hi hat rhythm. Within the framework,a higher and lower pitch brittle space funk synthesizer play call and response within the refrain along with Solange’s rhythmic singing. On the choruses,a think three note piano walk down is added to the synthesizer parts-which become melodically brighter and more insistent. The song reduces down to a synthesizer bleep/drum duet before stopping on yet another repeat of the chorus.

It was Henrique who suspected,and made it official based on Solange’s own tweet, that this song was indeed named for and inspired by Walter “Junie” Morrison,synthesizer innovator of first the Ohio Player and then P-Funk. That makes perfect sense with the use of the gospel/soul piano and spacey synthesizer lines that would be the classic Junie mix of sound. While its played a lot straighter here than on P-Funk’s more flamboyant instrumental style by Mister John Kirby,it goes perfectly with the stripped down musical composition written by Raaphael Saadiq.

Lyrically,OutKast’s Andre “3000” Benjamin provided two areas of insights in the song. Most of it is very much in the dance hall of much Jamaican inspired contemporary dance/R&B. One where words are stuttered rhythmically to generate an impulse.  Towards the end of the song,the lyrics are more overt. “Don’t want to do the dishes/just want to eat the food” is one such lyric. As does its accompanying album,it finds Solange, Andre, Raaphael and John sending out a vital message that,when it comes to racial justice and music itself,heavy creative inspiration and work is the only effective way to go.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2016, A Seat At The Table, Andre 3000, drums, Funk Bass, John Kirby, message songs, naked funk, new music, piano, Raaphael Saadiq, space funk, synthesizers, Walter Junie Morrison

Anatomy of THE Groove: “We’ll Have It Made” by The Spinners

The Spinners were a group who had two of the most distinctive lead singers in 70’s soul. During their years in Philly,their main lead singer was Phillipe Wynne-a master of powerful vocal idiosyncrasy. In their Motown years,their final lead singer of that era was George Curtis “G.C.” Cameron. He was a Vietnam vet who recorded a couple of solo albums for Motown after his years with the Spinners. In 2003,he became one of the lead singers of the Temptations. Today at age 71,Cameron has had a rich and varied career celebrating music on both a creative and political level in the state of New Jersey.

In 1970,The Spinners recorded their second and final Motown album entitled 2nd Time Around. Story goes that they were not creatively prioritized on the label. On the other hand,Stevie Wonder felt the opposite because he wrote two songs for the group which were featured on this album. The first was “Its A Shame”. This went on to become their biggest hit for Motown. And is probably the song most people associate with G.C. Cameron. The other song Wonder wrote didn’t perform as well commercially,but to me stands on equal level musically. The name of this song is “We’ll Have It Made”.

A deep honky tonk styled (though not honky tonk sounding) piano opens the song. The bass drum kicks into the main rhythm-which is a big percussive sound marked by epic hi hat hits. These are accented by screaming,melodic horn charts. These instrumental parts mark both the chorus and the refrain of the song-using different chord modulations for each segment. After the chorus,there are these jazzy bridges where Cameron goes into his smoothest low baritone. Towards the end of the song,all the musical elements come together for a huge chorus that closes out the song.

“We’ll Have It Made” is a song that instrumentally bridges a hot,heavy uptempo and a stomping country soul sound beautifully. Even more so,Stevie Wonder’s jazzy modulations give the song its complex character. Cameron sings each vocal part as different characters. On the refrains and choruses he’s a huge soul shouter. On the jazzier bridges, he’s a smooth and almost poppy crooner. The moment I heard this song,it made me think about what might’ve happened to the Spinners on Motown had Stevie Wonder worked more fully with them. This and “Its A Shame” still stand as shining moments of this collaboration.

 

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Filed under 1970's, country/soul, drums, G.C. Cameron, honky tonk piano, horns, Motown, Motown Sound, piano, soul jazz, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners

Prince Summer: “Computer Blue” (1984)

In taking to a lot of people with a casual knowledge of Prince,Purple Rain is often their favorite album. And song. Its the period most associated with him. And it isn’t hard to see why. The man had a blockbuster album and motion picture out in a year dominated by Michael Jackson,Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen. It was Prince’s most thoroughly rock album but to that point. At the same time,it was a new wave/synth pop record with a lot of black American musical content-such as jazz and gospel melodic/rhythmic references. As for myself,I do have personal favorite songs on the album.

One of these songs was a song Prince conceived in a very grand way. It would seem that he conceived this song as a 14 minute opus-likely with multiple complex parts. But it does seem interference from Warner’s had him edit the song down intensely. One possible reason for its length was the co-writing credit for his father,John L. Nelson on an element he referred to as “Father’s Song”. This still ended up in the song. Conceptually the song dealt with Prince’s love triangle between himself,Apollonia and Morris Day in the film. The name of this song was called “Computer Blue”.

A classic Minnapolis Linn LM-1 drum clap opens the song-over which Wendy and Lisa have a bit of mildly S&M inspired dialog about hot water in the bath tub. Over this,the main keyboard melody plays over which Prince plays some shrieking guitar flourishes. His piercing scream breaks into the main song. This consists of a quavering,high pitched digital synthesizer,that Linn drum rhythm that opens the song and call and response rock guitar from Prince. On an instrumental bridge Prince plays a fast paced,hard rocking guitar solo before segueing into the “Father’s Song” sequence.

“Fathers Song” is more or less the instrumental bridge of the song. It finds Prince playing his father’s melody on a jazz-rock style guitar solo-accompanied by equally jazzy acoustic piano touches. Prince’s guitar solo begins to rock harder again. And the song returns to its main theme-ending with the same shriek with which it began. This might be the most thoroughly musical song on the Purple Rain  soundtrack. The “Computer Blue” part an economical,brittle new wave synth rock. Than Prince brings in his father’s jazzier tones over his Linn for that bridge. This takes “Computer Blue” to its own unique musical level.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1984, jazz rock, John L. Nelson, Linn Drum, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, piano, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, rock guitar, Soundtracks, synthesizers, Wendy Melvoin

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Harlem Boys” by Sonny Rollins

Walter Theodore Rollins,known primarily as Sonny,remains one of the few surviving members of the original bop era of jazz. Starting out with musicians like Jackie McLean, the native New Yorker really began to set off the hard bop/soul jazz revolution. This is evident in the song that I myself (and many others) associate closest with him: “St. Thomas”. This song brings in the Carnival styled percussive drumming and rhythmic sax playing whose roots lay in Rollins’ roots from his US Virgin Island native parents. This Caribbean instrumental vibe would always remain a staple in the saxophonists music.

Having recently been covered regarding a recent volume of his Road Shows live CD series by one of my blogging partners Ron Wynn,its come to mind just how natural it was for Sonny Rollins to evolve into the funk end of jazz. This occurred gradually on his albums for Milestone from 1972 onward. His final studio album of the 70’s was called Don’t Ask. It found Rollins strong embracing funk with the Headhunters Bill Summers along with Mark Soskin,Al Foster and bassist Jerome Harris. The one song that really says it all for the funk (to me anyway) on this particular album is its opener entitled “Harlem Boys”.

Summers and Foster get the groove heated up from the start with a grooving drum/percussion stomp-with the rhythms accented by Soskin’s and Harris’s dancing foundational bass line harmonizing piano melodies. Then Rollins starts playing the choral melody, while Soskin plays a bouncing piano solo. The bridge of the song breaks it down to Bill Summers percussion mixed high with Al Foster’s drums-featuring Rollins improvising his melody right over it. After that the songs slowly concludes with its main them. Rollins plays an atonal,bop style solo before the song closes out on his solo alone.

This song stands as a powerful,rhythmically heavy dance/funk tune performed acoustically by a group of seasoned jazz/funk players. From the piano to Rollins’ thick and phat sax tones,everything on this song manages to be melodically AND rhythmically strong (and very funky) all at the same time. Something tells me this period of Sonny Rollins musical output isn’t too well known. Yet the hard bop style he helped pioneer the entire framework for the jazz/funk sound this song embraces. So its wonderful to hear Sonny Rollins arrive at an important checkpoint of his own musical path.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Al Foster, Bill Summers, drums, Funk Bass, jazz funk, jazz icons, Jerome Harris, Mark Soskin, New York, percussion, piano, Saxophone, Sonny Rollins

Anatomy Of THE Groove Special For Womens Equality Day: “Street Corner” by Ashford & Simpson

Valerie Simpson is turning 70 years old today. That comes as very important in that today is Women’s Equality Day. As far as I’m concerned,Simpson is a pioneer female songwriter for so many reasons. She maintained a very close marriage and professional relationship with Nick Ashford until the day he died. She also kept her own name professionally throughout their career together. And this included,of course their salad years at Motown- spinning out hits for people such as Marvin Gaye & Tammi Tarrell. That’s not to mention the duo continuing to maintain a successful solo career well into the 1980’s.

Ashford & Simpson albums always tended towards the most elaborately arranged and musically diverse wife/husband duet albums I’ve ever heard. By the early 1980’s,the pair had hits for themselves and others in the form of  punchy funk,streamlined disco and elegant ballads. In 1982 the pair decided to put together a concept album. A decade before the arrival of hip-hop’s G-Funk sub-genre,the couple decided to use the contemporary post disco musical basis to present very personalized vignette with a street level basis. it was called Street Opera. And its biggest hit was “Street Corner”.

A slow and steady 4/4 drum just starts right up at the beginning of the song and continues throughout until the very end. On the intro,there’s a low thudding piano chord. Before each one there’s a thick guitar rev. After that,the bass line chugs along underneath a higher pitched piano playing a lead melody-with a string synthesizer joining the horn solos just before Nick & Val’s vocal chorus kicks in. On the refrains,the musical theme calms to a processed electric piano based melody and rhythm. But that instrumental chorus from the intro provides the basis for the entire song until it fades out.

Instrumentally speaking,this is one of the most lushly constructed example of the funkiest end of the early 80’s post disco sound I’ve heard. The main musical theme doesn’t vary all that much. But each instrumental statement the song makes is very strong. Lyrically its a very liberating tale of a ghetto woman who is…well either mistaken for naive or mistaken for a prostitute. Either way,Valerie Simpson is telling a man asking her for a ride that “the little girl has grown”. So it showcases how feminine dignity exists alive and well on the street corners across America.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Ashford & Simpson, concept albums, drums, Funk Bass, horns, Nick Ashford, piano, post disco, rhythm guitar, string synthesizer, Valerie Simpson, Women, Women's Equality Day

The Crusaders Remembered: “Stomp And Buck Dance (1974)

The Crusaders are a huge part of the nervous system for the anatomy of the funk groove. Especially when it comes to it’s jazziest end. Now its 2016,I turn around and only one member of the original Crusaders lineup is still alive in Stix Hooper. Of course this year,there’s been so many other musicians (mostly those born in America’s “silent generation”) who’ve passed away. At the same time,its recently come to my attention that the Crusaders groove is truly immortal beyond its individual members. So in terms of profiling their songs,it seemed best to put the spotlight specifically on them.

Today,I’ll be showcasing Wayne Henderson. The Texas trombonist was a founding member of the group when the were called The Jazz Crusaders. This group were hard bop/soul jazz pioneers. And wrote some of that jazz tributary’s most defining numbers. By 1972,the band had dropped the adjective “jazz” from their name. And their concentration was squarely on the funk. In 1974 they signed to MCA. And brought in guitarist Larry Carlton as a member. One excellent example of this is the opening song off their 1974 album Southern Comfort entitled “Stomp And Buck Dance”.

This jam is one I’d describe as a superb example of unison soloing. Stix keeps the rhythm sturdy with a 6 beat funky beat accented with percussive cymbals. Wilton’s bass line and Larry’s growling guitar bursts are right there with that bottom. Joe Sample meanwhile provides ascending/descending chords with a processed Fender Rhodes piano. On the choral parts,Sample comes in with even more acoustic/electric piano parts as Wayne and Wilton come in with wonderfully harmonic sax/trumpet solos and accents. The song itself pares right down to its initial base before fading out.

Southern Comfort is a CD I picked up about twelve years ago at the now defunct Common Sense Pawn Shop. The moment my dad and I put this in the car CD player,we were both entranced in this songs thick world of funkiness. The idea of combining sharp solos with clean unison playing made “Stomp And Buck Dance” one of my very favorite Wayne Henderson compositions written for The Crusaders. All the members talents just shine like the sun on this song. And among the Crusaders many songs and albums,this one stands out as one of their finest overall funk jams.

 

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Filed under 1974, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, piano, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, trombone, Wayne Henderson, Wilton Felder