Category Archives: reverb

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Great Lake Canoe” by Gino Vannelli

Gino Vanelli is someone who was not the type of artist I’d always imagined he was. My earliest understanding of him was as a melodic pop balladeer. During the summer of 2008 I was pretty absorbed in his music,as well as learning about Gino’s ever evolving depth of character. And the most important thing about his music is that he allowed it to evolve. That’s because he was and still remains a jazz/funk based singer songwriter-an expressive songwriter,dramatic vocalist and a poetic lyrical storyteller right up there with the best in his respective genre of music.

His very first album was 1973’s Crazy Life on A&M. For all intents and purposes,this album was a duet album between Gino and his keyboardist brother Joe,who’d of course remain by his side for the rest of Gino’s musical career. The album has a pronounced Brazilian jazz rhythmic flavor about most of it-with just a touch of blues. But it’s stripped down,cozy night club flavor sets it apart from the cinematic fusion pop masterpieces Gino would turn out during the mid to late 70’s. One song on the album that truly stood out on my fourth full listen to Gino’s debut was a tune entitled “Great Lake Canoe”.

A processed Fender Rhodes electric paino starts off the groove-underpinned by a floating two note bass line. As the refrain starts up in earnest,the drum and percussion pump right up into the cleanest end of the Afro-Cuban rhythmic clave. That Rhodes piano and bass churn right away as Gino sings right there with the same major/minor chord melodic transition. Before each chorus a brittle,metallic synthesizer plays the change. On the bridge,that synth introduces a melodically improvised Clavinet solo before the final refrain and chorus of the song-where that metallic synth fades the rhythm right out.

It’s taken many listens to realize just how strong a Brazilian jazz-funk song “Great Lake Canoe” actually is. The groove never loses focus of the melodic content of the song. But the Fender Rhodes is a reverb laden friendly,funky giant on this song. Processed in the finest tradition of Steely Dan,Joe Vanelli hits the keys hard on this. While Crazy Life is a slower,mellower album this for sure is it’s funkiest moments. Gino sings of the natural beauty of a boat ride on America’s Great Lakes as a source of perspective on reality. And this groove gives a strong perspective itself on the funkiest side of Gino Vanelli’s sound.

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Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, clave, clavinet, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Joe Vannelli, percussion, reverb, Uncategorized

Anataomy of THE Groove: “I Wanna Talk To You” by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder’s musical artistry is completely effected by the 60’s social explosions. These changes in American society defined the baby boomer generation,of which Wonder was a member of. The 70’s emerged finding the civil rights and black power movements influencing that entire 60’s era counterculture. One issue,bought up again by Prince three decades later,was the idea of recording contracts as a form of artistic slavery. Wonder’s music had grown behind what Motown expected him to create. And just prior to his 21st birthday,Wonder decided to do as Curtis Mayfield had done and take control of his music.

This April 12th was the 45th anniversary of Stevie Wonder’s album  Where I’m Coming From. This album represented a time when Wonder insisted his contract to Motown be voided until they worked out a deal that gave him full creative autonomy. The album featured a sound that represented the funk process,and Wonder’s use of it to advance his own musical independence. The themes of the songs dealt with anti war ideas ,drug abuse, racism and his new marriage to Syreeta Wright,who collaborated with him on the album. Today,one song on this album rings through my head very loudly: “I Wanna Talk To You”.

Wonder starts out the song with a down and dirty 12 bar blues piano solo straight out of the Ray Charles school of soul. He responds to this vocally on his refrain-just him and the piano. Than Stevie imitating an older voice comes in for the chorus,solo at first. During the rest of the chorus,layers of fuzzed out Clavinet and huge,percussive soul/jazz style drums come into play. After a few rounds of this literal refrain/choral conversation the music comes to an instrumental bridge. This extends into an elongated chorus of these reverbed,heavy groove keyboards until the song breaks apart lyrically and fades out.

Musically, Stevie Wonder is speaking the same musical language here as Sly & The Family Stone were with their Stand album from a couple years earlier. It brings in the raw R&B attitude out of the 50’s blues clubs and juke joints into the slick,churchy use of reverb and instrumental filters. This is what the funk process was all about. And by having fully realized the strong instrumental influence of the Ray Charles comparison that made his childhood career,Wonder was able to bring the then recent musical past into a new and evolving future. And right around the time Marvin Gaye put out What’s Going On at that.

On the lyrical end, I was inspired to write about this song was by seeing a meme that showed members of Black Lives Matter and saying “the most racist people are the ones crying ‘racist’ all the time’. This meme was posted to the Facebook timeline of a friend of mine whose not only gay,but works in a mental health facility. It got me to thinking that perhaps,racism is indeed a form of mental illness. It encourages irrational,murderous behavior. For years “I Wanna Talk To You” was presented in literature as being a song about the generation gap. In a way it is. But it actually goes far deep than that in content.

As it stands,the reason this occurrence inspired me to think of this songs lyrics is how Wonder plays it out. It’s essentially a one man show-style musical theater production,if one were based in straight up post WW2 black American attitude and funkiness. Wonder plays himself singing about the frustration of being black in America. He also plays the voice of an old Southern (most likely white) bigot who insists “my world can be true if you do what I tell you to”. At the end,it all breaks down when they character calls out “ah Stevie boy” and Wonder responds with “hey I don’t need you for nothin'”.

Stevie Wonder throws down an amazing ethic on this song. What amazes me is that Where I’m Coming From is the only one of his adult albums not domestically in print on physical media. In terms of this song in particular,it finds Wonder coming into rising adulthood at the dawn of the post civil rights era in America. Between the black American revolutionary music of funk and the message of organizations like the black panthers, Wonder completely realizes the connections between the two factors. And he plays out American’s racist default setting beautifully on this song with maximum soul and funkativity.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Black Lives Matter, blues funk, clavinet, drums, funk process, message songs, Motown, piano, racism, reverb, Stevie Wonder