Category Archives: Rhythm

Anatomy of THE Groove 8/22/2014: Andre’s Pick-“Love Can” by Lisa Stansfield

            As a UK understudy of Barry White,Lisa Stansfield took the late 80’s/early 90’s by storm with her strong vocalizing of the sort of orchestral soul vision that White had helped pioneer. Always creatively strong and vital,Stansfield didn’t continue the same commercial success in the US that she maintained in the UK throughout the 90’s. Her comeback’s became less frequent-culminating in a decade absence after 2004. There was in fact a three-four month waiting period between the UK and US release of her new comeback album Seven. On the other hand,the US version was released just in time for summer. And concluded with a song entitled “Love Can”.

           Opening with a percussive drum beat with a deep,thumping bass line playing the accenting the rhythm a jazzy electric piano solo comes in. This is followed by a burst of string and horn orchestration-with a flute and violin playing their own counter melody before Stansfield’s deep,rangy and resonate vocals some in. While the melody of the some seems a bit mysterious, even reflective at first,by the time the chorus arrives? The mood of the song turns excitedly aroused-both lyrically and musically as she sings of the need to be vulnerable in love. The mood of the instrumentation raised from somewhat quietly funky to enthusiastically dramatic as the song builds from beginning to end before ending with an unaccompanied violin crescendo.

            While surely extending on Stansfield’s love of the Barry White/Marvin Gaye style funk soul groove of the mid 70’s,she extends it even further on this song by employing live instrumentation. This is especially bought out when it comes to the live drumming. This presents a very different milieu than the programmed rhythms I was more used to hearing on her late 80’s/early 90’s recordings. What is most pleasing is how much she understands the funk she has continued to grow into musically. The rhythm and bass line are presented in a spare way,but she maintains her bold orchestral settings as well. Its a wonderful example of how live instrumentation,produced with eloquence,can sound in a crisp digitally recorded setting.

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Filed under Barry White, Funk, Funk Bass, Lisa Stansfield, Marvin Gaye, Rhythm, rhythm & blues

The Anatomy of THE Groove 6/6/2014 Andre’s Pick: Mariah Carey-“Meteorite”

Ever since my early adolescent years,there’s always been a part of me that really wanted to truly appreciate the music of Mariah Carey. She tended to view her multi octave vocals as an instrumental element and did embrace strong musical values. Trouble was she seemed to all too easily embrace the surface level “R&B diva” mentality a bit too readily on occasion. Sometimes the imagery surrounding her was such a turn off,I tuned out her talents. In recent years Mariah has has begun to change all that. Especially after a very genuine marriage to singer/comedian Nick Cannon and having delivered two fraternal twins a few years back. We’ve seen in history family and childbirth enhanced the creative output of Stevie Wonder,Sly Stone and Prince. After six years of dealing with marriage and child rearing? Mariah stepped back into the recording studio and released a new album Me.I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chartreuse ,one that shows an enormously varied stylistic and very gospel/soul/funk based depth. The first song that caught my ear on it was “Meteorite”.

The song starts out with a video game style electronic effect over which Mariah remarks about Andy Warhol’s remarks that in the future,everything will be famous for fifteen minutes. Than this steady,fast tempo’d Afro-Latin percussion part kicks in along with a series of dynamic,spacey synthesized keyboards playing parallel counter melodies. On each refrain there is a big band muted trumpet that again adds another counter melody for…an instrumental sound pastiche that does indeed bring to mind the imagery of meteorites shooting across the cosmos.  Mariah’s voice is featured here in her lower vocal towns-very much an overdubbed symphony of them much in the Marvin Gaye tradition. One voice is singing that sampled/cut up style techno type part,the other is a drawling voice singing the refrain and Mariah’s lowest gospel/soul belt singing the chorus.  Lyrically she uses the age of metaphor of the “shinning star” to describe the “musical star” with very funk/disco era lyrical imagery such as “As they watch you burn up,turn up,turnt up all the way”.

Over the years I’ve heard many different types of Hi NRG techno dance songs-mostly all of a very derivative piece. This particular song not only brings to mind many of the best qualities of acid house music. But this also embraces some fascinating and somewhat under explored musical directions from when the disco era came to a direct halt. The big band muted trumpets have the flavor of the electro swing movement,which in itself owes to the big band styled disco records of Dr.Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra. Also Mariah’s assertion of fame as a source of spiritual guidance through connecting with a larger audience adds some hope and imagination to today’s often more pensively cynical viewpoints on achieving success.  Above all? The steady house rhythms are very fast and funky poly-rhythms. And although the song has no discernible bass line? That strong percussive rhythm gives the song all the bottom it would ever need to seriously groove-which it does. Its wonderful to see Mariah Carey,a biracial singer who chose the soul spectrum of music from which to create,has embraced elements of the Afro-futurist funk/disco/dance ethic in order to expand her grooves.

* For my full Amazon review of Mariah Carey’s new album,follow the link below:

embed]http://www.amazon.com/review/R2TFXT204IL7RP/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm[/embed]

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Filed under Acid House, Disco, Electronica, Funk, Mariah Carey, Psychedelia, Rhythm, Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archive for May 24th,2014: Labelle’s ‘Back To Now’

Back To Now

            Obviously many classic soul lovers have been awaiting this for a very long time-finally Sarah Dash and the incomparable Nona Hendryx team back up with the now solo diva Patti Labelle for a full fledged reunion. ‘Back To Know’ features the production help of both “contempo” musicians Wyclef Jean and Lenny Kravitz along with old Labelle pals Gamble & Huff for this gutsy,funky soul fest-full of those high energy gospel shouts and harmony’s that Sarah,Nona and Patti can give us. All of the songs are excellent-even “Rollout”;the only cut obviously designed to “reach the kids” of the new millennium with it’s bass heavy hip-hop/pro-tools softwhere sound. Aside from that all of the music here could easily have been ripped from a late 70’s follow up to Labelle’s last album Chameleon (a classic more then worth hunting down);”Candlelight”,”Superlover” and “System” all explore the waters of soul,gospel drenched R&B and hardcore funk before each tune is out. Lenny Kravitz’ presence makes itself clear on “Truth Will Set You Free”,a tough funk rocker reminding us not only that Labelle were one of the earliest female groups to combine funk and rock but that none of that spark has faded with time or separation.

            Even if the music world of today welcomes them the world Labelle are making a comeback in has changed dramatically. We’ve moved way beyond Marvin Gaye’s concerns about an “overcrowded land” with “fish full of mercury”;we have global warming,a disintegrating economy and paranoia about terrorism. In their tradition Labelle over up almost half an albums worth of messages songs,all with a different motivation-in “Tears For The World” documents in traditional funk message song style a litany of todays problems and our unexpected apathy towards them;that maybe showing feeling might bring people to act.”Dear Rosa” is a tribute to the late civil rights pioneer-thanking her for her efforts but somberly pointing out that she died before you dream was fully realized. On “How Long” and “Miss Otis Regrets” stories of triumph and wonder prevail and we as the listener really feel we’ve experienced something magical,and we have. It would be a pity if this was the last we heard of Labelle as a unit but if it is this would be a worthy,if long long delayed,goodbye.

Originally Posted On October 21st,2008

*Here is the original review on Amazon as well:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R55XEUEI3M0CD/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B001E2PTIG

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Filed under Disco, Funk, New Orleans, Patti Labelle, Rhythm, Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: War’s ‘Evolutionary’ New Album!

War

In recent years its come to my knowledge that during the late 1990’s,War was splintered apart due to the fact that many of the original members wished to separate from their manager. And lead singer/multi instrumentalist Lonnie Jordan wished to remain. In the end it would up in a fashion: Lonnie and his new band maintained the War name while the original members began to tour as the Lowrider Band. So people looked up,and for all intents and purposes there were two War’s out there. And on the road pretty consistently. Sadly many of their admirers became bitterly disappointed at the supposed legal betrayal between Jordan and his former band mates-often citing that,since its instrumentalists who generally make or break singers in funk bands,that this was all an example of greedy committee thinking. Not even to mention Jordan’s own instrumental abilities. All of this of course occurring during what I refer to as an often bitter credibility war within the music industry as a whole.

Its only now that War have re-emerged with a new album that I had no idea was even coming until less than a month ago. It is packaged as a double album with their original Greatest Hits album-a long hoped for compilation for War admirers on CD. Many of the original bands’ supporters could interpret this as insult added to injury. But for me it represents equal time. And I refuse to get in the middle of the Lonnie Jordan/War schism which,I personally feel,was motivated largely by shifty and ear whispering lawyers anyhow. What matters to me is the music. And on that level there is much to take in here.

“That L.A. Sunshine” starts out the album with that Afro/Latin/Reggae type rhythmic pop bump that has the same type of bright beats and melodic flavor of War in their mid 1970’s prime. “Mamacita” is another type of sprightly groove that has a salsa/rock type flavor with a beeping,Clavinet type keyboard and featuring a guitar solo from Joe Walsh along with the brassy participation of the iconic Tower Of Power horns. “It’s Our Right/Funky Tonk” is an exciting early 70’s James Brown type slow grinding funk number (with a contemporary production twist),which by the end features a piano solo from Jordan inspired directly from The Godfather’s Sex Machine.

“Just Like Us” is a sweet,acoustically textured soul mambo type number while “Inspiration” throws down a rocking wah-wah powered psychedelic soul/funk groove where Lonnie personally thanks fans of War (in any configuration) for sticking by them over the years. “Scream Stream” musically and lyrically basically picks up where 1972’s “The Cisco Kid” left off-providing a complete musical continuity with War between what they did 42 years ago all the way up to today. “This Funky Music” is a strong,declarative statement of the vitality inside of the funk era music of which War were a huge participant-fusing together the the idea of needing to “dance off their frustrations” with an instrumental sound that has Prince’s spare late 80’s funk sound very much in mind. Its one of my favorites here. “Outer Space” sounds very much like an orchestral modern hip-hop/soul type number with the lush cinematic harmonies of War taking high presidents.

A retooling of Edwin Star’s huge Motown hit with “War/War After War (A Soldiers Story)” showcases a half sung spoken narrative illustrating themes similar to what Stevie Wonder focused in on with his Front Line-difference being its a more contemporary setting of a disabled veteran returning from the Iraq war to face unemployment and hardship. The presence of the USC Trojan Marching Band really adds instrumental tonality to the concept as well. The industrial soundscape of “Bounce” and the theatrical arena sounds of “Everything” embrace the mid/late 90’s alternative rock style (ironically of the era in which War were absent as a recording entity) which aren’t bad but don’t mesh too well with War’s thematic approach to me. “It’s My Life” takes a more strident approach to contemporary funk/rock with a strangely self focused lyrical message while a bonus track of “That L.A Sunshine”,featuring comical inserts from Cheech And Chong rounds out the album.

Overall this album really embodies the spirit of war-whoever happens to be credited with that name at any given time. A few songs even feature some contemporary touches such as the rapping of LA Flats,whose apparent East LA style meshes well with the bands flavors. Mainly they’ve kept their “afrolatinfunkadelic stew” sound very much intact here. And the couple of songs that embrace the darker side of the alternative rock sound are at least very dramatic and emotional. War’s colorful sound has always represented a unique sort of pan cultural American hybrid. They did for LA what Santana and Sly & The Family Stone did for the bay area. And with this quality album? I am hoping it’ll be well before two decades before the band deliver more new grooves and messages!

Originally Written Today

*Here is a link to my original Amazon.com review. Please like and comment on that review as well. Thank you!

http://www.amazon.com/review/R393FVAFDWRHCA/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

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Filed under 1970's, Funk, James Brown, LA, Music Reviewing, Psychedelia, Rhythm, Soul, War

Anatomy of THE groove 5/16/14 Rique’s Pick : “Good Kisser” by Usher

 

2013 was a great year for funky singles in the mainstream music world. Records like “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk ft Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams, and of course, the international smash “Happy” by Pharrell, carved out a strong place both on the dance floors, on peoples cell phones, and laptops and tablets, and at all sorts of social outings. They were ubiquitous enough to terrorize millenials weaned on auto tune and more rigid, computerized beats. I’d wondered for some time when one Usher Raymond would come on in and join this funky party. Ushers spent the better part of the past few albums chasing down European EDM dance while his blue eyed soul conterparts splashed torso deep into funk. Despite Ushers impressive career resume, outstanding charisma, and great dancing and vocal talent, I thought he’d forever be chained to the tastes of the teeny bopper side of the “urban” crowd, the one that votes your video to the top of BET’s 106th & Park.  I got a firm backhand from Mr. Raymond earlier this month when he released today’s fonky pick, “Good Kisser.”

“Good Kisser” is a dramatic, funky song of sensual romantic praise. It has a mean groove and is centered in its funky rhythms as Usher also puts on a clinic in various tonalities of soulful male vocals. The topic is pure sensual satisfaction, placing it in the line of many great soul songs of the past, including Ben E King’s “Supernatural Thing”, but that topic of sensual satisfaction, of a man giving praise instead of shaming for the sensual gratification he gets, is one that was once prevelant in R&B but has been far less so since Hip Hop’s locker room slut shaming came to predominate.

One of the first things I notice about the song musically is how heavy it is on the ONE, the first beat of the measure that provides a musical grounding point that James Brown told us was the most important beat and George Clinton expanded into a way of life. The song is built on this “ONE” centered drum and bass part. The drum simply plays kicks on the first beat and the third beats of the four four measure. There is no snare drum on the back beat, the “2” and “4”, in fact, for the whole song, there is no snare, saving the snare drum pick ups on the upbeat that lead our ears and bodies back to the “ONE.” The snare drum pick up, occuring on the upbeat of beat three, is matched by a low register, serious three note bass line. That bass line lands on the “ONE” of the next beat, sounding like a firm period at the ending of the sentence, or a word that contains the message of the beat. This upbeat drum pickup landing on the one sort of gives the song a funky West Indian or Carribean flavor. The bassline is the major motif of the song, as Usher builds vocal lines off the notes and the rhythm of this bassline later in the song. The drum beat and bass line continue the same way for the entirety of the song, as Usher adds different vocal textures, various chord progressions come in, and the basic drum beat is augmented with percussion, but the basic bass and drum motif remains unchanged, rigid, and marching on with an almost martial, military feel.

The scene is set by the four bar intro of the bass and drums, which gives you an expectant, almost cinematic military feel. This feel is rather enhanced in the music video as the music video takes place in a cold grey enviroment. Usher whispers romantic encouragements and flirtatious phrases during the intro. Following the intro, Usher sings in what is a new vocal tone for him to my ears, a funky, spoken/sung baritone. It takes both from classic funksters like Larry Blackmon (without the extra “ow”) and funky ’90s hip hop oriented singers like Portrait or BBD or Blackstreet. Usher uses this funky baritone to tell his lady (and by extension us) ” I Done been around the world/I Done kissed a lot of girls”. Right away he positions himself lyrically as a romantic lover of great experience, a grown man. That’s one of the things I like about this track, while so many in pop culture strain for youth today, Usher embraces a youthful but experienced lyrical perspective.

After 8 bars of that funky baritone, Usher gives us 8 bars of falsetto. The falsetto is right there on the sensual edge, like Marvin Gaye or Al Green, the sound of a man at HIS sensual edge. Then Usher comes with another vocal tone for the pre chorus, another baritone sound, but smoother than the rhythmic baritone of the verse. And I’m crazy about the way he begins it :

“The Devil is a Lie/ Them other girls/can’t compete with mine”

I dig the lyric so much because “The Devil is a lie” is a phrase you’ll hear all day among black evangelical thinking communities. I love Ushers usage of it in a “profane” sexual context though, which is a great part of the tradition of black music, the conversation between the spiritual and the sensual, as Ray Charles did way back on “I Got a Woman.” Usher uses it here to place his woman above any and all competition. The other thing I like is the vocals on this pre chorus are based around the rhythm and notes of the bass line. This pre chorus as well as the chorus also introduce harmony into the song, brightening it up with a jazzy chord progression, while the militant rhythm remains unabated. For the chorus itself, after so much rhythmic wordiness, Usher relaxes, one might say climaxing, simply singing “She’s such a good kisser” both in lead and harmony. Usher comes back after that with a powerful full voice vocal, building up to the gospel melismatic style. I like that. Oft times in R&B the last 20 years or so, singers have overdosed on runs before the song even starts. Here Usher builds up to the climax we all seek, and I think the song is much better for it.

I love the rhythmic orientation of the song as well as Usher’s vocal performance. He gives us baritone, falsetto, and his natural high tenor stretched out to the max, while also going between choppy rhythms and looser, more flowing parts. The song also revitalizes the classic R&B hallmark of double entendre, as he actually says in the song “Cant nobody kiss IT like you.” However, for those with virginous ears, they can simply choose to hear the rather benign “You’re such a good kisser.” But one day they will wonder why a grown man was singing about a woman being a good kisser with such passion and excitement!

One of the things that shows me Usher really has something with the song is the mixed responses to it on the net. There are some folks who totally get it, in the vein of “thats REAL music.” And there are other young people who simply dismiss it as, “It’s garbage” or “he could have done much better.” I think for the young, many of them don’t understand AT ALL the soul/funk/jazzy music practices Usher and crew are laying down here, nor the tradition of being right on the lines of nastiness in lyrical forthwrightness. I hope they get on board though, because Usher’s “Good Kisser” has the potential to be a game changer in a funky R&B sense. I also have to give props to my man for posing in the video playing the drum fill, which kinds of gives people a visual of how the music would LOOK being played. It’s early, but I might have found the song to give me my funky summer swagger.

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", Funk, Funk Bass, Marvin Gaye, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Radio, Rhythm, Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archive for May 3’rd,2014: James Brown-‘It’s A New Day-Let A Man Come In’

              James Brown would’ve been 81 years old today had he not passed away on Christmas Day of 2006. He lived the life he always had; consistently on the road and performing as best as his body would allow almost until the very end. While its been noted of late that lack of vulnerability has been somewhat overstated in reference to black American men, James symbolized such a concept in reference to his music. Though in terms of losing a son in the early 70’s and other domestic problems in the 1980’s? He was actually quite vulnerable. Music was what liberated him. It took him on a journey to being black and proud,and encouraging millions who admired him to do the same: learn,achieve and get involved. 

            Viewing James’ vast recorded catalog of music,like the largest collection of albums and singles in popular music history, selecting which albums to purchase depended largely on what little of it is actually in print. Between a couple of vinyl records and CD’s,I dug up a good handful of his records here and there. When I decided to post a review of one these recordings for this weeks blog post,a similar daunting task presented itself. Each of the James Brown albums I have are another link in a chain in terms of the funk genre he innovated. There was even a thought of breaking with tradition and selecting two reviews. Realizing how cumbersome that would be,I checked my reviews of his music and decided to select the following album-which I feel reflects perhaps several important steps in his musical evolution.

Its A New Day-Let A Man Come In

          Okay that’s got to be my worst review title but after hearing this album you may have a similar reaction. True it took a several years and many a patchwork album for James Brown to finally get to this,one of his earliest full on album masterpieces. And in all honesty? It’s an album I only really knew a lot about recently due in part via a strong recommendation via the members of Breakestra in Waxpoetics magazine. In all likelihood this the earliest full length studio assemblage of the original JB’s lineup with Bootsy and Catfish Collins and such. One of the qualities that makes this such a unique album even by James’ standards is how much he goes for the cinematic approach to funk here-taking the basic framework of his sound and often augmenting it with either dynamic orchestrations,arrangements or both within his still intensely rhythmic framework. Not only that but he’s concentrating very heavily on melody. The idea of James combining melody and arrangements into his trademark tight funk sound opened up his music to many new possibilities and allowed his new musical recruits the change to challange themselves instrumentally. The title,in fact is no lie.

           It goes way beyond music here. Culturally James is at the PEAK of his Say It Loud: I’m Black And I’m Proud period. So the message in his music is in full swing. The first two numbers in the title song and “Let The Man Come In And Do The Popcorn” are perfect examples of his “new funk” as it were. Very much in the league of his early full on funk period but also superbly arranged as well. On “World” he actually showcases how the cinematic groove has bought him to a distinctive funk ballad style and he re-harmonizes his older “It’s A Man’s World” and “If I Ruled The World” in much the same way. The result is their original message is also deepened as well. “Georgia On The Mind” takes the song normally associated with Ray Charles and takes his own lyrical liberties,even adding “I’m from August Georgia”,an interesting reference for this South Carolina native. “Give It Up” is an instrumental rendering of one of his biggest funk era numbers. The closer’s “Man In The Glass” and “I’m Not Demanding” are additional great examples of his unique brand of cinematic funk-the latter making his social agenda more than clear as he insists (I’m not demanding,I’m begging and pleading),showing a type of…confident desperation if you can imagine it as he speaks to “the people” very directly and honestly.

             In addition to the musical aspect of funk James Brown was more than key in developing the consciousness in it’s lyrical message. It’s a type of construct I myself refer to as “people music” and it was key to the development of what funk writer Ricky Vincent calls the united funk period in the music. On this 1970 album James is laying the groundwork for all of that. I am not sure if anyone does or ever will think of James Brown as an album artist in any way. But if they do,or ever do it’s likely works like this will be part of what’s mentioned in that context. It’s not merely the focus on longer songs. But also they fact there is a very flowing musical concept at work here. Something James had been putting together in one way or another since the mid 60’s. And it was finally coming into itself in the early 70’s on albums such as this. As for his 60’s innovations there are many compilations that tell the story about as perfectly as one could ask. But as for where James stood at the start of the album oriented 70’s funk era? This would be an excellent release to explore along with his many full length triumphs to come early in that decade.

-Originally Printed On August 23rd,2011

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Filed under 1970's, Africa, Earth, Funk, Funk Bass, Georgia, James Brown, Rhythm, Soul

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/25/14 Andre’s Pick: “Jerk Ribs” by Kelis

Harlem native Kelis Rogers comes from the area of New York known for its black cultural renaissance of the 1920’s. She comes from a background of both fashion and music-her father Kenneth being a jazz pianist. Over time she developed a flamboyant personality that,while stereotypically getting her in some trouble at different points in her life,has also given her a somewhat rare understanding about the vitality,soul and groove of the music she’s done. Making a name for herself in the millennial transition produced by Pharrell Williams/The Neptunes on songs such as the hugely successful and influential “Milkshake”,Kelis has continued to move forward towards a musical sound that would successfully fuse the music she listened to and loved growing up with contemporary production elements. Realizing perhaps the frustration in trying to achieve that musical fusion, Kelis has opted this time around for the full on live band for her newest album Food and its lead off song release “Jerk Ribs”

It all starts out with this slow,shuffling percussive groove with a bass line that’s lifted directly of the influence of James Brown’s early 70’s musical innovations. In a chocked,dreamy tone of voice,Kelis paints an autobiographic picture of a life growing up where-even during the more difficult late 20th century in Harlem,  the very streets seemed to be wrapped up in musical rhythms. She spoke with great veneration for her father-singing the moving line of “He played the notes and keys/he said to look for melody in everything”. Before each chorus, her horn section plays a melodic fanfare that seems to be calling out to the listener to physically participate before scaling strings introduce the chorus illustrating “it feels just like it should”. As the song goes on, Kelis sings of the bass (note she mentions that first),the brass and strings vibrate through her-stating of it all that “I love everything”. By the end of the song,her happily nostalgic state elevates even to her present day as the fanfare of the horns keeps up steadily until the groove finishes off.

One of the most important things about this song is that it strongly emphasizes the influence on James Brown’s funk music style from Ghanaian “highlife” music from that era. The joyous sounding fanfare of the horns that instrumentally help define this song drip alternately with precision and a strong appreciation for the Afro-Pop interpretation of the blues. The bass line is,as is a signature of funk in general mixed up very high. Its clear Kelis wants it to be known strongly that the electric bass is a key factor to keep a fat bottomed groove strong and vital. In a way this song more eloquently extends on themes her former producer Pharrell has recently coined on his enormously successful “Happy”-the idea that being in a state of joy is a source of strength. In the case of Kelis,the source of her joyful strength comes from the joy of music that was always with her from childhood. Her picturesque imagery of music itself in these lyrics make musical sounds seem like a tangible thing one can wrap themselves around like a blanket. It is the funk/soul groove as a source of love,joy and inner peace. And the more I hear it? The more I realize this song just has to resonnate with many other people on that level-the way it does with me. Truly Kelis’s most powerful musical visitations upon humanity this far.

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Filed under 1970's, Africa, Blues, Funk, Funk Bass, Kelis, Pharrell Willaims, Rhythm, Soul

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/21/14: “Long Weekend” by Trombone Shorty

Since it would seem that that New Orleans has the reputation of being the birthplace of the concept of funk itself,what with the first acknowledged jazz musician’s Buddy Bolden’s song “The Funky Butt”,it makes perfect sence that an important element of the modern funk revival would emerge with the Crescent City’s own Trombone Shorty. Originally named Troy Andrews,he grew up in the cities Treme’ region-playing in the local marching bands and eventually becoming a featured member of Lenny Kravitz horn section in 2005. Having already entered into rising adulthood having been reared with a musical synergy of the traditional Dixie Land marches of his local area as well as the late 80’s funk revelations such Cameo’s “Word Up” and Prince’s “Housequake” ,Andrew’s had the musical wherewithal to zero in on a somewhat under-explored middle ground between both those divergent funk approaches on Trombone Shorty’s 2013 release Say This To That with a groove entitled “Long Weekend”.

Kicking off with an announcing drum kick,the rather percussive and slow crawling drumming is immediately joined by a cleanly played,melodic funk guitar line with a high electric organ swirl slowly building in the back round. Another drum kick announces the introduction of Andrew’s expressively earnest lead vocals. When singing the chorus of the song,he’s joined by his own multi tracked backup vocals when the songs title is mentioned. The bass line of the song isn’t generally as prominent throughout the song as the guitar and drum/percussion part is. However at the end of each instrumental chorus,especially before a drum kick,the popping jazz/funk bass line comes to the forefront much more heavily. On the bridge and during the outro of the song,the melodic and rhythmic structure of the song totally changes. The bass is lifted to the forefront scaling down to a powerful bass/guitar chord that intensely amplifies the funkiness in the center and end of the song.

While funk is not as widely known as a musical genre as some of its admirers might think that it is, a majority of musicians performing funk are doing so very much in the late 60’s/early 70’s raw live band type James Brown/Tower Of Power style. Considering his music is strongly based in jazz-fusion/blues and psychedelic soul/rock, Trombone Shorty and his bands’ approach to this song emphasizes a trend in contemporary funk music that seemed to have spawned from Pharrell Williams productions for Justin Timberlake,Robin Thicke and Daft Punk. And that is a strong emphasis on the production style of late 70’s Ohio based funk bands such as Heatwave and Slave. This is a style where the bass/guitar/drum interaction is still hard grooving funk. But the sound is more studiocentric than developed mainly for live performance. Of course Andrew’s adds a more jazz oriented electric piano groove on the bridge to give the song his own type of flavor.

Another element of “Long Weekend” that’s very similar to the music of Slave in particular is how close the lyrical and melodic content of the vocals are to that Ohio bands adolescent party funk aestetic. In particular the way Andrew’s is pitching woo to an older woman,once the subject of a high school type unrequited love and is now old enough to appreciate her-particularly on a somewhat scandalous “long weekend” with this lady that even includes “a trip to the liquor store” to ensure a little physical adventure-even though he doesn’t feel able to tell his peers. Of course this attitude lends itself very well to the near perfect balance of studio production and live instrumental production. Judging from what I have seen in a video of Trombone Shorty performing this song live? Today that late 70’s style of recorded danceable funk music is just as viable on stage as it is on record. And “Long Weekend” emphasizes that very strongly.

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Filed under 1970's, Blues, Funk, Funk Bass, Late 70's Funk, New Orleans, Rhythm, Trombone Shorty

Anatomy Of THE Groove 3/14/14 Part II: “Dontcha” by The Internet

One of the factors that always had me ambivalent about neo soul was the genres tendency to cross bridges.   It could never seem to decide whether it wanted to be retro or contemporary,artful or commercial.  Add to that having a tendency to revel in cliches such as the vinyl scratch sound effects of song intros and out of sync beats and rhythms added to its seeming lack of focus. But for those who liked 70’s soul and funk as the new millennium arrived? This genre was about all the commercial end of the hip-hop spectrum seemed to offer such an audience. There were happily many occasions where the genre succeeded-based generally on the creative virtues of the artists involved. The Internet are a recent example. Arriving on the scene a bit late for neo soul,as more secure 70’s style soul/funk is re-emerging with modern production,this somewhat revolving door LA group released their sophomore record this years Feel Good in February and presenting their lead off song “Dontcha'”.

Visually its an austere video,shot in black & white and presenting itself extremely generally: the band consisting of bassist/guitarist Patrick Paige, guitarist Mike Einziger, drummer Christopher Smith, synthesizer player Chad Hugo and the androgynous lead singer/keyboardist Syd “THe Kid” Bennett performing the song against a platinum white backdrop. The song starts out with Chad playing a thumping,single note on the synthesizer bass before the song builds into a Fender Rhodes solo which returns on each melodic refrain in a dreamy and phased high solo. Patrick and Mike on bass and guitar are locked down tight into a chunky disco-funk style arrangement. Syd’s vocal style is very much in the vein of a somewhat lower key Amel Larrieux (of Groove Theory fame) and melds like clue to to the metaphoric model airplane that is the sound The Internet achieves with their extremely lean sound that manages to instrumentally take flight.

While the song and video are both very stripped down,it gets the effect of the transitional post disco/boogie funk sound down pat with a jazzy element that brings to mind elements of Chuck Brown’s original go-go funk approach as well. Not to mention the song is very sweetly melodic compositionally. One of the most telling factors about the song is that lead singer/keyboardist Syd Bennett seems somewhat deliberately sexually ambiguous. She’s not trying to get attention by being camp. Her image is that of a young boy from the projects in jeans and T-shirt-where in fact both genders might be dressed this way often enough. And the lyrics to this song reflect the idea of imagination and creativity being as important an element to adult romance and sensuality as realism-especially with lines such as “Swimming through your galaxy,starstruck on all of you /Perfect love analogy, that’s how I describe you”. The lyrical and instrumental eloquence of this song is a superb example of a late in the day neo soul/nu jazz group making music that perfectly reflects both the core of sophistifunk and the sparer approach of electro boogie funk in a modern context.

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Filed under Funk, Jazz, Neo Soul, Rhythm, Soul

Anatomy Of THE Groove 3/7/14 Part II: “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” by Janelle Monae And Esperanza Spalding

When someone is living in an age when most female soul artists are presenting themselves largely through the most shallow end of physical sexuality, it can be easily to become cynical that well rounded feminine sensitivity had been lost along with an overall sense of poetry. The same goes for male artists in the same position.  Two people who are looking towards the Afrocentric futurism that the jazz-funk era represented in the 1970’s in today’s music world are the bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding and Janelle Monae. While recognized by a certain creatively minded musical community,deserved recognition by the masses still evades them. Most still obsessed with sexually profane “contemporary R&B” female artists who are often more photogenic than innovative. Some react to this by assigning blame to past decades political problems,others blame the genre of hip-hop. However at a time when music wasn’t exactly having the usual healing effect on my soul? A song came my way that was a collaborative effort between Spalding and Monae. It’s called “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”.

Instrumentally the song begins with a slow and steady Afro-Cuban conga based percussion line,over which is played a slippery and multi tracked high synthesizer solo-in which each track has the effect of a round echoplex type reverb effect which gave it the glistening glassy effect. After this introduction a live drum sound enters as Janelle begins singing a lyric that describes a very glamorous yet mysterious feminine figure (possibly Janelle’s android doppelganger character Cindy Mayweather)  whose has a romantically bewitching persona. At the end of each chorus a high trombone is heard almost like an apparition in the back round of the song. The bassline weaves in and out of the rhythmic and melodic aspects of the song very much in the manner of a thread through a sewing needle,which maintains the jazz oriented flavor of the chord progressions of the song. The bridge is composed entirely of Esperanza engaging in some powerful multi tracked vocalese as the melody of the song entirely changes before going into the refrain-after which Janelle herself presents a romantic spoken word verse before the powerful jazz-rock guitar solo which closes out the song-accompanied by the chorus of “She’s got Dorothy’s eyes”.

Deeply inspired by the vital instrumental and production dynamics of late 70’s Stevie Wonder/Quincy Jones style jazz/funk/soul/rock hybrids,this is the type of somewhat minor chorded funk with a dreamy atmosphere that might fool the listener into believing its a slow jam ballad. But actually its uptempo funk in the vein of a Michael Jackson number such as “Rock With You” and “I Can’t Help It”. On the other hand,what distinguishes this song from them,and almost all contemporary funk/soul music is the heavy jazz elements. I didn’t realize until researching this song that Esperanza and Janelle both shared the vocal refrains throughout this song. Their vocal styles are so close and compatible its often hard to tell when one is singing-especially when their vocals are melded into the others through the production like melted aural caramel. Because of cultural changes in the perception of music production that occurred in the post Prince era, most modern funk in a band context even tends to prefer to keep a live instrumental aestetic with no frills.

This song clearly utilizes live instrumentation but enhances them with the most magical end of studio production. The song openly celebrates  not only studiocentric musicality,but also showcases a strong female characterization of someone who is of great physical beauty yet is also astute enough to be able to bring out emotional fantasies in potential suitors as physical ones. There’s a strong sense of adult sensuality in this song-instrumentally and lyrically reflecting the hopes,desires and mysteries of someone secure enough with themselves to view romance beyond simply the physical desire. Not to mention paying tribute to the historically significant movie star who gave the song its title,”Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”-featured as the next to last song on Janelle’s September 10th album release The Electric Lady  is not only a beautifully eloquent jazz funk song but an important blueprint for all modern female artists in this musical spectrum who are in all truth in need for a new and more meaningful creative voice.

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Filed under Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Janelle Monae, Jazz, Quincy Jones, Rhythm, Soul, Stevie Wonder