One of the key musical inspirations that led to the creation of my music blogs was the discovery of The Sylvers. For a teenager seeking to bring the world of Star Trek and other thoughtful science fiction into reality,the fascination with the cosmic funk of Earth Wind & Fire and P-Funk held a special meaning. An often referenced story of my musical back round is that 1994 vinyl giveaway at the University of Maine. It’s where I discovered a very beat up copy of The Sylvers 1977 New Horizons album. Never heard anything about this group before,save for that they seemed to resemble the Jacksons. Only with the women in the family on board. And the album contained the extra goodie of a fan club order sheet.
The cover art showing the seven member group dancing on a spaceship shaped like their own logo was designed by Japanese illustrator Shusei Nagaoka. He had a strong back round in funk album jacket design with his work for Earth Wind & Fire, Rose Royce, Sun and George Clinton. This was a very special album for the band. It was for them what Destiny would be for the Jacksons’ a year later. All of the band members got a chance to write and produce. And Leon Sylvers III really showed his growth in this regard. The bands adult oriented funk,soul and disco oriented sound culminated for me at the end of the album with a song entitled “Star Fire”.
A peddling cymbal/hi hat solo accompanied by a high spacey synthesizer opens the song. Then the rhythm guitar kicks,along with Leon’s crunching bass and the ascending strings. The main body of the groove consists of all of these elements,plus many more. A percussive main beat keeps the rhythm hot during the refrains of the song,as the strings play melodic call and response with the bass/guitar interaction. On the choruses the horns lead into the Sylvers harmony vocals. There are two separate bridges. One continues the call and response between the strings,bass and guitar. The other features the spacey synth. This last one closes out the song with a bluesy muted trumpet solo.
Listening to this song in the context of what else I’ve heard of the Sylvers music,this is very likely the strongest jazz-funk tune they ever made. And very likely the only one. It has the harmonic feeling of swing and hard bop with the rhythmic crunch of heavy late 70’s dance funk. The presence of jazz-funk session players such as Richard Tee,Steve Gadd and Tom Scott on this song really adds instrumental might to the Sylvers’ growing abilities as composers,producers and musicians. Each time I hear this,it really brings out just how musically strong this musical family became under such strong instrumental tutelage-both during and before the time this particular song came out.
Filed under 1970's, drums, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, Leon Sylvers III, rhythm guitar, Richard Tee, Shusei Nagaoka, space funk, Steve Gadd, strings, synthesizer, The Sylvers, Tom Scott, trumpet, Uncategorized
Quincy Jones was not only a busy man during the late 70’s and early 80’s but was also something of a musical Rumpelstiltskin-almost mysteriously able to spin straw into gold,only doing so with music. And I’m not talking about in the commercial sense either. With all the ingredients present,from engineering master Bruce Swedien to of course equally masterful composer Rod Temperton-not to mention the mega session approach Q was so famous for by bringing in Herbie Hancock,Louis Johnson,Richard Tee,Greg Phillinganes,Lee Ritenour (yes it’s even better than it sounds) this album was already set for greatness. Not to mention the star of the show George Benson. Already at the top of his game before this making excellent albums in varied styles from White Rabbit all the way up to Breezin,this album by it’s nature,pairing George and Quincy Jones came off looking like a musical miracle just waiting to happen. Interesting part is,as good as that sounds already it actually gets BETTER than even that!
I look at this album the way I once heard EWF’s music is described. On this album George plays funk sweet as funk can be. Not the sugary or saccharine type of sweet. But the sweetness of clean,bluesy jazz playing and some of the most inventive jazz-funk compositions imaginable. “Love x Love” is a perfect example-sleek and crispy at the same time with a groove that’s spare but glossy all at once. Of course many of us know the title song,of course right there in the same wonderful place. Than again,so it’s “What’s On Your Mind”,the instrumental “Dinorah Dinorah” and “Midnight Love Affair”. These bring to mind something of a cross between MJ’s Off the Wall meeting up with the a Crusaders albums such as Street Life-definitely high strutting uptown urban sophistifunk of the highest quality. And we’re not done yet! “Off Broadway” is deeper,heavier funk with this defining bass moog-one of the best productions jobs I’ve ever heard and my personal favorite number on this album (actually up there with the title song). And of course he’s at his same slinky best on slower numbers such as his famed jazzy take on “Moody’s Mood” and the extremely sensual “Love Dance” and “Turn Out The Lamplight”. Not to mention the level he takes Heatwave’s “Star Of A Story”. These are cosmically arranged pieces with decidedly adult takes on romance. And it all makes up for one killer album!
As great as this album is creatively,the amazing thing about it is that it hit as much commercial paydirt as anything Michael Jackson or any of the other Qwest releases of this era did. It’s the middle of that Quincy Jones 1979-1981 sandwich that starts with Off the Wall and ends roughly with Patti Austin’s Every Home Should Have One. And the most wonderful thing about it all is that this is one of the more thoroughly musical of the three albums-the other two of which concentrate heavily on songcraft and vocal performance. This one does just the same way. But the focus is very much on George’s playing and singing. And those are two talents he always had to his advantage. There’s aren’t many artists in any genre who can play an instrument and sing quite with the amazing quality as George Benson does. He’s definitely one of those “everything” men who can do them both and both very well. And even though the coming decade would be filled with some equally huge musical highs and lows due in part to the enormous success this album earned him,he’d be able to learn a lot from albums such as this later and realize the creative ingredients that…well really make the best music commercially as well.
Originally Posted On October 9th,2011
Link to original review here*
Filed under 1980's, Bruce Swedien, Crusaders, George Benson, Give Me The Night, Greg Philinganes, Herbie Hancock, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Quincy Jones, Richard Tee, Rod Temperton