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.
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
Miles Davis was possessed of a character that was elusive to biographical translation. When Don Cheadle began work on his largely crowd funded motion picture Miles Ahead,the best approach to Miles’ story would be more a personal ambiance than informational. Cheadle imagine Miles Davis as he would like to have seen himself. Along with bits of half remembered personal history and playing witness to fragmented pieces of himself.
Robert Glasper is a modern day pianist who feels exactly the same as Miles did about music in general. That the improvisational art of jazz consistently has to be re-invented with new themes,new standards all the time. And that’s it’s the musician, not the writers/ critics, who sets that tone. Since Cheadle worked with Glapser on the music surrounding the film,it seemed appropriate to explore the full spectrum of this musical project.
Miles Ahead-Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Over the years,I’ve generally avoided soundtrack albums. It seems all too easy for someone to simply pile a series of songs onto the CD and call it a soundtrack. Don Cheadle’s film Miles Ahead takes a more cinematic approach to the Miles Davis attitude as opposed to being a straight biographical narrative. Cheadle was joined by 80’s era Miles alumni in drummer Vince Wilburn and the defiant pianist Robert Glasper in terms of producing this album. The selection of songs for the project could’ve been exhaustive-considering the breadth of Miles’s recorded catalog of music. So instead of going with the traditional method of soundtracks that keeps me away from most,this takes another sort of approach.
Songs that represent Miles’ modal period such as “So What” flow along into “Solea”,the uptempo “Seven Steps To Heaven” and “Nefertiti”. These represent his acoustic period on this collection It goes from there into what Miles referred to as his “directions in music” with songs like “Frelon Brun” and the 6th take of “Duran”. His full blow fusion sound is represented by “Go Ahead,John”,an edit of “Black Satin” and “Back Seat Betty” from 1981. Glasper provides the sax heavy jazz-funk of “Juniors Jam”,the orchestral electric piano heavy ballad “Francessence”. “What’s Wrong With That?” is a flowing fusion/funk jam with Cheadle actually playing trumpet with the surviving members of Miles second quintet of the 1960’s.”Gone 2015″ ends the album with an big horn fanfare of a jazz/hip-hop number from Glasper and rapper Pharoahe Monich.
This album traces the musical legacy of Miles Davis from 1959 through his early 80’s comeback-the time period dealt with in the film. What really makes it a standout motion picture soundtrack is that it takes the Spike Lee approach in telling a story through the full album format. Moments of Cheadle portraying Miles’s famous quotes and statements are put into the mix as interludes between songs. This allows for the soundtrack to feel like a journey one is taking through the mind of Miles. Which essentially reduces down to an audio version of the films intent. Ending with Miles inspired new numbers from Robert Glasper makes this perhaps the sonic film soundtrack experience of 2016.
Everything’s Beautiful/Miles Davis & Robert Glasper
Over the last several years,Robert Glasper has been seeking to change the vocabulary of jazz. His approach has always seemed to me very similar in that regard to the late Miles Davis. He often has made similar references that jazz needed to look outside itself for new standards on which to create new improvised art. From what I’ve heard of Glasper,he’s largely looked to hip-hop as a musical medium for the nu jazz sound of which he’s a major player. He ended up being the musical directer behind the new Don Cheadle film Miles Ahead. So it was very exciting for me to see Glasper create an entire project based on the man whose musical ethnic most shaped his own.
“Talking Shit” opens the album with a rhythmic sample of Miles’ 1969 discussion with drummer Joe Chambers that sets up the album title-the trumpet players view on music itself basically. “Ghetto Talk” features the soaring vocals of longtime Glasper collaborator Bilal and while “They Can’t Hold Me Down” brings in rapper Illa J. These songs all have blunted hip-hop beats with jazzy funk atmospherics. “Violets” brings in the Foreign Exchanges’ Phonte in for a brooding,slow swinging piano based groove. “Maiyshia (So Long)” has Erykah Badu dealing with an electronic bossa nova with a sassy rhythm. “Little Church” and “Silence Is The Key” deal with a modern electronica reboot of Miles’ classic modal sound.
“Song For Selim” takes on the same effect of re-imagining modality in a current context while Georgia Anne Muldrow sizzles up the electro swing big time for a makeover of “Milestones”. “I’m Leaving You” is one of my favorites here-thick bluesy funk sampling Miles himself with Ledisi’s vocal leads and John Scofield’s guitar. Stevie Wonder comes in for the closer “Right On Brother”-looking Miles’ solo from “Right Off” into a synth bass heavy funk/house context. Glasper didn’t want a trumpet based tribute to Miles here. He knew the man wouldn’t have wanted that. Instead,he showcased Miles Davis’s influence on musicians as a whole. And did so by again re-inventing the nu jazz sound in the most funky possible manner.
Everyone involved in both of these projects understood very well the creative daring and self absurdness that defined Miles Davis’s music during his lifetime. When it came to Robert Glasper creating his own music based on the Miles attitude and musical school,he did so with the maximum amount of strong,extended melody and funkiness wherever it was needed. So for what would’ve been Miles’ 90th year of life,this is a special occasion.
Filed under 2016, Amazon.com, Don Cheadle, hip-hop/jazz, Jazz, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, nu jazz, Robert Glasper, Soundtracks, trumpet
Gladys Knight & The Pips have always been a favorite of mine at Motown. Aside from the uniqueness of their setup (more on that later), their sound had that Southern soul vibe that set them apart from whatever else was happening at Motown in the late 60’s. After they left Motown in the early 70’s,they signed up with Buddah and had success right out of the box with 1974’s “Midnight Train To Georgia”. Three years later,Gladys night got a chance to have be the leading lady in the Stephen F. Verona film Pipe Dreams. She and the Pips would be the ones performing on the movie’s soundtrack.
The only reason I ever saw Pipe Dreams was due to an accident. My parents went to a video store to look for a copy of the then very rare film That’s The Way of The World,with Harvey Kietel and Earth Wind & Fire,on VHS in the late 90’s. They got me a pre-owned tape of Pipe Dreams instead-knowing how much I enjoyed Gladys Knight’s music. The film is a romantic drama set against a good deal of historical info on the then under construction Alaska pipeline. So it was only appropriate that the song that stood out most for me,as well as coming from the pens of Motowner Ivory Joe Hunter,was called “Alaskan Pipeline”.
A jingling chicken scratch rhythm guitar starts out the groove. The groove itself has a drum beat that clips along at a relatively slow 70 beats per minute for so. A Larry Graham style deep bass thump and a thick wah wah guitar set the stage for the rhythm too. The song also has a heavy bluesy piano that comes down really hard on the keys. The horn charts come in hot and heavy-accenting the choral vocals and harmonic “shoop shoops” of the Pipes,who actually sing the lead line for the backup. Interestingly enough,this song has no instrumental chorus per se. It just keeps grooving along until it fades.
This is some of the strongest funk I’ve heard from Gladys Knight & The Pips. It’s got that slow,crunching tempo. And the rhythm section is hot as they come with the bass ,guitar, horns and driving piano. This song reprises throughout the movie-especially in scenes of Gladys flying over the pipe line with her co star and real life husband Barry Hankerson. Lyrically the song tells the story of how the great employment opportunities the pipeline provides also open the door to massive corruption-another key component of the film. So it’s another example of strong message funk in a film soundtrack setting.
Filed under 1970's, Barry Hankerson, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Gladys Knight, Gladys Knight & The Pips, horns, Ivory Joe Hunter, piano, Pipe Dreams, Soundtracks, wah wah guitar
Considering the fact that it was sheer luck that I discovered this nearly impossible to find CD in a used CD store,it’s amazing how often I refer to and come back to this particular album. Always been fascinated by the impact of the album cover,a rare and topical group portrait in proto “gangsta” garb (something hip-hop has latched onto in many areas) as well. Interestingly enough this serves as a possibly loose soundtrack to a film of the same title,itself a rarity as well.
So basically it gave the Ohio Players a change to stretch out their music in a more cinematic arena. On the other hand,even as the membership of the band swelled from seven to nine members on this album all was not well within. Financial difficulties revolving around Clarence Satchell’s extravagant lifestyle were catching up to all of them. And…honestly it was their final album of all new material for Mercury. All the same it is an album that,for sure get’s a very unbalanced and unfair reputation to say the least.
To clear up one of the most popular misconceptions,this is by no stretch of the imagination an “unfunky album” as so many listeners and critics charge. Quite the contrary it’s MOSTLY funk,albeit often of the more futurist and experimental variety. Mixing a strong rhythm box drum machine with almost Tangerine Dream/Kraftwerk style atonal electronic synthesizers “The Controllers Mind”,in it’s briefness in length finds Billy Beck WAAAY ahead of the game.
It was especially in terms of hip-hop’s later use of what some call the “video game” sound. P-Funk were just getting in on it too around this time and the Players took it way ahead here. On “Magic Trick”,basically a smooth late 70’s melodic dance-funk there are even more hints of that same atonal electronic jazz-funk keyboard sound. “Fight Me,Chase Me” and “The Big Score” limit the vocals primarily to the song title as the band flex their collective,cinematic jazzy funk muscles otherwise,with heavy emphasis on the jazz end of it.
The title song and the closing “Speak Easy” are the most conventionally funky numbers here. And even for that you’ll find the band driving the groove even harder into the ground than usual. The albums longest number is the nearly ten minute,moody “Good Luck Charm”,another Ohio Players bluesy style mid-tempo funk groove with some well executed use of ARP strings and a somewhat romantically tortured lyric. There’s a degree of complexity with the song,as it is on most of this album.
Actually musically stronger and FAR more ambitious than either Contradiction or Angel this album reaches out more into what was to come into and from funk music in the future more than it does deal with it’s past and present. In fact newer genres of techno dance and hip-hop might’ve benefited more from some of these musical ideas that the funk and disco of the era. In many ways I suppose we could only wonder. If this lineup of the Ohio Players hadn’t drawn to a halt and this album was a jumping off point as opposed to a conclusion……just what might’ve been.
Originally posted on July 29th,2016
LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!
*Listen to the title song of this album here!
*Listen to “The Controllers Mind” here!
*Listen to “Magic Trick” here!
Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, Billy Beck, blacksploitation, cinematic funk, Clarence Satchell, electro funk, jazz funk, Leroy Sugarfoot Bonner, Marshall Jones, Music Reviewing, Ohio Players, Soundtracks, synthesizers
At the end of 2013? It was A Mary Christmas that really made a huge difference during what amounted to a needlessly strained late December. I was very impressed by the eloquently soulful and jazzy environment it presented. It seemed that Mary J. Blige was finally on a path to becoming more musically herself. Throughout the her career? I’d always felt that her albums showed,at the very least enormous potential. And at best even funkified,soulful greatness. On the other hand? She was “the queen of hip-hop soul”. This meant that many of her albums became saddled down by guest rappers whose often profane narcissism seemed too awkward a fit with Mary’s frank,raw emotional expression. The “two sides of the same coin” theme that presented itself stopped being a musical revelation after a time. Today its really a formula. And a sometimes tragically overused one. Mary always seemed more about vocalizing and instrumental showcases/interpretation than merely being a vehicle for carrying people from another genre on her back all the time. A month or so back? This album was announced. Its a soundtrack of a sequel to a film I’ve never actually seen. But one thing I always felt was an almost ideal vehicle for vital soul/funk music is the soundtrack medium-extending as far back as Uptight by Booker T & The MG’s in 1968 and Isaac Hayes’ iconic,Academy award winning Shaft four years later. So this was something I was anticipating hearing and,as typical with a Mary J. Blige album? Entered into the listening experience without prejudice based on anything positive or negative regarding the past.
“A Night To Remember” opens the album with a bright,open ended late 70’s funk extravaganza. Its full of the sort of celebratory bass,guitar,drums,
horns and keyboards right out of the Slave/Michael Jackson/EWF school of that era. And lyrically eluding to many of the greats of that era. “Vegas Nights”,featuring guest vocals (as opposed to a rap) by The-Dream is a strongly percussive and fast paced number that embraces both the multiple synthesizer squiggles of electro-funk while also having the dynamic sonic melodicism of the boogie sound. “Moment Of Love” is a furiously funky,stripped down number where Mary’s melodic chorus is matched to a thumping bass/guitar line. Pharrell Williams shows up for one of (if not my favorite number here) in “See That Boy Again”. This is a complex number that actually brings out the strong Latin/Brazilian element in its hybridizing of the melodically surprising and strong Stevie Wonder/Gamble & Huff sound-full of that soulfully jazz/funk twist Pharrell is often more than capable of infusing his music with. “Wonderful” is another melodically complex piece with a thumping,bassy modern hip-hop friendly funkiness that never takes its eye of it’s classic hard funk orientation. “Kiss And Make Up” is a sleek,grooving disco-funk era urban contemporary mid-tempo ballad while “Cargo” has a soul/jazz type electric piano based groove about it. “Suitcase” and “Power Back” are the only songs I am not instrumentally wowed by as they seem to be somewhat self consciously trying to be “new” rather than making any creative statement of their own.
“I Want You” is a heavily orchestrated,cinematic soul/rock with a rising chorus and gospel oriented climax. “Self Love” is a Minneapolis sounding electronically oriented new wave/funk ballad where the character in the song is wishing for her lover to show her the affection he does for himself. “All Fun And Games” does try to mix the “newness” with Mary’s love of 70’s cinematic soul and does pretty well. “Better” is a breezy,stripped down funk/soul/pop number with one of the most unusual low,distant keyboard sounds I’ve ever heard. “Propose” is a powerful ballad closer to the album that plays to the strong gospel oriented side of Mary’s soulfulness-with it’s huge piano chords and rhythm hand clapping throughout. As with just about every Mary J. Blige album I’ve ever heard? There are at least one or two very generic contemporary hip-hop/R&B numbers on this album. And they do drag the quality down just a notch. And that’s especially vital here as,especially at the beginning this sounds as if Mary is for once fully embracing the richly produced 70’s funk/soul/pop sound that’s always been key to her music. But which she only really broadly hinted at. Lyrically this album does tell a certain story of the distrust in a relationship that probably deals directly with the characters in the film. Which is interesting since not all of these songs are heard in the film according to the cover-proclaiming “All New Music From And Inspired By The Film”. For all intents and purposes? This is overall a very good,many times spectacular Mary J. Blige studio album. If she were to keep total focus on musicality rather than pandering to the “queen of hip-hop/soul” moniker more or less placed upon her? She would have an amazing body of music ahead of her!
Originally Posted On June 17th,2014
*A Link To My Original Amazon.com review:
Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Late 70's Funk, Mary J. Blige, Minneapolis, Pharrell Williams, Soundtracks