Category Archives: Steve Ferrone

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Be Bop Medley” by Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan’s very musical essence could be summed up through jazz. It was listening to Billie Holiday growing up in a family of visual artists that inspired her whole vocal approach. As a late 60’s counter culturally inclined teenager,she became involved with organizations such as the Black Panthers as well as Affro Arts out of her native Chicago. She encountered folks who’d later be members of both Sun Ra’s Arkestra and Earth Wind & Fire through Affro Arts. And this was all before she teamed up with a band known as Ask Rufus,and went on to enormous success as a leader singer and eventually a solo artist. So from jazz to rock to funk,Chaka never strayed from what inspired her.

Now in my late teens,there was one piece of vinyl of Chaka’s that I suppose would be referred to as a grail by the modern vinyl collecting community. It was her self titled 1982 album. While the least commercially potent of her early/mid 80’s Warner Bros. albums produced by Arif Mardin,it was known as being among the most unique and funkiest of her solo records.I personally found the vinyl in Boston. Eventually I managed to purchase the rare CD import offline. The album itself is a masterpiece of brittle yet cinematic electro funk. Chaka’s solo albums generally contained at least one musical tribute to her love for jazz. And on here it was perhaps her most defining one in”Be Bop Medley”.

A powerful drum kicks off with Chaka’s screaming vocalese before a chanking rhythm guitar strums along. A Vocoder kicks into a sturdy 4/4 dance rhythm with a synth bass scaling down. That’s the rhythmic element linking each part of the medley. The Hot House part of it has a metallic synth playing the chordal pattern whereas a Arabic style Fender Rhodes solo segues into “East Of Suez” along with some spirited percussion. An electric sitar begins the frantic synth bass take on Epistrophy whereas Yardbird Suite and has Chaka duetting with the Vocorder. Con Alma slows the song briefly to a swinging ballad tempo as a sax led Giant Steps finds Chaka scatting her way out of the song.

Having listened to this particular song over and over again for fourteen years now,this is one of the most instrumentally intricate and futurist examples of jazz/funk in the 80’s. It showcases once and for all that the electro funk movement did not represent a great to the funk genre. As Miles Davis-later a friend and collaborator of Chaka’s might’ve said, all quality music needs is the best caliber of instrumentalists. Steve Ferrone,Will Lee,Hiram Bullock and especially Robbie Buchanan’s rhythmic synth bass absolutely burn on this song musically. Plus her jumps from melody,harmony to chordal based singing-changing pitch and speed on a whim,make this perhaps Chaka’s most defining solo number.

Another significant musical element to this is how Chaka and the musicians playing with her on this showcase how much the instrumental innovations of be bop carry over into the funk era. It’s a stripped down,synthesizer derived naked funk that provides the main groove of this song that’s present throughout. It protects the beat much as Max Roach might’ve with Charlie Parker. Showcasing the evolution of bop from Bird,Dizzy and Monk on through John Coltrane is accomplished here by Chaka’s lead voice being the horn like voice,and her backups being much like string orchestrations. So also on a purely musical level,this paved the way for a possible whole new level of funk for the early 80’s.

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Filed under 1980's, Arif Mardin, be bop, Chaka Khan, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, drums, electro funk, Fender Rhodes, Hiram Bullock, Jazz, jazz funk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, percussion, Robbie Buchanan, Saxophone, scat singing, Steve Ferrone, synth bass, Thelonious Monk, Uncategorized, Warner Bros., Will Lee

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 4/25/2015: ‘Shine’ by Average White Band

average_white_band-1980-shine

Like Earth Wind & Fire did a year earlier with their I Am this album finds AWB hooking up with David Foster. This truly should have represented a new beginning for the band as they add a heavy modern production gloss and strong song craft to their already established heavy funk sound. Every song on this album is extremely strong and, with some good promotion could have been enormous pop hits even stateside.

Uptempo tunes such as “Our Time Has Come”,”Let’s Go Around Again”,”Help Is On The Way”,the title track and the original version of “What Cha Gonna Do For Me”,made famous a year later in a brilliant version by Chaka Khan from her album of the same name,also worth getting. Being the kind of musicians that they are AWB cannot help but throw down at least one funky instrumental in the personification of “Into The Night”,marrying the bands chunky,rhythmic groove with Foster’s production sheen. This is also home to two of the best ballads the group ever made in “For You,For Love” and “If Love Only Lasts For One Night”.

Now there’s a double album version of this that contains bonus tracks,all five of which are as great as the rest of the album. A like minded cover of Boz Scagg’s classic “Miss Sun” is great of course as is the more electo-funk minded dance cut “Kiss Me”. There’s also another great ballad in “Growing Pains” and the peppy “Love Gives,Love Takes Away”. Another successful marrying of the bands natural grooves with Fosters style comes along in the chunky and catchy “Love Won’t Get In The Way” followed by a smoking long version of “Let’s Go Round Again”.

Overall “Shine” finds AWB successfully modernizing their classic sound without sacrificing what made them so great in the past. And the lead and back round vocals certainly have a power and soul that were only hinted at on earlier recordings. Steve Ferrone really stretches out on some incredibly funky drumming here. This is definitely a pop-funk masterpiece of the 1979-1980 era of the genre and is yet another in a long list of lost true classics.

Originally Written December 17th,2007

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Average White Band, Boz Scaggs, Chaka Khan, David Foster, Funk, Music Reviewing, pop funk, Steve Ferrone, West Coast