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
Joe Sample is one of a handful of instrumentalists whose music was a major source of inspiration for this entire blog. Over the years,the music he and members of the Crusaders have made became key conversational points between myself and Henrique Hopkins. That’s because in both our cases, Sample was also key in bringing us into the big and wonderful world of the funk jazz genre. And I’m going to put funk first there because Joe Sample is someone whose very sound on the keyboards was defined by a great technical understanding of how to project his soul. So it only seems appropriate that Sample would refer to his early/mid 90’s era group as the Soul Committee.
Right around the time I was just seriously getting into The Crusaders, my dad and I would frequent a small record store in the Maine college town of Orono known as Dr. Records. One day one of the people who worked there had the then new Joe Sample & The Soul Committee 1993 album entitled Did You Feel That? playing in the store as we browsed the racks and crates. My dad picked the CD up that day. And it’s been a frequent road trip favorite on family car rides ever since. There’s a sense of motion about all of it. One song I just could not get out of my head-even to this day. And the name of the song is a strong musical statement of intent: “Viva De Funk”.
Crowd sounds with a strong party atmosphere not only begin this song,but define it’s rhythmic element in the classic soul jazz manner of numbers like the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s “The In Crowd”. Steve Gadd’s slow rolling,percussive drums keep the rhythm moving straight ahead with Freddie Washington’s bass thump,the wah wah guitar and the trumpeter Oscar Breshear carrying the main melody along with Sample’s bluesy Fender Rhodes electric piano playing. The trumpet plays another whole melodic statement before the wah wah mixes up and sax player Joe Peskin adds his own grease before Sample returns on acoustic piano for the final refrain before the main rhythm closes it all out.
One thing that always gets me about this groove is that while the instrumentation seems small,their band’s interaction is very full. That’s probably because the melodic aspect of the song carries it, but the bulk of the song is based in rhythm. In classic funk style the drums,guitar,bass and crowd noises all play a percussive element to it’s own movement. It all stays right on the one. Joe Sample’s place in this works on both levels. The thick sound of his Rhodes takes on the rhythmic meat of the tune, while the piano solo carries the melody. So Sample again showcases his strong understanding of funk here, but also where a given instrumental sound’s place within the groove should be.
Filed under 1990s, Dr.Records, drums, Fender Rhodes, Freddie Washington, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, Joe Sample, piano, soul jazz, Steve Gadd, The Crusaders, The Soul Committee, Uncategorized