Maurice White,one of the musical icons who passed away this year,it best known as the founder of Earth Wind & Fire-the most commercially successful of the 70’s funk bands in terms of crossover. On the other hand,the band broke up in 1984. And one of the many reasons brought up was that White had it in his mind that Columbia (the bands record label) were looking for him to do a solo album. This album got released in 1985. Its biggest single was with a (mostly) uptempo version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”. But it still remains something of a footnote in EWF history.
When I first heard the album on vinyl album around 18-20 years ago,am not 100% sure it came off as anything all that exciting. Of course,that could’ve just been a case of seeking something different from it than what it was. And what Maurice White’s self titled (and sole) solo debut does is present a series of electronic,pan African rock/funk/soul fusions with a mild melodic pop new age vibe about them. The EWF message is still intact. Its just going more for an attitude than a sound by a large. The one song that always got my attention strongly was the opener “Switch On Your Radio”.
A totally electronic synth orchestration fades slowly on the intro. Than suddenly the song bursts with a bluesy funk melodic statement. And it has all the instrumental elements of the song itself. The drum machine and Paulinho Da Costa’s percussion play off the guitar,electronic hand clap and slap bass lines with this melodic electro funk wall of sound. This represents the choruses of the songs. On the refrains and the bridge,the mix is somewhat more stripped down to focus on the vocals a bit. An extended chorus with vocal ad lib’s finish out the song as it fades.
“Switch On Your Radio” has a sound that crosses a lot of musical bridges. The overall drum programming of the song has the bigness of sound that was very much of its time. Yet the live percussion accents along with Martin Page slap bass,Marlon McClain’s rock guitar and the ethereal synthesizers of Robbie Buchanan make for a powerful sound that basically amounts to a progressive dance/funk sound. And the melody has that strong song construction White and Page are so noted for. Its an extension of the EWF sound for sure. And it also pointed to a possible future solo direction for White which didn’t continue.
Filed under 1985, dance funk, drum machine, Earth Wind & Fire, elecro funk, Marlon McClain, Martin Page, Maurice White, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Robbie Buchanan, rock guitar, slap bass, synthesizer
Morris Day has a long and storied history with the Minneapolis sound. Again,blogging partner Zach Hoskins pulled this all together so well in his overview of The Time. He was originally in the local band Grand Central with Prince and Andre Cymone. After that,he was a member of a band called Enterprise. During the early 80’s,he was considered to be part of Prince’s spin off band The Time-at which time he went from being a drummer to being a lead singer for the group. Needless to say his persona as the flashy,pimped out OG helped give The Time their performance personality.
After The Time originally broke up in 1984 (they’d reunite 7 years later),Day began a solo career starting in 1985 with his debut album The Color Of Success. A couple of years later he released his follow up sophomore solo album entitled The Color Of Success. Had this album for years on vinyl but never listened to it much,until earlier this year. It was also around that time that I learned it didn’t do too well commercially. Still,there were a handful of songs on the album that still stood out as highly funkified moments. One of them was actually a hit entitled “Fishnet”.
A heavy,kicking drum shuffle starts out the song. A mix of synthesized and electric slap bass segue right into the main chorus of the song. That consists of a high pitched orchestral synths along with lower synth horns. On the refrains of the song,those are stripped out for what sounds like a low organ style rumble. This is accompanied by a piano playing a bouncing chromatic walk down up with Day’s vocals. There’s a heavy rock guitar solo that comes in as kind of a bridge on the middle chorus. The synth brass,Day himself and the piano all improvise in and out of that chorus until the song ends on applause.
“Fishnet” is one of my favorite Morris Day solo jams. Part of the reasoning for that is how it spans two eras of funky music. At the end of the day,its a Minneapolis take on the DC go go sound. And then cut down to a 6 minute song rather than the sometimes hour long go go jams. On the other hand,it has a jazzy vibe that kid of goes along with some of the jazz/hip-hop styled new jack swing songs that would become huge in a couple of years.Still,its synth brass and phat (often punishing) funky rhythms keep it going along with the most cutting edge Minneapolis funk of 1987.
Grover Washington Jr. has often been referred to as one of the main progenitors of smooth jazz. This term extended from the softer toned end of 70’s and 80’s jazz/funk fusion. Grover always was a master of subtlety as a player. On the other hand,music production basically turned “smooth jazz” into a sub genre. And one that basically robbed the instrumentation of its vitality. Still,that music still reduced down to jazz/funk at its base. Especially when smooth jazz groups/soloists performed live. Towards the end of the 80’s,I tended to see Grover caught up in this musical conundrum.
When Grover passed away in 1996,I’d honestly started to forget about him. It wasn’t too long after that did I notice a new interest in his early to mid 70’s albums and songs such as “Mister Magic” and the first 70’s era Grover Washington Jr. song I heard “Lock It In The Pocket”. In the years to come,I started to pay some more attention to Grover’s mid to late 80’s music that I’d tended to ignore whenever it showed up in record stores pre owned CD/vinyl bins. One such album was his 1989 release Time Out Of Mind. Never occurred to me until last night that the title song was a Steely Dan cover version.
A steady 4/4 dance beat on drums starts the song,accentuated by percussive congas. After this,the main keyboard line comes in on a ringing synthesizer. Accompanying that is a a gentle,bluesy guitar solo playing what was originally Walter Becker’s guitar line. Grover himself plays Donald Fagen’s lead vocal part on sax-adding many lyrical touches. On the choruses,he’s joined by a group of female backup singers. After a couple repeat plays of the songs bridge,Grover’s improvisations on sax take over much of the last minute or two of the song before it fades out on the chorus.
Steely Dan’s songs were always ripe (and perhaps even designed) for interpretation by jazz instrumentalists. And this cover is a very good example. It has some of the milder production elements of smooth jazz that were just beginning to occur in the late 80’s and early 90’s. For example,the guitar and keyboard parts aren’t quite as brisk and crisp as they were on the original. On the other hand,the bluesy jazziness that defines the songs content is brought right to life by Grover’s soloing. And even the rhythm section backing it up. So it ends up being a quality example of Grover Washington Jr’s latter period.
Filed under 1980's, blues funk, Donald Fagen, drums, Grover Washington Jr., jazz funk, percussion, Saxophone, smooth jazz, Steely Dan, synthesizer, Walter Becker
Stacy Lattisaw first came to my attention via reading Aretha Franklin’s first autobiography. She described Lattisaw’s duets with future New Edition vocalist Johnny Gill as inspiring her to choose Narada Michael Walden to produce her on 1985’s Who’s Zoomin Who album. Aretha made note of the strong production involved. A DC native,Lattisaw debut at age 12 in 1979,produced by the late Van McCoy. As soon as she began her involvement with Walden as her producer in 1981,he had a string of five albums through 1986. Not to mention being the opening act for the Jackson’s 1981 Triumph tour.
Along with the aforementioned New Edition and (solo) Johnny Gill,Lattisaw represented the major teen idols of the black community for America during the early/mid 1980’s. I made it my business to seek out her many find post disco records on CD over the last three or four years. Interestingly enough,I haven’t absorbed them in as strong a way as they probably deserve to be. One of these albums was 1983’s 16,released at a key transitional period between the live instrumental post disco sound and the electro funk/dance style that was about to emerge. So far,its opening title song says an awful lot.
A loud howl inaugurates Walden’s opening drum line-a strong 3-4 beat hit with pounding percussion accents. His synth bass collides with Randy Jackson’s ticklish 6 note bass line. On the many refrains and choruses, Corrado Rustici’s rhythm guitar either plays a straight one chord groove or a deeper liquid one. On the second half of each bridge,there’s a dance friendly,melodic digital bell sound. On the bridge,David Sancious plays an improvisational synthesizer solo. On the repeating choruses that lead the song out,the discordant sax improvisations of Marc Russo play on with Lattisaw’s vocals as the song fades out.
As with pretty much any uptempo number Narada Michael Walden sunk his teeth into in the early 80’s,”16″ grooves extremely hard. Its definitely possessed of the synth brass oriented electro dance/funk approach of its time. On the other hand,its electro dance/funk played by some of the most creative jazz/funk instrumentalists to emerge from the mid to late 1970’s. And none of them every simplify their talents to suit the more poppy electronic grooves. They and Lattisaw bring out the funk,and all the musical improvisation,they can in this song. Which in turn is some of the finest funk of its time.
Filed under 1980's, Corrado Rustici, David Sancious, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, Marc Russo, Narada Michael Walden, percussion, Randy Jackson, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Stacy Lattisaw, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizer
After hearing “‘Nard” the one definitive impression you’ll have is that New York pianist Bernard Wright has a large number of musical influences ranging from Herbie Hancock,George Duke,Lenny White and of course Dave Grusin (his producer) and Miles Davis.But one thing the 16 year old musician does very well is find unique and creative ways of gathering his influences into his own special kind of musical sound.
Released on vinyl in 1981 on GRP “‘Nard” is at it’s core a funk-jazz album,but all that means is that the backup has a rhythmic R&B style over which Wright plays very memorable and often improvised solo’s on his acoustic piano,Fender Rhodes and sometimes the occasional synthesizer.But only on the spiky funk of “Just Chillin’ Out” and “We’re Just The Band” do synths play that big a part.
“Master Rocker”,”Spinnin'”,”Firebolt Hustle” and the jamming “Bread Sandwiches” are all based on a chunky backup of guitars,rhythms and often sudden melodic exchanges,that plus the comically absurd vocals of “Haboglabotribin'” brings up the George Duke connection.The general sound (especially on the one ballad in Weldon Irvine’s “Music Is The Key” showcases Bernard Wright as an artist with a firmly established 1970’s-based sound..
The electronic and glossy sheen of 1980’s style jazz-funk an R&B in general are not to be found in huge doses on ‘Nard’.But thanks I’m sure to poor promotion on GRP’s part this album (and artist in general) have gone almost forgotten until this CD reissue.I brought it only on customer recommendation and I couldn’t be more pleased with what I heard.And despite it’s often hefty price tag ‘Nard’ will be more then worth the investment.I recommend it not only as an ear pleasing guidebook for other aspiring young musicians but to any fan of late 70’s/early 80’s transitional jazz-funk in general.
Originally Posted On November 15th,2004
Link To Original Review Here!
Jeff Lorber has remained one of the major jazz/funk keyboard players whose continued through the smooth jazz era by remaining consistently funky. Music will always change. And artists will have to change with it. Lorber has realized that as long as he keeps the rhythms tough and strong,and his solos jazzy and hummable,that the jazz/funk/fusion sound he’s now a veteran of,he can modernize his sound but keep its basic flavors intact. This is something he’s shown with his recent comebacks. On the other hand,his grooves hit a fevered pitch in the early 1980’s.
About 12 years ago when discovering Jeff Lorber’s albums from approximately 1980 to 1986, it came to me how much he was able to do with in the time period when analog based synthesizers were transitioning to digital ones. This also arrived at the same time that the Jeff Lorber Fusion were beginning to focus on heavy rhythm along with improvised instrumental soloing. That played a big part in their final album together for almost 30 years entitled Galaxian. The opening track of this album is one of the best examples of this that I can think of. It was called “Monster Man”.
The thick drums and slap bass start out the song before a fruity voice does a short rap at the beginning-while the bass burbles with an accenting rhythm guitar beneath him. After this,Donnie Gerrard’s vocals come in. And each of his vocals lines is accented by the horn charts from Jerry Hey. This represents the chorus of the song. On the refrains,Lorber’s keyboards lead a group lead the harmony vocals. On the bridge of the song,the drums take on a Brazilian flavor as the slap bass gets a duetting solo from non other than Stanley Clarke himself before the song fades out on the main theme.
‘Monster Man” is indeed a heavy funk monster. The bass leads the way from beginning to end. And the entire song never takes its eyes off the groove. I dare say it is the most thoroughly funky song Jeff Lorber made in the 1980’s. I’m not entirely sure if Stanley Clarke plays all the bass lines here,or is accompanying bassist Danny Wilson (who plays on the rest of the album) on this song. Either way,its still one of those “bass in your face” songs where the funk is very accessible to identify. Since Lorber is celebrating his birthday today,this is just the song I’d personally chose to represent his groove.
Filed under 1980's, Donnie Gerrard, drums, horns, jazz funk, Jeff Lorber, Jeff Lorber Fusion, Jerry Hey, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Stanley Clarke, synthesizer
Con Funk Shun are among my favorite funk bands of the 70’s. Originally hailing from Vallejo,California,this band is someone whom my friend and blogging inspiration Henrique Hopkins has a good deal of musical knowledge of. Based on what I heard beforehand, Con Funk Shun were a band with many similarities to Earth,Wind & Fire. They favored well recorded grooves with strong melodies. They also often enlisted the writing/instrumental assistance of Skip Scarborough. Band founder Felton Pilate went into fame on his own by producing MC Hammer on his debut album in 1988.
This band first came to my attention via my dad’s cassette copy of the Best Of Funk Essentials compilation around 1993. Later on while browsing the cutout CD’s at Borders Books & Music,I came across a reissue of the bands 1977 sophomore album Secrets. At the time,Borders had a CD player behind the counter. And opened CD’s for customers to listen to before purchase. If they didn’t want them after,they’d reseal them. This particular CD was not one I asked them to reseal. And a big part of this was due to the fact the first song really jumped out at me. Its called “DooWhatChaWannaDoo”.
A fast snare drum kick starts out the song. After that,the drum takes on a mild Brazilian flavor-accenting a faster three hit drum on the second beat. Scarborough builds both a high pitched melodic synthesizer and an elaborate Moog bass into the mix as well. The bands horn charts play the main melody of the song-accented by climactic strings. The refrains emphasize the bluesiest aspects of the keyboard parts-while intro represents the chorus. The bridge takes it all down to a chunky high/bass synth duet with accenting strings before the chorus repeats up to the fade out of the song.
“DooWhatChaWannaDoo” is one of those songs that represents the sophistifunk sound at some of its very finest. The keyboards and horns both have an equally thick,gurgling throb about them. And it all manages to accent the very singable (and also elaborate melody) as well. Its a great example of starting off an album with one of its strongest songs that could draw in the listener to its melody and groove. Con Funk Shun ably blend a harder edged Dayton style hard funk vocal and rhythm attitude with the slickness of their West Coast funk contemporaries. And it makes this song a shining example of their funk.
Bernard Edwards was a bassist who truly left his musical footprint in time. Even long before his best known audio footprint came along with Chic’s 1979 jam “Good Times”. This essentially showcased the exact transition from disco to hip-hop-by ‘Nard’s iconic bass line also being the basis for Sugarhill Gangs equally iconic “Rappers Delight”. Edwards style was based is economy with style,especially on his bass lines/solos on Chic hits such as “Dance,Dance,Dance”,”Everybody Dance” and of course “Good Times”. This was a major aspect in how Chic innovated their disco style through some heavy funkiness.
Some years ago,I became familiar with the first two solo albums by Chic guitarist/ songwriter /producer Nile Rodgers. I only found out that Bernard Edwards recorded a solo album in 1983 (around the time Chic ended its original run of albums) following his death 20 years ago now of pneumonia. It was entitled Glad To Be Here. It was reissued on CD roughly around the time as they reissued Chic’s early 80’s catalog. Only recently have I began to explore the songs from by listening to them via YouTube. The tune that really epitomized the album was the closing title song.
A heavy drum kick opens the song before the Vocorder comes in to introduce a melody. That’s when the main body of the song comes in. This consists of a tight,dripping higher pitched rhythm guitar. Edwards bass accompanies this sometimes to the letter,other times with stick slapping lines. This is accompanied by quavering bursts of synth brass. Edwards raps seem to count down to the next section of the song. There are two instrumental bridges. One is built around a thumping synth bass solo. The other is a stiff,hiccuping higher pitched synthesizer that begins the refrain that fades out the song.
It comes as now surprise to me that,for all intents and purposes,this is still a complete Chic song. Tony Thompson provides the drums,Bernard Edwards is carrying on the bass while the guitar is from Nile Rodgers himself. The only thing it does is strip out the strings and lead/backup female vocals. So this represents Chic in its core rhythm section. And it becomes clear how funkified that sound is. This is heavy,naked electro funk. Basically what Chic might’ve sounded like going through the Minneapolis funk filter of the day. And it showcases how vital Edwards’ sound was as a part of Chic. Even on his solo material.
Filed under 1980's, Bernard Edwards, Chic, drums, electro funk, Funk Bass, naked funk, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Tony Thompson, vocoder
Prince is an artist whose history really fascinated me. Up until the age of 16,I was so ignorant of Prince’s history that I actually thought his career started with “1999”. It was amazing for me to learn that Prince’s recording career began in the late 70’s. Not only that,but that it still had a sound that was recognizably his own. Over the years,this late 70’s period for Prince has become a personal favorite. One that I really enjoy discussing. One of the most important things about this era was that,even in a crowded funk/soul environment,Prince got his first major crossover hit before the 70’s decade ended.
Prince first hit single “Soft And Wet”. This was rooted squarely in funk and commercially ,it landed pretty much within the R&B Top 20. But just barely crossed over to the pop listener. And as the very prejudiced anti disco movement began to gain footing in 1979,both Prince and Warner Bros understanding crossover would be necessary for his career at that point. So the solution would to find a way to create a song with heavy pop structure that would still maintain Prince’s homegrown funkiness. The solution was in his first R&B #1 and pop Top 20 hit in “I Wanna Be Your Lover”.
A pounding snare drum kick kicks off the song. For the first 2 1/2 minutes of this song,the refrain consists of a deep rhythm guitar playing on one bright,melodic chord. A high toned and bass synthesizer back this up along with the drums. On the choruses,a string synthesizer plays harmony to this. After a space funk synth on the final chorus,the song goes into a 3 minute instrumental section. This section brings in a high bass line playing a funk riff high in the mix over a similar synth backdrop. Then a higher synth brass part comes in-occasionally accompanying only the drums before the song fades out.
The first time I heard “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was the single edit,which is basically the vocal oriented first 2:50 minutes of the song. The version on Prince’s self titled 1979 album is a 5+ version that predominantly emphasizes the final instrumental section of the song. The entirety of the song is very funky. Its also where Prince was able to harness the stripped down,loose jamming funkiness that defined his debut album while introducing it with a strong sense of song craft. An element that could sung and hum. That makes “I Wanna Be Your Lover” perhaps the most important song Prince recorded in the 70’s.
Filed under 1979, crossover, drums, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Warner Bros.
Level 42 are one of those bands along with Earth Wind & Fire,Heatwave,Sly & The Family Stone,James Brown and Kool & The Gang where I could write about their songs for a month. And not get board doing so. Even though Level 42’s identity didn’t become known to me until 12 years ago or so,their four piece jazz/funk sound was approached in such a wonderful way. And one that was very suited for its time as well. This is especially true with Level 42’s first six albums-from their self titled debut in 1981 to 1985’s breakout album World Machine.
Right around the time I was first getting into Level 42,Polydor reissued Level 42’s first eight studio albums on four 2 CD sets. These sets not only included informative notes,but also the addition of unreleased demos and 12″/7″ single mixes of some of the songs. The most fascinating of these sets were the first two-especially the second volume. That one began with Level 42’s second proper studio release The Pursuit Of Accidents. This particular album represents the height of the band’s instrumentally inclined,contemporary jazz/funk approach. A perfect example is its opening track “Weave Your Spell”.
Mike Lindup’s synthesizer and Phil Gould’s cymbal kick provide the intro to the song. After that the rest of the band,especially Mark King’s bass,enter the mix in full musical motion. On the refrain,the percussive drums and King’s bass provide an ultra phat rhythm. Lindup’s different synths provide both high and low call and response to his and Mark’s vocal harmonies. This is especially true on the musically and vocally thick chorus. There is a musical bridge where King’s slap bass becomes the star of the show-with Lindup assisting on synth brass before the chorus fades out the song.
“Weave Your Spell” might be the definitive musical example of Level 42’s general sound. At its core,its an uptempo jazz funk song filled with a lot of dancability. Mike Lindup’s synthesizer’s have that strong new wave quavering reverb about them too. King’s slap bass and Phil Gould’s progressive fusion drumming give this song its own kick. The loose jamming feel of it,especially on the instrumental bridge,remind me of a sleeker version of Prince’s approach to funk-especially with the synth horn responses. So over the years,this has become one of my very favorite Level 42 grooves.