Category Archives: The Foreign Exchange

Anatomy of THE Groove for 6/12/2015: “Tomorrow” by Nicolay

It was through his collaboration with Phonte on the latest album by The Foreign Exchange that got me interested in the music of Matthjis “Nicolay” Rook. Now this is a Dutch native who has been creating both solo albums and different collaborations within the funkiest side of the electronica/hip-hop/soul spectrum of music. His emphasis on live musicianship with his acumen as a multi instrumentalist is a big part of his artistic appeal for me personally.

Over the past decade,Nicolay has released a series of solo records in hisĀ City Lights series. Generally weaving them directly in between his released as a member of The Foreign Exchange. I’ve never had one of these albums. Yet the newest volume of this was subtitled ‘Soweto’-as a tribute to the South African township of the same name. And through online streaming? It was it’s opening song “Tomorrow” which caught my ear the most.

Beginning and ending with the voice of what is perhaps Bantu language conversation in the back-round? The song begins with a round bass synthesizer chord-accompanied by breezy orchestral electronics. Suddenly a burst of intense percussion kicks in for the main rhythm of the song-with congas,high hat and other Afro-Latin percussive sounds. On the bridge of the song a high pitch,and still round toned series of synthesizers play a horn like jazzy riff before gearing down into a higher pitched synth scaling up and down. All before the song ends with a light Ebonic vocalese.

One of the things I enjoy about this song is some of the same quality I heard on “If I Knew Then” from The Foreign Exchange. This song is of course far faster and electronic in straight up instrumental tone. That being said? Nicolay borrows a lot of his technique from early/mid 80’s Prince. In the sense that he is a master programmer and creator of live rhythmic and warmer,brittle bass lines with electronic drums and keyboards. It also helps greatly that he’s also an electric bassist and guitarist as well. He therefore understands the importance of a fat,rhythmic groove. Whether or not it’s produced organically. Along with it’s similarity to 1980’s Miles Davis and Weather Report? This song brings out the link between funk and contemporary electronica very strongly.


Filed under 2015, Afro-Latin jazz, electro funk, Electronica, Fusion, Jazz-Funk, new music, Nicolay, Nu Funk, percussion, Phonte, South Africa, Soweto, synth funk, The Foreign Exchange

Anatomy of THE Groove 12/5/14 Rique’s Pick: “Cant Turn Around” by The Foreign Exhange ft Gwen Bunn

With Stevie Wonder descending on Oakland, California tonight to perform the “Songs in the Key of Life” album in its entirety, I thought it would be good to give you a taste of Stevie’s vibes for todays “Anatomy.” A casual glance at “American Idol” would very quickly tell you Stevie Wonder is one of the most imitated singers today. His style, which was once considered highly unique even in the context of soul and funk music is now a bedrock of R&B vocalizing, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Throughout the ’90s and ’00s, various male singers, from R Kelly to Glenn Lewis, were judged by how close their vocals came to Stevie’s melismatic style. Something that was imitated far less than his vocals however, was Stevie’s expansive, electric and electronic, harmonically progressive, rhythmically vital musical style. However, as the time has progressed more and more artists have attempted aspects of this too. Todays song, “Can’t Turn Around” by Foreign Exchange, is a record, like Janelle Monae’s “Ghetto Woman”, Nicholas Payton’s “Freesia”, and the ending coda of Justin Timberlake’s “Strawberry Bubblegum”, that evoke an uptempo, synth heavy Stevie Wonder vibe. It expands upon the unique stylings of songs such as “Bird of Beauty”, “Superwoman”, and especially “As if You Read My Mind”, and “Can’t Help It” from Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall”, among others. This is a style that features a mid to uptempo Afro Latin beat, modernized with analog synths, both playing the bass and complimentary textures. Add to that Phonte’s steady midrange vocals, beatiful harmonies and pads, and Gwen Bunns vocals and you get a special brand of Afro Latin dance ecstacy.

On The Foreign Exchange’s LP “Love in Flying Colors”, “Cant Turn Around” follows a song called “The Moment.” “The Moment” itself is a triumph of ’90s house music vibes. “Cant Turn Around” follows in a seamless DJ disco mix segue. The song begins extremely hot on the tail of the peak in the preceding song, with an up front drum mix of a syncopated Afro Latin funk drum beat. Sweeping takeoff type sounds provide atmosphere, perhaps the “Flying Colors” of love the album is based on? After the already highly danceable four bar drum intro, the bass comes in stridently on the “One.” The bass part is a phat, analog sounding synth bass tone, playing a very staccato, short attacking bass line. The bass is happily married to the drums, especially the kick, but syncopated in Afro Latin dance fashion. In the second bar of the pattern, towards the end, the bass notes jump upward and tumble back down in a way that leads us back to the strong on the beat bass pattern. The beat builds itself up in layers, adding congas, muted guitar and a rising sound, along with what sounds like some chopped up vocal parts from Phonte.

After the beat is established, Phonte’s smooth, melodius multi tracked vocals come in singing “Flying High.” The groove is sweetened underneath his singing, with Rhodes tones, and rhythmic synth parts sequenced to provide backing rhythm. When Phonte says “Lets Ride”, they give you another harmonized vocal to the lyric, “Baby don’t look back/cause we can’t turn around.” Lead synthesizer lines are added. The synth parts are constantly changing and adding nuance, just as Stevie Wonder did in his 1970s classics. These parts add greatly to Phonte’s dulcet low mid range singing.

Around 2:30 the beat changes up, changing key and somehow intensifying an already intense groove, adding the vocals of Gwen Bunn with one of the catchiest lyrics on the whole album, “If you wont stop/then I won’t stop/Baby lets make a way/If you hold on I wont let go/cause baby you saved the day.” Acoustic piano sounds and synthesizer lines envelop and support her vocals, with Phonte vocalizing soulful ad libs. The song grooves out from there on one of the best joyful funky dance climaxes I’ve heard in a LONG time. The vocals and music just keep building intensity on a groove that sounds like it could go on and on and on.

I must admit, certain aspects of Stevie Wonder’s ’70s style I never even thought about being replicable. The care and creativity he put to his synth lines in particular, which was as much a matter of necessity as creativity, seemed too tedious for musicians to match today. So of course I’m thrilled when I hear a “Ghetto Woman”, a “Freesia, and a “Cant Turn Around.” “Cant Turn Around” is a song that has it all, exciting Afro Latin rhythm, extended dance structure, well arranged male and female vocals, and an insane amount of TEXTURE, an incredible arrangement of keyboards and other instruments that enables the listener to visualize the music. In short, the “Love in Flying Colors” the album promises. As Stevie himself wraps up his tour performing one of the greatest albums of all time, “Songs in the Key of Life”, I have to give the highest props to Nicolay, Phonte, Zo and the rest of The Foreign Exchange for using the synth based style that Stevie helped introduced and making their own thing out of it. Stevie himself moved on to other styles, but as any great artist his ouvere is full of sound that can be taken up by other creators to give their expressions of love color.

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Filed under 1970's, Brazil, Jazz-Funk, Music Reviewing, Stevie Wonder, The Foreign Exchange

Andre’s Amazon Archive for March 29th,2014: The Foreign Exchange ‘Love In Flying Colors’

Love In Flying Colors

Just 24 hours prior to writing this review, a friend of mine named Thomas Carley recommended I seek out the latest release from The Foreign Exchange. Came into streaming some of their songs without knowing anything about the band members or their histories. Even now I still know very little. All I do know of them comes from another friend Henrique. He informed me that the bands founder Phonte was apparently a member of a group called Little Brother-a hip-hop group hailing from Durham,North Carolina. Knowing how hip-hop groups often spin off into completely alternate musical projects such as this,none of that information surprises me one bit. What did surprise me was how they musically presented themselves in the accompanying CD booklet. Some of the music of course is supplied by keyboardist/multi instrumentalist Nicolay. But this album also features,and credits with a great deal of enthusiasm,their 19 piece string section as well as it’s arrangers and conductors. That level of respect for the ethic of cinematic music production correctly led me to believe I would be in for a real treat with this album.

“If I Knew Then” opens the album with a wonderfully expansive funk/jazz fusion number-with melodies and rhythms elevating right up there with the many classics of the late 1970’s end of that genre. “Right After Midnight” continues on with a powerful synthesizer boogie funk number. This returns to even greater effect on “On A Day Like Today”-a number with enough early 80’s post disco rhythm box/electronic invention and song craft to make it a potentially enormous hit somewhere even today. The more acoustically textured guitar led jazz-pop of “Better” is equally wonderful-especially Phonte’s obviously growing vocal turns. Only wild card is a somewhat foul mouthed rap insert from him that,while delivering what turns out to be a good message,is more than a little out of place. “Listen To The Rain” returns to that flavor with a full vocal take with no rap. “Call It Home” brings a drum-n-bass rhythm flavor to this jazzy funk compositional attitude whereas the house fusion of “The Moment” recalls Incognito to some degree.

“Can’t Turn Around” returns to the expansive 70’s fusion-funk take and “Dreams Are Made For Two” returns to the drum machine led boogie funk before blending the two seamlessly for the closing “When I Feel Love” which,through that hybrid sounds close as this album comes to a modern hip-hop based funk-pop production. This album actually succeeds on every level it’s creators intended it to. The harmonically rich female vocals of Carmen Rodgers,Shana Tucker,Gwen Bunn,Carlitta Durand and Jeane Jolly combine with Phonte’s creamy delivery for a very meaningful and poetic combination of instrumentation and lyricism. The two rap inserts are both well harmonized from the music and are at least from within,which is refreshing in the tail end of the guest rapper age. The way the albums themes are presented are very much in tune with something of a cornucopia of the tail end of the funk era-the stylings from roughly 1977 through 1983 coming into full flower here. The Foreign Exchange are not new and are apparently a live act of high quality. Personally I’d say if this is the direction Phonte is taking them? I’d keep going for it if I were him.

Originally Written On September 29th,2013

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Filed under 1970's,, Funk, Janelle Monae, Jazz, Late 70's Funk, Phonte, The Foreign Exchange