The Crusaders are a huge part of the nervous system for the anatomy of the funk groove. Especially when it comes to it’s jazziest end. Now its 2016,I turn around and only one member of the original Crusaders lineup is still alive in Stix Hooper. Of course this year,there’s been so many other musicians (mostly those born in America’s “silent generation”) who’ve passed away. At the same time,its recently come to my attention that the Crusaders groove is truly immortal beyond its individual members. So in terms of profiling their songs,it seemed best to put the spotlight specifically on them.
Today,I’ll be showcasing Wayne Henderson. The Texas trombonist was a founding member of the group when the were called The Jazz Crusaders. This group were hard bop/soul jazz pioneers. And wrote some of that jazz tributary’s most defining numbers. By 1972,the band had dropped the adjective “jazz” from their name. And their concentration was squarely on the funk. In 1974 they signed to MCA. And brought in guitarist Larry Carlton as a member. One excellent example of this is the opening song off their 1974 album Southern Comfort entitled “Stomp And Buck Dance”.
This jam is one I’d describe as a superb example of unison soloing. Stix keeps the rhythm sturdy with a 6 beat funky beat accented with percussive cymbals. Wilton’s bass line and Larry’s growling guitar bursts are right there with that bottom. Joe Sample meanwhile provides ascending/descending chords with a processed Fender Rhodes piano. On the choral parts,Sample comes in with even more acoustic/electric piano parts as Wayne and Wilton come in with wonderfully harmonic sax/trumpet solos and accents. The song itself pares right down to its initial base before fading out.
Southern Comfort is a CD I picked up about twelve years ago at the now defunct Common Sense Pawn Shop. The moment my dad and I put this in the car CD player,we were both entranced in this songs thick world of funkiness. The idea of combining sharp solos with clean unison playing made “Stomp And Buck Dance” one of my very favorite Wayne Henderson compositions written for The Crusaders. All the members talents just shine like the sun on this song. And among the Crusaders many songs and albums,this one stands out as one of their finest overall funk jams.
Filed under 1974, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, piano, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, trombone, Wayne Henderson, Wilton Felder
William Emanuel “Billy” Cobham shared the same Panamanian heritage with members of the 70’s Latin-funk band Mandrill. After his family moved to New York and playing drums throughout childhood,Cobham attended the New York High School For Music And Art-after which he had a brief time in the army where he played in their band. Upon discharge, he played in Horace Silver’s band-in addition to doing sessions with Stanley Turrentine, Shirley Scott and George Benson. He was part of the original lineup of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early 1970’s before branching out into a solo career.
His solo debut Spectrum was released in 1973 while he was still in the Mahavishnu Orchestra-with band mate Jan Hammer helping out on keyboards. This album is considered a fusion classic. Though it’s funkiness comes mainly as bridges amidst elongated,speedy hard rock rhythms with elaborate improvisations. His sophomore album Crosswinds got far deeper inside the groove-especially with folks like George Duke and the Brecker brothers aboard. And it’s the closing title song that makes that point best.
Cobham set’s the groove up with a slow,funky drum with Lee Pastora providing some thick percussion accents. George Duke lays down a strong bluesy groove of his own with a loud,fuzzed out Fender Rhodes while John Williams brings in an excellent foundational bass line. The Brecker’s and trombonist Garnett Brown provide some accenting,melodic horn charts. John Abercrombie,who worked with Cobham for years,provides some brittle,scintillating hard rock guitar solos until the rhythm section and the horn section brings the entire groove to an abrupt halt.
This song is a fantastic rocking funk-played by some talented jazz players who KNEW how to play funk and do some heavy rock soloing. Though the instrumentation is quite a lot more sleek and tight on this song,the shuffling drum/percussion part and slow,bluesy melody has a similar flavor to Funkadelic’s song “Nappy Dugout” from the same general time period. It really showcases how high the then fairly new funk sound was effecting the most technically inclined of jazz/rock fusion players at the same time that genre was beginning to enter it’s own peak period of musical excellence.
Filed under 1974, Billy Cobham, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Garnett Brown, George Duke, horns, jazz funk, jazz fusion, John Abercrombie, John Williams, Lee Pastora, Michael Brecker, percussion, Randy Brecker, rock guitar, Saxophone, trombone, trumpet
Maceo Parker was a musician that I began to appreciate long before James Brown’s music actually came into my life. In the mid 90’s,Parker came to the city of Portland Maine to perform with the road band he maintained at the time. Unfortunately I was not yet 17,and he was playing in a tavern where alcoholic beverages were being served. It was actually not too long after that when my father was constantly playing the compilation set Funky Good Time by the JB’s. He also pointed out a CD to me that was simply called The JB Horns. He said that even then it was pretty rare and recommended I check out a groove on it called “Step On Your Watch”. Very happy that I took his advice.
A delayed drum beat accompanied by two rhythm guitars-one a classic JB style higher pitched one and a lower dripping one is the way the song itself begins. At the end of each rapped vocal refrain an amp’d up,bluesy guitar segues between the breaks. Each instrumental chorus of course features two sets of horn solos between Maceo,Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis. One is a very intense one,the other one has a gentler and more romantic tone about it. The vocal calls continue to keep the multiple guitars,back beat and the horn charts going on and on with a sustained level of funky intensity until the song finally fades itself out.
One of the qualities I appreciate about this song is that it presents a very professionally recorded variation on the classic James Brown funk approach. Being made around 1990,this song still has it all. The open rhythm in the beat that allows for solos to take flight, the calculated use of breaks and of course the renowned horn charts of Maceo,Fred and Pee Wee. Again it still gets to me that the music of the JB’s on their own came into my life before the music of James Brown really did. Hadn’t yet heard “Cold Sweat” all the way through at this point. So even to this day,there’s a quality about this song that really brings out the most exquisitely produced end of the JB style groove.
Maceo turned 73 yesterday. Much as I’d like not to admit it,with the recent passing of EWF’s Maurice White it feels appropriate to keep giving props up to the major instrumental icons of funk and soul while they are still living. Maceo is a musical institution who pretty much wrote the book on rhythm based funk saxophone playing. It was no easy task selecting one of the many James Brown,JB’s,Maceo & The Mack’s or Horny Horns songs that the man was involved with. The fact this one came right to mind showcases how it’s the music this man made,as opposed to enormous popular acclaim,that impacts most on the listeners funky emotions.