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Bobby Taylor 1934-2017: An Understanding Of A Major Motown Jelly Maker

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Bobby Taylor epitomizes what a phrase Henrique Hopkins told me several years ago. That in terms of making a difference in life, there are tree shakers and there are jelly makers. To extend the metaphor, DC native Bobby Taylor didn’t shake many trees save for the hit “Does Your Mama Know About Me”. And I myself only found out about him as a teenage watching a VHS copy of  the 1988 Showtime documentary called Michael Jackson: The Legend Continues. It was MJ’s brother Marlon who mentioned Bobby Taylor’s place in his history as the man who brought the Jackson 5 to Motown.

Taylor began his singing career in NYC-with a doo-wop group whose other members later joined the Teenagers and the Imperials. It was journey from groups in Ohio,San Francisco that led to him migrating to Canada and forming a multi racial band called the Calgary Shades. During this time, he had been in a band with a man who’d later become the drummer for Three Dog Night.  As for the Calgary Shades? The name came from the multi racial nature of their members. One of them was a young Tommy Chong, who would of course later go onto a career in comedy with Cheech Marin.

It was Supreme’s Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard who alerted Berry Gordy to the newly rechristened Bobby Taylor & The Vancouver’s after seeing them live. They had a live repertoire of mostly Motown covers. Gordy signed them to the self named imprint of Motown.  The Vancouver’s eventually broke apart due to a disagreement with Johnny Bristol and their headliner Chris Clark, who fired a couple members of the bands for missing a big whilst trying to obtain green cards. But they did record one self titled album on Gordy before this occurred.

Taylor’s history with the Jackson 5 is another story. In 1968, the Jackson brothers opened for the Vancouver’s at Chicago’s Regal Theater. Taylor was so impressed, he brought them to Detroit to audition for Suzanne De Passe and in turn Berry Gordy. The band were signed to Motown in a years time. Taylor was their first producer. He was involved in producing tracks for their debut album. Including an 11 year old Michael’s show stopping version of “Who’s Lovin’ You”. His emphasis was on classic soul cover songs-from within and without Motown.

What happened was that the J5’s debut was called Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5. She was even credited as discovering them by Ed Sullivan on their first appearance on his iconic variety show. As Motown began moving its operations to the West Coast, Gordy didn’t give any credit to Taylor’s earlier work with the Jackson’s. While he did work with them a bit in LA on their second album ABC, Gordy along with Fonce Mizell and the late Deke Richards took on writing and producing for them. Taylor’s solo career on the labels VIP imprint went nowhere. He was dropped from the label and faded into obscurity.

Despite being something of the poster man for Motown’s lack of support for its behind the scenes people during its move from Detroit to LA, Bobby Taylor’s place in the labels late 60’s history remains carved in stone. He died of cancer on July 22nd of this year in Hong Kong. But bringing in what became the last of Motown’s classic groups in the Jackson 5 was no small feat. He even made some of the most insightful commentary on MJ on the documentary Michael Jackson: The Life Of An Icon.  So while belatedly so, wanted to remember Bobby Taylor for the great work he did in Motown’s peak.

 

 

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Kate Bush & 35 Years Of ‘The Dreaming’

Kate Bush’s 1982 album The Dreaming will be coming up to its 35th anniversary this coming September 13th. For years,I personally knew her only for her collaboration with Peter Gabriel. But none of her own music. It was from a YouTube anthology series Oddity Archive,hosted and created by my Facebook friend Ben Minnotte,did he process his love of the music of Kate Bush. So I sought out an album mentioned in one of his videos called Never For Ever. Interestingly enough, obtained The Dreaming for free in a CD grab bag I purchased earlier. Here is an Amazon.com review I wrote about it four years ago.


During a period where many of the record companies were desperately pleading with musical artists not to release any non commercial material? The age old plea from the artists themselves came into play: how to be creative and commercial at the same time. That wasn’t really a concern for Kate Bush.

Her first three albums tended to be singer-songwriter oriented as their core was focused on the material. With each release however her arrangements become far broader and more dynamic. So for her fourth album in 1982? She just flew with her own creative heart. “Sat On Your Lap”,”Pull The Pin”,”Leave It Open” and the title song, interestingly enough a single,are all built around percussively gated drumming and a number of digitally derived,synthesized effects creating vast seas of different tonal melodies.

Often times Aboriginal Australian and African rhythms come into play on the refrains of these songs as well. “There Goes A Tenner” and “Suspended In A Gaffe” are far closer to the piano based musical hall oriented uptempo 60’s type Brit-pop sound similar to her earlier music. “Night Of The Swallow”,”All Of Love” and “Houdini” all start out slower,piano based ballads before building into more stripped down rhythm intensity. “Get Out Of My House” is full of emotional fire-with an extremely percussive set of poly-rhythms.

It would seem that when this album first came out? It wasn’t exactly very well received. On the other hand later Bjork,an artist who is very clearly influenced by Kate Bush’s musical approach from even my under-trained ears,cited this as a favorite of her albums for her. Of course OutKast’s Big Boi also cited this album as a favorite. And listening to this album its easy to see how that interest is far from merely generational.

With today’s emphasis on pan ethnic rhythm oriented trip/trance-hop and different cinematic electronica/hip-hop hybrids? All of a sudden music such as what Kate Bush did,and wasn’t fully understood for in it’s time,suddenly made a lot of sense. Yet another example of how artists are often a bit creatively ahead of the listener.

So perhaps the pop/rock audience of the early 80’s weren’t sure what to make of these rhythmically and harmonically complex songs that populate the majority of this album. But another generation of musicians,as somewhat disconnected from the side of musical culture to which Kate Bush might’ve come from,heard something in what she did here that they could swing their own way. And in the end,that only makes this album all the more wonderful in terms of standing on its own merits.


With The Dreaming, Kate Bush brought in the then very new Fairlight CMI synthesizer computer to help her with this self produced album. One that took her original musical approach into the expansive world of world fusion. As well as accompanying musical tribalism. With one of its songs “Sat In Your Lap” originally inspired by Bush having attending a Stevie Wonder concert, The Dreaming stands as an example of an album that was (to some degree) an unexplored direction for early electronic sampling on a rhythmic level in what could be described as an early 80’s proto alternative album.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Shakey Ground” as performed by Phoebe Snow

Phoebe Snow is a native New Yorker who went from an artistic family who raised her in Teaneck, New Jersey to her college years of gigging from one Greenwich Village nightclub to another. She released her self titled debut album in 1974-having her biggest hit with “Poetry Man”. Her sound was somewhat unique-a mix of folk,rock,funk,soul and blues that suited her distinctive,bluesy growl that could also spread across several octaves. Her decision to give up music to care for her child born with severe brain damage halted her career after the early 80’s. But she never totally disappeared.

Her selfless parenting didn’t stop Snow (born Phoebe Taub) from performing the theme song for the first season of the sitcom A Different World. And released a few more studio albums before her death of a cerebral hemorrhage in 2011. Her third album It Looks Like Snow was her second for Columbia Records. On it she interpreted a song that was one of the last major Temptations hits before leaving Motown. It was co-written by P-Funk’s Eddie Hazel along with Jeffrey Bowen. Its an amazing groove for sure. But in 1976 for her third album, Phoebe Snow offered us her own take on “Shakey Ground”.

The hard groove wah wah guitar riff and metronomic drum count in begin the song as on the original. Yet the straight up,acoustically textured blues guitar riffing before the main groove starts adds a totally different flavor to it all. After all of this, there is the layers of guitar: rhythm and wah wah along with an accenting Clavinet. And of course the horns playing the changes. On the instrumental bridge, the bluesy guitar from the intro (likely played by Snow herself) takes a full on solo. That’s before Snow’s vocals take the chorus on an extended musical journey before it fades out.

There’s not much point in me comparing Phoebe Snow and The Tempt’s versions of “Shakey Ground”. Each are hard funk monster jams in their own right. Its the little things that really make the difference on Snow’s. Her super bluesy guitar riffs and solos give it a slightly more old timey flavor. And her jazzy,growling and sometimes unpredictable vocals give the song an emotional vibe on par with the strongest end of the mid 70’s female perspective. When thinking of what would’ve been Snow’s 67th birthday, this song somehow seemed exactly the right one to overview from a funk/soul perspective.

 

 

 

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Dystopian Dance Party presents Jheri Curl June: Stevie Wonder’s “Love Light in Flight”

It’s a well-known fact that most white music critics don’t “get” ’80s Stevie Wonder. And for a long time, I was no exception: I took as gospel the truism that it was all downhill for Stevie after Hotter Than July, and I levied what I considered to be the appropriate amount of scorn on his material from the era. You know that scene in High Fidelity where Barry throws the guy out of the store because he wants to buy “I Just Called to Say I Love You?” That was basically me.

But with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes a less snobby attitude toward popular culture. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” But I’m not too proud to say that I love another song from Wonder’s much-reviled 1984 soundtrack to The Woman in Red, “Love Light in Flight”–how could any self-respecting Jheri Curl fan not? Like another song I wrote about for Jheri Curl June this year–“Ooh Love” by Kashif–it’s a stellar example of a new subgenre I pulled out of my ass called “sophisticurl”: you can picture it being played at a yacht party, with discreetly jheri-curled attendees wearing Coogi sweaters and clinking their champagne glasses. It’s genteel, but indelibly funky: a vibe that Stevie Wonder nailed effortlessly in his middle years. And it doesn’t even require an appreciation of poorly-aged Gene Wilder comedies to enjoy!

As I explained back at the beginning of the month, I’ll be posting highlights from my blog Dystopian Dance Party’s annual celebration of ’80s R&B, Jheri Curl June, every Saturday this month (so, one more next week!). For more, you can visit Dystopian Dance Party every weekday.

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Prince-One Year Later: “She Spoke 2 Me” (1991)

Prince developed a carefully crafted persona as a man of mystery. That extended far into his music as well. If one looks at any Prince based website today, he seems to have revealed uneven information on his recording sessions: when he made what and who played with him if applicable. What is well established is that he’d recorded dozens of songs for each album,as many artists actually do. And siphon off the cream of that crop for the album in question. This is a likely case involving a song I’ve enjoyed by him since hearing it during the mid 90’s.

On the soundtrack for the Spike Lee Joint Girl 6,one song that every single member of my family fell in love with was “She Spoke 2 Me”. It was one of two unreleased songs (including a seemingly new title song) Prince provided for the film. A few years later,Warner Bros released a collection of Prince music recorded in the early 90’s called The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale. This included an extended version of “She Spoke 2 Me”,apparently recorded with the original NPG lineup in late 1991 according to PrinceVault.com. And that’s the version of this song I’m reviewing today.

A rumbling bass and drum begins the song,before it all settles into the musical statement of the chorus. This brings in a sizzling jazz-funk styled drum break with Prince playing a bluesy 7 note ascending rhythm guitar part-with the NPG horns responding with an instrumental version of the vocal hook. The refrain has more sustained muted trumpets and a slightly higher chord progression. After several rounds of this,the last 3-4 minutes of the song go from a swinging big band jazz chart with a break for a free jazz horn freak out. The main melody of the song returns as it all fades out.

Especially as an extended song,”She Spoke 2 Me” is one of my favorite Prince songs of the 90’s period. It really showcases Prince actually being in a very collaborative state with the NPG. Overall,its a slinky nigh club friendly jazzy funk groove with a totally live band flavor. This comes to light especially well on the swinging final part. Just Kathy Jensen and Brian Gallagher’s avant garde “sax attack” on it says it all for this songs power. The NPG have often been described as the best band Prince ever assembled. And this song is a very strong contender to prove that position as having merit.

 

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Anatomy of the Groove: “Long Come Tutu” by George Benson & Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau and George Benson’s 2006 album “Givin It Up” was one of the most common sense musical collaborations I have enjoyed since I’ve been a fan of music. The two singer/musicians existed in their own rarefied air of international jazz vocalist pop stardom. Through their successful projects they brought the vocalese innovations of King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks and the other great jazz singers to the masses mixed in with the genre’s of funk, soul, R&B, and slick adult contemporary pop. The passing earlier this week of the fantastic Mr. Jarreau is a great time to look back on this collaboration which is now going on 11 years old though their funky jam, “Long Come Tutu”, which features the two greats riffing on a great funky jazz song by another legend who is long gone now, the great Miles Davis.

“Along Come Tutu” is special because not only does it feature Al Jarreau’s vocals, and lyrics he wrote to Miles Davis track “Tutu”, it also features George Benson’s guitar (which was also an element on “Paraphanelia” from the Davis album “Miles in the Sky). The additional treats are jazz legend and Miles Davis alum Herbie Hancock on keyboards, and the songs composer and late era Miles Davis producer Marcus Miller on bass! The stage is set for a heavy tribute to Miles and the fusion side of jazz which was his last major musical innovation. The song begins with a soulful bass riff from Miller that sets up a vocal bass riff from Al Jarreau. Jarreau goes into his lyric, “Know what makes me smile?/is kicking this groove for Miles/it always makes me grin/no matter what mood I’m in.” As he sings his lyrics, Miller fils in the spaces after his vocals, in the vein of a guitar player, with fluid bass licks that wouldn’t have been expected from bass guitar before bassists like Miller and Jaco Pastorious took the scene. The groove kicks in with some snare hits from Marcus White. The famous Tutu bassline comes in, which Marcus has said was inspired by the dark, brooding Miles Davis “Prince of Darkness” persona. But also in Marcus patented style, he also plays another bassline on top of that which riffs in that guitar/fill in style. After that Hancock begins to play the beautiful “Tutu” harmonies on keyboard, with that famous 1980s vocal sample tone, on the top of which Al Jarreau adds his vocals, which in the melody he sings, “A long, long time/we were waiting.” Al sings right along with the songs musical climax, after which George Benson plays his guitar during the break, to which he also adds his patented guitar playing/scat combo. Benson’s guitar riffs are interspersed with Al Jarreau’s hook, “Long Came Tu-Tu!”, after which Benson gets to do more guitar scat. The next go round Benson gets a chance to sing the lyric while also accompanying himself on guitar. After which Herbie Hancock gets a chance to solo with an acoustic piano tone. Herbie starts his solo playing trilling bluesy licks down the keyboard, then plays some soft licks that leave plenty of space, while starting to harmonize the melody and ending with silence. After which George Benson plays a guitar solo, and what’s interesting is Marcus Miller adds a different section and groove behind his solo that extends on the arrangement from the original Tutu. And its still wonderful after all these years to hear George Benson solo with Herbie Hancock’s wonderful comping behind it. Even Al Jarreau has to laugh, but he also has the last laugh because after Benson solo’s he takes a fine vocalese solo himself. On the next solo break, Mr. Hancock gets a chance to play again, and this time he plays with much more force while also exploring his patented colors, behind which both Miller and Benson add tasteful riffs. After Hancock’s solo, the song goes back to the top, with Jarreau singing and Benson comping, followed by a restating of the stop time chorus, with Jarreau singing “Along come TU-TU!” with George Benson riffing and scatting to the songs end.

“Along Come Tutu” is a treat for me on several levels. For one I was always a fan of the song “Tutu” and it was amazing to me that a musician like Miles Davis could release something so funky and fresh in the twilight of his career. Of course he was able to do that by working with musicians like the song’s composer, Marcus Miller, who had new and fresh ideas yet also great respect for Miles. Miller is here, along with Hancock, Benson, and Al Jarreau. Together these four form a veritable Mt. Rushmore of jazz trained musicians with funky soulful chops who have been major players in the pop field. “Along Come Tutu” is a song that proves to be a fine vehicle for the talents of these master musicians. Quite excitingly they add “Tutu” to the jazz song book alongside other Miles tunes such as “Four”, with it’s famous lyric penned by Jon Hendricks that they also covered on “Givin’ It Up.”  And it’s a fine tribute to Al Jarreau’s legacy that he stands alongside George Benson and Herbie Hancock on this song and solo’s with as much verve, confidence and musicality as they do on their instruments. And that is how I will always remember him, as a singer with a fine instrument that he always explored in the most dynamic of fashions!

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Music 4 the Nxt 1, Andresmusictalk III: “March of the Panther” by Mongo Santamaria

 

Mongo Santamaria is the one of the best artists to talk about during Black History Month because the cultural forces behind his music cover such a large part of the African diaspora. A native of pre Revolutionary Cuba, he learned music in his community based on rhythms that had come directly from Africa. It was said one of his grandfathers had in fact been a Yoruba priest. His composition, “Afro Blue”, was considered to be the first jazz standard based on an African “3 over 2” rhythm, and was popularized by John Coltrane. In the ’60s he moved from a straight Afro Latin jazz to a Boogaloo based melange of Afro Latin rhythms interlaid with the popular sounds of Soul and Funk. One album I grew up with during that period was an album he did called “Soul Bag”, that featured an incredible version of “Cold Sweat.” Today’s Black History Month special is a song from his 1970 LP, “Mongo 70”, entitled “March of the Panther.” This song was composed by guitarist Sonny Henry, who was the composer of Carlos Santana’s breakthrough hit, “Evil Ways”, which he originally recorded with Willie Bobo. “March of the Panther” is a funky, strident, striving number with the electric energy of the Black Panther Party in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The song begins with an old school military march theme, featuring snare drum, tuba, flutes and horns playing in a style straight out of the Revolutionary War period. The allusion is very clear as the song transitions from music for that old school revolutionary army to a groove for the new school revolutionary army, The Black Panther Party, as the drummer plays a snare fill that leads to the groove. Bass Player John Hart plays a funky two note baseline supported by two pickup notes in the classic late ’60s, early ’70s style. There is a call and response relationship between the bass line and the electric piano, as the piano plays a syncopated rhythm chord figure after the bass plays its eighth notes. The drums play two strong kick drum notes in harmony with the bass but besides the cracking snare drum hits the drums are partially obscured by Mongo’s powerful African percussive figures, which are both pattern setting but also communicate in an improvisational way. These provide the setting for the rousing horn fanfare, which is a national anthem type melody that plays long, sustained notes, in the style of marching/military music, but also reminiscent of horn sections in African and Afro Latin bands, playing horn lines in unison. The bass and horn melody goes between two chords, as the bass line walks down to second chord sequence and the horns follow. After playing through that sequence the arrangement goes to a change part where the whole arrangement seems to come together in unity for the chorus, which is then followed by another vamp/statement of the main melody, with more attention paid to the trumpets, followed by another chorus that is again, heavier on the top end of the horns. After that a tenor sax solo is introduced, under which the bass player is given more freedom to improvise funky lines that support the solo. After the solo ends, Mongo’s conga playing becomes more pronounced, as he varies his rhythm and begins to take more of a leadership role, introducing the sections of the song with his drum flurries. The song grooves on and fades out, shifting back to a straight military march at the end.

“March of the Panther” took up the call that was made during the 1960s for new forms of Black art that would be the new symbols of the New Black Nation. In this case, it envisions itself as the theme for The Black Panther Party as the military arm of that nation. Mongo always foregrounded African/Black identity in his music, naming songs after Yoruba Gods and Black figures such as Malcom X. It was amazing for me to discover this funky song that took the idea of a military march and remade it for the age of The Panthers. The song itself is a good example of uptempo, super rhythmic, boogaloo inspired early 70s funk, in fact it would work very well over a montage movie scene about The Panthers or activists set in that time period. It was said that Herbie Hancock played his classic “Watermelon Man” for Mongo after Mongo had said he couldn’t see the connection between Afro Cuban and Afro American music. Upon hearing the funky tune, Mongo immediately got excited and began playing along with it. Of course, in Mongo’s hands, “Watermelon Man” went on to become one of the biggest hits in jazz history. It was this ability to connect the African roots, modern Afro Cuban music, jazz, and the then current funk and soul vibes that gave Mongo the unique place in Black music history and Black culture that he occupies. And that is one reason, along with his excellent musicianship, that a figure like Mongo deserves more consideration when contemplating the bonds of Africans in the Americas. And “March of the Panther” stands tall as an anthem for the Party that is no longer that brings together the energy of the whole African diaspora for the long waged fight for total prosperity and liberation!

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Music 4 the Nxt 1, Andresmusictalk Special Presentation: Black History Month Music

 

Black History Month is admittedly one of those things my opinion of has vacillated on through the course of my life. When I was a young child in school I enjoyed it more than anything else in my school curriculum. I have always been the type of individual who views the acquisition of knowledge with the attitude of exploration and discovery. And Black history, both in Africa and America having the “Hidden” quality that it does, due to suppression, ignorance, arrogance the profitability of subjugation and domination. My parents always had a strong sense of Black history simply from their backgrounds, my father being born in the Depression era south and being active in the Civil Rights movement, and my mother being a Liberian with a rich understanding of both Africa and her country’s roots in being established as a haven from American slavery and white supremacy. Still, I don’t think the majority of Black parents want to overburden their children with sad and negative messages. So even with my parents having the knowledge of things that they did, some of the most substantial information would come out when they were watching and responding to news items.

I was fortunate enough to have Asian and white teachers in Oakland, California who were very responsive and understanding of the predominantly Black demographics of their school, under the guidance of Mrs. Kelly, a strong Black Principal, to inject Black and multi cultural information into the curriculum. I still remember my kindergarten Teacher Ms. Huen giving us red envelopes for Chinese New Year, which is also this month, and marks the return of my birth sign, the Rooster!

So I always enjoyed learning about Carter G Woodson, Lewis Latimer, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Phyllis Wheatley, W.E.B DuBois, Madame C.J Walker, and the numerous other luminary figures who against all odds contributed to America and kept Black people alive to get to the point we are today. Many of their inventions and discoveries proved to me a truth my father related to me from his experience down south, that a great many things were invented by very hands on Black people who were tasked with getting the work done and took it upon themselves to find an easier way to get those tasks accomplished.

Then when I grew up, in the Def Comedy Jam ’90s, I got innundated with the same jokes as everybody else, about how they “gave Black people the shortest month.” Which totally overlooks the contributions of Carter G Woodson and the fact that Black History Month is a BLACK invention. More recently the line has been “Black history is all year round”, which is one that I wholeheartedly agree with and try to practice on this blog and my other writing activities. However, just as with holidays, wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other events, there is a reason Human beings choose dates to commemorate things. There is a great power to Human ritual that we sometimes forget in our modern fragmented world, a certain purification of purpose and inspiration. And it’s in that spirit that I’m adding a supplement to “Music 4 the Nxt 1” in honor of Black history month. I will still review funky songs but the scope will expand in terms of era, genre, and locale. I will cover songs of inspiration, songs in honor of Black historical figures, and songs that were just breakthroughs or inspiring to Black people at any given point of time. These grooves will come from Reggae, Soul, Funk, Rock, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz and many other genres. I hope that my readers enjoy it and that it reminds you of the struggles, accomplishments, joys, pains and exultations of peoples of African descent and why it is critical our position continue to be strengthened for the good of all.

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Looking Back at Public Enemy’s Underrated New Whirl Odor

new-whirl-odor-cover

Next Friday marks the 30th anniversary of Yo! Bum Rush the Show, the debut album by legendary political hip-hop crew Public Enemy. I have a post planned for both Andresmusictalk and my own blog, Dystopian Dance Party, to mark the occasion; but in the meantime, I thought I’d dig up a post I wrote back in 2005 about their surprisingly good album from that year, New Whirl Odor. As I note below, 2005 was at least 10 years past what anyone would consider P.E.’s “prime”; but the fact that it still turned out to be pretty great is a testament to their continued vitality and relevance. Here’s hoping they can continue to surprise us in the next 30 years.

Public Enemy frontman Chuck D is 56 years old. That’s only two years younger than my father… my father, whose favorite band is the Traveling Wilburys. This, of course, brings up all the usual questions about relevance and staying power: questions that are perhaps even more potent when applied to a rap group who made their reputation as a thoroughly of-the-moment firebrand “CNN of the black community.” But listening to New Whirl Odor–Public Enemy’s ninth album in their almost-30-year career–and reading some of the early press reactions, I’m a lot more interested in a different question: namely, when are we going to stop demanding another Nation of Millions from Public Enemy?

After all, it’s more than evident that Chuck and company couldn’t care less about recapturing their “golden era”: if Odor is stuck in any time period, it isn’t the late ’80s or even the early ’90s, but 1994, the year PE released their hugely misunderstood fifth album, Muse Sick-N-Our Mess Age. From the punning title and hand-drawn cover art to the Bomb Squad-free, live-instrumentation arrangements, Odor is a sister album of sorts to Muse Sick–and a worthy follow-up at that. But just like that earlier album, it’s unlikely that anyone will be listening until years down the line. Put simply, this was–and remains–a different group altogether from the one that recorded “Fight the Power,” “Bring the Noise,” and “Rebel Without a Pause.” The sound is mellower, atmospheric, almost minimalist; nothing like the dense sonic barrage that peaked on 1990′s Fear of a Black Planet. There’s nothing here with quite the instantaneous impact of, say, “You’re Gonna Get Yours.” In fact, unlike that seminal 1987 cut, which literally revved to life in a blur of gunning engine and squealing tires, New Whirl Odor’s title track drops in with an insistent, low-in-the-mix beat and almost subliminal swirling keyboards. Is it classic P.E.? Hardly; no song operating on wordplay that terrible ought to be considered “classic” anything. But excitement? Is any Public Enemy track not exciting?

 

What follows, I’m happy to say, is even better. “Bring That Beat Back” is the kind of thing the S1Ws were born to step to: the sound of mainstream hip-hop being marched to the gallows. “Preachin’ to the Quiet” blends live guitar with a laid-back jazz-funk loop and some truly frenetic scratching. And “MKLVFKWR” just plain kicks ass, as musically engaging as “Welcome to the Terrordome” with none of the overly defensive, anti-Semitic bravado. The Enemy is in fine form throughout: Chuck’s voice is as hefty of timbre as ever, but delivered with a restraint that becomes him, high on confidence and only a little lower on boom. Even Professor Griff takes the mic to great effect on tracks like the ambient, reggae-flavored “Revolution” and the tense, jerky “Y’all Don’t Know.” Flav, perhaps for the best, is kept largely out of the spotlight, but provides color and support with his usual panache.

Of course there are a few missteps. “66.6 Strikes Again” needlessly rehashes the cut-and-paste radio skit of Black Planet with diminishing returns, while the abysmal “What a Fool Believes” is not only the worst Public Enemy song I’ve ever heard, but one of the worst rap songs–and probably up there on the list of worst songs in general. Harsh words, I know, but to Public Enemy’s credit, New Whirl Odor’s highs far outnumber its lows… and even the lows speak to this group’s continuing vitality, their willingness to take risks. Closing track “Superman is Black in the Building” (above) stands as a testament to this: nearly twelve minutes long and not a second wasted, it’s at once an epic recap of everything that continues to make Public Enemy great, and a bold excursion into new heights of jazz-flavored funk and soul. It’s the kind of thing that makes you think twice about writing off these hip-hop elder statesmen, even if their “glory days” have long past. Because like it or not, Public Enemy doesn’t need to make another Nation of Millions. They’ve already made their first New Whirl Odor, and that’s plenty good enough.

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Music 4 the Nx 1, Andresmusictalk III: “Diamonds” by Herb Alpert featuring Janet Jackson

 

The year 1987 is one of my favorite ones for Funk, Soul, and Hip Hop. This particular song from that year has a mighty periodic table of elements. How much funk power can be conjured up when you mix a production team from Minneapolis that was affiliated with Prince, a singing Jackson sister in the midst of her own musical coming out party, and a legendary music biz figure who’d gone from outselling the Beatles to owning the label for the aforementioned artists? The results were the hit album “Keep Your Eye on Me” and the MPLS Funk Sound classic, “Diamonds.” Herb Alpert, trumpet and flugelhorn player was the artist, as well as record company President. In fact, he would go on to sell A&M Records for $500 million in ’87, enough money to purchase a whole boat load of “Diamonds”. Maybe this song had something to do with that? Alpert already had one of the most successful careers one could imagine, outselling the Beatles with his Tijuana Brass group in the 1960s, and enjoying a super funky #1 hit with “Rise” in 1980. Alpert had also collaborated with South African great Hugh Masekela and his label was home to the musical projects of Quincy Jones, including ’70s funk band The Brothers Johnson. “Diamonds” lyrically continues on in the materialistic, no nonsense “Aint nothing going on but the rent” female attitude of much of ’80s R&B music, the perfect antidote to mens newly unfettered, post-sexual revolution, unabated horn dogishness. In it’s unique presentation of a funky trumpet player over a funky groove, it delivers on the type of sound the great Miles Davis himself seemed to be searching for in the last decade of his career, a jazz improv based trumpeter riffing over the hottest of contemporary funk grooves.

“Diamonds” starts off with a prototypical Minneapolis drum beat, featuring a heavy kick as well as a heavy snare, accented every two bars by a big hand clap on beat four that starts the beat over again for the dancers, one clap the first time, two claps the second. There is also a rhythm in the background with a prototypical ’80s feel, like somebody playing Clave’s in an echo chamber, with a three beat rhythm. After the rhythm makes our acquaintence Alpert begins to blow his horn, and he conjures up something like a mix of Bubber Miley/early Duke Ellington growling, funky down home trumpet mixed with a fragile Miles Davis tone when he plays open notes. Alpert’s playing is really funky rhythmically, supported by a sustained Rhodes patch from a digital keyboard and Jam & Lewis typical big, brassy Fairlight keyboard stabs. Underneath the groove Terry Lewis is chugging and choking and beating up his bass strings, with very few notes breaking free from his rhythmic spanking, but a serious push and pull happening on the lower level of the groove. Alpert solo’s for 16 bars and then the main theme emerges.

The main theme of the song hits with a new energy as the keyboard plays one of them ‘ol Minneapolis riffs, 4 notes that sound like the biggest notes ever due to the digital keyboard and Jam & Lewis’s masterful studio layerings. The bass throb becomes louder and more prominent, with notes actually becoming audible. Janet Jackson sings her part in a funky, strident near mono tone, which only enhances her tough, “Diamonds are a girls best friend” stance. Her story sounds like she’s talking about a rich man who has her for eye (and arm) candy because when she’s there, “It’s like I’m not there.” The story makes you think of rich, 50 something year old Herb Alpert in 1987, with the biggest artist on his label telling him about himself. The song invokes the classic Bond trope of “Diamonds are Forever” by mentioning, “I want me a token/that wont go to waste.” Janet Jacksons vocals sound harsh and somewhat disembodied, but super funky at the same time.

The distance of Janet’s vocals makes it sound all the more human when Alpert comes back on a strong open trumpet, with a much more powerful tone than the walking on eggshells growl of the opening solo. The “fellas” encourage Alpert, singing riffs right along with his solo. They really throw down on the end vamp, as Alpert spits funky licks over a more prominent and dominant Terry Lewis bass vamp. The boys are boisterous and happy at the end of the song as they call for the next tune.

“Diamonds” pairs music biz legend and record company head Herb Alpert with two musical entities from his stable at the height of their powers. It was a song that stormed all the way up the pop and R&B charts but represented a very unique approach to a hit record, taking an instrumentalist and pairing him with the hottest female vocalist of the moment on a blazing dance/Funk track. The results more than paid off for everybody involved, with this song even making some of Janet Jackson’s greatest hits compilations. The video is a lot of fun as well, with Jerome serving as aide de camp to Herb Alpert in the same way he did for Morris Day and Prince, and TK Carter making an appearance as a DJ named Bunkh. Herb Alpert is a musician who took a lot of flak in the jazz world for blowing all the way up with a musical style that was probably less than he could play, but on this song and the whole “Keep Your Eye On Me” album he showed that the Funk is one of the most liberating musical styles a musician can get their lips on.

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