Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

1 Comment

Filed under 1980's, 1984, Kashif, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized

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.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Prince, Uncategorized

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!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

1 Comment

Filed under 2000s, 2005, Chuck D, conscious rap, Hip-Hop, Public Enemy, rap, Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Music 4 the Nx 1, Andresmusctalk Edition II: “Famous” by the Internet

I was introduced to the music of L.A based band The Internet by my good friend and musical associate Andre Grindle, when he wrote about their Nu-Funk banger “Dontcha”, produced by Chad Hugo of The Neptunes. That song is a funky tune that struck me for it’s fresh takes on “I Need a Freak” by Sexual Harrasment and “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave, melded with a dry, Neo-Soul influenced studio sound, prominent phat drums, and singer Syd the Kid’s sensually soulful vocals. There was something about this combination of regular looking Black kids playing instrumental, Hip Hop inflected modern R&B Funk that activated my hope genes. And I’m not the only one, as their music became a favorite of most of my music loving friends, without any prior discussion among us about the bands dopeness. One of my favorite music podcasts, “The Music Snobs”, actually recorded an episode with the conversation starter of a theme, “Is the group The Internet the future of R&B?” As the band represents for me a package of good instrumental Funky R&B, with a dynamically modern, relate able and up to date image, with a slyly charismatic front in Syd the Kid, who breaks new ground with her boyish stud vibe. It’s not enough for a would be paradigm shifting Black band to simply play instruments, they must also make those instruments relate able to a young public nourished on drum machines and samplers, beyond the traditional instrumental mainstays of the church and school band room. Today’s Funk feature, “Famous”, is an uptempo stepper released as a digital bonus to their 2015 album, “Ego Death.”

“Famous” wastes no time jumping on the One, starting off with a lead in snare fill from the drummer, setting off the groove at a brisk tempo. The groove has an uptempo Afro-Latin syncopated funk feel, executed as crisply as a funky song from Earth, Wind & Fire, Barry White, M.J, or Sade. The bass line’s broken up syncopated beats combine to create a funky, quick, short and simple pattern. This bass pattern leaves space for the funky, low rhythm guitar part, which goes from single line to emphasizing the holes in the groove with chopping guitar chords. The drum part is recorded in the bands trademark crisp drum style! with. Sizzling hi hats and an anticipatory kick drum. Every fourth bar the instruments stop the groove a fraction of a beat early, creating a bouncy, stop/start groove.

At the chorus, the chords are extended out, the bass has more room to play notes, and the guitar strumming becomes more prominent, as the vocals are enhanced by a multi tracked choir of Syd the Kid’s. Syd flips the script with her lyrics on this one, making the traditional, “I can make you famous”, casting couch romantic jive from a female stud’s perspective. Syd sings “You have something special/I can tell just by the way you dance.” “if you knew girl/the things that I could do for your career.” The whole band punches out a James Brown horn like band “stab” to move from the chorus to the next verse, which is enriched by Fender Rhodes sustained chording. The music grows in nuance, as the guitar adds wahw ah slides up the neck to accentuate the holes in the groove. The song also goes into a slow/rubato/free time breakdown before kicking the groove back into high gear, with the rhythm guitar and drummer in particular showing up to show out.

What I appreciate so much about this joint is the usage of traditional groove band techniques in a modern context. Even a tremendously funky groove like “Uptown Funk” sounds like a “track”. In this song, The Internet steps toward mastering the Funk band ability to create a wall of sound with limited musicians, in this case, 5. The way the drummer kicks it off at the top, then goes to the ride cymbal to give the chorus a different texture, the contrast in bass feels on the verse and chorus, the ratcheting up of guitar activity as the band progresses, the horn stabs that spee rate the chorus from the following verses, the slowing down of the song and picking it back up to end with energy; all musical techniques of a tight, well rehearsed, BAND. They ain’t trying to emulate drum machines or sequenced loops on this one, they’re giving you a sound only a well rehearsed band can give you. And Syd puts a new sincerity to the line, “I can make you famous.” It all adds upto The internet taking this live band thing very seriously!,

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Music 4 the Next One/Andresmusictalk I: “Virtual Chocolate Cherry” by Wallace Roney

Well, as Bootsy Collins famously (and funkily) once sang, “I just can’t stay away!” I’ve been graciously invited back to Andresmusictalk to share some of my new funk music articles I’ve been doing on my own site http://www.riquespeaks.wordpress.com. I’m excited about this regular feature which will appear from here on out on Sunday’s! For my first article, I’m sharing a song by Wallace Roney that managed to mix the musics of both Miles Davis and Prince! A fine tribute to two of my favorite artists who are both now gone!

 


The only way I’ve been able to really come to grips with Prince’s passing has been through the artistic medium he mastered the most during his lifetime, music. Today’s “Music for the NEXT One selection, “Virtual Choclate Cherry” has several layers of musical and personal associations with Prince’s life and music. Wallace Roney is one of the “Young Lions” of Jazz who appeared on the scene in the 1980s. Unlike Wynton Marsalis, who although greatly influenced by Miles’ second Great Quintet, allowed himself to be positioned in the media as a sort of Anti Miles Davis, Wallace Roney embraced the broad, “Social Music” concept of post “In a Silent Way” Miles. He did this with a tone that was so Miles influenced that the members of the second Great Quintet, with all the original members save Miles himself, used him to take Miles place when they staged a reunion tour during the ’80s. Roney is also reputed to be one of Miles few trumpet students, and he supported Miles at the 1991 Montreaux Jazz Festival, with Quincy jones conducting Gil Evans classic arrangements from his collaborations with Miles. Of course, Miles and Prince were mutual fans of each other’s work as well as their mutual Gemini complexities. One of my big musical “what ifs” is imagining how the music would have sounded if those two Giants were able to record more. There are a few examples of their collaborations, but today’s song, “Virtual Chocolate Cherry” by Wallace Roney, might be the best example I’ve yet heard of a Miles musical attitude in a Prince type of musical environment. Roney takes Prince’s classic from the “1999” album, “D.M.S.R” and keeps the party going with room for the musicians to solo, and a fascinating new mix of synthesized pop and acoustic jazz textures.

The song begins at the beginning with the 8 note funky synth riff from “D.M.S.R”, played on a synth, sitting right on top of Lenny White’s drums. White’s drums have his classic, full, wide marching jazz sound, playing a funky, laid back variation of Prince’s original Linn Drum beat. In the 4th bar the acoustic bass comes in, and it has the freedom to improvise different funky lines as the electric piano plays a bluesy sounding riff. There is an electric wave sound in the background most likely added by co-producer Kareiem Riggens. At this point in my first hearing of the song I knew I was hearing “D.M.S.R” but I didn’t know how far Roney and company would go.

When the five note “D.M.S.R” blues riff comes in (DA-Da-DAAAH-DADA) you realize they’re going all out into full Purple mode! The synth hits with Mineapolis sound gospel chords as the acoustic bass begins to play Prince’s classic line. The Acoustic piano of Geri Allen takes over the playing of the introductory line played on synth. Wallace Roney comes in playing his variation of Prince’s vocal melody from the song, and he Tounges his trumpet very aggressively, spitting out staccato, funky notes, with the same type of bluesy tail off that was a trademark of the Miles Davis sound. Underneath Roney’s melody, Lenny White plays funky drum rolls, which he builds up to crescendo’s that pop right along with the synthesizers at the end holes in Roney’s melodic phrases (Wear lingerie to the restaurant!!!)

About 1:33 in, a very Minneapolis sounding keyboard riff comes in that moves the song through several keys, supported by Whites drums. This is the setup for the instrumental solo section of the song, which is still very well arranged through Roney’s solo. The first time around it serves as a cue for Roney to play the melody from the top again. The second time it appears it serves as a bridge to a serious minor key groove, which White begins by playing a James Brown style stop and start funk beat while the piano plays some dark sounding, ominous phrases. This serves as the launch pad for Roney to play some very Miles style things, one moment he’s playing a well shaped phrase and leaving space between it, the next he’s soaring like Miles in the ’60s and tumbling back down the horn. What makes it unique is he goes from ’60s Miles to playing things more reminiscent of an ’80s album like “Star People.” The sax and keyboards come in and play a unison line taken from Miles Davis song “Star on Cicely.” As the sax solo plays the piano stabs out well stated chords.

After the sax solo, a Fender Rhodes solo is introduced, quite tellingly it’s not the lush Rhodes sound we know and love, but the brittle, time heavy Rhodes sound from Miles recordings with Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea in the ’60s. After that piano comes in and plays a groove supported by synth. The Mineapolis key changes again bring us right back to the top, with Roney playing the “Dance Music Sex Romance” melody, the band laying down some calamitous jazz funk, and trumpet and tenor playing a duet on the way out that Roney leaves with an abrupt trumpet call, leaving it to the Tenor man to play us on out.

I love “Virtual Chocolate Cherry” because it realizes in a musical sense, the deep love and respect Miles Davis had for the music of Prince. It Los gives us a taste of how the ’80s could have sounded if the soul jazz musicians like Jimmy Smith, Lou Donaldson, and Jimmy McGriff could have gotten their hands on Prince’s music and created true fusions of electronics and acoustics in line with their ’60s records. The mixture of Prince’s composition and arrangement, Roney’s rearrangement to fit a jazz style, and Miles way of musical thinking, trumpet sound (through Roney), and even some phrases and instrumental textures from “Star People” and “Bitches Brew” make for an incredible, never heard before musical combination. And a good way to console ourselves in this time of a Prince’s passing and “Miles Ahead” in the theaters, thanks to musicians like Wallace Roney and his band, Jazz, Miles Davis music, and the music of Prince will live on!!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Countdown (Captain Fingers)” by Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour is an excellent example of a musician who functioned equally as strong as both a session player and as a soloist. The LA guitar maestro began his session career in in 1968 playing on a Mama’s & The Papa’s section at age 16. His dexterous,often fluttering sound earned him the name Captain Fingers by the early 70’s. He continued to do session work for artists such as George Duke before launching his solo career in 1976. For the next four or five years, he continued with his session work (most popularly for Pink Floyd for their album The Wall) and releasing solo records in the Brazilian flavored jazz-funk vein.

In 1981 Ritenour released his album Rit,which added a strong pop focus and vocals than even before. The song “Is It You?”,with singer Eric Tagg,was actually part of the first rotation of music videos to be aired on the then very new MTV. Of course with other session greats who enjoyed popular acclaim such as Greg Phillinganes,Jeff Porcoro and the late Louis Johnson the album represented a turning point in the turning point from jazz-funk into what would become known as smooth jazz. One of its most defining and distinctive songs to me on the album is “Countdown (Captain Fingers)”.

A round synth riser opens the song. This segues directly into the songs intro-which also acts as its bridge. This finds Ritenour playing a bassy chugging rhythm guitar with flourishes of a higher pitched melodic line along with think slap bass lines. Combined with percussive drumming it has a strong Brazilian flavor. On the choruses,the synths play an ascending melody with a Vocorder-ized vocal chorus as the bassy chugging continues. After a few bars of this chorus/refrain exchange,the album outro’s on a melodically virtuosic duet between Ritenour’s guitar sustains and the synthesizers before it fades out.

Each time I hear “Countdown (Captain Fingers)”,it becomes apparent what an ingenious song this actually is. Its Afro Brazilian rhythmic and melodic flavor is seamlessly connected to the West Coast sophistfunk/jazz-pop vibe of the songs main melodic theme.  Especially fitting is the outro where the music’s general volume lowers and the wooden percussion clavs become the main rhythm element of the song. In terms of almost flawlessly blending Brazilian fusion,jazz funk and West Coast pop elements this jam almost epitomizes the general American musical atmosphere of the early 80’s.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized