Category Archives: vocoder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Glad To Be Here” by Bernard Edwards

Bernard Edwards was a bassist who truly left his musical footprint in time. Even long before his best known audio footprint came along with Chic’s 1979 jam “Good Times”. This essentially showcased the exact transition from disco to hip-hop-by ‘Nard’s iconic bass line also being the basis for Sugarhill Gangs equally iconic “Rappers Delight”. Edwards style was based is economy with style,especially on his bass lines/solos on Chic hits such as “Dance,Dance,Dance”,”Everybody Dance” and of course “Good Times”. This was a major aspect in how Chic innovated their disco style through some heavy funkiness.

Some years ago,I became familiar with the first two solo albums by Chic guitarist/ songwriter /producer Nile Rodgers. I only found out that Bernard Edwards recorded a solo album in 1983 (around the time Chic ended its original run of albums)  following his death 20 years ago now of pneumonia. It was entitled Glad To Be Here. It was reissued on CD roughly around the time as they reissued Chic’s early 80’s catalog. Only recently have I began to explore the songs from by listening to them via YouTube. The tune that really epitomized the album was the closing title song.

A heavy drum kick opens the song before the Vocorder  comes in to introduce a melody. That’s when the main body of the song comes in. This consists of a tight,dripping higher pitched rhythm guitar. Edwards bass accompanies this sometimes to the letter,other times with stick slapping lines. This is accompanied by  quavering bursts of synth brass. Edwards raps seem to count down to the next section of the song. There are two instrumental bridges. One is built around a thumping synth bass solo. The other is a stiff,hiccuping higher pitched synthesizer that begins the refrain that fades out the song.

It comes as now surprise to me that,for all intents and purposes,this is still a complete Chic song. Tony Thompson provides the drums,Bernard Edwards is carrying on the bass while the guitar is from Nile Rodgers himself. The only thing it does is strip out the strings and lead/backup female vocals. So this represents Chic in its core rhythm section. And it becomes clear how funkified that sound is. This is heavy,naked electro funk. Basically what Chic might’ve sounded like going through the Minneapolis funk filter of the day. And it showcases how vital Edwards’ sound was as a part of Chic. Even on his solo material.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Bernard Edwards, Chic, drums, electro funk, Funk Bass, naked funk, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Tony Thompson, vocoder

Anatomy of THE Groove Special Presentation: “The Mood” by Kashif

It was Henrique who brought to my attention today that Kashif Saleem,born Michael Jones in NYC,passed away this last Sunday. The causes is still unknown as of now,and not that important. What does matter is that while Kashif was well known as a producer for other artists,it all stemmed from lesser sung achievements of his own. He joined the disco funk band B.T Express as a teenager for their third album Energy To Burn in 1976. He began producing for Evelyn King on her 1981 hit “I’m In Love”-beginning a long tradition of him producing funky female talent in the early 80’s. His talent went even further than that.

Alongside Stevie Wonder,Kashif is known as a synthesizer pioneer in funk/soul. He extended on Wonder’s work by creating sounds that became known as the boogie funk sound. That is mixing live rhythm sections with electronic orchestrations and melodies. He was an orphan who managed to get up of a very abusive foster family. While in primary school,he focused strongly on music. Even learning woodwind instruments-pretty rare for even multi instrumentalists. His self titled solo debut came out in 1983. The song that epitomizes his artistry on it for me is an instrumental entitled “The Mood”.

A strong,space heavy Afro Latin snare/hi hat drum starts off the song. The remainder of the song consists primarily of Kashif’s vocals and many layers of synthesizers. There’s a fluttering synth string,a wispy higher tones one in the back round and a brittle bass one accompanying the multi tracked layers of Kashif’s almost operatic,jazzy vocalese. On the refrains of the song,the melody goes into a higher key and a high funky rhythm guitar assists the melody. On the final choruses of the song,Kashif sings vocalese through a Vocoder  before the song fades out.

Kashif’s boogie funk production style is generally spare but glistening enough to appeal to 80’s soul singers. But the moment I heard this instrumental 12 years ago,it was entrancing what a sonic marvel this really is. Its basically an Afro Latin jazz/funk number produced in the more electronic boogie style-with some beautiful chordal modulations and…just a general magical quality to the synthesized sounds created. Kashif will be remembered for me as someone able to get the most warmth out of 80’s era synthesizers. And I am hoping that will continue to be his most enduring musical legacy.

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, drums, electric sitar, jazz funk, rhythm guitar, synthesizers, vocalese, vocoder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Wondering Who” by The Jacksons

Jackie Jackson,being the eldest of the Jackson’s siblings whose turning 65 today,brings to mind an important element in the Jackson family musical dynamic. With the enormous commercial success of the late Michael Jackson,it often seems that the different musical talents of the other family members are torn down in order to build up MJ’s cult of personality. Michael Jackson was a very talented performer,and one of the most rhythmic and distinctive vocalists of his era. Yet with such a musical family,his talent was made stronger (not weaker) by the unity he had with his brothers.

Born Sigmund Esco,Jackie was part of the main vocal trade-off’s between young Michael and Jermaine during the salad days of the Jackson 5. At that time he often sang high,reedy falsetto parts. When four of the brothers,including him,teamed with youngest brother Randy at Epic,the lead vocals Jackie provided to the group found him singing in his gruff,gravelly low tenor. Between the summer of 1979 and 1980,the by that time re-christened Jackson’s began work on their sixths album Triumph. Dominated vocally by Michael,the final song was a major triumph for Jackie in “Wondering Who”.

Ollie Brown’s hi hat drum kick off starts the song off along with Michael Boddicker’s melodic Vocorder line. It then kicks off into a percussive,uptempo Latin-funk rhythm with Boddicker’s brittle synthesizers and Vocorder providing equally rhythmic accompaniment. Nathan Watts’ 2 on three note bass thump and Tito Jackson’s low,fast past chicken scratch guitar lines lead into the 4/4 dance beat of the chorus-with the synthesizer’s becoming more orchestral. Tito’s bluesy guitar riff’s buffet each choral/refrain pattern. Michael and Jackie duet on the final chorus before Boddicker’s jazzy Vocorder scat fade out the song.

The first time I heard this song,it sounded as if the Jackson’s were ending their first album of the 1980’s with a nod to the future of funk. Indeed, they were. Composed wonderfully by Jackie and Randy Jackson,this song has a strong bluesy melody. Instrumentally it is extremely compelling. It’s a full on boogie/electro funk groove. And one where the synthesizers and Vocorder play the same role as the live percussion. The frenetic power of the songs music,combined with Jackie’s matured versatility as a singer,make this one of the best examples of futurist funk that ever came out of the Jackson’s camp in it’s day.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, chicken scratch guitar, elecro funk, Jackie Jackson, Michael Boddicker, Michael Jackson, Nathan East, Ollie Brown, Randy Jackson, synthesizers, The Jacksons, Tito Jackson, Uncategorized, vocoder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Bibi The Dog” by M83

Generally speaking I wouldn’t qualify myself as a “buy it for the cover” type when it comes to approach new music. But while browsing the new release rack at Bull Moose Books & Music last weekend,I came across one particular CD that did catch my eye. It featured 1980’s pop culture inspired artwork-including characters usually associated with McDonald’s. Luckily the store has a listening station where you can scan a CD and preview the contents. This doesn’t often work with new release music. But in some cases,such as this,it does. And the music was impressive enough where it caught my attention. On the other hand,I didn’t know anything about the group who made it.

M83 are actually an electronica group out of Antibes,France.It was started by singer/songwriter Anthony Gonzalez. And since than it’s membership has had a pretty consistent revolving door of personnel coming in and out. This new album of theirs I speak of is entitled Junk. It’s their seventh full length release and features guest musicians ranging from Beck Hanson to an uncredited appearance by Steve Vai. Gonzalez and M83 profile their music as celebrating the melodic and rhythmic approach of 80’s synth/electro instrumentation. The song that struck my particular musical ear the most on this overall strong album was called “Bibi The Dog”.

Starting off with a brittle 808 style drum machine stomp,the groove starts right out a stomping synth bass and wavering,orchestral lead line. By the time lead singer Mai Lan Chapiron begins rapping in French,the orchestration takes a total backseat for heavier percussive effects-including electronic ones. On the first chorus,she is singing with another vocoderized voice a very big band jazz phrased melody. On the second and third repeating of this chorus,horn charts accent this main melody. In between that,a sped up voice sings the lyric of the chorus in a Chipmunk-like tone before a chorus led by the wavering synth tones and horns lead the track to it’s sudden conclusion.

This groove is an excellent example of contemporary electro/boogie revival. It has a strong sense of song construction with a pronounced Parisian cabaret jazz flavor. Most important though is how well the musicians involved understand the importance of keeping the funk percolating within the groove. Bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen actually provides a thick, almost boppish electric bass line filled with fast paced chord fills.The horns and percussion play that vital call and response with the electronic orchestrations on this song. The strong rhythmic foundation of this electronic groove make it (to my ears anyway) one of the funkiest to emerge from this genre so far in 2016.

 

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Filed under 2016, 80's revival, Andrew Gonzalez, Boogie Funk, elecro funk, France, Funk Bass, horns, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, M83, Mai Lan Chapiron, new music, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “You Bet Your Love” by Herbie Hancock (1979)

Many jazz musicians made funk albums during the late 60’s and throughout the following decade. Being that this was a music based primarily in rhythm,starting with James Brown’s concept of his entire band becoming a drum,it was a wonderful new medium for melodic piano and horn players to improvise over. Herbie Hancock took a very different path than his ex boss in this area,with Miles Davis playing his horn primarily over funky vamps. Hancock took the time to create strong funk compositions that are today considered jazz/funk standards. And both musicians innovated enormously during this time with their approaches to the jazz/funk sub genre.

By the middle of the decade,Miles had gone into temporary retirement. And Herbie continued to forge ahead musically. His relationship with producer David Rubinson dated back to his arrival at Columbia. As the 70’s progressed, jazz/funk began to evolve towards what the band Brick would describe in song as dazz-short for a new subgenre called disco jazz. With the new four on the floor dance beats providing optimal opportunities for a composer as keen as Hancock’s,he allowed his musical imagination to take flight right across the dancefloor in the same way he had with earlier forms of funk. The result was his 1979 album Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Know and it’s opening number “You Bet Your Love”.

The drum and percussion rhythm laid is laid down the the Headhunters’ Bill Summers and Kansas City session ace James Gadson. Ray Obiedo’s rhythm guitar and Eddie Watkins’ phat slap bass introduces Hancock’s spacy synth orchestrations. His lead vocals on vocoder are introduced by a breathy female backup group singing the chorus. These vocals continue throughout the refrain and with Hancock on the main choruses. They also introduce the bridge of the song where Watkin’s and Obiedo again solo with Hancock’s synths playing the horn charts-plus his Fender Rhodes soloing. The song concludes with a continual repetition of the chorus with vocoder improvisations from Hancock himself.

Writer Rickey Vincent referred to Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Now as being one of the best records of 1979. Sonically and in terms of funk,I have no argument with him. This song is important for Herbie Hancock in two ways. For one,the song is structurally right out of the big band swing school. At the same time,thick and phat bass/guitar lines and percussion beef up it’s glossy space disco/funk sound. This allows for the second important aspect of this song. On it’s bridge,Hancock uses polyphonic synthesizers to simulate big band horn charts-actually his variation of the Minneapolis sound on the jazz level. That makes this a rhythmically vital and musically innovative Herbie Hancock groove.

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Filed under 1970's, Bill Summers, David Rubinson, disco funk, disco jazz, drums, Eddie Watkins, Fender Rhodes, Herbie Hancock, James Gadson, jazz funk, percussion, Ray Obiedo, rhythm guitar, slap bass, space funk, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Dude” by Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones has been on my mind a lot lately when thinking about music. Last week in fact,my friend Henrique pointed out something he read on the back of a vinyl album about how important Quincy was to the jazz world in general. And this was at the height of his career no less. From being mentored by Clark Terry in the 1940’s up to helping shape up and coming hip-hoppers 60 years later,the evolutionary nature of Quincy’s career had me wondering how to present his music here today. The question was would it be good to express that musical arc by overviewing several songs from several decades,or focus on one song that might tell it’s own kind of story about Quincy Jones.

Last year at this time,I posted up an older review I had done for the 1981 Quincy Jones release of The Dude. Albums released under his own name always had a specific flavor to them. For example,his early albums showcased him largely as an instrumental band leader. His releases since the 70’s have generally been showcases not only for his evolving production approach,but also with the different musicians and vocalists he was involved with or mentoring at the given time. In the case of this early 80’s album,the spotlight was on James Ingram and Patti Austin. And the title track of the album said so much about where the classic Quincy Jones sound was going to be at that time.

A pulsing,nasal synthesizer starts off the song before the drums and horns kick in. This is accompanied by opening backup that includes Syreeta Wright and Michael Jackson among a massive chorus. The horns lead into a stripped down percussion break  that’s accented by a slow crawling drum beat-over which a bluesy Fender Rhodes plays the lead keyboard line accented by Louis Johnson’s slap bass lines. The refrains start off with Austin and Ingram trading off vocals along. with Michael Boddicker’s Vocoder. Quincy himself provides a rap as the title character on several choruses after which the horns the male backup singers provide an accompanying chorus.

On the third of these choruses, the backup chorus led along by Austin sings a swinging variation of the chorus. Steve Luckather comes in to play a wah wah pedal heavy guitar line that mimics the low volume,bluesy solo on the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that comes out of Stevie Wonder on the bridge,which basically repeats the melodic theme of the refrain. After this the fanfarring horns that generally introduce Quincy raps instead segues into Austin’s swinging vocal choruses. There’s a repeat of the refrain after this. And the song fades out on a repeat of the chorus. Only on this one,Ingram accentuates the lyrics vocally before the song comes to an end.

Getting back to Quincy’s varied musical career,there are many qualities in this song that sum up everything he had done in his then nearly four decades of creative activity. The classic Westlake studio crew including drummer John Robinson,percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,trumpeter/arranger Jerry Hey and of course Louis Johnson play on this number. On the surface,this song written with Patti Austin and Rod Temperton has that sleek west coast production matched with the deep funk groove Quincy had been perfecting over much of the 1970’s. On that level,it’s alternately stripped down and boisterous depending on the mood the song is trying to project at a given time.

On the broader level,this song totally epitomizes the musical evolution of Quincy thus far. The accessory vocal harmonies on the chorus reflect the big band swing era as do the horns. And Stevie Wonder’s synth solo additionally brings the flavor of the blusiness that came from jazz to rock ‘n roll and onto funk and soul as well. The character of “The Dude”,represented as a stone sculpture on the cover and later to become Quincy’d mascot for his media production company,is basically an elder statesmen whose philosophy could be summed up by him stating “don’t put your moth around a check that your body can’t cash”. In this instance for me,this is Quincy’s most defining song overall up to this point.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, big band swing, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, horns, James Ingram, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, QWest, rap, Rod Temperton, slap bass, Steve Luckather, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder, wah wah guitar, West Coast

Anatomy of THE Groove: “People Of Today” by The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers,to paraphrase writer and my Facebook friend Rickey Vincent do come off strongly as the embodiment of funky masculinity. That not only goes for their mixture of pragmatism and sensitivity. But also to their musical approach as well. The family group’s  3+3 combination adding younger brothers Ernie and the late Marvin Isley and cousin Chris Jasper added a strong instrumental element to the vocal harmony approach of the elder brothers Ron,Rudy and the late Kelly Isley. During the mid 1970’s, they came up with a distinctive approach to instrumental vital funk and rock along with keeping the soulful bedroom ballads cooking at all ends.

During this time,the sextet began recording in the TONTO synthesizer complex. This is where Stevie Wonder was than working his own electronic funk/soul masterpieces as well. Most of the 3+3 Isley Brothers classic albums were recorded using the complex-especially with keyboard maestro Jasper in tow. In 1976 they released their album Harvest For The World. The album continued to expand on the throbbing grooves they developed,along with the lyrical themes of sensuous eroticism and strong minded brotherhood. Nothing on this album could ever be underrated from where I sit. But it’s the song “People Of Today” that really pulls everything else here together on every possible level.

A rolling drum launches into the song itself. It’s a gurgling mix of bass synthesizer and guitar with multiple Clavinet parts. One of them even contributing to the bottom end of the song as well. This huge tonal array of sound is calmed somewhat on the vocal refrains from Ron Isley. On the end of each chorus,a second refrain features Ron singing a call and response vocal line to a Vocoderized voice singing “my world is fine”. After this a fast and bluesy Clavinet riff leads back into the central theme of the song in which it all begins. This pattern of two separate refrains and repeated choruses maintains itself from beginning to the fade out of this song.

If I were to describe this or any Isley Brothers funk from this period, it would be as the musical equivilant of chunky peanut butter. It’s caramel colored cream texture with a strong crunchiness mixed into it. And has the same strong flavor too. The layering of the keyboard parts of this song are amazing. And it’s the perfect accompaniment as Ron Isley sings about getting ones head out of comfortable denialism. At one point he even responds to the Vocorderized “my world is fine” with the vocal response “ah your jivin’ me”. As implied in the title, it’s a wonderful example of the type of classic 70’s funk that I’ve dubbed over the years as “people music”.

 

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Filed under 1970's, bass synthesizer, Chris Jasper, clavinet, electro funk, Funk, Isley Brothers, Rickey Vincent, Ron Isley, TONTO, Uncategorized, vocoder

Anatomy Of THE Groove Presents Teena Marie Week: “Starchild” (1984)

While Teena Marie’s 1983 album Robbery was a creatively strong label debut? It was not a commercial success. The sound of it might’ve been a bit to instrumentally transitional for that. The following year Prince & The Revolution had a major breakthrough with the Purple Rain  soundtrack. This was a very new wave inflected album that showcased the Minneapolis Sound-basically replacing horn and string arrangements  with various synthesizers. With this burgeoning sound and Teena’s talents as a multi instrumentalist? Her music had new  possibilities.

While adding strong synth rock elements on her aforementioned Epic debut? Teena probably realized that  her career (as a white artist advanced forward by the black community) meant she needed to understand the progression of soul/funk music with the advent of newer technology. The result was her 1984 album Starchild. Along with it’s debut single “Lovergirl”? It crossed Lady T over onto the pop charts-the one and only time she’d ever do so. Still it’s the title song of this album that personally caught my attention.

The beat gets going with a brittle,funky proto hip-hop drum machine rhythm-accompanied by Brazilian jazz styled percussive whoops and hollers.  Then a mid toned electronic bass kicks into gear-accompanied by the quavering,higher pitched synthesizers playing the horn style accents. All this being emphasized by a strong rhythm guitar. On the choruses,Teena is echoed by a Vocorder singing the song’s title. On the bridge? The quavering synth plays the ancient Egyptian snake dance melody as Teena raps loosely surrounding it.

While very clearly her variation on the Minneapolis sound? The overall production of the electro/boogie funk sound is actually much cleaner. And strongly emphasizes writer Rickey Vincent’s point about how the chugging rhythm guitar survived the synthesizer based 80’s funk sound intact.  Instrumentally it’s in the vein of Chaka Khan’s “This Is My Night” from the same year. Teena’s lyrics take on a classic Afro-Futurist space funk flavor-inserting sexual innuendo about “drinking from the milky way cup” as well. So it’s a very well rounded electro funk exercise.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Brazilian Jazz, drum machines, elecro funk, Epic Records, funk guitar, Minneapolis, New Wave, Prince, space funk, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizers, Teena Marie, Uncategorized, vocoder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 4/18/2015: ‘No Parking On The Dancefloor’ by Midnight Star

No Parking On The Dancefloor

Midnight Star are very significant to the the funk scene because,creatively they represent a transition. Not only were they one of the very last large funk bands to form,but their first full length album The Beginning came out in 1980. So with no output during the 1970’s, Midnight Star were the first of the big funk bands to evolve solely during the 1980’s decade. While that album was complete live band horn funk primarily,their next two albums straddled two worlds-that of their live instrumental beginnings and the burgeoning electronic/synthesizer based world of what was then called electro funk and is now called boogie. 1983 was a huge year for soul/funk artists because the genre was back in business,and the post disco freeze out thawing as MJ’s Thriller was pretty much ruling the music world and bringing spirited funk based dance music into the public eye. Because the producer/writer/vocal/instrumental team of siblings Reggie and Vincent Calloway were as much strong melodicists as instrumental futurist,they now stood in the position to deliver the album that would solidify their sound for the rest of the decade.

“Electricity” begins the album with a hard funk grooves entirely based in the synthesizer as all of the instrumental elements. And of course “Freak-A-Zoid” picks right up on the same impulse-using a combination of vocorder and Belinda Lipscomb’s strong,Patti LaBelle-like vocals. Both musically and lyrically capture the spirit of the computer game/video arcade based pop culture of that time as a metaphor for the last days of the sexual revolution. Its on the other songs here that the album truly takes flight really. “Night Rider” takes a drum and bass/guitar sound from “Billie Jean” and applies it to a much more synthesizer oriented and electronic landscape. “Feels So Good” is a grooving “smooth groove” somewhat reminiscent of a jazzier pop take on “Sexual Healing” with Lipscomb’s strong vocals at center stage. “Wet My Whistle” has a melodic and percussive pop/funk sound very much out of the Reggie Lucus/Mtume/Madonna sound of that time and is one of my personal favorite songs here. The title song,copped later by The Bar Kays for “Freakshow On The Dancefloor” is similar to the opener-even including a vocoderized allusion to James Brown’s “I Got The Feeling” on the last verse. “Slow Jam” is a radio friendly contemporary pop/funk…well the title says it all. And it deals with a romantic dance at that. “Playmates” ends the album on a more melodic new wave friendly note.

I discovered this album in 1999 as part of a group of CD’s from a record store that had apparently gone out of business,and were on clearance at a local resale shop brand new for $1 a piece. It basically defined my headphone experiences for the rest of that year and even into the new millennium. Listening to it now,one of the things that’s so striking about this album is how strong the material is. The instrumentation,vocals and songwriting are all first rate,bright and have a party atmosphere that also has a strong elegance reflecting the more streamlined urban contemporary funk attitude of the early/mid 1980’s. Midnight Star created their first full on electro boogie funk album with this release,whilst still maintaining a nine member funk band lineup at the time. At the same time,they didn’t have the same sort of narcissistically cynical sexual world view as Prince and many of his protege’s did during that time. While they always had time for a little sexual fun on this album, everything was still stated with the 70’s era method of implicit lyricism. This is probably one of the strongest of the futurist minded electronic/synthesizer/boogie oriented funk albums of the early 1980’s. And showcases how much of the 70’s funk band attitude was still present in the more contemporary sounds of that era.

Originally posted on April 18th,2014

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Belinda Lipscomb, Boogie Funk, electro funk, Freak-A-Zoid, Freakshow On The Dancfloor, Michael Jackson, Midnight Star, Music Reviewing, Prince, Reggie Calloway, Reggie Lucas, Thriller, Vincent Calloway, vocoder