Category Archives: Wayne Shorter

Bitches Broth: Betty Davis, The Columbia Years, 1968-69

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Betty Davis is, as her ex-husband Miles would undoubtedly have put it, a bad bitch. Her trio of mid-1970s albums–including 1974’s They Say I’m Different, which Andre posted about last summer–constitute some of the rawest, nastiest funk-rock ever released. Imagine prime Tina Turner, but with a heavier rock influence; and what she lacks in vocal prowess, she makes up for with a persona so aggressive, you’d swear she was the one beating up on Ike. If you’re even the slightest fan of powerful women and/or heavy funk, then you need to hear Betty Davis.

That being said, my recommendation for the latest release of Betty Davis’ music, The Columbia Years, 1968-69, is a little more conditional. I received the compilation’s (gorgeous!) vinyl release for Christmas last month, and I love it; it sits proudly on my shelf even as we speak. But I can also understand why it wasn’t officially released until last year.

Comprised of two sessions recorded for Columbia Records in 1968 and 1969–the first produced by trumpeter Hugh Masekela, the second by Betty’s then-husband Miles Davis–The Columbia Years is, if nothing else, a fascinating historical document. For fans of the more famous Davis, it’s effectively ground zero for jazz fusion: the moment Miles hooked up with the circle of acid rockers and funkateers in Betty’s orbit, including Jimi Hendrix sidemen Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell. Without Betty, there would be no Bitches Brew (in more ways than one–that album’s title is said to have referred to Betty and her entourage of countercultural socialities). According to the compilation’s liner notes, Betty’s come-hither purr in her cover of Cream’s “Politician” even ended up inspiring Miles’ song “Back Seat Betty,” a full 12 years after the couple split.

But just as Betty was never “Mrs. Miles Davis,” The Columbia Years is also of interest for reasons beyond its significance in Miles’ body of work. You can hear the seeds of Betty’s own unique stylistic hybrid being planted, as she tries her hand at a version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou” heavily indebted to “Stone Free” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience; or even her own composition “Hangin’ Out,” which comes across as a tamer version of later party-girl anthems like “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up.” For existing devotees, the opportunity to hear her earth-shaking style in embryonic form is priceless.

For newcomers, though, I’m afraid the appeal will be significantly lessened. The fact is, in 1969 Betty Davis didn’t really sound like Betty Davis yet; her vocals are thin, and she hadn’t yet developed the hellion’s rasp that made her voice on later records so distinctive. And, while the personnel on the sessions is impressive–not only Cox and Mitchell, but also John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and others–the arrangements lack grit and verve; they have the slightly patronizing feel that comes with the territory of crack jazz musicians slumming in “lesser” genres. It’s telling that Davis’ best music would be recorded with players who were funk and rock musicians first: her 1973 debut, for example, featured Santana‘s Neal Schon, Larry Graham, and other members of Graham Central Station and the Family Stone. It’s also telling that her music got better the more she was at the helm: her second and third albums, in 1974 and 1975 respectively, were both self-produced.

So, yes, everyone should listen to Betty Davis; and, since to know Betty Davis is to love her, then sure, eventually everyone should probably listen to The Columbia Years. But if you’re just getting started, don’t start at the beginning. Check out Betty DavisThey Say I’m Different, or Nasty Gal; hell, check out her canned 1976 album Crashin’ from Passion, later reissued as Is It Love or Desire? Then, circle back to The Columbia Years and see how it all began. With records like this being released and a new documentary set to premiere this summer, the time has arguably never been riper to rediscover Betty Davis. I can attest that she’s a discovery well worth making.

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Filed under 1960's, Betty Davis, Columbia Records, funk rock, Graham Central Station, Herbie Hancock, Hugh Masekela, Ike & Tina Turner, Jimi Hendrix, Larry Graham, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, Sly & The Family Stone, Wayne Shorter

Grooves On Wax: Black Wax In Black Music Month

James Brown Showtime

James Brown’s albums up to the beginning of the mid 60’s seem to be helpful in showcasing what was influential on the future Godfather Of Soul. This 1964 album,his debut for Smash,is an excellent example of this. JB starts out with a spirited cover of the R&B classic “Caledonia”,originally by Louie Jordan & The Timpani Five. As a studio album overdubbed with applause,these songs find JB singing the blues on a number of rhythm & blues shuffles-removed for the most part from his typical live show of the era.

Key Jams: “Evil” and “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”

Mirium Makeba

Miriam Makeba is an artist I’ve always interesting in hearing more from. This is an excellent album from 1967 for her. It really does a lot to bring out the sound of African soul-with a lot of elements that would eventually go into the world fusion sound in the future. Especially with the songs not all being sung in English. She even adds a folk song called “A Piece Of Ground”-which runs down the horrid inequity of apartheid in South Africa.

Key Jam: “Pata Pata”

Odyssey Of Iska

Wayne Shorter made this 1971 avant garde jazz album as he was transitioning from Miles Davis’s second quintet of the mid/late 60’s onto fusion pioneers Weather Report. And it really shows as Gene Bertoncini’s guitar-with it’s rhythmic overdrive along with former quintet made Ron Carter’s bass and Alphonse Mouzan’s drumming give this album the kind of Afro-Brazilian jazz/funk process sound Miles himself was already diving headlong into.

Key Jams: “Storm”,“De Pois Do Amor,O Vazio” and “Joy”osibisa-woyaya(16)

Osibisa are a  British,mostly Ghanan Afro pop group who were first described to me as being called “Obsidica”,and sounding like the Isley Brothers. Neither of those things being true of course,this 1971 album is in the Afro-Latin funk/rock/soul collection jamming much in the style of Mandrill and Santana.

Key Jams: “Beautiful Seven” and “Move On.

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Roberta Flack is someone who today could almost be considered the godmother of neo-soul. Her understated vocal approach and naturally based instrumental style was a precurser of that. Especially on her earlier albums.  On these records though,they caught some heavily funky fire on a song or two. This 1971 release actually has a bit more than others-especially her ultra gospel drenched version of the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody”.

Key Jams: “Go Up Moses” and “Sunday And Sister Jones”

Edwin Birdsong

Edwin Birdsong,keyboardist and songwriter for the Roy Ayers Ubiquity who later worked with Stevie Wonder,really put himself out on this ultra funky 1972 debut album. He was a heavy purveyor of sociopolitical “people music” message songs as well. Even the lone ballad “It Ain’t No Fun Being a Welfare Recipient” tells the kind of story you generally don’t hear on too many slow jams. Birdsong’s holds-no-barred approach to humanitarian lyricism really inspires my personal funky emotions.

Key Jams:”The Uncle Tom Game” and “When A Newborn Baby Is Born,The Gets One More Chance” 

Open Sesame

Kool & The Gang totally reinvent the chemistry of their groove on this 1976 album,in their positions as The Scientists Of Sound. The jacket folds in half on the front to find portraits of the band members in the garb of Morrish royalty. From the casting of the “genie of sound” on the title song onward,this album finds their sound in direct transition from the heavy jazz/funk based sound of their earlier music to the disco era soul/funk melodicism of their under appreciated late 70’s pre JT Taylor period.

Key Jams: “Open Sesame”,“All Night Long” and “Super Band”

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Brick’s sophomore album was where I discovered this heavily jazz based disco funk band. This 1976 debut album for them really helped put together their “disco jazz” type of music very well-with songs that featured more instrumental oriented jamming on many of the songs rather than the more heavily constructed pop type songs they would be known for on their following recordings.

Key Jams: “Dazz” and “Brick City”

Melba Moore

Melba Moore’s Broadway experience really helped her theatrical variety of heavily orchestrated soul balladry and disco/dance records she recorded during the 70’s. This 1978 album from her,produced by the Philly team of McFadden & Whitehead,contains one of my very favorite songs by her in the funkified “You Stepped Into My Life”.

Key Jams: “You Stepped Into My Life” and “It’s Hard Not To Like You”

Ohio Players - Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee -

The Ohio Players final album for Mercury from 1978 has gotten very mixed views from fans of this classic funk band. Yet from the very beginning,they make it more than clear that the then burgeoning disco sound was not yet effecting their heavy funkiness. As a matter of fact,this particular album is home to some of the hardest hitting funk the band ever made.

Key Jams: “Funk-O-Nots”,“Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee” and “Dance (If You Wanta)”

Pleasure

Pleasure’s jazz-funk sound out of Portland,Oregon is one that I am just beginning to explore. This 1980 album of theirs has become something of a big deal in recent years. With their sophistifunk production and jazzy instrumental solos,the band seem to have made their mark in the annals of funk as it transitioned from the 70’s onto the 80’s.

Key Jams: “Now You Choose Me” and “Yearnin’ Burnin'”

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Brass Construction’s title song for this 1982 album was one I thought came from Cameo due to a mislabeled MP3 sometime ago. It led me to the vinyl album,which is now recognizable as the bands transition to the stripped down,electro/naked/boogie funk sound of the early 80’s. It’s almost completely uptempo funk based saved for the jazzy mid tempo ballad “ETC”.

Key Jams: “Can You See The Light”,“Forever Love” and “Attitude”

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Slave were the last and youngest of the classic Dayton,Ohio funk bands,and were some of the architects of the boogie funk sound. That’s very prominent on this 1983 album,their first album of the 80’s without Steve Arrington. Actually,it’s a strong transition from their original live band approach to their more electro funk oriented sound that was about to come.

Key Jams: “Steppin’ Out” , “Turn You Out (In & Out)” and “Show Down”

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Ernie and Marvin Isley along with Chris Jasper struck out as their own trio in 1984. This debut album from the same year is actually one of the strongest boogie funk albums of its era. That’s because the brittle drum machines are accented by the same powerful percussion the 3+3 Isley Brothers were known for.  That rhythmic approach mixed with layers of synthesizers,bass and guitar make this an superb extension  of the Isley sound as heard on the Between The Sheets from a year earlier.

Key Jams: “Serve You Right” and “Break This Chain

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Afro Funk, avant-garde, Blues, Brass Construction, Brick, Edwin Birdsong, electro funk, Funk, funk albums, Isley-Jasper-Isley, James Brown, Kool & The Gang, Melba Moore, Miriam Makeba, Ohio Players, Osibisa, Pleasure, rhythm & blues, Roberta Flack, Slave, Uncategorized, Vinyl, Wayne Shorter

Miles Davis 1968: ‘Filles De Kilimanjaro’-The Road To Funk From Andre’s Amazon Archive

Filles De Kilimanjaro

While I am sure Larry Coryell deserves a lot of credit for his innovations in fusion the concept of jazz-funk fusion probably starts with this album. Basically what Miles and his quintet are dealing with here is transitions of both a musical and personal nature. Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea alternate (on various cuts) on electric piano and the same goes for Ron Carter and Dave Holland. I’ve heard it said that had to do with the fact that while he had nothing against fusion jazz,Ron Carter wasn’t as comfortable playing electric bass as he was an acoustic one.

But no matter who is playing what this album is,as they might’ve said in the late 60’s,”now”. For the past several album Miles and his Quintet created a unique type of jazz that blended be-bop with avant garde techniques and on this album,Miles’s strong influence from soul and R&B (from listening to Sly Stone and James Brown and perhaps his wife Betty Mabry) has had an impact on the music as well. For one Tony Williams,always a rock and R&B fan himself was still improvising on drums as only he could but his general rhythm has a funkier,more syncopated tone here…at times.

That being said,perhaps that colliding with the Fender Rhodes soloing “Frelon Brun” is definitely in on the new jazz-funk style completely.Even though they wiggle and wobble between what Herbie Hancock calls “jazz and rock n roll back beats” jumping in and around each other “Petits Machins” and the title song both illustrate something of the same feeling.”Toute De Suite” and the alternate take of it presented here are as we see now yet another innovation:the beginnings of what we might call “acid jazz” now;mid-tempo funky rhythms,LOTS of Fender Rhodes solos and a bluesy jazz feel-amazing tune either way you cut it.

In dedication to his wife Davis also included “Mademoiselle Mabry”,a elongated blues showcasing,as the rest of these songs do a very pretty melody. One thing Miles managed to do on this album was maintain his melodic jazz flair and also cloth it in a brand new setting. This is definitely one of those albums where Miles begins to lean heavily into the style that would soon become known as fusion.Not too long after this Miles would release his landmark In a Silent Way and it was off to the races for him;his songs developed more concise grooves and became even longer in length. Nonetheless this will always hold a very special place in Miles’ vast musical legacy.

Originally posted on May 6th,2008

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

Listen to “Frelun Brun”,a key funk/jazz process number on YouTube here.

 

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Filed under 1960's, Betty Mabry, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, drums, electric jazz, Fender Rhodes, Fusion, Herbie Hancock, jazz funk, Miles Davis, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, trumpet, upright bass, Wayne Shorter

Miles Davis 1968: ‘Miles In The Sky’-The Road To Funk From Andre’s Amazon Archive

Miles In The Sky

Miles found himself in 1968 in a very new world of music. Psychedelic sounds were everywhere and different sorts of music were bleeding together into all kinds of combinations and ending up becoming a whole new form.Sly & The Family Stone and Hendrix were popularizing it and on one of his later album with his classic quintet Miles very obviously had his ears all the way open. On the majority of this album Miles,a musician who had been edging towards a kind of avant garde sound on his previous few albums such as Miles Smiles and now a new kind of rhythm was coming into the equation.

From “Paraphernalia” to “Black Comedy” onto “Country Son”,even with the presence of George Benson,Miles was putting everything happening musically here into the context of rhythm. Believe it or not this was part of the beginning of the jazz-funk movement of the 70’s. Recently a discussion I had with my good friend from Oakland (who I realize I name drop a lot in these reviews) bought up the point that much of jazz even at this point was not as on the stop as it seemed;that there was a deeper understanding among jazz musicians who were able to translate their musical traditions from a basic theme into something very original.

The themes here do seem to be buried somewhat if your not listening close enough.But the truth is it’s because their all based in some form of communal rhythm: Wayne’s sax,Ron’s bass and Tony?Well let’s just say that his drumming on everything here is far heavier-not necessarily loud but full of a weighty bottom that stands as more then steady support for Miles’ playing,itself usually associated with “tugging at you a little softer” by his own description. The tune that pulls everything together here is the opener “Stuff”. It opens it all up-EVERYTHING Miles would do on his breakthrough electric albums such as Bitches Brew and even to some extent On the Corner begins here.

Herbie’s newly found electric piano soloing,the bass leading the whole way from the bottom up and…….a rhythm that comes in and around the psychedelic stew to what is possibly Miles’ first released tune in the funk genre,then a fairly new genre to most people. Even though not psychedelic music in the traditional sense of the word,everything from the trippy album cover all the way down to the rhythms and instrumentation all bleeding together find the influence firmly in place. This is the kind of jazz and funk I can imagine having a lot of appeal to people who usually listened to things like Country Joe & The Fish or even the Grateful Dead. And even for them Miles and the kind of rooted,complex funky music his quintet were making on albums like this will hopefully bring them into a good place to begin grooving to rhythms that were at once communal,improvisations AND jamming!

Originally posted July 6th,2009

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

*Listen to “Stuff”,Miles’ second quintet presenting prototype jazz/funk fusion.

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Filed under 1960's, Columbia Records, drums, electric piano, funk process, Herbie Hancock, jazz funk, Miles Davis, Psychedelia, Ron Carter, Saxophone, Tony Williams, trumpet, upright bass, Wayne Shorter