Category Archives: world fusion

Anatomy of THE Groove: “This Is This” by Weather Report

Joe Zawinul had a tremendous history in the development of hard bop jazz onto jazz fusion. He immigrated to the US from Austria in 1959. A year later he was part of Cannonball Adderley’s quintet. And he wound up being the composer of Cannonball’s best known song “Mercy Mercy Mercy”. By the late 60’s,Zawinul was playing and writing with Miles Davis on his fusion process album In A Silent Way. When he and another fellow Miles alumni Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report two years later,Zawinul was again pioneering jazz instrumentation into the era of synthesizers.

Between 1971 and 1984,Weather Report recorded 14 albums. Many of them were iconic in the annals of the fusion genre. The band was also well known for developing pioneering bass players. This included Miroslav Vitous,Alphonso Johnson and best known of all the late Jaco Pastorious. The bands final album in 1986 came totally by accident. They thought they’d fulfilled their Columbia contract with their previous album in 1985’s Sportin’ Life. This didn’t end up being the case,so they had to make one more album. And Zawinul really made it one for the road with the title song to their final album called “This Is This”.

Mino Cinelu starts off with some fast paced Afro-Latin  percussion mixed up high. Peter Erksine plays a steady,marching groove that fits like a glove into the spaces left in Cinelu’s percussion. Zawinul and new bassist Victor Bailey rolled right along upfront with one of Zawinul’s most melodically hummable synth bass lines. He provides two for this song-the other a deeper 8-note one later on. Carlos Santana also provides two different guitar parts here-one is high pitched,cosmic guitar atmospherics and some of his exciting lead soloing as well playing call and response to Zawinul’s synth bass lead..

Santana actually get’s accompanied by Zawinul providing two synth brass lines-the first orchestrated big band style ones. This part comes into play after the first few choruses. On the last few choruses of the song, the other synth brass part arrives playing more succinct,funkier charts. By this time Santana’s guitar,Cinelu’s percussion,Erksine’s drums and Zawinul’s synth bass all come together in a beautiful,rhythmic unison of colorful sounds. Little by little,each instrumental element drops out of the mix. And the song slows back into percussion,bass and guitar as it fades.

Before people like Billy Preston and of course Prince,Joe Zawinul was a major pioneer of the bass synthesizers. By 1986,synth brass was the big thing in American pop music with the advent of the Minneapolis sound. With Zawinul having worked it for years,”This Is This” is a highly underrated song for Weather Report-perhaps one of Zawinul’s strongest compositions. The groove is strongly Afrocentric,and the playing is as funky as they come. It really brings out the best in ever instrumentalist involved and allowed Weather Report to go out again innovating with some electro funk style world fusion.

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Filed under 1986, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Carlos Santana, Columbia Records, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, guitar, jazz fusion, Joe Zawinul, Mino Cinelu, percussion, Peter Erksine, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizers, Victor Bailey, Weather Report, world fusion

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Black Satin” by Miles Davis

Miles Davis seemed to record a lot of his electric music of the early 70’s with his noted sense of spontaneity. He had his producer Teo Macero just record whatever he and his players were doing-all of it. And than have individual songs cut for albums later on. He did this on his fusion breakthrough Bitches Brew. And it’s a strong possibility he approached his 1972 album On The Corner in much the same way. That accounts for why there have been so many “complete sessions” box sets during the CD era for Miles. And it also points to the general approach Miles came at the whole idea of grooves and rhythm.

Miles said of On The Corner that he recorded the album as a way to “reach the kids” as he put it. Henrique and myself had a very meaningful discussion on this recently. And he bought out an excellent point. Miles was a member of America’s silent generation. Musically,this was a generation who championed melody. His own mother had advised him to “always play something you can hum”. As an innovator of modal jazz in the late 1950’s, Miles tended to view funk’s rhythmic base as solely for a dancing mindset. However ,he was able to fuse rhythm and melody here on the song “Black Satin”.

Badal Roy’s tabla drums and Khalil Balakrishna’s electric sitar washes introduce the album. After that Mtume’s percussion and Michael Henderson’s up-scaling three note bass line kick in to fatten up the groove. Miles plays a high medium pitched,processed trumpet fanfare. He punctuates with single note,percussive hits throughout the song. All between bursts of wah wah guitar,Herbie Hancock’s tweeting synthesizer and manic hand claps. On the last section of the song,Miles’ solo fives way to the cinematic organ of Harold I. Williams before the tabla/sitar intro that opened the song fades it out.

Miles’s On The Corner album is almost like one 54 minute jam sliced into four pieces. “Black Satin” would function as the second segment of that jam. But it has the most melodic content of the entire album. And it comes from Miles’ solo too-that aspect of the song you can hum. In terms of harmonic atonality, Miles was inspired by the experimental composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Henderson’s bass line and the fast,percussive tempo tell another story. It’s based very much on the chase scene music of the blacksploitation films of the day. And this song was used as such in Don Cheadle’s film Miles Ahead.

The very first time I heard On The Corner,it was like being transported into a funky utopia. Part of the appeal was that the melodies were so minor or absent. It was like music where every aspect of it was doing it’s own dance. As time as passed,this song with it’s budding melody epidermises Miles’ extending on James Brown’s concept of turning his whole band into a drum. Also with the poly rhythms of this groove and the psychedelic sitar soloing, “Black Satin” also blends Afro-Caribbean and Indian flavors for pan ethnic funk delight. It brings Miles’ sound into the early forefront of the world fusion jazz/funk sound.

 

 

 

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Filed under 'On The Corner', 1970's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Badal Roy, blacksploitation, electric sitar, Funk Bass, Harold I. Williams, Herbie Hancock, jazz funk, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Khalil Balakrishna, Michael Henderson, Miles Davis, Mtume, organ, percussion, Psychedelia, synthesizer, tabla drums, Teo Macero, trumpet, wah wah guitar, world fusion

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Feel Up” by Grace Jones

Grace Jones’ breakthrough album Nighclubbing is celebrating it’s 35 anniversary today. This album came along at a very significant time in the black musical spectrum. In 1981, America was deep in the throws of a radio freeze out of any uptempo music played by black artists. Meanwhile the synth dance/pop scene in England was gobbling up the funk and disco genres that the US was now rejecting. Into that mix came a group of Caribbean based artists who would help usher in a new fusion of world music sounds into that brew. Among them were Eddy Grant and Grace Jones.

Jamaican reggae producers/musicians Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare had produced Jones’ 1980 album Warm Leatherette  at Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point studios in Nassau. So the same group of people and musicians were involved in the creation of the followup. As an album, Nightclubbing  could be best described as an early precursor of the pop/world fusion sound that artists such as Peter Gabriel would pioneer mid decade. The array of styles on this album had a creative and commercial level of success in different areas of the world-not just the US and UK. One standout song on the album for me is “Feel Up”.

This extended mix of the song begins with a melodic pan flute-after which Dunbar’s bass drum comes in with Shakespeare’s thumping bass line. As the song builds, Shakespeare adds an addition layer of funkified slap bass along with a deep,percussive rhythm guitar along with genuine percussion. Wally Badarou’s quiet,high pitched synthesizer accents Jones’ vocal refrains. Towards the middle of the song,her vocals give way to rhythmic  breathing and popping . Her choruses of vocalizing the title heavy with echoplex make up the entire structure of this song as it fades out.

This is the one song Grace Jones herself wrote for this album. What’s so amazing about it is that it sums up not only the album,but the whole of Jones’s musical side. As an actress model,Jones brings out a strong mixture of African percussion rhythms,Jamaican and American funk bass lines. This entire song functions musically as layers of drums and bass-even the guitar. It also brings out Jones’ unique vocal conceptualization-acting out the rhythm of the song theatrically with her voice rather than simply interpreting the melody. So on this song,Grace Jones grew some serious funk of her own.

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Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Chris Blackwell, Compass Point, drums, Funk Bass, Grace Jones, percussion, rhythm guitar, Robbie Shakespeare, slap bass, Sly & Robbie, Sly Dunbar, synthesizer, Uncategorized, Wally Badarou, world fusion