Is It Still Good To Ya: A Tribute To Both The Late Nick Ashford & To The 40th Anniversary Of This Classic Ashford & Simpson album

 

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Ashford & Simpson’s songs have somehow grown with me through my musical “soul education”. All the way from hearing their “Don’t Cost You Nothing” on public service LP’s (staring James Earl Jones entitled ‘Genius On The Black Side) that my father was given all the way up to finding them credited all over the place as songwriters on my many Motown collections. Within the last decade or so? I’ve been reviewing their own albums online as well. Yet somehow neglected this first CD of theirs I ever had. Something I got as a bonus selection when belonging to the old BMG Music Service.

After all this time and listening’s? Long overdue for me to go into the album here. “It Seems To Hang On” opens with a creamily beautiful example of disco friendly uptempo soul-full of liquid rhythm guitar and Valerie’s extremely sensuous vocals in particular. The title song is a richly orchestrated ballad filled with climactic harmony vocal choruses. “The Debt Is Settled” is a thick,stripped down piano/bass oriented groove that comes to life via it’s light percussion accents. “Ain’t It A Shame” is a breezy, mid tempo Brazilian style soul/pop number

“Get Up And Do Something” is, on the other hand, a thick funk number with a full scaling bass line, choppy keyboards and rhythmically jazzy refrains. “You Always Could” is a horn packed, soulful shuffle while “Flashback is a fine example of Latin flavored disco. The album ends with the instrumentally gospel infused mid tempo ballad “As Long As It Holds You”. What amazes me about this album is that this married duo could continually turn out high quality hit soul/funk/pop music on themselves as well as Chaka Khan and at the time preparing for a Diana Ross session.

It was likely the momentum of their oiled approach to their music over the years that kept Ashford & Simpson rolling right along- in terms of the level of their musical output. This emerges as another fine release in a strong of fine Ashford & Simpson albums in the mid/late 70’s. They offer up the best in their diverse stylistic arsenal. This album has the lush disco era uptempo material, blues structured funk and their slinky and cinematic balladry. And everything suited very well to the male/female duet format Nick and Val helped build-both together and for other artists as well.

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James Brown-Live At The Apollo, Round Two On Record, At Nearly Half a Century

James Brown’s career had a major turning point during 1967-68. Musically speaking,h is songs were not only taking on a completely different character instrumentally. But in terms of format? He had gone from 3-4 minute doo-wop soul balladry to extended,horn based dance jams that were getting their rhythmic character from Latin boogaloo and African high life music. This, of course was known as funk. With the recent passing of John “Jabo” Starks, who played in tandem with the late Clyde Stubblefield during this period very heavily, it seemed a good time to discuss JB’s own funk process onstage.

The “funk process” was entering it’s peak for James Brown. As was his sociopolitical consciousness and activity. During the summer of love, and the emergence of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, many black American’s in the early/mid 30’s even at the time were still very much in love with the suited up, processed haired JB. One who was a dramatic, gospel fueled soul balladeer. While his persona was still in the same place, James Brown’s second live recording at the Apollo would have to serve to illustrate the change in perception of his artistry.

The album begins with an introduction that goes into a faster tempo’d,heavy grooving version of “Think”, where James duets with the sassy Marva Whitney. “I Want To Be Around” and “That’s Life” are both ballad standards making strong use of orchestration and his Famous Flames. “Kansas City” is done at a very fast tempo and in a different key than I usually hear this sometimes over covered song played in. It is through “Let Yourself Go”,”There Was A Time” and “I Feel Alright” are an elongated,bass/guitar driven funky process all it’s on that leads to…”Cold Sweat” of course-his big record at the time.

After an equally furious tempo on “It May Be The Last Time” and a brief intro of “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, JB goes into an elongated version of “Prisoner Of Love”-similar in approach to “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and “Lost Someone” later in the album. “Bring It Up” has another a very fast tempo similar to “Please Please Please”, which concludes the album. “”Try Me” meanwhile is done more traditionally.  I once heard this  album described as erratic it sounding- likely because it emphasized extended soul ballads rather than focusing on JB’s funk innovations of the late 60’s.
On the surface, there actually is some fact in that. Taking this album out of the literary context and back into the more human one? The fact these ballads are done in 7-10 minutes lengths is musically futurist for soul as well-anticipating the approach Barry White and Isaac Hayes would take several years later on conceptually thick studio albums with a similar style format. Likewise, the shorter uptempo numbers (which are often combined together here) anticipated the musical formats of the disco era medley’s that would show up within a decade from this albums release.
Also, this allowed more vocal oriented fans of James Brown to acclimate to the idea of extended runs. Also,when the funk is on fire here? It’s SERIOUSLY on fire-probably because it was performed as it was being innovated. Not to mention how these JB’s musical innovations were generally closely linked with his live performances. Combined with James’ grateful, appreciative and loving interaction with the audience? This is also JB’s key transitional moment as a performer-as he was further emphasizing the instrumental sound of the JB’s more then the vocal centered one of the Famous Flames.

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‘Raydio’: Ray Parker Jr’s Debut As A Band Leader

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Ray Parker Jr. was no stranger to music when this 1978 debut dropped. All those years that the Detroit native provided guitar accompaniment to Rufus, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock made clear this multi instrumentalist had an individual enough sound (and personal identity) to survive as an entity on his own. As a matter of fact, aside from actually being in the position of employing a several session musics of his own such as Wah Wah Watson and Sylvester Rivers on piano plus a trumpet and sax player Ray Parker played, wrote,produced and engineered most the music on this album.

Jerry Knight was the only member of Raydio to accompany Parker instrumentally-as the bassist. Knight also brought his vocal ability along with Vincent Bonham and most notably Arnell Carmichael to create the  vocal quartet of Raydio. Although showcasing by and large Ray’s distinctive layered mini-moog based sound hard funk jams such as “Is This A Love Thing”, “You Need This (To Satisfy That) and “Me” are all far more incredibly hard edged than the sort of of sophistifunk Ray/Raydio would become known for-with the horn and rhythmic voices having a more prominent live band flavor.

Adding some Smokey Robinson-like wordplay into the mix “Honey I’m Rich” is a more of Ray’s pop/funk sound. The breakout hit “Jack & Jill”, with its layers of mini Moog (both bass and otherwise) reverbed into some incredible melodic exchanges. It’s basically Ray’s signature musical sound and shows up again on excellent mid tempo funk grooves such as “Betcha Can’t Love Me Just Once” and “Let’s Go All The Way”. Much as Kashif and  Prince would innovate later, Ray was using synthesizers in place of horn parts here. It anticipated the future but also created a musical present for him as well.

The album concludes with “Get Down”,a chunky bass/guitar oriented melodic funk instrumental and one of the best in it’s kind from Ray. In just about every imaginable way a musically impressive and significant set of sophistifunk classics this album provides the missing links between the era of Stevie Wonder and Prince. A link wherein the concept of the sexual revolution (lyrically) and the orchestral use of electronics (musically) would be explored to their fullest in terms of the funk genre. And honestly I am not sure if Ray Parker gets a lot of the credit he deserves for doing that.

 

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Brothers Keeper: Reviewing The Neville’s 1990 Album In Tribute To Charlie Neville (1938-2018)

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The Neville Brothers were a semi regular presence in my musical life to such an extent? They almost worked their way into the aestetic back round of that life. That was until I started exploring their music 5-6 years ago. And found that, in terms of music that came out following the 1980’s, the Brother’s Keeper is quite different from what I could possibly have imagined. Known about this for a long time. Picked it up same day,same format and same price as I did the Neville’s Fiyo on the Bayou. Decided as I often do to listen to the two together.

I expected both albums to be excellent and interesting. And that they both are. But there’s something on this particular album that is somewhat hard to put into words. It’s a sort of flavor you get from that type of 1970’s funk that stretched conceptually out beyond merely the latest dance or whatever. In terms of cultural,moral and spiritual understanding this album makes no apologies in showcasing the Neville’s outlook on all of that both lyrically and musically all at once. It’s nothing like their late 70’s,early 80’s sound at all. They evolved into something quite different.

A  good deal of these songs (in fact)  have a strong blues/country-soul vibe to them from “Steer Me Right”, the Linda Ronstadt duet of “Fearless”, “Fallin’ Rain” and “Witness” actually have more a potent combination that is closer to a country/soul/blues fusion somewhere around the middle since there’s a lot of gospel overtones in their too. “Brother Jake” isn’t exactly a heartwarming tale but at the same time it’s one of my favorites here and showcases them modernizing their funk again. Only it’s very much late 80’s sounding.

“River Of Life” and “Mystery Train” are very funk oriented but delve into the blues end of it a bit further,again telling some captivating stories that I won’t spoil for anyone here. “Sons And Daughters” is goes right back to the West Indian style percussive rhythms of Congo Square- with Charlie Neville himself delivering a spoken word lyric to the effect of politics being used as a force to spiritually bankrupt human kind to the point where there’s only “free speech unless you say too much”. “Jah Love” again points to the Afro Caribbean spirituality of the New Orleans culture.

Lyrically and musically the title song is contemplates the idea of brotherhood (both literally and figuratively) over some major chorded Crescent City type funk. The album ends with Aaron’s “Bird On A Wire”,the most sleek and 1990’s style track on this album with it’s (then) fully contemporary album. Even though one might not think of it in precisely these terms,this is a funk album. Not generationally perhaps, or in terms of it’s relation to the funk era of the 70’s. But in terms of how it presents itself stylistically and rhythmically.

This quality is especially significant on the lightly percussive opener “Brother Blood”. It has a very diverse range of  grooves and messages here that somehow all coalesce into itself. Of course when one discuss New Orleans, funk of some sort or another is bound to come into the equation sooner or later. Far as I know? The musical term “funk” itself was born there during the earliest days of jazz. In a nutshell, I suppose that’s the most important thing this particular album reflects. And can add to that importance especially one song in particular here has on the legacy of the late Charlie Neville.

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Warmer Communications At 40: AWB First And Under-Explored Comeback Album

Warmer Communications...And More

Average White Band began work on their sixth studio album during 1977. According to the liner notes for AWB’s 2014 box set All Of The Pieces, the band were creatively exhausted after their first four studio albums-in particular the hugely successful later three of them. Hamish Stuart, Alan Gorie, Roger Ball, Steve Ferrone and company first recorded a duet album with Ben E. King. Seeing that collaboration could rejuvinate their sound, the band brought in guitarist Cornell Dupree (from Stuff) with a number of NYC session musicians for their 1978 release Warmer Communications.

“Your Love Is A Miracle” is a straight up wah wah guitar powered number-with the in the pocket Family Stone inspired horn charts, “duck face” bass popping, Steve Ferrone’s stop/start funky drum and (vocally) low leads and falsetto harmonies. “Same Feeling, Different Song” has the classic AWB horn style based off the JB’s. The rhythm, tempo and lead guitar comes out of the same vibe. But the liquid rhythm guitar of the refrains come out of the later 70’s sound more. “Daddy’s Come Home” benefits from Dupree’s crying bluesy guitar tone and the organ based country/rock style balladry of the song itself.

“Big City Lights” takes a straight up bass/guitar oriented uptempo funk number-focusing heavy on the horn charts that are often combined with a round synth bass tone for an even bigger sound. “She’s A Dream” is a jazzy melange of bass, guitar with melodic and creamy horn charts playing a medium tempo ballad. The title track lays down a groove that combines the grooves of funk with the repetitive chugging of reggae. “The Price Of A Dream” is a melodically strong sophistifunk styled number-again based heavily in the vocal harmonies.

“Sweet & Sour” is sleek yet heavy horn funk instrumental before the album ends with “One Look Over My Shoulder”. This is the song I remember most off this album for some reason. It has one of the most singable, hit oriented choruses. But the percussive mid tempo groove allows the horns to hit in all the right places. And make both the instrumental and vocal focuses of the song stand out equally. Musically speaking,  Warmer Communications covers pretty familiar territory for AWB. And session players like the Brecker Brothers did make for strong writing and musicality as intended.

Where Warmer Communications  might’ve been somewhat problematic had to do with changes in music among funk bands during the late 70’s. Between 1977 and 1979, the larger horn funk bands such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower Of Power, Kool & The Gang and the JB’s were beginning to update to the more high tech production style of the disco era. AWB’s  production approach didn’t change in the late 70’s, even as their writing and playing remained strong. They’d rectify this (with controversial results) in the early 80’s. Still, Warmer Communications remains one of the bands strongest late 70’s albums.

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Prince’s Crystal Ball: Celebrating 20 Years Since The Minneapolis Genius Opened His Musical Floodgates Of The Past

Prince hasn’t been with us for two years now. And there’s a lot talk about in regard to his vault of unreleased music at Paisley Park. It was one of the very first things I personally learned about the man in the late 90’s. Prince wasn’t releasing a lot of new music at that time. Likely because of his messy legal battles with Warner Bros. While the heat was dying down on that later in the decade,he actually seemed to be dipping into the vault quite a bit when it came to his newer releases. During this time, Prince also launched his earliest website and 1-800-NEW-FUNK phone service.

Prince offered up a multi disc boxed set that endeavored to officially release some of his most sought after material from his vault. The title track is full on psychedelic funk-with very tribal drum patterns and atonal flute at various points. “Dream Factory”,the Linn drum powered groove of “Movie Star” (which Prince proudly announces in the liner notes as “D’Angelo’s favorite bootleg”) ,the cinematic soul ballad “Crucial”,the demo jazzy funk groove of “Last Heart” and the acapella “An Honest Man” all derive from his massive 1986 era music production.

“Sexual Suicide” and “Good Love” derive from an unreleased album he’d credit to the name Camille-both utilizing strong hard funk,and the former with strong wah wah powered synths. “Cloreen Bacon Grease” heals from the sessions for The Time’s sophomore album in 1982-nothing but 15 minutes of funky drumming,bass and Morris Day humorously jiving lyrically. Because Prince was intending to release a triple album in 1986 with this same title,what surprised me is how much of this material gave from the first few years of him recording with the New Power Generation.

Some of these songs such as “Acknowledge Me”,”18 & Over”,remake of “P Control”, and “Poom Poom” are heavily bound to hip-hop beats . ‘2tomorrow” showcases him picking up on Miles Davis’s style of jazz hip-hop. A Shock G remix of “Love Sign” (featuring a clever sample of his own “DMSR” in the rhythm) has a G-funk friendly vibe. The NPG find some time to get seriously funky however on “Hide The Bone”,the stripped down “What’s My Name?”,’Calhoun Square”,the Sly Stone inspired “Make Your Mama Happy” and the P-Funk inspired duck face bass heavy “Days Of Wild (Free The Slave)”.

There’s also a clutch of ballads in the soulful, wah wah/horn driven “So Dark”,a wedding song for Maybe Garcia called “She Gave Her Angels” and “Goobye”. You also have the hard rock/blues shuffle of “Da Bang”-with it’s interludes of atonal guitars and the psychedelic soundscape of “Strays Of The World”. Prince is singing the straight up blues on “The Ride”,recorded live while “Get Loose” gets a live instrumental treatment without the industrialist electronics of the original while “Ripopgodazippa” deals with a modernistic pop/reggae rhythm-which has some heavily jazzy horn phrasings.

“Tell Me How U Wanna B Done” is a fast paced “hip-house” style dance number. This set was originally released in two configurations. Both added additional music to the 3 CD set. The store purchasable version added a new folk/blues based album called ‘The Truth’-and this is the version I own. The version only available over the 1-800-NEW-FUNK phone number also added a ballet Prince wrote and composted with Claire Fischer entitled Karmasutra. I never had this version of the album. But do have deep memories of an 18th birthday trip to NYC during the early summer.

Found this at the Tower Records in Manhattan. It felt very lucky to find this album,since there was never much talk about it coming out in record stores at the time. Musically speaking,this may be presented as an full album. But it’s actually an anthology style set. My only personal issue with it is that the songs are not presented in chronological order. With an artist as eclectic as Prince was,a sense of continuity in presenting his unreleased material showcased his musical evolution and experimentation.

On this album, a heavy JB style funk number from 1986 might be followed by a gruff rap/hip-hop number from 7-8 years later-for example. Honestly to me? It would’ve been more appropriate to concentrate on his often brilliant 80’s outtakes than showcasing so much from a then-present which…frankly haven’t worn well with age. But in terms of the funk,hip-hop/jazz,ballad and blues/rock exercises throughout this set? There are many treasures to be heard through this crystal ball.

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All The Woo In The World: Bernie Worrell’s Solo Debut Coming To 40 Years In P!!!

All The Woo In The World is an album I have an interesting personal history with. It first came to my attention as a budget priced import CD my father (regretfully) gave the slip to in the late 1990’s.  I finally got a hold of a reissue for Black Friday’s Record Store Day of 2017-one with translucent orange vinyl. Bernie Worrell was the living embodiment of how his European classical training at Julliard didn’t solely represent the most advanced American musical forms. My main inner question was what would Worrell’s  1978 debut album bring to the P-Funk musical cannon as it reached its peak?

“Woo Together” has a heavy cinematic soul intro-full of layered wah wah guitar and melodic string arrangements from Dave Van De Pitte-with members of Parlet and Brides Of Funkenstein singing harmony with Worrell throughout the rest of the mid 70’s Parliament era groove.  “I’ll Be With You” showcases a melodic harmony based number-with a lot of processed instrumentation and jazzy chord changes based around that classic P-Funk acoustic and electric piano walk down. The acoustic piano solo on the last part has some similarities to Ramsey Lewis’s style of playing in this same era.

“Hold On” is a rhythmically theatrical, almost marching kind of Philly soul ballad kind of song. Its a showcase for both Fred Wesley’s trombone and Worrell’s “8 bit video game” style of high pitched synthesizer melodies. “Must Thrust” starts out a conversation with a Sir Nose sounding voice as well as Bootsy’s. And then launches right into a stomping blues/rocker with a stinging guitar solo along with Worrell’s piano and synth- with a number of vocal ad libs from both Bootsy and Worrell in the back round of the song. The harmony vocals, as on much classic P Funk, tends to take the lead end.

“Happy To Have (Happiness On Our Side)” has a compelling reggae shuffle/cinematic funk hybrid. Rodney Skeet Curtis, from what I can gather, comes in with a very jazzy bass to compliment Billy Bass Nelson’s rhythmic slapping. “Insurance Man For The Funk” brings in vocal assistance from Dr. Funkenstein himself. And its a classic late 70’s mid tempo P-Funk number in every possible respect-with its horn charts and and doo wop inspired vocal harmonies. With Worrell’s “video game” synth duetting with Maceo Parker’s sax. A reprise of “Must Thrust” concludes the album.

All The Woo In The World is representative to me of P-Funk at a logistical crossroads. George Clinton and company were trying to maintain a growing musical colony of different bands-all the while starting to focus on solo acts as well. So the album seemed to span the two end of P-Funk in 1978.  Bernie Worrell’s musical focus here is also a lot more jazzy and orchestrated. Its only when George Clinton enters the picture that it sounds rather like mid/late 70’s horn driven Parliament style P-Funk. Which was often the sound Clinton preferred for presenting his spin off acts with at that time.

Worrell also presented himself with a cracking, often high pitched voice that resembled Sly Stone across much of this album. So it offered a unique lead vocal flavor in much the same way Gary Mudbone Cooper and Walter Junie Morrison were. In the end, my own view of All The Woo In The World combines two different views I’ve already heard about it. Bernie Worrell gave much of the music a unique and colorful instrumental flavor.. At the same time, it wasn’t all that it could have been either. Still All The Woo In The World  remains a distinctive album in the pantheon of late 70’s P-Funk side projects.

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‘Street Player’ At 40: Rufus & Chaka Khan At The Crossroads Of Funk

Street Player followed the Ask Rufus album in 1978 with Chaka and the band finding themselves facing new territory. Drummer Andre’ Fischer had departed due to a falling out with Chaka involving her alcoholic and micromanaging husband Richard. Chaka was also moving towards the solo career that seemed inevitable after three of the original band members left in 1974. Not only that, but the band were now without a drummer. While they searched for a more permanent replacement, the band bought in former Leon Russell session drummer Richard “Moon Calhoun for this particular session.

As keyboard player Nate Morgan departed during that same time, David “Hawk” Wolinski, who had co-written the previous albums “Hollywood”, joined Rufus as a regular member. His playing, writing and even singing projected a stronger physical personality into Rufus that no one had possessed since Tony Maiden joined the band in 1974. Since the more reflective (and occasionally slower tempos) of the previous album didn’t always meet with the greatest of enthusiasm, the band decided to take a more contemporary production of their more classic uptempo funk sound.

The title song of this album was written with Hawk and Chicago’s Danny Serephine, and that bands version was included on their 1979 album Chicago 13-an album musically similar to Rufus in many ways. Chaka herself composed “Stay”, a more mellowed out bass/guitar type groove somewhat similar to what was on the previous album yet strong enough to endure as one of her classic songs. “Turn” is a unique hard funk song. Very bluesy in orientation and full of powerful horn, bass/guitar and organ interaction. Moon Calhoun also maintains the classic stop/start rhythmic complexity here.

“Best Of Your Heart” is a melodic, jazzy mid tempo ballad that swings right into the fast paced,percussive Brazilian jazz instrumental “Finale”,featuring a tremendous synthesizer solo from Hawk. “Blue Love” is one of my favorite songs here-starting off with a melodic synth line,it goes from somber break up ballad into an uptempo jazzy funk jam as the confidence level in Chaka’s lyrics rise as the song concludes with understanding “you never know love until somebody leaves you”.”Stranger To Love” is a powerfully orchestrated ballad-built upon its strings and flanger filtered drums.

“Take Time” is one of my favorite Rufus instrumentals-a very bass oriented in the pocket kind of groove with a very strong synthesizer counter melody with Tony Maiden rocking out pretty Hendrix style on lead guitar solo. “Destiny” is a wonderfully melodic bossa/jazz-pop type number that Chaka gives one of her all time stand out vocal performances. As far as I’m concerned? Its one of her classic songs. “Change Yours Ways” ends the album in a very jazzy funk mode-again with somewhat drastic shifts in tempo. This gives Street Player a truly unique quality about it rhythmically.

Each song tends to be like a pocket jazz/funk/soul symphony-often with two unique parts fusing into a single song. And considering what Rufus were experiencing at this time, its only fitting that the lyrical focus of this album zeroed right in on themes of change and growth.  That leaves Street Player as basically the culmination of Rufus’s classic sound. It still has the unique instrumental trademark of mid 70’s Rufus, but a lot of the lushness of the latter 70’s era. In many ways? Its one of Rufus’s most creative, strong and enduring musical works. Especially with its focus on uptempo songs of different musical colors.

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‘Blam!!’: Ride-O-Rocket With The Brothers Johnson!

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Louis and George Johnson were pretty deeply involved with the LA session scene when they released their third duo outing in 1978. Its actually a superb example how even larger groups from that era were often augmented by sometimes over a dozen other session players. On the Blam!! album it was some fine, funky company in that regard. With the likes of Larry Carlton, Steve Khan, Richard Tee, Jerry Hey, Eddie “Bongo” Brown, Michael Brecker and David Foster (among others) as the musicians featured on this albums eight tracks.

Blam!! itself is musically one of the finest albums the Johnson’s made with Quincy Jones. And certainly among the most thoroughly funky. “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now” has that infectious hook-with Louis Johnson’s slap bass right up in your face. Not to even mention the call and response lead vocals that define both the chorus and refrains of it. The liquid instrumentation of the title song and on “Mista Cool” are tailor made for more hard and heavy funk-especially the delicious is the intro to the latter tune, where the keyboard fades in and out of the left and right channels of the speaker as the chords change.

“Ride O Rocket” puts Ashford & Simpson’s songwriting/production stamp on the bands sound. So its a funky uptempo soul tune where the refrain has that disco friendly piano walk down that Nick & Val always achieved so well in their 70’s heyday .As for the closing instrumental “Streetwave”? Well its  probably the finest instrumental these guys had done. It builds to a fevered intensity and works superbly as jazz, funk, R&B and even pop. With the bass and Rhodes providing a wonderfully cinematic intro.  Along with Jones’ big band style, muted horn fueled refrains.

The only element on this album that really contrasts with it’s harder edged core are the inclusion of two ballads. “It’s You Girl” is another instrumentally liquid number-with some beautiful processed guitar and Rhodes-along with Alex Weir singing lead and with an uptempo chorus. is a nice enough quiet storm kind of song but,sometimes a change of pace isn’t necessary if the rest of the music smokes.”So Won’t You Stay” is a more traditional slow jam-with George Johnson doing a pretty sweet vocal lead. Again it has a somewhat faster chorus-though a bit smoother in this particular case.

Blam!represents The Brothers Johnson’s final album released of the 70’s. Coming into recording on their on mid decade, Louis Johnson would soon get the gig of the lifetime. That was, of course playing on the first two Quincy Jones produced Michael Jackson albums, both of which became the biggest selling recordings of all time. The album also showcases the most sonically even blend of hard funk and sleek pop jazz in the late 70’s. And in all fairness, if I was asked to recommend one stand alone Brothers Johnson album that brought in all of their musical flavors in one place, Blam!! would likely it.

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Herbie Hancock-‘Thrust’ & The Continuing Musical Mission Of The Headhunters

Herbie Hancock’s turned career heavily toward funk with the Head Hunters album. Its a style he’s never fully abandoned to this day. True, he never stopped playing acoustic jazz either. There’s a quality of “oneness” he sees in regard to the two musics,which he’d later extend into the hip-hop era. By this point he’s dealt with a lineup change. Harvey Mason has left for a solo career in 1974. So Herbie brought in the worthy, and very talented, successor Mike Clark. This not only made the Headhunters a biracial unit.  But it also represented another musically funky stride ahead.

While it was every bit the success of it’s predecessor, it was out of print on CD until the late 90’s and even still tends to be slightly overlooked. But if your familiar with Herbie’s albums before this you’d know his sound for the rest of the 70’s would’ve been completely different without the presence of this album. While it’s not fundamentally different than Head Hunters there are vital changes in approach that make the difference. With it’s use of breaks “Palm Grease” this funk groove is the closest thing to what was heard on the previous album.

“Palm Grease” also augments the pulsing synthesizers ,as it does on most of this album, with Herbie’s processed Clavinet. Also the synthesizers are more of an orchestral sort-using the newly employed ARP strings which Herbie himself would later lament he too often tried to use to simulate actual strings. This created a dreamier effect than perhaps intended. “Actual Proof”, a title based on a certain type of Buddhist chanting is an extremely fast past, repetitive yet musically crowded piece with lightening fast Clavinet riffs until again, towards the middle it’s back towards more of a jazzy keyboard groove.

“Butterfly” is a wonderful composition, one of Herbie’s finest and features a smoother Rhodes solo showcasing more use of space than the rest of this album tends to,focusing on inventing new melodies from the reeds and keyboards. “Spank-A-Lee” on the other hand is very straight ahead jazz-funk, NOTHING like what you’d hear on the previous album with its in the pocket rhythms and Clavinet riffs. With  striking cover art depicting Herbie in a musical space pod descending upon some lunar base, this has a place as one of my favorite Headhunters era releases.

For me, Thrust contains the most well realized fusion of jazz, funk and soul of any of Herbie in this period. And expands on the sound  forged on Head Hunters. It also show show funk wasn’t merely a 70’s R&B/soul style. But that it represented a creative way of using rhythm in music to expand it towards its most creative end. One can easily dance to this, it contains more than enough musical breadth to enjoy it on the instrumental level. And one can even hum or sing the melody of tunes like “Butterfly”. Whatever else Herbie Hancock has done and continues to do, he can be proud of music of this caliber

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