Tag Archives: 12-bar blues

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Inside Straight” by Cannonball Adderley

Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s musical output and history is such a vast subject, I find it somewhat intimidating to write about. The Tampa native and his trumpet playing brother Nat were playing with Ray Charles in the early 40’s. After his musical studies and years of  band leading positions, he was noticed by Miles Davis for his blues rooted approach to the sax. His works with Miles included albums such as  Milestones  and the modal jazz classic Kind Of Blue. Miles’ musical journeys, from avant garde to electric jazz fusion, continued to inspired Adderley’s own music until his passing in 1975.

One idea that Cannonball and his brother Nat did at different times in the early 70’s were a pair of albums with their own groups with the subject matter being a lighthearted look at astrology. That was the side of Cannonball and Nat Adderley’s artistry that I’m most familiar with. Another album of Cannonball that was played around the household a lot was a 1973 album called Inside Straight. It was a live in the studio session recorded at the Fantasy studios in Berkeley, California. The song that got my attention right from the get go on the album is the opening title song.

Roy McCurdy’s  in the pocket drumming gets the groove going at 88 bpm, with Hal Galper’s Fender Rhodes and Walter Booker’s bass clomping along rhythmically right along with it. Cannonball plays an equally rhythmic 12 bar blues melody in his classic style over this-giving the song a strongly themed chorus. He improvises on this theme for much of the second minute of the song. On the second chorus of the song, someone (likely Cannonball) is making a squawking, almost flatulent like vocal horn effect. The choral theme of the intro fades out the song.

“Inside Straight” is just the kind of hard bop/soul jazz/funk process type of groove that shows how vital Cannonball’s music was in the early 70’s. Especially in terms of the evolution of jazz into the funk era. The groove itself is very straight forward and clear-its relatively slow tempo allowing Cannonball’s funky improvisations to really take flight. It really embodies how distinct Cannonball’s approach to sax was to allow it to evolve. That common ground between he and Miles Davis’s approach to music is really what makes this such a standout Cannonball Adderley number for me.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Nuclear Blues” by Blood, Sweat & Tears

Blood, Sweat & Tears were the first major jazz-rock group to hit the scene. This NYC group was formed in 1967 by Al Kooper. The main members included Mothers Of Invention album Jim Fielder along with Steve Katz and Bobby Colomby. It was also the first self contained rock group to have an integrated horn section. The group would record through the 70’s-losing and gaining new personnel as they went along. Including their original lead singer Al Kooper. Their most famous lead singer is David Clayton- Thomas. He joined the band for their sophomore album in 1968.

Thomas’s raspy,soulful vocals and songwriting immediately hit pay dirt for the band with the hit song “Spinning Wheel”. He continued writing for the band until pursuing a solo career after the 1971 album Blood, Sweat & Tears 4. He returned to the band just under five years later. They continued to record studio albums, with the ever changing lineup, until their final album to date came out in 1980’s Nuclear Blues. This was their first and only album on the MCA/LAX record label. One of the highlights I’ve heard so far is the David Clayton-Thomas penned title song of the album.

A rumbling, blasting bass synth tone with a cinematic wind like sound from behind it provides the intro to the song. The horn charts blast in along with the rhythm guitar, popping bass and an equally popping keyboard part in the back round. The B-section of the main theme has the Clavinet takes over behind Thomas’s vocal. On the bridge, this same B-section is played up as an instrumental part. First with an organ solo, than a sax solo playing behind an eerily bouncing, heavily reverbed bass line. During the extended chorus fading out the song, Thomas breaks into a mini rap over that same bass line.

“Nuclear Blues” finds Blood, Sweat & Tears, by this time on their 11th studio album, having marinated on from their elaborate jazz/rock arrangements into a well oiled jazz funk ensemble. Especially with the then newest members such as the bass/guitar duo David and Robert Piltch. Along with keyboardist Richard Martinez and the slow, in the pocket drumming of Bobby Economou.  David Clayton-Thomas wrote a straight up 12 bar blues for this musical backing-one with a timely lyric dealing with the tail end of the cold war. This makes “Nuclear Blues” a perhaps unsung swansong of Blood, Sweat & Tears.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove 4/11/14: Andre’s Pick-Ronnie Laws “Live Your Life Away”

The entire purpose of this column began as a means by which to showcase the presence of funk,in its many forms,within music released just before or after the new millennium. In the case of today’s song,I am making a huge exception. The reason for this is to make a point about the message behind funk music itself and how it effects people in society. The message in the music is a very liberating one. So often one hears songs such as Earth Wind & Fire’s “Singasong”,Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” or Kool & The Gang’s “Love And Understanding”  and has a romantic vision in their minds of the 1970’s as being a thoroughly incredible time frame. I include myself in having has such visions.

Historically however,the 70’s decade had many similarities to today. The Watergate scandal created mass cynicism about political change for the better among a generation,an fuel shortage made transportation and even the pressing of vinyl albums themselves a difficult matter and poverty continued to broaden across America. That presumed “incredible time” comes from the fact that the popular culture,the funk era in particular,responded generally with hope for the future and encouragement for the present after the more paranoid outlook of The O’Jays “Backstabbers” or Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes”. And I cannot think of a song that encompasses this ethic much better than Ronnie Laws’s “Live Your Life Away”.

Musically the song,produced by EWF’s Larry Dunn and featured on the end of Laws’ 1978 album Flame,the song is instrumentally an very encompassing mixture of the sleekly produced band sound that one would hear from an EWF recording. On the other hand the instrumentation is based around a glistening,high pitched and chiming synthesizer solo with a strong and slinky bass synth set both beneath and all around it. So in terms of the playing style in general, the approach is a lot closer to that of Stevie Wonder-all coming together for that synergy that create an instrumental stamp unique for Ronnie Laws’ music. On the other hand on the chorus,the chords of the songs change to a basic blues hook-matched by the smooth 12-bar blues guitar riff courtesy of EWF supplicant,the late Roland Bautista. This perfect matches the duel nature in the mood of this song.

And this songs duel lyrical nature comes from the lyrics. On the rather melodically bright vocal refrains,the message is one that is sorely needed from popular music in today’s workaminute world-basically to “push ahead but don’t move too fast” and that people can spend too much energy and time “pursuing pleasures that really never pay”. The songs message is not only uplifting but extremely practical as it encourages balance over struggle,genuine relief of stress over denial. At the same time the chorus warns that this is so important to do because “you can live your life away”-instrumentally accompanied by the classic blues riff. And though this song represented something of a “so long” to the original funk era? It is the idea instrumental and lyrically conceptual funk direction for modern musicians to take in a society where the extremes of apathy and frustration and strong allegiances to social/political parties offered up as a confusing mixed message. As George Clinton said, funk not only moves but can remove. And today this type of groove would be just what the doctor ordered.

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Filed under 1970's, Disco, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Jazz, Late 70's Funk, Ronnie Laws, Stevie Wonder