Tag Archives: 1970’s

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Go Up Moses” by Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack,a North Carolina native,had a somewhat complex beginning in music. A classically trained academic who represented the epitome of the college educated black mentality of civil rights era. Musically,she began as a student teacher and then a music teacher. It was jazz/funk innovator Les McCann who first discovered Flack performing in a  Washington DC nightclub. The result of their meeting was her debut album First Take in 1969. She covered McCann’s song “Compared To What” on it. The album later on provided her with her first standard in “The First Time Ever I Saw His Face”.

Today she is best known for two things. One being her iconic collaborations with the late Donny Hathaway that produced songs like “Where Is The Love” and “The Closer I Get To You”. Her sound is noted for its vocal and instrumental nuance. As well as its strong and complex songwriting. It also tended towards the slow and most adult contemporary end of balladry as well. Therefore,uptempo soul/jazz/funk has seldom been a huge priority for her. Yet when she comes through with funkiness,its often some of the strongest music the genre ever produced. A great example is her 1971 song “Go Up Moses”.

Drummer Bernard Purdie,plus percussionists Ralph McDonald and Grady Tate hold down the chugging Afro Brazilian beat. And session bass maestro Chuck Rainy provides an in your face rhythmic bass line to the musical affair. That describes the basis of the entire song-with Hugh McCracken providing bluesy rhythm guitar accents after each bar or two. Flack sings the refrains herself,and is accompanied by a bass singing choir on the choruses. She also provides a spoken recitation over them on the bridge. Richard Tee’s gospel drenched organ brings the song back home as it fades away.

This song lyrically and musically an extension of the centuries old spiritual “Go Down Moses”,with Flack collaborating with jazz flutist John Dorn for the musical aspects and the Reverend Jesse Jackson for some of the lyrical content. Its definitely in the vein of the more spiritual end of the “people music” message songs that were beginning to emerge very strong during the later period of the funk process in 1969-71. It was also the opening song to her third album Quiet Fire. Flack’s earlier albums generally opened with a bluesy funk uptempo number. And this is one of the finest of the bunch.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Believe In Humanity” by Carole King

Carole King is not only a key innovator (along with the late Laura Nyro) in the American female singer/songwriter movement. But her entire career mark puts her into the position of being an honorary queen of ivory soul. She began as a songwriter in NYC’s famous Brill Building-working with her than husband Gerry Goffin in writing such hits for black girl groups such as The Shirelles “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”. King’s “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” also became famous by Aretha Franklin in 1967. After moving to Laurel canyon following her divorce,she became part of a new trio called The City.

This band introduced her to longtime guitarist Danny Kortchmar. After her solo debut Writer made little impact on the public,her sophomore set Tapestry not only broke her commercially,but became the blueprint for the female singer/writer of the early 70’s. It did so by employing heavy gospel/soul elements in uptempo songs like “I Feel The Earth Move” and the ballad “It’s Too Late”. Two albums later,she dived headlong into the soul/funk territory with her 1973 album Fantasy. One of its moderate hits was a song I am going to discuss today entitled “Believe In Humanity”.

King’s ultra bluesy piano stomp begins the song,along with a stomping bass line before the call and response drums of the refrain come in. These are somewhat reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” in approach. Before the similarly themed chorus,there’s a B-section with the horn section scaling up into that chorus. Kortchmar provides a high up on the neck guitar pluck on each piano/horn accent. The bridge takes takes the chords down a notch with King providing a jazzy piano lick before an extended instrumental chorus takes the song out on one elongated piano chord.

“Believe In Humanity” sets the stage for the socially conscious funky soul song cycle that is the Fantasy album. Its heavy,stomping horn funk all the way. With plenty of  bluesiness and jazziness-right down to Harvey Mason’s mean slogging drumming. Lyrically the music carries it well-especially with the first line of “if you read the papers you may see history in the making”. It urges people to “listen to the case” as James Brown put it-instead seeking to gain actual human experience with stories through the media that might carry personal bias. That makes it superb message oriented “people music” funk.

 

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Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy,Baby…40 Years Old: Revisiting a P-Funk Classic

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When P-Funk first began to enter my life 22-24 years ago,Bootsy Collins was the first part of the outfit that really got my attention as an individual musician. As most of you reading this blog for some time know,have always been a big admirer of the bass and bass players. Which is awkward because as long as I can remember,hearing bass lines in songs isn’t always easy for me. True,most music listeners may be trained not to hear it. But still to this day,have trouble personally hearing the instrument in a busy instrumental mix. Bootsy has been refreshing for me in his pioneering of  a “bass in your face” style.

His 1977 album Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy,Baby! is a superb example of this. It was recorded with his Rubber Band,his own personal adjunct of the P-Funk musical army. In addition to P-Funk mainstays such as Bernie Worrell,his brother Catfish,Mike Hampton,Glenn Goins and Jerome Brailey,it also featured drummer Frankie “Cash” Waddy and vocalists Gary Cooper and Robert Johnson. The album itself is divided into separately themed halves. The first is uptempo and funk based,while the second is ballad oriented. On vinyl,those themes were divided in a “two sides of Bootsy” approach as it were.

The title song that begins the first side is the first Rubber Band song I ever heard,though originally as the first song on the Bootsy compilation CD Back In The Day. For the most part,the most prominent element is the deep,pounding Moog bass accentuated by  Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker’s horns. The song itself is a musically fictive meet and greet between Bootsy with his younger fan base known as “geepies” asking him questions about his general sense of funkiness. As jazz critic Gary Giddins said of Louis Armstrong,only the great musicians get their own theme song. And this one is certainly that for Bootsy.

“The Pinocchio Theory”,powered by a heavy wah-wah/horn interaction and “Rubber Duckie” are both two more superb examples of Bootsy’s funk style. Both are rhythmically and melodically flamboyant at the same time. All with a joyous sound played to draw people to the funk,and never to play over their heads. The invocation of preteen based pop culture elements,used similarly to George Clinton’s social satire,is well catered to Bootsy’s somewhat younger target audience. “The Pinocchio Theory” is also the origin point of one of P-Funk’s most famous quotes: “don’t fake the funk or your nose’ll grow”.

Interestingly enough,at my first time hearing this,it was still at a time when I skipped over ballads on funk albums generally. So am only hearing these as perhaps the most musically important aspect of this album. With funk,suppose one expects the rhythm to be strong and upfront. Much as with Larry Graham’s ballad approach,slow soul ballads such as “What’s A Telephone Bill?” and the more mid tempo shuffle of “Can’t Stay Away” are turned into funk ballads because of Bootsy’s hefty,quaking “duck face bass” (as I call it) that punctuates every melodic line of both songs.

The album is book ended in the middle and end by interludes such as “Preview Side Too” and a reprise of the title song. The later revisits the part of that song where Bootsy and Catfish play a Jimi Hendrix style revisit of the melody for “Auld Lang Syne “-seeming to express the album coming out early in the year-as well as a new generation of funk getting started. The former as well as “Munchies For Your Love” express far sleeker variation of Funkadelic’s earlier psychedelic rock ventures-only in a slower and more minor chorded jazzy sort of instrumental framework.

This represents one of a serious of albums where,on every song,some element of the bass instrumental sound is upfront and personal on every song.  Before funk emerged as a genre,bass players were not taken very seriously in any popular genre of music. Because it brought rhythm upfront,bassists became vital in funk from the get go. Through his time with James Brown onto George Clinton,Bootsy emerged as funk’s leading bass superstar in the late 70’s. And as this album has turned 40 a week ago now,the idea of the “bass hero” might be Bootsy’s most enduring legacies this album in particular has left on music.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Dawn” by Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin might very well be the best electric guitarist in the jazz fusion genre. He worked through the UK psychedelic rock scene,even giving guitar lessons to a young Jimmy Page. Finding much of this creatively unsatisfying,he picked up with Tony William’s Lifetime in 1969. As well as launching his own solo career.This led him to his iconic work with Miles Davis on his fusion breakthrough album Bitches Brew the following year. With the enormous acclaim working with Miles earned him, McLaughlin formed his own group The Mahavishnu Orchestra shortly thereafter.

Mahavishnu Orchestra’s actual lineup remained fluid over the years outside McLaughlin. In its original lineup though it consist of drummer/percussionist Billy Cobham,bassist Rick Laird,violinist Jerry Goodman and keyboard player Jan Hammer. In a similar manner to Miles,the band would become a platform for many future fusion band leaders. Their debut album in 1970 is called The Inner Mounting Flame. It consists entirely of McLaughlin compositions and is considered a fusion classic today. One of the songs on it that best epitomizes their style and groove for me personally is entitled “Dawn”.

Cobham and Hammer slowly accompany each other on a slowly funky mixture of cymbal heavy drumming and appropriately melodic electric piano. Cobham’s drums become louder as Laird’s bass (playing the exact counter line to Hammer’s keyboards) comes in for Rick Lairds violin solo-one which has a high pitched,sustained tone. He blends directly into McLaughlin’s guitar solo-full of Hendrix like flamboyance yet Santana style sustains. On the bridge of the song,the rhythm goes into a funkified hump with everyone playing their own accompanying solos together before fading out on its original theme.

“Dawn” is a song that’s full of feeling and passion. Listening to the way it instrumentally progresses,it does sound a lot like the day as it comes in. Its all very funky actually. The song has a slow grooving beginning-with the very hummable melody accented strongly. The bridge of the song,where the tempo gets into a faster and funkier groove,is like the sound the bright morning sunshine might make if it could. Jerry Goodman’s violin seemed to weep. And McLaughlin’s guitar seemed to be speaking and singing all at the same time. Its the best example of funky jazz fusion that can really speak to  core of the listener.

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Lonnie Liston Smith & His Funky Cosmic Echoes

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Lonnie Liston Smith represents for me the very reason why the icons of the 70’s jazz/funk genre should not be so unsung. I was exposed to Smith’s music during the late 90’s by my father. For the next decade and beyond,I deeply emerged myself in the in whatever music from him came my way. Having come up playing with free jazz icons Pharaoh Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk,he also worked with fusion pioneer Miles Davis. Smith would end up being a significant link between those two styles of jazz. His sound also opened the door  for contemporary chill jazz as well.

It was during the end of his time with Miles that Smith began putting together the Cosmic Echoes-some members coming right out of Miles’s band. He had bassist Cecil McBee,George Barron on saxes,guitarist Joe Beck and Miles alumni James Mtume as one of a quartet of strong percussionists. Was intending to do one of Smith’s songs as an Anatomy of THE Groove segment. At the end of the day though,Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes were album artists. So I am going to present an overview of their first five albums through my reviews of them from Amazon.com.


Astral Travelling/1973

With a pedigree extending from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers all the way up through his work with Pharaoh Sanders,it was very likely that keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith would have a good chance of changing the face of jazz as a leader. When Miles Davis made his earliest electric jazz works such as Filles De Kilimanjaro and Bitches Brew,he was inspired by psychedelia and the more avant garde side rock and jazz rather than anything pop oriented or commercial.

As a matter of fact Miles alum Herbie Hancock came at his earliest electric albums from the same approach. This would’ve been known as the “cosmic jazz” movement that embraced psychedelia,free jazz and electricity into exciting new combinations. For his part Smith was all set to take this already expansive music into a world of his own.

This album begins with the title song-filled with dancing percussion and the flowing scales Smith gets out of the Fender Rhodes electric piano. “Let Us Into The House Of The Lord” even more deeply explores the meaningful beauty of Smith’s electric keyboard textures-multi tracked for a wonderfully symphonic effect.

“Rejuvenation” and the closing “Aspirations” both extend from this joyous free-bop style rhythm with saxophonist George Barron inventing one penetrating melody after another harmonizing with Smith’s electric and acoustic piano. “I Mani (Faith)” starts off very gently but in the middle Barron’s sax solo begins to reflect the same intense,free associative playing associated with Smith’s former band leader Pharaoh Sanders. “In Search Of The Truth” finds both Smith and Barron again harmonizing their melodies beautifully over a round acoustic bass line interestingly reminiscent of the hook in “Love Potion Number 9”.

Every Lonnie Liston Smith album I’ve ever heard is like it’s own singular extension on a long and often continuing musical and,on later albums,lyrical journey. This album on the other hand is quite a different way to start even from that. Essentially it uses the Smith’s electric piano textures in what amounts to an acoustic free jazz setting with sax,bass,drums and percussion.

With it’s emphasis on rhythm through the heavy Afrocentric percussion and the swelling drum sound the music achieves,the melodies flowing from within them are more than capable of taking your thought process on a meaningful journey without the use of any mind altering chemicals. It’s very much an extension of the social ethic of the era when,for the first time perhaps ever the African American community were strongly emphasizing the regal and spiritual aspect of their heritage. This is a potent reminder of the importance of the funk/jazz era outside the stereotype of commercial dance music: music like this that contained the power to make the souls of the people move.

Cosmic Funk/1974

The spiritual musicality showcased on Lonnie Liston Smith’s first two albums were actually so individual they were in need of a word which would define what they were. They weren’t free jazz,the weren’t African music,they weren’t soul and they weren’t funk precisely. Somehow or other they embraced them all in new and unexpected ways.

It was very much a extension off of where jazz was starting to go in the junction between the avant garde and fusion. When your an artist however there does tend to be the need to be able to define the music you make outside a fairly impersonal label of a genre. It looks as if,very likely by coincidence,that Smith and the Cosmic Echoes actually came across that definition for the music they did with the title of this album.

The title song to his adds a much stronger (and somewhat more identifiable) funk influence to it-with the drum breaks,deep bass line and phat wah-wah guitar taking center stage along with Smith’s electric piano textures. On the vocal numbers “Beautiful Woman”,”Peaceful Ones” and the instrumental “Sais” the more cosmic end of the groove takes shape again on three wonderfully flowing numbers again strongly emphasizing the arrangements created with the dripping sound of Smith’s phase echoed Fender Rhodes.

“Footprints” has a more collective jazz flavor that goes back to a degree to the sound the Cosmic Echoes had on their debut album a year earlier. The album concludes with a wonderful vocal take on John Coltrane’s standard “Naimia”,again prominently showcasing Smith’s unique electric piano sound.

It’s very seldom in jazz funk circles outside the Crusaders do I ever hear a sound and instrumental style as well oiled and musically expansive as that of Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes. This album really served,along with their previous release Expansions to give their sound it’s signature quality that would make all the difference in the next few years.

Smith’s career would be a fairly long and creatively fruitful one. Much like Art Blakey,John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and the jazz greats he clearly admired he sought to uplift the spiritual quality of the music as it entered into it’s electric funk period. Creatively he succeeded on a level that it seems a lot of people with a great passion for music have embraced fully.

Expansions/1974

During the early 1970’s there was a massive change in the cultural consciousness of the African American community that changed the way they looked at themselves in the context of the world. African physical attributes,fashion,music and history was now understood to be a thing of great beauty and significance,rather than being some type of ignorant and primitive past that was in need of being rejected.

This had an enormous effect of literature,art,motion pictures and music. No coincidence that this all occurred surrounding what is sometimes referred to as the funk era. And jazz,enormous in the development of his new Afrocentric consciousness was making an enormous impact in and around all of this. Creatively speaking it was the idea creative environment for a talent with the creative stature of Lonnie Liston Smith.

The title song of this album could actually have been the anthem for Lonnie’s entire musical career. With fast faced,percussion poly-rhythms blending seamlessly with the meditative melodies of Smith’s phase-amp’d Fender Rhodes electric piano this funk mantra for peace and meaning in life extends beautifully into the instrumentals “Desert Nights” and “Voodoo Woman”,both of which stretch out that musical flavor into layers of flamboyantly beautiful,grooving electric piano improvisations.

“Summer Days” is a song that has a major key melody that expresses a great deal of joyousness and harmony as well,only on a mildly more active level,through a similarly themed impulse. “Shadows” takes you to a whole other place entirely with an electric piano effect like trickling water with these captivating horn phrases. “Peace” and the more uptempo “My Love” both express a similar harmonious impulse on very melodic vocal Latin jazz type numbers.

While his debut ‘Astral Traveling’ really got Lonnie Liston Smith on the map as a musical force on his own,this is the album that really went a long way at defining his sound. It’s also where he went for a heavier electric sound and began to thoroughly embrace the jazz-funk fusion sound with which he’s most often associated. He did non of this however to make a lot of money and/or sell out. His interest was in reaching the people with the power of his music and the spiritualism of his lyrical tones,both vocal and instrumental.

I realize a lot of people might get music like this mainly because they are fans of funk,rare groove or jazz and see it mainly for it’s nostalgic value. Fact is though it’s important that the message that this music,both instrumentally and lyrically,was trying to present not be forgotten either. This has the potential to be deeply influential for any funk,soul,R&B and jazz musician even today. And on a level they may not be able to put into words. That should also be considered when taking this album in.

Visions Of A New World/1975

The mid 1970’s were the prime years for what writer Ricky Vincent categorized as the “united funk” era. Music that celebrated the communal style of African American musicianship that was at the very core of funk’s creation from the beginning had become like a giant musical pine cone. It was a whole made up of many parts,scattering seeds everywhere and sprouting with new varieties of the groove from jazz to dance oriented sounds.

The last several Lonnie Liston Smith albums had been primarily jazz oriented affairs with a number of funk/R&B references-concentrating more on creating a unique instrumental feeling and flavor than with concentrating on being one genre or the other. However the jazz-funk movement of the time was almost ideal for Smith’s type of compositional style and playing. And since his previous album ‘Cosmic Funk’ was already headed straight into the realm of the groove,he went all the way there with this one.

“A Chance For Peace” is the song that really pulls it all together: the sound washes of echoed electric piano,heavier use of the ARP synthesizer and a beautifully percussive drum sound. “Love Beams” takes a very period Stevie Wonder-like rhythmic and melodic texture-adding a soprano sax melody that plays few notes but extends the ones it plays wonderfully.

“Sunset” evokes a similar flavor,only with Smith taking over on his beautifully trickling acoustic piano sound. “Colors Of The Rainbow” is a down and out electric jazz anthemic mantra with a dramatically sung and inspiring vocal part. “Devika (Goddess)” gets down deep into the most spiritual end of hard funk with a driving bass line leading the way. The title song however is a real centerpiece. Starting from a more atmospheric intro it goes into the Brazilian style,hyperactive and poly-rhythmic funk-jazz jam filled with bright melodic color,with it’s joyous Clavinet riffing.

“Summer Nights” ends the album on that same rhythmic and instrumental tone that is reflected throughout the slower songs on the album. At least to me this album stands as the most consistently fluid and funky album Lonnie Liston Smith and the Cosmic Echoes made during their salad years. It serves as every bit the culmination of where Smith was taking his musical vision since he left Pharaoh Sanders and released his debut ‘Astral Traveling’.

There was definitely something about this era of funk that was very special in general. If one marvels at the music recorded and played by Earth Wind & Fire,Kool & The Gang,Gil Scott Heron,Stevie Wonder,Curtis Mayfield,Rufus and the Isley Brothers during this time you’d be presented with rhythmically and melodically challenging music that was all at once catchy,wonderful to dance to and had your mind moving in directions you might never have suspected. And in it’s own way,this particular expression of that era almost captures that spirit on it’s highest level.

Reflections Of A Golden Dawn/1976

Visions of a New World was likely the most consistently flowing album Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes had done thus far,at least from the funk perspective. His instrumental and compositional style had fully grown into himself. He had entered into his peak period as a musician. And was poised as one of the major creative innovators of the spiritual end of the jazz-funk sound. In the year between that album and this,there began to be signs of a chance on the musical horizon in terms of funk.

The type of rhythm that would eventually evolve into the disco-dance style was beginning to make itself noticed. At the time,it actually seemed like a welcomed contribution compared to how it would be perceived by the public several years later. Lonnie Liston Smith’s musical path in the 70’s had basically been one of consistent rhythmic revolutions. And since there was something new on that horizon,Smith was enthusiastic to embrace the rhythms of the times.

“Get Down Everybody (It’s Time For World Peace)” approaches the new dance funk sound in a manner similar to Brass Construction-filled with high octane Afro-Latin percussion. On the other hand it keeps it’s foot firmly inside the message of his music,even adding a little melodic reference from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On on the refrain. It’s probably one of the strongest uptempo tracks Smith ever made.

“Quiet Dawn” and “Meditations” return to his signiature sound of richly melodic keyboard textures,only far sleeker and slippery than the usual open sound he got with this approach. “Sunbeams” and “Beautiful Woman” (revisited from his Cosmic Funk album) both have a bright sunshine funk groove to them-full of major key melodies and rhythmic joyousness. “Peace & Love” takes that to another level,reaching right into the hardcore uptempo funk end again with a meaningful message and one of the slipperiest bass lines Smith has ever had in his music.

“Goddess Of Love” and the slower “Golden Dreams” both musically come out of a place that’s hard to explain even for Smith. They are sleekly produced yet as meditatively swelling romantic jazzy grooves as he ever put down. On “Journey Into Space”,interestingly enough he presents one of his view songs with a very prominent African influence-both rhythmically and harmonically. Overall this album is very much an even stronger expansion on what came before.

In fact this and it’s predecessor could album be two parts. There are some differences though. The production on this is far more slick and the instrumental tone is somewhat less round than it was on earlier albums. That’s especially true to Smith’s keyboards. In the end the slight change in production style does the music good because it helps to add yet a new musical color to Lonnie Liston Smith’s already vibrant musical rainbow. Musically it’s another extremely strong release and definitely something to be proud of.


With those five albums reviews spanning 1974-1976,I hope that the general aura of Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes comes through. As John Coltrane had in acoustic jazz a decade before him,Smith viewed his style of jazz/funk as a medium that could speak to people’s souls. That there could be a certain harmonic atmosphere along with the rhythms. Its probably the closest jazz-funk got to what we’d call new age music now. Even so,all of it comes from completely Afrocentric terms. And that what makes Lonnie Liston Smith,however unsung,such an important figure in the world of 70’s jazz/funk.

 

 

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Kool & The Gang,By Any Other Name,Still Have The Groove

Kool & The Gang are one of a handful of bands whose music shaped the way I perceive music. They first did so with their early 80’s hits,which were newer in the years I growing up. Their 70’s era music had a similar effect when I was in my mid teens. During the 70’s,the were a jazzy funk band heavy on instrumentals. And with a trade off based collective vocal approach. In the 80’s,they’d turned into a hook filled post disco/funk pop band with lead singer J.T. Taylor. And they returned sporadically with other approaches after that. Each era was its own thing musically. But they were always Kool & The Gang.

With that being my own view on it,it really took me by surprise when reading Rickey Vincent’s book Funk! in the late 90’s that Kool & The Gang were seen by some as a band who’d gone “far beyond devoid of funk”. Opinions are opinions of course. But ever since that time,especially after going online,its a topic that I’ve wanted to explore with different people. And it would seem Vincent’s viewpoint is shared by many people who admire Kool & The Gang. Even apparently among some members. Today,I’m not writing to counter anyone’s opinion. Simply seeking to pull the whole situation together.

The band came together in 1964 when a group of high school friends,among them Robert and Ronald Bell,formed an instrumental group called the Jazziacs. Changing their names to Kool & The Flames,the replaced that word with “gang” to avoid confusion with James Brown’s backup vocal group. Signing with Dee Lite records in 1969,the band actually began to record a series of albums that showcases a percussive,horn based jazz/funk sound that had JB himself referring to the band as “the second baddest out there”,next to him of course.

Songs such as “Hollywood Swinging”,”Jungle Boogie” and “Funky Stuff” even crossed over onto the pop charts. 1974’s “Summer Madness” impressed Sylvester Stallone enough that it was used in the first Rocky movie. The bands 1976 hit “Open Sesame”,an middle Eastern influenced disco/funk groove,actually became part of the blockbuster  Saturday Night Fever  soundtrack. Kool & The Gang’s place in the pantheon of funk and now the disco scene was officially established. One thing that Kool & The Gang still lacked by the end of the 70’s though was a lead singer fronting them.

The same year as Saturday Night Fever, the band released a new album entitled  The Force. By this time,the female vocal quartet of  Beverley Owens, Cynthia Huggins, Joan Motley and Renee Connell were essentially acting as the bands lead voices. And the male group members,who once shared the leads,often did more backup vocals. 1978’s Everybody’s Dancing,as with its predecessor,was not a commercial success. But it did find the band creating a more pop oriented atmosphere with a sound that didn’t deviate much from their “Open Sesame” era sound.

Kool & The Gang’s 1977-78 albums were two of the most important albums in their musical evolution. Though not everyone realized that because they had no major single to anchor them in the public eye. By the end of the 70’s,Kool & The Gang actually had a commercially and creatively workable sound to deal with. But they needed a hit. And to do that,they’d need a lead singer. Enter North Carolina native James “JT” Taylor. He joined the band right around the time they began working with Brazilian jazz/funk producer Eumir Deodato to complete the alteration of their sound.

Deodato was deep in his disco period by 1979. Especially in his love of instrumental filters and singable melodies. The result of this new configuration for Kool & The Gang resulted in “Ladies Night”,their first R&B/crossover hit in several years. It had a strong funky strut to the groove. And also had a very melodic,singable chorus. The song was a smash,they had a follow up in the slower jam “Too Hot”,JT Taylor was a major success as a lead singer. And next up was their best known pop hit,1980’s “Celebration”.

Recently I learned the band didn’t particularly like that song. With one or two people I’ve talked to citing it as having more of a country pop influence than anything. On Kool & The Gang’s four albums produced by Deodato,hits such as “Get Down On It” and “Big Fun” were catchy,horn heavy pop funk pieces. Album tracks such as “Stand Up And Sing” and “Street Kids” (one of my personal favorites) dealt with lean,mean boogie funk with deep and dirty bass/guitar/keyboard riffing. After 1982,Deodato moved on. And so did Kool & The Gang.

The bands 1983 album In The Heart and its 1984 follow up Emergency showcased Kool & The Gang as mainly doing pop crossover material. Some with a pronounced new wave influence-even to the point of adding rock guitar solos. Still both of these albums contained funk oriented tunes such as “Rollin'”,”You Can Do It”,”Surrender” and even the hit “Fresh”. On their 1986 album Forever,some of the music leaned more towards danceable freestyle funk. But they were now using synthesized horns. And after this,their sound really wasn’t as strongly rooted anymore. Especially in terms of funk.

Many of the strongest and historic bands and soloists in black American music (Miles Davis for example) have a number of distinct creative periods. Some are motivated by desire to grow musically. Others are motivated by desire for commercial success. in Kool & The Gang’s case,it would seem both factors were in play. Their musical sound only ran out of steam when they’d been recording and touring non stop for over 20 years. And that’s perfectly understandable. Now personally,do I feel with all this being said that JT Taylor era Kool & The Gang was lacking in funk? Absolutely not.

To be frank,a degree of the criticism against 80’s Kool & The Gang has some of the ingredients that go into the making of jazz snobbery. The band brought a lot of collective improvisation into their sound. And along with it came a strong spiritual identity and a sexually implicit sense of humor. Often times when any group celebrated for their musically improvisational ability begin offering straighter melodies,such a group can find themselves looked down upon as no longer being artists. Of making music only for the purpose of financial gain. In short,becoming sellouts.

Because of their successful jazzy funk of the early/mid 70’s,Kool & The Gang have indeed seem to have met with a similar fate to other jazz improvisers,such as the aforementioned Miles Davis, who tweaked their sounds to get more people into their music. Kool & The Gang’s music was always about reaching people from the get go. But as it is in life,people’s musical tastes and interests changed. And so did the band. I applaud Kool & The Gang for so successfully reinventing their funk. Perhaps it will be the passage of time that will show more love for the reinvention of the original scientists of sound.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Disco, Eumir Deodato, jazz funk, Jersey City, Kool & The Gang, pop-funk, Robert Kool Bell, Ronald Bell

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Am I Black Enough For You” by Billy Paul

Billy Paul is another of far,far too many music icons of the 20th century who passed away during 2016. The Philly native grew up listening to jazz based singers such as Nina Simone,Carmen McCrae and Billie Holiday. After a stint in the army,where he was was stationed in post WWII Germany in the late 50’s along with Elvis Presley. Using this as an opportunity to further his love of music,he launched a jazz trio while in Germany. After getting out of the army,he became part of the burgeoning Philadelphia International Records,eventually releasing his debut album in 1970.

As with most people in America,my primary knowledge of this artist was via the ballad “Me & Mrs. Jones”. My father purchased a compilation of Billy Paul’s music. And after that,it became clear that this man did some amazingly cinematic uptempo tunes. Many of them with a very strong pro black sociopolitical bent lyrically. It was about a year ago when watching a documentary about Oakland’s Black Panthers that I heard a very funkified song with a very familiar voice. Turns out that voice belonged to the late Billy Paul. And the song (from 1972) was called “Am I Black Enough For You”.

A bluesy Clavinet riff dovetails into the percussive accented funky march of the drums. That Clavinet maintains itself throughout the song. At first,this is assisted by a bluesy rhythm guitar. The song has a rather elaborate,jazzy bass line holding the rhythm section together. The horns are both melodic and climactic-scaling upward on each of the songs choruses. Towards the end of the song,a fuzzed out guitar plays an eerie sustain in the back round as the percussion and a bluesy organ and guitar take over on the bridge. Then the songs main chorus takes over until it all fades out

“Am I Black Enough For You” is a psychedelic,bluesy funk number musically. One featuring a dense,thick instrumental sound. The melody is very overtly blues based too. Lyrically,the song speaks as much to the present day as it did for 1972. In both cases,an unpopular and widely disliked politician had become president. And anti black attitudes were a causal factor in both cases. This song lyrically suggests that strength in numbers will help black Americans to have power and dignity of person. And with Billy Paul no longer with us,that’s as fine a musical concept for him to heave us with as any.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Billy Paul, blues funk, civil rights, clavinet, drums, Funk Bass, fuzz guitar, horns, message songs, organ, percussion, Philadelphia, Philadelphia International Records, Philly Soul, pro black, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar

Leon Russell: 1942-2016-Thank You 4 Your Service,Leon!

Stop All That Jazz

Leon Russell had an extremely good early 70’s. Not only did he release a series of highly well received albums but he would collaborate with George Harrison and Bob Dylan on Concert for Bangladesh in 1972. The same year he wrote “This Masquerade”,a song which would several years later become a huge hit for George Benson. Leon,an Oklahoma native had a musical sound that was almost impossible to classify. There was a very heavy country/blues component to his sound. But he is also clearly a part of the singer-songwriter era.

And he is always open about expressing the strong jazz and soul aspects of his sound. On earlier albums it was that country-blues side of him that took presidents for the most part. For this 1974 album,Leon began using synthesizers in his music. He also bought in a trio of brothers named Ronnie,Robert and Charlie Wilson from Tulsa to back him up. These brothers than called themselves the Greenwood,Archer & Pine Band. Later this would be abbreviated into The Gap Band. This albums serves as their introduction to the world. And that’s fitting since it’s the beginning of an important music breakthrough for Leon himself.

The title of this album is not meant ironically since it is in fact a very jazz oriented album. But since this is Leon Russell we’re talking about here. He starts out the album with a stomping New Orleans style R&B version of “If I Were A Carpenter”. That particular side of this album stays with him on originals such as “Leaving Whipporwhill” and “Working Girl”. On “Smashed” this very pointed jazzy soul groove comes out of this sound once the Wilson’s begin participating. This is one of the albums strongest numbers. That plus a very like minded soul-jazz version of “Spanish Harlem”,filled with Ronnie Wilson’s soulful horn charts and the appropriate dash of Latin percussion.

“Streakers Ball” blends a bit of a stronger,funkier groove into this sound with the synthesizers providing some otherworldly electronic orchestral touches to the almost countrified soul groove. Now in terms of serious funk there’s a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown”. It’s a deep,uptempo,heavy bass and drum led funk march. With the Charlie Wilson’s vocal harmonies on full display the song is not quite full funk,or full blues or full gospel. But a hybrid strung together of the most powerful elements of all three. It’s unlike any other song I have heard before really. Closest comparison would be something like Rose Royce’s “First Come,First Served”.

The album ends with “Mona Lisa Smile” and the title song. Both are easy swinging jazz numbers,the latter with this heavy southern soul chorus blended in for good measure. The bonus tracks are some lush country-western takes on “Wild Horses” and a ho down of “Wabash Cannonball” sung with Willie Nelson. Especially with the bonus tracks,Leon Russell is out to do a lot of different things on this album. And he does. What keeps it from being a sloppy mess is that there is one strong unifying focus to everything on this album: that not so simple little factor of soul.

It’s part of everything from Leon’s…unique vocal style (an odd combination of Willie Nelson and Dr.John in a way) to the very way in which he composes,produces and arranges music. This album was recorded deep in the middle of what I will refer to as the funk era. And while it’s not an album defined by one particular genre,including funk,that particular musical era and the atmosphere it produced is evident from the very beginning of this album to the very end.
After hearing it,and it’s a very very difficult CD to track down I’ll tell you that,I have some trouble understanding why it’s not better liked than it is. It’s a carnival tent show of songs with a groove and directly in the eye of the groove. And the melodies and instrumentation are absolutely enchanting. It’s one of Leon Russell’s most musically and creatively potent works I’ve ever heard.

Will O' The Wisp

Now this album is not my introduction to the music of Leon Russel but it is as far as full length albums and,as far as I’m concerned there’s absolutely no disappointments to be heard. Now just to go back a bit to another point I made with a friend that,if one is looking for it you can easily find great funk in any aisle of a record store/department. It was a genre that consistently bled into rock,jazz,blues and during the mid 70’s the genre of funk was helping so much music to bleed together that it all came together (much as jazz’s creation from the outside) into a tasty musical gumbo with a lot of diverse herbs and spices of sound.

It’s not surprising with the Wilson Brothers’ (known today as The Gap Band) appearance on Leon’s previous album Stop All That Jazz that this was going to be the direction his music would continue to take and it did. The music on this album is a decidedly southern flavored blend of jazz,funk,country-soul,blues and excellent pop songwriting with some wonderfully fluid piano playing,occasional tasty sax riff and some wonderfully textural use of synthesizers. Some heavy duty funk such as “Little Hideaway”,”Make You Feel Good”,”Down On The Deep River” and the tasty groove of “Bluebird” really bring all of this together.

In addition all of these songs showcase the close back round harmonies of Mary McCreary,whose presence in both Leon’s music and life would grow only by leaps and bounds in the very short future. When you get to the elongated,percussive “Can’t Get Over Losing You”,”My Father’s Shoes”,”Stay Away From Sad Songs” and the tropically inclined harmonies of “Back To The Island” slow the funk down to a breath taking slow crawl in which the groove really has a chance to burn really hard.

Even though Leon was from Oklahoma and not New Orleans his music came out of a similarly torrid spirit as Dr.John,Allen Toussaint and The Meters and even though he never exactly gained the same type of recognition as any of those people this along with a handful of other excellent recordings Leon Russell made during his prime years would certainly put him easily in the same league.

 

Wedding Album

After the release of his excellent Will O’ the Wisp Leon Russell wed his backup singer Mary McCreary and the pair commemorated the event with a duet album between the two of them. One of the most exciting parts of the album is not only do the two share vocals on this album but Mary herself  a very active participant in this music with her new husband,playing synthesizer and percussion quite often and creating these beautifully elaborate choruses of back round vocals as well as her leads. The spirit of sharing and mutual cooperation,an integral component of any marriage lends itself here as a musical element as well.

Musically this album embraces styles Leon always had in his music as this is a full out funk-soul/R&B album with the textural synthesizers are enlarged in number,mixed far higher in the music and the melodic/harmonic arrangements of the music are more complex and elaborate. These songs are not in fact all too separated from what you might find on a Stevie Wonder,Smokey Robinson or Ashford & Simpson recordings of the period. The introductory song,the romantic “Rainbow In Your Eyes” is one of the very strongest and romantic songs Leon ever wrote.

The melodic keyboard/synth sound carries the song along with the intricate melody and it was so strong Al Jarreau covered the song very quickly on his album Glow of the same year,also opening the album with that song as well. The swelling “Love’s Supposed To Be That Way”,the cosmic sounding “Fantasy”,”Satisfy You” and “You Are On My Mind” all maintain the exact same level of quality and dynamic arrangements. Mary’s elastic,powerful vocalizing is a great combo with Leon’s tougher,rubbery singing style and the way they work them into the songs is just so wonderful to behold.

Unlike a lot of albums made after a musician gets married the intensity of the music actually increased in this case,largely because the couple were involved in making music and were already very experienced at doing so. “Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly)” gets down into a heavy honky tonk/funk groove with Leon and Mary trading off some very meaty lyrics. On the midtempo “Quiet Nights” and “Windsong” the jazziness really gets going in the music. I would never call these songs sappy at all;they are beautifully cool and reflective in flavor and give both the music and vocals a chance to glide across each other smoothly.

“Daylight” closes the album again on a more uptempo melodic funk not. Considering it’s celebratory title this album fully lives up to it’s ambitions and concept in every way and upon hearing it I am very surprised it wasn’t more popular in it’s day than it was. Still it’s wonderful to have this very unsung and buried 70’s funk/soul masterpiece available (thanks to Wounded Bird again) and give modern listeners a chance to hear it with remastered sound and just the plain dignity of having it around again.

Leon and Mary Russell’s debut album together Wedding Album was a personal and musical triumph for everyone involved. So it seemed obvious that a fairly immediate follow up album was in order and they delivered one. At the very same time this is a completely different musical experience. Mary’s participation on this album on every front is somewhat played down as Leon gets a bit more involved. There’s more of a similarity to his earlier solo albums in parts and generally speaking is a mix of tunes similar in flavor to their debut album and some that follow Leon’s own musical lead a bit more.

“Easy Love” and the title song bare the most similarity to the previous album as somewhat uptempo soul/funk but the groove is a lot slicker and the synthesizer arrangements are a lot less thick overall. Still the music on these songs is every bit as brilliantly written as before. A good number of these songs such as “Joyful Noise”,”Now Now Boogie”,”Say You Will” and “Hold On To This Feeling” have a more organic,chunky honky tonk style funk groove more in keeping with some of the earlier Leon Russell solo albums and showcasing the band more than the individual styles of himself and Mary.

This album was released the same year as Saturday Night Fever so some of the style of disco does show up on a few of these tracks. Actually the ones that do;”Love Crazy” and “Love Is In Your Eyes” are harder edged disco-funk flavor tunes with some chunky,heavily processed Clavinet’s and some nasty rhythmic exchanges. The swoony romanticism of the previous album is replaced by a heavier sensual passion on this album and these two cuts display that more than others.

The last tune on the album features Mary the most on the somewhat psychedelisized Caribbean groove of “Island In The Sun”. As with the previous album there really are no bad cuts at all on this album. They’re all different though and that can be a wonderful thing often enough. In this case the pair require a cohesive musical concept to be their very best and this album doesn’t really possess that kind of cohesiveness so it’s only one star less powerful than the previous album.

 

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Filed under 1970's, country/soul, Funk, funky soul, Gap Band, Leon Russell, Mary McCreary, Music Reviewing

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Wild And Peaceful’ by Kool & The Gang (1973)

Wild And Peaceful

It would take a very long time to even begin to explain why I’ve neglected purchasing this album for such a long time. It would also take a long time to explain my viewpoints on funk music at this point. All I can say is this. A friend of mine once described funk as the “punk music of the black community”,mainly in the sense it was the hardest edge (and by and large most sociopolitical) of the soul music genre. Difference was funk required a very high level of musicianship,usually in a band context to bring out the best in it.

When this album came out Kool & The Gang had been a musically successful recording and performing band for almost half a decade. And had released loads of excellent music,both in the studio and live. But something clicked with this release. It was the “united funk” era. And the music in every sense was in it’s peak period. And this is one of a slew of albums that represents that.

This album got three big pop chart hits for Kool & The Gang,their first if I recall with “Funky Stuff”,”Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”. These songs are 100% first period era K&TG: with the heavy horns,dynamic rhythms and these looseness of playing that defined the bands sound. Aside from that this albums goes deep into another important factor of the funk. Though almost a breezy ballad the conversational “Heaven At Once” finds an adult and teenage man engaged in a dialog over what they should expect of themselves in society.

“This Is You,This Is Me” offers a really charged up rhythmic section,with a churning bass/guitar and the message of “in the ghetto I’ve never seen a tree/this is you/this is me” indicating funks central message of the celebration of difference rather than us all being alike. On “Life Is What You Make It”,it’s a very upbeat and empowering groove. The album ends on the 9+ minute title song,a soothing jazz oriented instrumental number giving members Spike and Dee Tee,on trumpet and flute respectively more chances to solo.

In a way this album links one era of Kool & The Gang to the next. Earlier on in their career,before this album they’d been a band that emphasized instrumentation more than vocals. Their vocal set up was even looser than their sound was. Even when the harmonies were looking to be close. They seemed to be a band more about music than getting pop hits. Somewhere along the line with this album,pop hits found them. Although in two cases on songs that had a very implicit sexual impulse and one that celebrated their success.

At least I’d like to hop it attracted people to the album because the non hit material is often what has the most musical and lyrical value. The message of this album is one that the band would continue on with over the next several albums: a strong awareness of Afrocentric spirituality and a call for unity among all those deemed as unique. This was the conclusion of one era for the band but the beginning of another. But that’s another story.

Originally posted on July 25th,2012

Link To Original Review Here*

 

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Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, classic albums, classic funk, Funk, jazz funk, Kool & The Gang, Music Reviewing

Bootsy At 65: The Funky Bassology Of William Collins

William “Bootsy” Collins represents the key aspect of funk for me. He was the first “bass hero” as it were. As part of the funk process,Larry Graham developed the vocabulary for it all to happen. And it was Bootsy who became in P-Funk what most lead guitarists do in rock bands. His bass was huge and flamboyant. And he made his “space bass” sound and image the start of the show with his Rubber Band,on his own and later with different session work. Of course,the story of how the Cincinnati native found fame through membership in the JB’s is well known. His beginnings with P-Funk are another matter.

Before Bootsy became a major player in the P-Funk arena,Funkadelic were more or less a groove acid rock jam band. And they had a slow,instrumentally raggedy approach. Especially in terms of rhythm. That gave them their uniqueness in the early 70’s. Bootsy arrived for their 1972 album America Eats Its Young. And he brought with his his profound sense of rhythm,and love of the singable melody. His personality shortly became as vital to P-Funk as George Clinton’s. In that way,he was able to change the face of P-Funk in the way he wasn’t as able to do in the strictly structured James Brown camp.

In all honesty,I haven’t yet heard everything that Bootsy has been instrumentally involved in. Especially in the 90’s,a number of musical projects in the Bill Laswell camp were  utilizing Bootsy’s talents to provide the driving groove element to them. Today,I’d like to present to you some of the Bootsy solo/Bootsy related session work that I’m personally aware of. And that are personal favorites of mine. I am excluding his contributions to Parliament and Funkadelic,since that’s an article in and of itself. So here is Andresmusictalk’s rundown of personal Bootsy favorites.


‘Ahh,The Name Is Bootsy,Baby” (1977)

The groove on this song is both super clear and super punishing in terms of the funk. The deep,descending synth bass line alone makes the song. Not to even mention the horns and call/response vocals. Pretty much Bootsy’s defining song while leading the Rubber Band.

“Very Yes” (1978)

This punchy 1978 funk ballad was one I thought was sung by a very whispery female singer at first. Turns out this slow thump’s lead vocals were the work of Robert “P-Nut” Johnson. Just the combination of funkiness and quirkiness make this a very defining Bootsy number for me.

“She Jam” (Almost Bootsy Show)” (1979)

One of the reasons I enjoy this so much is that its a thick,throbbing Bootsy funk groove,as well as being an intricately written pop song. The combination of heavy funk instrumentation and melodic songwriting really make songs like this stand out.

“Its A Musical” (1980)

Bootsy utilizing his trademarked flamboyant,revved up bass style as the basic for every other instrumental and melodic idea of a song came to fruition on songs such as this “Its A Musical” did for Bootsy at the start of the 1980’s what “Bootzilla” and “Roto Rooter” had done a few years before.

“Hyper Space” by Sweat Band (1980)

This particular song by the Bootsy spin off Sweat Band is an instrumental that showcases P-Funk at its most melodically strong. The groove is an intense mix of synth bass,Clavinet and piano. The synthesizer plays a strongly modulating,jazzy theme as the main melodic theme,one the Clavinet also repeats. Some of P-Funk’s strongest music period.

“Shine-O-Mite (Rag Poping’)” (1982)

The bass/guitar interaction and sizzling synth interludes that define this groove make this what is,to me,some of the most slept on P-Funk of the early 80’s.

“Party On Plastic” (1988)

Took Bootsy awhile to make a comeback. But he came back in 1988 with a roar on his What’s Bootsy Doin’ album,a hard hitting electro funk set that is really defined by the sound of this song,its opener. It combines electronic drums,percussion and huge slap bass.

“Love Song” (1988)

Bootsy always had a way with writing funky love songs. On this,he did so in a pounding,ultra melodic Cameo-like funk manner. Always one of my favorite Bootsy numbers.

“Groove Is In The Heart” by Deee Lite (1990)

This funky house jam by the DJ collective Deee-Lite showcases not only Bootsy’s playing and influence. But is also loaded with his attitude and presence. In particular when he comes in saying “ASK YOUR MAMA!”.


So there you have it,my rundown on personal favorite Bootsy jams. There were others that were more defining and influential to other musicians,of course. Still,one of the most important aspects of Bootsy’s talents was being able to make hard funk somehow singable and accessible to people who were not heavily instrumentally inclined. That’s a combination that takes a lot of understanding. And generally a positive attitude. And those are two of the qualities that keep Bootsy’s music moving straight ahead onto where his funk will take him on its next journey.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Bootsy's Rubber Band, Deee-Lite, elecro funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, P-Funk, Sweat Band, synth bass