Tag Archives: 1981

Norman Connors: The 1981 Party Town Of ‘Mr. C’

Norman Connors music of the 70’s and early 80’s is something I personally cannot find much to any fault with, in the musicianship and compositional strength. Now he did establish something of a formula. That is basically emphasizing urban/adult contemporary fusion peppered with his free and Brazilian jazz influences. Basically his albums always contained a good handful of very slow ballads during this period. By 1981,it would seem Connors’ run of album releases was showing signs of drawing to a close.

The funk and disco eras were also both going in the same direction. So what did Norman Connors do? He changed up his groove. “She’s Gone” begins the album on a processed Rhodes piano led groove that’s thick on the boogie funk rhythm with horns and heavy percussion. “Party Town” throws on the bass and lead synthesizer in phat,grooving layers on a jam that gets down deep into electro funk territory. “Keep Doin’ It” has a rhythmically sleek post disco vibe while “Stay With Me” had a thick Caribbean style dance/funk percussive groove.

“Anyway You Want” and “Love’s In Your Corner” keep that percussive funk percolating right along while “Sing A Love Song” has a sexy mid-tempo jazz/funk vibe and an elaborate melody. It’s the closest thing to a ballad here. The album ends with the instrumental title song-combining Connors’ jazzy arrangements into the post disco/boogie framework. From beginning to end,this album is completely different then any other Norman Connors album I’ve ever heard. It actually doesn’t contain any slow ballads whatsoever.

The uptempo songs it contains are heavy on the contemporary funk style of the time. All the same,Connors talents as an arranger are all over this session musician heavy release. Most of his previous albums had contained funk oriented numbers. Yet the fact that this 1981 album prioritized it to such a degree showed how thoroughly musical a thinker Connors was. Uptempo funky music was not exactly publicly embraced during this era. Just perhaps, Norman Connors realized that his musical acumen had the power to not only change for his own sake but give the funky soul lovers just what they wanted

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Saturday Night” by Bobby Broom

Bobby Broom’s musical career has always, in some way, been tied into musical education. Born in Harlem in 1961, he went onto study jazz guitar with local player Jimmy Carter. He then went onto gigs with musicians such as Charlie Parker alumni Al Haig. After his university education at Berkeley, he began a stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, probably the ultimate training ground there was in jazz at that time. As well as maintaining a recording career, the now 57 year old Broom is also Director of African American Music at Studies at the University Of Hartford, Connecticut.

One of Broom’s childhood heroes was George Benson. Both physically and stylistically, that’s how he presented himself on his 1981 GRP/Arista debut Clean Sweep. In a career that would find him playing with both Sonny Rollins in the 80’s and even guesting on R.Kelly’s 12 Play album in the 90’s, Broom’s solo debut found his music in a jazz/funk plus a one jazz standard format similar to Bernard Wright’s ‘Nard album of the same vintage. Having listened to it, the album has no weak songs. And is generally instrumental. One of my favorite funk numbers on the album is called “Saturday Night”.

Marcus Miller walks right up to Buddy Williams’ funkified drums on the intro-settling into a seven note bass run as percussionist Crusher Bennett joins in on the congas. Broom’s very Benson like melodic guitar solos-both on the refrains and choral sequences, are accented by Terry Burrus Fender Rhodes textures and acoustic piano walks. The backup vocals of Lori-Ann Velez, Omar Hakim, Cliff Branch and Poogie Bell provide a party atmosphere in the back round of the entire song. After the drums kick up a notch for Broom’s extended solo on the bridge, the song fades out on an extended chorus.

“Saturday Night” is one of the finest electric guitar centered jazz funk grooves of the early 80’s that I’ve heard. Probably coming in right in the same league as George Benson’s “Off Broadway”. Marcus Miller both played and arranged the tune. And the conversational vocals and chants of Broom and the backup singers involved really evoke the atmosphere of a hip dance party of that period. As my friend Henrique pointed out, its also probably of the last generation of jazz funk that was not synthesizer based. And that makes “Saturday Night” the type of groove that spans an evolution within jazz/funk.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Together We Can Shine” by Linx

Linx were a a Brit funk/soul/disco group with a rather short lived career. It was a six member band featuring keyboardist Bob Carter, drummer Andy Duncan, guitarist Canute Edwards, bassist Peter Martin,backup vocalist Junior Giscombe and lead singer David Grant. The group split up in early 1983-after Junior had left to begin a solo career and Grant was about to do the same. After a moderately successful solo career, Grant became a successful backing singer for people such as Rick Astley and The Lighthouse Family. He later became a judge on the UK TV show Pop Idol with his second wife Carrie.

Linx recorded two albums during 1981, the first of which I picked up four years ago on vinyl. Their major hit on it was “Intuition”, a Caribbean flavored post disco number became popular to its accompanying music video being played so often on the British music program Top Of The Pops. And all due to a technicians strike. The overall album is a superb example of how the post disco/boogie funk sound thrived,prospered and evolved along with new romantic/synth pop during the early 80’s. One fine example of this was the song “Together We Can Shine”.

A dance beat begins the song with a pulsing Fender Rhodes and a bluesy funk rhythm guitar break. As the main song kicks in, Martin’s slap bass line kicks in heavy. The dance beat becomes more steady. Carter adds spacey synthesizer flourishes-which become very high pitched on the choruses along with the melodic, liquid rhythm guitar bubbling right along. On the bridge of the song, the vocals of the refrain move aside for Carter’s piano solo before Grant’s vocals return. Before the fading refrain, the song breaks off into a percussive Brazilian funk breakdown.

Musically speaking, “Together We Can Shine” showcases the vitality and diversity within the UK post disco/boogie scene. Many American groups/ soloists  emerging from that were primarily disco and funk based from the get go. In terms of Linx, its a different story. Bob Carter and Canute Edwards play in a manner very indicative of jazz oriented instrumentalists. Bassist “Sketch” Martin and drummer Andy Duncan have a strong Brazilian funk flavor to their playing. So this song is a superb example of the post disco sound coming from a diverse level of musicianship from the sound of things.

 

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#princeday 2017 Part 2: “Controversy” (1981)

Prince’s image and attitude always went right along with his music. Talking to friends like Henrique today, its a bit easier to notice how obviously Prince carried on the tradition of “freaky” black American artists such as Little Richard. Especially in the early 80’s,Prince wore the clothes of a European dandy,very frilly hairstyles and lots of makeup. While this fit right into the new wave androgyny of the era, some adherents to Reagan era conservatism felt that Prince’s image and blatant lyrical sexuality would send his listeners down an alienating direction in life.

This type of attitude is nothing new against the rock world that,by 1981,Prince was positioning himself to be a part of. But Prince was at his core a funk artist too. And therefore had the same understanding James Brown and George Clinton had of what I’ll refer to as “calculated prettiness”-using wardrobe and image to showcase self control. For his part,Prince decided to record an album that addressed his observations and the perceptions of him for his fourth album. And it was introduced in a tremendous way by its opening title song called “Controversy”

A blast of high synth brass starts out the groove. Followed by a round,brittle synth bass pulse and a marching drum. That soon becomes a steady funk beat with a driving rhythm guitar/bass interaction and bass synthesizer playing the melody. That’s the basic groove of the entire song. On the choruses,the chords go up a key or so and the synths become more orchestral in nature. On two of the bridges,one of which is vocal,the drum/bass and rhythm guitar is the store of the show. On another later in the song, it reduces down more to the synth as the song fades out.

Lyrically the song progresses right along with each part of the naked,stripped down groove. Prince begins by asking the same questions of himself others ask of him: “am I straight or gay”,”was it good for you,was I all you wanted me to be”. On the first bridge,he’s suddenly reciting the Lords Prayer rather reverently. By the end,he’s chanting “people call me rude/I wish we all were nude/I wish there was no black or white/I wish there were no rules”. Prince also sings the majority of this song in his lowest vocal registers-in particular his bass vocal end.

“Controversy”, both musically with its stripped down Minneapolis funk and lyrical self manifesto, could easily be Prince’s “theme song”. As jazz critic Gary Giddins said of Louis Armstrong once,only the great artists are given or write that song that epitomizes them so strongly. This was the very first Prince song my boyfriend Scott ever heard. Controversy would end up becoming a qualifier that would be used to describe Prince and his musical art on many occasions throughout his career. And he really set that whole thing up right here in the funkiest way possible.

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#princeday 2017: “Let’s Work” (1981)

Prince was someone who,for my entire childhood was viewed by me and my family as a rock artist. The promotion of him through the rock press (as well as Prince himself) did seem to foster this impression further. During the 1990’s when I began to understand funk as a musical genre, Prince’s music re-entered my life in a much more serious way. When listening to a lot of his earlier music,it became clear that his music was based in funk. He was an amazing and even sometimes underrated rock soloist. But he focused generally on music with a sleek and spare groove known as the Minneapolis Sound.

Prince would have turned 59 today. Still seems strange that,as my friend Henrique points out many times,that jam fans cannot say “we still have Prince around” anymore. And as tiresome as this is to keep pointing out, Prince’s posthumous musical presence online is still just beginning to branch out the way it deserves to. After this years Grammy Awards tribute to Prince,online streaming service Spotify (along with several other such services) did do us a favor by placing his Warner Bros era music back up to listen to. Thanks to them,am now able to present an overview of Prince’s 1981 jam “Let’s Work”.

A four beat drum count in begins the song. After this, Prince and the band are heard singing the songs title over a slow and steady funk beat-two beats accenting on in the middle. The vocals play call and response with a brittle,high pitched synth horn burst-an extension of which has a flanger effect. Than the 6 note slap bass with variations comes in-accenting by the same synth horns for most the refrain. Those synth horns become much more horn charts on the choruses. After a reboot of the songs intro,that same chorus follows the song to the drum machine segue out of it.

“Let’s Work” is one of those songs that defines Prince’s distinct Minneapolis funk sound during the very late 70’s and early 80’s. Generally only two instruments are heard at any one time. So the funk is very condensed instrumentally. At the same time,the sounds of the synthesized horn blasts and charts,along with the iconic chunky slap bass line, showcase a strong understanding of the depth of funk’s groove,it’s “rhythmic nucleus” as it were. It was also one of his most commercially successfully early 80’s funk numbers as well. That makes it a defining moment in the Minneapolis sound as a whole.

 

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