Prince surprised a lot of people after a five year absence by releasing two albums on the same day: September 30th,2014 to be exact. It was an event that was just in time to be covered by this particular blog as well. Out of the two, Art Official Age seems to be the album that got the best response. During this time,Prince was expanding the NPG off into an all female side project called 3rdEyeGirl. The husband of one of its members Hannah Ford,Joshua Welton marked the first time Prince worked closely with an outside producer. Presumably to give his sound a more youth friendly sound for the 2010’s.
Welton’s contributions to Art Official Age were not as prominent as they’d be on the rather more modern teen EDM styled Hitnrun Phase 1 a year later. Prince was still ever deeply in control of the writing,instrumentation and yes-production on the former album. Still,its likely Welton’s presence reminded Prince of what made his music so appealing when he was at his most vital creative peak in the 1980’s. So with that Prince decided to reinvigorate his classic funk sound and came up with a song for the Art Official Age album entitled “The Gold Standard”.
A one note Linn drum kick starts of the song before a descending synth brass riser punctuates his slowed down rhythmically spoken vocal. The high on the neck rhythm guitar,slightly digitized live bass line and the accenting charts of the NPG Hornz. On the first bars, Prince is singing mainly with the drums and bass alone. Then the horn sections JB’s like charts take higher priority in the mix. The synth brass finally joins in with the live horns After a hand clap powered rendering of the chorus,a P–Funk synth bass initiates as bass/guitar/horn based cadence that fades out the song.
“The Gold Standard” brings together two different sides of Prince’s 80’s funk approach. His classic Minneapolis sound is represented by the brittle synth brass and stripped down arrangement. His rhythm guitar sound at its ever peak performance here as well. Aside from some modern production touches,particularly on the bass line,this also brings out his horn fueled mid/late 80’s period from songs such as “Girls & Boys” and “Housequake”. What it all does so well is showcase how much of an innovation for its time Prince’s condensation of funk was for the genres future-especially in the 2010’s.
Carlton Douglas Ridenhour,better known as Public Enemy’s main emcee Chuck D,has long been part of my collective consciousness. Suppose it started when a friend my father’s came him his cassette copy of PE’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. It wasn’t something I was encouraged to listen to at 9 years old. But a little over a decade later,I checked it out on CD myself. And onward through my conversations with this blogs co-founder and friend Henrique Hopkins,Public Enemy/Chuck D have been a consistent conversational fixture in terms of hip-hop keeping the funk alive and kicking.
During Public Enemy’s nearly 30 years of existence,Chuck D has only recorded two proper solo albums. He’s preferred to focus his energies as an individual on activism and public lecturing about important matters effecting the black American community. So its been good to have PE be his chief musical focus for that message,while he does more physical work through his political activism. Having based his entire musical career on his deep love of James Brown’s funk in particular,its more than fitting that one of the songs on his second solo album The Black In Man from 2014 is a version of JB’s “Say It Loud”.
For the most part,the song is built on Chuck’s live band playing the song very close to the way James Brown and the JB’s had done it. The drums and horns start out the song before the bass/guitar interaction comes in. The chicken scratch guitar on this version is not mixed quite as high as Jimmy Nolan’s was on the original. But the round bass line is left almost completely intact. Chuck adds some more rap style vocal accents and meter to his vocal. On the bridge however,some heavy scratching changes over to Kyle Jason’s conscious rap that goes right with the theme of the song before it comes to an abrupt stop.
One of the themes of Chuck D’s music throughout his career has been the kind of thematic power different songs can have. He has often stated this about his critiques on hip-hop-that while some of the more commercially successfully music of the genre has importance as aural escapism,its vital that the potential for hip-hop to transmit positive messages of self improvement to black America needs to be better realized. In doing “Say It Loud”,Chuck brings out that the original song actually WAS hip-hop along with that message-with it’s rhythmically rapped lyrics and message. So it works on both levels.
It’s been over a year since I first heard the song being discussed here. Chicago (once known as Chicago Transit Authority) have reveled in the musicality which made them one of the most popular and acclaimed bands of the 1970’s. Their channeling of melodic pop song craft along with progressive jazz and soul instrumentation has made them a model for many instrumentally inclined bands since their heyday.
In a similar manner to Earth Wind & Fire,with whom they toured about a decade ago now,and how are about to go on the road again with the Heart & Soul tour? Founding members such as trumpeter Lee Loughnane,trombonist James Pankow,sax and flute man Walter Parazaider along with the singer/songwriter Robert Lamm have continued to keep the band going with new members and studio albums every so often. “Another Trippy Day”,presented as a bonus song on last years Chicago Now-XXXVI,stood out for me personally as a shining example of why this band is still so incredibly vital musically.
A digital percussion sound opens the song before two round,spacey synthesizers play major/minor chords before the trumpet plays a bright and melodic solo. That’s when the the body of the song kicks in. It’s all about a a stomping, funkified beat. A bluesy sound slap bass accents each rhythmic exchange. All with that spacey synth,wah wah guitar and muted trumpet weaving in and out. On the choruses,all of these elements thicken up into melodic unison. A refrain starts out with an electronic symphony of synthesized sound before a full melodic horn chart,following by a pulsing drum,slap bass,synth duet before the chorus fades the song right out.
For me this song is an excellent example of cleanly produced,modern day West Coast style funky soul. The song is defined by funk. That slow,stomping beat that has the average rhythm of the human walking pattern. Lamm takes this setting and lyrically explores the romanticism of the urban landscape-with allusions to “a hint of jazz and lovers embrace”. This song also evokes it’s strong California vibe that stands it’s own with the sassy and sweet jazz voicings of Becker/Fagen compositions with Steely Dan. And a welcomed jazzy pop/funk urban contemporary sound for the modern age.
Somehow it took my good and oft referenced friend,blogging partner Henrique to point out to me that the sheer bulk of this three CD set consisted of 33 songs to represent the 33 years that Funkadelic have released any music. Just about anything connected to George Clinton and P-Funk is extremely complex. And that’s in both musical and legal terms as well. Considering George Clinton put out his (to many) long awaited autobiography to coinside with this release? This comeback itself was complicated. First it was released digitally,and than in a CD package that seemed to put up in different record stores at different times-at least to my own personal observation anyway. Of course the major fact is a lot of P-Funk’s key instrumental players have passed since the last released Funkadelic album Electric Spanking of War Babies. Among them are Cordell “Boogie” Mosson,Garry Shider,Glen Goins,Tiki Fulwood,Phillipe Wynne,Jessica Cleaves and of course Mister Maggot Brain himself Eddie Hazel. But the question on my mind remained how would Clinton,Bootsy,Junie,P-Nut and the few remaining original members make any sense from all this chaos?
“Baby Like Fonkin’ It Up” begins this album with a groove that sounds a bit off musically-very lowly mixed instrumentation and upfront vocal choruses. “Get Low” and “Not Your Average Rapper basically deal with a modern hip-hop/pop type dance number with a lot of programmed drum machines and on the latter a slower,slogging live drum beat. “If I Didn’t Love You”,with it’s spare bass and light keyboard harmony based instrumentation as well as stretched out improvised numbers such as “F***** Up”,”In Da Kar” and “I Mo B Ydog Fo Eva” are all very hi hat spacey jazz fusion oriented pieces. “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kind Hard On You” and “Radio Friendly” bring back that most popularly known P-Funk sound of blipping melodic “video game” style synthesizers. “Creases” has the slower end of that sound only minus the synthesizers. The title song is a very tribal African dance percussion type number while “Rollar Rink”,”Nuclear Dog Part II”,”Old Fool”,”Pole Power”,”Boom Here We Go Again” “Zip It” and “Catchin’ Boogie Fever” all keep that classic P-Funk danceable synthesizer oriented sound going right along.
On the rockier end of the album “Jolene” has a bluesier groove about it along with the guitars while “Dirty Queen” basically melds together edgy speed metal with a grungy guitar flavor. “Talking To The Wall”,”Where Would I Go” and especially my favorite of this area “As In” are all wonderfully instrumentally layered slow jams. “Bernadette” takes the Holland/Dozier/Holland Motown classic and reworks it in a manner that goes with the slow crawling blues/gospel style of the earliest Funkadelic albums-reflecting the songs George Clinton composed while working for Motown-with the long instrumental jam to close out. “Meow Meow” is a sexually charged crawl focused on a reversed rhythm/drum track. “The Naz” features a very deep bass/guitar driven groove powered by Sly Stone revisiting his classic DJ shtick in his elderhood. “Yesterdejavu”,”The Wall”,”Snot N’ Booger” and “Dipety Dipety Doo Stop The Violence” are all elaborate cinematic psychedelic soul numbers-all with heavy bottoms b but yet a modern production twist as well.
It’s difficult for anyone with as long a history with listening to P-Funk such as myself to be at all subjective about new releases from them. So I’ll just elect to say what I feel. After all,that is also what George Clinton’s vision is all about. The pluses of this album IS that there is a lot of music. It allows old and new Funkadelic members to be able to explore a pretty broad range of ideas and for George himself to both come up with new material. The minuses go with the fact this album has some material that doesn’t quite coincide with how Funkadelic fit into the P-Funk cannon. And it doesn’t even matter that many of these songs feature Fred Wesley,when the original Funkadelic didn’t generally have horns. A good chunk of these songs feature modern style grooves that I’d think George Clinton would consider “placebo syndrome”-many of them shamelessly using auto tune. Sometimes however? There are indications this is a massive musical satire-using a modern musical quality to prove a point against it. Conceptually it is also quite a bit sadder than most other Funkadelic I’ve heard. George and company seem to be of the opinion that art has become so reduced down to committee thinking that any expression of quality will have to remain underground for a time. As contradictory and lyrically dour as this album can occasionally be? Have to say it’s all worth it just to have Funkadelic back with more quality funk and other grooving hybrids than not.
Have to totally agree with my blog partner here Rique and fellow WordPress blogger The International Review Of Music that 2014 has been a tremendous all around year for funky music. And funky is Rique and my favorite kind of music from my understanding. And this year we’ve had that become popular on a massive level thanks to starting the year out grooving with Pharrell William’s “Happy”. This was a global phenomenon-with people all across the world doing their dance to the song on YouTube. For the first time in history,a number one funk song connected billions of people in the internet age. And that alone is no small feat. And one Pharrell should be proud of for his entire life.
If “Happy” was standing by itself this year? That would have been wonderful. But it did so much more. Kelis and even 90’s quiet storm soul singer Joe released tremendously funky music this year! And massively welcomed comebacks from Prince,Funkadelic,War,D’Angelo and posthumously from the late Michael Jackson were also enormously successful events. In fact D’Angelo’s Black Messiah ended off the year with a major surprise release in the wake of the tragic and highly topical police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. That album may have had to wait until 2015 to see the light if that dark day hadn’t have shinned the light on the need to talk,sing and play about it.
Since funk was the key to providing not only great music but positive and enriching messages this year? I wanted to conduct our first interactive blog here on Andresmusictalk. There have been many wonderful releases this year in the funky spectrum of sound. Hoping all of you have been enjoying them. So presented below is a list of key funk,jazz and soul related albums from 2014. Inviting all of you to select which ones interested you most! Wishing everyone a new dance and new vitality of life for the year to come and enjoy the polling everyone! Thank you!
I would like to welcome everyone to Andresmusictalk,my newest blog here on WordPress. This blog is going to serve as a collaborative effort between myself and Henrique Hopkins-a main inspiration for creating my first blog here The Rhythmic Nucleus. For those of you who familiar with that blog,it was primarily focused on funk music and its many tributaries. Since of course my own personal musical pallet of interests is very eclectic,the topics on that blog began to drift into different musical territories.
The purpose of this blog is to expand the level of dialog regarding the full spectrum of music. Regarding its history,creation,generational potency and anything else of interest in that regard. Just about every musical form on Earth bleeds into each other over time. The “rhythmic nucleus” of it all likely began in Africa. But it has spread across the world over millennium after millennium in a symphonic gumbo-with each subculture of humanity making wonderful new contributions as it goes. If that sounds like a big deal,it is. And music grows into even more of a big deal as time progresses.
The levels of experience and perceptions of music between Henrique and myself have many similarities. Yet our environments have shaped them in very different ways between us. This will be an important element in our two literary styles that will be presented here. And to paraphrase one of Henrique’s own quotations,this will also serve as a possible springboard for broader articles that might one day find they’re way into the realm of professional publication. So as the two of us continue to grow as human beings,so will go the breadth and scope of our writing here.
On some occasions,I would like to see the two of us engage in call and response type writing-wherein myself or Henrique create a blog post here in direct response to the others. Not only would that reflect the spirit of the soul/funk music we love,but help us grow as writers and continue that educational experience. In this age where the “less is more” adage has perhaps been too readily applied to human conversation,it is actually in our dialog that we learn most from. And the best forum to give and receive our knowledge. So enjoy what is to come! Many exciting things to read,see and hear await you!