Tag Archives: Acid Jazz

Jamiroquai From 1993-2001: A Tribute To The Late Toby Smith

Jamiroquai Blog

Jamiroquai’s keyboardist Toby Smith passed away about 12 days ago-at the age of 46. Along with the bands front man Jason Kay, Smith was a prominent co-writer of much of their classic material. He left the band to spend more time with family during the making of their 2001 album A Funk Odyssey. To me,Jamiroquai’s music serves itself best across their albums. So in tribute to Toby Smith,I wanted to cover my Amazon.com reviews for their first three albums and A Funk Odyssey. Since I already posted my Amazon review of their 1999 album Synkronized  here before,that is excluded from this list.


Emergency On Planet Earth/1993

Let’s face it. The music world of 1993 was very very divided. There were those concerned mainly with matters of media credibility and those interested in the creation of their particular art. On both ends of the pond soul and funk music at this time generally wasn’t created. It was being programmed. That mixed with the whole credibility situation wasn’t making for much harmony.

Than came a British fellow named Jason Kay (known as Jay) and a talented quartet called Jamiroquai. Putting themselves out there in a mix of other groups in the “acid jazz” genre (often used as short hand for most varieties of funk) with people such as Brand New Heavies and Incognito this band didn’t exactly have the jam band tendencies of the former,nor the house/dance leanings of the latter. But they did something very special that meant a lot to myself personally.

Equally capable of top notch musicianship and melodic invention,another thing Jamiroquai understood was the value of instrumental production. The music is well mixed,with the right touches of reverb and echo when needed. Basically it’s going for a 70’s jazz/funk/soul sound that’s produced authentically. Jay’s vocals,long and very incorrectly compared with Stevie Wonder have a high to mid range lilt about them that are elastic enough to fit these songs.

A better musical comparison might be Curtis Mayfield,especially the soul stepping funky soul groove of the opening “When You Gonna Learn” and it’s environmentalist poetry. “Too Young To Die” extends to a similar groove with a more anti war message. On “Hooked Up” and “Revolution 1993” it comes out what fantastic musicians they are well with polyrhythmic jazzier funk grooves with a more instrumental leaning.

“Music Of The Mind” is similar though on the more mid tempo end of that area. Headhunters style Clavinet type stop/start funk is prominent on “Whatever It Is,I Just Can’t Stop” where as “Blow Your Mind” has this lean sophistifunk sound with Jay’s scatting George Benson style with the violin. The band also did for the didgeridoo in funk what EWF did for the kalimba: to bring it into the consciousness of the bands sound and hopefully the listener.

The title song,with it’s disco friendly dance-funk sound reprises the environmentalist concerns where “If I Like It,I Do It” again brings the Mayfield/Impressions type funk/soul to the forefront. Although clearly under the wing of his influence,it was likely too many comparisons that commercially doomed this band. Jamiroquai stand as very much their own musical animal. Sometimes sweet as funk can be,other times as deep in the groove as you could get. They epitomized everything a 90’s era funk band could be. And even for the doubters they have,this album stands very very strong.

The Return Of The Space Cowboy/1994

Have to say here that I’ve never seen a band completely slide past the very common “sophomore slump” problem in a finer way that Jamiroquai. As a matter of fact there is significant growth to be heard here on every level from their excellent debut Emergency on Planet Earth. Almost every funk band of the 70’s came to full flower through a process. Some started out more Latin rock bands. Others closer to jazz. Some straight up soul. Jamiroquai in fact did the same thing.

While their debut definitely was something new,there was still a lot of elongated jazz-funk style songs there that were just plain unheard of on “R&B” albums in this era. It was definitely still part of the process. Longer more instrumental songs aren’t nearly as common on this album. And when they show up,their somewhat more tightly constructed. Also Jay’s voice and lyrics show more emotional depth and a deeper thinking process here. Whatever the case,this is where Jamiroquai truly came into it’s own creatively anyway.

Primarily this album is dominated by uptempo,melodic sophistifunk songs with heavy use of keyboards and bass/guitar interaction. The title song,”Stillness In Time”,”Light Years”,”Mr Moon” and the dynamic “Scam” (my personal favorite here) all fall into this place. Taken together these all have the effect of sounding like a greatest hits album all by itself-literally from the first song mentioned to the last tracing funk’s development from about 1974 to 1978 or so within only four songs. Around the middle? More fascinating things are happening.

“Half The Man” is really the only song the band ever did with anything close to a genuine Stevie Wonder influence with it’s high pitched synthesizer melodies,rather slogging tempo and lyrics of romantic anxiety. “Manifest Destiny” is a terrific,soul searching journey where Jay acknowledges “the shame of his ancestors” regarding abominations such as slavery. And also makes points that indicate there was something to be learned from African culture as opposed to it being exploited. An important point to make.

“Journey To Arhemland” is a more rhythmic use of didgeridoo this time around while the ballad paced,harp led “Morning Glory”and the closer “Just Another Story”,with it’s complex keyboard/synthesizer melodic interactions close the album out. Closing out with a live,somewhat DJ/turntable heavy live version of “Light Years” one understands that Jay,a former break dancer with a bit of a…past really did (and I think still does) understand the music that he’s making and how it needs to be done. Mostly props should go to him for forming a band as talented as Jamiroquai.

Although the sound quality of the album is somewhat flat and muddy,likely to achieve the “retro analog/mono” flavor they might’ve been looking for,the band interplay on the mid 90’s Jamiroquai albums was extremely strong. As years passed Jay would become most associated with them,to the point where people believed Jay was in fact Jamiroquai. It was a similar issue that occured with Sade-a lead singer used to identify with an actual band. What’s really important however is the music. And it’s important that it existed the way it did,at this time too. Flat out haters aside,so many aspiring modern funk bands could learn a lot from Jamiroquai’s musical example.

Travelling Without Moving/1996

If your lucky enough to have followed them from the time of their debut album Emergency on Planet Earth(and even I wasn’t that fortunate) Jamiroquai were one of those bands you were probably hoping would break into the mainstream. The mid 1990’s was certainly a puzzling time for music. The keeping it real ethic of the early part of the decade was evolving into….well a number of new and different musical ideas.

But during the 1996-1997 period in which this was released at least there was a melting pot of different musical brews to draw on. A funk revival,gestating during the early part of the decade via hip-hop samples and some rock jam bands was starting to take root more heavily. This was good news for Jamiroquai. Their music always had been commercial..well if it had been the mid 1970’s anyway.

They key was in the production and craft. They weren’t just another rhythm section trying to recreate the JB’s or Sly & The Family Stone. They more freely acknowledged the dance-funk era of people such as Slave,Heatwave (to whom I’d make a close comparison actually),Brass Construction and even Quincy Jones’ early Michael Jackson productions. The fact they had a singular identity all their own as well was big in their favor. And they have that identity every workout they could give it on this one.

The first song “Virtual Insanity”,one of the few of the more hopeful and analytical message songs of the era is a fairly basic funk tune,save for a light samba style bridge. But do to the changing of eras perhaps it captivated the MTV crowd and,due to this era’s obsession with media credibility bought Jamiroquai their own pop pass for that era,getting them international hits and making Jay K (and his hats) something of cultural icons of the day.

“Cosmic Girl”,”Alright” and the title track,with more obvious hip-hop scratching all add to the sophistifunk flavor of the album. The first two were the two other big pop hits. But this isn’t a hit parade type album by any means. “Use The Force”,with it’s full on Afro Latin percussive/Fender Rhodes jamming is of the same type you’d see on their first two albums and “High Times” adds a slight bit of an edge with a heavy rock guitar/snarling sax solo and a…..well not very pro-drug message when you actually listen to the lyrics.

The reggae number “Drifting Along” is a strong reminder of how that genre is really the main point gluing the 80’s and 90’s generation directly with the 70’s,which was meaningful considering the heavy “antieightiesitis” hanging on at this point. There are a couple of didgeridoo numbers that aren’t all that interesting but “You Are My Love” is another great uptempo and horn fueled sophistifunk song where “Everyday” and “Spend A Lifetime” are elegantly crafted soul/funk ballads.

“Do You Know Where Your Going To”,a bonus track not named on the back of the CD is a potent reminder of how close the then burgeoning drum n bass sound was to wah wah fueled blacksploitation styled funk,as both of these musical techniques are employed together here. So in addition to getting Jamiroquai at that moment where they did achieve that success they deserved.

It had little to do with their musical style actual,great and underappreciated as it was. It had to do with their pop charts and very two sided press,especially how the press really played up that very iffy Stevie Wonder angle. Honestly,that influence was never as strong as it was made out to be. You’d think this sudden mass popularity would be given to a Jamiroquai album that was really grabbing for the public’s attention.

That isn’t what happened here at all. They just made a record that was a very smooth extension of where they were taking their music with their first two albums. And it was likely just a degree of luck that they were in the right place and time to be successful with it.

That fact of it being still one of their most creatively potent albums is why I recommended so highly,not just the fact it was popular. Not a bad place to get into the band. Yet not the be all and end all either. No matter what it is an important reminder when,for a short time anyway Jamiroquai and their sound…came close to ruling the pop music world.

A Funk Odyssey/2001

Jamiroquai’s fifth album and first of the new millennium had the disadvantage of being one of two famous albums released on September 11’th,2001-the other being Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft. There’s some irony this album was released at the moment the life of everyone in the world seemed to change in one morning. It didn’t have much of a chance for success stateside especially. World events just didn’t really allow for it.

For one thing the rave friendly front cover art completely dispenses with the bands “Buffalo man” trademark. Not only that no formal personnel are listed. This gives the impression that Jamiroquai had suddenly become just a trade name for Jay Kay. And this would be a disguised solo album for him. Somehow,with only his image on the front cover it did seem that way on first glance. If that wasn’t an indicator enough of something very different,even a cursory listen to the music inside would tell the tale.

From the very beginning this album is a very radical departure for Jamiroquai. “Feels So Good” starts out with a very glossy,electronic fusion of 80’s New Romantic dance and funk music,very light on the usual 70’s unfluence. On the other hand “Little L”,”You Give Me Something” and “Love Foolosophy” bring back that heavy dance/funk sound on three well crafted numbers with a heavy late 70’s Michael/Jermaine Jackson flavor to them.

“Corner Of The Earth”,a surprising hit with a symphonic bossa nova flavor contains another of Jay’s Earth conscious lyrics and this type of tune is returned to on the closing “Picture Of My Life”. “Stop Don’t Panic” and “Main Vein”,with their heavy orchestration bring that cinematic TV/blackspoitation flavor to the surface where the totally 80’s electro/hip-hop sound of “Twenty Zero One” not only sounds nothing like Jamiroquai but also completely outside their previous conceptual relm.

Overall this album is lyrically a very reflective and poetic album especially on “Black Crow”,an ode to the atrocities of war on civilians (quite appropriate and convenient for this exact time really) is actually the one jazzy funk type song most similar to their earlier material here.

When I first got this it took me a few listens before I fully absorbed what Jamiroqui were trying to pull off here. I am still not sure. Interestingly enough,for the most part the title is still a little confusing because of all the musics this album embraces,it isn’t the closest to hardcore funk in their catalog

‘A Sophistifunk Odyssey’ perhaps? Maybe the title has to do with an odyssey away from funk as opposed to into it. Either way,whoever else plays on it there’s definitely the feeling this might have in fact been a Jay Kay solo album under the Jamiroquai banner. His own vocals,lyrical concerns and style are dripping out of every pore of this album. And it comes through loud and clear.


When looking back on the way these albums progressed in terms of funk,Toby Smith helped in Jamiroquai’s sound evolving along the same lines  as the 70’s funk icons-from jazzier instrumentals earlier on to disco,boogie and electro funk sounds later on. In terms of the personal history discussed here,it also points to a time when funk was only a good word internally and among hip-hop samples. And all the way up through the the post 9/11 world. Though he’s gone now, Toby Smith did live to see the modern “funk odyssey” of today’s retro funk/disco movement spread and become successful.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “When You Gonna Learn” by Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai were probably the most commercially successful funk revivalists to come out of the UK acid jazz scene-right behind Incognito and Brand New Heavies in terms of influence.  The core rhythm section of the band consisted of lead singer Jason Kay,keyboardist Toby Smith and bassist Stuart Zender. Their sound was defined by the presence of the aboriginal Australian instrument the didgeridoo,played by Wallace Buchanan in the band. Visually,they were (and still are) known for Mr.Kay’s huge feathered hats. This gave them a distinctive look and approach to their jazz-funk sound.

My own experience with Jamiroquai is hard to condense,but important to the musical focus of this entire blog. During 1996,I was at Strawberries Records when a young,friendly employee named Jeb started discussing funk and jazz music with me. At the time,it was not a conversation I was expecting. He enthusiastically mentioned a band named Jamiroquai. They had a huge record out at the time called “Virtual Insanity”. The album he recommended was their then newest called Travelling Without Moving. My mom and I in particular were very enthusiastic about the band. With me even encouraging her to seek out their previous two albums. It was one of a few times our musical interests interlinked.

Over the next few years,my relationship with Jamiroquai was complicated by the musical zeitgeist of the late 90’s. With the written music press being the only way for most people to learn about music at the time,it was all too easy to be too informed by someone else’s subjective opinion. Jamiroquai were heavily criticized for two things. One was about Jay Kay as a white English man seemingly appropriating black American funk/disco styles.. Another was that the sociopolitical/environmentally based lyrics to Jamiroquai’s songs were seen as hypocritical due to Kay’s seemingly materialistic and drug obsessed attitude.

This was very confusing for me personally. Jamiroquai were the only new band I heard at the time who had the hopeful messages and strong Afro jazz/funk instrumental ethics in their music at the time. Most other newer music at the time were based in some variety of hip-hop or alternative/grunge rock. And where messages were present,they were often presented in what came across as a nihilistic and downbeat. That sense of musical starvation I personally experienced then motivated me to delve deep into Jamiroquai songs such as the opening track to their debut album “When You Gonna Learn?”

A hi hat heavy swinging drum opens the song with a droning didgeridoo solo over it. That solo soon gives way to a violin solo before the percussion and snaky bass line of the main song comes in in with a blasting horn chart. The violin,horn charts and percussive rhythm interact throughout the refrain-all before coming to a jaunty,horn fueled gallop on the refrain,accented itself by a descending flute solo. Wallace Buchanan’s didgeridoo takes a solo over the isolated drum/percussion rhythm before Stuart Zender’s bass line brings in another refrain/choral exchange for the song to fade out on.

The title of the Jamiroquai album this comes from is Emergency On Planet Earth. This opening song both musically and lyrically speaks to the potential for environmental destruction if we don’t learn to “play it nature’s way” as Jay Kay warns. It still amazes me to hear the multi ethnic fusions of Afrocentric percussion,jazzy styling’s and sunny melodic funk elements coming out of any nation on Earth during a time when most popular music seemed to be at its darkest and dreariest. Its songs such as this that really allowed Jamiroquai to become strong life support for me in a time when meaningfully funky music seemed to all be part of the past.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Chanting” by Rasa

Henrique and myself were chatting online a couple of days ago about a favorite recurring topic between us. And that topic is funk music in every section of the record store. I remarked that it was unlikely that there would be any funk in a stores new age section. Henrique answered me with this video,featuring a song by a group known as Rasa. He described the album as consisting primarily of Hare Krishna chanting. This lead to the conclusion that new age music was a conceptual idea as opposed to a musical genre. Of course hearing new age music as being mostly piano based,it never occurred to me that new age themes are common in a lot of the funk I love.

After doing a bit of research via an article done  four years ago by Wax Poetics magazine,it turns out that Rasa was the brainchild of Christian oriented funk/soul artist Eugene McDaniels son London. He went to a  Krishna temple with his teenage brother Chris at the advice of their mother-during the time London was studying at the Berklee College Of Music. A few of the temple heads managed to convince the brother to record an album of contemporary Hare Krishna music. It has apparently become a favorite among crate digging DJ’s/hip-hop samplers. The song that introduced into all of this,courtesy of Henrique is actually entitled “Chanting”.

Roger Panansky’s round bass synthesizer starts things out playing along with Anthony Jackson’s electric bass guitar tones. As well as the slow paced percussive drumming of Webb Thomas. London’s JB style rhythm guitar comes in on the main refrains,while the horns of  (featuring Randy Brecker) melodically assist on the choruses. There is a two second break before a fluttering,round electric bass solo from Jackson bubbles up like instrumental champagne on the bridge-again with Brecker and sax player George Young playing call and response on their horns. These instrumental exchanges are accented by electric piano. The chorus and refrain repeat themselves until the song fades out.

This song is a wonderfully grooving jazz/funk piece,with a strong rhythmic thump and a full emphasis on the bass. Whether it be from a bass guitar or a synthesizer. The lead singer on this Vakresvara Pandit sings in a manner very similar to Jamiroquai’s Jason Kay. So this ends up being the type of spiritually inclined funk that would be the bass musical medium of the acid jazz/funk movement a couple of decades later. Though this album was apparently only ever sold at Krishna temples and events,it really fascinates me at the possibility that this famous offshoot of Vaishnaism based spirituality would chose “people music” funk as it’s own gospel. As it stands,it’s top notch late 70’s melodic jazz/funk!

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Filed under 1970's, Acid Jazz, Anthony Jackson, bass synthesizer, Berklee College Of Music, Chris McDaniels, crate digging, drums, Funk Bass, George Young, Hare Krishna, horns, jazz funk, London McDaneils, Randy Brecker, Rasa, Uncategorized, Wax Poetics magazine, Webb Thomas

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Serpentine Fire” by Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith helped redefine the vocabulary of jazz organ during the hard bop/soul jazz era. With his heavily blues and gospel based approach,his use of the Leslie speaker on his Hammond B-3 organ became defined by distinct clicking tones between each key stroke. This idea of  instrumental technique combined with personal finger touch has made Smith’s sound extremely influential among jazz style organists for the remainder of the 20th century. And with bands such as England’s James Taylor Quartet utilizing this approach on the Hammond organ, Smith is along with Roy Ayers one of the main instrumental pioneers of the 1990’s acid jazz sound.

As of today,it’s been five days since Earth Wind & Fire bandleader Maurice White passed away. When I think about it,Maurice and Jimmy Smith were both members of America’s Silent Generation-only on earlier and later ends of it. During the mid 1970’s,Smith’s musical style made yet another transition. This one towards a hard funk oriented sound. Because of his blues roots and love of placing his organ soloing in the context of heavy rhythm,the funk genre was an ideal for Smith to deal with during the late 70’s. Recording both bop and funk for the Mercury label at the time,Smith and Maurice White’s music dovetailed beautifully in 1978 when Smith interpreted the EWF number “Serpentine Fire”.

The lightly fan faring intro of percussionist Stephanie Spruill introduces this groove,over which Smith plays a smooth version of the songs initial melody on his B-3. John Phillips tenor sax and and Nolan Smith’s trumpet play the role of a stripped back Phenix Horns going into Abraham Laboriel’s bass line-itself similar to the bluesy melodic line of Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island”. On the central refrains,Smith plays the chords of the melody very much in classic bop style-with later variations showcasing call and response dialog with the two horns. On the choral links with the scaled up horns,Smith accompanies his own organ with a beautiful round Moog synthesizer bass tone.

Of course EWF had a strong jazz basis at the very core of their sound. When jazz soloists began covering their huge hits during the 70’s,that element really came out a lot more. Jimmy Smith’s take on “Serpentine Fire” from his 1978 album Unfinished Business is a superb example. Not only is he rounding heavily on his bop approach of playing chords, but on many of his solos he’s hammering on the organ in a very aggressively rhythmic sustain. The rhythmic sound of the song is a bit smaller,more live oriented than studiocentric. Of course that allows for Smith’s soloing to take center stage. It also allows for his to be a fantastically funky re-imagining of an Earth Wind & Fire classic.

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Abraham Laboriel, Acid Jazz, blues funk, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk Bass, Hammond B-3, hard bop, jazz funk, Jimmy Smith, Maurice White, Moog, organ, Phenix Horns, Silent Generation, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 5/29/2015: “Fake Future” by Allen Stone

I’ve actually written on an Amazon.com review,which I posted on this blog in fact, about the Washington State native Allen Stone. He’s a rather interesting artist in many ways. His creative themes have a certain level of uncertainty and ennui that’s often inherent in the Northwest US bred alternative music scene of the past twenty years. But they also posses his funky soul musical calling’s fuller level of hope,love,caring and emotional expression. These qualities all came together wonderfully on his second full (self titled and released) album. Which was the first I’d ever heard of the man.

After a year or so of writing and recording a series of songs? He finally emerged with his third album Radius. While his love of the groove is sincere and honest? Most of the songs on the album didn’t move me enough on a positive musical level to buy it. Always felt that the most successful funk and soul come from a synergy of factors coming together to create hard grooving fire. While previewing these songs? There was one that actually leaped out as being the type of jam that successfully communicated Stone’s intention. It is entitled “Fake Future”.

The drum introduces the basic groove-with is a powerful boogie funk groove that’s presented very sparely. There a grinding,popping bass line is presented as an upfront melodic element with the bluesy funk choral body of the song. This is accented by some higher pitched Fender Rhodes piano solos. There’s a refrain that has some of that Afrocentric/Arabic style ascending/descending melody. All of these instrumental movements are punctuated rhythmically by bursts of strings-perhaps of the electronically simulated variety. These fade out the song as they slip off into the echoplex.

It’s a very short song at just under three minutes. Yet the groove has so many vital sources. Musically it has the vibe of the 90’s acid jazz/funk revivalism of bands like Jamiroquai,Brand New Heavies and DAG. Lyrically it could very possibly come from a twin creative consciousness within Stone himself. The core of the song is a right on time message about the vital importance of instrumentalists. Especially with lyrics such as “what good is my microphone if I don’t really sing?/What good is my music if it ain’t really me?”

Now the other side to these important rhetorical questions come when Stone is actually seeking possible answers to them. He’s beginning the song asking current musicians to chuck their laptops,lights,glitter and cash crop. Also citing himself as being on creative life support. The chorus points to recent concerns that much recent history will be lost due to lack of physical media in the online age. That serves to make this a musically clear cut post disco/funk groove that thematically contrasts the need for true creative expression and the mild paranoia that may come with what Prince refers to as “art official age”. So this groove presents a lyrical conversation more than worth having.

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Herbie Hancock: A Tribute To The Electronic Headhunter

Herbie Hancock Secrets

Celebrating the 75th birthday today? I began to realize the breadth and variety of the fantastic musical career of Mister Herbert Jeffrey Hancock.  From working with Donald Byrd very early on to his recent work with nu jazz artist Flying Lotus? Herbie has been much like his former employer Miles Davis in the sense that he has taken his own style as a pianist/keyboardist through a number of distinctly different musical periods.

Realizing that my knowledge of Herbie’s music lays mainly in his electric period? It became quickly apparent that there are actually a number of musical period’s in and of themselves during this one particular period. So I am going to present to you album reviews I’ve done for his music. With one album representing each different period of Herbie Hancock’s electric period which extended over three decades. Hope you all enjoy it!

The Blue Note Years

The Prisoner (1969)-Blue Note

Well,there’s no doubt that the last couple of years of the 60’s certainly provided a fertile musical ground for a jazz musician to create in. There were so many culturally/sociological transitions occurring at the same it,the importance of improvisation in general was paramount. Herbie Hancock himself was in a similar state of transition during 1969. He was easing himself out of Miles Davis’s 60’s era Quintet. And both he and Miles were about to about to enter into the world of electric jazz-making inroads into that area that were similar songs with a different tune-to extend on that little metaphor. For this album Herbie was playing with a 10 piece big band that included the likes of bassist Buster Williams,flutist Huber Laws,drummer Tootie Heath and saxophone extraordinaire Joe Henderson for an album that marked both the end of an era for him as well as the beginning of a new one.

“I Have A Dream”,a tribute to the recently slain MLK is a beautiful ten minute+ tone samba during which Henderson,Heath and Hancock expresses extremely conversational harmonies with themselves and each other that are bound to engender some emotional response. The title song as well as “Firewater” (the only non Hancock composition here” and “He Who Lives” are all a bit instrumentally cooler-focusing on swinging bop style numbers where the rhythm section takes presidents. And on which Herbie himself engages in plenty of his trademark bravely scaling piano arpeggios-harmonizing with himself between both bass and higher tenor tonalities. “Promise Of The Sun” seems to be indicate a similar rhythm section based bop number at first. Yet by the songs end? The melodic horn harmonics of the septet of horn players on this album provides a gently orchestral coda to the album itself.

This album doesn’t tend to rate as either great or terrible among Herbie’s many albums. And it isn’t 100% instrumentally groundbreaking exactly to be said. What does make this album rank so high to me was the feeling of it,which is key to jazz music anyway. The mixture of Herbie’s bluesy electric piano and virtuosic harmony style on the acoustic upright combine with the big band featured on this album to create a very probing musical atmosphere. The musicians are all searching. Not searching for a sound. But for a future that is yet to come for the nation and the world. Recorded in the spring of 1969,this albums looks ahead in its instrumental conceptions towards what the 1970’s would bring. For Herbie himself? It would bring a change in music completely opposite to this-as he was about to leave Blue Note for Warner Brothers after this album. His personal life and identity would soon make a change that would showcase that new evolution in his music. For a coda to the first phase of his career? It would be pretty hard pressed to find a more instrumentally fulfilling way to go about that than this!

Mwandishi

Fat Albert Rotunda (1969)-Warner Bros. 

Counting about 99.8 % of the music on this album ‘Fat Albert Rotunda’ is Herbie Hancock’s first dive into the world of funk-jazz,a just blooming genre in 1969 when this was recorded and a style he wouldn’t return to for another five years or so.As for the jazz side of his personality only “Tell Me A Bedtime Story”,with it’s gentle theatrics,works in this arena.Otherwise this album is pretty much instrumental funk,upbeat and well made but probably not quite as thrilling and DEFINITELY not as innovative as later such efforts as ‘Thrust’, “Man-Child’,’Secrets’ and of course ‘Headhunters’.But once fans of Herbie’s funkier style have purchased those recordings (which are essential) this album is the next logical step to walk in.

The Headhunters

Secrets (1976)-Columbia

It is from this album that I actually coined a whole definition for a certain kind of music from the 70’s,inspired by the title of a particularly funky song on this…particularly funky album. Herbie was on this huge musical winning streak in the mid 70’s and,even so this album really stands out very strong even for this period in his career! One of main reasons is the addition of Ray Parker Jr who,much as the Brothers Johnson had on the previous album Man-Child had really gone above and beyond in his ability to enhance and add great flavors to the already well established Headhunters sound. Not only is this one of Herbie’s most funky albums albums of this period but also his most thoroughly ear catching and….pretty melodic since Head Hunters and it’s also the most similar one they made to it. All their music from this period was that way but the previous two albums had gone after some more experimental type sounds. This one not only gets back to the basics but adapts on the sound in all kinds of different ways. In every measurable sense this is a funk album through and through but not every song is alike.

“Doin’ It” is…..well I’d say it was the best tune here but every one is so excellent that’s hard to say but it’s certainly one of the very strongest jams of 1976,a year full of ’em. The song starts from this Ray Parker riff that….builds into another riff until Herbie’s keyboards and synthesizers kick and and build on top of them unti Ray starts singing “just keep on doing it!”. This is a pointed reminder of the building nature of funk in it’s heyday. His remake of his own “Cantaloupe Island” adds a this Afro-Caribbean stomp,along with kind of this marching “big four” jazz beat to the funk and gives the tune some extra added bounce. “Spider” is just an amazing song;like the theme song to a kind of “techno-blacksploitation” movie never made with it’s bassy synth fanfare and that heavy chase scene rhythm. “Gentle Thoughts” is probably the most commercial sounding groove here as it sticks closest to the melody and sound fairly light for this type of album.

As for it’s overall atmospherics…well lets just say it’s most fittin that Lee Ritenour actually used this song as the title cut for his next album Gentle Thoughts. “Swamp Rat” is…among one of the most harmonically advanced tunes Herbie ever made with yet more fan-faring bass synths and,as for the second half of the song Paul Jackson’s bass and Bennie Maupin’s passionate work on sax and reeds carry that area. As for Maupin he gets a big kudos on his own “Sansho Shima” at the end of the album,which has this very strong Afro Cuban jazz flavor with the procrastination being bought to the forefront and the funk kind of riding along in the middle. This album is kind of ignored because it’s sandwiched after some well known classics and comes right before his disco-funk period-itself HIGHLY underrated. There is a progression from one to the other yet in terms of Herbie’s powers as a soloist,bandleader and composer in the 70’s,never-mind his funkiness this album is one of many that can’t be beat!

Funk/Disco Jazz

Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Now (1979)-Columbia

Often times I hear the late 70’s end of the funk era as being dismissed and harshly judged. Always chalked it up to the fact that the disco era,which came to an end in the year this particular album was released,attracted at least as many detractors as a genre as individual artists such as Beyonce do today. Aside from that music culture battle,nothing would keep funk,soul and dance artists from seeking new rhythmic ways with which to make their music as danceable and spirited as it could possibly be. I first heard this CD as part of my fathers collection. At the time I’d never heard any of the music Herbie Hancock had done between Head Hunters and Future Shock.

Nor was I aware that he even made any music between that time. So upon hearing this 1979 album for the first time? It was instantly exciting. Well at least tracks 1,3 and 4 were since they were the only ones I was fixated on for an unknown reason. Now over a decade and a half later I have the opportunity to view this album in the context of not only having heard Herbie’s other albums from the mid/late 70’s and early 80’s,but also other similar music from others artists made during this time period. So there is an understanding of the root of this sound that wasn’t present when I first heard this. So after so many years with this album,here are my current impressions of it.

The opener “You Bet You Love” is a glistening and rather enchanting disco friendly number with an extremely funky bass/guitar line that builds into Herbie’s swelling synthesizers-again married with a strong singalong melody that concludes with Herbie (as always during this time through his Vocoder) howling soulfully in the best manner of space-funk vocalizing. “Ready Or Not” is a Ray Parker Jr. penned funk groove filled with layered bass synthesizers along with Herbie’s melodic leads-featuring a choir of singers as opposed to Herbie and a sound very much out of the late 70’s Raydio type sound-only with a far more Afro-Latin oriented percussion break courtesy of Bill Summers.

“Tell Everybody” is a powerful,heavy bass/guitar led disco-funk jam with Herbie sharing vocals with the choir of singers on Vocoder-and again solid proof that Afro Latin percussion in the disco era did hold strong ethnic identification in the most instrumental oriented of hands. Now those are the numbers I was always most inclined towards here at the time of first hearing it. “Trust Me” is a slow,dripping samba type slow groove with a powerfully complex melody with Herbie vocoderizing a poignant lyric of romantic insecurity. “Honey From The Jar” is a slow crawling,bluesy and glassy dyno’d electric pinao driven slice of harder edged funk-showcasing a very chunky bass line. “Knee Deep” (not the Funkadelic classic of course) begins in a disco-funk oriented mode before descending deep into a heavily phased drum break/bass line for the deepest end of futurist funk.

Probably the most well know story of Herbie Hancock in the 1970’s was him always having to somehow justify his alternating between electric and acoustic playing throughout the decade. With that debate raging on among critics,he again ran into a similar musical syndrome to Miles that with all the controversy a lot of people missed out on the fact that,when playing funk oriented music,Herbie Hancock was helping to innovate even some unexplored tributaries of the funk-jazz genre. Because of Herbie’s assertion that funk’s strong roots in the Earth gave the music more room for rhythmic and melodic flight,he and Bill Summers in particular were able to use this music to fully explorer the percussively rhythmic possibilities that lay within the fact that the disco era funk music was extremely popular and even innovated on in Africa itself at the time.

And that is basically the spirit that comes from this particular album. It all the most shiny engineering and production gloss of any of Herbie’s 70’s funk-fusion albums. Yet at the same time,the rhythms that are colored by this effect are extremely strong and varied. The musical synergy that always seemed to exist between Herbie and Ray Parker Jr. is seen to enormous effect on this album. It showcases the strong instrumental compatibility that would show them collaborating so often during the years 1978-1981. So I must agree with writer Ricky Vincent that this was one of the strongest funk albums of the disco era. And one of Herbie’s strongest funk records as well.

Electro Funk/Hip-Hop

Sound-System (1984)-Columbia

With the success of Future Shock and its big hit “Rockit”,Herbie had made one significant musical contribution to the 80’s decade: he managed to put an instrumental dance record onto the pop charts and even the music video world. And opened up the door for other musicians such as contemporaries of his such as Jan Hammer to do the same. The following year Herbie was back in the studio with Bill Laswell to record the follow up to that album. As he was in the early 70’s,Herbie was continually fascinated by how to combine the modern electronic/hip-hop sample/scratch oriented effects that interested him with the heavily Afrocentric variety of funk. Again on the heels of another possible cultural innovation,Herbie bought in the Gambian musician Foday Musa Suso,who played an electrified African string instrument called the Kora,which produced a reverb laden Harp-like effect. This would have the effect of extending even further on the musical revelations he’d made on his previous album.

“Hard Rock”,”Metal Beat” and the closing title track are all very much in line with the approach of “Rockit”,but the instrumental sound is very different. The rhythmic patterns,keyboard parts and the addition of the Kora on the title song especially infuse these songs with an enormous Afro-Latin quality about them-which draws out the expansiveness of the groove and manage to make the electronics of it seem totally non-rigid. “Karabali” has almost no relation to these songs at all-its an almost totally African,almost Cameroonian Makossa beat type number built heavily around Suso’s Kora. “Junku” perfectly blends the tight and danceable electro-funk sound of Herbie’s with the same Kora sound. Bernard Fowler returns for another vocal number in the bluesy funk of “People Are Changing”,very much a generational cautionary take where Herbie delights on both synthesizer and acoustic piano alternately. The bonus track is an extended version of “Metal Beat”,which draws out the African percussion element even more.

Something tells me this album didn’t resonate with the public the same as its predecessor had. And it isn’t because the album is too repetitious of it. It actually isn’t at all. But the basis for all of the songs on this album are African oriented drum patters and different rhythmic ideas-with anything American blues based rarely being showcased. While this album is chocked full of massively grooving break dance friendly electro funk,the basis for it isn’t particularly American it all. It takes the heavy Afro-Latin influence of the previous album to a whole other level in fact. In many ways,that makes this one of Herbie’s best albums of the 80’s as the music is extremely close to his heart in the sense of being technically futurist yet rhythmically grounded in the tradition of the Earth itself. Manu DiBango himself could extend on the sound from his album in particular on his own release from the following year Electric Africa. As for this,Herbie may very well have sparked the public’s interest in Africa and African musical rhythms during the mid 1980’s. So again Herbie himself gained some success for himself while being a trailblazer.

Acid Jazz

Return Of The Headhunters (1998)-Universal

Herbie Hancock made a valiant but no altogether creatively vibrant comeback with Dis Is Da Drum. He began making acoustic records for the rest of the decade which,actually focused on reinventing songs that were originally done electrically. During this time there was a revival of funk in a more organic musical form. And later in a decade a particular focus on the jazz-funk side of things. New bands such as Brand New Heavies,Jamiroquai and a revived Incognito came out of the UK as part of this boom. The acid jazz boom. This was an excellent environment for Herbie to revive the band that got the ball rolling on the jazz-funk movement of the 70’s in the first place: The Headhunters. But would Paul Kackson,Bill Summers,Bennie Maupin and Mike Clark be interested in putting the band back together and…well doing “it” again? Looks like the did. This time to remain contemporary they bought in guests both old and new,from Patrice Rushen to BNH’s own N’Dea Davenport. And off the went!

“Funk Hunter” gets things off to an excellent start. All the old magic of Headhunters funk is fully intact from Herbie’s reverbed clavinets to the stop/start rhythms. “Skank It” actually ups the funk ante even more with some high octane rhythms and Bennie Maupin going right for it on saxes and reeds. “Watch Your Back” is the only number here featuring rapping. But the rap has jazz cultural value and the music around it is still the Headhunters funk. “Frankie And Kevin” is a more mellower recording with Davenport on lead vocals. She stretches out vocally even further on the catchy and jazzy funk piece “Tip Toe”,another of my favorites here. “Premonition” and “6/8-7/8” go right for the heavier jazz jugular with Bennie Maupin stretching out on the solos in a more abstract way he might’ve before his Headhunter years. Both are very strong again compositionally. “Kwanzaa” is another favorite of mine here. It has a long going on in it. There’s this polyrhythmic atmosphere, layered keyboard/synthesizer solos and some unusual but memorable melodic phrases.

Much more organic,better produced and featuring far far stronger compositions than Herbie’s previous album of all original material this actually served to re-introduce a musical collective/band that I still don’t feel is quite given the credit due them. The Headhunters cannot get the credit for out and out creating jazz-funk as a subgenre. But the sure pioneered it by really showcasing so many of it’s most important elements. There was the African rhythmic influence. That emphasis on stop/start rhythms on unexpected time signatures for another. And there was also that close and unique musical chemistry that all of these musicians had that made it all work. Truth be said this album has just a tad more vocals than the original Headhunter era albums ever had. Not to mention on that level how much more oriented it is around guests in that area. But it all functions very much as a complete musical unit rather than some example of one upsmanship. The Headhunters purpose as a band is ultimately fulfilled here as their strengths and weaknesses are complimented as well as they ever were. And this all makes this joyful,funky music to hear.


And there we have it: my own list of the Herbie Hancock albums that I feel represent the strongest of each period of his electronic jazz-funk oriented creations. The fact that the man has branched out so many tributaries as an electric player shows just the expansiveness not only of Herbie himself,but of the jazz/funk musical combination itself. And it’s an expansiveness that continues to develop here in the new millennium.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Acid Jazz, Bennie Maupin, Bernard Fowler, Bill Summers, Disco, electric jazz, Foday Musa Suso, Fusion, Harvey Mason, Headhunters, Herbie Hancock, Jazz-Funk, Mike Clark, Paul Jackson, Ray Parker Jr.

Andre’s Funk Essentials: Mixing It Up With The Groove’s Greatest Hits

funk

Funk has long been something that I’ve viewed as being an album oriented genre-one that blends uptempo dance music and jazzy or blues oriented ballads that has a certain approach to rhythm. But is often built around a certain concept as well. While funk albums has always been part of the family musical experience? I only fully understood funk as a specific genre due to compilations albums. In fact have often stated that at that place and time in the mid 1990’s? The only feasible and fiscally practical way in which to experience funk was through different types of compilations.

Much the same as you’d have with full length albums? The nature of compilations of pretty diverse when it comes to the funk genre. Funk is found on various artists compilations that otherwise consist mostly of rock,jazz and blues songs. They can be found on soundtracks in much the same manner. While in the 90’s there was not only a major up-swell of various artists compilations that were all funk, but also a series of compilations by a single funk band/soloist. Tracing down the timeline of where I personally started with the music? Here is a list of the various varieties of funk compilations that inspired me along the journey into the groove.


Funk Essentials

It was a cassette dub of this album from my dad, playing on the car stereo on the way home from a family trip from the city of Portland. I’ve discussed this on my previous blog The Rhythmic Nucleus. What still amazes me is that I could listen to songs such as “Let’s Star The Dance”,”Rigor Mortis” and “Flashlight” were all from a band actually called the Funk Essentials. Still this served it’s intended purpose with me: to whet the appetite to explore the artists within. And through BMG Music Service’s well stocked lineup of Funk Essentials compilations for individual artists I was able to take that journey a bit later

Heatwave Greatest hits

          Having already been exposed to Heatwave’s Central Heating album on 8 Track tape as a child? This album was a cassette of my mothers when she was unable to find that album on another format. While featuring the biggest hits from that album? It was my first exposure to classics such as “Boogie Nights”,”Always And Forever” and the 1980 jam “Posin’ ‘Til Closin”. It also led me on the path to other full length Heatwave albums like their 1982 masterpiece Current. The music of Rod Temperton and the late Johnnie Wilder have had an incalculable effect on how I perceive funky songwriting and composition.

Michael Jackson - Anthology (1986)

It’s very likely that Michael Jackson represented my very first introduction to funk music and I wasn’t even aware of it. His music was a direct link to me for the music of Berry Gordy’s Motown records where he began his career onward to Quincy Jones and the Westlake studio crew of musicians such as bassist Louis Johnson (one half of the Brothers Johnson of “Stomp” fame) and Greg Phillinganes (renowned session player for the likes of Eric Clapton,Stevie Wonder and his own solo albums Significant Gains and Pulse) as well as Toto’s Steve Lukather.

Jackson 5 Anthology

On these Motown sessions? People like the Mizell Brothers (who’d go on to work with jazz great Donald Byrd) and members of The Jazz Crusaders in Joe Sample and Wilton Felder provided the instrumental power and excitement to songs such as Michael’s early solo hits such as funked up show tunes such as “All The Things You Are” to epic fare such as “We’re Almost There” and “Take Me Back”. Not to mention a roll call of Jackson 5 triumphs such as “I Want You Back”,”Mama’s Pearl” and “Dancing Machine” along with far lesser known but still powerful songs such as “Looking Through The Windows”,”Get It Together”,”Whatever You Got,I Want” and “Body Language”.

Best Of Earth Wind & Fire Vol.1

As with The Jacksons? Some songs from Earth Wind & Fire were part of my musical core from the outset. Yet it was the experience of borrowing this vinyl from my dad in my early teens that really got me started on exploring this band. Songs such as “Shining Star”,”Fantasy”,”Can’t Hide Love” and “Getaway” were completely new to me at the time. Cannot diminish the excitement of hearing them for the first time. Add to that viewing the inner gate fold sleeve of this vinyl to see the joyous expressions of the band before I even knew names like Ralph Johnson,Al McKay,Larry Dunn or even Maurice White.

Parliament-Tear_The_Roof_Off_1974-1980

It was the Funk Essentials series that led me to this. During 1995 the name George Clinton was ringing through my head all the time. And this particular album was my entry point into the world of Parliament. Of course some of these songs lyrically made little sense to me. But it didn’t take the liner notes to begin to understand that characters such as Sir Nose,Starchild,Mister Wiggles and Dr.Funkenstein were part of a vast concept Clinton had set up that spanned across the Parliament albums as a whole. This really elevated my understanding of funk as an album based genre. And therefore was one of the key individual artist-based compilations that entered into my world at the time.

Move To The Groove

Interestingly enough? My father was more attracted to the holographic CD cover for this set than he seemed to be with the music within. Yet during the spring and summer of 1996? My father and I actually began our many musical conversations while listening to the songs here. It was my very first exposure to artists such as Roy Ayers,Mandrill and George Duke. These artists would become hugely significant in my expanding musical explorations in years to come.

Prince The Hits-B-Sides

Always compelled by the multi talented and expansively funky Prince Rogers Nelson,this album really showcased for me how versatile and entrancing  this innovator of the Minneapolis sound’s music truly was. Not only that but it included a number of non album B-sides on the final disc-the best of which (for me anyway) were the magnificent “17 Days” and “Erotic City”. When I collected all of Prince’s full length albums? I actually sold my original copy of this for pocket change basically. But I recently bought it again-not only because of the B-sides but simply because it’s a compilation of songs I still love to listen to set up this way. And from the look of the back? I feel as if I might’ve bought back my own copy I sold so many years ago.

Rick-James-Greatest-Hits

Seemed only natural to explore the music of Rick James during the same time as Prince’s. Interestingly enough? This particular collection was one of the very first CD’s bought into our home in 1990 when my father got his first CD player as a Christmas gift. It took me six more years to get into it. While I danced and hummed along to “Give It To Me Baby”,”You And I”,”Cold Blooded” and my favorite at the time “17”? Listening to this man’s lyrics provided me with a bucket list of things I would never even think of doing myself. Good example to me of funk that was almost totally lyrically un-relatable for me.

Nuyorican Soul

This mixture of Latin style acid jazz music of the mid 90’s was again something that my father purchased-during a time when both of us were on trajectories of exploring funk and it’s many tributaries. While not every one of these songs made a lasting impact on me? Singer India’s performance on the song “Runaway” helped me to understand something Roy Ayers,who also appears on this album, would continue to teach me later: how funk functioned in the context of the disco era.

Pure Disco Volume 1

It was a family friend,the late Janie Galvin,who first loaned us this CD. A lot of the songs and artists I knew well at this point. At the same time it was first hearing of Diana Ross’s amazing disco-funk extravaganza “Love Hangover”. Not to mention my introduction to two artists who would become enormous parts of my musical future in the UK group Imagination and the incomparable Teena Marie.

Star Time

I’d been reading over and over again about this man who,by 1997 I only knew three songs by. Only after being fully educated on how this man was essentially responsible for funk and hip-hop on his own? I went for it and purchased the highly recommended James Brown box set. I don’t know if I have words to described the feeling of what hearing “Think”,”Let Yourself Go”,”Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothin'”,”The Payback”,”Get Up Offa That Thing” and “It’s Too Funky In Here” for the first time. Perhaps I was more than a little late in the game to James Brown. At the same time? It actually opened the door for another,deeper stage in my understanding of the thoroughly instrumental structure of funk.

JB's Funky Good Time

On the way back from an long road trip to New York State? The two CD’s were part of the soundtrack for the trip home. At the time? I found some of these long instrumental jams a bit monotonous. Though I was deep into James Brown at this time? The idea of repetition in funk and being “on the one” was an element of the music’s core I could only take in limited doses. Still this was very educational for broadening my ability to listen to extended instrumental numbers. Somehow? The song I found myself doing a total call and response to on that road trip was “More Peas”. Today with the JB’s? Can hardly get enough of them. Proof of how funk can evolve a music lover fast!

Funk Essentials 1999

This discount compilation,found at Sam’s Club I believe,had one song on it that I kept repeating over and over again. And that was Tom Browne’s “Funkin For Jamaica”. This was a song and artist I wanted to know more and more about. This was a direct line to some of my more recent explorations of the last decade or so of artists such as Bernard Wright,Lenny White and Weldon Irvine.

Gramavision Jazz,Funk & Composers of Distinction

From solo projects by P-Funk’s Bernie Worrell onward? Grammavision was a label I was beginning to investigate during the late 1990’s. This compilation of my fathers provided me with a song by an artist named Jamaaladeen Tacuma called “Trouble” that really caught my ear. Tacuma’s music is one of my more recent investigations. And all because of this one little song that simply never left my mind upon hearing it.

Luaka Bop

The new millennium had officially arrived with this album-a free giveaway to my father from Bull Moose records,the local Maine record haunt. One song on this album excited my father so much he gleefully gave me the “you’ve GOT to hear this” routine. The song was “Masturbation Session” by a band called Arepa 3000-a P-Funk style number sung in Spanish. It was my first (and one of very few) exposures to funk sung in a completely foreign language.


After the year 2000? Compilations no longer provided any influence in my musical experiences. Full length albums were generally the route I was beginning to go on from then on- with my burgeoning interest in reissue CD’s and used vinyl. Interestingly enough? That was the year I received my GED diploma after eight years of home/un-schooling. My funk education directly coincided with my academic education: from 1993 through 2000.

One thing my blogging partner Henrique and I often discuss is how most people seem to either understand funk as a musical fad heavily connected to the disco era,nor even worse know nothing about it at all. After writing this? I am proud that funk,a music based so fully in rhythm,was as strong a musical influence on my life as rock ‘n’ roll is for the majority of people so it seems. Going from collections of songs to coherent album statements? It’s been an exciting journey which wound up with me discussing individual songs today,only in music terms,here on this blog. My own advice? Never fear changing up the groove in your own life!

~

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Filed under 1980's, 1990s, Boogie Funk, compilation albums, Funk, George Clinton, Heatwave, James Brown, Michael Jackson, P-Funk, Prince, Rick James

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/24/14 Rique’s Pick : “Rural Renewal” by The Crusaders ft Eric Clapton

The Crusaders 2003 album “Rural Renewal” on the legendary jazz record label Verve, marked a reunion of three of the four major principals of the mighty groups original lineup, drummer “Stix” Hooper, Tenor Saxophonist and bassist Wilton Felder, and the recently deceased great pianist and composer, Joe Sample. The only memeber who did not join them was trombonist Wayne Henderson, who passed in early 2014. Henderson would again join the group around 2010 for concert appearances. The Crusaders, just as they’d done in years past with great musicians such as Leon “Ndugu” Chancelor, Larry Carlton, “Pops” Popwell, Barry Finnerty, Randy Crawford, Paulino DaCosta and many other excellent players, buttressed the core lineup with great musicians. Freddy Washington, the bass player who co wrote Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots” participated on bass, the great Ray Parker Jr took over the standard guitar chair, and Steve Baxter came in on trombone, allowing the group to recapture its original sound of tenor sax and trombone playing in unison. Stewart Levine, the producer for the groups ’70s run is the producer here as well. Two songs on the album also feature the guitar talents of Eric Clapton, one called “Creepin”, and today’s Friday Funk song which ushers in the period of Scorpio, called “Rural Renewal.”

The song begins with the eerie tones of Joe Sample’s Wurlitzer electric piano. Sample is one of the pianists most identified with the Fender Rhodes electric piano, but he has been known to use the bite that the Wurlitzer provides as well. The Wurlitzer is well known for its eerie tone as demonstrated on classics such as Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Here, Sample plays a strong bass note along with a melody and chords in his right hand. Sample’s piano intro is backed up soley by “Stix” Hooper’s drums, and he plays his trademark jazz/latin meets funk and disco pulse, with a syncopated kick drum, cross sticks on the snares, and his dancing, straight but somehow swinging hi hats. After they go through the intro a couple of times the whole band kicks in with the type of hard, stomping Bayou/southewestren funk groove they rode to success and acclaim.

The guitars, bass, and electric keyboards all play off the same swamp groove, creating a sense of propulsion. This full band sound is almost like a tease though, after they go through it once around, the composition returns to the eeriness of Sample and Hooper playing together. The next time the full groove comes back, Eric Clapton is added, playing his fills and soloing over the groove. In a real humurous jazz quotation, Sample plays a riff almost like Claptons most famous, “Layla”. The “Layla” style riff, which comes from the blues anyway, sets up the intro of the horn line of Felder on sax and Baxter on ‘bone, which I love because it rekindles the sound of Felder and Henderson. The band grooves with Clapton and the horns playing around each other.

After that the song reaches its chorus section, with the horns playing a part that is built off the main groove as well, although with more space in it. The chorus section might be the most stomp down Crusaders sounding section of the whole, very “Crusaders” sounding piece. After that chorus the arrangement goes right back to Sample’s tumbleweeds and candlelight electric piano groove.

Clapton plays a very tasty and stinging blues solo on acoustic guitar, even incorporating some of the hard double stops of Johnny “Guitar” Watson. After another electric piano breakdown, Sample comes in with a very funky solo on acoustic piano, going back to that barrellhouse sound he got on Crusaders songs such as “Greasy Spoon” from “Southern Comfort.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Crusaders song without a solo from Wilton Felder. Mr. Felder plays some of his trademark phrases, which combine both a funky rhythmic sense, very peppy and energizing, along with his great patented tone. The song coasts out on an extended groove section in which Clapton gets space to cut up a little bit more.

“Rural Renewal” represented a rebirth of The Crusaders. While they still did not put out an album a year as in their ’70s heyday, it did lead the way to future concert appearances featuring various members of the original band, in concert with Ray Parker Jr and Freddy Washington. The title of the song and the spooky country funk vibe reminds me of the many older people I knew from the Bay Area who retired back down south in the 1990s through the ’00s. Of course in the ’60s, “Urban Renewal” was the phrase used to describe one anti poverty program after another. By the ’00s things had changed, with older black people in particular seeing a return south as a way to get more for their dollar and also to enjoy another standard of life. Joe Sample himself was an example of this, relocating down to Texas in his last decade, going back home. This song, the reunion of Hooper, Sample and Felder with their producer Levine, and even the presence of an excellent guest guitarist like Eric CLapton represent the Crusaders figuratively and literally going, as Wilton Felder once wrote, “Way Back Home.” From the funk on this song and album? They demonstrate that it is possible to go back home every once in a while.

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Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Crusaders, Funk, Funk Bass, Generations, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, Late 70's Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/03/14 Rique’s Pick: “Chicken Grease” by D’Angelo

When D’Angelo and his fellow Soulquarians and other collaborators such as Questlove, James Poysuer, the late great J Dilla, Raphael Saddiq and Pino Palladino got together to produce what would become the landmark smoky funk masterpiece “Voodoo”, they took a deep and studious approach to their craft. What came out of that is an album, that, as Saul Williams spoke of in his wonderful liner note essay, distilled the essence of many of the great artists of the Funk/Jazz/Soul boom into D’s brew. One of the most prominent flavors in that brew was the mercurial and kalaedoscopic funk of the artist who went back to his birth name, Prince, in the same year D’s album was released. “Chicken Grease” is a funky stepper from that album that is my pick for today’s Friday Funk Feature. The song takes it’s title from one of Prince’s funk music concepts, a name he has for a sixteenth note, droning, unaccented funk guitar figure that goes back to things such as the intro to The Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces.” D’Angelo includes that “chicken grease” guitar part in this song, but the track itself was a manifesto of back to the basics new funk in the ’00s, with it’s dry sound and bopping, hip rhythm.

“Chicken Grease” begins with a drummer tapping out a New Orleans snare drum rhythm and people laughing and hanging out in the background. Soon after, Questlove kicks in with a dry, funky drum beat played in the classic rhythm style D and his co creators pioneered on this album. This album has been noted for it’s lazy, laid back swinging rhythms, mainly influenced by the late great Detroit Hip Hop and R&B Producer Jay Dee’s funky drum programming. Jay Dee went through great lengths to program his drums with the feeling of a human drummer. The result on “Voodoo” was an album whos beats felt like they came from an entirely different planet than what was popular on the radio at the time. Even live drummers had been focusing on making their drum beats as precise as the drum machine if they wanted to get work. The musicians on the tracks on this album adopted a laid back, behind the beat approach, the kind found in the work of Funk artists such as The Meters and Parliament-Funkadelic, and is a hallmark of New Orleans funk in particular.

After the drum beat kicks in, a clean guitar tone massages the ear, reminiscent of ’90s jazz-funk-hip hop fusions. A greasy, funky bass line soon joins it, totally avoiding the “one ” of the measure, letting the guitar part play on that beat, and playing off beat two. The guitar and bass points line up in holy matrimony on beat two. The bass rests and plays a funky phrase in the next bar. All in all the bass is a sparse, funky line that reminds one of the sparese type of funk you’d find on a hip hop record, but the tone is straight up dry funk!

As far as the “Chicken Grease” that Prince named, is it in the song? Yes, the droning funky guitar part can be found in several points of the tune, at one point in particular D asks for it and you can hear it chiming in in the background. As for the lyrics? D did something here close to a “true” funk song if you will. Funky beats can support any type of lyrical text, from political protest, to ballad themes, to sex, to novelty lyrics, to explicit gangster rap. But when James Brown made his seminal contribution to the funk groove with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, he hit with a lyrical text that simply described his amazement at the groove he had concocted with his band. From then on, a good portion of funk lyrics have simply described and reveled in how funky the groove was and what that groove would do to ‘ya. D’Angelo does this and approaches it in the manner of the original party starting hip hop M.C’s, even quoting one of the greatest, Rakim, saying, “Let the others go first/so the brothers won’t miss”, from the Eric B and Rakim classic “I Know You Got Soul.”

D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” was an album that surprised me when it came out. It promised a return to funk, but by the year 2000, Lauryn Hill and Outkast had already done that to various degrees with great success. But I never expected the type of lazy, dry toned, unaccented, grooving funk D’Angelo and co. gave us on this album, music inspired by the boom bap head nod of hip hop. Just as funk adapted itself to the up tempos of disco in the late ’70s, D tailored his funk to his love of the prevailing lyrically focused, slow but chunky hip hop of the ’90s. He also did it with a sound that used very few gimmicks or studio flourishes. I see that album more and more as D giving you the basic nutrients of funk, and he relaid the foundation so well he left artists coming behind him nothing to do but build up from there.

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Filed under 1990s, ?uestlove, Acid Jazz, Africa, Blogging, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jazz-Funk, Lauryn Hill, Music Reviewing

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 8/16/2014: ‘Black And White America’ by Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz

With this release Lenny Kravitz finds himself consummating the musical direction he began with his 5 but for some reason backed away from. As with myself Lenny is the product of a biracial family. And he likely faced some of the cultural ambiguities that I often had to contend with. Especially on the creative end. He spent much of his career on the path to being the modern equivalent of a Jimi Hendrix or Vernon Reid-using rock guitar and the rock ‘n roll style as his main choice of expression. On this album all of that is beginning to change. Recorded in the Bahamas with the environment having it’s own type of effect on the music this is also his debut for the Roadrunner label. It’s a branch of Atlantic-former home of famous soul icons Aretha Franklin,Ray Charles…the list goes on. So it’s only fitting,with the idea of the classic Atlantic soul style still felt today that this would be the album where Lenny would officially find the funk in all it’s fruitful forms.

This album begins with a serious punch on the title song,an autobiographic number fully exploring the pumping sophistifunk/dance style of the mid/late 70’s,celebrating his biracial heritage and how the modern age is far more accommodating to that despite the socio political racial tensions bought home in today’s world. On “Come And Get It”,”Superlove” and the JB sendup “Life Ain’t Ever Better Than It Is Now” he extends the funk into his sound more than he has on any other album. And he isn’t finished exploring this melodic groove after that either. On the pulsing “Liquid Jesus” where Lenny brings his falsetto back out and,the acid jazz ARP synth laden “Looking Back On Love” and the “boogie” style of “Sunflower” he’s fully acknowledging the 1980’s method of funk. It doesn’t end there. “Boogie Drop” featuring Drake explores a very unique direction in funk-finding Lenny being a pioneer for once in mixing modern electro revival with strong West Indian rhythms and hip-hop touches.

One of the best part of this album is on “Rock Star City Life”,”In The Black”,”Everything”,”The Faith Of A Child” and “Push” it’s clear the influence of 80’s new wave,itself heavily derived from funk and disco is having a very positive effect on these rockier songs. The noisy guitars are pushed to the backround as rhythm becomes the center of attention. On the hit “Stand” he’s come to the ultimate hybrid of Sly Stone,Prince and OutKast’s Andre 3000 in terms of delivering rock n roll influenced funk with a highly melodic nature. So for the first time I’ve heard Lenny delivers an album of sixteen songs where not one tune disappoints. From the wonderfully relevant cover artwork to the wonderfully way he’s embraced the production medium of the jazz,funk and danceable hip-hop he’s now bought into his orbit this finds Lenny at long last becoming himself as a musical entity. More over the fact that he’s broadened his message to showcase how his conscious bohemian outlook can benefit the current generational cycle. If this is to be the path he’s going to chose to develop in terms of funk,rock and/or the other in the

*Click here for original Amazon.com review!

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Acid Jazz, Amazon.com, Aretha Franklin, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Lenny Kravitz, Music Reviewing