Tag Archives: Afro Cuban
James Brown and his sax player Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis wrote and recorded a song during JB’s 34th birthday month in 1967 called “Cold Sweat”. As with many James Brown songs,it was developed from part of an earlier song. In this case,a soul ballad entitled “I Don’t Care” from his 1962 album Tour The U.S.A. Ellis had heard James grunting out a very rhythm bass line. He had been listing to the Miles Davis song “So What” a lot at the time. And was thinking a similar horn chart would work well as James Brown was rebooting his song for what he called “the funky bag I’m into right now”.
Speaking personally,this song is actually the very root of Andresmusicalk. My father once wrote a musical breakdown of War’s The World Is A Ghetto album while in college. And he suggested that myself and my friend Henrique Hopkins do a two part breakdown of “Cold Sweat”,the James Brown song that inaugurated the funk sound we all really love. Many things have happened since than. But with my father and Henrique’s encouragement and information,I’m going it alone on talking about this song that not only launched this blog in a way,but did the same for an entire genre.
Clyde Stubblefield throws down his funky drum as the bass of this song right in the center of the Afro Cuban rhythmic clave. Both the rhythm guitar of Jimmy Nolan,Alphonso Kellum and the bass of Bernard Odum all utter a series of harmonically complex scaling lines in close concert with one another-with the JB horns playing those two note modal jazz style charts as Stubblefield comes down on the hi hats. On the refrains,James’s lyrical screams of “I DON’T CARE” keep the progression forward-until on the chorus,the drum breaks right out for the horns to scale right up with James’s vocals.
After the first vocal chorus,Maceo Parker delivers an expansion on the main horn charts of the song on his tenor sax solo. That’s also the first bridge of the song.After this,James calls out “GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME!” repeatedly to Stubblefield,who promptly delivers the percussive,break heavy drum solo that defines the whole groove. After this,the chorus refrain patter comes right back in. As the song begins the fade out,the second refrain becomes the main one. A refrain where the horns and Nolan’s guitar play in near perfect unison with the beat before the song does indeed fade away.
There are some times where studying any art you admire can dampen ones appreciation of it. That hasn’t been the case with myself and “Cold Sweat” at all. The more I learn about the nature of it’s instrumental content,the more musically revolutionary it reveals itself to be. James of course strips out most of the straight melodic elements to the point where the horns,drums,guitar and bass are playing melody,harmony and rhythm all at the same time. It truly was an extremely unique way to present music. And perhaps represents the very moment when James Brown forever reshaped American popular music.
James Brown made his name as a massively influential and inspiring bandleader and performer. The man was probably less regarded as an instrumentalist. He released a series of instrumental albums in the mid 60’s on the Smash record label. But he was also a drummer as well. That probably had a lot to do with his vision of turning his entire band into a drum. And this became the foundational rhythmic element of the funk genre he pioneered. As the 60’s entered it’s final three years, James Brown really began to allow his groove to expand on this path in earnest.
Because the key element to JB’s musical expression was pretty much nonstop touring,he and the JB’s didn’t often have the time to pop over to posh studios to record new singles right away. New songs would often come right out of the rhythms that came through from the stage performances. And James likely came at this with the attitude of “we’ve got to get this on wax while it’s hot!”. That’s likely just what happened on one chilly Philadelphia evening in mid January of 1967 at the Latin Casino nightclub where,after a performance there James and his band recorded “Let Yourself Go”.
Jimmy Nolan’s chicken scratch guitar starts the groove right off cold. The Motown style snare drum kicks right in,along with a scintillating up and down scaling jazzy bass line. The horns play either a 2 or 4 note chart between each guitar break-spiced up by some serious Afro-Cuban conga drums. On the breakdown of the song,the horns begin calling for a musical response while the guitar becomes a sustained rhythmic tone. The one turns right back around as this pattern repeats one last time. On the fade out,the breakdown finds the horns scaling up with increasing volume as the song rides away into the groove.
Around the time this song was recorded, James Brown and the Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti were said to have both been checking out each others shows. Eventually, both of their styles would influence the other. For James’s part,he took the more melodic horn sustains of popular African Highlife music. He also blended in the percussive congas from within the Afro-Cuban clave. That combined with the entire band becoming one big sheet of rhythm made this a key song in terms of where James Brown’s music was about to go. And probably one of the most Afrocentric examples of his time in the funk process.
D’Angelo has already expertly been covered on this blog by Henrique Hopkins,with his articles on the songs “Chicken Grease” and “1000 Deaths”. There’s always been something about the music of the Virginia man born Michael Eugene Archer. Probably started over 20 years ago when the man’s debut Brown Sugar playing on the family car cassette deck on many a road trip. At first it was hard for me to fully understand D’Angelo’s musical appeal. The grand musical statements of Stevie Wonder and the Jackson’s were saying a lot more to me personally at that time. A year later I began to discover Prince. And D’Angelo’s approach became somewhat more clear to me.
Despite the press and the local airplay from Nigel Hall as a college radio DJ in my area,even D’Angelo’s sophomore album Voodoo didn’t light the spark of interest. It was after listening to the Roots and experiencing Questlove’s production for people like Al Green that the music of multi instrumentalist D’Angelo and his band the Soulquarians gained a new understanding within me. So I endeavored to go back and re-discover the Voodoo album. With hip-hop era jazz musicians such as bassist Charlie Hunter and trumpeter Roy Hargrove aboard for the affair,there was one groove on the album that leaped out at me in particular right about at the dead center of the album called “Spanish Joint”.
Afro Caribbean conga’s from Gionvanni Midalgo introduce the song. The man rhythm is a steady,fast paced Brazilian jazz/funk beat. Hunter’s rhythm guitar and bass line both do their nimble dance over the drums and percussion. On the choruses,Hargrove’s deep choral trumpet’s take on another life along with the more swinging cymbal/hi hat rhythms and D’Angelo’s call and response multi tracked harmony vocals. A brief bridge finds the instrumentation slowing to a complete halt and silence. After this the song swings on into a straight up Afro-Cuban jazz/funk groove with some counter melodies from D’Angelo on the Fender Rhodes until the song comes to a swinging,jazzy conclusion.
The thing that really excited me about this song is that it took neo soul’s naturalistic instrumental approach,then added to that the expansive harmonics of jazz and funk. Although D’Angelo and Questlove could’ve theoretically carried this song along as a purely rhythm section based song Midalgo’s percussion touches,Hargrove’s trumpet charts and Hunter’s bass/guitar riffs greatly broaden the songs instrumental dynamics. People who love both neo soul and 70’s Brazilian jazz/funk could both easily listen to and dance off this song with the same level of enthusiasm. Aside from the strength of the song itself, that quality of bringing two generations of the groove together was a major feat.
One of the things that struck me most about the 2005 (in my neck of the woods anyway) release of Earth Wind & Fire’s Illumination album is how much the social circumstances surrounding it were similar to how they’d been while EWF were in their peak period during the mid 70’s. There was an economic crisis,a resulting oil shortage and a good deal of cynicism about an unpopular war. To my thought and emotions? It was the perfect time for some serious funk to come in,move and than remove some of this negativity and hopelessness. And the release of this album,EWF’s final one with the participation of Maurice White was just what the doctor ordered.
Illumination was a very uptempo and funk oriented album. As with most records of it’s time,it featured a number of guest appearances. In this case from the Black Eyed Peas Will I.Am,Outkast’s Big Boi,Destiny’s Child’s Kelly Rowland,the British hip hop duo Floetry as well as Kenny G. It was very much a return to form in many ways for the band. My friend and fellow blogging inspiration Henrique already covered this albums wonderful opening number “Happy People” on Andresmusictalk. So this is dedicated as much to him as the late Maurice White-both huge inspirations in terms of this blog. One song on this album truly made the hair on my back stand up-an instrumental entitled “Liberation”.
The seaside sounds of the ocean and birds begin the song-followed by flowing wind chimes and it’s main melody on a high pitched synthesizer. This all bleeds into thick percussion punctuated by Verdine’s equally high pitched bass line. The thick rhythm guitar and piano come in as rhythmic elements. That piano and Fender Rhodes come in along with the bass line and now phase filtered percussion-providing a musical magic carpet for Philip Bailey’s transcendent vocalese. The third chorus of the song expands out into a massive chorus with everything all the elements coming together in a massive harmonic revelry. The percussion and rhythm guitar dovetails into Bailey’s Afrocentric chanting on the outro.
It’s difficult to count how many times people in the last decade and a half cynically claim music has no power whatever to change the world. For me,this song is a constant reminder that music not only does change but is crucial to the world. The Afrocentric percussion of this song reminds me of everything from sound of a walk to the motion of a road trip down the highway. It is right in line with EWF instrumental jams such as “Africano” from 30 years before it. Not only that but it succeeds as a totally melodically hummable instrumental where even veteran soul/funk artists were no longer making them. In many ways,it’s one of EWF’s finest songs ever.