Herbie Hancock’s 1973 number “Chameleon”was not only some of the first funk I ever heard. It was one of the very first songs I remember hearing at all. With each passing year,Hancock’s music has always been representative to me of new musical discoveries. From funk to disco to electro. After listening to him for years,it became clear fairly early that Hancock shared one creative quality with his mid/late 60’s musical boss Miles Davis. And that was that Hancock has had a number of distinctly different musical periods in his now 54 year strong recording career. In terms of over-viewing his career here,it seemed fitting to explore some of these periods’ lesser known innovations he helped to spearhead.
On July 29th,1974 Herbie Hancock recorded his sixteenth studio album live at Koseinekin Hall in Tokyo,Japan. The album was released only in Japan on the countries’ CBS affiliate. The album was divided between four songs. The first two were performed acoustically and the final two would be performed electrically. Being this album would be sandwiched between Hancock’s two major funk breakthrough’s in 1973’s Headhunters and it’s followup Thrust from later this same year,this album entitled Dedication received little attention at the time of it’s release. But one song on the album was one Hancock had never performed previously. It was called “Nobu”.
The song opens with a brittle,staccato Arp Odyssey provided the songs central rhythm. Then the ARP String Ensamble fades in with it’s otherworldly orchestral tones. Hancock provides to different musical lines with his Fender Rhodes on this song. One is a bluesy bass line that pumps hard up under the song. The other is a mid to high toned solo that plays some often spiraling melodic improvisations. Towards the middle of the song,this Rhodes solo becomes more rhythmic in tone. As the melody again becomes a prominent part,the ARP strings returns as Hancock’s Rhodes turn to an echoing dewdrop sound before the song reaches it’s end with a bang from the string ensemble and the Rhodes.
Many people (including myself) think of Herbie Hancock’s fully electro funk period at beginning with his work with Grand Mixer DST and “Rockit” in 1983. Even though it wasn’t heard stateside at the time,Hancock’s electro funk revolution actually got it’s start right here on “Nobu” in 1974. And it’s electro Afro-Funk at that. The ARP Odyssey Hancock uses for the rhythm of this song has a more percussive than a drum like tone. And therefore the flavor it creates is of a far more tribal nature than any early drum machine could create. So by fashioning futurist Afrocentric electro funk,Herbie Hancock was at this point already a decade ahead of his time.
Filed under 1974, Afro Funk, Afro-Futurism, Afrocentrism, ARP synthesier, electric jazz, electro funk, Fender Rhodes, Herbie Hancock, jazz fusion, Uncategorized
First time Cody Chestnut entered my life was through his The Headphone Masterpiece. The sound of that album was very much a patchwork quilt of rock,funk and hip-hop though a reverrbed and heavily phased filter. Wasn’t a bad idea but I’d basically heard something similar to this before-from D’Angelo. Some of the songwriting ideas were not well developed and there was a lack of essential musical focus. All the same,Cody’s talent was definitely there. Than he disappeared almost as fast as he appeared. And I thought he would be a musical footnote whose full potential would not be fully realized. Than one day I was looking through the soul section of my local record store and there it was,a brand new release from someone who surprised me. They had a listening station there where I could here snippets enough for me to know I’d like it. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Not only has Cody Chestnut finally realized his creative potential but released what I view as his most focused and direct album yet.
From the churning rhythm guitars and drums at the beginning,it’s clear the focus here is going to be funk. And that is “people music” from the 70’s funk era all the way: melodic,full of advanced instrumental and vocal harmonic ideas. Especially impressive is “I’ve Been Life”,where using spoken word dialog to introduce the name of African countries and colonies to illustrate the rootedness of his life. “What Kind Of Cool (Will We Think Of Next)” happily addresses who media-centric people have become in their personal habits in a witty rather than angst-y fashion. On “That’s Still Mama” he’s musing on his family very much “I Wish” era Stevie Wonder style. After this the album takes on more of an uptown soul flavor with a shuffling rhythm and horns on “Love Is More Than A Four Letter Word” and “Everybody’s Brother”,where Cody talks of being redeemed from a life of manipulation and drug use through religion in his case. Of course he does show from trepidation that he might fall off that wagon in “Don’t Wanna Go The Other Way” as well. “Chips Down (In No Landfill” and “Where Is All The Money Going” illustrating modern economic hardships with some Marvin Gaye-like multi tracked falsetto vocals.
Of course the album ends in a similar musical place to where it begins-with the wah wah powered funk of “Scroll Call”,again finding him looking to the African continent for inspiration. I’ve heard a good majority of the retro soul/funk that’s been coming out. But I have to say I’ve seldom heard an album of that genre as well produced,well written and above all well conceptualized as this in the past decade or so. Cody Chestnut is no longer trying to keep up with the Jones’s of indie rock or contemporary hip-hop. He was at last able to find the steady musical direction here that has defined the creative direction of other people pursuing similarly individual paths such as Janelle Monae’. Not only is he more than adept at the most advanced level of funk and soul songwriting and production,but also exploring Afrocentrism on a personal,meaningful and positive level. This album could actually be part of a new revolutionary funk era rebirth. One that wouldn’t be based in rock or hip-hop cliches. But one that would expand on the past to embrace Afro-futurism,if Cody handles himself in a creatively reasonable manner from here on.
Originally Posted On December 16th,2014
Link to original review here*
Following the post disco freeze out of most soul and funk music in the early 80’s? It would seem that the British music scene really kept the progression of that level of instrumental and melodic eloquence continuing. It can be heard in funk oriented bands of the new wave era such as Englands Spandau Ballet,Heaven 17,Level 42,Duran Duran and,on the rockier side of it The Clash and former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. There was also a strong multi racial jazz based end of this scene that would emerge with Matt Bianco, which originally featured their very soulful lead singer Basia,Sade and Jean Paul Maunik’s Incognito. After a one off recording in the early 80’s,the band didn’t re-emerge again until the 90’s. During this time Incognito helped pioneer with acid jazz fusion of American jazz/funk and house music. At the very end of the decade in 1999,they released their album ‘No Time Like The Future’-featuring the song that really got me deeply into their music entitled “Get Into My Groove”.
Kicking off with a counting down type snare drum,the song goes into what is basically a contemporary hip-hop/soul drum machine rhythm with some beautifully orchestrated,cinematic soul strings. Shortly after these spirited horn charts kick in,along with two prominant bass lines in a wah wah fueled electric solo and a walking Moog synth bass one. After a brief vocalese scat from Jamiroquai front man Jason Kay,Wonderlove alumni Maysa Leak comes in for the lead vocal. She is talking about someone,a politician maybe, who is willing to preach about the woes of the world while taking no specific actions to correct them-asking “tell me how do you change the world if you haven’t got the nerve”. On the melodically ascending chorus Maysa asks this invidual to come and feel her groove,step into her shoes and that to “get into my mind,you gotta get into my groove”. After a consoling and very jazzy bridge,the song repeats that chorus with variations to the songs conclusion.
On a personal level? I feel that the post Columbine/pre (alleged) Y2K world of 1999,one defined by a great deal of paranoia and lack of hope,was in need of “people music” with a message perhaps more so than any other time in history. In America people such as Erykah Badu were beginning to deliver an Afrofuturist musical vibration of their own. But this combination of a former Stevie Wonder singer,along with a British acid jazz band also featuring backup vocals from…the lead singer of the biggest crossover act of the British acid jazz funk scene in America made a bold statement (to me anyway) that the humanistic message of the funk/jazz spectrum was every bit as alive as the music was. And this was sophistifunk at that. Yes rhythmically it actually did incorporate some of the mechanized hip-hop/soul rhythm. Yet the arrangement-with elegantly produced live strings,horns and bass synthesizers gave it that flavor of a fully formed futurist groove,modeled on the EWF/Roy Ayers musical attitude to lead the way into the new millennium.
It actually took several listens to Janelle Monae’s full length album debut The ArchAndroid to fully grasp it’s musical virtues before even being able to review it in my head,lead alone here in black and white. That was several years ago. And the review I did do here only came after seeing her live in concert a year after that. It was a truly captivating experience: “united funk” all the way-meaningful grooves,messages and an enormous amount of involvement and communication with the audience. Strangely enough after that,a certain level of cynicism began to sink in on my part. Attitudes like…what if Monae’s intense creativity was a gimmicky fluke? Would she become a generic artist pimping the pleasure principle like so many the next time,to sell more albums? And had the early 1990’s style critical negativity gotten to me at last? How selfish of me. Here was the very fulfillment of the musical desires and imaginative ideas I’d had since adolescence manifesting itself before my eyes. Why reject that for the sake of psychically numb realism? When I heard earlier in the year her follow up was about to arrive,it was a summer of waiting with baited breath to here the musical fruits of her passions. With no hyperbole intended,I am astounded with what was heard!
Beginning with “Electric Overture”, Suit IV a swirling blend of cinema and surf rock guitar we go into “Givin’ Em What They Love”-a thudding and minimal funk-rocker featuring of course Prince himself. Having heard a version of “Q.U.E.E.N” during the summer,this Erykah Badu duet is a superbly realized Minneapolis style rhythm guitar/spicy boogie funk synthesizer. “Electric Lady” slows the groove right down to a crawl with this heavily texturized electronics bubbling up from an heavily reverbed drum and bass line-Monae and Solange Knowles’s voice blending into perfect harmony. On “Primetime” Janelle and Miguel’s male/female duet is set within the musical framework of another spare,lightly beat heavy (and therefore very funky) mid tempo ballad. “We’re Only Rock ‘N Roll” jumps right into a sleeker interpretation of the classic James Brown groove than on the previous albums “Tightrope”-as well as having a more melodically constructed song craft about it. “The Dance Apocalyptic” goes right for the heart of this uptempo Caribbean-type funk jaunt while “Look Into My Eyes” brings in the Spanish tinge with a sensually flamenco inflected tango.
Suit V begins with the beautifully cinematic orchestral 60’s type next part of the “electric overture” before going into the early 70’s Chicago soul inspired “It’s Code” which,along with “Can’t Live Without Your Love” and “Victory” bring out that “sweet funk” sound of that specific musical ethic. With it’s theatrical blend of synthesizer bass and intense rhythm “Ghetto Woman” is complexly melodic electronic funk like you’ve never heard it before-asking for sympathy for it’s character rather than the derision of society.”Sally Ride” is a tight,slowed down foot stomper of a jam that’s full of honesty and a little attitude. “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”,with the equally talented Esperanza Spalding,is absolutely amazing-with it’s thorough understanding of jazzy style keyboard textures and sensual,truth telling rhythms. Not to mention melodic and harmony suggestions that are alternately passionate and paranoid in the best heavy on easy sophistifunk fashion before ending the album with the slow and dynamic boogie funk of “What An Experience”.
Many of the songs on this album feature interludes such as “Good Morning Midnight”,”The Chrome Shoppe” and “Our Favorite Fugitive”,narrated by DJ Crash Crash that illustrate this albums concept. Cindy Mayweather,the space faring archandroid has arrived at the threshold of an apocalypse-with only a group of Mayweather clones called the Electric Ladies providing a degree of satisfaction. Is it another P-Funk like conceptual tract? Not at all. This album is full of many different variations of what actually turns out to be a very important message to the listener. In an environment where a culture itself is almost entirely ruled by fear of one thing or another without realizing it,the best way to live life is to be aware and gain knowledge. But also to be in a position where you can change things for the better. This theme isn’t illustrated by mere preaching. There’s a theatrical storyline just as with her first two releases,as well as a set of characters with their own situations. The stage was set,the players were in place for this album and Janelle Monae more than showed she could dance-literally and figuratively. She has affirmed her place as the much needed innovator of the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum and did so by diving head long into the funky gumbo of Stevie Wonder,Prince,James Brown,Gil Scott Heron and Curtis Mayfield that she channels into her musical orbit. An amazing piece of music that,on many levels,words may not be able to adequately describe.
*For Original Amazon Review,Follow This Link:
Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Janelle Monae, Minneapolis, Prince, Solange', Soul, Stevie Wonder, Women
Being the youngest sister in a musical family can be a challenge. You can ask Janet Jackson,Pat Sylvers DeRusso. And today it would be Solange Knowles. Stereotypically she has always tended to be in Beyonce’s better promoted performance shadow-focusing on songwriting and musicianship to a stronger degree over Beyonce’s celebrity orientations. Sadly,Solange has entered into a controversy recently that could have the potential to spoil her strong reputation as a funky soul singer/songwriter. Personally? I feel these two factors which were just mentioned are interrelated. Yet during the course of this week as the matter involving her and her sisters marriage,which I refuse to get into here,has unfolded it seemed appropriate to do my own part to focus on Solange’s important musical accomplishments as opposed to any yellow journalism that currently follows behind her. And one of the best ways to do this is from a song she wrote and performed with her creative partner Dev Hynes in late 2012 called “Losing You”.
The song itself opens up with a swelling cornucopia of heavy African percussion,conga and bongo drums keeping time in a very polyrhythmic fashion to a very strident 4/4 “on the floor” style post disco beat. Weaving within this is an usual sound,perhaps percussion or a keyboard,that sounds something like a cross between children at play or tweeting birds. It has a very strong Brazilian effect either way. After a couple refrains of this a polyphonic synthesizer comes into the song bringing the melody. It’s soon joined by a thick,phat and popping bass line and another synthesizer part providing an accent that has the sound of a glistening,ringing bell. Over this insistent groove Solange sings in her rich,expressive yet low key voice about breaking up with a lover who seems to be insisting that she is entirely at fault in the situation. By the end,she is still unsure. And the fact that instrumentation stays on the one so insistently illustrates this concept.
Musically speaking,this song is a vital extension on the dance sound Madonna had on her earliest hits-with Mtume’s Reggie Lucas involved. This songs particular variation on the boogie funk sound of the early 80’s does mirror a time when even MTV had to refer to Madonna’s early disco/funk/boogie hits as being “rock” to spike interests. What Solange and Dev add to this mix is heavily layered Afro-Latin percussion and effects-which were a huge part of disco era late 70’s funk as well. By her own admission Solange has devoted herself to carrying on in a slickly produced instrumental variety of funk/soul music from the late 70’s/early 80’s as the basis for her sound. And doing so by her own admittance due to the proliferation of “R&B-gone-electronic dance music tracks” and that it was “remarkable for what it suggests about the direction of pop music right now”.
Shooting the video in the shanty-like township of Lango in Cape Town,South Africa during her photo shoot for Elle magazine added to the strong sense of Afro Futurism that Solange is suggesting in the song. Especially with the extra’s decked out in the manner of Afrocentric fashionista’s and engaging in general friendly farce and horseplay with her. Solange Knowles is an important talent in terms of the live instrumental funk revival. And I fully support her musical and personal position in hypothetical concert with her more commercially popular sister. She represents one head of a two headed family hydra who both bring to mind different sides of the post feminist black female iconoclast. And with Solange zeroing in more on her instrumental musical concept? She surely has a strong future ahead of her.