It was Henrique who brought to my attention today that Kashif Saleem,born Michael Jones in NYC,passed away this last Sunday. The causes is still unknown as of now,and not that important. What does matter is that while Kashif was well known as a producer for other artists,it all stemmed from lesser sung achievements of his own. He joined the disco funk band B.T Express as a teenager for their third album Energy To Burn in 1976. He began producing for Evelyn King on her 1981 hit “I’m In Love”-beginning a long tradition of him producing funky female talent in the early 80’s. His talent went even further than that.
Alongside Stevie Wonder,Kashif is known as a synthesizer pioneer in funk/soul. He extended on Wonder’s work by creating sounds that became known as the boogie funk sound. That is mixing live rhythm sections with electronic orchestrations and melodies. He was an orphan who managed to get up of a very abusive foster family. While in primary school,he focused strongly on music. Even learning woodwind instruments-pretty rare for even multi instrumentalists. His self titled solo debut came out in 1983. The song that epitomizes his artistry on it for me is an instrumental entitled “The Mood”.
A strong,space heavy Afro Latin snare/hi hat drum starts off the song. The remainder of the song consists primarily of Kashif’s vocals and many layers of synthesizers. There’s a fluttering synth string,a wispy higher tones one in the back round and a brittle bass one accompanying the multi tracked layers of Kashif’s almost operatic,jazzy vocalese. On the refrains of the song,the melody goes into a higher key and a high funky rhythm guitar assists the melody. On the final choruses of the song,Kashif sings vocalese through a Vocoder before the song fades out.
Kashif’s boogie funk production style is generally spare but glistening enough to appeal to 80’s soul singers. But the moment I heard this instrumental 12 years ago,it was entrancing what a sonic marvel this really is. Its basically an Afro Latin jazz/funk number produced in the more electronic boogie style-with some beautiful chordal modulations and…just a general magical quality to the synthesized sounds created. Kashif will be remembered for me as someone able to get the most warmth out of 80’s era synthesizers. And I am hoping that will continue to be his most enduring musical legacy.
Barry White is probably best remembered as soul’s ultimate baritone. And as it were,one of the founding fathers of “baby makin’ music”. And on that level,he stands possibly only alongside Isaac Hayes. One of the things that has been bought more and more since his passing is that White was a brilliant arranger. When it came to combining percussion, piano and strings with a rhythm section,he was able to create some of the most defining arrangements of the funk AND disco era. And among his collection of side projects,this side of him came out most strongly on albums by the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
One of the things about Love Unlimited Orchestra that fascinated me is that,like Barry White himself,they recorded under that name with White long after their commercial peak was thought to have passed. The final Love Unlimited Orchestra to drop came out in 1983 and is called Rise. This was an album that I was unable to track down on CD,and missed out on one occasion in the vinyl format. When I finally did hear it from an MP3 copy,I was amazed what a strong and unexpected album it was. One song from it that stood out to both me and my mom is called “Do It To The Music”.
A resonant,buzzing synthesizer starts out the song. Then the drum machine kicks in playing a danceable Afro-Latin type beat-right along with a clean,round synth bass. On the chorus,the orchestra itself plays a spicy and melodic horn chart. The first three notes descend,while the final four ascend upwards. Throughout the song,the funky sounding vocal group The Voices Of Love sing call and response to the horns and buzzing synth that weave throughout the entirety of the songs. On the refrains,they mainly sing with the rhythm section. And its on the powerful chorus that the song fades out.
This is an excellent example of high octane Latin funk to come out of the Barry White musical camp in the early 80’s. With its prominent use of synthesizers and horns as opposed to strings,musically this song did for Barry White what “You’ve Got The Power” did for War a year earlier. It took the basic framework White had made famous,and updated the instrumental approach in an extremely positive way. And its solid proof that a lot of Barry White/Love Unlimited Orchestra’s music of the early/mid 80’s is a lot more obscure than it deserves to be.
Joe Zawinul had a tremendous history in the development of hard bop jazz onto jazz fusion. He immigrated to the US from Austria in 1959. A year later he was part of Cannonball Adderley’s quintet. And he wound up being the composer of Cannonball’s best known song “Mercy Mercy Mercy”. By the late 60’s,Zawinul was playing and writing with Miles Davis on his fusion process album In A Silent Way. When he and another fellow Miles alumni Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report two years later,Zawinul was again pioneering jazz instrumentation into the era of synthesizers.
Between 1971 and 1984,Weather Report recorded 14 albums. Many of them were iconic in the annals of the fusion genre. The band was also well known for developing pioneering bass players. This included Miroslav Vitous,Alphonso Johnson and best known of all the late Jaco Pastorious. The bands final album in 1986 came totally by accident. They thought they’d fulfilled their Columbia contract with their previous album in 1985’s Sportin’ Life. This didn’t end up being the case,so they had to make one more album. And Zawinul really made it one for the road with the title song to their final album called “This Is This”.
Mino Cinelu starts off with some fast paced Afro-Latin percussion mixed up high. Peter Erksine plays a steady,marching groove that fits like a glove into the spaces left in Cinelu’s percussion. Zawinul and new bassist Victor Bailey rolled right along upfront with one of Zawinul’s most melodically hummable synth bass lines. He provides two for this song-the other a deeper 8-note one later on. Carlos Santana also provides two different guitar parts here-one is high pitched,cosmic guitar atmospherics and some of his exciting lead soloing as well playing call and response to Zawinul’s synth bass lead..
Santana actually get’s accompanied by Zawinul providing two synth brass lines-the first orchestrated big band style ones. This part comes into play after the first few choruses. On the last few choruses of the song, the other synth brass part arrives playing more succinct,funkier charts. By this time Santana’s guitar,Cinelu’s percussion,Erksine’s drums and Zawinul’s synth bass all come together in a beautiful,rhythmic unison of colorful sounds. Little by little,each instrumental element drops out of the mix. And the song slows back into percussion,bass and guitar as it fades.
Before people like Billy Preston and of course Prince,Joe Zawinul was a major pioneer of the bass synthesizers. By 1986,synth brass was the big thing in American pop music with the advent of the Minneapolis sound. With Zawinul having worked it for years,”This Is This” is a highly underrated song for Weather Report-perhaps one of Zawinul’s strongest compositions. The groove is strongly Afrocentric,and the playing is as funky as they come. It really brings out the best in ever instrumentalist involved and allowed Weather Report to go out again innovating with some electro funk style world fusion.
Filed under 1986, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Carlos Santana, Columbia Records, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, guitar, jazz fusion, Joe Zawinul, Mino Cinelu, percussion, Peter Erksine, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizers, Victor Bailey, Weather Report, world fusion
Marc Cerrone was right up there with Giorgio Moroder in terms of popularizing the Euro Disco sub-genre of music. His 1977 song “Supernature” essentially got the modern EDM genre started the same year as Moroder’s “I Feel Love”,performed by Donna Summer. The French born but Italian raised Cerrone was playing drums just before he entered adolescence. He was deeply interested in American soul,funk and rock music from artists such as Otis Redding-and later in the 60’s Jimi Hendrix,Santana and Blood,Sweat & Tears. This meant that his understanding of rhythm was off to a great start.
His first gig as a musician came as part of the psychedelic soul group Kongas. Their music became part of the underground psych/soul/rock sound that really got DJ’s spinning records in dance clubs. This helped initiated the early disco scene. After that,he went on to record at least a couple dozen albums between 1976 to present. These ranged in sound from disco,electro pop to hardcore funk. His most recent recording is an EP called Afro. This features collaborations with African musicians such as Manu Dibango and former Fela Kuti band mate Tony Allen. The song that got my attention on it is called “Bodytalk”.
Darting synth brass starts off the song with a heavy 2 by 2 beat drum kick. Cerrone keeps the 4/4 beat going with some thick percussion accents most of the way along. The main rhythm of the consists of a thick interaction between a churning rhythm guitar, a ultra funky bass line as well as keyboard parts consisting of a filtered Clavinet and Fender Rhodes. The horns act as the backing vocals to the melody. The bridge of the song really brings up the drums with the hard grooving slap bass soloing. That dynamic comes into play on the Afro Latin percussive part that leads back into the fade out of the main chorus.
Cerrone is dealing with some serious,live band oriented post disco/boogie funk of the highest order here. Musically it has a sleek production atmosphere,a very hummable melody but most importantly some heavily funkified rhythmic instrumentation. It reminds me of a Brass Contruction record from the mid to late 70’s in that regard. What my friend Henrique calls funk functioning as disco. It’s a wonderful thing to see how Marc Cerrone here has taken his intrumentality as a drummer and maintained his focus on hard driving,funky rhythms in his music into the 2010’s.
Filed under 2016, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, Cerrone, clavinet, disco funk, drums, Fender Rhodes, Manu Dibango, percussion, post disco, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Tony Allen
The Isley Brothers were best described by Rickey Vincent in his 1996 guidebook Funk: The Music,The People And The Rhythm Of The One as being the embodiment of funky manhood. Everything from their musical rodeo image to the intense power of their sound. Throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s,they were unique among funk bands as having come out of a R&B era vocal trio into the funk era. Their 3+3 era line up kept their hard driving,uptempo sound updated throughout their years together. And were capable of utilizing the new instrumental form to fashion sexy,thickly rhythmic ballads.
During the first year and a half of the 80’s,the Isley’s were actually very successful as album artists. The R&B community and record charts never stopped viewing them as straight up musical icons. In the pop world however even their hard rocking,often guitar shredding funk grooves were having trouble landing them any major singles. In 1981,this all changed because of an album that…I found a beat up$1.99 vinyl copy of in a record store about 20 years ago. It even got to be a Soul Train line dance song too. The name of this song and it’s accompanying album was “Inside You”.
The drums come at you with a pounding 4/4 beat from Everett Collins-surrounded by the percussion of the Isley’s , the conga drums of Kevin Jones and Marvin Isley’s thundering bass. All showcasing Ernie Isley strumming on liquid rhythm guitar. A string section dart into the mix with brittle precision similar to Chic. They sustain themselves behind Ron’s first and second vocal refrain-the latter of which takes the song into a melodic major chord. The bridge reduces the song to it’s string/ rhythm guitar/synth bass pulse before the Isley’s back up Ron’s leads with some powerful gospel harmonies to the fade out.
One of the understandings that came from this song for me is that it really added a new rhythmic element to the 3+3 Isley Brothers sound. During the late 70’s,the disco era found Afro-Latin percussion becoming more prominent in dance music such as that of Barry White and Michael Jackson songs such as “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. The Isley’s had primarily utilized basic rock and funk oriented back beats at that time. As the 80’s sound settled in,I find it interesting that the Isley Brothers began integrating that Afro-Latin rhythm so heavily into their steely funk/rock sound.
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Chris Jasper, drums, Ernie Isley, Everett Collins, Funk, Isley Brothers, Kevin Jones, Marvin Isley, percussion, rhythm guitar, Ron Isley, strings, synth bass
Narada Michael Walden,who got his current first name from guru Sri Chimnoy in the early 70s,was probably one of the busiest musician/producers of the 1980’s. The Kalamzoo,Michegan born drummer/vocalist started out as the successor to Billy Cobham in the Mahavishnu Orchestra-working with Cobham later on his solo dates as well as playing with the late guitar hero Tommy Bolin. In the mid 70’s he began making solo records. While his 1976 debut Garden Of Love Light followed in the jazz-rock fusion mode he’d been in,his solo works veered towards funky soul by the late 70’s. These albums had a big Quincy Jones type arrangement style,often with a pronounced rock edge.
His theatrical style of melodic funk transitioned from the disco era to the electro/boogie one with ease as his solo career continued into the 1980’s. During that time,he began a career as a producer of largely female talent in a similar vein to Luther Vandross. This went from working with Sister Sledge in 1981 to his stellar work introducing Whitney Houston to the world in the mid/late 80’s. His work with Stacy Lattisaw and Johnny Gill got him hooked up with Aretha Franklin for her big comeback. In 1983 he recorded his third solo album of the decade called Looking At You,Looking At Me. One song it really achieves full funkiness in “Shake It Off”.
Walden and Sheila E open up the brittle, polyrhythmic drums/percussion of this song on the intro. Walden asks a musician named RJ to “play it right” before a thick slap bass line comes churning in scaling down and around the melodic chord changes. “RJ” turns out to be bassist,arranger and more recently American Idol talent scout Randy “The King” Jackson. This combination of drums,percussion and phat slap bass holds in the funk heavy by the time two densely arranged horn charts from Jerry Hey come in. That along with glossy synthesizer washes of Frank Martin and some churning chicken scratch guitar of Carrado Rustci. There’s also a vocal bridge where Walden provides a full jazz scat.
The adenoidal talk singing approach of Walden plays call and response with the rhythm for most of the song. On the chorus and it’s refrains,he’s in direct contact on that same level with the darting horns. On the bridge,the horns subside for Jackson to thump out his thick slap bass solo over the rhythm before the choruses re-emerges to close things out. All of these qualities make this song perhaps one of the most unsung examples of how the boogie funk era blended together both the live band flavors of the 70’s with newer synthesized/electronic touches. The instrumentation is brittle while still keeping deep in the Afro-Latin rhythmic clave. For me,it’s one of Walden’s finest funk numbers ever!
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, Carrado Rustci, clave, drums, elecro funk, Frank Martin, horns, jazz funk, Jerry Hey, Narada Michael Walden, percussion, Randy "The King" Jackson, rhythm guitar, Sheila E., slap bass, synthesizer, Uncategorized
Kraftwerk (German for “power plant”) were a group who came to my attention through a PBS documentary talking about electro funk pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. He was explaining how when he first heard the German groups album Trans Europe Express,he was convinced this would be the music for the future. Thanks to Bambaataa’s parties for his proto hip-hop collective Zulu Nation,late 70’s Kraftwerk records became major fixtures at black and Latino dance parties throughout the Bronx and Brooklyn. As krautrock’s prototype for what became today’s EDM sound,Krafwerk had an origin point all it’s own within their native country.
The group’s founders in keyboardist/guitarist Ralf Hutter and flutist/percussionist Florian Schneider,whose celebrating his 69th birthday today,came together at the very end of the 60’s in a psychedelic fusion oriented band known as the Organisation. After that bands first and only album, Ralf and Florian formed their first addition of Kraftwerk along with drummers Andreas Hohmaan and Klaus Dinger for their self titled debut. Released in 1970,it was produced by the iconic krautrock producer Konrad “Conny” Plank. Upon first hearing the album,the opening song stood out to me with heavy familiarity about it. The name of the song was “Ruckzuck”.
Florian begins the song with a double tracked flute solo playing very Arabic style scales. He then brings a very whisper,brittle violin solo which instantly kicks into the song itself. Hohmann’s hi hat heavy,rolling 2 by 2 beat snare drum pushes along at a hard grooving tempo with Hutter’s high pitched organ providing the main melody. Florian’s flute flows in and out of the mix. As Hutter’s organ grows more atonal and higher in the mix,the main melody of the song suddenly returns at an accelerated tempo. Then the whole disappears into a sea of tribal,very aboriginal African sounding percussion before that accelerated main theme fades back in to officially close out the song.
Henrique Hopkins and myself have had a number of discussions on Kraftwerk providing more raw instrumental material than strong melodic song content to those influenced by them. The Kraftwerk on this song are very different. Later member Karl Bartos said once that one the groups main key influences was James Brown. That can be heard on this song having such a complete relationship to rhythm-even the violin soloing. Because everything in this song is mixed in such close proximity,I cannot tell my next point for sure. But it does sound as if the rhythm is deeply locked into the Afro-Latin clave as well. That plus the very tribal pulse in the middle of the groove brings that out as well.
It was a few years ago that the songs familiarity came to me via YouTube. In the late 80’s and early 90’s,about 30 seconds of this song was used as the theme song to the PBS science program Newton’s Apple. The use of the song was apparently unauthorized and was replaced by a cover version during the shows later years. Part of the reasoning for this had to due with Ralf and Florian seemingly disowning this and Kraftwerk’s next two albums after the late 70’s-with Florian himself referring to them as “archaeology”. Even still,hearing Kraftwerk’s first song from their first album in such a progressive jazz-funk context showcases what their musical core has remained over the years.
Filed under 1970's, Afrika Bambaataa, Afro-Latin jazz, Andreas Hohmaan, clave, Conny Plank, drums, Florian Schneider, flute, Germany, James Brown, jazz funk, Kraftwerk, krautrock, organ, progressive music, Ralf Hutter, Uncategorized, violin
George Benson is one of my favorite overall musicians. Both my friend Henrique and I both agree on this. For the last couple of years,one major topic between us is how much of a virtuoso player Benson is. Over years of playing and singing,the man developed a technique of scatting over his guitar playing that became part of his signature sound. When thinking about paying tribute to this man’s rich and full musical legacy,it seemed right to showcase his talents on two levels: as a singer and as an instrumentalist. And considering Benson’s vast body of recorded music,that is no easy task. There was one song that bounced right into my head however.
Growing up,I always spoke of Benson’s hit “Give Me The Night” and Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” in the same sentence. It wasn’t for years that I learned that both were in fact recorded with the same group of musicians. And both were produced by Quincy Jones. Give Me The Night is also Benson’s album from 1980. And a huge commercial success too on the strength of the title song and “Love X Love”. Taken as a whole it was a wonderful and diverse album. And there is one song on it that really catches my ear on a strictly musical level. It’s title is something an extension off another of Benson’s big hits from four years earlier and is called “Off Broadway”.
Rufus’s John Robinson’s drum kick gets the song rolling with Jerry Hey’s melodic horns, the late Louis Johnson’s bass thump and a duet between Benson’s bluesy guitar horn with Lee Ritenour’s more ticklish accessory line . Greg Phillinganes adds in blipping,chiming synthesizers along with a bass one. This goes into before Paulinho da Costa’s high every percussion comes in for the Brazilian style chorus where Benson plays the melodic solo. Hey’s horns and strings scale out of this-on two occasions within the song. The final refrains find Benson taking one of his chordally thick solos-vocalizing with it in his classic style on the final bars of the song.
Composed by Rod Temperton,one of my favorite jazzy funk/dance songwriters. The musicianship on this song is pretty close to amazing. Everyone involved is at their melodic and rhythmic best on this song. Although these are most of LA’s finest and most prolific session musicians of the day,Benson sounds as if he’s playing with a self contained jazz/funk band who’ve been playing for years like The Crusaders. Benson plays both a very basic melodic line on this song-one that’s very open and vocal in tone. That virtuoso style of soloing really lets go on those final refrains. And this song therefore gives you a groove that jams along by virtue of two different approaches of George Benson’s boss of a guitar.
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Latin jazz, drums, Funk Bass, George Benson, Greg Philinganes, guitar, horns, jazz funk, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, strings, synth bass, Uncategorized