Sade are a band who’ve maintained a very distinctive musical sound. Always stripped down and always seductive,this London based group had an instrumental styling that made them seem like a chamber jazz group playing funky soul music. As Henrique pointed out to me at one point,there sound actually paved the way for 21st century neo soul in that regard. Even so,that special musical quality they continue to have just gives them a “Sade Sound” as it were. Mostly deriving from the Latin pop band Pride,they named the band after its lead singer Helen Folasade (Sade for short) Adu after she joined in 1982.
Somehow,Sade were always a very big deal in my family. Even one breakfast cereal prize in the mid 80’s was a magnet depicting the cover art for their 1984 debut album Diamond Life. And songs such as “Smooth Operator”,”Hang On To Your Love”,”Sweetest Taboo”, “Never As Good As The First Time” and “Paradise” were a big part of how my view of music is shaped. The latter of those songs came from their 1988 release Stronger Than Pride. Over the years,its become one of my favorite Sade albums. And a favorite song from it for me has turned out to be “Turn My Back On You”.
A snare heavy Afro Brazilian drum shuffle,accented by percussive clavs with a deep 8 note bass line provides the intro to the song over two bars. By the third and fourth bars,a deep jazzy guitar plays a 14 note riff before a higher pitched rhythm guitar accentuates it with seven notes in a slightly higher chord. This represents the basic chorus of the song. On the refrains,Sade’s breezy vocalese is accompanied by a minor chorded keyboard part with the lower jazz guitar does some more improvisational solos underneath it. After several turns of this pattern,an extended version of the chorus fades out the song itself.
Most of Sade’s songs featured a conventional pop song structure with a hook filled chorus (usually with Sade’s own backup harmonies) and appropriate refrains. Many of them were very much funk and soul based with their jazzy quiet storm atmosphere. “Turn My Back On You” is one of the few Sade songs that takes their very distinctive sound to the musical land of heavy naked funk. The Afro Latin flavor is still a major part of the rhythm. But the groove stays on the one very completely. And doesn’t give way to any radio friendly pop structure. On the funky side of things,this might be Sade at their grooving best.
Lisa Velez is one of those musical figures who impact upon me in both a musical and a personal way. A Puerto Rican descended woman coming out of NYC,her Latina back round has those two similarities to the maternal side of my own family. On a musical level,her group Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam were one of the first commercially successful purveyors freestyle. This was a hip-hop related for of electro funk,built on samples and break beats,that was linked to break dancing culture of the 1980’s. At the end of the day,it expanded on the same Afro-Latin attitude that was at the core of classic funk-for its time.
1986 through about 1991 was something of a renaissance of Afrocentric rhythms within the dance music of the day. This had its impact on funk of that time for sure. That being said,in the first two years of the 90’s a more Latin jazz flavor began to emerge out of that groove. Having been famously produced by pioneering hip-hop band Full Force,Cult Jam turned to the production team of Clivilles & Cole (the masterminds of freestyle megastars C&C Music Factory) to pioneer the groups final album Straight Outta Hell’s Kitchen. The song on it that impacts me most is “Let The Beat Hit Em”.
Beginning with a vocal sample urging “to turn your bass to ours”,a JB style synth brass hit opens into the main chorus of the song. This is a shuffling,conga drum led rhythm with Lisa singing over some jazzy electric piano sounds. The refrains of the song single out the the same Afro Brazilian groove-along with the number of spoken word samples and (indeed) screams directly from James Brown. As the song goes on,more and more elements accentuate the groove. The drum machines on the refrains get heavier. And on the closing choruses,the synth orchestra hits come on hard.
“Let The Beat Hit Em” closes with the vocal sample of a female voice asking “what will people say?”. And it makes perfect sense considering that Clivilles & Cole were among the last of the major pop oriented dance producers who championed strong Afro Latin poly rhythms during the sample/hip-hop era. Along with C&C Music Factory,this is one of the funkiest jams the duo threw down during the early 90’s. And a great transition for one era of freestyle dance music making way for another. The fact this has a mellower,jazz funk atmosphere showcases part of the new trajectory for the freestyle dance genre.
Mothers and fathers are indirectly responsible for the first musical rhythms we experience as human beings. It’s the heartbeat of the child itself. Prince illustrated this in the mid 90’s on his jam “Sex In The Summer”. In terms of literal music,my mother’s own musical interests seem connected to her being a former modern abstract dancer/choreographer. I’d describe her musical tastes as being eclectic-perhaps even overreaching at times. But fundamentally,it’s still a good groove that inspires her. And as much as my father has been the main musical guiding light in my family? My mother has made her mark too.
Ramsey Lewis is an artist whom I discovered through my family about 20 years ago. It was during the time where I was really getting interested in funk. And asking my dad to pull funky music out of his vinyl collection whenever he could. Most of this came out of his jazz collection. However,there was one album that he and my mom purchased together when they were first married. The album was by Ramsey Lewis. And it was 1975’s Don’t It Feel Good. While the funk percolated across it with “Spider-Man” and “Fish Bite”,it was the opening title song that always caught my mothers ear. And later mine.
A deep,chunky rhythm guitar begins the song playing a deep in the pocket bluesy riff. Right into the middle of this pocket,a round and pulsing Moog bass settles right in. The drum keeps up the entire song with a slow,pulsing swing with plenty of rhythmic breaks. This is orchestrated by an ARP string ensemble. Ramsey’s Fender Rhodes solo improvises on the blusiness of the guitar. That same guitar buffets the refrain and chorus. Each chorus has a different vocal chorus. One has a Latin-jazz style vocalese. The other,which fades out the song,is based on the bluesy melody and states “don’t it feel good RAMSEY!”.
This is one of those funk jams that understands two of the most important things about the classic funk era. The deep in the pocket groove keeps the bluesy slowness in the rhythm and melody. Also the vocals really bring that element of jazz Miles Davis always championed,based on his mothers advice,for musicians to always play “something you could hum”. Added to all this,the song really knows how to stay on the one. The refrain/choral sequence is all based in advancing the melodic and rhythmic drama of this groove. And that makes it among Ramsey Lewis’s finest funk of the 70’s.
Filed under 1975, Afro-Latin jazz, ARP string ensemble, backup singers, blues funk, drums, Fender Rhodes, funk guitar, jazz funk, Moog, Mothers Day, synth bass, Uncategorized
Herb Alpert was covered superbly by my friend Henrique eight months ago on his blog Riquespeaks. In his case he covered the 1987 duet with Janet Jackson entitled “Diamonds”. As someone who began his career as bandleader of the hugely popular band The Tijuana Brass and a record label owner with his and Jerry Moss’s A&M Records in the early 60’s, Alpert was continuing to evolve.As the 70’s came in,the sound of this band began to take on elements of Brazilian jazz in their radio friendly pop. He finally went solo in 1976-his debut followed by a couple duet albums (one studio and one live) with fellow trumpeter Hugh Masekela over the next couple of years.
The nucleus of Alpert’s next albums came through a conversation with his nephew Randy about updating Tijuana Brass hits for the disco era. The results sounded very corny to Alpert,so he and Randy engaged on another musical course. In writing a big keyboard oriented number for the upcoming Olympics in Mexico City entitled “1980”,the duo bought in a group of musicians to do an an album entitled Rise. It’s funky title song became the theme song of his solo career,and he did a version of the Crusaders “Street Life” on the album as well. The other song that caught my ear was it’s second,lesser known hit. The song is called “Rotation”.
Randy’s percussion starts out the groove deeply in the Afro-Latin clave. After an echoed whisper of the title song,a brittle Clavinet from the song’s co-writer Andy Armer launches into Alpert’s sustained trumpet solo. Randy backs him up with a pulsing synth bass. Armer’s Clavinet continues playing the counter melody to Alpert’s Spanish inspired trumpet soloing. Each chorus and refrain is punctuated by Julius Wechter’s ringing marimba. As Alpert’s solos becomes more and more jazzy and improvises over the melody-including a solo for Randy’s synth bass,the rhythmic keyboards grow in thickness until the song simply fades out on the percussion from where it begun.
The sound of this song is unique and distinctive on several different levels. For one,it brings the stripped down groove so common in the coming 80’s new wave sound into the Latin jazz idiom. For another, it uses both a Clavinet and synth bass as the main rhythmic body besides the drum. And most important perhaps of all,it finds Herb Alpert understanding what another fellow trumpet Miles Davis realized a decade earlier. And that was that an instrumental soloist could totally alter the rhythmic sound of their music and still play with their classic approach. In a lot of ways,this song is a fine example of uniquely produced Afro-Latin jazz/funk as defining Herb Alpert’s solo career.
Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Andy Armer, clave, clavinet, Herb Alpert, jazz funk, Julius Wechter, marimba, percussion, Randy Badazz Alpert, synth bass, trumpet, Uncategorized
Wanted to start this by giving thanks to two people who helped make today’s Anatomy of THE Groove occur. First is Brandon Ousley. It was through a Facebook post of his that I was made aware that today was the 40th anniversary of the release of Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You. When I first heard this album,it was a literal love affair for me in terms of appreciating it musically. It was an equal source of heartbreak after reading David Ritz biography of Marvin entitled Divided Soul. That book overly personalized Marvin’s 70’s albums for me to the point where the lyrics became uncomfortably subjective. It was my friend Henrique who I wanted to thank most for helping me on that level.
This 1976 Marvin Gaye album featured two of it’s songs in instrumental reprises. Including one of my favorites “After The Dance”. In an effort to stop getting the singer confused with the song,focusing on Marvin as a musical figure is a good way to go. And the subtext Henrique provided for me courtesy of Michael Eric Dyson’s book on Marvin called Mercy Mercy Me. It would seem that while recording this instrumental with writer/producer Leon Ware,Marvin had intended flutist Ernie Watts to play the main melodic solo. But he noticed the horns and strings were out of tune in some spots where he Watts’ solo wasn’t quite enough to compensate.
One Motown engineer Marvin was working with at that time was named Calvin Harris. He had a Moog synthesizer. Apparently Marvin was fascinated by the range of sounds this electronic instrument was capable of if multi tracked in the same way he did his vocals on the sung version of the song. Initially he did this only in order to cover the out of tune orchestrations that weren’t settling well with him. Then he realized he could use it to create his own musical world where Ernie’s solo’s just hadn’t worked for him. In the end,this was a totally different way of re-imagining the song on both the harmonic and melodic level. And it just opened up a whole new groove as it went along.
A slow crawling,percussive samba opens the album with rather Asian sounding chimes playing a similar melody to Marvin’s round and bubbling synthesizer. The chorus develops into a mix of jazzy piano voicing’s,elaborate string arrangements and the equally complex bass improvisations-so much so they aren’t always easy to hear for some people. On these choruses,Marvin’s Moog solos play in and around the chords of the melody in a similar manner to a bop jazz era pianist. As the intro to the song repeats,the Moog is really pushed up as a boiling round bass line until the main chorus fades out the song-this time with the Moog solo accompanying Watts flute soloing.
While I always loved the “sea of Marvin’s” vocal harmonizing that was present on the vocal hit version of this song,understanding the lyrics as I do now make them come off more as a tortured inner dialog than a beautiful vocal statement. This version focuses in on Marvin as an instrumentalist. And by using unusual melodic voicing’s that are more chord oriented,the range of emotion projected through the instrumentation allows the lyric of the song to be a lot more open to interpretation than the original words might’ve been. Hearing the instrumental made me fall in love with this musically sensuous Latin jazz soul/funk groove all over again. And that makes it all the more special.
Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Calvin Harris, Ernie Watts, flute, Leon Ware, Marvin Gaye, Moog, Motown, multi tracking, percussion, slow funk, synth bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized
Esperanza Spalding has always celebrated the ebb and flow of jazz in her career arc thus far. Being a bassist and therefore rhythm player,she’s adapted herself into a number of different tributaries of jazz. From small chamber groups,to vocal to funk. On the latter end her Radio Music Society album of five years ago dovetailed nicely into her work with Janelle Monae a year later on their collaborative song “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”. There is one concept that Spalding has been evolving over the last few years. It’s based on her understanding of the 60’s super group Cream consisting of jazz oriented members in Jack Bruce and the late Ginger Baker. And that’s her adapting her sound to a rock power trio.
That trio consists of guitarist Matthew Stevens,whose played with Christian Scott and on Harvey Mason’s newest album along with drummers Justin Tyson and Karriem Riggins-the latter of whom is also a DJ whose played for Erykah Badu and with Slum Village. Their brand new album is titled for an alter ego (Spalding’s middle name) called Emily’s D+Evolution. She describes this concept as dealing with a modern mind afflicted by a primal urge. And how great strides in creative development could be inspired from a less enlightened version of oneself. As applied to the music of Spalding’s new album, only one track with a groove that impacted strongly on me. And it is called “Judas”.
The song begins with the peddling swinging drum rhythm with Spalding scaling up and down on her electric bass. After that the high pitched electric/acoustic guitar comes in to accent the songs constantly scaling and complex chordal structure. The song itself is very chorus heavy-with the Afro-Latin rhythm breaks of the percussive,hi hat heavy drumming being the consistent element in a song where the main melodic change is from the major chords of the chorus to the more minor chords of the refrains. After each repeat,the calmer riff that opens the song repeats itself before the next set of choral refrains until Spaldings vocals and the hi hat cycle out of the song itself.
Because this song is stripped down with a vocal melody based around the chords of the rhythm section, this song has a similar musical technique to the be-bop styled singer/songwriter folk-pop of Joni Mitchell’s late 70’s work. Instrumentally the trio she’s playing with project a strong jazzy fluidity here. Having streamed this album early on,I was quite unimpressed with what came across as raggedy alternative rock instrumentation that seemed to get in the way of Spalding’s complex songwriting on the majority of the album. But the combination of the boppish Latin rhythms makes this one song stand out as both jazzy and funky.
About the “Emily” concept itself it’s effects on this song,Esperanza herself describes this musical character as someone she does not yet know fully. She’s been touring for a year or so now with what’s known as the ACS trio-also consisting of Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington with the songs from this album.Lyrically the song “Judas” comes across as the childhood dreams that inspired Spalding for this musical act. If I were to try to break it down,the lyrics to this song seem to be about just making it in a complex world. And it’s described more in terms of stream of conscious actions than realistic events. So the music and lyrics of this song really look to providing Spalding clarity for her new concept.
Filed under 2016, Afro-Latin jazz, alternative rock, bass guitar, drums, Esperanza Spalding, Jazz, jazz funk, Joni Mitchell, Karriem Riggins, Matthew Stevens, new music, Nu Funk, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized
Teena Marie was leaving Motown behind at a critical time for funk/soul artists in general. In the United States anyway? That genre was mired in what myself and friend Henrique referred to as the post disco freeze out. The synth pop/New Wave genre that had come up in Europe during this time,itself an extension of Eurodisco and funk,seemed to be a good new direction to go into for radio play. Meanwhile,this was colliding with the synth accented boogie sound. And basically Lady T was as caught up as anyone in this shift of instrumental priorities.
Lady T signed with Columbia subsidiary Epic Records in the fall of 1982-with the promise of more autonomy over her business career. The result was her own publishing company known as Midnight Magnet. This event plus the dissolution of her romantic affiliation with Rick James became the centerpiece of her concept album Robbery from September 1983. While it integrated the synth rock elements of the era with her jazzy ballad framework? There was still plenty of time of strong funky grooves. My favorite of which is called “Playboy”.
Another strong drum kick introduces the song into it’s powerful stop/start Afro-Cuban rhythm that is mixed high and defines the song. What comes next is an elaborately arranged mixed of instrumental melody and harmony. The horn charts basically define the sound-while a round,mid toned synthesizer takes over the minor chorded elements that might’ve normally been done with strings. On the refrains,the synth becomes more brittle and the rhythm more strident. On the final chorus,Teena gently raps the lyrics over the original rhythm and a subtle electric bass line.
Something about this song’s arrangement perfectly encapsulates it’s lyrical concept. It’s a complex series of instrumental solo an rhythmic changes,and it goes along with Lady T’s uncertain mood throughout the song itself. As she questions her position as being closer to Rick James mistress than apparent fiancee? Her own little private soap opera unfolds via this uniquely urbane,Latin hued funk groove. It’s one of the most well rounded examples of the boogie funk sound. And a wonderful example of the new type of funk Teena Marie was giving up for the people.
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, concept albums, Epic Records, Funk, Funk Bass, New Wave, post disco, Rick James, Teena Marie, Uncategorized
Chas Jankel is a very key figure in the development of the UK funk scene that thrived alongside new wave in the early 1980’s. Something of a child prodigy who began learning Spanish guitar and piano at the age of 7? Jankel joined up with Ian Dury in 1977. He was a part of their group together known as The Blockheads,who expertly integrated American funk and disco into their English pub rock framework. In particular on their heavily funkified 1979 double album Do It Yourself. In 1980, Jankel decided to leave the Blockheads in order to pursue a solo career. His self titled debut album,with it’s lead-off song “Ai No Corrida” even inspired a hit remake shortly after-courtesy of non other than Quincy Jones.
I personally first heard of the man through a book entitled Funk-The Essential Listening Companion. It mentioned Jankel with a thorough discography. But the fact that the book was highly critical of Chas’s creative choices was negated by the fact the entire book itself was very sloppily written and printed-full of typographical errors. So I sought out the man’s difficult to locate music on my own. Some years later? YouTube emerged as a huge help in this-with only his debut readily available on CD to this date. Deciding on which of his songs to discuss was like a chocoholic contemplating a Whitman’s Sampler from where I stood. Somehow? His 1981 song and accompanying music video “Questionnaire” came just a little ahead of the crowd in that regard!
The intro to this song builds up powerful musical drama by actually fading into the song in the same way most fade out. And it does so into a powerful swell of Afro-Brazilian percussion. Shortly the trumpets blare-accenting the jazzy salsa piano that changes melody in the primary chorus of the song. On the refrains,this is heavily accented by powerful bursts of Larry Graham-style slap bass-only appropriate as Sly & The Family Stone were apparently a major inspiration for Jankel getting into funk to start with The trumpets blare even louder on a chorus filled with a throbbing snare drum solo over the percussion before joining a full chorus of trumpets and organ solos. On the final instrumental refrain? A quieter and more plaintive trumpet solo leads out the song.
To my ears? This is one of the finest merging’s of Cuban jazz and poppy funk to come out of the early 80’s UK jazz/funk scene. The insertion of American funk elements such as thick slap bass goes right in perfectly with the unifying instrumental force joining Afro-Latin dance music and funk/soul together-thick and strong percussion accents. The lyrical content is simple enough. Just a single man daydreaming of a potential future lover in the form of a personal ad. Yet Jankel states it very eloquently-asking important questions of possible mates about people’s priorities in life rather than concerning himself totally with matters of economy . As the song implies? This is one musical journey that is indeed quite important!
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Latin jazz, bass guitar, Chas Jankel, Funk, Funk Bass, Ian Dury, Jazz-Funk, Larry Graham, lyrics, slap bass, Sly Stone, UK Funk
It was through his collaboration with Phonte on the latest album by The Foreign Exchange that got me interested in the music of Matthjis “Nicolay” Rook. Now this is a Dutch native who has been creating both solo albums and different collaborations within the funkiest side of the electronica/hip-hop/soul spectrum of music. His emphasis on live musicianship with his acumen as a multi instrumentalist is a big part of his artistic appeal for me personally.
Over the past decade,Nicolay has released a series of solo records in his City Lights series. Generally weaving them directly in between his released as a member of The Foreign Exchange. I’ve never had one of these albums. Yet the newest volume of this was subtitled ‘Soweto’-as a tribute to the South African township of the same name. And through online streaming? It was it’s opening song “Tomorrow” which caught my ear the most.
Beginning and ending with the voice of what is perhaps Bantu language conversation in the back-round? The song begins with a round bass synthesizer chord-accompanied by breezy orchestral electronics. Suddenly a burst of intense percussion kicks in for the main rhythm of the song-with congas,high hat and other Afro-Latin percussive sounds. On the bridge of the song a high pitch,and still round toned series of synthesizers play a horn like jazzy riff before gearing down into a higher pitched synth scaling up and down. All before the song ends with a light Ebonic vocalese.
One of the things I enjoy about this song is some of the same quality I heard on “If I Knew Then” from The Foreign Exchange. This song is of course far faster and electronic in straight up instrumental tone. That being said? Nicolay borrows a lot of his technique from early/mid 80’s Prince. In the sense that he is a master programmer and creator of live rhythmic and warmer,brittle bass lines with electronic drums and keyboards. It also helps greatly that he’s also an electric bassist and guitarist as well. He therefore understands the importance of a fat,rhythmic groove. Whether or not it’s produced organically. Along with it’s similarity to 1980’s Miles Davis and Weather Report? This song brings out the link between funk and contemporary electronica very strongly.
Filed under 2015, Afro-Latin jazz, electro funk, Electronica, Fusion, Jazz-Funk, new music, Nicolay, Nu Funk, percussion, Phonte, South Africa, Soweto, synth funk, The Foreign Exchange