From the late 70’s onward, Lee Ritenour had focused primarily on developing his music in somewhat more of a jazz-rock fusion context. While it seemed that music was starting to fade into a much softer sound, Rit managed to reflect that with a light instrumental touch that somehow managed to embrace great rhythmic and melodic strength to it. He became very in demand as a session guitar player too. Nearly a decade following his Rio album, Lee Ritenour makes a return to the music world playing solely the acoustic guitar.
And of course, this took him right back to the Brazilian music he never lost his affinity for. This album is home to two urban funk numbers in the opener “Night Rhythms” and “Rio Soul”. Neither blast you over the head with a hard groove,but present themselves as “fine wine” type jazz-funk grooves of the era. It’s Marcus Miller, Omar Hakim and Anthony Jackson from NYC that bring these to life as well. The Brazilian musicians have a chance to really catch fire on the rich samba of “Latin Lovers” which, much like the deeply rhythmic “Odile, Odila” features Brazilian scat singer Joao Bosco.
On the Latin soul of “Linda”,another vocalist Caetano Veloso sings the lead in Portuguese. “Humana”,”New York/Brazil” and the closer “The Inner Look” all focus in on the melodic end of Rit’s acoustic playing. I’ve heard it said in reference to Earth Wind & Fire that their music is sweet as funk can be. Lee Ritenour’s music reflects a similar impulse as he too has been heavily influenced throughout his career by the Brazilian musical bug. And again,he’s been able to zero in on that crucial spot in his musicianship where he can play softly and melodically while at the same time reflecting a hard driving rhythmic groove.
This same musical ethic applies to the instrumental powers of the other musicians playing with him. Also by playing also as accompaniment to different types of vocalists-both from New York, Brazil and LA he was at least able to bring the sometimes divergent musical interests of northern,western and southern America together by virtue of the musical kinsman ship of the personal involved. And the end result is a resounding success.
Eric Gale started to teach himself guitar in his native Brooklyn at the age of 12. He played on the R&B circuit with acts such as King Curtis, Maxine Brown and Little Anthony & The Imperials. This laid the ground work for his future as a session great. While at Niagra University, he studied chemistry. The music bug never left Gale however. His major claim to fame was as a session ace during the 60’s and 70’s. As a member of the instrumental jazz funk outfit Stuff, Gale played with Paul Simon in 1980 for his One Trick Pony soundtrack. He was also part of Aretha Franklin’s stage band for a time.
He began a concurrent career as a leader with 1973’s Forecast, on the Kudu label. He recorded the bulk of his late 70’s albums on Columbia however. His first two albums on the label were Ginseng Woman in 1977 and Multiplication the following year. Both albums have been combined together at least twice during the CD era. And were recommended to me by my dad while crate digging. Revisiting some of the songs via YouTube, the song that really stood out uppermost in my head with the title song to the Multiplication album.
Andrew Smith’s jazzy march on drums starts out the groove-with Gale’s ringing guitar improvising along with Bob James’ synths and Alphonso Johnson’s exploratory bass line-starting the groove in a dreamy fashion. Then the horns kick into the groove with Gale playing an ever evolving, down home blues type solo while Richard Tee’s piano and organ join the rhythm section in holding up a soulful groove. All with the horns accenting the changes in key on virtually every chorus and refrain. Its on the closing extended chorus that Gale scales down on his guitar solo as the song itself fades out.
“Multiplication” is an excellent example of ace jazz/funk/rock/fusion session musicians bring a wonderful feeling to their grooves. Sometimes, albums made by session players are thought to be too technical and less human. Gale, Johnson, Jackson, James and Tee’s years of experience playing together really give this groove a great late 70’s jazz/funk version of the uptown, bluesy/soul nightclub musical ethic. And its Gale’s fluid playing style and rich, ballsy tone that lead the way with grooves of this particular type. Basically a theme he’d always variate on as a band leader.
Steely Dan’s 1980 album Gaucho had its rough patches in terms of productions. Started only months after the release of their Aja album in 1977, there were some major issues that hampered the sessions. Two revolved around the now late Walter Becker. One had to do with his increasing drug problem. The other had to do with a traffic accident that sent Becker to the hospital. And into six months of recovery. Donald Fagen collaborated with him via phone during that time. The album finally came out just a little over three years after its predecessor-in November of 1980.
Even for all that and a number of legal battles over the album title from Keith Jarrett, Gaucho continued Steely Dan’s peak of musical excellent. It would be their final studio album for twenty years. And that was just fine for most people. It was one of the few newer albums my parents had in their record collection during my own early years. Most of my life, the song from it I was most familiar with was “Hey Nineteen”. By the time its followup Two Against Nature came out, I began to explore Gaucho even deeper. And that’s how I discovered what’s likely my favorite song on it called “Glamour Profession”.
Steve Gadd’s straight up dance beat sets the pace right away. Its accompanied by Fagen’s processed Fender Rhodes piano and Anthony Jackson’s counter melodic bass hump. Before the refrain comes in, Tom Scott’s Lyricon and Michael Brecker’s sax play a nighttime friendly horn chart. During the refrains and chorus, Steve Khan plays some bluesy jazz guitar riffs. He also gets time for a solo just before the vocal bridge of the song-where the song changes key for a bar or so. The song fades out on an extended instrumental refrain with Khan’s soloing taking precedence.
“Glamour Profession” is likely the coolest song (and only one as I recall) about a fading basketball player’s involvement in an elaborate drug deal I’ve ever heard. Donald Fagen’s lyrics are as poetically cryptic as usual. Its also an amazing “dazz” song-its disco jazz flavor enhanced by the jazzy chords of the guitar,bass and processed Rhodes part that define the song. The production and melody are the sonic equivilent of clear glossy lacquer. The sound is slick and slippery. Yet is also full of weight and texture. And surely one of Steely Dan’s many fine musical moments of their original run.
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!
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
Norman Connors is a fascinating artist to me. Starting out as a free jazz drummer with people such as Archie Shepp and Pharaoh Sanders,Connors was something of an internal talent scout during the 1970’s. His early solo career consisted of solo albums with an avant garde fusion style that somewhat anticipated the rise of the new age musical concept. By the end of the decade,Connors was known primarily for romantic soul ballads featuring the lead vocals of artists such Jean Carn,the bassist Michael Henderson and his major pet project in the late Phyllis Hyman. One of these ballads,”You Are My Starship” is still his best known song.
Over the past decade or so,I’ve been progressively exploring the music of Norman Connors album by album. Even though he became known for his slow numbers,it was through his uptempo material that his music really evolved. And it was an exciting time too because Connors original run as a solo artist started at the dawn of the funk era and came to a conclusion around the beginning of the post disco period. One major period of his career that has attracted me was from when Connors began transitioning from jazz to a more funk/soul sound in the mid 70’s. And one major cornerstone of that was the title song to his 1974 album Slew Foot.
A hard,fluttering horn chart led by Eddie Henderson opens up the groove as Connors in similar manner to the Bar Kays’ choral horns from 1967’s “Soul Finger”. The Clavinet of Hubert Eaves plays additional rhythm support-as each refrain is separated by a break featuring a bluesy amp’d guitar from future Mtume member Reggie Lucus. He is supported on bass by Anthony Jackson on those scaling,cinematic refrains before Lucas gets a chance to really rock out on the middle chorus of the song. The rhythm scales back down to the drums,bass line and Clavinet on the final part of the song. Especially right as the horns fanfare the song right into fade out.
Norman Connors really lifted up cinematic funk at a very important time. This was during the blacksploitation era when Isaac Hayes was winning best musical score for his work on Shaft. Not to mention Curtis Mayfield’s huge success with Superfly and Roy Ayers with Coffey. Even though this song wasn’t in a movie,it was surely funk that moved itself on every level. Both rhythmically and melodically. It was also a building block in the evolution of Reggie Lucus’s transition into funk with the late 70’s edition of Mtume as well. So as a musician and a major talent assembler,this was some of Norman Connors’ finest funk!
Filed under 1970's, Anthony Jackson, cinematic soul, clavinet, drums, Eddie Henderson, Funk, Funk Bass, guitar, horns, Hubert Eaves, jazz funk, jazz rock, Norman Connors, Reggie Lucus, Uncategorized