Herbie Hancock’s turned career heavily toward funk with the Head Hunters album. Its a style he’s never fully abandoned to this day. True, he never stopped playing acoustic jazz either. There’s a quality of “oneness” he sees in regard to the two musics,which he’d later extend into the hip-hop era. By this point he’s dealt with a lineup change. Harvey Mason has left for a solo career in 1974. So Herbie brought in the worthy, and very talented, successor Mike Clark. This not only made the Headhunters a biracial unit. But it also represented another musically funky stride ahead.
While it was every bit the success of it’s predecessor, it was out of print on CD until the late 90’s and even still tends to be slightly overlooked. But if your familiar with Herbie’s albums before this you’d know his sound for the rest of the 70’s would’ve been completely different without the presence of this album. While it’s not fundamentally different than Head Hunters there are vital changes in approach that make the difference. With it’s use of breaks “Palm Grease” this funk groove is the closest thing to what was heard on the previous album.
“Palm Grease” also augments the pulsing synthesizers ,as it does on most of this album, with Herbie’s processed Clavinet. Also the synthesizers are more of an orchestral sort-using the newly employed ARP strings which Herbie himself would later lament he too often tried to use to simulate actual strings. This created a dreamier effect than perhaps intended. “Actual Proof”, a title based on a certain type of Buddhist chanting is an extremely fast past, repetitive yet musically crowded piece with lightening fast Clavinet riffs until again, towards the middle it’s back towards more of a jazzy keyboard groove.
“Butterfly” is a wonderful composition, one of Herbie’s finest and features a smoother Rhodes solo showcasing more use of space than the rest of this album tends to,focusing on inventing new melodies from the reeds and keyboards. “Spank-A-Lee” on the other hand is very straight ahead jazz-funk, NOTHING like what you’d hear on the previous album with its in the pocket rhythms and Clavinet riffs. With striking cover art depicting Herbie in a musical space pod descending upon some lunar base, this has a place as one of my favorite Headhunters era releases.
For me, Thrust contains the most well realized fusion of jazz, funk and soul of any of Herbie in this period. And expands on the sound forged on Head Hunters. It also show show funk wasn’t merely a 70’s R&B/soul style. But that it represented a creative way of using rhythm in music to expand it towards its most creative end. One can easily dance to this, it contains more than enough musical breadth to enjoy it on the instrumental level. And one can even hum or sing the melody of tunes like “Butterfly”. Whatever else Herbie Hancock has done and continues to do, he can be proud of music of this caliber
Nile Rodgers had a colorful life long before being the one of the founding members of Chic. This native New Yorker was born to a teen mother who, like his father, was a beatnik and heavy drug user. More importantly, it was an environment filled with music. Being drawn to the guitar at an early age, Nile began as a session player with the Sesame Street band-which was led by the iconic composer Joe Raposo. He gained much of his experience as the guitarist for the Apollo Theater house band. With them, he backed up acts as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King and P-Funk.
It was while working for a Sesame Street stage show that he met up with bassist Bernard Edwards. Together they formed the Big Apple Band, who became the backup musicians for the vocal group New York City. After seeing a Roxy Music concert, Rodgers was inspired to change the name of the band to Chic. Their self titled debut helped establish disco as a genre of dance music-with songs such as “Dance,Dance,Dance” and “Everybody Dance” leading the way. The album also showcased what strong composers and musicians they were. Especially with album tracks like “Est-Ce Que C’est Chic”.
The song starts right off with an instrumental version of its chorus. This consists of Tony Thompson’s pocket dance beat with Nile and ‘Nard’s classic bass run/chunky rhythm guitar based rhythm dynamic providing the base of the song. Over that, there’s a chromatic walk down on piano. A glockenspiel and what sounds like an ARP string synth provide the harmonic sweeteners to the bottom of the song. The refrain take the song up a key slightly-emphasizing Nile and ‘Nard’s bass/guitar and closer piano riffs higher in the mix. After a barer version of it on the bridge, an extended chorus fades out the song.
“Es-Ce Que C’est Chic” showcases many examples of different trademarks this disco outfit would have in their time. One was the use of their name in song titles-along with a chorus that was sung partly in French. Instrumentally, it takes older black American ideas from bluesy soul jazz and R&B. And really stylizes them with a lot of sonic polish and elegance. The song lyrics about about an actress seducing people to get to the top, sung sweetly by Norma Jean Wright, showcase the witty (sometimes topical) story songs that reflect the disco era realities of which Chic were part of the soundtrack to.
Donald Byrd is one of my favorite musicians during the 70’s Blue Note era especially. The Detroit native replaced the late,great Clifford Brown in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers after a stint in the US Air Force. After launching his career as a band leader in the late 50’s,Byrd’s became Blue Notes equivalent of Miles Davis in terms of transitioning from acoustic bop jazz to fusion. Along the way,he also helped launch one of jazz-funk’s seminal bands in The Blackbyrds. His mid 70’s collaborations with the Mizell brothers Larry and Fonce are actually in a class by themselves too.
Around 12 years ago,I began to listen heavy to both the Blackbyrds and Donald Byrd’s mid 70’s jazz-funk recordings. This came from my dad playing the music of Madlib for me. Now this is a DJ/musician/producer/rapper who loved 70’s Blue Note. And focused a lot on Byrd’s music from that period. It was through DJ/musician Nigel Hall and his radio show at WMEB in Orono,Maine that I learned where to find one of my favorite pieces Madlib had used,since I wasn’t accustomed to first hearing classic funk songs via samples. Turning out that the song in question was the 1974 album title track “Stepping Into Tomorrow”.
A thunder-like sound opens into the song. The main groove is established right away. This is a slow,percussive drum from Harvey Mason,a melody setting bass line from Chuck Rainey,Larry Mizell’s ARP strings and Byrd’s trumpet. As the vocals of Byrd and a trio of female backup singers harmonize on the choruses,a minor chord intro then extends into a series of solos. First Byrd on trumpet,then Gary Bartz’s sax and finally Jerry Peters’ organ. The main chorus/intro/refrain parts repeat to,with a number of psychedelic,synthesized sonics until the song fades out.
“Stepping Into Tomorrow” is one of those truly democratic jazz/funk numbers. Instrumentally,it was a dream team of the finest of jazz/funk players in that area. And each one is performing at some of their finest on this groove. Its a strong enough groove to stand on its own. Yet it can be sampled all on its own in a way that doesn’t destroy its special musical qualities. Its the songs elasticity that represents its strongest quality. While I personally feel original funk songs should be searched for on their own rather than via samples,whatever method one uses to get to this funk will be its own reward.
Filed under 1974, 70's Blue Note, ARP string ensemble, Chuck Rainey, Donald Byrd, drums, Fonce Mizell, Funk Bass, Gary Bartz, Harvey Mason, jazz funk, Jerry Peters, Larry Mizell, organ, Saxophone, trumpet
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
Prince’s 1978 debut For You is an album that I’ve personally tended to give heavy props to. My friend Henrique has pointed this out many times. Whenever the album is written about,it’s generally described as technically flawless musically. But that the songs tend to plod on in repetitive jams that don’t come across to many as very listenable. One thing about it’s personal appeal here comes from this very quality. It showcases for sure that funk was the bedrock of Prince’s music,with his ability to stay squarely on the one. And that’s not even to mention how much of the Minneapolis Sound is already present here.
It does bare some degree of repeating however that ever since this blog has existed, Prince’s music has not been present on most areas of the internet. And on YouTube in particular. So there was no way to give Prince a proper musical overview by the use of this feature of the blog. Since that is awkwardly showing signs of changing,it is fitting to start discussing the individual songs from the For You album one at a time. There are a few numbers on this album that really helped reshape the face of funk for the coming decade. And one of them was called “Just As Long As We’re Together”.
A drum kick off gives way to a sustained ARP string ensemble showcasing some rolling Minneapolis synth brass over it for the intro. Another kick off brings the song into the uptempo dance beat of the song,underpinned by a percussive slap bass line all the way along. The chorus returns to the instrumentation and melodic sound of the intro-with an acapella break from Prince separating the refrain from the chorus. As with most of his earlier music,Prince’s sings most of this in his falsetto range. On the second refrain however,he drops into a softer version of his lower register he’d use later.
On the second half of the song,Prince plays the melody with a Carlos Santana-like crying tone on lead guitar before going into a hi hat/synth brass heavy drum break that leads into a more minor key version of the chorus. This evolves into Prince singing falsetto vocalese with the synth brass before the song strips down to the slap bass and ringing Afro-Cuban percussion. The synth brass gradually returns-playing continual call and response with Prince’s rapid fire bluesy guitar riffs. The synth brass plays some hot and heavy charts as the groove itself fades on into it’s own aurally purple sunset.
There’s been much talk about how awkward it was for Prince to have all the instruments he played listed when half of them were keyboards of some sort. Instrumentally though,that very much defines this song. Structurally, “Just As Long As We’re Together” isn’t far removed from what melodic funk bands such as Earth Wind & Fire were doing at the time. The difference was the spacier flavors of the futurist synthesizers Prince had playing his horn charts. Prince’s ability to take a style of funk prevalent at the time and making it his own showcases his early adaptability with a good groove.
Filed under 1970's, ARP string ensemble, drums, Funk, lead guitar, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, percussion, Prince, rhythm guitar, slap bass, synth bass, Uncategorized