Gary Bartz is a Baltimore native. He was a Julliard graduate who played with musicians like McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis. He formed the Ntu group as a leader-combining a number of different afrocentric forms of music that complemented each other. My friend Henrique had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Bartz one time. He discussed with me Bartz place as a “post Coltrane soprano sax player”-someone who was able to cut through the music of the electric jazz era with his sound. He now teaches at the Oberlin Conservatory Of Music in Ohio, when he’s not on the road.
Bartz generally toured with his own group. But he also seemed to have loved playing with funk musicians too. That came into play during the mid 70’s-when that particular groove became a bigger part of his sound. By his 1980 album Bartz, he was prettying much acting as an adjunct of the band Mtume. With James Mtume and Reggie Lucas writing, producing and using their band as Bartz’ backup musicians. Since its the only Gary Bartz album I presently have, it was easy to discover one particular song from this collaboration that stuck out for me. Its called “One-Eyed Jack”.
A passionate “OOOOOOH!!!” and a five beat drum intro gets the song right into gear. From there on its a slow, dragging drum beat. The bass is slapping hard on the one. A rhythm guitar, one with a wah wah sound and an acoustic piano are all speaking in similar musical phrases with the horns bouncing right along with them-led by Bartz’s sax. Mtume’s Tawatha sings the vocal hook throughout the majority of the song-accentuated by additional space funk synths. There are two refrains-which have the rhythm guitar/bass playing a smoother and more melodic jazz/funk phrase.
Even before the extended chorus fades out this song, “One-Eyed Jack” will likely call to mind mid 70’s P-Funk. In the spirit of Mothership Connection and “Undisco Kidd”. Bartz taking part in another band rather than totally leading it also showcases his versatility here. Henrique also mentioned Bartz’s favorite TV show was the documentary series Unsung. His only hope for it was that it would showcase more unsung jazz musicians than merely soul,funk and hip-hop ones. Considering these kids of jazz soloist and funk band crossovers? Bartz’s comment is more than apropos in this case.
Maysa Leak is an artist who came to my attention after first hearing her expert,smokey alto in the early aughts. The Baltimore native graduated from Morgan State University with a degree in classical performance. She performed in the Morgan State Choir. It was there she met Stevie Wonder,who brought her in to be a backup singer in his late 80’s/early 90’s edition of Wonderlove. She was most prominent on his soundtrack for the 1991 Spike Lee Joint Jungle Fever. She released her solo debut in 1995 as well. While performing with different groups over the years,its a clear memory where I first heard her.
During the same time I was deep into bands like Jamiroquai,discovering Rufus/Chaka Khan,Miles Davis and the jazzy side of funk my mom picked up a CD called No Time Like The Future by Incognito. This is the first time I ever heard Maysa singing on songs such as “Get Into My Groove”,which I’ve already covered here. Her jazzy style permeates much of her life,so much so that she named her daughter Jazz. And that jazzy groove attracted me to more and more Incognito albums over the years. Their 2008 album Tales From The Beach contained one of my favorite songs sung by her on “I’ve Been Waiting”.
Maysa begins the song by saying “if my heart should betray my emotions,I hope you understand just what it is I’ve been feeling”. Following that,a VERY Stevie Wonder like major/minor jazz chord progression played on a high and bass toned Oberheim synthesizer begins the musical end of the song. This consists of a flutter wah wah guiter and light cymbal/bass drums kicking off a thick slap bass line playing along three chords. After a couple bars of that the slow,funky drums come in along with the Fender Rhodes electric piano and Bluey’s liquid rhythm guitar.
In between this refrain,there’s a brief musical bridge which brings in the tight horn charts-which play call and response to Maysa’s vocals. The Rhodes also plays a strong counter melody to this as well. When the chorus comes in,Maysa is multi tracked within a sea of percussive drums,wah wah guitar,dancing horn charts and the even snakier slap bass line. Just before the second round of choruses and refrains,the keyboards take over for yet another short bridge on the outro. The music strips down to its most percussive elements on the final choruses as the song closes out on a breezy Rhodes coda.
One day,I’m hoping Incognito will be somewhat more recognized worldwide for their often ingenious continuation of 70’s jazz funk in the modern age. Again as has been a continuing theme with me lately,this is a complexly arranged composition. The chord progressions and melodic changes,along with the changes in instrumental soloing throughout,make this one of the most sleekly arranged jazz-funk jams of the new millennium. Maysa’s strong personality and determined “grown folks” outlook on sensuality really make this one of 2008’s major jams of the year for me,anyway.
Filed under 2008, Baltimore, drums, Fender Rhodes, horns, Incognito, jazz funk, Maysa, Morgan State Choir, Morgan State University, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Stevie Wonder, synthesizers, wah wah guitar, Wonderlove
What a wonderful Prince album for lovers of the funk! And on a strictly personal note, a vast improvement on it’s predecessor. As good a move it was for Prince to have hired young producer Joshua Welton for HITNRUN Phase One,I had the concern that album would stand alongside many of the artists mid/late 90’s releases in terms of not aging well. Attempts made by Prince to incorporate current production trends generally resulted in showcasing what an unhealthy state soul/R&B music was at these given times. He and the NPG were (and in the case of the band still are) hardcore funk musicians. So on Prince’s swansong,he and the band basically worked it back to the rhythm of the one.
“Baltimore” is beautifully melodic soul rocker paying tribute to young Freddie Gray due to police brutality,as well as offering some some sage advice for modern civil rights activism. “Rocknroll Loveaffair” is a bass pumping,danceable country rocker with a sleek bluesy attitude while “2 Y.3.D” a James Brown style horn heavy pop funk jam. “Look At Me,Look At U” is a rolling,mid tempo jazz/funk groove full of slap bass,Fender Rhodes and flute while “Stare” takes that bass,drums,guitar,horns and turns up the funk heavy. “Xtraloveable” turns up the bass synth and the strong pop melody for a thick boogie funk stomp where “Groovy Potential” is another slinky mid tempo jazz/funk ballad with some sexy guitar.
“When She Comes” brings out that classic 60’s southern soul ballad with that slow scaling guitar while “Screwdriver” brings in a rhythmic riffing of a driving pop/rocker. “Black Muse” is a nice,chunky down home funky soul tune-one full of hit horns and chugging rhythm that deals with how important black American music is to the history of the artistic medium itself. “Revelation” is a gentle,spare ballad that again features a strong electric piano presence along with Prince’s ethereal falsetto vocal mix. The album concludes with “Big City”. It begins with that P-funk style chromatic walk-down before getting into some wah wah heavy melodic funk.
More than anything,what this album does is showcase just how much Prince’s musical evolution came out of funk-despite the modern perception that his rockier hits represented the baseline of his entire creative ethic. On that note,even the guitar rockers here return to the happily melodic,hook filled nature of his 80’s era music of this genre-as opposed to the aloof weariness of some of Prince’s recent rock oriented music Primarily though,this album emphasis Prince as a straight up band leader-getting funkiest drums,horns and jazzy keyboards out of the NPG. Prince’s sudden and young death is still a tragedy. But especially for the funk lover,this album is one bang of a way to go out!
Originally written on April 29th,2016
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Filed under 2016, Amazon.com, Baltimore, drums, Fender Rhodes, Freddie Gray, Funk, horns, jazz funk, Music Reviewing, new music, New Powe Generation, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, slap bass, Uncategorized