Syreeta Wright had a long and fascinating musical journey. She started as an aspiring ballet dancer from Pittsburgh who landed a receptionist job at Motown. Settling in Detroit,her backing vocals for latter day Supremes hits led her to be considered as Diana Ross’s replacement in the group. She met Stevie Wonder around that time. He encouraged her to begin writing songs. They two eventually married and recorded together for Wonder’s 1971 album Where I’m Coming From. Though the marriage ended in divorce,her and Wonder continued to collaborate creatively throughout the decade.
Syreeta had another short lived marriage a few years later,moving to Ethiopia in the mid 70’s to teach transcendental meditation. She returned to her solo career on Motown in the late 70’s and early 80’s Her second album of the 80’s decade was called Set My Love In Motion. I picked it up on vinyl in NYC around 1998 or so. Finally picked up a CD copy through the Funkytowngrooves reissue label. Its actually a very unsung classic in what I now understand to be the post disco/boogie funk genre. And the one song this album that signifies this most for me is called “Move It,Do It”.
This is a song dominated by instrumental layering. It starts out with a high pitched synth wail,a round bass one and an orchestral one right in the middle tone. These sweeten up the thick,slow rhythm guitar and equally slow funky drumming. On the vocal refrains of the song,the higher pitched synth plays a sunnier melody as the rhythm guitar goes up a bit in pitch. The song returns to the main chorus after this. The bridge of the song reduces that chorus down to the drums,rhythm guitar and synth bass before the main one returns to close out the entire song.
One conversation that Henrique and I had onetime had to do with the different musical courses Wonder and Wright were taking at the start of the 1980’s. Syreeta embraced the futurist synth funk/post disco boogie sound Wonder had helped to innovate in the 70’s during these years. Wonder meanwhile returned to a live band oriented sound during this period. “Move It,Do It” makes me wonder how Wonder’s sound might’ve been circa 1980-81 if he’d elected to base his sound of the time more on his one man band approach. Still the slinky sensuality of Syreeta’s attitude brings her own musical flavors right up front.
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
The Isley Brothers,to paraphrase writer and my Facebook friend Rickey Vincent do come off strongly as the embodiment of funky masculinity. That not only goes for their mixture of pragmatism and sensitivity. But also to their musical approach as well. The family group’s 3+3 combination adding younger brothers Ernie and the late Marvin Isley and cousin Chris Jasper added a strong instrumental element to the vocal harmony approach of the elder brothers Ron,Rudy and the late Kelly Isley. During the mid 1970’s, they came up with a distinctive approach to instrumental vital funk and rock along with keeping the soulful bedroom ballads cooking at all ends.
During this time,the sextet began recording in the TONTO synthesizer complex. This is where Stevie Wonder was than working his own electronic funk/soul masterpieces as well. Most of the 3+3 Isley Brothers classic albums were recorded using the complex-especially with keyboard maestro Jasper in tow. In 1976 they released their album Harvest For The World. The album continued to expand on the throbbing grooves they developed,along with the lyrical themes of sensuous eroticism and strong minded brotherhood. Nothing on this album could ever be underrated from where I sit. But it’s the song “People Of Today” that really pulls everything else here together on every possible level.
A rolling drum launches into the song itself. It’s a gurgling mix of bass synthesizer and guitar with multiple Clavinet parts. One of them even contributing to the bottom end of the song as well. This huge tonal array of sound is calmed somewhat on the vocal refrains from Ron Isley. On the end of each chorus,a second refrain features Ron singing a call and response vocal line to a Vocoderized voice singing “my world is fine”. After this a fast and bluesy Clavinet riff leads back into the central theme of the song in which it all begins. This pattern of two separate refrains and repeated choruses maintains itself from beginning to the fade out of this song.
If I were to describe this or any Isley Brothers funk from this period, it would be as the musical equivilant of chunky peanut butter. It’s caramel colored cream texture with a strong crunchiness mixed into it. And has the same strong flavor too. The layering of the keyboard parts of this song are amazing. And it’s the perfect accompaniment as Ron Isley sings about getting ones head out of comfortable denialism. At one point he even responds to the Vocorderized “my world is fine” with the vocal response “ah your jivin’ me”. As implied in the title, it’s a wonderful example of the type of classic 70’s funk that I’ve dubbed over the years as “people music”.
Filed under 1970's, bass synthesizer, Chris Jasper, clavinet, electro funk, Funk, Isley Brothers, Rickey Vincent, Ron Isley, TONTO, Uncategorized, vocoder
Today being Martin Luther King Day brings up an event that occurred during my lifetime ,but of which I am also too young to remember fully. In the early 1980’s Stevie Wonder along with fellow musical artist/writer/poet Gil Scott Heron really championed the crusade to make Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday declared a national holiday. He even wrote a song for the occasion called “Happy Birthday”,included on Stevie’s 1980 album Hotter Than July. It was a song that was recorded and released five years earlier,however, that’s always gotten my attention-from hearing it on 8-track at the families lakeside camp growing up to my present day discussions with friend and fellow music lover Henrique Hopkins.
With an elaborate production taking two and a half years to complete,Stevie Wonder finally managed to release his double album plus four song EP which he entitled Songs In The Key Of Life. It continued the man’s commercial and creative winning streak that had began earlier in the decade. And did so by really reaching for even more imaginative and reflective instrumental,lyrical and compositional heights. One of the songs that impacted me on this sprawling opus was another example of being deeply effected by music that was not a huge commercial hit. But to me anyway,it’s the glue that made the entire album function as a strong musical statement. It was called “Black Man”.
Rhythmic intensity defines the groove from the get go. It’s a fast marching drum rhythm-accentuated by a lightly melodic ring modulated drum sound. A deep Clavinet solo is soon joined by a brittle Moog bass solo. A wandering,higher pitched synthesizer soon joins in along with the horns of Stevie’s band Wonderlove playing the melodic accents of his lead vocal parts. The bridge strips back most the instrumentation so the only things heard are the main rhythm,the modulated one. This leads into a intertwining pair of synthesizers playing a bluesy jazz melody before going back into the main theme-with a verbalized classroom recitation along with Stevie on Vocorder illustrating the songs lyrical theme.
The first time I heard this song,my mother described this song as a history lesson. And that is exactly what this is. Time has allowed me to appreciate on just how many levels it is. Stevie’s outlook on race relations here is not merely integrationist, but understanding the vitality and difference each race present in America brings to the nations continuity. Far as it’s place in black history goes names such as Benjamin Banneker,Garrett Morgan and Dr.Charles Drew would have remained unknown to me-as well as their contributions to the country. They all played a part,as Stevie sang of who helped make our banner wave during the bicentennial year this song was written to celebrate.
One major element that permeated the entire Songs In The Key Of Life album (especially this particular song) was Stevie’s use of the Yamaha GX-1,known as the Dream Machine. It was a double keyboarded synthesizer with a rhythm machine. It felt like a Hammond B-3 organ, but was a very tonally advanced polyphonic synthesizer underneath. It allowed Stevie to build the sound of his own sound along with Wonderlove. The most important thing one can ever say about Stevie Wonder as a musician is his contribution of innovative tonal sounds. Herbie Hancock once pointed out Stevie’s ability to deal with synthesizers on an organic level allowed it to become it’s own instrumental element of the band itself.
Instrumentally speaking,this might well be one of Stevie Wonder’s most exciting compositions. The energy level is both high enough to reach a breaking point, and controlled at a level where the excitement is totally attainable to the listener. The tempo is a lot faster than it is for most funk. Yet rhythm is locked down to a point where the multiple melodic conversations of the different keyboard and synthesizer tones that define this song express tonally the cultural diversity of America for the next almost 40 years from when this song was created to the present day. It’s one of a view songs out there with the power to get every American,of every shade to dance to it’s rhythms.
Filed under 'Songs In The Key Of Life', 1970's, Black History, clavinet, drums, Funk, horns, Martin Luther King Jr., Moog, ring modulator, Stevie Wonder, synth bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized, Wonderlove, Yamaha GX-1
It would seem that a year before her passing? Teena Marie pronounced her third album Irons In The Fire to be her personal favorite. And that’s very interesting because it’s the first of her original albums I ever encountered on CD-back in my rack digging days at Borders Books & Music in the late 1990’s. Just under a decade? Ended up getting it online as part of my introduction to her music. As far as her love of the album? It was her first self produced album. And one to be proud of. One song on the album did catch my ear very strongly.
The general spectrum of Lady T’s music ran between torchy jazz and smoldering funk. It was ideally suited not just for her vocal range, but her style of composing as well. One song from this album turned out to be a fully formed version of an acoustic guitar demo she’d made a year after she first arrived at Motown in 1975. Of course when I heard it? The song just leaped out at me. Yet another case of funk being it’s own reward. So the song in question is called “First Class Love”. And even to this day? I’m still surprised by it’s overall power and energy.
The groove goes into heavy gear with a big horn intro. The rhythm is thick,steady and slow in fine funk style. A big chunky splendor of electric slap and accompanying brittle sounding synth bass. All having an instrumental conversation with the horns along the way. On the refrains,a higher pitched version of this brittle synthesizers drips into the melody like a musical fondue. There is a potent instrumental bridge that reduces the song down to a slamming beat and a phat,processed slap bass before returning to the main theme to end the groove.
Something about this song just cooks the essence of feminine focused funk down to it’s base roux. Every rhythmic element of this song,from it’s drums to it’s bass line, is thickened up by Teena’s production of it. Lyrically it’s probably her most sexually charged songs to this point. Her “first class love” is presented as an endless journey to the moon, and blue skies six months out of every year. Everything about the music tonally reflects the crawling,thrusting nature of physical intimacy. And ends up to be first class funk for you and for me.
Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Borders Books & Music, CD's, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Motown, synthesizers, Teena Marie, Uncategorized
Of course? I have to credit reading the credits on Michael Jackson albums in mid adolescence for my awareness of Greg Phillinganes’ music in my life. In addition to that? A book about the man called Michael Jackson: An Illustrated Record by one Adrian Grant tipped me off to this album’s existence. That’s because it started out with “Behind The Mask”,a song written by Mike. It was quite a few years later that I managed to locate the album itself-first on vinyl,than an import CD. Yet it led me down another unexpected path as well.
By the time the mid aughts rolled around? I’d become deeply immersed in the funkiest end of the west coast pop sound. Namely the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Of course the lead singer/keyboard player and general architect of the latter groups sound was Donald Fagen. Since Phillinganes was an enormous part of Fagen’s solo debut The Nightfly as an instrumentalist? Fagen returned the favor a couple years later with a song he wrote but had never recorded or performed. The collaboration between the two fellow keyboard players was called “Lazy Nina”
It gets started with a slogging post disco style drum solo,which is also similar to the one on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”-before the jazzy shuffle of the bass synth kicks into the song itself. It’s that bluesy,electric piano based groove that Steely Dan admirers will know very well. On the choruses,he melodies and orchestral synth become brighter. On the final refrain? It becomes a straight instrumental right out of the Minneapolis school of the day. With the quavering DX7 digital synthesizer playing the horn charts as the song fades out.
Each time I’ve listened to this song? Something new leaped out at my ear hole from behind the groove. First impressions revealed a composition directly from the Steely Dan/Donald Fagen school . Especially with the nostalgic fantasizing of the lyrics. Phillinganes adds a much more electronic flavor to the overall song.. This comes to bare on my most recent observation: how the concluding instrumental break brings in the Prince/ Jam & Lewis synth horn element. Overall? It’s reflectively cheery transitional funk filled with flair and vitality.
Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, blues funk, disco funk, Donald Fagen, drums, electric piano, Funk, Greg Philinganes, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Michael Jackson, post disco, Prince, Stevie Wonder, synth funk, synthesizers, Uncategorized
Tuxedo have already been pretty thoroughly covered on Andresmusictalk already. And it looks like Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One are at it again. Just in time for the holidays too. Since I got back into doing this blog with my “five days of funk” concept? Have had some difficulty finding any nu funk to cover,which was part of my original intention. And this single of a new Stone’s Throw label compilation came at me via my YouTube subscription to the duo’s channel on that site. And the name of the song is “Holiday Love”.
The groove gets going with a percussive,mid tempo drum machine rhythm. This is first accompanied by a glossy orchestral keyboard harmony, along with a round and brittle synth bass line. The chorus is sung Roger Troutman style by Jake through a Vocoder. On the second chorus sung with Hawthorne harmonizing on lead? It’s all accompanied by the sound of sleigh bells in a similar manner to the Average White Band’s “School Boy Crush” from 40 years ago this year. It all outro’s it begins, along with the orchestral synth wailing away.
In many ways? This song completes an important multi generational triad of Christmas themed funk. It probably began with James Brown’s “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” in the late 60’s,continued on a couple years later with Donny Hathaway’s iconic funky soul of “This Christmas” and ends with the 80’s electro funk revivalism of this jam from Tuxedo. Musically it blends elements of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and Zapp’s “Computer Love”. Topped off with Mayer Hawthorne’s soulfully honey’d lead vocals.
Message wise the song is right on time. The music video depicts Mayer and Jake pitching woo to their girlfriends-culminating with drinking wine in bed-while all sharing in their musically creative process. It’s just a simple idea of setting time aside for your romantic partner as a holiday gift. Since the last three holiday seasons have consisted mainly of depressing,gun related mass shootings and the conservatively motivated contrivance of the “war on Christmas”? This funk will not only move,but might just remove those undesired effects this holiday season.
Filed under "Sexual Healing", 2015, bass synthesizer, Christmas music, Donny Hathaway, drum machine, elecro funk, Jake One, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Mayer Hawthorne, Stone Throw Records, synth bass, synth funk, Tuxedo, YouTube
Looking back on my own musical understanding? The husky,deeply rangy and jazz flavored vocals of Anita Baker remain to this day as a key aspect of my musical core when it comes to singers. One thing about her that I did not know is that her musical career not only didn’t start as a grooving quiet storm based artist specializing in lush,mid-tempo ballads. But that she actually started out in the late 70’s with the primarily uptempo funk/soul based band Chapter 8. The most startling part of it was that she was fired from the band (after their self titled debut) because they actually didn’t think she was a very good singer.
Understanding her late 80’s album smashes such as Rapture and Giving You The Best That I Got and their accompanying hit songs very well? It never occurred to me that her actual solo debut album came out in 1983,on the Beverly Glen label. And that it was so unsuccessful that a lot of people had actually never heard of it. Elektra had to reissue it with new cover art following her huge success there. Actually had the original vinyl first-only later picking it up on CD being so impressed by it’s contents. As a whole? It is actually fairly familiar territory for Baker admirers,save for some startling exceptions. One of which is a song called “Squeeze Me”.
The song opens with a dramatic drum roll that outro’s with a spiraling bass synthesizer. The beat becomes a steady two by two dance rhythm-over which the fan faring horn section is embraced by that always present (and very brittle) synth bass. The refrains also had an orchestral string type synthesizer into the mix and a powerful,thick rhythm guitar as well. The instrumentation bleeds together into a strong thickness of sound that is both very exciting and very sleek all at the same time. When Baker’s vocal chorus takes presidents? The overall sound of the music becomes more stripped down to accommodate them. This occurs most strongly on the final chorus of the song.
While being more than aware of Anita’s creative trademark of allying herself with strong funky soul musicians and producers throughout her career? It was still very much a shock to hear her so successfully make a straight up boogie funk jam right of the solo box. Some might see this as her not having a strong individual sound yet. But considering the presence of Michael Jackson associated session aces as Jerry Hey,Nathan East and Paul Jackson Jr. aboard for this song? Hearing Anita’s distinctive voice belting out such a hefty funk number is has actually given me an even stronger view of her talents as an instrumentally minded singer in the vein of the jazz sirens who influenced her.
One of the major things I wanted to do with this blog is to promote new funk bands and soloists with my blogging partner Rique. Particularly indie funk bands,who often need the sort of word of mouth campaign to bring awareness of their music to the people. Last month a lady named Sheli Casana contacted me about a new song that she (under the professional name Baby Funk) had put together called the Original Stone city Band. Featuring members of George Clinton’s P-Funk and the late Rick James’ Stone City Band? They dropped a song called “Turn It Up”. And after repeated listening on my part? Just had to tell you all about this groove.
Starting with a voluminous synthesizer wash from Eddie Fluellen,Nate and Lenise Hughes chime in with a meaty conga based percussive groove after which a big drum kick launches into the main body of the jam. This body consists of a thick and phat interaction between Fluellen’s bass synthesizer and the high up on the neck rhythm guitar/slap bass of Jerome Ali and Tom McDermott. The interaction of the jazz oriented Baby Funk herself and the bluesy funk growl of Mark Love coalesce on a lightly percussive rap where Baby Funk evokes her admiration of the late Teena Marie before going back to the main instrumental themes-now punctuated rhythmically and melodically with ascending/descending horn charts and a rocking lead guitar solo to close out this groove.
It feels important to note that as this blog is being written? Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” is still the #1 pop record in America. As I just told Rique in a comment on his blog on this topic yesterday? What matters most to me is not chart statistics but how records like that,as well as Pharrell Williams associated productions like “Happy”,”Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky”,manage to connect with the people. This song is not only a wonderful example of the massive public appreciation of indie funk in the past half decade or so. But also how it brings together two key players in funk’s transition from the 70’s to the 80’s into it’s actual instrumental orbit-drawing in the influence of George Clinton and Rick James with the channeling of Sly Stone and the Ohio Players horns and vocals into their own distinct flavor of the groove.
Personally? I am extremely proud that a song like this represents the full realization of the original dreams and goals of this blog. Especially the single song oriented weekly feature Anatomy of THE Groove! As Michael Jackson once sang in 1977? Music is a doctor that can cure a troubled mind. Like to hope these grooves not only move,but remove as wel. I would like to give my greatest thanks to my talented and knowledgeable blogging partner Rique for the efforts and inspiration he manages to put into this blog with an extremely busy schedule of his own to upkeep. Would also like give a very special thanks to Sheli Casana for providing me with detailed information on the personnel of her band and all available musical information on them. Stay tuned for Baby Funk/Original Stone City Band’s upcoming website and full album release-available at some pout this spring or summer on CD and MP3. And don’t forget to check out their live show when and if they travel through your home town. Thank you!
Filed under Baby Funk, bass synthesizer, Funk, Funk Bass, Jerome Ali, Nu Funk, Original Stone City Band, P-Funk, percussion, Pharrell Williams, Rick James, Teena Marie