Tag Archives: Bass

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Red Top” by Steve Miller

Steve Miller, a Milwaukee native, had very strong connections to jazz growing up. His mother Bertha sang in a very jazz oriented manner. And his father George, called Sonny, did some record engineering in his spare time off his job as a pathologist. While attending the University Of Madison, Miller and his longtime friend Boz Scaggs formed The Ardells-eventually joined by keyboard player Ben Sidran. This began the circle of musicians who’d eventually become The Steve Miller Band. Their psychedelic blues sound evolved into a more pop friendly sound during the early 70’s.

By the early 70’s, The Steve Miller Band had a series of eclectic hits from the rock of “The Joker” to the synth pop/new wave of “Abracadabra”. After the band took a hiatus in the mid 80’s, Miller began recorded a series of blues and jazz oriented solo albums. One of them was 1988’s Born 2 Be Blue. It reunited him with Ben Sidran, who acted as a producer and keyboard player on the album. My father had the cassette of the album in the late 80’s. And there was one Lionel Hampton song Miller recorded at the end of the album that became an ear worm for both of us at the time. It was called “Red Top”.

Gordy Knudtson’s drum kickoff starts off the song-with the late sax great Phil Woods blowing away the melody before a break for Miller vocally introducing the chorus. Knudtson’s drum takes on a more New Orleans type flavor. Sidran’s synthesized organ plays a strong foundational role in this as well-along with Miller’s bluesy guitar riffs accenting it all. Billy Peterson’s bass line bounces right along with the drums. On the bridge, the rhythm all swings for Woods to take a full sax solo. After this the song has an extended chorus before coming to a stop on a reprise of the intro.

“Red Top” has been recorded by a lot of people since Hampton composed the song. There’s something about Steve Miller’s version that really brings it to a new generation. The song of course as a straight up 12 bar blues structure. But between Ben Sidran’s keys and Gordy Knudtson drumming, there’s a strong Crescent city jazz/funk flavor to this song that takes the actual melodic structure of it to another level. Miller himself seems right at home in this particular musical setting. And its actually among my personal favorite things I’ve heard Steve Miller record.

 

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Anatomy Of The Groove: “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free” by Sting

Sting’s love of music goes back to his youth in Northumberland, England. Born Gordon Sumner, he’d gotten a deep impression from the Wellsend’s shipyward-seeing his future as being in that industry at first. He graduated from what’s now Northumbria University with an education degree. He taught as a headmaster for two years. Between his education and teaching, his played jazz gigs at night. That’s where Sumner was nicknamed Sting due to his apparent physical resemblance to a bee. By 1977, he’s moved to London to form the original lineup of The Police with Stewart Copeland.

As for The Police’s story, the rest is history. In 1984, The Police broke up. Sting’s by then legendary ego was driving him in the direction of solo work. The sound of The Police had grown in scope-from a punk reggae sound to taking on more pop and jazz elements. It was that side of their sound that dovetailed into Sting’s 1985 solo debut The Dream Of The Blue Turtles. Recorded with a quintet of jazz players in Omar Hakim, Darryl Jones, Branford Marsalis and the late Kenny Kirkland, the album got off to a musical and commercially powerful start with “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free”.

Sting sings the chorus mantra style on the intro over Hakim’s drums-with Sting’s liquid guitar with a rather Asian rhythmic vibe. The drums take on a heavier, in the pocket rock drive after that. Kirkland’s organ, Sting’s funky rhythm guitar licks, Jones’ bass runs and Kirkland’s organ keep the groove thick-with Marsalsis’s sax accents playing melodically at every rhythmic turn. The bridge has a heavy A and B section. That A section hits heavy on the second beat-with a deeper guitar tone. And the B section bringing back everyone for a more progression tone before an extended chorus fades it all out.

“If You Love Somebody,Set Them Free” has been so hardwired into my own musical ear, its easy to forget that this was likely the last time a major pop artist utilized contemporary jazz players as their band for a solo debut. Sting’s songwriting is astounding-really letting go with the jazz flavor. At the same time, throwing in a heavy gospel/blues based R&B one as well. Still, Hakin’s drums in particular keep it somehow big and rocking. Listening to it now, its actually part of a series of musically daring records that Sting continued to deliver during the prime of his solo career.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Est-Ce Que C’est Chic” by Chic

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.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Candango” by Airto Moreira

Airto Moreira is someone whom I recently covered here. Since his official birthday is Saturday, decided to pay tribute to a song by him that I just couldn’t resist. The origins of the album the 1976 Airto album Promises Of The Sun in my collection comes from the budget vinyl crate digging days. Just learned about Airto from his work on Miles Davis’s album from the early 70’s. And his solo albums were popping up on a lot of these crate digging exercises. The cover art depicting Airto in the middle of a ritualistic chant drew me to thinking this album would have a tribal musical content. And it actually did.

During a period where I was still actually making a lot of mix tapes, there was one song from this particular album that got my attention. Its title was hard to translate. But it apparently refers to anyone who came from another state to participate in the development of the city of Brasilia, the federal capital of Brazil. So when it comes to increased knowledge of this songs place in Airto’s musical history, its good history on this song that ends the second side of the vinyl edition of Promises Of The Sun. The name of this particular song is “Candango”.

Airto starts off the song with swinging march-one that evolves into a percussion laden Brazilian swing with Airto chanting-likely in Portuguese. On the first part of the song it showcases Rhodes player Hugo Fattorusa,guitarist Toninho Horta and bassist Novelli playing to Airto’s melodically spirited scat singing. This breaks for a moment with Rhodes-before the second part of this verse goes into a much bluesier, psychedelic part of the song. Here Horta’s guitar plays a rockier solo with Airto’s chants and scatting blending together in this cavalcade of sound before the first verse closes the song out.

“Candango” is a song that,even after all these years, has an idiosyncratic air about it that still delights me to this day. Its a sandwiched type of song really. The middle is this psychedelic jazz/rock/blues explosion of Fender Rhodes,guitar and bass. But they are bookended with this swinging Brazilian jazz style melody that still retains Airto’s unique creative air throughout. Its a strong reminder of how much Airto and another fellow collaborator in the late George Duke had in common: both loving to compose music with abrupt changes in sound. For me at least, “Candango” is one of Airto’s top compositions.

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Let Me Know You: Stanley Clarke’s Unsung Second Solo Album Of The 1980’s

Let Me Know You

Stanley Clarke was a musician whose solo albums of the 1970’s were always talked about. Yet there was one album that hardly ever did-only occasionally as a mentioned titled in some discographies of his music. It was his 1982 album Let Me Know You. First I found the album on vinyl,then picked it up on CD. Then realized why it might’ve been left out. This is basically a full on post disco/boogie album from Clarke-featuring the likes of Greg Phillinganes and Paulinho Da Costa among the musicians. Here’s an Amazon.com review I wrote just over a decade ago that goes more deeply into its musicality.


Right after the release of the first Clarke/Duke Project LP Stanley Clarke and George Duke both decided to take a musical break from each other and do a pair of solo albums without the participation of the other.Duke produced ‘Dream On’ while Clarke produced this album ‘Let Me Know You’,both in 1982.Both albums are very much funky pop/R&B vocal albums with some curious differences.’Let Me Know You’ is the slightly more jazz oriented of the two and as always,Clarke is not quite as experienced (or communicative) as Duke.

The songwriting is extremely strong and three “Straight From The Heart”,”I Just Want To Be Your Brother”,”The Force Of Love” and the pounding “New York City” find Clarke moving away from hardcore jazz-rock fusion and into the world of tighter,more carefully crafted and arranged R&B,funk and pop.The sexy title song is actually the only instrumental on the album and is the only representation of the ‘old’ Stanley Clarke.

My favorite cut is the Linn drum/Leslie Amp powered “Play The Bass” the more or less trails off before it get’s a chance to get going-it’s funny how many R&B and funk artists elect to showcase some of their most creative music as brief interludes (read:Earth Wind & Fire).Nevertheless ‘Let Me Know You’ is a wonderful pop/funk album and actually one of Clarke’s most consistently enjoyable of the early 80’s.

Trouble is it’s also his only record never to have been released on CD up until now.And while I am sure that many like myself who have enjoyed listening to the vinyl record of this album the new CD is a treat.But I really hope fans of Clarke or the Clarke/Duke Project will revisit this if they’ve never heard it-fans of both artist’s music from the 1980’s will feel right at home.


Let Me Know You comes from a time where Stanley Clarke was looking to condense his music to a degree. He actually managed to solo many times on these songs. That being said,, this album had him striving ever more to look towards gaining momentum as a composer as opposed to mainly an instrumental soloist. He even got a bit of a dance hit with the album with the song “Straight To The Top”. Once heard Clarke himself refer to his music at this time as “pretty commercial”. But its still by no means a Stanley Clarke album to avoid. Especially if you enjoy funk that where’s its jazziest flavors proudly.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Too Funky” by George Michael

George Michael celebrated his first posthumous birthday yesterday. His death came very sadly and suddenly on Christmas day last year. Since that time,I have learned (along with my boyfriend) just to how important George Michael and Wham were to the post disco UK dance/funk/soul scene of the 1980’s. Wham were one of the “big four” bands on the UK’s major music program Top Of The Pops.  As for Michael’s solo career, it operated from 1987 through 1991 before his record company conflict began. Yet that five years had Michael as part of a huge growth period for cutting edge,funky dance music.

His final single before these record company conflicts was originally recorded for his sophomore solo album Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1. It eventually ended up being released for the AIDS charity CD entitled Red Hot+Blue in 1992. All the proceeds from that and Michael’s accompanying single went to HIV/AIDS related causes. It was also Michael’s first extensive use of sampling-from sound clips from The Graduate and The Tony Hancock Show to a sample from Jocelyn Brown’s “Somebody Else’s Guy”. The name of the George Michael song that did all these things was “Too Funky”.

A fast electronic piano drum rundown introduces the song. Its a thick,slow drum machine rhythm with some shuffling, Brazilian style conga/percussion accents. The melodic body of the song is a round,five note synth brass part-along with pulsing electronic strings and like minded bass line. The piano/bass/drum interaction make up the refrains. With each choral variation, the synth brass returns and varies in tone. After a bridge that condenses the song down to the drums and bass line,the chorus fades the song out to a close with the piano part and the final sound sample of the song.

“Too Funky” is a song that basically pulls together all of the funkiest elements of 80’s dance music innovations. It has the the percussive shuffle of DC go go, the dramatic synthesized horns of the Minneapolis sound and the repetitive bass and piano of house music. What makes it “too funky” is not merely the sexually free (yet somehow post AIDS) lyrical content. But also the somewhat slower tempo and that percussive jump on the rhythms. George Michael wouldn’t put any new music out for four years after this. But it sure capped off the beginning of his solo career with a strong groove.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tin Foil Hat” by Todd Rundgren featuring Donald Fagen

Todd Rundgren has been one of those DIY singer/songwriter/musician/producer’s who was successfully able to meld his many talents into collaborative projects. Coming out of The Nazz into his own solo career,through Utopia and onward. Yet it wasn’t until his most recent solo album White Night,released just over a month ago. The majority of the album concentrated on collaborations with a diverse range of artists. Among them old friend Daryl Hall and one particular partnership that really got me personally interested: one with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen.

This particular collaboration came during a time when America and to a degree much of the Western World is in great turmoil. It was turmoil that actually stopped me from writing this blog for a week or so. Unlike the post 9/11 years happily, very few American artists have any fear in challenging the disastrous presidency of Donald Trump. In fact,Rundgren made news (even on Fox) regarding his desire not to have Trump supporters in his concert audiences causing trouble.  All of this is presented as part of his collaboration with Fagen entitled “Tin Foil Hat”.

A bluesy,vibraphone like two note keyboard line opens the song unaccompanied. Following that,electronic drums come in playing what seems to be a slow jazzy swing in 6/8 time. After that another keyboard comes in playing an organ type part-with that opening line assisting a swinging bass keyboard and guitar (or guitar like) tone. On the choruses,the chord changes to a slightly higher one before descending back into the refrain via a brief re-appearance of the organ style solo. By the final choruses, a bluesy piano joins the affair before the songs comes to an abrupt stop.

“Tin Foil Hat” is a song that addresses the entire Trump fiasco so well. Instrumentally,its a classic R&B/jazz/blues shuffle in Fagen’s classic style-with Rundgren’s vocal effects and own musical touches going right alongside it. Presented here is an accompanying music video,which has the songs wry and biting humor but also has a mild dire element of conspiracy theorists in high positions constantly foreseeing a coming apocalypse. Its an example of a funky,bluesy and soulful type song in 2017 delivering a message for the American people with both humor and effective social commentary.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love Will Find A Way” by Lionel Richie

Lionel Brockman Richie’s life journey has a lot of twist and turns. Growing up on the Tuskegee campus of the famous black college right in his home town, he dropped out of the university after his sophomore year. After a brief time considering becoming an episcopal church, he devoted himself to music fully by the mid 60’s. He became the lead singer and sax player of the Commodores in 1968. After a brief stint at Atlantic, the Commodores struck gold at Motown as a major funk band during the mid 70’s. By the late 70’s, Richie’s contributions to the band were mainly as a singer/songwriter.

In 1982, Richie released his self titled solo debut. It turned out to be a 4x platinum hit for him. But mainly on the strength of ballads like “Truly” and the uptempo pop of “You Are”. At this point, the funkiness he displayed in the Commodores would be album tracks for him. His next album,1983’s Can’t Slow Down was a major crossover success for him-a diamond charting album in the vein of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Musically, the hits he was getting were a lot more diverse-from the Caribbean pop of “All Night Long” to the new wave rock of “Running With The Night”. Then there was “Love Will Find A Way”.

A slow,gated drum starts out the song. Then the close bass/rhythm guitar interaction. At the beginning, a Fender Rhodes is carrying the minor chorded lead melody. The rhythm guitar perfectly accents that-with the strings rising just as Richie’s first vocal chorus arriving. There’s also a light synthesizer part featured on the end. On the refrains of the song, the melody becomes a brighter and more major chorded one-with the strings leading back into the choruses.  A slippery,pitch bent synthesizer joins the mix just as the song begins to fade out on its final choruses.

“Love Will Find A Way” is, as my friend Henrique pointed out, a quiet storm groove ballad that also functions as soulful, immaculately produced “sophistifunk” as well. As it turns out, its very mature take on romantic advice dovetails very well into another hit song (and one of my personal favorites from Lionel’s solo career) called “Love Will Conquer All” from his next album-1986’s Dancing On The Ceiling. Same goes for the music of the song as well. Lionel Richie’s solo music, despite its success, has never been based in funk. But “Love Will Find A Way” does bring out that very functional middle ground.

 

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Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “The Dominant Plague” by Allan Holdsworth

Allan Holdsworth was a guitarist who not only crossed styles,but also technological areas of music. Sadly,he passed away this past Saturday at the age of 70. He was a truly academic player known for his advanced chord progressions. But he could play some serious blues with the same technical level. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s he played with both prog rock and jazz fusion bands in his native England/Europe such as Soft Machine,King Crimson,Gong and Nucleus. In the late 70’s,be became a member of Tony Williams New Lifetime before beginning his solo career as a recording artist.

The first Allan Holdsworth album was his 1986 LP Atavacron. Picked it up based purely on the cover and title-based on a favorite episode of Star Trek of mine. On the cover,the cartoon Holdsworth is holding an instrument called a SynthAxe. It was a type of MIDI controller manufactured in the UK which allowed for a more guitar-like playing style for synthesizers.  Turns out it was fairly rare,and few outside Holdsworth and Lee Ritenour actually ever used it. One of my favorite songs on the mid 80’s fusion oriented Atavacron to use the SynthAxe heavily is called “The Dominant Plague”.

Future Level 42 drummer Gary Husband,along with Chad Wackerman provide the opening duel drum attack-which has a slow,gated African percussion style about it. Jimmy Johnson also provides his 6 note bass line that he improvises on throughout the song on this intro. Very the chorus Alan Pasqua delivers a wailing synth brass solo. On the refrains,over the same rhythm,Pasqua also provides a very glassy,steel drum like synth line. On the bridge,actually a chorus of the song,Holdsworth plays a rather Hendrix style SynthAxe solo-before the song fades out on the double drum rhythm.

“The Dominant Plague” is mid 80’s world fusion at some of its finest. It has the blend of Afrocentric rhythms played in a progressive new wave sonic approach. Holdsworth composition is both passionate and hesitantly chilly from chorus to refrain. I am not at all sure about this. But from its feeling and title, I’ve wondered if this composition was inspired by the HIV/AIDS epidemic than polarizing the world. One can only wonder. The SynthAxe is also used to fine affect here-allowing Holdsworth to sustain notes more than a guitar might’ve. Its my favorite song of his that I’ve heard so far.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” by Arthur Blythe

Arthur Blythe,the LA/San Diego free jazz sax player,passed away on March 25th this year at the age of 76 due to complications from Parkisons disease. The only reason I am aware of him comes from a question to my father. It was about the last jazz album he brought before I was born. And it was Blythe’s 1979 album Lenox Avenue Breakdown. His recording career started comparatively late,similar to the also recently passed vocalist Al Jarreau. His group in the late 70’s was also a major training ground for a new generation of free jazz musicians such as guitarist James Blood Ulmer.

Not being an academic jazz writer,the best way for me to write about the more acoustic styles of jazz would be based on the feeling and sound they convey. Arthur Blythe’s music came across to me as being very similar in flavor to how Miles Davis approached his music during its electric period-strong rhythmic foundation but with a more abstract,free jazz compositional style. Blythe and his group seemed to be doing something similar but more acoustically. One song that best exemplifies that musical attitude is the title song to the album Lenox Avenue Breakdown.

Jack DeJohnette’s drums get the groove going with some hard swinging-with Ulmer and bassist Cecil McBee’s interaction keeping up with James Newton’s melodically bluesy flute. Newton and Blythe really let loose with their reed fanfarring after that,and just before each solo section of the song as well. The first solo is an extremely intense one from Blythe-flying into the higher registers with DeJohnette and Ulmer following along with his intensity. Next up is Newton’s extremely atonal flute solo-following by Bob Stewart’s bouncing tuba solo before that reed fanfare brings it all to a halt.

Arthur Blythe had been a member of the The Underground Musicians and Artists Association in the mid 60’s. And he began his recording career under the name ‘Black Arthur Blythe” to maintain his strong ethnic identification. His playing on the song “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” is filled with that passion,but is very clean in tone. This actually adds to its power. The aggressive loudness and emphasis on solos actually adds a bit of a rock feeling to the free funk-jazz atmosphere of the song. Its taken me some years to really get into the song. But its a strong musical statement from Arthur Blythe.

 

 

 

 

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