Eliane Elias was born in São Paulo. And was a musical prodigy. She began learning piano at the age of 7, transcribing solos from musicians at 12 and teaching music by 15, She went on to perform with singer Toquino and poet Vinicius de Moraes during her late teens. After journeying to New York to attend the Julliard School Of Music, Elias joined up with the new jazz fusion outfit Steps Ahead. It was there she met jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker, to whom married for a time and with whom she had a daughter Amanda Elias Brecker.
As a multi talented pianist/singer/ composer/arranger, Elias has gone onto earn praise from the jazz press over the decades. The first time I ever heard about her was via a cassette she recorded when married to Randy Brecker in 1985 entitled Amanda. It would seem to have been her first album as a leader. Having it on vinyl now? Its a lot easier for me to hear the albums reconciliation of Elias’s Brazilian jazz approach with Brecker’s funk/fusion approach in their improvisations and orchestrations. And the song that really pulls this all together for me is this albums lead off number entitled “Splash”.
Danny Gottlieb’s funky drumming starts things out with Elias’s phat synth bass and Jeff Mironov’s rhythm guitar interaction. Where Will Lee’s electric bass supplies the rest of the song’s bass lines. Brecker plays a brittle melody over this before the main chorus-where Elias provides a chordally complex, flute like wordless vocal-duetting in harmony with Brecker’s trumpet. The bridge of the song features an energetic piano solo from Elias along with her synth bass. Then after a break,there’s a muted electric solo from Brecker before an extended chorus continues to the songs fade out.
“Splash” is a song that crosses a lot of different jazz bridges. Its production sonic’s are cleanly of the mid 80’s. At the same time, the actual arrangement Brecker provides from this song is a mix of jazz samba and be-bop. Same goes for the how Elias and Brecker approach their solos. At the same time, the rhythm section and electricity of the synth bass and trumpet/guitar interaction hits on thick funk/jazz grooving. At the same time, the melody takes a cue from the Miles Davis/Dizzy Gillespie school of “something you can hum”. So “Splash” hits its bop/funk/Latin jazz hybrid in all the right places.
Chaka Khan’s very musical essence could be summed up through jazz. It was listening to Billie Holiday growing up in a family of visual artists that inspired her whole vocal approach. As a late 60’s counter culturally inclined teenager,she became involved with organizations such as the Black Panthers as well as Affro Arts out of her native Chicago. She encountered folks who’d later be members of both Sun Ra’s Arkestra and Earth Wind & Fire through Affro Arts. And this was all before she teamed up with a band known as Ask Rufus,and went on to enormous success as a leader singer and eventually a solo artist. So from jazz to rock to funk,Chaka never strayed from what inspired her.
Now in my late teens,there was one piece of vinyl of Chaka’s that I suppose would be referred to as a grail by the modern vinyl collecting community. It was her self titled 1982 album. While the least commercially potent of her early/mid 80’s Warner Bros. albums produced by Arif Mardin,it was known as being among the most unique and funkiest of her solo records.I personally found the vinyl in Boston. Eventually I managed to purchase the rare CD import offline. The album itself is a masterpiece of brittle yet cinematic electro funk. Chaka’s solo albums generally contained at least one musical tribute to her love for jazz. And on here it was perhaps her most defining one in”Be Bop Medley”.
A powerful drum kicks off with Chaka’s screaming vocalese before a chanking rhythm guitar strums along. A Vocoder kicks into a sturdy 4/4 dance rhythm with a synth bass scaling down. That’s the rhythmic element linking each part of the medley. The Hot House part of it has a metallic synth playing the chordal pattern whereas a Arabic style Fender Rhodes solo segues into “East Of Suez” along with some spirited percussion. An electric sitar begins the frantic synth bass take on Epistrophy whereas Yardbird Suite and has Chaka duetting with the Vocorder. Con Alma slows the song briefly to a swinging ballad tempo as a sax led Giant Steps finds Chaka scatting her way out of the song.
Having listened to this particular song over and over again for fourteen years now,this is one of the most instrumentally intricate and futurist examples of jazz/funk in the 80’s. It showcases once and for all that the electro funk movement did not represent a great to the funk genre. As Miles Davis-later a friend and collaborator of Chaka’s might’ve said, all quality music needs is the best caliber of instrumentalists. Steve Ferrone,Will Lee,Hiram Bullock and especially Robbie Buchanan’s rhythmic synth bass absolutely burn on this song musically. Plus her jumps from melody,harmony to chordal based singing-changing pitch and speed on a whim,make this perhaps Chaka’s most defining solo number.
Another significant musical element to this is how Chaka and the musicians playing with her on this showcase how much the instrumental innovations of be bop carry over into the funk era. It’s a stripped down,synthesizer derived naked funk that provides the main groove of this song that’s present throughout. It protects the beat much as Max Roach might’ve with Charlie Parker. Showcasing the evolution of bop from Bird,Dizzy and Monk on through John Coltrane is accomplished here by Chaka’s lead voice being the horn like voice,and her backups being much like string orchestrations. So also on a purely musical level,this paved the way for a possible whole new level of funk for the early 80’s.
Filed under 1980's, Arif Mardin, be bop, Chaka Khan, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, drums, electro funk, Fender Rhodes, Hiram Bullock, Jazz, jazz funk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, percussion, Robbie Buchanan, Saxophone, scat singing, Steve Ferrone, synth bass, Thelonious Monk, Uncategorized, Warner Bros., Will Lee