Tag Archives: Beyonce’

Harriet Brown Does “Prince Weird” Right

brown

Is there any other musical influence as pervasive, yet elusive as Prince? Practically everyone in the contemporary pop landscape is influenced by him on some level–from Bruno Mars to Beyoncé to Young Thug–yet hardly anyone is able to capture what really made him great. D’Angelo has some of his electrifying stage presence; Miguel channels a bit of his sex appeal (albeit in watered-down, heteronormative form); DāM-FunK evokes his studio wizardry and occasional cantankerousness; but none of these are adequate replacements–nor would any of them claim to be.

Especially inimitable, and especially missed, is Prince’s weirdness. While the aforementioned Bruno Mars can do a serviceable enough version of “Let’s Go Crazy” at the Grammys, it’s hard to imagine him plumbing the psychosexual depths of a “Shockadelica,” let alone an “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” It’s that ineffably eccentric quality that sets Prince apart from his imitators: most of whom, quite frankly, know better than to even try.

To be clear, I’m not trying to set up an argument for Inglewood-via-Bay Area artist Harriet Brown as the one true inheritor of “Prince weird”; that would be hyperbole in the extreme. But of the legion of contemporary artists whose music echoes the Purple One’s, Brown is the one who seems to get “it” most. Just listen to the digitally-manipulated voices he puts on in the intro of his recent album, Contact, shifting from “Bob George” low to “Camille” high; or the way his elastic falsetto bends almost comically on the line “sometimes I think I’m an alien on your planet” from “ESP.”  Or hell, just look at the guy: that exaggerated bowl cut, like an Akira character come to life, with an inscrutable, gender-bending stage name that doesn’t seem to have any real-world frame of reference (unless he’s just a really big fan of the author of Brave Girl Eating). “I like people not exactly knowing everything going on with me,” Brown told the LA Weekly in a profile last month–an awfully Princely statement if ever there was one.

But I also don’t want to give the impression that Brown is just an imitator; his sound certainly channels Prince, but it doesn’t sound like an ’80s throwback. If anything, he sounds a bit like if Prince had evolved more gracefully into the ’90s and 2000s, subtly incorporating the influences of hip- and trip-hop into his sound rather than clumsily attempting to appropriate them. In other words, Contact is forward-looking, 21st-century music: music that builds on the past as a foundation, rather than trying to retreat into it. And that may be the best credit to Prince’s legacy of all.

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Filed under 2010's, 2017, Prince

Stevie Is Wonderful: Inner Visions Of Songs In The Key Of Life-An All-Star Grammy Tribute To Stevie Wonder

Janelle,Jill And India Pay Tribute to Stevie

On Presidents Day evening,the Grammy Awards association aired a television special on CBS featuring contemporary artists,many of them award winners themselves,in order to pay tribute to Mister Stevie Wonder. Not only was this a tribute to an artist I completely admire creatively. But someone who won awards and earned his success and fortune through the true innovation of sound. It was an event filled with many surprises. And today I would like to talk about what I saw,sung,laughed and danced to watching that night right along with so much of America!

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The evening began with Beyonce performing a medley of Stevie’s first hit “Fingertips” and “Master Blaster” joined by guitar player Ed Sheeran. The highlight of this intro was from the guitarist Gary Clark Jr,who played a rocking blues electric guitar solo on a rendition of “Higher Ground”.

LL Cool J

LL Cool J was of course MC’ing the entire affair as he has the previous two Grammy Award ceremonies. He began by talking about Stevie Wonder’s effect on his life-as many of the artist this night did. Wonder was visibly moved to tears by this level of affection for his art. Towards the end of the special,LL asked the audience all over the world to close our eyes for a moment to contemplate the level of vision Wonder projects into his music. A very meaningful gesture.

Gaga doing I Wish

Lady Gaga’s performance of “I Wish” moved me perhaps the most on this special. Playing the Fender Rhodes electric piano with the help of keyboard maestro (and former Wonderlove member) Greg Phillinganes, Gaga was moved to move rhythmically to the music as Phillinganes took over the keyboard soloing. Not only was this a pronounced celebration of the instrumental ability of an artist mainly acknowledged as a performer. But was a pretext to a beautiful shout out and citation to the often very unsung talent of Greg Phillinganes himself-especially as a participant in Stevie’s ascent into iconic status in music.

Annie Lennox Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life - An All-Star GRAMMY Salute

Annie Lennox took on “My Cherie Amour”,vocally taking on a full bodied understanding of the emotional juxtaposition between passion,flirtatiousness and awkwardness expressed in this song. Jill Scott,Janelle Monae and India Arie-pictured at the top of this blog paying tribute to their favorite Stevie Wonder albums,gave a truly powerful group duet of the song “As”. Not only did they successfully pay tribute as presenter Mary Wilson indicated of the classic girl group dynamic? But each of them took a try at imitating Stevie’s famous growled vocal bridge of the song.

ryan_tedder_pharrell_stevie_wonder_tribute_h_2015

Pharrell Williams and Ryan Tedder did a spirited duet version of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”-pointing out that often a song intended as a singular expression by an individual can be reflected by two as well.

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson bought her powerful gospel fueled pipes to a passionate take on the renowned ballad “All In Love Is Fair”. She maintained the flavor of the song as a secularized romantic hymn until the very last note was sung. Stevie’s daughter Aisha joins Ne-Yo in a duet of “Isn’t She Lovely”-essentially paying it forward to her fathers musical tribute to her birth.

andre-bocelli

Andrea Bocelli shares physical blindness in common with Stevie Wonder and for this particular occasion? He gives his own vocally expression rendition of “I Just Called To Say I Love You”. Ed Sheeran did an acapella/guitar rendition of “I Was Made To Love Her” showcasing Wonder’s talents as a multi instrumentalist.

ariana-grande-and-babyface-stevie-wonder-tribute

Relative newcomer Ariana Grande performed “Signed Sealed and Delivered” in an acoustic bluesy soul flavored rendition with Babyface performing the vocal duet and playing acoustic guitar in accompaniment. Another example of a song intended from one person’s point of view-this time taken from a male/female dynamic.


Overall this was a very impressive tribute. All of the participants did something totally unexpected with Wonder’s songs. And most importantly? There was a great deal of understanding of the man’s musical visions from them as well. Paul McCartney made a brief guest appearance sharing personal reminiscences of knowing “Little Stevie” as a teenager. And perhaps Tony Bennett before his performance of “For Once In My Life” said one key artistic point-that Stevie Wonder’s vocal and compositional spontaneity made him one of the best jazz artist Tony’d ever heard.

Perhaps the best observations came from Stevie Wonder himself. Having been cited for his often unsung importance as the public consciousness of the crusade to make Martin Luther King Jrs birthday a national holiday in 1980? Stevie played a medley of his fusion instrumental “Contusion” and “Sir Duke”. He than spoke to the audience about how the only way humanity could deal with it’s present cultural clashes would be to come together with our differences,not use them as a wedge. The fact Stevie’s views on humanitarianism have remained consistent throughout the years says the most important thing about the interconnection between this man and his musical offerings.

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Filed under Andrea Bocelli, Annie Lennox, Ariana Grande, Babyface, Beyonce', Ed Sheeran, India.Arie, Janelle Monae, Jennifer Hudson, Jill Scott, Lady Gaga, LL Cool J, Paul McCartney, Pharrell Willaims, Ryan Tedder, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett

Albums Matter: Andre’s List Of The Top Funky Full Length Albums Of From The Past Five Years

Prince At the grammys

The 57th annual Grammy Award ceremony’s this past Sunday seemed to have surprised everyone. Many performances had a far more serious, even evangelical tone with references to domestic violence and the revived understanding of racism bought on by the police violence of 2014. Maturity and growth were very heavily emphasized on every level-performance and presentation wise. It was Prince,who just released two albums at the end of the last year,who got everyone’s attention-with the words printed above spoken as he presented the Grammy for the best album of 2014.

Prince’s words are what moved me to pick this particular topic for this weeks blog. One very important musical factor shared with my blogging partner Rique is our appreciation and advocacy for the full length album as an important artistic format in terms of how the music we love and are socially moved by is presented. To have someone with as rich a musical history as Prince bring this up at a major award ceremony confirmed the 2010’s have been all about the revival of the album as a driving force in the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum in particular. So here’s my list,year by year of the music on that particular playing field that’s deeply effected my listening.

2010

Erykah Badu Return Of The Ankh

Erykah Badu is always one to throw the unexpected into her grooves. Here her thick,burbling jams blend into songs that are not only a cohesive statement but when sampling is used? They are of things like Paul McCartney album tracks of AOR oriented fusion artists such as David Sancious or Roy Ayers’ Sylvia Striplin. A wondrously sexy celebration of the funk album.

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Janelle Monae here was a key figure in the focus of both my music related blogs with her multi-genre embrace of the Afro Futurist ethic. This album was and is a true game changer in that regard.

John Legend Wake Up!

With both artists always edging just on the border of funk with their own respective releases? The groove burst out completely and with a total fluidity for John Legend and his backing band The Roots-including drummer/producer ?ueslove, for this (so far) one time musical collaboration.

2011

Beyonce 4

Known more for being innovative in terms of single songs,Beyonce’s fourth solo album gained a complete full length flow with a much more mature sound. Including the very polished Quincy Jones/Westlake style production of “Love On Top”.

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz always had loads of funk in him. Here and there. Took him a long time before he fully identified with that funkier instrumental groove. And did so on one of his most thorough musical statements to date.

2012

Chris Brown Fortune

With contemporary electronic pop/hip-hop/dance music usually having enough energy to stretch only across a few songs? Chris Brown,during a less than satisfactory period for him personally no less,managed to take the contemporary musical end of his genre and stretch it out successfully longer than I’ve heard most do such a thing in some time.

Antibalas

This explosively percussion Afro-Funk group recording for Daptone were so connected to the original Afrocentric  pulse that spawned the original funk process groups such as Santana,Mandrill and War that following this album they became the backing band for the Broadway musical Fela! A rebirth of full length poly-rhythm at it’s finest!

Kaleidoscope Dream

Psychedelic,meditative and non traditionally structured sophomore release from new comer Miguel.

Victor Wooten

Bassist Victor Wooten saw such depth in this material that he released it both as a vocal and instrumental piece. Very original musical presentation at this time.

Macy Gray Talking Book

Macy Gray bought out her inner Sly Stone for this literal celebration of the album-re-making every song in original order from Stevie Wonder’s 1972 breakthrough album Talking Book on it’s 40th anniversary.

Talented bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding brings out the sprawling mid 70’s jazz/funk vibe for what is probably her most defining album as of yet.

Radio Music Society

Electronica meets boogie funk from a very interesting source blending a hard grooving as well as an ethereal quality.

2013

Toro Y Moi

Potent mix of electronica and boogie/synth funk.

Jyoti

Very bold sound from Georgia Anne Muldrow that embraces dramatic jazz/funk with a boom rap approach to production.

Trombone Shorty

Crescent City native Trombone Shorty presents the instrumental style of horn funk as a genre of sorts all it’s own,with many different tributaries,on this one album.

Apocalypse

Flying Lotus bassist Thundercat brings a huge,cinematic approach to psychedelic jazz-funk.

20 20 Experience

The first of two Justin Timberlake comeback’s this year. Probably a huge re-awakening for the album length music format,complete with 7-8 minute jams,that bough extended soul/funk to the broader contemporary pop audience.

2014

Pharrell

Long time producer emerges as a fully complete solo artist-full of funkified rhythmic energy and shook the world up in a way no funky music has in over three decades with “Happy”.

Kelis-Food

Kelis returns with an album that takes a very JB like organic instrumental soul/funk turn.

Paula

Robin Thicke’s emotionally charged break up album is a full on raw, muscular funk/soul extravaganza

Plectrumelectrum

Prince and the female instrumental trio 3rdEyeGirl become part of the double edged album sword in his studio comeback. It showcases a multi hued psychedelic funk/rock sound where the whole is definitely more important than the sum of it’s parts.

Goapele-Strong-As-Glass

Oaklands own Goapele lends the funk of Pharrell Williams and flowing,piano based jazzy soul/pop on an album that celebrates the flow of musical depth,dignity and elegance.

Black Messiah

D’Angelo shakes the world up with an extremely funkified statement that is still,at the time of this writing,showing people that black lives (and black music) matter a great deal.

2015 (So Far)

Uptown Special

With the month of January often being a driftwood month for new music? Mark Ronson brings Bruno Mars,Mystikal and Stevie Wonder together for some serious,churning “uptown funk? of many colors!


There were honestly more albums than I could’ve seriously listed in this blog that also fit right into it. But these ones made the most important statements on their own terms perhaps. A single song will always say a great deal. But if one impulse or a series of musical/lyrical impulse can be expanded out in a way that expands the mind naturally through a powerfully grooving auditory experience? Than I saw so much the better. So let’s all have it for the musical impact of the album! It’s a key organ in the anatomy of the groove!

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Filed under Beyonce', D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Goapele, Janelle Monae, John Legend, Justin Timerlake, Kelis, Lenny Kravitz, Macy Gray, Mark Ronson, Miguel, Pharrell Willaims, Prince, Robin Thicke, The Roots, Trombone Shorty

Anatomy of THE Groove 9/19/14 Rique’s Pick: “Work it Out” by Beyonce

The Queen Bee’s solo debut, “Work it Out”, was a song for the soundtrack of the Austin Powers franchise’s ’70s film, “Austin Powers Goldmember.” On this funky delight, B performs somewhat in character, the movies heroine Foxxy Cleopatra, a Foxxy Brown/Cleopatra Jones mash up that represents the “bad ass soul sister” image of 1970s blaxploitation. But, I also suspect B’s alter ego “Sasha” was in the house as well with Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo on the recording session for this one. “Work it Out” is brimming with soulful sexual confidence, with B telling her man, “we can’t wait for the bedroom, we just hit the floor.” I must admit, as a fledgling musican dying to drop the funk bomb, this joint had me kinda jelly in ’02. Skateboard P and Chad made some real true ’70s funk in 2002, and at the same time it was old school, it had the instrumental tone of the Neptunes space age funk as well.

“Work it Out” is an example of the Neptunes mastery at the song writing skill called “interpolation.” Of course, they’re being sued right now for doing the same thing on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” When I heard this song, I knew it was an arch funky riff but I couldn’t figure out where I’d heard similar. It was something about the combination of the heavy bassline that leaves space enough for God to walk through it and the rhythmically active Clavinet part. It just hit me recently: “Work it Out” is an interpolation of Herbie Hancock’s 1973 version of his song “Watermelon Man” from the “Headhunters” LP. Just dig on “Watermelon Man’s” intro. Heavy bass hitting on the one, and then jumping into the upper registers after that opening statement, with the clavinet dancing over and through the holes the bass leaves. For this song though, Pharrell and Chad make the clavinet line a little bit more repetitive and simpler, cutting it down to a one bar pattern. Of course, the interpolation is interesting because “Watermelon Man” in it’s Headhunters version was also a cut MC’s loved to rhyme over in the ’90s.

The Neptunes borrow that basic funky motif, just as a funk band would, and lay a unique track for B to show her ass performance wise over. The drum track is very heavy on snare drum, like a New Orleans beat, with very little kick drum, the kicks only thump on the upbeat leading into beat one and on beat one. On the chourus of “Work it Out”, a sax riffs behind B, which I thought was a corny synth sax sound at first but I can stomach more now. When B says, “Chad blow your horn now”, we get a taste of baritone sax, which gives the piece a James Brown vibe, reminiscent of the James Brown Orchestra (not the J.B’s), when the Baritone sax added to the bottom of the music.

B takes this funky track and goes off, singing super soulful melismas, and adding all kinds of soul ad libs, like “looka here.” At one point she says, “Now that you’ve given me a taste of your honey/I want the whole beehive.” Which might be interesting to her similarly named fans. B’s vocal performance though, is magic, confident, sexy, powerful, soulful and funky. The video is also an orgy of groovy ’70s funk band aesthetics, rivaled in that time period maybe only by Cee Lo’s unheralded classic, “Closet Freak.” Beyonce began her solo career with a bang, deep in Neptunes assisted, Herbie Hancock and James Brown derived funk, channeling strong women like Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin and strong men like James Brown. And therein lies my admiration for B, her ability to dominate on funky groove tunes while the whole world thinks R&B is simply about slow love songs. Of course, this is an avenue I’d love to see her pursue more, let Sasha out girl! Now that some 12 years have passed I have to go back on my earlier resistence to this as light funk and put it up there on the one where it belongs. And also, with the time period of Virgo drawing near its end, I have to send a big shot out to the one thing I always dug about the video, namely, the word “Virgo” written across the back of B’s low ride Jeans and her hula hooping. Whew…. we gonna work it out indeed!

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Filed under 1970's, Beyonce', Blogging, Destiny's Child, Funk, Funk Bass, Herbie Hancock, Hip-Hop, Pharrell Willaims

Anatomy of THE Groove 9/19/2014: “Love On Top” by Beyonce’

Beyonce’ is figure who,interestingly enough has spawned a surprising amount of controversy and downright hostility in a specific circle around me. Having had little luck relating musically to my peers in the past? It has continued to be my mother and father who remain my main guides in terms of music. Beyonce’ represents a point where that began to change.  For their part? My parents are not Beyonce’ fans. She has provoked far more dislike from them than Prince ever did during his prime. My father seems to see her as unimaginative and uninteresting. Whereas my mother views her as nothing more than a performing prostitute-someone sacrificing their very real talent merely to make a quick buck and get attention. At first I was completely with them on that. And truthfully? I still feel those are valid points. Yet Beyonce’ is a character with more to her than her flamboyant onstage persona would suggest.

The most obvious element for an instrumentally inclined music lover about Beyonce’s sound would be the fact that so much of her music is rather non Western based rhythmically. From her years in Destiny’s Child on through her solo career,songs such as “Jumpin’,Jumpin”,”Survivor” and “Naughty Girl” were based in an Arabic sound while “Get Me Bodied” and “Single Ladies” admittedly were inspired by the Nigerian Highlife sound of Fela Kuti. In short,Beyonce’s sound is very ethnically Afrocentric. That’s of course taken outside the contemporary production settings of the given songs.  By embracing many elements of her African (not merely African American) roots,yet embracing some of the nastier elements of modern American performance ethic? She has got many people talking-some in a positive way and some not. The song I am discussing today found Beyonce’ in another sort of groove. It is her song “Love On Top” from her 2011 album 4.

She begins with a finger snapping vocalese of “ba,ba,ba,da,ba,ba ba”,accompanied by both a high pitched keyboard melody and,just as the song is joined by an sizzling bass synthesizer Beyonce frankly asks to “bring the beat in!” The beat in question is very much a slow,slogging type of funk drumming with a similar attitude to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. At the same time,a chunky and solid guitar line shows up playing a lowly mixed yet sonically powerful and funky lead line. Beyonce meanwhile is singing of a relationship that’s matured to the point where the love grows stronger after conflict and may inspire others-so long as she has her “love on top”. The high pitched synthesizer melody,its accompanying keyboard accents and the bass keyboard line all support the main guitar riff. And that maintains itself throughout the song. Its Beyonce’s vocals that provide the majority of chordal changes. That is,until the final refrain when the instrumentation all climbs up a whole chord until the song comes to a stop.

The uptown,funky urban bump of the song was said to have been inspired by Michael Jackson’s late 70’s/early 80’s sound when working with Quincy Jones and his Westlake studio crew. While I can hear that to a degree? Somehow I feel that may have been just a little bit of a patronizing gesture to certain contemporary music listeners who are perceived to have not developed an ear for listening to music of that era. From the first time I ever heard this song?  First thing I thought of was George Benson’s “Turn Your Love Around”-with that R&B  rhythm shuffle. That Quincy/Westlake production style of the post disco years was widely influential on many people. And when I hear this? The post disco/boogie oriented sound with that production sheen about it instantly bought to mind just how spacious that studiocentric soul/funk-pop sound became during the early 80’s. This level of funk sophistication was something I’d never really heard out of Beyonce’-who usually went (and often still goes) for rhythmic excitement over instrumental cleanliness. This is a sound the Crusaders first perfected,Quincy’s Westlake crew managed to cross over and has become part of the American pop/R&B lexicon of music. And it’s a tribute to Beyonce’s talents that she’s come to understand it’s importance and vitality.

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Filed under Beyonce', Boogie Funk, Crusaders, Destiny's Child, Fela Kuti, George Benson, Late 70's Funk, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove 5/23/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Losing You” By Solange’

Being the youngest sister in a musical family can be a challenge. You can ask Janet Jackson,Pat Sylvers DeRusso. And today it would be Solange Knowles. Stereotypically she has always tended to be in Beyonce’s better promoted performance shadow-focusing on songwriting and musicianship to a stronger degree over Beyonce’s celebrity orientations. Sadly,Solange has entered into a controversy recently that could have the potential to spoil her strong reputation as a funky soul singer/songwriter. Personally? I feel these two factors which were just mentioned are interrelated. Yet during the course of this week as the matter involving her and her sisters marriage,which I refuse to get into here,has unfolded it seemed appropriate to do my own part to focus on Solange’s important musical accomplishments as opposed to any yellow journalism that currently follows behind her. And one of the best ways to do this is from a song she wrote and performed with her creative partner Dev Hynes in late 2012 called “Losing You”.

The song itself opens up with a swelling cornucopia of heavy African percussion,conga and bongo drums keeping time in a very polyrhythmic fashion to a very strident 4/4 “on the floor” style post disco beat. Weaving within this is an usual sound,perhaps percussion or a keyboard,that sounds something like a cross between children at play or tweeting birds. It has a very strong Brazilian effect either way. After a couple refrains of this a polyphonic synthesizer comes into the song bringing the melody. It’s soon joined by a thick,phat and popping bass line and another synthesizer part providing an accent that has the sound of a glistening,ringing bell. Over this insistent groove Solange sings in her rich,expressive yet low key voice about breaking up with a lover who seems to be insisting that she is entirely at fault in the situation. By the end,she is still unsure. And the fact that instrumentation stays on the one so insistently illustrates this concept.

Musically speaking,this song is a vital extension on the dance sound Madonna had on her earliest hits-with Mtume’s Reggie Lucas involved. This songs particular variation on the boogie funk sound of the early 80’s does mirror a time when even MTV had to refer to Madonna’s early disco/funk/boogie hits as being “rock” to spike interests. What Solange and Dev add to this mix is heavily layered Afro-Latin percussion and effects-which were a huge part of disco era late 70’s funk as well. By her own admission Solange has devoted herself to carrying on in a slickly produced instrumental variety of funk/soul music from the late 70’s/early 80’s as the basis for her sound. And doing so by her own admittance due to the proliferation of “R&B-gone-electronic dance music tracks” and that it was “remarkable for what it suggests about the direction of pop music right now”.

Shooting the video in the shanty-like township of Lango in Cape Town,South Africa during her photo shoot for Elle magazine added to the strong sense of Afro Futurism that Solange is suggesting in the song. Especially with the extra’s decked out in the manner of Afrocentric fashionista’s and engaging in general friendly farce and horseplay with her. Solange Knowles is an important talent in terms of the live instrumental funk revival. And I fully support her musical and personal position in hypothetical concert with her more commercially popular sister. She represents one head of a two headed family hydra who both bring to mind different sides of the post feminist black female iconoclast. And with Solange zeroing in more on her instrumental musical concept? She surely has a strong future ahead of her.

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Filed under 1980's, Africa, Beyonce', Disco, Funk, Solange', Soul