From the late 70’s onward, Lee Ritenour had focused primarily on developing his music in somewhat more of a jazz-rock fusion context. While it seemed that music was starting to fade into a much softer sound, Rit managed to reflect that with a light instrumental touch that somehow managed to embrace great rhythmic and melodic strength to it. He became very in demand as a session guitar player too. Nearly a decade following his Rio album, Lee Ritenour makes a return to the music world playing solely the acoustic guitar.
And of course, this took him right back to the Brazilian music he never lost his affinity for. This album is home to two urban funk numbers in the opener “Night Rhythms” and “Rio Soul”. Neither blast you over the head with a hard groove,but present themselves as “fine wine” type jazz-funk grooves of the era. It’s Marcus Miller, Omar Hakim and Anthony Jackson from NYC that bring these to life as well. The Brazilian musicians have a chance to really catch fire on the rich samba of “Latin Lovers” which, much like the deeply rhythmic “Odile, Odila” features Brazilian scat singer Joao Bosco.
On the Latin soul of “Linda”,another vocalist Caetano Veloso sings the lead in Portuguese. “Humana”,”New York/Brazil” and the closer “The Inner Look” all focus in on the melodic end of Rit’s acoustic playing. I’ve heard it said in reference to Earth Wind & Fire that their music is sweet as funk can be. Lee Ritenour’s music reflects a similar impulse as he too has been heavily influenced throughout his career by the Brazilian musical bug. And again,he’s been able to zero in on that crucial spot in his musicianship where he can play softly and melodically while at the same time reflecting a hard driving rhythmic groove.
This same musical ethic applies to the instrumental powers of the other musicians playing with him. Also by playing also as accompaniment to different types of vocalists-both from New York, Brazil and LA he was at least able to bring the sometimes divergent musical interests of northern,western and southern America together by virtue of the musical kinsman ship of the personal involved. And the end result is a resounding success.
James Ambrose Johnson,better known as Rick James has very misunderstood legacy to a number of people. Due to the controversy surrounding his sexual and drug habits, his musical legacy has been somewhat buried in the public eye. He started out as a member of the group The Myna Birds featuring Neil Young. He signed to Motown successfully with his Stone City Band in the mid 70’s following only minor success on the A&M label. A year or so later,he helped champion the career of another fledgling Motowner known as Teena Marie on her first solo album. And by the time the 80’s rolled around,James’ was poised for a whole other level of super-stardom.
According to Rick’s autobiography Confessions Of A Super Freak he pointed out how,very much like Prince he was a multi instrumentalist capable of doing so in the recording studio. Still he felt that the interaction of a full band,with it’s different rhythm and horn sections,could provide a broader musical base for his songs. So in the very first year of the 1980’s decade,Rick recorded the first album on the Stone City Band alone called In ‘N’ Out. I found a vinyl copy of this while crate digging over a decade ago. It’s an excellent big band funk album overall. It was the next to the last song on it that really caught my attention. It’s called “F.I.M.A. (Funk In Mama Afrika)”.
A space funk synthesizer starts everything off with accenting,marching conga drums. A shrieking Brazilian style disco whistle inaugurates the main song. From there it’s a ferocious mix of phat percussion,bassy wah wah Clavinet and horns playing to the Afrocentric vocal chanting. On the second refrain,this chanting becomes a call and response between the choral and solo voices. The percussion is also turned up louder in the mix at this particular point. The disco whistle and a slithery,liquid synthesizer emerge as the accompanying rhythm to this as well. The song fades out as this point with no break of the orchestration of the following tune leading it out.
There are times when listening to vinyl that I’ll move the needle on the record to one particular song that excites me-over and over again. And this groove is near the top of that list. Must admit that at the time of first hearing this, I had somewhat typecasted Rick James’ “punk funk” sound into too strict of a box. Was not expecting to hear such a hardcore Afro-Brazilian funk jam from the same man about to unleash “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak” into the world. This song finds Rick playing a similar role to his band as Barry White did to Love Unlimited Orchestra-acting a an arranger and band leader (rather than singer) for a festive,funky and meaningful instrumental revelry.
Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afrocentrism, Brazil, clavinet, Disco, horns, Motown, percussion, Rick James, Stone City Band, synthesizer, Uncategorized, wah wah
When I was about 14-15 years old? I was listening to my parents original copy of the Michael Jackson album Off The Wall,which they’d gifted me a couple of years earlier-listening to the songs on the album that were not huge radio hits. This was actually something I found myself beginning to do a lot during adolescence-viewing many kinds of art on a broader level. One of these songs struck me so strongly that I began playing it over and over in succession. It was a Stevie Wonder composition entitled “I Can’t Help It”.
Musically it was played and written in a very otherworldly manner-with layers of synthesizers and keyboards creating a romantically sophisticated atmosphere. Thematically, it’s revealed itself to me as a song whose intent is very flexible depending on the interpretation. Between Rique and myself? Esperanza Spalding has come up a lot on this blog. And it was her interpretation of this classic Stevie Wonder song which, both instrumentally and lyrically, offered it that other kind of musical flight.
The song opens with what sounds to be an ascending, bubbling high pitched electric bass or low rhythm guitar (a difference I often find difficult to distinguish). It then eases smoothly into a marching Brazilian jazz/funk drum rhythm-which in itself is accompanied by a saxophone improvisation and a lightly processed electric piano playing the refrain. Esperanza’s vocals,themselves improvising by tempo and mood,perfectly accompany the instrumentation-which proceeds in and out of the same mixture of sounds that begins the song from refrain to the final and partially unaccompanied closing chorus.
Spalding’s multi faceted treatment of this song is enhanced by another element that’s narrative rather then musical. Still on it’s own, her version of this song (in the fine jazz tradition) expands it both rhythmically an harmonically. The feeling is therefore far looser than MJ’s original interpretation. It therefore has the flavor of how the song might’ve sounded had it been done by someone like Patrice Rushen around 1975 than something from later in the decade with a more structured pop craft about it.
It’s in Esperanza’s tonally diverse vocal interpretation that the difference in lyrical intent shines through. MJ’s made the lyrics sound coy and shy-more in tune with his own personality. On this version? It’s the narrative structure of the accompanying music video that sets the tone. We see Esperanza romantically disconnected from her boyfriend-all the while remembering a deeper romance she once had with a female artist. The more adolescent romantic fantasy of the original is replaced here by the confusion over ones sexual orientation as an adult whose already in a relationship. So in the case of both musical,lyrical and visual interpretation? This is by far the most powerful version of the song I’ve yet heard!
Filed under Afro-Latin jazz, bass guitar, Brazilian Jazz, classic funk, electric jazz, electric piano, Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Funk Bass, Fusion, jazz fusion, Jazz-Funk, LGBT rights, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized
During the summer of 2002 my father was continually playing an album entitled In Between. It was by Jazzanova, Berlin based DJ/producer collective whose members are Alexander Barck, Claas Brieler, Jürgen von Knoblauch, Roskow Kretschmann, Stefan Leisering, and Axel Reinem. Every time the two of us would run an errand or go on a short road trip? My father would continually play the albums opening song “Love And You & I”. Even for years after? My dad and I would fun on one another about how entranced he seemed to be with playing this song so often. But as is often the case with my musical influences such as my father? As my understanding and tastes in music continued to expand and grow,so did my appreciation of what this particular song,which I heard so often,was really all about.
The song starts out with a dragged out sounding sample of what I recognize easily as “Something’s Missing” by the Five Stairsteps,followed by the the same line sung by a 50’s type pop vocal choir. After a female singer responds “Could It Be Love” that slowly descends into a choir of the same phrase and a lower female singer simply singing “love”,the instrumental part comes in with a mellow jazzy piano punctuated by breaks of slow latin percussion and electric piano bursts. On the second refrain of this,the song goes into a deep male vocal chorus-followed by a solo voice singing “the sun,the moon,the sky and you and I”. This is accompanied by a hip-hop type funk drum beat-different and more flamboyant variations of which come in throughout this refrain into a female chorus returns,amid calling trumpet solos “love bum,bum,bum,bum”.
After all of this the song begins an entirely new instrumental cycle-going from a trumpet choir into a lightly Brazilian style funky electronic piano rhythm-before returning to a repeat of the first chorus. After this the song abruptly slows to a crawl before an EWF style vocal chorus of “LOVE LOVE LOVE” followed up by a complex string and acoustic guitar driven latin jazz rhythm kicks in with both the first and second vocal chorus responding the sound and emotional attitude. That leads into an instrumental bridge showcasing tbe upright bass of Paul Kleber accompanying vibist David Friedman. As Friedman’s bass fades out,Kleber’s bass fades back into a fade out of all the variations of the different “love” related vocal refrains from throughout the song-accompanied by a swinging,acoustic guitar led bossa nova up to the very end of the song itself.
What can I say about this song today? To boil it down? It just has everything. It has the funky electric guitar,the swinging jazzy drum brushing,the Brazilian percussion flavor and a harmonic mood that lays somewhere in the middle between wonder,anticipation,relaxation and of course love. Generally speaking in hip-hop,sampling of any sort is used as a form of archival musical identification. In this case a range of samples from everyone from 70’s jazz and jazz/fusion groups such as Catalyst,Bobby Hutcherson,Branford Marsalis,Antonio Carlos Jobim,Les DeMerlealong with soul/funk from The Sueremes with the Temptations and The Sylvers to create a live band Latin jazz/funk fusion flavor. Each sample is arranged in such a way where it sounds like a band actually interacting off their strengths and weaknesses as musicians-though the broken up nature of sampling is still made clear to the ears as well. It’s one of my very favorite examples and uses of jazz and funk sampling in the immediate post millennial era.
Filed under 2002, Brazil, Brazilian Jazz, DJ's, Funk, Funk Bass, Fusion, Hip-Hop, Jazzanova, Motown, Sampling