Tag Archives: Casablanca Records

78 On The Longplay: ‘Pleasure Principle’ by Parlet

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In historical terms, the clear witticism strung into P-Funk’s lyrical ethos contrasted greatly with the complex and often difficult realities of how the entire George Clinton universe functioned in its heyday. Always dreaming of creating a mini musical collective along the lines of his former employers at Motown, there were two factors that came until play-depending on who you believe. Either George’s grandiose gestures were no substitute for sound management. Or that he simply fell into the music business cliches that he continually rallied against.

One excellent example of this problem was Parlet. Originally conceived of as a somewhat poppier P-Funk girl group called The Parlettes, George trolled Casablanca yet again by offering them “a funky P-Funk girl group called Parlet”. Considering the collective nature of P-Funk’s live shows, this provided some excellent creative possibilities for Clinton’s expansive visions. Five different former P-Funk backup singers made up the group in their three year lifetime. Since the idea of who left Parlet at one time was so complicated, this album offers a more coherent a purely musical perspective.

The title song starts off the album with a classy bass driven, high stepping danceable funk piece that has a swing era jazz feeling about it-from the horn voicing’s to the “la la,la de da de,da da” harmonies of the trio themselves. “Love Amnesia” gets started with this powerful,popping bass/Clavinet line before going into what amounts to a very basic Parliament style jam- with a funky take on the psychic numbing of romance. “Cookie Jar” is one of the more unique P-Funk songs to me as it seems to be based around an acoustic blues guitar line-espousing the idea of a lady being in the position to play the field.

“Misunderstanding” is a complicated, jazz inflected ballad whereas “Are You Dreaming?” is one of the few songs that that put a P-Funk instrumental flavor to a disco friendly Philly soul sound. “Mr.Melody Man” has more of what they often call a “disco ballad” flavor- all more or less dealing with the different stages of romantic regret. Considering this is an album presenting so many musical ideas as yet fairly unique to P-Funk,the entire Parlet venture was a messy and chaotic one right from the start.

The trio consisting of Jeanette Washington, Debbie Wright and Marlia Franklin didn’t have much (if any) experience at front lining. And even less as a collective group. The resulting maelstrom of conflicts with Clinton and an his apparent under promotion of them resulted in both Franklin and Wright leaving Parlet at different times following this album’s release. Musically however it was very innovative to P-Funk’s future.

It showcased George and company’s embrace of disco-dance rhythms into their music before Parliament’s records themselves began to embrace them a year later. So it did seem,with disco being regarded as a very feminized phenomenon,that Parlet were essentially being used by Clinton as a platform to integrate this ethic into their sound. Since,of course the disco elements of this music was used ironically to decry the music’s presumed social attitudes,it’s a wonderfully strong and grooving album-right in key with P-funk’s vision of music culture.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” by Captain & Tennille

Captain & Tennille were a pop act that defined the late 70’s. They mixed singable,radio friendly melodies with a keyboard based sound. Daryl Dragaon was a former LA surf musician and keyboardist for the Beach Boys in their early 70’s. Toni Tennille-native of Montgomery Alabama,she attended Auburn University there and studied classical piano. After her family moved to California,Tennille was commissioned to write music for a rock musical called Mother Earth. It was on tour with this production in San Francisco that she met her future husband/musical partner Daryl Dragon.

Their first and most iconic song was the Neil Sedaka penned “Love Will Keep Us Together” in 1976. One thing I’ve realized over the years is how much talent Tennille possesses as a composer and vocalist-with her elaborate melodies and soulful belt of a voice.  By the end of the 70’s,the Captain & Tennille arrived at Casablanca records-to pursue a more soulful,funky sound.  One of the songs from their 1979 album Make Your Move reflected this. It was their version of the song Crusader Stix Hooper penned for B.B King called “Never Make A Move Too Soon”.

The sounds of a small nightclub audience opens up the album just before Ralph Humphrey’s five not,percussive drum kickoff chimes in. That along with Abraham Laboriel’s thick,spacious five note slap bass riff. Dragon’s organ like keyboards accent this before the first bars of the song begins. It starts out with a stripped out funky dance drum stomp with the bass hitting the end of every bar. It builds into a bigger mix with a consistent slap bass line,organ and horns. These horns accompany Dragon’s synthesizer solo on the bridge before a repeated refrain closes out the song with huge horn fanfare.

‘Never Make Your Move Too Soon” is a superb example of a sleek blues/funk stomp in the late 70’s. And from a group associated with big pop smash hits such as the ballad “Do It To Me One More Time”,featured on this same album as well. Tennille delivers this sassy tale of a gold digging male lover with the entire female equivalent of the thick vocal growl that B.B. King had brought to the original recording. The fact that this and its 1980 followup Keeping Our Love Warm was a full on contemporary soul/funk album made one wonder where this duo might’ve gone in continuing in this new musical direction.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Toejam” by Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela first came to my attention in the late 80’s/early 90’s. During that time,local oldies radio would often play his original instrumental version of “Grazing In The Grass”,complete with cowbell followed by the vocal version by Friends Of Distinction. Both versions were recorded only a year apart. And what caught my attention most was the fact that Masekela’s version was a lot slower-with a strong Latin/funk flavored soul jazz flavor about it. To this day,exploring Masekela’s rich and varied catalog of music hasn’t been nearly as a high a priority on my list as it should be. So today is the beginning of remedying that musical oversight to a degree.

The South African flugelhornist is turning 77 today. In the mid 90’s my father played for me the second song I heard of his-a heavy jazz/funk number from 1975 entitled “The Boy’s Doin’ It”. It was from an album of the same title,which marked the beginning of Masekela’s three album/two year stint on Casablanca Records. With Parliament being signed ot the label,P-Funk was entering it’s peak on the same record label during the same period. And Masekela gave up plenty of his own funk there as well. His final album for the label was 1977’s Melody Maker. And it contained one of these funk numbers he made entitled “Toejam”.

Yaw Opoku’s phasered ascending/descending bass line and Papa Frankie Todd’s slow,funky drumming starts out the song. Then Adaloja Gboyega’s electric piano comes in to play the bass accents. Throughout the song he also plays some bluesy synthesizer riffs as well. Percussionist Isaak Asante plays rhythmic chimes off the intro-as well as on the instrumental breakdown which showcases Masekela’s horn playing the descending melody. On the second refrain,Masekela plays a full  flugelhorn solo thats full of sustained improvisations.  Before the songs final chorus,the percussion rolls into the drum / bass/ keyboard intro before fading out entirely.

What really stands out about this song is how succinct the funk of it all is. A band consisting of a good bassist,drummer,keyboardist and horn soloist could almost take a school lesson based on how it’s construction. Most of the solos find each instrumental element taking their turns that are singled out whilst also playing in grooving unison. Also even with the presence of Afrocentric percussion,this song is straight out of the jazz-funk school of the Headhunters and Crusaders of the time. With a filtered bass line that also continues with P-Funk’s love of scaling melodic bass lines,this was also a good closeout jam of sorts of Masekela’s period on Casablanca.

 

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