Tag Archives: Chaka Khan

Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter Turns 40: Joni Mitchell In Dreamland

 

Joni Mitchell did something very special in the mid to late 1970’s. Something that impacted on me personally roughly 25 years later. She began to combine folk oriented singer/songwriter instrumentation with jazz chords and harmonies. Her approach at this evolved from working with Crusaders Joe Sample and Wilton Felder to fretless bass icon Jaco Pastorius-all between 1974 and 1974. In particularly on 1975’s The Hissing Of Summer Lawns,  Mitchell’s music was her own unique hybrid. Neither jazz or folk. This all came to a tremendous head with her 1977 release Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.

It was an album where the cover art (as was typical done by Mitchell herself) drew me into its musical world. It depicts three images of herself. One seems to be a herself as a teenager. The other is a character she portrayed at a Halloween party named Art Nouveau. This was based on a black man she met who complimented her at that time. Mitchell describes her soul as “not being that of a white woman”.  And that she often writes from a black perspective. Embracing the jazz aestetic, from be bop style poetics to the music itself, all became a part of what made this 1977 double LP what it was.

The song “Cotton Avenue” starts the album with an overture, one where Mitchell is playing six differently tuned guitar tracks simultaneously. The song itself is a swinging number-heavily textured by Jaco’s atmospheric bass lines.  The faster “Talk To Me” and the slower “Jericho” both explore the approach of Mitchell’s guitar with Jaco’s bass-playing in an almost Salsa like rhythm on the former, and back to the jazzy swing on the latter. “Paprika Pains” is a 16+ minute cinematic number, showcasing Mitchell’s improvised piano with full jazz orchestration.

“Paprika Plains”‘s music also serves as the soundtrack to a first person description of a late night bar gathering of Canadian First Nations tribe’s people-poetically touching on matters of alcoholism and despair. “Otis & Marlena” is a fairly conventional country tinged folk number. Its based in the acoustic guitar. Its a character sketch of two people vacationing in Miami while “Muslims are sticking up Washington”. “The Tenth Worlds” is primarily the work of Puerto Rican percussionist Manolo Badrena, one which focuses only on his fluid Afro-Latin percussion and improvised vocal chants.

Weather Report member Alex Acuna joins in for “Dreamland”, my personal favorite number on this album.”Dreamland” merges an even broader (and somewhat slower) Salsa percussion sound with the highly hummable, Caribbean folk style melody of Mitchell’s. Chaka Khan provides a very tribal sounding back up vocalese right along with Mitchell’s on the song. The title song is somewhat similar to “Talk To Me” from earlier in the album-as well as “Coyote” from her previous album Heijra.  The more rocky “Off Night Backstreet” and the folk oriented “The Silky Veils Of Ardor” close out the album.

Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter represents the official birth of what could best be described as a Joni Mitchell sound. Its true that jazz always accommodated other musical styles into it. Mitchell wasn’t new at doing that. But she did manage to expand on the possibilities of jazz fusion at the same time as she did the same for her own songwriting style. That coalition of personal and overall creative intent would is likely a lot rarer a thing than it might seem. And just for creating a welcoming and enticing entry point into Joni Mitchell’s musical hybridizing makes this album one of her most iconic ones.

 

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‘Ask Rufus’ At 40: Lifting You Up With An Everlasting Love

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Ask Rufus was actually the original name of the band-named from an article in Popular Mechanics. It was a long road from their original lead singer Paulette McWilliams to her young friend Chaka Khan taking over. On January 19th,1977 that original name for Rufus was used for the title of their fifth studio album. Personally,I wasn’t sure if I much enjoyed it after first picking the vinyl up at a Boston record store in 2001. Perhaps the terrible quality of the record played into it. Especially upon hearing it on CD some years later,the album revealed itself as perhaps the bands strongest album from a musical standpoint.

Ask Rufus doesn’t exactly sound like the four that came before it. Some of that was intentional. As Chaka Khan once said,it was her an her husband’s Richard’s attempt to “do away with the leathers,feathers and wild child act”. She wanted to focus on the band and her vocal ability. Its also the type of album that can engender many personal memories for people. Its actually an album that inspired me to begin writing my own song lyrics with jazz/funk music in mind. In his book  Mo Meta Blues, Questlove gave his own personal story about it,and I quote:

My parents were going to do an extended trip. When they told me how long they’d be away, the string breakdown of “Egyptian Song” came on. And then the story got sadder. In Louisiana, my aunt Karen met a man, and they decided to get married. She took the record with her.”

There are many things I could say about Ask Rufus after having over 16 years experience with the album. One major recent revelation was my boyfriend Scott listening to the album with me for the first time and mentioning the first side’s closer “Everlasting Love” resembling George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”. Usually a more vocally focused music listener,I deeply appreciate Scott’s musical observation on that. Of course eight years ago on Amazon.com,I managed to get a hold on the musical vibe of the album on my review there-which of course I will now re-share with you.


Rufus And Chaka Khan,aside from CK’s amazing and influential singing have always been just mildly underrated as musicians. In the years after the debut,especially with the style of the previous Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan their style had been growing from that of a conventional 70’s funk band to what they became with this album.By far this would have to be described as Rufus’s artistic pinnacle and is today justly revered. It is here that Rufus made the transformation to being a fully sophisticated band with brilliant songwriting,fully mature and reflective lyrics and plenty of jazz influences.

With a couple minor exceptions this album showcases Rufus sticking with a mid tempo jazzy soul/funk sound and a great deal of sultry. Not only is it solid proof that funk doesn’t have to be a non-stop rhythm barrage to groove like mad but it features songs that all sound like mini classics.”At Midnight” is the main uptempo song here.The production is far from slick and features probably the best use of synthesizer on a mid period Rufus Recording-the simple beat sounds deceptively like disco but on the breakdown it’s perfectly clear that it isn’t.

Lyrically it’s clear that Chaka,who participates very strongly as a writer here is content on reflecting on how her own complicated marriage and personal life at the at time is effecting her feelings on her own womanhood-strong emphasizing emotional involvement.”Close The Door” is one mournful example;Chaka’s tortured voice and the spare backdrop just drips with melancholy of the soul.

The superb orchestration of Claire Fischer (cousin of the bands drummer Andre Fischer) not only makes that tune so wonderful but dominates the equally mournful instrumental “A Slow Screw Against The Wall”;the briefly funk blowout of “A Flat Fry”,featuring Ron Wood is pretty much the last tune of that type you’ll find here.The memorable and singable “Earth Song” features a cryptic lyric that,if understood sums up Chaka’s lyrical involvement here as she sings,”Stars/what a mystical woman you’ve made me” and on “Everlasting Love” we’re introduced into a deceptively musically simple vision of romance and sensuality.

“Hollywood” is…well almost an uptempo song because it’s so sprightly even as it looks at the effect fame and surroundings of luxury effect people.”Magic In Your Eyes” is yet another excellent romantic moment whereas “Better Days”,co-written by Chaka’s then husband Richard Holland reflects on a possible optimistic future for the then faltering couple.As for the music,let’s just say I think Dido was highly influenced by this song when she did her hit song Thank You ovet two decades later. The title of “Egyptian Song” sounds like the song and lyrics will be very complicated and they are.

 

From the melody down to it’s lyrics it reflects on Chaka’s journey to discover her racial identity that was evidently at that point still very much a part of her life. Here you here a very different kind of Rufus,challenging themselves all around to be a band to contend with a very different kind of groove for a very different kind of funk. There is little likelihood you’ll ever come across an album in Rufus catalog or anyone else’s that sounds quite like this.And that really says an awful lot for this.


Today,I have Ask Rufus on both CD and a far superior vinyl copy that included the original poster. Whether or streaming this album or hearing it via any physical media, no changes in technology will take away what Rufus accomplished on this album.  As I recently learned, it was the first and only platinum album. Perhaps their change in approach to a jazzier,more mature groove had something to do with that. Andre Fischer would be ejected from the group after this album. And it ended up being a dry run for both the bands future career as session aces and Chaka’s solo career that was right around the corner for her.

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Record Store Stories: Happy 64th Birthday To Chaka Khan, Plus Rufus’s ‘Street Player’s Vinyl LP Goodies

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Chaka Khan hit yet another personal rough patch last year so it seems. Thought she had to cancel her concert tour to re-enter rehab,she has reached 64 without succumbing to last years “funkapocalypse” of musical artists deaths. Though her solo career has been an amazing progression,there will always be something a bit magical to me about her grooves with Rufus. Especially in the mid 70’s to early 80’s. The scope of evolution from their blues/rock oriented early sound to a uniquely produced jazzy funk sound in their later years really came into focus on their 1978-just prior to Chaka going solo. The name of that album was Street Player.

This album marked the moment when David “Hawk” Wolinski became an official member of the band. And their one and only album featuring Andre Fischer’s successor in drummer Richard “Moon” Calhoun. This is not a story about this album however. Its about being in my town of birth-Waterville,Maine. And visiting a record store there with my boyfriend Scott called Record Connection. This record store is somewhat nationally famous so it seems. And between its full priced records and dollar bin vinyl,there is always something unique to be found at this place.

Whilst visiting there last time,I found a copy of Street Player on vinyl for 4 bucks. I had a CD copy but the cover had gone missing and I always loved the gate fold of the band playing B-ball. Upon getting the album out into my mom’s car,I found something very exciting. It was a press kit filled with official promo photos and information sheets. It revealed an amazing on the spot type history of Rufus,Chaka Khan and their musical position by the late 70’s. For Chaka’s birthday celebration,I’m going to post this material here to speak for itself in regard to the band,its perceptions and those of their record label.


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-Happy 64th birthday CK!

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Be Bop Medley” by Chaka Khan

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.

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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

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/8/2015: “Have A Good Time” by Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan

From the moment it showed up in the record racks of Borders Books & Music 20 years ago or so? This self titled 1975 album by Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan leaped out at me. From the cover featuring the sweaty cartoon lips to the showing Khan,covered in a feathered leather outfit, sprawled out in a lip shaped easy chair? The imagery evoked an instantly funky and playful sexuality. Ended up picking up the album (along with it’s two predecessors) through the BMG Music Club. It ended up on near constant rotation during the summer of 1997.

Lately the talks between myself and Henrique has been focusing a great deal on the classic 70’s funk bands who had very few members,yet had very phat grooves and general sounds. And invariably Rufus would up being mentioned constantly in these conversations. While browsing through what I’ve written hear? It’s come to my attention that no song by Rufus has ever gotten a proper overview on this blog. Could not think of a better song to remedy that with than another conversation piece between myself and Henrique: the 1975 jam “Have A Good Time”.

It gets moving right out of the box with a chunky,bluesy bass/guitar interaction between Tony Maiden and Bobby Watson. The sustained organ solo of Kevin Murphy chimes in along with Chaka and the backup singers creating a wail of vocalese. The music breaks in and out between the opening bass/guitar exchanges,the stop/start drumming of Andre Fischer and the fanfares of the Tower Of Power horn section. The bridge features a spirited sax solo before another refrain-the song fading out with the band singing “everybody have a good time” in harmony to a rocked up,bassy guitar solo.

One of the things this song brings out is that even during the original funk era? Most have become rather fixated on the successful hit singles. And not concentrated on the albums as a whole the way they might for jazz and rock. In fact? Funk represents uptempo soul’s most album oriented sub genre. And to me? This is one song that proves it. Again,the instrumental sound is based primarily on four instruments-with horns added for good measure. And it’s a groove of a kind that can smoke both in the studio and onstage. The power of the song and it’s positive thinking message of “who said this party’s over?” makes it a less than sung “united funk” era classic.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Andre Fischer, bass guitar, Bobby Waton, Chaka Khan, Claire Fischer, classic funk, Funk, Funk Bass, funk guitar, funk/rock, Kevin Murphy, organ, Rufus, Tony Maiden, Tower Of Power

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 4/25/2015: ‘Shine’ by Average White Band

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Like Earth Wind & Fire did a year earlier with their I Am this album finds AWB hooking up with David Foster. This truly should have represented a new beginning for the band as they add a heavy modern production gloss and strong song craft to their already established heavy funk sound. Every song on this album is extremely strong and, with some good promotion could have been enormous pop hits even stateside.

Uptempo tunes such as “Our Time Has Come”,”Let’s Go Around Again”,”Help Is On The Way”,the title track and the original version of “What Cha Gonna Do For Me”,made famous a year later in a brilliant version by Chaka Khan from her album of the same name,also worth getting. Being the kind of musicians that they are AWB cannot help but throw down at least one funky instrumental in the personification of “Into The Night”,marrying the bands chunky,rhythmic groove with Foster’s production sheen. This is also home to two of the best ballads the group ever made in “For You,For Love” and “If Love Only Lasts For One Night”.

Now there’s a double album version of this that contains bonus tracks,all five of which are as great as the rest of the album. A like minded cover of Boz Scagg’s classic “Miss Sun” is great of course as is the more electo-funk minded dance cut “Kiss Me”. There’s also another great ballad in “Growing Pains” and the peppy “Love Gives,Love Takes Away”. Another successful marrying of the bands natural grooves with Fosters style comes along in the chunky and catchy “Love Won’t Get In The Way” followed by a smoking long version of “Let’s Go Round Again”.

Overall “Shine” finds AWB successfully modernizing their classic sound without sacrificing what made them so great in the past. And the lead and back round vocals certainly have a power and soul that were only hinted at on earlier recordings. Steve Ferrone really stretches out on some incredibly funky drumming here. This is definitely a pop-funk masterpiece of the 1979-1980 era of the genre and is yet another in a long list of lost true classics.

Originally Written December 17th,2007

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Average White Band, Boz Scaggs, Chaka Khan, David Foster, Funk, Music Reviewing, pop funk, Steve Ferrone, West Coast

Andre’s Amazon Archive 4/11/2015: ‘So Excited (Expanded Edition)’ by Pointer Sisters

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I had this album for a long time on vinyl and while it was in excellent shape when I got,it wasn’t after a time. Reason being is because I used to play it from beginning to end over and over again because this happens to be one of those pop albums (honestly another in this style that comes to mind is Pet Sounds) where once you start it it’s likely you won’t want to skip cuts because these well crafted little pop-soul mini masterpieces just flow so well from one to the other your either dancing and/or singing along so much you just won’t want to be bothered shutting it off. And on CD this album is made even better (if Amazon allowed ten stars I’d give this eight to be honest) because you simply don’t have to switch sides. As with all albums some cuts are less perfect than others but when the weakest cuts are merely very good,one knows something greats going on.

Predating their major league success with Break Out by exactly one year this album expands on the sleek mixture of live musicianship,extremely rich vocal harmonies and dashes of synthesizers in just the right places. It is far,far from the heavy electronic production if the next album but up to this point qualifies as their slickest. The title track (the single version without of course the drum intro at the beginning)as well as “See How The Love Goes”,”Heart To Heart” and a very close to the original rendering of Prince’s “I Feel For You” two years before Chaka Khan’s famous hit version (the liners claim the Sisters considering Chaka’s the far superior version) all blend that 80’s pop/new wave sound of reverbed rhythm guitars and keyboard lines with some wonderfully soulful pop melodies. And those are actually the WEAKER cuts if you can imagine it.

“All Of You” is a sleek mixture of dreamy mid tempo Latin pop/funk and a modern country/pop type refrain-the combination works great and it’s easily one of the albums highlights. “Heart Beat”,a Ruth Pointer sung number and I find her voice one of the most husky and unique next to Mavis Staples and is definitely one of those “hits that never were” type of songs,again with that new wave/funk pop flavor. Now for SERIOUS GROOVES “If You Want To Get Back Your Lady” is a hefty naked funk gem,again with plenty of that country refrain on the vocal only and even a synthesized reference to “Purple Haze” towards the end I never noticed before. There’s also a remix as part of the bonuses that really extends the rhythmic aspect of the groove. Ditto for the title track. “American Music” is kind of a self homage to their own melting pot outlook on pop and has this retro soul/pop shuffle to it-sort of a slicker “Should I Do It”. Again I ask why this wonderful and highly consistent album hadn’t made it to CD before this. But I suppose the important thing is it’s here now and a strong reminder of just how high quality and consistent the Pointer Sisters were during this most successful time for them.

Originally Posted On May 16th,2011

Link to original review here*

Visit the BBR Records site here for more expanded and remastered funk and soul titles:

http://www.cherryred.co.uk/bigbreak.asp

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Anita Pointer, Big Break Records, Chaka Khan, Funk, June Pointer, Music Reviewing, naked funk, Pointer Sisters, pop funk, Prince, reissues, Richard Perry, Ruth Pointer, soul pop, Synth Pop

Chaka Khan: A Tribute To Lead Singer & A Funky Diva

Chaka Khan by Andre'

Today Yvette Marie Stevens,known to much of the world as Chaka Khan,celebrates her 62nd year of life. As for her place in my life? It was very much the way Chaka’s voice sounds: the entire spectrum of life expressed in a physically improvisational revelry. Started out hearing her on what amounts to a musical related PSA staring James Earl Jones called Genius On The Black Side singing her first solo hit “I’m Every Woman”. Than a mid 90’s compilation of my mom’s entitled Epiphany really peaked my interest. And I was off and running. Rufus,Chaka solo? Whatever album I could find on CD or vinyl,I picked it up.

Chaka’s music is exciting yes,not to mention funky as one wants to be. She also proudly comes at her art from a very jazzy standpoint. With a poetic lyrical style informed by the black American liberation end of women’s liberation. And she certainly had no difficulty liberating her own playful sexiness. Aside from wishing her a happy birthday? The best way I can honor this ladies music is showcase my reviews of the albums she’s been a part of. Both as the lead singer/songwriter of the very talented band Rufus,as well as on her own working with some of the finest session players around. So here’s my own best of Chaka Khan & Rufus,as a funky woman making album length statements.

Rufus:

Rufuzised (1974)

Story goes that an interesting encounter with the Amazing Kreskin himself revealed that “Tell Me Something Good” from Rufus’s sophomore album Rags to Rufus would succeed beyond the bands wildest dreams. This came as a shock since apparently Kreskin hadn’t even known the name of the album the song came from. This apparently anticipated the song becoming the iconic funk classic it is today,and making Rufus’s career and Chaka Khan a household name. Of course what happened after that Ron Stockert,Dennis Belfield and Al Ciner all decided to split from Rufus-main reason being that they felt uncomfortable with Chaka’s name being singled out as a part of the groups name: “Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan”. They were succeeded by Tony Maiden,an extremely strong vocal/guitar presence who helped give the group a strong anchor. Bass player Bobby Watson also entered the picture along with the jazz keyboard player -the late Nate Morgan. Not only did this make the and a complete biracial unit,but also became the version of Rufus which embarked on an extended tour which lasted for most of the next three years. It was a wild and crazy life on the road for the Rufus and Chaka blitz at this point. Yet in 1974 they managed to find the time to get into the studio and complete their third studio album. And their first with their best known lineup as well.

“Once You Get Started” opens the album with strong bass/guitar heavy funk-accented by melodic synthesizer and a quick tempo which finds Chaka’s incomparable vocal instrument and Tony Maiden’s powerfully dynamic singing voice trading off verses throughout. “Somebody’s Watching You” is a uniquely amazing number-starting out as tight rhythm guitar riff before building into a funky swing on the refrain before going into a funky chorus as Chaka does her vocal thing with a lyric dealing with excessive materialism. “Pack’d My Bags” is another epic powerhouse that opens with Morgan’s spiraling jazz piano solo before going into a sweetly reflective soul ballad about the breakup of a family that again launches into hardcore funk on the chorus. “Your Smile” is a dynamically soulful ballad with a strong country-soul melody-again featuring the “symphony of Chaka” effect as she typically performs her own back up/choir vocals. The title song is an instrumental,as it was on the previous album but this features Tony Maiden singing through a talk box and the addition of horns and a more strident beat give this number its might. “I’m A Woman (I’m A Backbone)” is a strong lyrical Afrocentric take on feminism with a slow crawling,blues oriented funk groove. “Right Is Right” and “Half Moon” are both frenetic,danceable jazz-funk jams while the future Brenda Russell penned the jazzily melodic,string accented uptempo soul of “Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me Of A Friend)”. The album ends with the smoldering,sensuous Moog bass led jazzy funk of “Stop On By”-with Chaka and Tony again trading off female/male vocal licks.

In many basic ways,this stands as one of Rufus’s most musically complete albums. Their first two records both had a very garagey production flavor that,while the instrumental flavor was based deeply in funk and soul,had the raggedy quality that a lot of rock ‘n roll bands prefer to have. The production approach on this particular album is completely different. With the addition of Clare Fischer,uncle of the bands drummer Andre’ as an arranger the presence of strings and horns on this albums makes a huge difference in that regard. On the other hand Fischer is able to add orchestration without interfering with the basic rhythm section Rufus provided. As a matter of fact, on the majority of this album that is all that you hear playing in addition to Chaka’s singing. Tony Maiden’s guitar playing style is also far more based in jazz and funk. His sound is much cleaner, and his plays with lines with a beautifully melodic fluidity that is flexible enough to be just as intense as it needs to be. Because one of the major musical commonalities binding Chaka Khan and the members of Rufus together was a love for jazz, that particular style of bass/guitar playing and drumming are emphasized strongly here throughout. You can certainly here on this album how members of Rufus would eventually go on to become some of the most renowned session musicians of the late 70’s/early 80’s. Though her relationship with the band would sour in later years? The marriage of Rufus and Chaka Khan was,at this point a magically funky match if there ever was one.

Ask Rufus (1977)

Rufus And Chaka Khan,aside from CK’s amazing and influencial singing have always been just mildly underrated as musicians. In the years after the debut,especially with the style of the previous Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan their style had been growing from that of a conventional 70’s funk band to what they became with this album.By far this would have to be described as Rufus’s artistic pinnacle and is today justly revered. It is here that Rufus made the transformation to being a fully sophisticated band with brilliant songwriting,fully mature and reflective lyrics and plenty of jazz influences. With a couple minor exceptions this album showcases Rufus sticking with a midtempo jazzy soul/funk sound and a great deal of sudlty. Not only is it solid proof that funk doesn’t have to be a non-stop rhythm barrage to groove like mad but it features songs that all sound like mini classics.

“At Midnight” is the main uptempo song here.The production is far from slick and features probably the best use of synthesizer on a mid period Rufus Recording-the simple beat sounds deceptively like disco but on the breakdown it’s perfectly clear that it isn’t. Lyrically it’s clear that Chaka,who participates very strongly as a writer here is content on reflecting on how her own complicated marriaged and personal life at the at time is effecting her feelings on her own womanhood-strong emphasizing emotional involvement.”Close The Door” is one mournful example;Chaka’s tortured voice and the spare backdrop just drips with meloncaughly of the soul.The superb orchestration of Claire Fischer (cousin of the bands drummer Andre Fischer) not only makes that tune so wonderful but dominates the equally mournful instrumental “A Slow Screw Against The Wall”;the briefly funk blowout of “A Flat Fry”,featuring Ron Wood is pretty much the last tune of that type you’ll find here.The memorable and singable “Earth Song” features a cryptic lyric that,if understood sums up Chaka’s lyrical involvement here as she sings,”Stars/what a mystical woman you’ve made me” and on “Everlasting Love” we’re introduced into a deceptively musically simple vision of romance and sensuality.

“Hollywood” is…well almost an uptempo song because it’s so sprightly even as it looks at the effect fame and surroundings of luxary effect people.”Magic In Your Eyes” is yet another excellent romantic moment whereas “Better Days”,co-written by Chaka’s then husband Richard Holland reflects on a possible optimisitc future for the then faltering couple.As for the music,let’s just say I think Dido was highly influenced by this song when she did her hit song Thank You ovet two decades later. The title of “Egyptian Song” sounds like the song and lyrics will be very complicated and they are. From the melody down to it’s lyrics it reflects on Chaka’s journey to discover her racial identity that was evidently at that point still very much a part of her life. Here you here a very different kind of Rufus,challanging themselves all around to be a band to contend with a very different kind of groove for a very different kind of funk. There is little likelyhood you’ll ever come across an album in Rufus catalog or anyone else’s that sounds quite like this.And that really says an awful lot for this.

Masterjam (1979)

By 1979,the relationship between the now burgeoning solo artist Chaka Khan and the band Rufus was beginning to seriously decay. Sadly the sex and drugs cliches of the pop music world had began to catch up with Chaka. The band had even opted to record without her the previous year for their album Numbers(sadly their only album that has never been on CD as far as I can tell) while simultaneously introducing their new drummer John Robinson. It was from here that Rufus hooked back up with a rather beleaguered Chaka and set their sites on the production guidance of Quincy Jones-whose stable of musicians included the Brothers Johnson and Jerry Hey’s Seawind Horns. Rufus’s bassist Bobby Watson had already played bass for MJ on his smash funk/pop triumph Rock With You earlier in the year. Sensing that perhaps their sound could use a make over,it was Quincy who ended up producing this eighth Rufus album-even as Chaka Khan’s interest in the band was severely on the wane.

“Do You Love What You Feel” as well as the title song are both extremely indicative of the Rufus/Quincy collaboration. Both are high octane,Afro-Latin drum/percussion heavy pop hook filled danceable funk songs with that Quincy Jones/Rod Temperton-style horn/string packed late 70’s disco era funk sound written all over them from top to bottom. On both Chaka’s vocals and Tony Maiden’s clean rocking guitar riffs are at their most powerful and energetic. “Any Love” and especially a remake of the old Quincy/Leon Ware collaboration “Boby Heat”-with its extended percussive intro both more strongly reflect the 4 on the floor disco era. Some might even complain some of the bass lines identify them as more polka than funk at the root. However the bluesy bass/guitar interaction and especially Chaka’s vocals tell another side of that story. “Heaven Bound” and “Live In Me” are both slickly sensual midtempo numbers with a much heavier melodic funk orientation. The pretty straight up hard funk groove of “What Am I Missing” finds Chaka lamenting how the blitz of her life at that time was beginning to shelter her from fulfillment.

“Walk The Rockaway” is definitely on the heavier funk side of the disco era-with a thick rhythmic blend of percussion,guitar,bass and horns where Tony declares proudly “everybody’s got their own way of moving/it don’t matter as long as your grooving”. Wonderful metaphor for life wouldn’t you say? Patti Austin and Peggy Lipton Jones co-wrote “I’m Dancing For Your Love” with the band-a very impressive soul/funk/pop number with a strong Michael McDonald/Doobie Brothers attitude about it. In a lot of ways,this is my favorite album by Rufus. Every song is quite different from the other. And the funk,pop-jazz and disco era elements are all presented in the most high quality and rhythmically powerful way possible. By virtue of the music itself and those involved in making it,this album is creatively Rufus’s Off the Wall-an album possessed of the most dignified and classy funk and dance grooves it was dressed for big success. Though it was,producing the bands only two music videos that I know of for the first and final track,this was not exactly a reboot of Rufus & Chaka Khan as a band. She was back to her solo career in a years time. And her and Rufus gradually broke apart within the next several years. But even if this was the cap off to an era,it was one serious “masterjam” to go out on for sure!

Chaka Khan:

Naughty (1980)

Rufus’s 1979 album Masterjam was not the official finale for Rufus & Chaka Khan. But according to the lady herself,it was the last time she recorded an entire album in the studio with them. With her personal life continuing to spiral out of control in a dizzying array of a mutually abusive marriage,two children and epic proportions drug abuse Chaka began focusing on her career seemingly as an effort to lose herself in a form of musical sublimation. Continuing on at Warner Brothers with Arif Mardin at the helm and Ashford & Simpson penning many of the songs,Chaka also found herself at the disposal of yet more excellent singers and musicians such as Steve Ferrone,Marcus Miller and with him of course the late great Luther Vandross. Where sometimes album cover art reflects the music within to near perfection this albums cover,including a similarly dressed photo of Chaka’s almost lookalike than 6 year old daughter Milini,it was a superb window to what would come.

“Clouds” is the complete flipside of “I’m Every Woman” from her debut Chaka-a much slower and funkier number that’s still disco friendly but somewhat more emotionally fearful. Very much in the duel lyrical nature of classic soul really. The bubbling melodic bass synthesizer groove of “Get Ready,”Get Set” represents some of the most powerful,unique and sensually alluring funk on this album. “Move Me No Mountain” is a favorite of mine on here-a hard groove adult contemporary type re-imagining of a standard full of Chaka’s trademark vocal passion and ability. “The sweetly composed jazzy ballad “Nothing’s Gonna Take You Away” segues into the fan faring funk/pop of the title song. “Too Much Love” is an amazing mix of rocking,dancefloor read Latin funk with more than enough energy to spare while “All Night’s All Right” represents the hardest funk on this album-sounding very much like an early 70’s Rufus track. “Papillon” is a bumping,mid tempo soul oriented groove with a pretty melody and featuring the vocals of both Vandross and a young Whitney Houston. “What You Did” and “Our Loves In Danger” are both two more dance friendly pop/funk numbers defined again by Chaka’s singing.

This album is one of my favorite Chaka Khan albums,perhaps my very favorite. The reason for that is it’s consistency. While her iconic solo debut had many powerful and funky moments,the production and general sound of the songs had a somewhat jarring flavor. They sounded as if they were produced at very different times and places. This album,though actually very diverse sounds like a totally coherent album session of songs that were instrumentally and conceptually designed to flow together from beginning to end. It was where Chaka Khan’s solo identity emerged as being capable of delivering genuine album statements as opposed to smash dance singles. The musicianship and production on this album is absolutely impeccable. And with all the studio techniques used on Chaka’s voice her-from her renowned concept of doing her own back-round vocals to different echo plexes,her vocals are only even more enhanced by everything that touches it. Neither the musicians nor Chaka herself are drowned out by anyone behind the console. This is a great example of a sleek pop/funk/post disco sound where everything was just coming to a wonderful and successful musical head.

What ‘Cha Gonna Do For Me (1981)

Sometimes there’s a point in an artists career,and they never know exactly where there comes a time when there is a perfect match of musicianship,production,songwriting and vocals that just come together. This is also one of those cases where the album art actually says a lot about the sort of music contained within. We see a beaming,airbrushed Chaka looking enraptured with life and having just experienced a revelry of excitement. And that’s exactly the same feeling I got after listening to this album. After two albums that placed Chaka in something of an urban,late 70’s disco-funk context here Chaka is fully back to the power and vitality of her Rufus days. Her voice is an instrument that’s part of the band,part of the song and fully involved in the entire musical experience. She never overwhelms the music and it never overwhelms her but…..it in a way is ALL overwhelming. The arrangements are dramatic,cosmic,surprising and give me goosebumps just listening to the very involving virtuosity of what’s here.

This album has more electronic textures than before but they’re used in the classiest possible way and you can really hear Chaka’s noted high musical standards oozing out of every song. Billy Preston really bumps up the production to the N’th degree on the hard hitting,bass keyboard/horn led version of “We Can Work At Out” that has Chaka as pretty much the rest of the orchestra as it were.It comes to an abrupt start and you feel as if you’ve heard a whole album but….it goes on. Then you come to the urban fusion-jazz dynamics of the title song where Chaka’s voice is yearning,searching,imagining and give you to feel she’s living the song she’s singing and she very likely was. “I Know You,I Live You” really kicks it out with one of the catchiest latin funk jams I’ve ever heard;after Chaka’s done her thing vocally on the song it kicks into this amazing reverbed bass/drum interaction before she’s right back in action. “Any Old Sunday” is the more relaxed of the tunes here,not a ballad but more of an interpretive piece for Chaka. “We Got Each Other”,sung with her brother Mark who obviously shares her tremendous vocal instrument is another reverb heavy sonic funk monster finding Chaka absolutely BAKED HIGH on love alone and singing in the most euphoric way one can imagine.

“And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia)”…well lets just say if nothing else here was that great this alone would make it a classic. With Stevie Wonder’s brooding bass keyboard leading the way as Chaka takes her improvisational instrument right to the heart of the song. “Night Moods” says it all here as the only ballad-the musical again some of the most beautifully euphoric,non sentimental tribute to romance imaginable as Chaka goes from sensual,uncertain and moody at the change of a note and it’s one of those handful of ballads that just punches you right out. “Heed The Warning” is this amazing,spiky keyboard led funk-rock jam that anyone with a heart will get instant goosebumps from. And…well aside from an honorable mention for the breezy disco-funk of “Fate” I cannot really say anymore about this album because just thinking about this music overwhelms me some. For anyone now who sees the key to making successful funk and R&B lies in unadorned,un-produced “real” instrumentation and understated vocals this album stands as an important reminder of how important the right kind of production flourishes and a strong voice with the ability to act as it’s own musical instrument to creating truly magical funk and R&B that shimmers,sparkles and truly withstands the test of time.

Chaka Khan (1982)

Over the years there’s been quite a little artist cult that’s developed surrounding this album. Many music review books I’ve read name dropped it again and again as being a crownign achievment of her early career and the album even won her a grammy. All the same it would up being the most obscure Chaka Khan album during the CD reissue era. It’s never been issued domestically and even Chaka’s compilation Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1 doesn’t include any of it’s songs. Having heard it on CD for the first time I have to say that in many ways this album very much lives up to all the hype surrounding it;one of the few albums that actually does so. One of the main reasons for that is that album sounds like nothing else in her vast catalog. This came out around the same time Chaka joined back up with Rufus for a reunion tour and interestingly enough this album is among the more consistantly funk oriented of her solo albums.

Earlier recordings were open ended explorations of soul,pop-jazz,funk and disco yet this album features a somewhat electronic,bassy,thrusting sound that is very much in keeping with electro-funk style of the era but at the same time is still distinctly Chaka Khan. Her group of musicians on this album including Robbie Buchannon,Will Lee,Hiram Bullock as well as AWB members Hamish Stuart and Steve Ferrone absolutely cook musically throughout the album and that results in every song containing some of the finest vocal performances of Khan’s career,marked by the fact she’s relying more on strengh here than scaling up and down as is her trademark singing style. “Tearin’ It Up” pulls this all together right from the start with Chaka and the bassy synth funk of the groove all in a deep framework. The Rick James duet of “Slow Dancin'” and the pounding,epic “Twisted” emphasizes a slower groove than was common during the naked funk era and that is much to Chaka’s credit as she understands funk by it’s nature tends to be a tad of a slower music to start with. The majority of the tunes here are uptempo however including th cowboy/funk send up “Best In The West”,complete with fiddle solo and one of those hooky melodies Chaka seemed to be able to so easily turn out during her earlier Arif Mardin era.

Much has been said about “Be Bop Medley” and trust me;it’s all deserved. She links a medly of her be-bop era favorites,everything from Monk’s “Epistrophy” and Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” in and around this fast paced,bass synthesizer led naked funk jam and the music and melodies all work with eachother wonderfully. In this case she does do more vocal scaling but it’s needed;she does really well with jazz composition and this song really takes the cake. Her powerhouse version of “Got To Be There” and “So Not To Worry” are the slower tunes here but are more midtempo than ballads and are the more relaxed,organically textured of the tunes here. “Pass It On (A Sure Thing)” is another uptempo funk scorcher to the end the album off on. In terms of funk music construction and intense musical dynamics there are very few albums I can think of offhand that match it. It is still a shame that today the only CD version of this album comes from the boxed set Original Album Series:Chaka/Chaka Khan/I Feel For You/Naughty/What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me. If you don’t have any Chaka Khan albums,pick that up without a second thought. But if you only are missing this one,this CD edition is essential to pick up if you find it reasonably because it represents an important creative step in her musical development as a solo artist.


Well there’s my written tribute(s) to Rufus and Chaka Khan,both together and apart. Very thankful I could be alive during a time when her musical career was still in peak shape!

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Filed under Andre Fischer, Arif Mardin, Bobby Waton, Chaka Khan, Claire Fischer, David Wolinsku, John Robinson, Kevin Murphy, Quincy Jones., Rufus, Tony Maiden

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: ‘My Life’ by Mary J. Blige

My Life

An astounding album and an EXTREMELY HUGE creative leap from her debut What’s the 411?! Contemporary hip-hop and new jack considerations were very strong on her debut album and there was the awkward step between that and somewhat mechanical 80’s musical flavors. This album changed all of that. In their hearts it was the funk/jazz/R&B of the mid 70’s that was the musical bag of both Puffy and Mary and the result of their enthusiasm is a fusion of that concept soon came to be known as neo soul. Along with D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar this is one of the earliest album smashes to use the form and it’s one of the most overall successful.

Along with the instrumental samples Puffy built these grooves on and Mary J’s new found fondness for jazzy vocal turns and scat singing provide great results on the drippy disco-funk “Mary Jane”,”You Bring Me Joy” and the bass popping-happy closer “Be Happy” are such excellent tunes that if these were the only good songs on the album it would still earn a five star rating. But happily the news always gets better from there. “I’m The Only Woman” really puts the title track of Roy Ayers Everybody Loves the Sunshine to work and considering his position as something of a godfather to this then new genre it is a beautiful use of form. Of course Mary’s cover of “I’m Goin’ Down” rips the entire instrumental track of the song and I’ve heard it to death but hearing it again reminds me of the excellence and broad vocal inflections she brings to the song.

The original ballads including the title track and the deeply spirited “You Gotta Believe” follow in the same path and completely undo some of the mild sterility of the previous albums approach. Ditto for the slightly more uptempo hip-hop inflected jams such as “Be With You”,”Mary’s Joint”,”Don’t Go” and the clever,well composed “I Love You” all have possess that spark needed to make them really stand out as impressive songs. From this point on in Mary J’s career she would be forever known not as “the new Chaka Khan” but as The Queen Of Hip-Hop/Soul and all hype set aside the high quality of this album is one of the reasons why she’s known for that.

Originally Posted On January 24th,2010

Happy birthday Mary! Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1990s, D'Angelo, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Late 70's Funk, Mary J. Blige, Puff Daddy Combs, Rose Royce

The Anatomy of THE Groove 7/11/14 Rique’s Pick : “It’s Your World” by Jennifer Hudson ft R Kelly

One of the interesting things about being an admirerer of Funk, Soul and Disco in the 21st Century is the layers and layers of musical styles to uncover, from the past five decades. A musical style or effect that began in the ’70s might resonate with a younger listener as more of a musical pillar in a decade like the 1990s, when they were in their music consuming youth. In the case of Jennifer Hudson’s fantastic new R Kelly produced single, “It’s Your World”, J Hud and Kells manage to craft a performance of a track that conjures up both the original disco-funk era of the late 1970s and the Disco homages and creative reengagement of 1990s house music. It’s often been said House Music itself was a reaction to the end of Disco in the early ’80s, with Black underground clubs in Chicago (Chi Town)  and Detroit continuing to play R&B disco rarities, eventually leading to the creation of their own low budget, electronic disco dance records. The Disco inflected House and Garage genres ended up finding their way into huge mainstream records, such as Lisa Stansfield’s Barry White love letter, “All Around the World”, and Whitney Houston’s smash interpretation of Chaka Khan’s 1977  classic “I’m Every Woman.”  Jennifer Hudson manages to combine both eras in a combustible song that stands tall on its own as a true dance floor devotional.

“It’s Your World” begins with a “Boom. Tap…ta-be-di-be Boom. Tap” drum roll, sampled straight off one of this writers favorite records, Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s 1977 disco in the jungle masterpiece “Running Away.” “Running Away” is not the first song most people think of when it comes to disco, but it was a huge hit among hard core dancers, particularly in cities that would keep the flag of disco waving in the ’80s and ’90s, like New York, Paris, London, and Chicago. The drum roll sets the scene for a furiously funky disco/House music track.

The track is a mix of the actual disco thing and ’90s House. The drumming is the basic disco drum beat, amped up and on steroids, delivered from a drum machine, with sizzling open hi hats, a true ’90s house sound. A single note muted guitar riff helps protect the rhythm, in the manner of a rhythm guitar part such as the one found on Evelyn Champagne King’s “Shame.” The bass line is prominent in the mix  but not dominant, though it does dominate musically, laying down a nimble, syncopated part with a somewhat disembodied sound. The bass line clearly sets the edges of the music. Very prominent Fender Rhodes chords also feature here, which might have been buried under the horns and strings of a ’70s disco record, but have much more room to breathe in the ’90s house approach. Percussion sizzles, and bits of synth strings and brass are inserted on the choruses.

J Hud delivers a powerful, soulfully excellent vocal performance in the tradition of Soul Disco diva’s like Loleatta Halloway and Martha Wash. Her part is full of melisma, and sung with a bluesy, chesty tone. The lyrics speak of an old school topic, straight up 100% devotion, “I’ll be your servant/your slave/your everything/you ever wanted.” Hudson’s ennunciation is sharp and soulful at the same time (‘and every THANG in it”, “if you ask it, it SHALL be given.”) Hudson belts out at the top of her vocal range, beautifully soulful notes. The lyrics and vocals speak to the excess of a blissful relationship.

R Kelly’s track evolves, adding and subtracting layers until it reaches a breakdown voiced by the man himself. The breakdown takes out the drums, leaving behind percussion shakers to carry the rhythm. The Rhodes is more prominent with the extra space, revealing it’s bell toned intracacies. Kelly sings a super soulful response, promising the exact same things J Hud promised her man. He hits some stunningly powerul low notes when he sings the line, “Everything your heart desires baby.” The structure of the song itself is unique and reminiscent of the disco era, as J Hud sings along for two and a half minutes or so before Kelly gets the spotlight. After Kelly’s breakdown, he trades lines with Hudson. Over the climax of the track, the two soul singers belt out some serious, bone chilling romantic screams. R Kelly understands as a producer that, coming from the gospel tradition, an uptempo dance song is just as much a format for gymnastic vocals as a slow burn ballad. The way Hudson works the melismatic chorus of “Its Your World” reminds me of Stevie Wonders vocal stylings at the high point of the 1976 classic “I Wish”, and Hudson promises similar religous devotion to her lover as Wonder did on that song.

“It’s Your World” is a wonderful dance record, beautifully sung and constructed. The track transcends it’s ’70s and ’90s influences to become something of its own, building on Kelly’s solid work in classic sounds, from his work with Charlie Wilson and the Isley Brothers, to his “steppers music” like “Happy People”, to his recent old school albums, 2010’s “Love Letter”, and 2012’s “Write Me Back.” Hudson builds on her performances in “Dreamgirls”, and her hot boogie funk, Evelyn Champagne King  influenced single “I Can’t Describe” from last year. The result is a record that stands tall besides it’s influences as a great example of how a dance song can serve as a love devotional.  I hope Hudson has much success with it as well as the upcoming album its taken from.

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Acid House, Disco, Funk, Music Reviewing