Ramsey Lewis’s main musical personality is as an interpreter. Of both classic and modern standards. He wasn’t generally a Quincy Jones style arranger and producer, who had grand ideas for long form musical concepts. Lewis’s 1978 album Legacy changed that dynamic for the soul jazz pianist. Anyone who is going into this album fresh without any familiarity with it’s contents should be made aware of some important facts. For starters, this is not your average Ramsey Lewis album. The pianist had divided the majority of the 70’s up until this point recording in two distinct kinds of fusion styles.
One of these styles was a very poppy R&B-inflected style that owed at least as much to orchestration as to melody (example: Tequila Mockingbird and the other a very dynamic funk-jazz sound strongly influenced by Earth Wind & Fire and the Ohio Players (example: Don’t It Feel Good). On Legacy, those distinctions begin the blur. And a lot of it was very much intentional. The title track,a long 22 + minute track here (and sidelong suite on the original vinyl LP) is more or less a concerto featuring three distinct sections,listed on the album featuring Lewis’s piano playing in those unique settings.
It’s not a classical piece though. The piano solo’s are based more in different jazz and gospel mixtures than anything in the European classic tradition. In between they are bound together with these interludes that are basically very cinematic theatrical scores. The whole thing comes off as a mixture of that all encompassing musical suite Quincy Jones tinkered with around this same time and a 70’s style movie soundtrack. The second part of the album though is where those “blurring lines” surrounding Ramsey’s separate musical sides of the decade are most apparent.
He was born under the Gemini star after all so it’s not surprising that compositions such as “All The Way Live”,”Don’t Look Back” and “Well,Well,Well” blend both flowery orchestral rhetoric with a very direct polyrhythmic, staccato funk. Strangely enough because you have the two musical dynamics occurring at the same time,there appears to be too much instrumentation on some of the songs. Interestingly enough at times a couple of them sometimes break off into a disco beat. It’s not that they are particularly overproduced but there’s often a huge amount of musical content.
Out of all the tunes, “Moogin On” is the most impressive as it focuses squarely into an impressive, upbeat Latin-funk piece that’s incredibly catchy and a wonderful standout song for this album. The more gentle “I Love To Please You” is the single thoroughly mellow tune here,if on that hand your into that kind of thing. Some people just aren’t. This is an album that’s very commendable for the typically masterful musicianship from Ramsey and his band,as well as their collective intent on stringing together over a century of musical development into a contemporary context.
It’s not something even easy to conceptualize. The fact that Ramsey was able to pull this off so well here says a lot. Legacy is also vital in terms of its visual packaging. The front cover depicts “clones” of Ramsey Lewis in different outfits. On the back is a checklist illustrating which end of music each outfit was associated with-from rock, Latin to New Orleans. This gives an image for Ramsey’s hope of showcasing the scope of jazz from its origins up to the funk/disco era that Legacy was recorded in. And what makes the album an important and unsung diamond in Ramsey’s vast recorded catalog.
Valerie Simpson is turning 70 years old today. That comes as very important in that today is Women’s Equality Day. As far as I’m concerned,Simpson is a pioneer female songwriter for so many reasons. She maintained a very close marriage and professional relationship with Nick Ashford until the day he died. She also kept her own name professionally throughout their career together. And this included,of course their salad years at Motown- spinning out hits for people such as Marvin Gaye & Tammi Tarrell. That’s not to mention the duo continuing to maintain a successful solo career well into the 1980’s.
Ashford & Simpson albums always tended towards the most elaborately arranged and musically diverse wife/husband duet albums I’ve ever heard. By the early 1980’s,the pair had hits for themselves and others in the form of punchy funk,streamlined disco and elegant ballads. In 1982 the pair decided to put together a concept album. A decade before the arrival of hip-hop’s G-Funk sub-genre,the couple decided to use the contemporary post disco musical basis to present very personalized vignette with a street level basis. it was called Street Opera. And its biggest hit was “Street Corner”.
A slow and steady 4/4 drum just starts right up at the beginning of the song and continues throughout until the very end. On the intro,there’s a low thudding piano chord. Before each one there’s a thick guitar rev. After that,the bass line chugs along underneath a higher pitched piano playing a lead melody-with a string synthesizer joining the horn solos just before Nick & Val’s vocal chorus kicks in. On the refrains,the musical theme calms to a processed electric piano based melody and rhythm. But that instrumental chorus from the intro provides the basis for the entire song until it fades out.
Instrumentally speaking,this is one of the most lushly constructed example of the funkiest end of the early 80’s post disco sound I’ve heard. The main musical theme doesn’t vary all that much. But each instrumental statement the song makes is very strong. Lyrically its a very liberating tale of a ghetto woman who is…well either mistaken for naive or mistaken for a prostitute. Either way,Valerie Simpson is telling a man asking her for a ride that “the little girl has grown”. So it showcases how feminine dignity exists alive and well on the street corners across America.
Filed under 1980's, Ashford & Simpson, concept albums, drums, Funk Bass, horns, Nick Ashford, piano, post disco, rhythm guitar, string synthesizer, Valerie Simpson, Women, Women's Equality Day
During the first six or seven years of his career James Brown was essentially known for his energetically performed soul ballads and stage shows. That is generally what soul was at the time. When the music was uptempo, it was generally considered to be rhythm & blues. And soul was generally the romantic ballad end of that still new spectrum of music. Only in revision to many people realize that even from the get go, James Brown was always changing the rules.
He vocally performed his soul balladry with the theatrics and passion of the salvation gospel tent show. As the 1960’s began to come in, James began to embrace rhythm & blues to a greater degree. He was also listening to another type of music called boogaloo coming out of New York-with it’s African pop influence and use of musical breaks. With this new outlook on uptempo music in his arena, James’ music was beginning to change.
“Mashed Potatoes USA” is a very compelling song-a dancable yet fairly slow tempo rhythm & blues piece with a very raw rhythm attitude-filled with drum and horn breaks. Its quite possibly his first foray into the funk process,if not the full on funk itself. “Choo-Choo (Loco Motion)”,”Three Hearts In A Triangle” along with the instrumentals “Doin’ The Limbo”,”Joggin Along” and “Sticky” are all heavily rocking and organ/horn based R&B with a consistent and chunky rhythmic flavor that on the other hand is decidedly unbroken.
“I’ve Got Money” returns for a bit to the possibility of the funk process again. “I Don’t Care”,interestingly one of the few examples of his original soul ballad style, actually begins the lyrical process for his funk innovation “Cold Sweat” with him stating “I DON’T CARE about your past”. “Like A Baby”,”Every Beat Of My Heart” and “In The Wee Small Hours” are examples or James’ earlier instrumental organ blues throwdowns to round this out.
Often mistaken for a live album because of its title, this 1962 studio recording by James Brown and his Famous Flames is a neglected but very important album for James’ catalog. Its his first album to put a significant amount of attention on heavy rhythm and uptempo tunes. You begin to hear him and his band beginning to find their signature instrumental style that they were still ironing out, by trying out different styles from soul to R&B to blues on their earlier recordings.
Being from the era that it is, this album is of course likely a collection of James Brown “sides”,recorded originally in intention for release on 45 A and B and cobbled together on this long player to bring them together into a loose theme to resell them. Of course less cynically this also is influenced by Ray Charles’ intentionally conceptualized ABC-Paramount era albums as well. So this also finds James discovering the possibility that he could develop as an album artist perhaps. Despite its lack of popularity in James vast and vital recorded catalog, this album is an important dry run for his future.
Originally posted on July 14th,2013
*LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!
Filed under 1960's, Amazon.com, concept albums, Famous Flames, Funk, funk process, instrumental, James Brown, Music Reviewing, organ, rhythm & blues, Soul, Uncategorized
During the mid to late 1970’s, the Montreal native Gino Vannelli was Canada’s musical answer to Steely Dan basically. With a strongly grooving progressive jazz sound in tow, Gino and his keyboardist brother Joe had signed their group to Herb Alpert’s A&M Records about a decade into the labels inception. It was also time when new record labels were far more open to more creatively minded artists. So Gino and company were able to really stretch out in terms of making music that was both instrumentally meaningful and commercially successful.
I personally discovered Gino’s music about 8-9 years ago. And quite by accident, as it came from a music recommendation based on my own browsing habits on Amazon.com. It wasn’t long before I was ordering used copies of his 70’s albums on CD from there. One that made quite an impact on me was his third album from 1975 entitled Storm At Sunup. It was a concept album dealing with a male 20 something coming of age during the post 60’s sexual revolution. The second song on the album called “Mama Coco” was the one which really blew me away!
A metallic synthesizer bursts into a mix of Afro-funk percussion accompanied by electronics playing a classical opera melodic theme. It drives right into a righteous rhythm with round,burbling Moog bass and Fender Rhodes electric piano playing the songs bluesy melody. On the refrains,one of which features a deep vocalese on the talk box, the song suddenly goes into a swinging Brazilian jazz mode before returning to the original chorus. Another refrain hard rocking bridge with a screaming guitar and electric piano solo before ebbing out.
In terms of funk, this song covers all the bases beautifully. It has the blend of European classical and soulful modern electronics, the Afrocentric jazzy instrumental attitude as well as the progressive rock arrangements of the time. It’s a wonderful groove stew. Thematically Gino is wittily making a point about the exoticism black women can provide in the mind of a free and single young white men. Even pointing out to Mama Coco that he’s “just a male Caucasian/I’m virgin to your kind”. It’s one of many examples of fine funk Gino threw down in this era.
Filed under 1970's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afrocentrism, Amazon.com, bass synthesizer, Brazilian Jazz, Canada, concept albums, electric piano, Fender Rhodes, Gino Vannelli, Herb Alpert, jazz funk, Montreal, Moog, percussion, sexual revolution, Steely Dan, Uncategorized
Teena Marie was leaving Motown behind at a critical time for funk/soul artists in general. In the United States anyway? That genre was mired in what myself and friend Henrique referred to as the post disco freeze out. The synth pop/New Wave genre that had come up in Europe during this time,itself an extension of Eurodisco and funk,seemed to be a good new direction to go into for radio play. Meanwhile,this was colliding with the synth accented boogie sound. And basically Lady T was as caught up as anyone in this shift of instrumental priorities.
Lady T signed with Columbia subsidiary Epic Records in the fall of 1982-with the promise of more autonomy over her business career. The result was her own publishing company known as Midnight Magnet. This event plus the dissolution of her romantic affiliation with Rick James became the centerpiece of her concept album Robbery from September 1983. While it integrated the synth rock elements of the era with her jazzy ballad framework? There was still plenty of time of strong funky grooves. My favorite of which is called “Playboy”.
Another strong drum kick introduces the song into it’s powerful stop/start Afro-Cuban rhythm that is mixed high and defines the song. What comes next is an elaborately arranged mixed of instrumental melody and harmony. The horn charts basically define the sound-while a round,mid toned synthesizer takes over the minor chorded elements that might’ve normally been done with strings. On the refrains,the synth becomes more brittle and the rhythm more strident. On the final chorus,Teena gently raps the lyrics over the original rhythm and a subtle electric bass line.
Something about this song’s arrangement perfectly encapsulates it’s lyrical concept. It’s a complex series of instrumental solo an rhythmic changes,and it goes along with Lady T’s uncertain mood throughout the song itself. As she questions her position as being closer to Rick James mistress than apparent fiancee? Her own little private soap opera unfolds via this uniquely urbane,Latin hued funk groove. It’s one of the most well rounded examples of the boogie funk sound. And a wonderful example of the new type of funk Teena Marie was giving up for the people.
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, concept albums, Epic Records, Funk, Funk Bass, New Wave, post disco, Rick James, Teena Marie, Uncategorized