Tag Archives: cool jazz

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Black Cow” by Ahmad Jamal

Ahmad Jamal-born Frederick Russell Jones in Pittsburgh,Pennsylvania is one of those musicians whom I’ve been discovering a lot about within the last several years. He came into prominence at a time when a lot of younger jazz players just coming up were looking for a stylistic alternative to the be-bop oriented sound all around them. Much like Miles Davis,Jamal was a major innovator of the “cool jazz” school of the mid/late 50’s. Miles even said that Ahmad Jamal’s light touch on piano had an enormous influence on his own playing style after his sister Dorothy introduced him to Jamal’s music for the first time.

My own personal exposure to Jamal’s music didn’t come through anything like cool jazz. It came through my father in one of his mid 1990’s “here’s a jazz version of that” turns. What he played me was a jazz-funk interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” by Jamal. Somehow after that,I kind of conceptualized Jamal as being a thoroughly jazz/funk based musician. When actually nothing could be further from the truth. That being said,the man did put his understated style to some sleek funk over the years. My friend Henrique introduced me to another interpretation from 1978 of Steely Dan’s “Black Cow”.

Ahmad Jamal plays every melody on this song on the Clavinet. The intro,much as on the original has that direct bassy sound-accompanied by light percussion. As the drums build in,Jamal’s Clavinet tone becomes much higher for the refrain and is accompanied by a heavy drum beat and powerful funk bass line improvising every melodic change. On the choruses,the lead vocals are handled by three backing singers-one of whom is Eloise Laws. As the song progresses,these backup singers vocalize their way around Jamal’s increasingly rolling Clavinet improvisations as the song fads out.

Ahmad Jamal really does this song justice here. And not by altering too much,but rather expanding on what’s there. He upped the tempo just a bit and made it more percussive-which is about all he really changed. Instrumentally this song is a massive jazz/funk showcase for it’s present and funk’s future. The Wrecking Crew’s Hal Blaine is responsible for the sizzling percussion while the rhythm section and vocals are arranged by future SOS Band mentor Sigidi Abdullah. In terms of a cool jazz veteran interpreting then contemporary funk smashes,Ahmad Jamal really had it locked down.

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Filed under 1970's, Ahmad Jamal, clavinet, cool jazz, Funk Bass, Hal Blaine, jazz funk, percussion, Sigidi Abdullah, Steely Dan

Anatomy of THE Groove 8/15/2014-Andre’s Pick: “Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual) by Al Jarreau featuring Marcus Miller

George Duke was one of those musical figures that I personally found creatively inspirational. In his lifetime,he was able to fulfill his artistic promise of being able to be a siphon of the musical spirit that lay behind Duke Ellington,P-Funk,Frank Zappa,Earth Wind & Fire and Milton Nachimento-all coming from the source of one musical mind. When he passed away,all too soon,last year? It seemed inevitable that a tribute would come from someone,someday.
And in only a years time for his birthday? Creative collaborator and friend Al Jarreau got some of Duke’s musical compatriots-both vocalists and instrumentalists for the special tribute album My Old Friend. One of the songs presented was an unheard number written collaboratively by Duke and Jarreau called “Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual)”-featuring one of my favorite living bassists in the jazz-funk vein in Mr. Marcus Miller.

Marcus,who plays most of the instruments on this song opens with a cinematic synthesizer orchestration before Jarreau chimes in with a very Afrocentric vocalese chant-after which Marcus’s slap bass comes in with Mike Cottone’s muted,”cool jazz” styled trumped solo-the tone of which Jarreau replicates with his soft,slow vocalizing. On the refrains,Jarreau delivers a deep descending vocal. On the bridge,a beautiful melange of sax,trumpet and electric piano segues out of the song with the same mixture of cinematic orchestration with Jarreau’s chants that began the song.

This is one of those songs that…really quite brilliantly fuses vocal jazz improvisation with a funk rhythmic approach. With its use of blue notes and Marcus’s own knack for expression the late George Duke’s love of instrumental texturization? The imaginative, somewhat mysical orientation of the music goes ideally with the somewhat faintly performed and even obsure lyrical content. From what I can gather of it,this is a song about the complex interpersonal relationship black Americans have with spirituality. And with a song with song a deeply propulsive funk groove and jazz harmonics? It makes that point beautifully.

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Filed under Al Jarreau, Duke Ellington, Funk, Funk Bass, George Duke, Jazz, Marcus Miller