Tag Archives: Dam Funk

Harriet Brown Does “Prince Weird” Right

brown

Is there any other musical influence as pervasive, yet elusive as Prince? Practically everyone in the contemporary pop landscape is influenced by him on some level–from Bruno Mars to Beyoncé to Young Thug–yet hardly anyone is able to capture what really made him great. D’Angelo has some of his electrifying stage presence; Miguel channels a bit of his sex appeal (albeit in watered-down, heteronormative form); DāM-FunK evokes his studio wizardry and occasional cantankerousness; but none of these are adequate replacements–nor would any of them claim to be.

Especially inimitable, and especially missed, is Prince’s weirdness. While the aforementioned Bruno Mars can do a serviceable enough version of “Let’s Go Crazy” at the Grammys, it’s hard to imagine him plumbing the psychosexual depths of a “Shockadelica,” let alone an “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” It’s that ineffably eccentric quality that sets Prince apart from his imitators: most of whom, quite frankly, know better than to even try.

To be clear, I’m not trying to set up an argument for Inglewood-via-Bay Area artist Harriet Brown as the one true inheritor of “Prince weird”; that would be hyperbole in the extreme. But of the legion of contemporary artists whose music echoes the Purple One’s, Brown is the one who seems to get “it” most. Just listen to the digitally-manipulated voices he puts on in the intro of his recent album, Contact, shifting from “Bob George” low to “Camille” high; or the way his elastic falsetto bends almost comically on the line “sometimes I think I’m an alien on your planet” from “ESP.”  Or hell, just look at the guy: that exaggerated bowl cut, like an Akira character come to life, with an inscrutable, gender-bending stage name that doesn’t seem to have any real-world frame of reference (unless he’s just a really big fan of the author of Brave Girl Eating). “I like people not exactly knowing everything going on with me,” Brown told the LA Weekly in a profile last month–an awfully Princely statement if ever there was one.

But I also don’t want to give the impression that Brown is just an imitator; his sound certainly channels Prince, but it doesn’t sound like an ’80s throwback. If anything, he sounds a bit like if Prince had evolved more gracefully into the ’90s and 2000s, subtly incorporating the influences of hip- and trip-hop into his sound rather than clumsily attempting to appropriate them. In other words, Contact is forward-looking, 21st-century music: music that builds on the past as a foundation, rather than trying to retreat into it. And that may be the best credit to Prince’s legacy of all.

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Filed under 2010's, 2017, Prince

Anatomy Of THE Groove 4/10/2015: “Earth Mother” by Todd Rundgren

Soul and funk music have consistently been intertwined into Todd Rundgren’s solo career. It’s gone hand and hand with his ability to fuse his capabilities as a multi instrumentalist and working with other musicians with strong creative personalities-such as Utopia’s Roger Powell and Kasim Sulton. Celebrating an near half century in the music business? Rundgren is about to launch into a brand new tour with the boogie/electro funk revivalist Dam Funk as guest artist. His new album Global showcases how this has musically influenced him. Especially on one of it’s songs entitled “Earth Mother”.

A didgeridoo effect begins the song that goes into a hand clap powered rhythm as Rundgren does a call and response with female backup singers (including his wife Michelle) that goes into an isolated bass Vocoder vocal that goes into an organ sounding one before a slow,loping digitized go-go style drum stomp comes in accompanied by a round and again digitized bass synthesizer. This accompanies both the main lyrical body (where the synth bass line is expressed very subtly) of the song as well as the refrains. And in each refrain? A similar call and response vocal comes into play even up to when the song concludes on the Vocoder based statement.

Musically speaking? Rundgren does some amazing things with this song. He goes right for the jugular of the DC based go go funk sound-celebrating the idea of funkiness coming from slowing down a danceable tempo. Yet he also presents it in a song under four minutes as well. Instrumentally several things are happening here. The same gospel type call and response of the go-go/new jack era funk scene is present in the vocal arrangement. As well as the very strong aspect of the gritty “video game” style electronic bass synthesizer and digitized funk groove of early 80’s P-Funk that artists such as Dam Funk have bought into their musical orbit as well.

On the lyrical end Rundgren is paying serious tributes to woman’s right along racial and educational lines. The song itself references the Pakistani student activist Malala Yousafzai as well as the iconic historical story of Rosa Parks. This gives birth to my personal favorite lyrics from this song: “Rosa sat in the front of the bus/the driver start to make a fuss/the end result was so unjust/but she was sitting in front for the rest of us”. For his part, Rundgren clearly sees the entire matter of civil rights and racial justice as the ultimate service humanity can do itself. His frank yet thoughtful manner evokes genuine affection for the Curtis Mayfield’s,Stevie Wonder’s,Marvin Gaye’s and Gil Scott Heron’s who came before. And provides a modern day industrial electro go-go funk “people music” message song for 2015!

To learn more about Malala Yousafzai’s and Rosa Park’s importance in the history of human rights? Please click on the links provided below:

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2014/yousafzai-facts.html

http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/rosa-parks

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Filed under 2015, bass synthsizer, call and response, civil rights, Dam Funk, electro funk, go-go funk, Kasim Sulton, Malala Yousafzai, message songs, Michelle Rundgren, Rosa Parks, synth funk, Todd Rundgren

Andre’s Amazon Archive for April 12’th,2014: Herbie Hancock’s ‘Sunlight’

                In tribute to one of my favorite musical artists-the multi talented pianist,keyboardist,bandleader and composer Herbie Hancock (who turns 74 years old today),I am presenting a review of an album he recorded 36 years called ‘Sunlight’. With the the emergence of contemporary artists such as Dam Funk, Tensnake and Daft Punk all exploring new realms of the electronic fusions of jazz,disco and boogie funk? Its important to note that during the disco era of the late 1970’s,Herbie Hancock was already innovating that direction already. As an artist with classical training as well as a strong understanding of the regal and truly free nature of Latin and African rhythms in his entire career,Herbie Hancock probably understands the progression of jazz into the era of electronics more than any artist since his mentor and bandleader Miles Davis.  The fact that he was also an engineer helped enhance this conception. So enjoy my review. Thank you!

Sunlight

Following his 1976 album with the Headhunters Secrets,Herbie Hancock elected to reform the remainder of the Miles Davis 60’s era Quintet for the album VSOP,who managed to actually record several albums and make more than one appearance despite what their name stood for. Still completely unfettered by music writers and critics frustrations (as they’d had with Miles earlier on) at Hancock refusing to stick to only one variation of jazz,the artist himself decided to expand on the Headhunters-replacing a departed Mike Clark with Leon Ndugu Chancler along with Harvey Mason and with Ray Parker Jr. and Wah Wah Watson remaining guitar players. For this album Herbie,likely aware he was not the strongest of singers decided to add his own vocals to this album-which is the first time he actually would do so. This was accomplished,as stated on the back of this album with the Sennheiser VSM-201 Vocoder,which would allowed Herbie’s voice to be encoded digitally through a special mic and played back as a completely synthesized vocal on a keyboard. This would have been the keyboardists equivalent of the guitar talk box. And with this new addition to his instrumental arsenal Herbie’s music began to make some exciting and spirited changes yet again

The album begins with two pieces over 8 minutes long. It opens with “I Thought It Was You”,an example of a rather innovative and un-commercial song that was actually quite a chart success. Its a wonderful melody built around a “funk functioning for the disco floor” type rhythm that also has a strong big band swing horn orchestration. Herbie plays some amazing Fender Rhodes solos in this song and at different intervals and breaks,layers himself scatting in different tonal colors through his new Vocoder. Its one of Hancock’s most vital compositions melodically and instrumentally as well as being one of the most important songs of that era in many ways. “Coming Running To Me” follows with breezier Brazilian fusion type shuffle with Herbie almost chanting some of the vocal lines almost in the manner of some of the Buddhist mediation he was engaging in at the time along with the main melody. The title is a beautifully melodic,high stepping funk piece-very much in mind of a Headhunters song circa 1975 only with a lead vocals and a more otherworldly use of Vocoder. “No Means Yes” starts out as a super melodic Samba played on polyphonic synthesizer before converting back to heavy Headhunters type funk for the refrains. “Good Question” brings in Tony Willians and the incomparable bassist Jaco Pastorius for an intense,rigid acoustic number almost in the mind of one of Miles’ 60’s Quintet’s more intense moments and that of VSOP. There’s also a lot of European classic theatrics in the playing,as well as a strong Afro-Latin percussion sound and Arabic melodic theme.

I first purchased this album at an enormous vinyl warehouse in Rochester,New York in 1998. I played the vinyl so often in such a concentrated time,it got worn after only about a decade. Its back cover depicting Herbie playing his vast array of synthesizers still hangs on my wall. Having purchased for the second time (due to a theft) this album on CD, this is one of the albums that I’ve heard that gets continually more brilliant each time I hear it. Recorded during the height of the disco era,most of this music is uptempo and extremely funky in the classic Headhunters tradition. At the same time,the addition of the Vocoder (which by the way has instrumentally as much in common with today’s autotune devices as Chess does with Tic Tac Toe) creates an entirely new futurist environment which enhance Herbie’s vocals on this album-giving them a surreal and very cosmic quality. For someone who isn’t a singer by trade,Herbie takes some enormous vocal chances here still-often stacking multiple layers of his Vocoderized vocalese and scatting to great a vast vocal polyphony that,while a deep source of inspiration for funk and jazz minded electronica artists such as Daft Punk,are still very much ahead of their time even from this original form. All the material here emphasizes Herbie’s exceptional talent at using his diverse synthesizers and pianos to create wonderfully hummable and improvised melodies while remaining firmly locked into the percussively rhythmic funk grooves that permeate this album. As such this album is a direct link musically between his Headhunters era jazz-funk sound and his more futuristic sound to come. So not only does this emerge as one of his strongest albums,and he has many,but also one of the most important transitional steps in his long and successful musical career.

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Filed under 1970's, Disco, Electronica, Funk, Herbie Hancock, Late 70's Funk, Music Reviewing

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/11/14 Rique’s Pick: “Magnificent” by Steve Arrington & Dam-Funk

 

Steve Arrington and Slave, are one of the more underappreciated pure funk groups from a pop standpoint. However, in Urban communities, for a certain late Baby Boomer and early Gen X funk audience, they’re right up there at the top with Prince, Rick James, Cameo, and others who were hot in the late ’70s and ’80s. Lead vocalist Steve Arrington originally joined the group as a drummer, but his unique nasally, well enunciated vocals were discovered during the recording of Slave’s 1979 disco-funk classic, “Just a Touch of Love.” Arrington went on to make several important records himself, including “Weak at the Knees” and “Dancing in the Key of Life.” Arrington is a first rate drummer, of a heavy jazz fusion bent, and his vocals are very unique, influencing such later day artists as Keith Sweat. Arrington is also a pastor and imparts a positive, upbeat spiritual message to everything he does, encouraging and uplifting people.

Dam Funk of Stones Throw Records, the master of a genre he’s innovating called “modern funk”, did an album this past year with Arrington.  The album is a triumph of fat bottomed, big beat, West Coast funk, with Arringtons nasally, silky, langourous vocals motivating, serenading, and persuading. Dam Funk’s funk is clearly a West Coast vibe, and extension of the G Funk of Dr. Dre, DJ Pooh, Battlecat, Above the Law, E-40 and Too $hort, all West Coast Hip Hop artists who used instrumental funk to back up their raps, based on the late ’70s synthesizer “video game sound” of P-Funk, the music of Roger and Zapp, and several other artists who’s sound made up a transitional early ’80s funk sound called “Boogie”, a bridge between the disco-funk of the late ’70s and the electro-funk and freestyle of the mid to late ’80s.

“Magnificent” is a dreamy, heavenly ode to a special lady from Steve Arrington and Dam-Funk’s album, “Higher.” The track begins with a big, solid drum beat, reminiscent of a fat boogie beat like One Way’s classic, “Cutie Pie.” The hi hats play what I call a ‘Time Bomb’ pattern, tight, ticking 8ths, like the O’Jays intro to “Give the People What the Want”, minus the washed out reverb. Over the phat drumbeat, Dam-Funk layers his trademark synth pads, a bright, beautiful sound of discovery and new dawns. Dam Funk uses this pad sound to play the chord progression for the song, but it’s very dreamy and functions as sound as well as music. The connection is also there to the modern “chill” movement. It’s a sound very reminiscent of the Los Angeles life and sunshine.  The song also features the hallmark of the West Coast sound, fat analog bass. The groove is one that is great for getting going in the early morning or cruising around town with the top down.

Steve Arrington uses his plain, direct, well spoken lyrical style, articulated in his classy, well pronounced, crooning vocal manner. It’s a song of praise that is old school in it’s approach, how many R&B artists praise women these days? But it also has that modern edge Arrington has always had, “You know you treat your homie like a King/You know I treat my shorty like a queen”, “you’ve got that way/with so much swag/what can I say.” It works instead of falling flat because Arrington is a cool uncle, compared to other funk stars who’ve passed on to being father, even grand father figures. Arrington even delivers a spoken interlude toward the end where he rips off synonymous superlatives for “magnificent”, like “indefatigueable.” Most def a lesson in many ways.

Arrington and Dam Funk are doing a great thing here. The song is laid back Cali vibe , as is most of the album, and I was hoping for a little more of the dry, driving funk Arrington delivered on songs such as “Weak at the Knees.” But stylistic parsing of hairs aside, the pair deliver the goods in a positive, funky, chill way. Their album should be in the possession of anybody who needs good, positive kicking it music!

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Filed under Blogging, Funk, Late 70's Funk, Music, Music Reviewing