Somehow I clearly remember first hearing jazz/fusion icon Lenny White as solo artist first. And never even having heard him as the drummer for Chick Corea’s Return To Forever from 1973 through 76. My first impression,through DJ/musician Nigel Hall’s radio show at the University Of Maine,was via White’s debut solo album Venusian Summer from 1975. Had to warm to that album. At the time? The Wounded Bird label was reissuing White’s 70’s solo catalog on CD. So it was exciting to know I’d be hearing more of his music.
Now eventually ended up with all of those reissues. But the one that caught my years most was a 1978 album called The Adventures Of Astral Pirates. It blended some of the sci fi elements of RTF’s music,not to mention the spirituality of EWF and the narrative style of P-Funk with it’s comic strip style liner notes. However there was one song on this wonderfully space funk/fusion recording that really caught my ear in a big way. It was sung by the late Don Blackman,soon to be part of White’s group Twennynine. And it was called “Universal Love”.
It all gets started with Blackman’s piano and and Jeff Sigman’s Brazilian style rhythm guitar,which quickly morphs into a thick and fat funky bass/guitar interaction to sequel into Blackman’s first vocal refrain. The first chorus begins with a falsetto vocal that goes into a sleek,electric piano led late 70’s jazz/pop melody before going into an instrumentally chunkier version of the refrain before going into an extended version of the chorus and the intro itself. And it all concludes with very final crescendo’s for each of the songs musical themes.
This song stands as a fine example of the dreamiest end of the space funk sound. The atmospheric jazz/fusion element that comes from bassist Alex Blake and Don Blackman’s touches put this right tune with what I call “people music”. Even with the talented Lenny White’s fast paced,spasmodic progressive style of drumming? It’s impressive to hear how much he seems to have learned from Clyde Stubblefield about what not to play as a funky drummer. The space White puts into this song really allows the powerful groove and melody to be at it’s most expansive.
Filed under 1970's, Alex Blake, bass guitar, Don Blackman, drums, Funk Bass, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lenny White, Uncategorized, Wounded Bird Records
Recently there have been a couple of indie funk musicians on Facebook who’ve befriended me there. Both of them had seen this blog. And wanted to their music with me. One of them was a gentleman named Tom O’Grady. He is the keyboard player/composer of the band Resolution 88 that includes bassist Tiago Coimbra,drummers Afrika Green, percussionist Ric Elsworth as well as sax player George Crowley. Tom is what a lot of music people refer to as a “roads scholar”-in reference not to a specific university but to a musician with a love of the Fender Rhodes electric piano. And this comes into play hugely on their self titled debut album,and the song that leaped out most on it for me in “Back Boobs”.
The song begins with O’Grady playing a bouncing bass synthesizer before Afrika’s drums kicks the high hats into an equally bouncing drum groove. In this O’Grady plays a musical symphony with himself on both the bass and round,high pitched melodic synthesizer. In between that he weaves in a rhythmic clavinet solo accented by his thick layers of roads. They keyboardists funk symphony is accented before each chorus by a series of rhythmic breaks-after which the bass synth that opens the song essentially re-introduces that chorus. On the final one that rhythm break extends into a light,percussive refrain after which Crowley kicks in with a spirited,free jazz styled sax solo before the main chorus again closes out the song.
First thing that comes to mind in hearing this song is O’Grady’s and the rest of the band’s long time experiences playing with many of their jazz/funk progenitors-all before coming out the box with their own grooves. He played on a couple occasions with the late Don Blackman,fellow keyboardist and one time member of Lenny White’s Twennynine. Ric Elsworth played with the swing inspired pop jazz artist Jamie Cullum. Afrika Green has even performed before the royal family on one occasion. Considering O’Grady proudly announcing Herbie Hancock as a major influence on his playing? It’s not surprising this song has a structure that makes strong nods to the Heathunter’s 1975 groove “Steppin In It” from their Man-Child album. So as a band,Resolution 88 bring their university music education in jazz with their strong feeling for funk,it’s presence and the tradition of the genre’s hybrid.
What really brings this song out instrumentally,at least to me,is the mixture of the rhythmic bounce and a very specific use of precise drum breaks. This of course goes right back to funk’s creation as heard in it’s fullest flower from James Brown’s “Cold Sweat”,of course. But one thing drummer Green and Elsworth as a percussionist do on this particular song happens on the instrumental refrains of the songs. They break up the entirely of the music with a completely drum like timing,and this is especially true on the bridge. Sometimes a drum break in funk can seem like a jarring aspect cutting the song into specific sections. In this one? It’s presented as a way of adding complete drama to the rhythm-with it’s metronome-like time signatures to the actual song. The fact that this song embraces both the fun of funk,as well as the genres high potential for crackerjack musicianship make it a vital jazz-funk revelation for the 2010’s!