Tag Archives: drum machine

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Me See Your ID” by Artists Against Apartheid featuring Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, Duke Bootee and Gil Scott-Heron

Kurtis Blow, starting life in 1959 Harlem as Kurtis Walker, graduating from becoming a student of communications and ministry to becoming the first major hip-hop MC to have a substantial hit with 1980’s disco based rap classic “The Breaks”. He had a string of hits in from the early to late 1980’s. By 1994, he’d become an ordained minister. He was also noted as an early example of hip-hop interpreting itself when Nas made a cover version of Blow’s “If I Ruled The World” in 1996. It was Blow’s strong pro black stance against racism that led him into perhaps the most socially significant projects of his career.

In 1985, E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt put together an album project called Artists Against Apartheid, which featured over 50 musicians,singers and rappers in protest against the oppressively racist South African government. Artists such as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and percussionist Ray Buretto signed on. Along with rappers Grandmaster Melle Mel, Kurtis Blow,Duke Bootee,the late Nigerian musician Sonny Okosun and also late iconic jazz/funk poet/singer Gil-Scott Heron got together for a massively topical collaboration from this album “Let Me See Your ID”.

The percussive drum machines and turntabling of the late Jam Master Jay begin this song-with Melle Mell and Blow’s rapping before Miles’s impressionist trumpet textures plays over Gil Scott Heron’s poetic sections of the song. By this point in the song, Miles’ bassist of the time Doug Wimbish throws down some heavy duty funk slap bass. During the bridge of the song, Sonny Okosun sings his own lyrics while the conga’s of Ray Buretto come in and provide an extra rhythmic kick to the song for its final versus and chorus before it all comes to a stop.

“Let Me See Your ID” is one of the most superb early jazz/Afro-pop/hip-hop collaborations of its time. Musically, it showcases how vital heavy rhythm is linking all of these elements together. As for the songs lyrical cause, it has Melle Mell and Kurtis Blow earnestly rapping against racist government systems. Whereas Gil Scott-Heron’s poetic narrations provide his mixture of down home scholarly wit to the lack of knowledge many Americans have of the third world itself-never mind its problems. Its a song that, especially in light of today’s political climate, should be gone back to in a serious way.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Zeebop” by Zoe Zawinul

Joe Zawinul had moved from Cannonball Adderley onto Miles Davis. Than straight into founding the iconic fusion band Weather Report. He began a solo career in 1959. And during the same time as Weather Report,he released a fourth solo album entitled  Zawinul. Weather Report broke up in 1986. And Zawinul was completely devoted to that group from its very beginning to its very end. In the same year he released his fifth solo album and first one in 16 years. It had a pan ethnic conceptual arc that was similar to Duke Ellington’s Afro Eurasian Eclipse. The album was called Dialects. 

Zawinul stated on the CD reissue of Dialects that it was his favorite album because he felt (unlike a lot of musicians) that his concept for tone poems based on his world travel over the decades left itself better to him playing everything on it. That made Zawinul a non conformist in the jazz world of the time-celebrating electronics and new compositions at a time when the more neo conservative jazz movement of the Young Lions had taken a stronghold. When I got the CD during my days hanging out with musician/DJ Nigel Hall,the song  that caught my attention most on the album was called “Zeebop”.

The song gets a complete cold start. That consists of what amounts to three heavily industrialized sounds. One is a pounding,percussive drum machine. The other is a flat,constant synthesizer tone. And all are topped of with a layer of white noise static that is mixed just as high as the drum machine. At first Zawinul’s melodic improvisations are on a steel drum sounding synth that is buried fairly deep in the mix. As the song goes along,several layers of synth brass accompany each other in call and response harmony. And it is that aspect of the song that continues right into its fade out.

“Zeebop” is the only song I’ve heard whose sound could be likened to a full electrical charge of sound through the body. Its not noisy rock theatrics or an ambient type atmosphere. Its meditative,tribal and highly Afrocentric. The sound of it all may be a bit frightening with its sonic intensity at first. Especially since its the only fusion number I’ve heard with pure static as a main element of its sound. This goes right along with the world fusion sound of the mid/late 80’s very well. It just happens to be,perhaps,the most intense and driving examples in terms of its sound sonic’s.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love Will Save The Day” by Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston became the first female artist in the US to enter the album chart at #1 30 years and two days ago. That reminded me of that element of Whitney’s success that always had me torn. Nobody can deny Whitney’s pipes. Yet even early on in her recording career, artist development on the musical level wasn’t always considered too heavily. Her output was uneven across her albums as a result. That being said, along with her huge commercial success went through the roof, some came to view her as a natural born sellout later on.

This matter led to my mother,an early fan of Whitney,basically abandoning any and all interest in her after Whitney’s self titled 1985 debut album. So it wasn’t for decades after did I go back and rediscover her second record. Whitney basically polishes up the sound of her debut album-mixing dance numbers with heavily arranged “big ballads”. There was one song on the album that instantly got my attention-both musically and lyrically. It featured jazz/funk vibraphonist Roy Ayers (a personal favorite of mine) as well. The name of the song in question was “Love Will Save The Day”.

A gated drum opens the song,after which the rhythm turns to a steady dance one accentuated by ringing Latin style bell percussion-along with a thick rhythm guitar held together by a slippery synth bass line and Pitch bent synthesizers.intro. By the refrains, that synth is replaced by one with an Asian type melody to it. On the choruses,the synths begin the match the bell like percussion more. After a few rounds of this, Roy Ayers improvises on the vocal melody right along with Whitney’s vocals on the bridge. The song then climbs up an octave for the final chorus which brings the song to a dead stop.

“Love Will Save The Day” is, to me anyway, where everyone from producer Narada Michael Walden and musical guest Roy Ayers actually seemed to understand what Whitney Houston required in an uptempo song. The base of the song is synthesized Latin freestyle, with that jazzy funk flavor on the solo.. The lyrics set up a serious of emotional situations and emotions. With Whitney offering comforting words not to “panic when you hit the danger zone”. Honestly, if Whitney’s music had forged ahead in this manner consistently? She’d probably be more of a musical icon than a mere celebrity one.

 

 

 

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#princeday LIVES: “The Dance Electric” (1984)

Prince’s expanded edition of  his breakthrough album Purple Rain is said to have been the last full musical project he ever worked on. My former blogging partner Zach Hoskins went into beautiful detail on the early reported contents of the album. There is one aspect to this 1984 album I brought out before though. The original albums contents,even according to some members of the Revolution,was a new wave dance/rock album with very little funk or soul influence. With the inclusion of vault material recorded during these sessions, the expanded addition of Purple Rain has changed that.

In August 1984, Prince recorded an 11+ piece just two days before “The Screams Of Passion”,which would eventually be given to The Family.  Its been said Prince gifted the song to Andre’ Cymone after his mother asked him if Andre’ could record it-Andre’ apparently being “too proud” to do so. Andre’ then recorded his vocals for the song and released it on his AC album in 1985. It became a major success for Andre’. For years, Prince enthusiasts I’ve talked to have been hoping to hear Prince’s original version of the song. And now they can. The name of this song,of course is “The Dance Electric”.

A thick set of combined Linn Drum rhythms-filled with Minneapolis style flanger,shuffle and echoed claps begins the song cold. No decisive intro. And it stays there for the entirety of the song. Each clap is accompanied by a round synth bass tone. On the first chorus, high pitched and brittle synth strings are accompanied by a wiry wah wah guitar and laser beam like space synths moving between each segment. Every few choruses, the song strips back down to the the drum and synth bass intro. On the bridge,the laser synths and rhythm guitar take precedence before the extended chorus fades it all out.

There’s a distinct possibility that “The Dance Electric” is the most powerful piece of funk to emerge out of the sessions for the Purple Rain. I have no doubt Prince had every intention of releasing his version,even as a B-side,if his childhood friend hadn’t asked for it. The song is reminiscent of Alexander O’Neal’s 1987 number “Fake”. The overall rhythm of the groove is a punishing kind of funk. Its an end of the Minneapolis sound that finds the one right off. And lets that take the song exactly where it wants it to go. Its a great funky delight to hear Prince’s version of this officially available now.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Too Funky” by George Michael

George Michael celebrated his first posthumous birthday yesterday. His death came very sadly and suddenly on Christmas day last year. Since that time,I have learned (along with my boyfriend) just to how important George Michael and Wham were to the post disco UK dance/funk/soul scene of the 1980’s. Wham were one of the “big four” bands on the UK’s major music program Top Of The Pops.  As for Michael’s solo career, it operated from 1987 through 1991 before his record company conflict began. Yet that five years had Michael as part of a huge growth period for cutting edge,funky dance music.

His final single before these record company conflicts was originally recorded for his sophomore solo album Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1. It eventually ended up being released for the AIDS charity CD entitled Red Hot+Blue in 1992. All the proceeds from that and Michael’s accompanying single went to HIV/AIDS related causes. It was also Michael’s first extensive use of sampling-from sound clips from The Graduate and The Tony Hancock Show to a sample from Jocelyn Brown’s “Somebody Else’s Guy”. The name of the George Michael song that did all these things was “Too Funky”.

A fast electronic piano drum rundown introduces the song. Its a thick,slow drum machine rhythm with some shuffling, Brazilian style conga/percussion accents. The melodic body of the song is a round,five note synth brass part-along with pulsing electronic strings and like minded bass line. The piano/bass/drum interaction make up the refrains. With each choral variation, the synth brass returns and varies in tone. After a bridge that condenses the song down to the drums and bass line,the chorus fades the song out to a close with the piano part and the final sound sample of the song.

“Too Funky” is a song that basically pulls together all of the funkiest elements of 80’s dance music innovations. It has the the percussive shuffle of DC go go, the dramatic synthesized horns of the Minneapolis sound and the repetitive bass and piano of house music. What makes it “too funky” is not merely the sexually free (yet somehow post AIDS) lyrical content. But also the somewhat slower tempo and that percussive jump on the rhythms. George Michael wouldn’t put any new music out for four years after this. But it sure capped off the beginning of his solo career with a strong groove.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Yellow Light” by Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams has had four years since the summer of 2014. That was the summer that almost every town in America had people making YouTube videos to his stripped down soul jazz styled dance number “Happy”. Thus far,its likely the anthem for the 2010’s. And a somewhat unexpected one at that. Since that time,Williams has immersed himself in supporting social causes along with his usual production work. Among them was the 7 continent ‘Live Earth’ concert done with Al Gore to help raise awareness of and pressure governments to act on climate change.

Considering the recent global climate change conferences and the phenomenal response to “Happy” four years ago, Williams is fast proving the cynics wrong. That music can actually change the world-one song at a time. Recently Universal has released the sequel film Despicable Me 3. The 16 song soundtrack is set to feature seven songs from Pharrell Williams. One of them is a song which I heard via a Vevo search, for the very first time, just a couple days ago. And something about it just hit me over the head. The name of the song is “Yellow Light”.

Williams’ vocals popping along to the popcorn style synthesizer make up for the intro. The then main body of the song comes in. For the most part,its made up of a brittle and funky drum machine beat with a number of fills-accented on the final beat with a hi hat sound. In between that is a thick, bassy wah wah style,higher pitched synth wobble. Between each section of the song, there’s a break where an electric rhythm guitar accompanies William’s gospel like vocal shouts exactly. A vocal sample of someone saying the word “yo” fades out the song.

Musically speaking “Yellow Light” speaks to Pharrell Williams putting his special touch on his ever growing musical fusions. His basic style here is based on 80’s electro funk/hip-hop: instrumentally condensed and focused directly on the groove. At the same time, non of the mans soulful passion and love of humanity is lost on the song. Its an anthem for what he calls  “the united states of uncertainty”-praising sunlight as the “best disinfectant”-even throwing subtle shade at modern Hollywood with the line with “everyone’s overdosing the blue light use”. All and all,another one of Pharrell’s finest.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “In Time” by Sly & The Family Stone (1973)

It would seem that 1973 bought a lot of changes into the Family Stone. Sly Stone had pretty much recorded There’s a Riot Going On by himself in a state of paranoid isolation. Band members were dubbed in as needed,with some such as Larry Graham and Greg Errico barely utilized-if even at all. This combined with Sly missing gigs during this era,to the point of it being blamed for starting a riot in Chicago in 1970 meant that some serious changes were needed within the band,if it was going to endure. In 1972 Larry Graham left the Family Stone to form Graham Centeral Station,with drummer Errico leaving during the same period.

During this time Sly himself began revamping the band. He bought in Rusty Allen to play bass during the time Graham was leaving and Andy Newmark as a drummer to succeed Errico. A vocal trio called Little Sister,including future Mrs. Leon Russel in Mary McCreary also came into the mix. Sly recorded with somewhat more involvement from the band for the album that would become 1973’s Fresh. Being a musical perfectionist, Sly insisting on remixing these songs even after the album came out. While this resulted in the original US CD release of it containing some of these alternate takes,the album began with a very defining groove for 70’s era Sly entitled “In Time”.

Sly begins the song with Newmark playing a very idiosyncratic march that intertwines with his own Maestro Rhythm King,an organ based drum machine,to play an Afro Latin percussive rhythm. Freddie plays a very probing melodic guitar with Sly’s organ providing a melodic pillow in the back round. Sly’s two note bass line seems to be present on this part. On the choruses,the drumming gets seriously on the one along with the horns and Allen’s more flamboyant bass parts. And the horns also play their usual call and response role on each rhythm. On the two instrumental refrains,Jerry Martini’s sax solos accompany Sly’s organ before the song closes on it’s own repeated choruses.

What this song does is serve the best possible purposes an opening tune can on an album. It sets the state for the sound for what is to come in that regard. Fresh is an album that blends a stripped down production with a slick sound and a full instrumental approach. And this song can best be described that way. The funk on this song,especially with it’s heavy rhythmic breaks and Sly’s drawling vocals,is more fully formed than it was on the previous album. The sound of the Maestro Rhythm King on early 70’s Sly records would also find it’s way onto Shuggie Otis’s work from the same period. So again,Sly was on the cutting edge of blending innovative instrumentation with strong rhythmic funkiness.

 

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