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Jesse Johnson’s ‘Every Shade Of Love’ Turns 30: Jesse’s Third Solo Album & The Changing Face Of Funk In The 80’s

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Jesse Johnson really stood out among the musicians who came in and out of Prince’s purple circle during the early/mid 1980’s. As a matter of fact, he was the only musician on the Minneapolis scene who could be a full on rival to to Prince’s talent. Both were writers, singers,producers and multi instrumentalist performers of their own material. And both were amazing guitar players as well. Feeling quite subordinated in the Time,as if Prince were somehow hogging all the glory he left in 1984 to put together the Jesse Johnson Revue.

His debut album under that name the following year was very much patterned after Prince’s own sound. However his followup in 1986 Shockadelica showcased a harder, more consistently funk oriented sound with horns and a guest appearance from Sly Stone. Again a couple years later,Johnson continued to develop his strong musical talent on this his third solo release. “Love Struck,”So Misunderstood”-with its JB like “good god” chants”,”I’m The One”-the only song featuring another musician in keyboardist Jeff Lorber and “Color Shock” represents half an album of non stop funk of the highest order.

The grooves are thick and strong,the rhythms kick right along and the guitar playing, which commands the listener to be moving to these songs with their romantically desirous yet thought provoking lyrics. The title song is a percussive new jack/hip-hop jam that again deals with interracial romance, which The Time had already covered on their Ice Cream Castles. “I’m Just Wanting You” is a dynamic ballad that otherwise has a more urban contemporary twist- while “Stop-Look-Listen” has new wave era variation of the gospel/funk sound of Graham Central Station with some clever lyrical wordplay.

Ever since I first heard about this album, it was often touted as one of Jesse Johnson’s best albums. And I cannot disagree with that viewpoint. However it was always presented to me as a hard rock album. So of course it was a bit surprising to hear that this album is probably the hardest full on funk release he ever made during the 80’s. The rock element I hear is primarily in some of the Hendrix like,amplified blues guitar solos on some of these songs-a technique Jesse shares with Prince. Difference is Jesse is perfectly willing at all times to cite his guitar influences.

And you can hear them loud and clear on these songs. Overall this is one of the finest examples of strong and live oriented funk being produced during the late 80’s. There is more of a live drum and bass/guitar interaction here. And the synthesizers play more of a harmonic than a leading role instrumentally. That’s pretty amazing for a multi instrumentalist in this era. Though they were sometimes at odds, Jesse and Prince were often following different paths on the same basic road. Every Shade Of Love is a powerful  80’s funk album from an artist who contributed a lot to the grooves of that era.

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Billy Cobham’s ‘Spectrum’: A Drummer At 74, A Debut Album Nearing 45

Spectrum was an album that I had to grow into. And that growth occurred through a specific kind of context as well. Knowing full well that the album was Billy Cobham’s debut as a leader following his departure from the Mahavishnu Orchestra? I was very psyched up to hear this album upon first learning about it a decade or so ago. At the time? My views on progressive instrumentation was caught between the influence of my own likes and the happiness of others. The precision style of what I call “speed fusion” put me off to some degree at the time because of that ambiguity.

It was growth from both within and without myself that led to appreciating Spectrum  more. “Quadrant 4” is basically a blues based combination of the jazz fusion synthesizer playing of Jan Hammer with Cobham and Tommy Bolin giving the song a shuffling hard rock theatrics about the general atmosphere of the song. “Searching For The Right Door” begins as a grandly percussive drum solo before going into a more funk oriented stomp for the title song. “Anxiety” similarly goes into the uptempo,rhythm guitar based uptempo funk/fusion of “Taurian Matador”.

“Stratus” is a tremendous near 10 minute number that takes the progressive drum solo into a rhythm guitar/electric piano led funk storm- before returning to a full band version of that huge intro sound yet again. “Le Sis” has another mellow electric piano based jazz/funk groove about it with a strong melody and slippery synth solo. “Red Baron” is still my favorite number here-with it’s slow stomping groove keeping itself funky in the James Brown tradition. This concludes the blend of jazz rock soloing and jazz funk grooves that pepper themselves across the album.

One of the things that I’ll bet that suits me more listening to this album today? It’s very much created with musicians in mind. Melody and song structure takes an almost total aside for instrumental ability. As well as extremely complex changes in rhythm. As casual listening? It might not work as well. It is an album you have to invest in,study it a bit. Each song encompasses so many contrasting themes? It’s not even something you can dance to. Yet if your in just the right mood? This is seriously addictive,not to mention extremely well played on,jazz/funk/fusion at it’s finest.

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‘Street Player’ At 40: Rufus & Chaka Khan At The Crossroads Of Funk

Street Player followed the Ask Rufus album in 1978 with Chaka and the band finding themselves facing new territory. Drummer Andre’ Fischer had departed due to a falling out with Chaka involving her alcoholic and micromanaging husband Richard. Chaka was also moving towards the solo career that seemed inevitable after three of the original band members left in 1974. Not only that, but the band were now without a drummer. While they searched for a more permanent replacement, the band bought in former Leon Russell session drummer Richard “Moon Calhoun for this particular session.

As keyboard player Nate Morgan departed during that same time, David “Hawk” Wolinski, who had co-written the previous albums “Hollywood”, joined Rufus as a regular member. His playing, writing and even singing projected a stronger physical personality into Rufus that no one had possessed since Tony Maiden joined the band in 1974. Since the more reflective (and occasionally slower tempos) of the previous album didn’t always meet with the greatest of enthusiasm, the band decided to take a more contemporary production of their more classic uptempo funk sound.

The title song of this album was written with Hawk and Chicago’s Danny Serephine, and that bands version was included on their 1979 album Chicago 13-an album musically similar to Rufus in many ways. Chaka herself composed “Stay”, a more mellowed out bass/guitar type groove somewhat similar to what was on the previous album yet strong enough to endure as one of her classic songs. “Turn” is a unique hard funk song. Very bluesy in orientation and full of powerful horn, bass/guitar and organ interaction. Moon Calhoun also maintains the classic stop/start rhythmic complexity here.

“Best Of Your Heart” is a melodic, jazzy mid tempo ballad that swings right into the fast paced,percussive Brazilian jazz instrumental “Finale”,featuring a tremendous synthesizer solo from Hawk. “Blue Love” is one of my favorite songs here-starting off with a melodic synth line,it goes from somber break up ballad into an uptempo jazzy funk jam as the confidence level in Chaka’s lyrics rise as the song concludes with understanding “you never know love until somebody leaves you”.”Stranger To Love” is a powerfully orchestrated ballad-built upon its strings and flanger filtered drums.

“Take Time” is one of my favorite Rufus instrumentals-a very bass oriented in the pocket kind of groove with a very strong synthesizer counter melody with Tony Maiden rocking out pretty Hendrix style on lead guitar solo. “Destiny” is a wonderfully melodic bossa/jazz-pop type number that Chaka gives one of her all time stand out vocal performances. As far as I’m concerned? Its one of her classic songs. “Change Yours Ways” ends the album in a very jazzy funk mode-again with somewhat drastic shifts in tempo. This gives Street Player a truly unique quality about it rhythmically.

Each song tends to be like a pocket jazz/funk/soul symphony-often with two unique parts fusing into a single song. And considering what Rufus were experiencing at this time, its only fitting that the lyrical focus of this album zeroed right in on themes of change and growth.  That leaves Street Player as basically the culmination of Rufus’s classic sound. It still has the unique instrumental trademark of mid 70’s Rufus, but a lot of the lushness of the latter 70’s era. In many ways? Its one of Rufus’s most creative, strong and enduring musical works. Especially with its focus on uptempo songs of different musical colors.

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Herbie Hancock-‘Thrust’ & The Continuing Musical Mission Of The Headhunters

Herbie Hancock’s turned career heavily toward funk with the Head Hunters album. Its a style he’s never fully abandoned to this day. True, he never stopped playing acoustic jazz either. There’s a quality of “oneness” he sees in regard to the two musics,which he’d later extend into the hip-hop era. By this point he’s dealt with a lineup change. Harvey Mason has left for a solo career in 1974. So Herbie brought in the worthy, and very talented, successor Mike Clark. This not only made the Headhunters a biracial unit.  But it also represented another musically funky stride ahead.

While it was every bit the success of it’s predecessor, it was out of print on CD until the late 90’s and even still tends to be slightly overlooked. But if your familiar with Herbie’s albums before this you’d know his sound for the rest of the 70’s would’ve been completely different without the presence of this album. While it’s not fundamentally different than Head Hunters there are vital changes in approach that make the difference. With it’s use of breaks “Palm Grease” this funk groove is the closest thing to what was heard on the previous album.

“Palm Grease” also augments the pulsing synthesizers ,as it does on most of this album, with Herbie’s processed Clavinet. Also the synthesizers are more of an orchestral sort-using the newly employed ARP strings which Herbie himself would later lament he too often tried to use to simulate actual strings. This created a dreamier effect than perhaps intended. “Actual Proof”, a title based on a certain type of Buddhist chanting is an extremely fast past, repetitive yet musically crowded piece with lightening fast Clavinet riffs until again, towards the middle it’s back towards more of a jazzy keyboard groove.

“Butterfly” is a wonderful composition, one of Herbie’s finest and features a smoother Rhodes solo showcasing more use of space than the rest of this album tends to,focusing on inventing new melodies from the reeds and keyboards. “Spank-A-Lee” on the other hand is very straight ahead jazz-funk, NOTHING like what you’d hear on the previous album with its in the pocket rhythms and Clavinet riffs. With  striking cover art depicting Herbie in a musical space pod descending upon some lunar base, this has a place as one of my favorite Headhunters era releases.

For me, Thrust contains the most well realized fusion of jazz, funk and soul of any of Herbie in this period. And expands on the sound  forged on Head Hunters. It also show show funk wasn’t merely a 70’s R&B/soul style. But that it represented a creative way of using rhythm in music to expand it towards its most creative end. One can easily dance to this, it contains more than enough musical breadth to enjoy it on the instrumental level. And one can even hum or sing the melody of tunes like “Butterfly”. Whatever else Herbie Hancock has done and continues to do, he can be proud of music of this caliber

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‘Here, My Dear’ At 40-Marvin Gaye’s Funky Space Reincarnation Of Romantic Endings & Beginnings

Marvin Gaye’s back story for his fifteenth studio album is well known by this point. Gaye’s wife Anna Gordy sued him for divorce following as he was pursuing a relationship with teenage Janice Hunter. And it was agreed that half the proceeds from his next album to go to Gordy as part of the divorce settlement. At first considering making a lukewarm album out of spite, Marvin decided to weave the reality about the end of  his marriage into one of his musically cinematic narratives- with a conceptually abstract twist. That was the nucleus of the album that became Here, My Dear.

The wah wah heavy title track starts out the album. As writer David Ritz pointed out, Marvin’s vocal harmony based style is rooted in doo wop. And the 70’s funky soft soul of this number, in the 6/8th country/soul shuffle tempo. “I Met A Little Girl” has a similar style- only a bit gentler reflecting both early 60’s Motown balladry and its narrative about the 12 years of his marriage to Anna. “Everybody Needs Love” is a moment where the basic groove of the opening title song extends into a full blown self examination of Gaye’s view on love in general.

“When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You” is also reprised as an instrumental. But its a whole other beast musically- a powerful, percussion laced groove filled with the kind of jazzy chords and melodic exchanges this album celebrates. Now for songs that get heavily into the jazz styled vibe? “Sparrow” alternates from blues to Afro Latin percussion-including a bop styled sax solo from Ernie Fields. “Is That Enough” goes for a cinematic approach that showcases not only heavily arranged orchestration, but a section of the song where the musicians jam away without lead vocals from Gaye.

“Anna’s Song” returns to the medium tempo R&B shuffling of “Trouble Man” from seven years earlier. “Time To Get It Together” gets deep into the thumping,percussion laced funk groove-filled with Marvin’s melodically soulful yet futuristic synthesizer playing. “Anger” and “A Funky Space Reincarnation” are both musically based on the same type of sophistifunk Rhodes/wah wah/percussion based funk crawl. Each conceptually contrasts the other. On the former, Gaye is reconciling his scattered emotions. On the latter, he in on a sci fi odyssey with Anna-attempt to seduce her in with “Venusian smoke”.

“You Can Leave, But It’s Going To Cost You”  is another funk number-this time with a more bluesy style of bass/guitar interaction as Gaye illustrates with journalistic clarity his final attempt to reconcile with his estranged wife. The almost Barry White like cinematic funky soul of “Falling In Love Again” goes into his assumed future with Janice. Over the years, my friend Henrique and I have discussed this perhaps more than any other Marvin Gaye album. It was actually first brought to my knowledge through my father purchasing the 8 Track during the 1990’s.

Having heard it with this depth of musical knowledge today? Here, My Dear emerges as probably the most funky breakup album to have been released. While it plays out like the kinds of cinematic soul album opera’s that Gaye had been doing with Leon Ware? A good cross section of the music gets as deep into a contemporary late 70’s sophisticated funk groove with a number of variations in flow and style. From deep in the pocket to jazzier and free flowing. And that goes directly with the “moods of Marvin Gaye” during the time this was recorded too.

With musicians such as guitarists Gordon Banks and Wali Ali interacting with  bassist Frank Blair? Not to mention the drum/percussion flow of drummer Bunny Wilcox with percussionists  Gary Jones and Elmira Collins? The added sweeteners of horn players Nolan Smith’s trump and tenor sax players Charlie Owens and Fernando Hawkins all play their roles in providing what amounts to the soundtrack for the divorce of Marvin Gaye. This is even played out in the Monopoly game of “judgement” on the albums back cover.

Here, My Dear didn’t endear itself to Anna Gordy at first. As David Ritz explained in his Gaye biography Divided Soul, Marvin invited Anna to a private listening of the album. Its conceptual voyeurism had her contemplating a suit for invasion of privacy.  That didn’t seem to have occurred. As my friend Henrique also pointed out, the modern cinematic video approach of a Kanye West might’ve helped visualize Marvin Gaye’s narrative on this album. Gaye did however help innovate the confessional funk approach with soul, class and imagination. Resulting in another album that continues to age like fine wine.

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Bootsy? Player Of The Year At Just Over 40 Years Old!

Bootsy Collins’ career as a band leader started around 1971 when he and his brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins put together The House Guests in Cincinnati. And after five years of being folded into George Clinton’s P-Funk collective of Funkalelic and Parliament. In 1976, Bootsy merged some of those former House Guests with other members of P-Funk to form The Rubber Band. From the very beginning, the venture revolved around Bootsy and his stage persona. So he and the Rubber Band’s cartoon like concept attracted a younger audience into enjoying P-Funk.

By1978 , the P-Funk juggernaut was at it’s prime. It had spin off acts flying all over the place. And has a loyal fan base keeping a vested interest. On this album we start out with Bootsy declaring “what’s the name of your town?” on..”Bootsy’s What’s The Name Of This Town”, a frantically quick tempo’d stew of bass/drum rhythm with call and response vocal exchanges. It’s flat out hyper-energized funk. “May The Force Be With You” is a great example of ballad paced funk-with Bootsy’s thick bass pops and the choral vocals illustrating a sexually charged Star Wars metaphor.

The trill falsetto voiced Gary Mudbone Cooper (in contrast with the quirky sighs of Robert “P-Nut” Johnson) takes the lead on the the rather soul/reggae oriented love song of “Very Yes”-cooing in a comically alluring yet sensuous manner. This all continues with “Bootzilla” which, along with “Roto-Rooter” both meld rhythmically exciting,full band funk-thick with orchestral synthesizers and a Bootsy’s explosive instrumental presence. “Hollywood Squares” is a slower crawling, foot stomping  P-Funk number.  These songs embrace that classic P-Funk embrace of satirizing American advertising slogans.

This form of satire comes right from the black DJ tradition. And late 70’s P-Funk expanded on them to promote their own musical concept. “I Love You” features P-Nut and Mudbone again on a more fluid,very jazzy oriented slow groove ballad with strong psychedelic undertones. This album represents Bootsy’s Rubber Band right in it’s musical prime. The energy level,even on the slower songs,is just infectious. And considering P-Funk’s relatively nil commercial reception in the long term scope of things? One doesn’t require the charts for success because as Bootsy might say? The proof is in the footing.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Splash” by Randy Brecker & Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias was born in  São Paulo. And was a musical prodigy. She began learning piano at the age of 7, transcribing solos from musicians at 12 and teaching music by 15, She went on to perform with singer Toquino and poet  Vinicius de Moraes during her late teens. After journeying to New York to attend the Julliard School Of Music, Elias joined up with the new jazz fusion outfit Steps Ahead. It was there she met jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker, to whom married for a time and with whom she had a daughter Amanda Elias Brecker.

As a multi talented pianist/singer/ composer/arranger, Elias has gone onto earn praise from the jazz press over the decades. The first time I ever heard about her was via a cassette she recorded when married to Randy Brecker in 1985 entitled Amanda. It would seem to have been her first album as a leader. Having it on vinyl now? Its a lot easier for me to hear the albums reconciliation of Elias’s Brazilian jazz approach with Brecker’s funk/fusion approach in their improvisations and orchestrations. And the song that really pulls this all together for me is this albums lead off number entitled “Splash”.

Danny Gottlieb’s funky drumming starts things out with Elias’s phat synth bass and Jeff Mironov’s rhythm guitar interaction. Where Will Lee’s electric bass supplies the rest of the song’s bass lines. Brecker plays a brittle melody over this before the main chorus-where Elias provides a chordally complex, flute like wordless vocal-duetting in harmony with Brecker’s trumpet. The bridge of the song features an energetic piano solo from Elias  along with her synth bass. Then after a break,there’s a muted electric solo from Brecker before an extended chorus continues to the songs fade out.

“Splash” is a song that crosses a lot of different jazz bridges. Its production sonic’s are cleanly of the mid 80’s. At the same time, the actual arrangement Brecker provides from this song is a mix of jazz samba and be-bop. Same goes for the how Elias and Brecker approach their solos. At the same time, the rhythm section and electricity of the synth bass and trumpet/guitar interaction hits on thick funk/jazz grooving. At the same time, the melody takes a cue from the Miles Davis/Dizzy Gillespie school of “something you can hum”. So “Splash” hits its bop/funk/Latin jazz hybrid in all the right places.

 

 

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‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’- Sly Stone And Another Kind Of Family Affair!

Sly & The Family Stone made key contributions to the overall musical landscape of the late 1960’s. And those contributions are still somewhat under explored in professional literary terms. Sly Stone himself took the funk of James Brown, then blended in a helping of Bay Area California psychedelic pop/rock. The results were enduring hits such as “Dance To The Music”, “Stand”, “I Wanna Take You Higher” and the full on funk breakthrough “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf”. It was a racially and sexually integrated group too-with female instrumentalists and black and white members.

The Family Stone WERE the musical face of the American social revolutions of that late 60’s period. As the 70’s came in, the band and their times remained deeply connected to one another. Sly’s drug use, and resulting isolationism, impaired the bands ability to perform with him. In America at large, the all inclusive mass social protests of the late 60’s were giving way to a form of activism known by some as the “single issue cause”. Women, LGBT people and the black community were now each demanding to have their own voices heard as individual groups.

By the early 70’s some notions of sharing, peace and love became diminished as these individual groups fought for their own recognition. The same occurred within The Family Stone. As often happens with heavy drug users, Sly’s focus became more focused on his creativity. So for his 1971, originally titled Africa Talks To You, Sly utilized the talents of himself along with the late Ike Turner, Bobby Womack and Billy Preston more than the members of his band.  This sense of isolation and disconnect from the world around Sly changed his creative focus for the late 1971 release of There’s A Riot Goin’ On.

“Luv ‘N Haight” starts out the album with a rumbling, motor like drum which is powered by heavy wah wah guitar/bass interaction. Its deeply funky groove wise. But the chorus scales up and down in the manner of classic Family Stone. “Just Like A Baby” is a slow, bluesy shuffle. Its melody is Clavinet based-played in its higher registers. That gets a bit lower with the economic bass and…what I’d guess would by Womack’s soulful guitar accents. Sly’s strained voice, also with a high pitched tone, flows in and out as an almost ghostly presence.

“Poet”s stop/start rhythm utilizes the Maestro Rhythm King 2 drum machine-along with layers of call and response Clavinet/bass/guitar interaction. “Africa Talks To You “The Asphalt Jungle”” takes on a very similar flavor-with Womack’s guitar again being a key melodic element-with some pulsing Moog bass assisting the live on towards the end. “Family Affair” again features the MRK2 drums playing a more steady rhythm-with the wah wah and Rose Stone singing the hook to Sly’s low,drunken sounding delivery along with a melodic electric piano counterpoint.

“Brave & Strong” uses both the MK2 drums and live ones-depending on how advanced the rhythms are. Cynthia and Jerry’s horns play their classic counterpoint to the bass/ guitar/ Clavinet interaction remaining at the center of the song. “(You Caught Me) Smiling” begins with a live drum/electric piano/Clavinet led pop/jazz type melodic statement before the slap bass and horn rises play the bluesy funk based vibe of the rest of the song-balancing the songs hesitant conceptual mood with separate musical statements. And it says a lot that the “title track” is merely a silent second of audio.

“Time” has a deeply slowed MK2 allows for Sly’s bluesy/soul jazz inspired organ and Clavinet melodies to accompany to fill in the vastly empty spaces of rhythm within the song-all along with his own vocals. The drum machine on “Spaced Cowboy” has a bossa style rhythm , while the live drum rocks right along to a wah wah/Clavinet based sound. Essentially, its a satire of blues tinged country/bluegrass type of song.  “Runnin’ Away”s chorus has a steady drum, bass and organ sound to it. The refrain has the drums and bass get more rhythmically complicated-with the horns and guitar providing the melody.

“Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa” operates as a slowed down remake of “Thank You Falettine Me Be Mice Elf”-recorded for but not released on this album, with the bass, guitar and organ playing over the empty sections of the drum’s rhythm. That approach to Sly’s major funk innovation of the previous year showcases how, even there, his thematic focus was growing more paranoid. Especially as throughout this album, there are constant lyrical references to “feeling so good inside myself”, “frightened faces on the wall” and even declaring that “the brave and strong survive”.

There’s A Riot Goin’ On musically established Sly’s 70’s era sound. Its a spare one that’s based heavily in the organ styled MRK2 drum machine he was using-along with the bursts of different electric pianos with the bass/guitar interaction. Only on two occasions (in the albums hit songs “Family Affair” and “Runnin’ Away”) did the more brightly melodic singalong style of late 60’s Sly & The Family Stone shine through strongly. Otherwise, the album (both musically and lyrically) emphasizes that connection between both Sly and politicized Americans as turning inward as the 70’s began.

Riot isn’t a Sly album that I personally take out and listen to very often. While musically its very innovative in terms of how the funk genre was progressing? The album’s psychedelic element lacks a sense of musical form and structure that functions so well for Sly Stone-both before and after this album. Yet as an aural psychedelic funk work of art, There’s A Riot Goin’ On might be its own self contained 45 minute musical sub genre. The fact that its an album that exists in its own musical world goes right with its reflection of Sly’s shift from talking to the people to talking more as an individualist.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “White Boys And Heroes” by Gary Numan

Gary Anthony James Webb was born into a working class family in the Hammersmith area of West London. Interestingly enough, his bus driver father brought him his first guitar. And after playing in a number of bands, he became the lead singer/ songwriter/ producer of the pioneering British new wave band Tubeway Army. His biggest success with them was the #1 hit “Are Friends Electric” in 1979. Later that year, his solo career kicked off to a major start with his internationally successful song “Cars”-from his debut solo album Pleasure Principle. These songs both helped kick off the synth pop genre.

Numan’s music began to take on a more orchestral based sound as the 80’s drew in. Albums such as 1981’s Dance even took on elements of jazz into the musical mix. With bands such as Level 42, Duran Duran and Heaven 17 deriving their sound from American funk and disco, Numan looked to the driving rhythm and expert playing of the funk genre as part of his 1982 album I, Assassin. Numan himself felt this change was important for his music-as he saw many synth pop artists at the time being stuck in a rut. And this 1982 album got right off with the funk on the song “White Boys And Heroes”.

A brittle drum machine and a dark, prickly synth bass tone build up into the refrain. This consists of Chris Slade and John Webb’s heavy Afro Cuban drum/percussion interaction. Pino Palladino’s thick, grooving fretless slap bass completes that part of the song. On the chorus, Numan takes off on a chorus with his swelling synth/guitar orchestral parts. With Pallidino’s bass taking off on runs more. After an couple choral/refrain rounds, the bass led refrain of the song becomes an instrumental bridge for the song. And it all ends on an extended chorus featuring “Mike” on sax as the song fades out.

“White Boys And Heroes” explores one of early 80’s new wave/synth pop’s most interesting elements. Part of it was the turn to funkiness-its combinations of brittle beats and synth washes with The Who’s Pino Palladino’s fretless slap bass and percussive groove made it very complimentary to what Talking Heads and Prince were doing at the time. The songs theme-seeming to parody the jingoistic, white male macho image also works with the mechanized rock end of new wave with the Afrocentric funk groove. So Gary Numan hit on a compelling musical and thematic mixture on this song.

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1978 On The Longplay: Larry Carlton’s Self Titled Warner Bros. Debut From Room 335!

Larry Carlton spent the mid 70’s as an active member of The Crusaders. They were, during that time, a significant training group for musicians playing in the jazz/funk/ fusion genre. Musicians such as Wayne Henderson, Joe Sample and Carlton himself were part of the LA scene of session players who helped augment the sound of everyone from Sammy Davis Jr, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and of course Steely Dan. So by the time 1978 rolled around, Carlton had access to musicians such as then Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro and percussion icon Paulinho Da Costa. So his solo career was off and running.

Porcaro and keyboardist Greg Mathison shine on the opener “Room 335”-named for the recording studio the album was recorded in. The main theme of the song has a very similar melody to Steely Dan’s hit song “Peg”. This is augmented by string arrangements and serves as a forum for Carlton’s precise yet emotionally stratospheric playing style. “Where Did You Come From” is a soulful samba where Da Costa really shines percussion wise. Carlton sings lead vocal on the song-in a smooth,romantic. voice reminiscent of a higher toned version of how Herb Alpert sounds when he’s singing.

“Night Crawler” is of course a redone song that Carlton contributed to the Crusaders Free As The Wind album a year earlier. This version is very similar, though just a slight bit more polished in execution. “Point It Up” goes for a straight ahead jazz/rock shuffle-with Carlton and bassist Abraham Laboriel really taking off-especially with Laboriel’s slap bass riffing. “Rio Samba” brings Da Costa’s percussion, Mathison’s Rhodes and organ along with Carlton’s guitar for an melodically uptempo Brazilian fusion number. One where Carlton even finds a moment or two to rock out on its refrains.

“I Apologize” is a personal favorite of mine on this album. Its a heavily bluesy jazz/funk number-again with Carlton taking the lead vocal. This time, the vibe on that level is more Michael Franks. Enhanced by Laboriel’s slap bass again and the backing vocals from William “Smitty”Smith. With Carlton even taking off to solo on the bridge before the song changes pitch on the final few bars. “Don’t Give Up” brings in that clean, rocking R&B shuffle that sounds like an instrumental written for a Boz Scaggs. Again, Carlton really takes off on both ultra melodic and bluesy style solos throughout the song.

“(It Was) Only Yesterday” ends the album on its lone ballad-again with the string orchestra coming in behind Carlton. And at the same time as enhancement to the sustained cry of his guitar. One thing the Larry Carlton album clarifies, actually being his third proper solo album, is how much of an amazing vocal tone Carlton’s guitar has. Its actually close in technique to Carlos Santana at times. Yet is based more heavily around arpeggiated runs and pitch bending than consistently sustaining notes. But Carlton’s guitar sings. And on this album, many more times than he actually does with his voice.

Because the sound blends both late 70’s studio polish with heavy duty jazz/funk grooves and soloing, again many of these songs sound as if they were recorded for specific popular singers of that day. That makes this album an excellent album of how much late 70’s jazz/funk session musicians had an impact on the big West Coast pop albums of that era, especially. So Larry Carlton offers a great deal to the listener. Its got the blues, its got the Brazilian jazz, its got the funk and it rocks. Its also hummable and musical at the same time. And all those are excellent qualities for any instrumentally based album.

 

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