Tag Archives: electro funk

Anatomy of The Groove 2018: “Filthy” By Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake has had a very full several years. He had a successful comeback tour for his previous two albums-both parts of The 20/20 Experience. That tour was the subject of a Netflix concert film entitled Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids. In addition, he also provided voice over work in the Dream Works animated film Trolls-as well as contributing the commercially successful single “Can’t Stop The Music” to the soundtrack as well. Since then, JT has been back in the studio. And at the end of this week, his newest album Man Of The Woods will drop to the public.

This latest album will feature 16 new songs from Timberlake-with two guest stars in the new millennium neo soul songstress Alicia Keys and another with modern country singer Chris Stapleton. So far there have been three videos for three of the new songs pre released from this album-including the duet with Stapleton. The first video/song from this new album to be released came as a bit of a surprise to me. And results showcased where Timberlake seemed to be focusing his musical energies as he was approaching his 37th birthday today. The name of this song is “Filthy”.

A rumbling guitar rumbles into a marching beat and a rocking, up-scaling riff as the intro the song. The drum suddenly changes to funky electronic tone-with a double percussion accent on the second beat. There is a dub-step style wobble bass starting things out on that rhythm. Than a live electric bass/guitar interaction comes into that mix for the song its main groove. Timberlake is rapping/chanting somewhat James Brown style in the beginning. On the chorus, an ethereal synth pad adds a high pitched layer of color. That pattern continues until a digital tone brings the song to a total halt.

“Filthy” is a song with a strong groove and a strong video-one with JT presenting himself as a Steve Jobs style figure presenting a animatronic dancing robot. The groove of the song is also an electro funk one as well.  The wobbling bass is normally associated with dub-step, EDM and trap. These are musical genres that usually emphasis more decorative beats and sounds. “Filthy” takes that modern instrumentation and brings it into a solid electro funk groove. Timberlake’s soulful vocal turns also help give the melody that funkified flavor as well. Making the song a good possible new direction for funk to take.


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Funky Revelations Of 1987: ‘The Big Throwdown’ by LeVert

LeVert were already three albums into their career , and had already more than defined their sound.  Produced by Gerald Levert, Marc Gordon, Craig Cooper and Midnight Star’s Reggie Calloway ,this is an album that,in it’s day encompassed a very broad spectrum of tempos,flavors and contemporary textures that,regardless of the tempo always has a hard driving and intense quality. Gerald as a vocalist was without doubt the son of his father;about five seconds listening to him you’ll notice how it’s hard to tell them apart at times.

The first tune on the album “Casanova” has strong shuffling hip-hop beats that in a fiery way. It predates the new jack swing sound just bursting on the scene but the relatively slow,slogging funkiness of the tempo is more in keeping with the sound achieved by Kashif on his Love Changes; a bridge crossing 80’s funk and the hip-hop based style of uptempo music that would be prominent in the future. LeVert were in a lot of ways best known for their slow songs and “Good Stuff”, “Don’t U Think It’s Time”, “My Forever Love” and “Love The Way You Move Me”.

All of those songs encompass…what I’ll describe as a cross between O’Jays-like vocal harmonies and the rhythmic ballad style of the Isley Brothers- with some rocky guitar flourishes round and about along with some tasty drum programming. “Sweet Sensation” is a shuffling uptempo kind R&B. Its therefore more in keeping with Luther Vandross and 80’s Gladys Knight & The Pips.  And it fits right in with the “retro nouveau” musical approach of 1987,  But any smoothness that style is normally associated with is sharpened up with a very strong jubilant gospel flavor.

The last three tunes on the album “In N Out”, the 8+ minute “Temptation” and “Throwdown” all showcase LeVert finding the funk with all the energy of both their own flavors and what Cameo were achieving during that period: driving rhythms and beats and some light electro flourishes that serve to emphasize the vocals,not burry the rest of the music. 1987 was a year that found R&B and funk in the throws of some very strong musical transitions and even so LeVert were managing to make everything involved in that respect sound genuinely effortless.

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Funky Revelations Of 1987: ‘Let It Loose’ by Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine

By the late 1980’s when this album came out, so much had changed for Gloria Estefan. An And for just about everything in the Latin-pop/freestyle field of dance music-which had come to rely a lot on people such as Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam as much as Gloria. And it was Estefan who more or less got the ball rolling. This is the album where her roll as a singular Latin diva really began to shine on her own. It’s not clear despite her top billing over Miami Sound Machine (which would continue on the next album) if this album is her solo debut or the final group effort.

Actually, this album wound up being something of a mixture of both as “Emilio And The Jerks” are credited for production. So it’s likely they would be more considered to be her backing band here than her being in more of a participatory role. What mattered most here is just how wonderful an album this is overall. There are some times where an album is based more in uptempo music or ballads. On this album anything, regardless of tempo, is very well done. Now this was recorded in 1987 so the album is arranged with a heavily “contempo” electro-dance style sound.

All the same, every synthesizer used here is used as a rhythm element. So this album is primarily based in rhythmic uptempo numbers such as “”Betcha’ Say That”,the title song,”Give It Up”,”Love Toy” and “I Want You So Bad” so for those who couldn’t get enough of the huge hits “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” and “1-2-3” will find the rest of the album is very consistent AND equally as poppy. So there’s no filler material here. There are two ballads here-both very different. My favorite is “Can’t Stay Away From You” which is of course the more rhythmic of the two.

“Anything For You”,which with it’s big ballad sound really showcases the more vocal style of Estefan’s music to come. I’ve always been the first one to say that with all the saturation radio play of their hits Gloria and Miami Sound Machine were one of the more unheralded pop phenomenon of their time and their music was highly impressionable on the big Latin pop boom of Ricky Martin and such a decade or so later. And during the the mid to late 80’s the electro/synth dance music of the day got just what it needed in the pulsing Latin rhythms of the freestyle movement.

The freestyle dance approach is one Miami Sound Machine (among others) helped to pioneer. So I’ll always remember this album less as a period piece (as some people might) and as an important step forward in terms of how,at different times, Latin musical styles have helped rescue pop music from rhythmically stifled time periods even when it seemed other significant musical genres could not. Let It Loose would not be the final album credited to Miami Sound Machine. At the same time, it represented them as a significant part of 1987’s vital focus of live and electronic sounds in dance music.

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Funky Revelations Of 1987: ‘Touch The World’ by Earth Wind & Fire

Earth Wind & Fire had slowly declined in commercial success during the early 80’s. But even then? They still had enough momentum from their still recent classic run of the late 70’s to sustain them creatively and with the public. Still, the pressures of losing members due to creative differences, plus the effects of the post disco freeze out, was beginning to take it’s tole on a band who’d always been able to adapt to musical changes at every point.

In 1987 the bands core Maurice and Verdine White, Phillip Bailey, Ralph Johnson and Andrew Woolfolk were convinced by Columbia to reunite. They added guitarists Sheldon Reynolds, fresh from The Commodores and Dick Smith along with drummer Sonny Avery and a brand new horn section called the Earth Wind & Fire horns. The result is probably the first major comeback album experienced in my personal memory.

“System Of Survival” begins the album with with a very fast paced horn packed call and response type modern dance/funk jam dealing with the disintegrating effects of Reagan era trickle down economics. “Evil Roy” is an even harder edged,somewhat slower tempo’d groove with a strong bass/guitar interaction illustrating the slice of life tale of a drug pusher.

“Thinking Of You” is a kalimba-led melodic pop-jazzy jam with some creamy vocal exchanges from Maurice and Phillip.”You And I”,”Every Now And Then” and “Here Today And Gone Tomorrow” are all mid-tempo,melodic funk ballads that function as an update of the Charles Stepney era EWF school of balladry. “New Horizons” references samples of songs like “Shinning Star”,”That’s The Way Of The World”,”Reasons”,Serpentine Fire” and “Magnetic” before going into a fast paced,digitized synthesizer jazz-fusion led by an Andrew Woolfolk sax solo.

“Money Tight” is a stomping,electrified hard funk number dealing with the matter of unemployment. The title song is a shuffling mid tempo gospel number-featuring White,Bailey and Reynolds vocally illustrating how individual people’s lives of turmoil effect others. “Victim Of The Modern Heart” has a powerfully jazzy melodic exchange and another show stopping vocal from Bailey.

This album is one of those that I had the privilege to experience the moment it came out. It was an enormous family event when the cassette tape was bought into the this. “System Of Survival” and “Evil Roy” were showing up on the FM dial on car rides around the town while my father gave me the chance to tune into the music videos to these songs via Friday Night Videos. It was a proud experience for me, a young man growing up in semi rural Northeast Maine in the mid/late 1980’s, to hear music that not only had a strong social consciousness but offered hope for a better future.

It’s proud to know that this album might’ve been a successful entry point to EWF for people of the late Gen X age group living in areas that may not have had access to see them in a concert setting,and where funky music wasn’t as emphasized in the culture. Overall,a very successful entry for EWF into being able to fully integrate electronics into what amounts to a total revisit to their classic sound and musical spirit.

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Funk Revelations Of 1987: ‘All Our Love’ by Gladys Knight & The Pips

One of the major conversational elements that springs up between myself and friend Henrique has to do with the music industry. In particular how many within it simply will not (or do not) fully understand the importance of groups in terms of project a singular talent-such as a vocalist. Gladys Knight & The Pips stuck it out very well years and years after many of their contemporaries had. And were having huge success during the 1980’s as well. Gladys herself has a solo career in the late 70’s/early 80’s. But now the entire group was going to try again on a different level.

Midnight Star’s Reggie & Vincent Calloway (assisted her and brother/fellow Pip Bubba Knight) made sure the bands  career together went out with a bang rather than a whimper. “Love Overboard” is a big stomping bass/guitar led late 80’s style melodic dance/funk groove. “Lovin’ On Next To Nothin’ ” adds hand claps and other elements for a more percussive Latin freestyle flavor. The mid tempo “Thief In Paradise” brings a heavier electronic flavor while “You”,”Let Me Be The One”, “It’s Gonna Take All Our Love”,”Point Of View” and “Overnight Success” have strong new jack slow jam overtones.

 The richly melodic, catchy “Complete Recovery”,the more pop oriented “Love Is Life (Love Is Ice)” and the Afro Caribbean inspired “Say What You Mean” round out this album with three more exciting uptempo numbers. While they’re known and celebrated more for individual songs? I’ve always personally viewed Gladys Knight & The Pips as something of an album oriented act as well.

Generally staying close to their own creative process? The group seemed to be keen on avoiding insubstantial filler songs. With a very strong emphasis over the years on quality control.  The Calloway’s are superb on bringing in the harder edged electro rhythmic stomp,chunky bass and guitar as well as keyboards for a phat,yet stripped down late 80’s funky soul approach that gives this iconic group the kind of wonderful sendoff they truly deserved as a functional unit.


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Funky Revelations Of 1987: ‘Keep Your Eye On Me’ by Herb Alpert

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Herb Alpert really never stopped recording in the years between his Tijuana Brass and his late 70’s comeback album Rise. And he never stopped recording between that album and this either. Yes both of albums have two important things in common. They both bridged different areas of his career. They also allowed him to reinvent his music for different generations. The Herb Alpert that made this album was not the relatively new record label mogul developing very individual artists like Gino Vannelli and recording albums with people like Hugh Masekela.

THIS Herb Alpert is a well oiled record mogul pressed into service to developing careers of videogenic megastars such as Janet Jackson. So he didn’t have to go far to find the right producer for this project. Jam/Lewis,even though really only four years into their career as producers were at this point already establishing what 80’s funk would sound like with Janet’s Control. So it was no surprise what so ever that their rhythmic but highly stylized dance/funk style would have the effect it did on Alpert as well. So here we have it: Herb Alpert’s Jam & Lewis album!

Starting off with the title cut,we’re instantly dealing with a bassy,deeply funky number where the sound of Alpert’s horn is used more as a percussive effect than anything,pushing out the melody in spurts rather than extended notes. “Diamonds” and “Making Love In The Rain”,the two Janet Jackson songs here were seen as the real draw on this album and really have more of Janet’s sound with Alpert more as a guest musician. And they are strong numbers for sure.

But there’s much more here than that. “Hot Shot” and “Traffic Jam” are two more heavy instrumental funk grooves where “Cat Man Do”,”Our Song”,”Rocket To The Moon” and especially the closing “Stranger On The Shore” really bring Alpert back as the star of the show as the primary instrumental soloist. And his distinctive,hyper melodic,vibrato heavy “bull fighting” trumpet style hasn’t changed one iota for this occasion either. On “Pillow” Herb takes over on vocals himself with Lani Hall so,in any spot where he may be vocally weak she can take over a little bit more. This dual lead harmony effect also serves to bring out the moody melodicism of the composition.

I’ve only really listen to this album once but I can already say from listen to it that this is the sort album that you will tend to get more out of each time you listen to it. It owes as much to the artist as it does to the producers. They both know how to keep the songs musically and melodically filled with just enough surprises to keep the music fresh and interesting with each listen. Again as with most things from this era a lot of people are bound to give this album some less than stellar commentary simply because it’s based in the production of the late 80’s.

And that’s not an era seen as very potent in pop music. All the same there was still enough of the kind of arrangement and melodicism that made music of the previous couple decades what it was. And in the era before the beat heavy hip-hop beats took over both R&B and jazz-pop even as the dominant rhythmic pattern that’s,along with Herb Alpert’s musical potency is part of what helps this to be a stand out album all the way.

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Funky Reflections On 1987: ‘The Right Night And Barry White’

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Personally I don’t think it’s possible to count how many times I’ve seen this CD on the racks of the local record store and never been moved by or aware enough of it to pay any mind. One key issue that had me re-thinking this oversight was a blog written by my oft quoted friend Henrique about an excellent song from this album. It again provided a strong reminder just how much funky music charted high both on radio and with the public during 1987. So it all gave me to understand that this was an album that I DEFINITELY wanted to check out. After doing so? It also shows just how much I missed out on not looking into this from the outset.

“Good Dancin’ Music” and “Sho You Right”,the song the directed me back to this album are both hard hitting,bass synth driven electro funk extravaganza’s with some of the most intricate uses of instrumental harmony I’ve ever heard. “As Time Goes By” is transformed from it’s original ballad style to percussive cinematic funky soul number with a sauntering Caribbean vibe. “For Your Love (I’ll Do Anything)” is a slow crawling,slap bass driven groove while songs such as “There’s A Place Where Love Never Ends”,”Love In Your Eyes”,”I’m Ready For Love”,”Share”,”Who’s The Fool” and the nostalgic title song all fall into his classic ballad style.

This album did an amazing job of showcasing how the more electronic instrumentation of the time was still perfectly able to support the man’s arrangements-especially as well integrated it all was. The music ideas and classic romantic monologues are all used to full affect on here as well. During the years I was growing up? Even if they were coming out fairly close together? Each and every new Barry White album was treated as a major comeback-almost as if he’d somehow disappeared off the map between those releases. In any case? This is one of those albums that I truly wished had been a part of my musical life a lot longer than it has been.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Zoolookologie” by Jean-Michael Jarre

Jean-Michel Andre’ Jarre-born in Lyon, France, was raised by a mother and grandparents. His father was the composer Maurice Jarre, and his mother a member of the French resistance fighter. As well as a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. Jean-Michel trained early on piano-an instrument he struggled with. Even at that point,he was introduced to a lot of street performers,jazz musicians and became an admirer of sculptor Pierre Soulages. A particular interest of his were the free jazz musicians John Coltrane,Don Cherry and Archie Shepp.

He saw these artists on a semi regular basis at a Paris jazz club called Le Chat Qui Pêche,which his mother frequented with him once his father had slip up with her to base himself in America.  Jarre’s musical influences in adult life could fill a book-especially his love of combining jazz harmonies,elements of musique’ concrete. After the home recording of his 1976 debut Oxygene was released, Jarre had become a pioneer of transitioning from electronic music into what became known as new age. Jarre was known for his elaborate,outdoor multi media live performances as well.

In the early 1980’s, his solo albums began to make use of the then new Fairlight CMI synthesizer and sampler. In 1984, Jarre combined a couple of compositions from his multi media projects with some newer material on an album called  Zoolook. This album had a heavy polyrhythmic base-built around world fusion and synth pop sounds of the era. And sampling from the Fairlight. He brought in a group of guests from Laurie Anderson, Talking Heads guitarist Adrien Belew and jazz-funk slap bass maestro Marcus Miller. One of the songs that caught me on this album is called “Zoolookologie”.

A backwards drum loop starts out the song-followed up by a series of Vocoderized samples-some higher and others lower pitched. After that,the main choral body of the song comes in. Its defined by a strong electro funk/freestyle drum machine rhythm and hand clapping percussion. The melody of the song is defined by a series of sampled human voices-from the low,high and right around the middle, accented by some of the same digitized voices samples from the intro. These samples also make up the bridge. All before an extended chorus fades the song into a series of clicking,brittle digital sounds.

“Zoolookogie” reminds me of what a musically successful graft of the sound of Afrika Bambaataa and The Art Of Noise would sound like. The electro funk/hip-hop rhythms are very strong here. And the sounds of many of the vocal samples still have a very atmospheric quality. It does showcase a strong move away from the near total drone that represents the stereotype of new age music. This song has a great melody,brittle synth bass line and utilizes early sampling techniques brilliantly. And is one of my favorite Jean-Michel Jarre songs from the album of his which I know best.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Was Dog A Doughnut?” by Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens, now known as Yusef Islam, was born Steven Demetre Georgiou in London. He was from a Greek and Sweedish back round, from a family of restaurateurs. Adopting the name Cat Stevens by 1966, he began singing in coffee houses before recording a pair of popular albums and singles such as Matthew & Son in the late 60’s. After that, he contracted tuberculosis. And his long recuperation encouraged him to seek holistic therapies to improve his health. This not only effected his spiritual life, which would lead him to the Muslim faith later. But a change in his music focus.

By 1970 Cat Stevens was the UK’s top representative of the signer/songwriter movement. For the next several years songs such as “Lady D’Arbanville”, “Wild World”,”Moon Shadow”,”Peace Train” and “Oh Very Young”. By the mid/late 70’s, Cat Stevens was growing restless with his music and identity yet again-prompted by a near drowning in 1976. A year later he released the album Izitso, which added synthesizers to his musical mix. The hit off the album was “Remember The Days of The Old Schoolyard”. What popped off the album for me though was an instrumental called “Was Dog A Doughnut?”.

A deep electronic pulse that evolves into a spacey synthesizer wobble provides the intro to the song-almost like an introductory fanfare. After that,a four note synth bass melody comes in,at first unaccompanied,to be joined shortly by a spacious 2 beat drum pattern that repeats on the second. A high pitched digital sequencer accompanies this until it evolves into a mid range one playing an extension of the bass part. The sound of a dog part plays a percussive role in between. Chick Corea plays an electric piano solo on the bridge before an extended chorus leads to the song closing with the dog barking sound.

“Was Dog A Doughnut?” is unlike anything I’d personally have ever associated with 70’s Cat Stevens. First heard the song as part of a CD mix by New York DJ Danny Tenaglia that my mother picked up in the early aughts. It got the perhaps expected accusation of being “too robotic” by some rock oriented critics of the late 70’s. But basically, along with Kraftwerk, it provided a jazzy funk tinged addition to the European end of the proto hip-hop/electro sound to come in the 1980’s. Strange a it might seem to some, this very quality make it one my personal favorite Cat Stevens songs.




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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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