Tag Archives: electronica

Trans Europe Express Turns 40: Kraftwerk’s Rendezvous With T.E.E

Trans Europe Express

Kraftwerk now represent part of the base value of the electro funk sound as far as I’m concerned. Obviously Stevie Wonder’s 70’s works on TONTO innovated that sound in a major way as well. A large part of Kraftwerk’s sonic additions to the electro/techno music genres come from the album that’s celebrating its 40th anniversary today-1977’s Trans Europe Express. Ralf Hutter,Florian Schneider,Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flur had already been the going lineup of the group for four years by the time this came out. And it not only changed the face of music,but the entire general sound of the group itself.

Since their 1974 album Autobahn, Kraftwerk’s music had been becoming more thoroughly electronic in nature. The interesting thing I didn’t know about Trans Europe Express was that it was conceived and recorded in 1976-releasing the next year. That meant that it all came to be before Donna Summer’s equally game changing electronic dance masterpiece “I Feel Love” with Giorgio Moroder. Karl Bartos once spoke of James Brown in a recent Krautrock documentary as being a huge rhythmic influence on Kraftwerk’s late 70’s and early 80’s sound. And much of that got started on this album.

Much of Trans Europe Express is divided into two musical suites-each divided into separate cuts. Yet each following unifying themes. The “suite” of “Europe Endless” (which begins the album),”Frans Schubert” and the closer “Endless Endless” all surround the use of the Synthanorma sequencer,a customized device which allowed them to electronically orchestrate these pieces-melodically based in European classical music. The first of these numbers develops into a rhythmically grooving uptempo jam that runs for over 9 minutes. The sequenced melody is the glue that binds it all together all the same.

“Trans Europe Express” is all based on a slow,heavily resonating electronic drum/ percussion rhythm. The melodic instrumentation involves a series of up and down scaling orchestral string synthesizers backed up by some thick,funky Moog bass. On its extended shadows “Metal On Metal” and “Abzug”,the spoken word elements and orchestration are replaced by electronic industrial tones and repetitious choral vocals. There are two other separate songs on the album. One is the slow,ominous pulse of “The Hall Of Mirrors” and the percussive,almost melodically Gothic styled “Showroom Dummies”.

It was really two people who got me interested in the Trans Europe Express album. First was Afrika Bambaataa. And the other was my father. He told me a story of how he and his old friend David were driving to the Maine state capitol of Augusta while playing this album on an 8-Track. My dad described a memory of hearing the song “Trans Europe Express”‘s metronomic,train like rhythm as they watched the lines in the middle of the road go by. Considering Kraftwerk’s love of industrial rhythm going back to “Autobahn”,this is a superb aural legacy as to the type of groove Kraftwerk innovated with this album.

Trans Europe Express also innovated the way electronic albums were assembled. With six of its eight tracks being variations of two songs, this could very well be one of the first extended remix albums as well. Its implicit lyrical themes of cultural celebration (in this case a futurist,unified Europe) and celebrity self reflection are likely just some of the reasons this album is so influential on electro hip-hop and techno music genres. In as much as it in turn wrote the book on what has become the EDM genre, Trans Europe Express remains a treasure trove for both explored and unexplored dance music revolutions.

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Anatomy of THE Groove for 6/12/2015: “Tomorrow” by Nicolay

It was through his collaboration with Phonte on the latest album by The Foreign Exchange that got me interested in the music of Matthjis “Nicolay” Rook. Now this is a Dutch native who has been creating both solo albums and different collaborations within the funkiest side of the electronica/hip-hop/soul spectrum of music. His emphasis on live musicianship with his acumen as a multi instrumentalist is a big part of his artistic appeal for me personally.

Over the past decade,Nicolay has released a series of solo records in his City Lights series. Generally weaving them directly in between his released as a member of The Foreign Exchange. I’ve never had one of these albums. Yet the newest volume of this was subtitled ‘Soweto’-as a tribute to the South African township of the same name. And through online streaming? It was it’s opening song “Tomorrow” which caught my ear the most.

Beginning and ending with the voice of what is perhaps Bantu language conversation in the back-round? The song begins with a round bass synthesizer chord-accompanied by breezy orchestral electronics. Suddenly a burst of intense percussion kicks in for the main rhythm of the song-with congas,high hat and other Afro-Latin percussive sounds. On the bridge of the song a high pitch,and still round toned series of synthesizers play a horn like jazzy riff before gearing down into a higher pitched synth scaling up and down. All before the song ends with a light Ebonic vocalese.

One of the things I enjoy about this song is some of the same quality I heard on “If I Knew Then” from The Foreign Exchange. This song is of course far faster and electronic in straight up instrumental tone. That being said? Nicolay borrows a lot of his technique from early/mid 80’s Prince. In the sense that he is a master programmer and creator of live rhythmic and warmer,brittle bass lines with electronic drums and keyboards. It also helps greatly that he’s also an electric bassist and guitarist as well. He therefore understands the importance of a fat,rhythmic groove. Whether or not it’s produced organically. Along with it’s similarity to 1980’s Miles Davis and Weather Report? This song brings out the link between funk and contemporary electronica very strongly.

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Filed under 2015, Afro-Latin jazz, electro funk, Electronica, Fusion, Jazz-Funk, new music, Nicolay, Nu Funk, percussion, Phonte, South Africa, Soweto, synth funk, The Foreign Exchange

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/24/2015: ‘Exit’ by Tangerine Dream-Dedicated To The Memory of Edgar Froese

Exit

It was actually bands like Tangerine Dream,along with the innovations of funk synthesizer pioneers such as Stevie Wonder and P-Funk’s Bernie Worrell and Walter Junie Morrison,who helped to develop the new wave/synth pop genre that was becoming the dominant form of dance,rock and pop music for the first several years of the 1980’s. Edgar Froese,Chris Franke and Johannes Schmoelling were still operating and going very strong by the time 1981 rolled around. And for their second non soundtrack studio album of the 80’s,the band were in a state of musical adaptation to the very approach they’d played a part in creating.

“Kiew Mission” marches along with a lightly rocking beat with more textural synth lines this time and a pounding,deep orchestral line that sounds similar to the one utilized a year later as the intro to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. “Pilots Of Purple Twilight” features a full range of synthesizers providing multiple rhythms,bass lines and melodies to create a full on,flat out electro pop extravaganza. “Choronzon” is a similar type of song only with each synth line marching along in a very strident,forward style. The title song is a very spare and probing number with a basic bass line and melody while “Network 23” has a very busy set of multiple rhythms,bass and melody parts again that sounds very much like something that could be used for the opening of a television news broadcast with it’s sense of tense drama.

“Remote Viewing” concludes the album with a a longer and sparer song where both the melodic and bass synthesizers respond to each other in a very similar musical language that one might hear from a horn section. When I learned of the passing of Edgar Froese today,it took my friend Thomas Carley to help me connect the name with Tangerine Dream. And one thing I realize about the late Froese’s synthesizer work is how much call and response there is to it. Especially on this album. At a period of time when almost every strain of popular music was becoming electronically derived,albums such as this one helped to showcase WHY things worked in electronic music’s instrumentation. And this might be a far more influential Tangerine Dream album than most realize purely on that level.

Originally Posted on January 23rd,2015

Link to original Amazon review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Bernie Worrell, Edgar Froese, Electronica, New Wave, Stevie Wonder, Synth Pop, Tangerine Dream, Walter Junie Morrison

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