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.
Jean-Luc Ponty is an artist who probably most represents my adult focus on jazz fusion/funk. A virtuosic violinist from Avranches,France Ponty was born into a family of classically trained musicians. While graduating fairly young from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris with their highest honor,he began listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane while playing with one of the countries major symphony orchestra’s Concerts Lamoureux. Ponty became known by the end of the 60’s as being a premier example of “jazz fiddle”.
The jazz community at the time had similar doubts as to the violin’s viability in jazz as they had when Rufus Harley introduced bagpipe into the genre. But with his mixture of be-bop phrasings and European classical movements,Ponty became part of the link between jazz fusion and what would become the new age music genre. He released his first solo album at the age of 22 in 1964’s Jazz Long Playing. He played with key members of the modern jazz movement until Frank Zappa wrote songs for his 1969 album King Kong. He emigrated with his family to America when asked to join Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention.
Ponty participated in the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra albums in the early 70’s as well,before restarting his solo career in 1975. By the early 80’s,he’d toured the world and recorded more than a handful of premier jazz/rock fusion albums. In 1983 he released his 15th studio album Individual Choice. The title song was given one of the first jazz music videos. He also re-ignited his collaboration with the late George Duke. He and Duke recorded a collaborative album together in 1969. And he was the chief composer of my favorite song on Ponty’s 1983 release entitled “In Spiritual Love”.
The main body of this song entirely surrounds the rhythm. Its a funky R&B shuffle done up on a brittle drum machine-surrounded by multiple synthesizer parts. One is a jangling guitar like one,the other is a bluesy bass line while a low and high orchestral one accent both. The melody begins with Ponty plucking the main melody,than playing the last part out on his violin. The song also contains two separate instrumental solos. The first is a classic Minimoog solo from George Duke. The second one is is a full violin solo from Ponty before the song fades back out on its main theme.
Over the last decade or more,I’ve heard most of Jean-Luc Ponty’s 70’s and 80’s studio albums. And enjoyed them strongly based on their album oriented context and impeccable playing. Yet of all the individual songs he’s done,”In Spiritual Love” is one of a handful that stand out strong on its own. The solos are strongly based on Ponty and Duke’s keen understanding of harmonic virtuosity and an inviting sense of melody. But the rhythmic base of the entire song is,outside its electronic presentation,a very funky rhythm & blues shuffle. So this really puts Ponty’s entire musical focus into excellent perspective.
Generally speaking I wouldn’t qualify myself as a “buy it for the cover” type when it comes to approach new music. But while browsing the new release rack at Bull Moose Books & Music last weekend,I came across one particular CD that did catch my eye. It featured 1980’s pop culture inspired artwork-including characters usually associated with McDonald’s. Luckily the store has a listening station where you can scan a CD and preview the contents. This doesn’t often work with new release music. But in some cases,such as this,it does. And the music was impressive enough where it caught my attention. On the other hand,I didn’t know anything about the group who made it.
M83 are actually an electronica group out of Antibes,France.It was started by singer/songwriter Anthony Gonzalez. And since than it’s membership has had a pretty consistent revolving door of personnel coming in and out. This new album of theirs I speak of is entitled Junk. It’s their seventh full length release and features guest musicians ranging from Beck Hanson to an uncredited appearance by Steve Vai. Gonzalez and M83 profile their music as celebrating the melodic and rhythmic approach of 80’s synth/electro instrumentation. The song that struck my particular musical ear the most on this overall strong album was called “Bibi The Dog”.
Starting off with a brittle 808 style drum machine stomp,the groove starts right out a stomping synth bass and wavering,orchestral lead line. By the time lead singer Mai Lan Chapiron begins rapping in French,the orchestration takes a total backseat for heavier percussive effects-including electronic ones. On the first chorus,she is singing with another vocoderized voice a very big band jazz phrased melody. On the second and third repeating of this chorus,horn charts accent this main melody. In between that,a sped up voice sings the lyric of the chorus in a Chipmunk-like tone before a chorus led by the wavering synth tones and horns lead the track to it’s sudden conclusion.
This groove is an excellent example of contemporary electro/boogie revival. It has a strong sense of song construction with a pronounced Parisian cabaret jazz flavor. Most important though is how well the musicians involved understand the importance of keeping the funk percolating within the groove. Bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen actually provides a thick, almost boppish electric bass line filled with fast paced chord fills.The horns and percussion play that vital call and response with the electronic orchestrations on this song. The strong rhythmic foundation of this electronic groove make it (to my ears anyway) one of the funkiest to emerge from this genre so far in 2016.
Filed under 2016, 80's revival, Andrew Gonzalez, Boogie Funk, elecro funk, France, Funk Bass, horns, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, M83, Mai Lan Chapiron, new music, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder