Tag Archives: free jazz

Prince-One Year Later: “She Spoke 2 Me” (1991)

Prince developed a carefully crafted persona as a man of mystery. That extended far into his music as well. If one looks at any Prince based website today, he seems to have revealed uneven information on his recording sessions: when he made what and who played with him if applicable. What is well established is that he’d recorded dozens of songs for each album,as many artists actually do. And siphon off the cream of that crop for the album in question. This is a likely case involving a song I’ve enjoyed by him since hearing it during the mid 90’s.

On the soundtrack for the Spike Lee Joint Girl 6,one song that every single member of my family fell in love with was “She Spoke 2 Me”. It was one of two unreleased songs (including a seemingly new title song) Prince provided for the film. A few years later,Warner Bros released a collection of Prince music recorded in the early 90’s called The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale. This included an extended version of “She Spoke 2 Me”,apparently recorded with the original NPG lineup in late 1991 according to PrinceVault.com. And that’s the version of this song I’m reviewing today.

A rumbling bass and drum begins the song,before it all settles into the musical statement of the chorus. This brings in a sizzling jazz-funk styled drum break with Prince playing a bluesy 7 note ascending rhythm guitar part-with the NPG horns responding with an instrumental version of the vocal hook. The refrain has more sustained muted trumpets and a slightly higher chord progression. After several rounds of this,the last 3-4 minutes of the song go from a swinging big band jazz chart with a break for a free jazz horn freak out. The main melody of the song returns as it all fades out.

Especially as an extended song,”She Spoke 2 Me” is one of my favorite Prince songs of the 90’s period. It really showcases Prince actually being in a very collaborative state with the NPG. Overall,its a slinky nigh club friendly jazzy funk groove with a totally live band flavor. This comes to light especially well on the swinging final part. Just Kathy Jensen and Brian Gallagher’s avant garde “sax attack” on it says it all for this songs power. The NPG have often been described as the best band Prince ever assembled. And this song is a very strong contender to prove that position as having merit.


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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” by Arthur Blythe

Arthur Blythe,the LA/San Diego free jazz sax player,passed away on March 25th this year at the age of 76 due to complications from Parkisons disease. The only reason I am aware of him comes from a question to my father. It was about the last jazz album he brought before I was born. And it was Blythe’s 1979 album Lenox Avenue Breakdown. His recording career started comparatively late,similar to the also recently passed vocalist Al Jarreau. His group in the late 70’s was also a major training ground for a new generation of free jazz musicians such as guitarist James Blood Ulmer.

Not being an academic jazz writer,the best way for me to write about the more acoustic styles of jazz would be based on the feeling and sound they convey. Arthur Blythe’s music came across to me as being very similar in flavor to how Miles Davis approached his music during its electric period-strong rhythmic foundation but with a more abstract,free jazz compositional style. Blythe and his group seemed to be doing something similar but more acoustically. One song that best exemplifies that musical attitude is the title song to the album Lenox Avenue Breakdown.

Jack DeJohnette’s drums get the groove going with some hard swinging-with Ulmer and bassist Cecil McBee’s interaction keeping up with James Newton’s melodically bluesy flute. Newton and Blythe really let loose with their reed fanfarring after that,and just before each solo section of the song as well. The first solo is an extremely intense one from Blythe-flying into the higher registers with DeJohnette and Ulmer following along with his intensity. Next up is Newton’s extremely atonal flute solo-following by Bob Stewart’s bouncing tuba solo before that reed fanfare brings it all to a halt.

Arthur Blythe had been a member of the The Underground Musicians and Artists Association in the mid 60’s. And he began his recording career under the name ‘Black Arthur Blythe” to maintain his strong ethnic identification. His playing on the song “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” is filled with that passion,but is very clean in tone. This actually adds to its power. The aggressive loudness and emphasis on solos actually adds a bit of a rock feeling to the free funk-jazz atmosphere of the song. Its taken me some years to really get into the song. But its a strong musical statement from Arthur Blythe.





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Improvisations – Joe McPhee



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Filed under avant-garde, free jazz, Joe McPhee, multi instrumentalists, Ron Wynn, Saxophone

Anatomy of THE Groove 11/7/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Trouble” By Jamaaladeen Tacuma

As a bass player for free jazz saxophone innovator Ornette Coleman’s band Prime Time,Jamaaladeen Tacuma bought the idea of funk’s “bass up front” ethic to Coleman’s harmolodic approach to music during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Especially since he’d already come to Coleman after playing for Charles Earland during his teens in his native Philadelphia  In 1984,the musically precocious Tacuma went out on his own with his group Cosmetic,and pursued an accompanying solo career.His sound grew heavily funk oriented during these this time. In 1991,he released an album called Boss Of The Bass. This album featured a more hip-hop based new jack swing groove-closer to  a harder edged Chuckii Booker than Ornette Coleman. One of the songs on the album stood out not only from this,but also as  social barometer for it’s time frame. It was appropriately called “Trouble”.

Starting out with Tacuma’s bass revving like a motorcycle engine the slow,thick,drum machine and electric slap bass fueled funk jam gets into gear as as the deep,husky soul singer Aziz’s vocals suddenly come on declaring “we’ve got trouble all over the land,we’ve got to make a stand”. The lyrics present the theme of an article in the “dirty press” and and asking why poverty is so ascendant when very few can live like “heirs to a throne”. After the two succeeding choruses,there are two instrumental breaks.  The first showcases Tacuma playing a dirty,snarling funk slap bass solo. The second is begins with a sample of a TV news report talking about an increase in the nuclear arms race before going into an electronic piano solo from Kae Williams Jr-late of the late 70’s/early 80’s  funk band Breakwater.  The main chorus of the song then repeats  itself until the song fades out.

The years between 1991 and 1993 showcased an America that was under pressure in terms of being able to maintain a universalist attitude between all fifty states. In more rural areas,you had the effect of trickle down economics causing mass decay. And in more urban areas,racial profiling and violence became a fact of life all too often. During the time the USSR fell,than US President George Bush got America involved in Operation: Desert Storm in Iraq and than came the senseless beating by Rodney King by the LAPD-following by the LA riots.  Hip-hop has been addressing the matters associated with this for many years before this-from KRS-1 and Public Enemy’s Chuck D. This song bought that sense of social urgency of political hip-hop to a more jazz inclined crowd,many of whom had difficulty with the blunt and sometimes profane language of rap.  And it framed this lyrics,set to a more 60’s/70’s preacher style of lyrics to a hard late 80’s style of funk.

Still this song retains hip-hop’s angrier tone in some of the lyrical content. Aziz’s blunt vocal approach has a very direct flavor to it. Also,while the lyrical content seems directed at working adults-perceiving the ills of the world and their community as they live their lives rather than idealist young people looking to change the world immediately,the lyrics maintain some of the “don’t believe the hype” attitude of late 80’s/early 90’s hip-hop. Generationally speaking? This isn’t surprising since Tacuma and his band mates were generally latter day baby boomers similar to Prince and Michael Jackson-often referred to today as “Generation Jones”. They were the same age as first generation hip-hoppers. So it was only natural that the lyrics of this song reflect both hope for the future and a sense of worried earnestness. Having first heard this closer to it’s time on one of my father’s jazz sampler CD’s? I’ve long considered this an unsung “people music” message song funk anthem for the early 1990’s!

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Filed under 1980's, 1990s, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Ornette Coleman, Public Enemy