Tag Archives: Friday Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove 04/04/14 Rique’s Pick: “Phoenix Rise” by Maxwell

 

Maxwell ended an 8 year hiatus on the music scene with his 2009 album “BLACKsummers’night”, which was supposed to be part one of a three part series. We’re still waiting for parts 2 and 3, but Maxwell can be seen across the country on the touring circuit this summer. Maxwell is one of those artists in the ’90s who led the move back towards a more organic, musical and poetic style of R&B influenced by the classic years of the genre, which itself became a sub genre called Neo-Soul. Maxwell of course always had a strong funk connection as well, with his debut album, “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite” being produced by ’70s vetrans Leon Ware and Melvin “Wah Wah” Ragin.  “Phoenix Rise” is the last song on the album, a funky instrumental that provided an instrumental vision of rebirth and redemption, which is a cool way to start this blog for April. Instrumentals, whether from James Brown, Booker T & the M.G’s, The Meters, Young, Holt & Unlimited, and many other bands, were one of the key musical forms that began the funk revolution in the 1960s.

“Phoenix Rise” is like a 2:41 wake up call. If  my local R&B/Jazz station KBLX was still independent, this track would be an excellent one to play on the morning drive time, to simultaneously mellow people out and invigorate them. The song begins with a modern digital keyboard tone, playing a sweeping pad sound that sounds like waves washing up against the sand. The groove is introduced in stages, percussion making way for drummer Chris Dave’s big fat drum beat. Dave’s drums are well recorded, up front, definitely informed by the type of funk drumming that was heavily sampled in hip hop’s golden age, at the very least in how loud and upfront it’s recorded.

After eight bars of the drummers beat, sliding guitar lines are introduced, followed by Derrick Hodge’s bass, which plays some funky thumps and pops, the pops loosely form a bassline, but what they sound like more than anything are a muscle car revving it’s engines up, accenting the other instruments groove. Soon the bass and guitar settle into the main phrase, a vaguely Afro-Carribean accented phrase, doubled by a guitar playing in the low register, a common technique used to strengthen the sound of the bassline in the early days of recording. This phrase reoccurs every four bars, it’s a very funky phrase that also manages to be uplifting through it’s Afro-Carribean rhythmic accents. Single note guitar lines burstling with rhythmic activity liven up the groove as the main phrase takes root.

The horns of Keyon Harrold and Kemet Whalum III come into play right after a rock guitar is added. At the 2:00 mark the song breaks down, hitting the slowed down half time type feel that has been popular in hip hop since the 1990s and comes from the south, which has been very popular in roots funk musics like New Orleans brass music and D.C go-go. The half time section gives the horns a chance to play a soulful phrase as the bass moves a long in a reggae tinged lope, a la The Police’s intro to “Roxanne.” As soon as the “Phoenix” of the song rises, it disintigrates, as the horns hit some riffs and the whole song just fades out.

This song came out in 2009, which happened to be the year I lost my father. The idea of a funky instrumental, named after a mythological Egyptian bird was very appealing to me at the time, and remains so today. It’s a slice of mature, well polished funk with an Afro-Diasporic tinge that gets one energized. From footage I have found on YouTube it seems Maxwell and his band use it to open up their concerts, and it’s a great choice to do so! So enjoy the rebirth and reinvigoration of the “Phoenix Rise” this weekend and hereafter!

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Anatomy of THE Groove 3/28/14 Rique’s Pick : “By My Side (Illith’s Blues) by Nicholas Payton

 

“By My Side” is the first track on Nicholas Payton’s 2011 mixtape  “Bitches.” Payton is known for being an excellent jazz trumpeter, but that fact notwithstanding he, like the great Lester Bowie, disdains the term “jazz”, viewing it as a limiting term. Today’s “Anatomy of the Groove” feature, “By My Side”, the first song on the album, shows him to be a musician as comfortable with funk, R&B and soul as the worlds of improvisational swing.

The tune kicks in the door with funky, clamourous New Orleans dope beat. The kick drums sounds like somebody either knocking on a hollow wooden door or stomping on a wooden plank floor. The snare sound is just as rowdy, clanging out a clave-ish rhythmic pattern.

The bassline is very special, the bait that lured me into the story of Illith’s Blues.  It uses an analog synth sound with portamentau/glide. I love the funky glide, moving from one pitch to the next, with a slow attack, pitches that take their sweet, funky time going from tone to tone.

The effect of the synth bass’s skipping, scooping, dragging and scrapping is something like a chipper tipsy man trying to get dried dog poop off his brand new Italian loafers. The hard New Orleans percussion is therby mixed with a lazy, drawling Bayou feel.

The sunshine on the track comes from Payton’s bright, ’80s style digital synth tones. The mix of analog and digital sounds, bluesy melody and bright major chords all add to a feeling of desperate brightness. There is both happiness and pain in the sound. The harmonic foundation is bright and major, but Payton gives an impassioned bluesy/soulful vocal, backed up by a digital Clavinet sound that provides even more rhythm, along with counterpoint and testimony to Payton’s story of life enhancing love.

“Travel deep inside the jungle/to find the best of my soul”, is how Payton begins his soul searching love affirmation. The song goes into “So What” style chords as Payton says “I ain’t afraid of the next level/although I’m sure to see the Devil.” The song paints the picture of a tough, rascalish “Trouble Man” who has finally found that “ride or die” woman, and is feeling good about it. I should tell you, “By Your Side” is the first song of an album based around the full story of a relationship. Like Payton’s favorite artist Marvin Gaye’s album, “Here My Dear”, the story does not end “well” in the conventional sense. But it does have many riches of sentiment, soul, funk, love and reflection to offer. “By My Side” begins the story of this love affair on a funky, soulful, hopeful note, and it will do the same for you on this or any other weekend on your own journey of love.

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Anatomy of THE Groove 3/7/14: “We Are On the Move” by Zo!

 

Bass. In Your Face. Not an 8 track….or is it? Pristine audio fidelity aside, Detroit multi instrumentalist and producer Lorenzo “Zo!” Fergeson’s “We Are On the Move” sounds like it’d be right at home coming out of some Kenwood speakers in an early ’80s Trans Am with T-Tops. The song begins deep in some funk, with a  taut yet nimble bass guitar line stepping in velvet slippers over rock solid drums, establishing a funky strut up the yellow brick road before it meets it’s companions for the voyage, beautiful Rhodes piano chords, strings, percussions, and a rhythm guitar that acts like smelling salts to a punch drunk boxer – makes you get UP! By the time it reaches the first go round of the chorus you’re dancing there (or bopping, or snaking, or just groovin’, but sitting is out of the question) wondering how somebody can create this type of early ’80s but right now funk vibe in 2014?

The pedegree of the artists in question would provide a hint. Zo! is a member of the Foreign Exchange, who’s last album, “Love in Flying Colors”, was one of the freshest examples of quality, song constructed, danceable R&B/Funk/Soul love songs this writer has heard for forever. Lead vocals are handled by Neo-Soul master Eric Roberson, and he sings in a straight, direct emotional way that any man singing this ditty to his lady should be able to muster. And it’s worth mustering too, “There are times in the night/when I wish to spend/time after time/looking deep within/but if there’s a girl/to bring me out of my shell/it’s you”, goes one of my favorite lyrics. “We Are on the Move” is a buyount, funky, sophisticatedly hip song of appreciation for that special someone who makes your life better, and it imagines an even better life in the future, with music and lyrics that make that point and then deliver on it, in real, sweaty, happy terms. MC/Vocalist Phonte gets involved here in back grounds, as does singer Gwen Bunn and percussionist Brevan Hampton, and they give the song an orgiastic, gospel Afro dance joy climax. “We are On the Move” is the type of song I could wake up every morning too, and much like Mr. Pharrell Williams recent smash, “Happy”, actually live to, based on the inspiration it provides in both lyric and groove.

And the video! Wow. Zo! Roberson and Phonte all strut down the street sharper than rat turds, yes, that’s sharp on both ends, in the manner of the Whispers in their classic “Keep on Loving Me” video. The Whispers vid is one of my favorite, four super well dressed black men strutting and stepping in downtown LA near dusk. There is really nothing quite like it in the catalog of American music images, and the dudes have big fun recreating it here. Have fun grooving to this song and then be sure to check out Zo!’s album, ManMade, for more good feeling music.

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