India Arie Simpson was born in Denver, Colorado to a family not only drenched in music. But with a history at Motown as well. Her mother Joyce was a singer who toured with Stevie Wonder-as well as Al Green. After her parents divorced and she moved to Georgia, India’s musical interests (always encouraged by her family) became even more pronounced-as she actively began to learn both guitar and composition. This occurred while attending the Savannah School Of Art & Design. She also learned of her strong African roots via DNA testing-including that of the Kru people of the nation of Liberia.
India. Arie made her debut on Motown in 2001 with her Acoustic Soul. That literally described the first song I heard from her entitled “Video”, where she talked of her she desired music and humanity, for herself and others, not to be seen as a product. This resulted in India becoming a major face of the coalescing neo soul movement of the time. Her second album Voyage To India came out the next year. Its main single didn’t perform commercially the way “Video” did. But it was a huge step ahead in terms of instrumentation and songwriting. It was called “Little Things”.
The sound of the gong starts of the intro of vocal harmonies from India.Arie that begins the song-with a bell like electric piano echo in the back round. The drum, at first stop and start comes into the mix with a strong accent of heavy percussion and a heavy, ascending bass line. As the vocal/lyrical flavor of the song changes, so does the feeling of the music. Sometimes its mostly rhythm and bass. Other times rhythm guitar and electric piano flourishes are stronger-along with what sounds like a baby crying. The song comes to an abrupt end after a long vocal run on the extended chorus.
“Little Things” is an interesting song. Musically speaking, its a somewhat more stripped down variant of the jazzy chords of Stevie Wonder compositions and a soul/funk rhythm-similar to Mary J Blige’s “All That I Can Say”. In terms of its actual structure, its more of a folk type song. A lot of lyrical verses after another rather than a refrain/chorus/bridge setup. It has a heavier studiocentric approach than much of her debut album. To me, “Little Things” is an example of India. Arie using her amazing abilities as a composer for a beautifully flowing, neo soul friendly funky soul number.
James Mtume almost seemed to be born into the royal family of funk. Everything seemed to come into place for it. He was born in Philly as the son of jazz sax icon Jimmy Heath. He went on to play with Miles Davis during the last few years before Miles’ late 70’s retirement period. That combination of being a Philadelphia native and having a strong back round is usually the key ingredients in a recipe for a funk icon. At first,Mtume had his mind on athletics. He achieved the title of the first black Middle Atlantic AAU champion in the backstroke, and in 1966 he entered Pasadena City College on a swimming scholarship.
After learning about music somewhat through the jazz musicians coming in and out of his adopted father,local Philly jazz pianist James “Hen Gates” Foreman,he had the abilities as a musician to begin his career as a session player on the West Coast by the early 70’s. He recorded a couple of albums as a leader.. These were both in a more free jazz style. In 1978 he’d teamed up with percussionist/arranger/producer Reggie Lucus and formed the funk outfit Mtume. They would hit pay dirt with 1983’s sexy “Juicy Fruit”. Yet one of their most telling grooves is the title song of their 1978 debut album Kiss The World Goodbye.
The drum kicks off the slow,percussive crawl of the rhythm for starts. A grinding guitar plays a funky blues riff that swiftly dovetails into another guitar line-this one a amp’d up rock one. This is assisted by some incredibly phat popping bass playing a lower version of the first guitar riff. This is the main body of the song-one that relies heavily on the one. As the song progresses,these main rhythmic elements are accented by both horn charts and synthesizer squiggles on every other chord or so. And this is how the groove goes on until it all fades out.
Taken as itself,this song is not only a great way for Mtume to debut as a band concept. But it is also so far removed from the electro/boogie sound they’d be known for 6-7 years later that is really showcases their musical arc. Mtume actually had four year gap from 1980 to 1983 where they didn’t record anything. But on this 1978 song,their focus was not only based more in the funk/rock aesthetics of Funkadelic,Ohio Players and Slave but the arrangement on this is especially thick. The instrumentation is so closely mixed,this song is among the most musically dense hard funk of the late 70’s.
Eric Gale started to teach himself guitar in his native Brooklyn at the age of 12. He played on the R&B circuit with acts such as King Curtis, Maxine Brown and Little Anthony & The Imperials. This laid the ground work for his future as a session great. While at Niagra University, he studied chemistry. The music bug never left Gale however. His major claim to fame was as a session ace during the 60’s and 70’s. As a member of the instrumental jazz funk outfit Stuff, Gale played with Paul Simon in 1980 for his One Trick Pony soundtrack. He was also part of Aretha Franklin’s stage band for a time.
He began a concurrent career as a leader with 1973’s Forecast, on the Kudu label. He recorded the bulk of his late 70’s albums on Columbia however. His first two albums on the label were Ginseng Woman in 1977 and Multiplication the following year. Both albums have been combined together at least twice during the CD era. And were recommended to me by my dad while crate digging. Revisiting some of the songs via YouTube, the song that really stood out uppermost in my head with the title song to the Multiplication album.
Andrew Smith’s jazzy march on drums starts out the groove-with Gale’s ringing guitar improvising along with Bob James’ synths and Alphonso Johnson’s exploratory bass line-starting the groove in a dreamy fashion. Then the horns kick into the groove with Gale playing an ever evolving, down home blues type solo while Richard Tee’s piano and organ join the rhythm section in holding up a soulful groove. All with the horns accenting the changes in key on virtually every chorus and refrain. Its on the closing extended chorus that Gale scales down on his guitar solo as the song itself fades out.
“Multiplication” is an excellent example of ace jazz/funk/rock/fusion session musicians bring a wonderful feeling to their grooves. Sometimes, albums made by session players are thought to be too technical and less human. Gale, Johnson, Jackson, James and Tee’s years of experience playing together really give this groove a great late 70’s jazz/funk version of the uptown, bluesy/soul nightclub musical ethic. And its Gale’s fluid playing style and rich, ballsy tone that lead the way with grooves of this particular type. Basically a theme he’d always variate on as a band leader.
Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s musical output and history is such a vast subject, I find it somewhat intimidating to write about. The Tampa native and his trumpet playing brother Nat were playing with Ray Charles in the early 40’s. After his musical studies and years of band leading positions, he was noticed by Miles Davis for his blues rooted approach to the sax. His works with Miles included albums such as Milestones and the modal jazz classic Kind Of Blue. Miles’ musical journeys, from avant garde to electric jazz fusion, continued to inspired Adderley’s own music until his passing in 1975.
One idea that Cannonball and his brother Nat did at different times in the early 70’s were a pair of albums with their own groups with the subject matter being a lighthearted look at astrology. That was the side of Cannonball and Nat Adderley’s artistry that I’m most familiar with. Another album of Cannonball that was played around the household a lot was a 1973 album called Inside Straight. It was a live in the studio session recorded at the Fantasy studios in Berkeley, California. The song that got my attention right from the get go on the album is the opening title song.
Roy McCurdy’s in the pocket drumming gets the groove going at 88 bpm, with Hal Galper’s Fender Rhodes and Walter Booker’s bass clomping along rhythmically right along with it. Cannonball plays an equally rhythmic 12 bar blues melody in his classic style over this-giving the song a strongly themed chorus. He improvises on this theme for much of the second minute of the song. On the second chorus of the song, someone (likely Cannonball) is making a squawking, almost flatulent like vocal horn effect. The choral theme of the intro fades out the song.
“Inside Straight” is just the kind of hard bop/soul jazz/funk process type of groove that shows how vital Cannonball’s music was in the early 70’s. Especially in terms of the evolution of jazz into the funk era. The groove itself is very straight forward and clear-its relatively slow tempo allowing Cannonball’s funky improvisations to really take flight. It really embodies how distinct Cannonball’s approach to sax was to allow it to evolve. That common ground between he and Miles Davis’s approach to music is really what makes this such a standout Cannonball Adderley number for me.
Blood, Sweat & Tears were the first major jazz-rock group to hit the scene. This NYC group was formed in 1967 by Al Kooper. The main members included Mothers Of Invention album Jim Fielder along with Steve Katz and Bobby Colomby. It was also the first self contained rock group to have an integrated horn section. The group would record through the 70’s-losing and gaining new personnel as they went along. Including their original lead singer Al Kooper. Their most famous lead singer is David Clayton- Thomas. He joined the band for their sophomore album in 1968.
Thomas’s raspy,soulful vocals and songwriting immediately hit pay dirt for the band with the hit song “Spinning Wheel”. He continued writing for the band until pursuing a solo career after the 1971 album Blood, Sweat & Tears 4. He returned to the band just under five years later. They continued to record studio albums, with the ever changing lineup, until their final album to date came out in 1980’s Nuclear Blues. This was their first and only album on the MCA/LAX record label. One of the highlights I’ve heard so far is the David Clayton-Thomas penned title song of the album.
A rumbling, blasting bass synth tone with a cinematic wind like sound from behind it provides the intro to the song. The horn charts blast in along with the rhythm guitar, popping bass and an equally popping keyboard part in the back round. The B-section of the main theme has the Clavinet takes over behind Thomas’s vocal. On the bridge, this same B-section is played up as an instrumental part. First with an organ solo, than a sax solo playing behind an eerily bouncing, heavily reverbed bass line. During the extended chorus fading out the song, Thomas breaks into a mini rap over that same bass line.
“Nuclear Blues” finds Blood, Sweat & Tears, by this time on their 11th studio album, having marinated on from their elaborate jazz/rock arrangements into a well oiled jazz funk ensemble. Especially with the then newest members such as the bass/guitar duo David and Robert Piltch. Along with keyboardist Richard Martinez and the slow, in the pocket drumming of Bobby Economou. David Clayton-Thomas wrote a straight up 12 bar blues for this musical backing-one with a timely lyric dealing with the tail end of the cold war. This makes “Nuclear Blues” a perhaps unsung swansong of Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Steely Dan’s 1980 album Gaucho had its rough patches in terms of productions. Started only months after the release of their Aja album in 1977, there were some major issues that hampered the sessions. Two revolved around the now late Walter Becker. One had to do with his increasing drug problem. The other had to do with a traffic accident that sent Becker to the hospital. And into six months of recovery. Donald Fagen collaborated with him via phone during that time. The album finally came out just a little over three years after its predecessor-in November of 1980.
Even for all that and a number of legal battles over the album title from Keith Jarrett, Gaucho continued Steely Dan’s peak of musical excellent. It would be their final studio album for twenty years. And that was just fine for most people. It was one of the few newer albums my parents had in their record collection during my own early years. Most of my life, the song from it I was most familiar with was “Hey Nineteen”. By the time its followup Two Against Nature came out, I began to explore Gaucho even deeper. And that’s how I discovered what’s likely my favorite song on it called “Glamour Profession”.
Steve Gadd’s straight up dance beat sets the pace right away. Its accompanied by Fagen’s processed Fender Rhodes piano and Anthony Jackson’s counter melodic bass hump. Before the refrain comes in, Tom Scott’s Lyricon and Michael Brecker’s sax play a nighttime friendly horn chart. During the refrains and chorus, Steve Khan plays some bluesy jazz guitar riffs. He also gets time for a solo just before the vocal bridge of the song-where the song changes key for a bar or so. The song fades out on an extended instrumental refrain with Khan’s soloing taking precedence.
“Glamour Profession” is likely the coolest song (and only one as I recall) about a fading basketball player’s involvement in an elaborate drug deal I’ve ever heard. Donald Fagen’s lyrics are as poetically cryptic as usual. Its also an amazing “dazz” song-its disco jazz flavor enhanced by the jazzy chords of the guitar,bass and processed Rhodes part that define the song. The production and melody are the sonic equivilent of clear glossy lacquer. The sound is slick and slippery. Yet is also full of weight and texture. And surely one of Steely Dan’s many fine musical moments of their original run.
The Bee Gees recorded music in a number of different styles over the years. And they always had lots of soul in it too. Their breakthrough international hit “To Love Somebody” was written for Otis Redding. They recorded it themselves only after he died before he got the chance to record his version. After a period of focusing primarily on baroque balladry, the Gibb brothers re-upped with the late Arif Mardin to produce their 1974 album Mr. Natural. Their followup Main Course reinvented them as contemporary soul/funk artists. Perfect for the disco era-especially with Barry’s fiery falsetto vocals.
After that breakthrough success, Robert Stigwood’s label RSO ended its distribution deal with Atlantic Records \. This meant they could no longer work with Arif Mardin due to the contractual conflict of interest. Barry, Robin and Maurice decided to produce the album themselves-hoping to extend on their new sound. Like Hall & Oates after them, self production proved to be their friend. Their 1976 album Children Of The World, recorded in Quebec, continued the winning streak. One album track that really stands out for me is “You Stepped Into My Life”.
The drum roll of Dennis Bryon gets the groove going into a slow and ultra funky beat. The snaky Fender Rhodes of Blue Weaver accompanies Barry and Maurice’s thick,wah wah fueled bass/rhythm guitar interactions. Weaver’s layered synth strings melodically lead the way for Barry’s falsetto lead. This musical combination represents the chorus. String arrangements lead the melody on the along with this rhythm section on the refrains. On the closing trail of the song, the chorus extends into a bluesy lead wah wah played smoothly by Alan Kendall as the song fades out.
The first time I heard this song, it was an equally funky (if somewhat faster) version done by Melba Moore in 1978. This original version is solid proof that a dance song is at its funkiest when the tempo of the rhythm is slower. The whole vibe is similar to Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby-especially the “funk functioning for the disco era” aspect of it. The groove of this song is just super infectious. And the Gibb’s wonderful way with song structure takes it to the next level. Very much like the majority of the Bee Gees output during the mid to late 70’s.
Wilton Felder was far more to me than a founding member of the Crusaders. And even that was an great accomplishment. He set the precedence along with David Sanborn for the top session sax king of the late 60’s and early 70’s. He was pretty much Joni Mitchell’s go to guy for sax during her mid/late 70’s jazz explorations. He even told the Virginian Pilot in 2006 that her music was just fun to play for him. Of course his session work also extended to electric bass. An ongoing project that myself, Henrique Hopkins and Calvin Lincoln have been on is to figure out just how many sessions Wilton played on.
Today, wanted to talk a little about Felder’s solo career. It started out with the soundtrack to the 1969 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. Since my father described the album as one which turned him away from Felder’s solo albums, I didn’t actively pursue it. But he did record a number of solo albums in the late 70’s to the late 80’s. These were done concurrently with Crusaders releases and under their production moniker. I have three of them on vinyl. One of them is a 1983 LP entitled Gentle Fire. It contains one song I’ll be talking to about today entitled “Summer Nights In Rio”.
The Afro Latin drums and percussion starts off the songs-courtesy of drummer Rayford Griffin and one of Rio’s finest in Paulinho Da Costa on percussion. A liquid guitar and thumping bass solo accompany it. Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements come into the mix at that point. These horns play over an extended, chordally complex melodic movement with fellow Crusader Joe Sample providing the Fender Rhodes. Felder’s solos, ranging from higher pitched to deeper tones, occupy most of the songs middle before an extended chorus fades it out.
“Summer Nights In Rio” represents the very best aspects of Brazilian jazz/funk fusion. Felder,Da Costa, Joe Sample and (with six musicians between both instruments) the bass and guitarist on this song are all seemingly experiencing a great deal of joy in playing it. Its strongly based in Felder’s sax solos. At the same time, everyone playing with him are focusing on beautiful melodic and rhythmic dynamics. It showcased how that well oiled Crusaders sound of the late 70’s and early 80’s remained a major aspect of Felder’s solo albums as well.
Isaac Hays, born in Covington, Tennessee in 1942 was raised by his grandparents. He was encouraged to finish high school several years after dropping out due to the encouragement of his teachers. After turning down musical scholarships from several universities, Hayes began performing in the late 50’s as a teenager. By the mid 1960’s, he and David Porter became one of the major songwriting partners at Stax. Especially for the duo Sam & Dave. His solo debut Presenting Isaac Hayes wasn’t a big success in 1968. But its jazzier orientation pointed in a vital new direction for his music.
By that time, Stax was in trouble. Otis Redding had died with most of the original Bar Kays in a plane crash. And Atlantic Records had absorbed most of their back catalog. As a label functioning with no music, label owner Al Bell decided to have its remaining artists to record 27 new albums to give Stax new content. Hayes’s sophomore album Hot Buttered Soul was the most successful in 1969. Its extended, jazzy and psychedelic treatments of his own songs and interpretations became his signature sound. Even through his record breaking 1971 soundtrack for Shaft.
With Shaft, Hayes had basically created the production template for the disco era. That was elongated dance songs with heavy string and horn orchestration’s. As the disco era arrived in earnest, Hayes mid to late 70’s albums swam right along with the tide his earlier 70’s works had initiated. Not to mention his continuing soundtrack work for movies like Truck Turner and Three Tough Guys. As similar artists like Barry White ascended to popularity, some of Hayes’ albums got lost on the musical public. One of them was an album with an amazing title song entitled “Joy”.
A 7 hit drum beat (with plenty of hi hat around the middle) starts off the song at an approximately 80 BPM’s-which continues throughout the rest of the song. Then the snaky bass and distant seeming wah wah guitar accents chime in. From there, the strings rise up in volume right into the song-spiraling horn charts in the back round. A sustained organ swirl also joins the mix. A bluesy fuzz guitar plays to Hayes’s vocals. On the b section of the chorus, the melody gets a bit higher key with the orchestration. The song fades out with a long,grunting extended refrain.
At almost 16 minutes, “Joy” is one of those early 70’s funk operas. It actually reminds me a little bit of Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” from the same year. Its among the faster of Hayes’ usual extended ballad approach of the earlier 70s. Still, Hayes’ distinctive psychedelic and jazz tones keep this distinct as cinematic soul/funk was becoming more the mainstream at the time. And its for that reason that its actually one of my favorite Hayes’ solo numbers along with “Theme From Shaft”, “Groove-A-Thon” and his epic version of “Walk On By”.
Linx were a a Brit funk/soul/disco group with a rather short lived career. It was a six member band featuring keyboardist Bob Carter, drummer Andy Duncan, guitarist Canute Edwards, bassist Peter Martin,backup vocalist Junior Giscombe and lead singer David Grant. The group split up in early 1983-after Junior had left to begin a solo career and Grant was about to do the same. After a moderately successful solo career, Grant became a successful backing singer for people such as Rick Astley and The Lighthouse Family. He later became a judge on the UK TV show Pop Idol with his second wife Carrie.
Linx recorded two albums during 1981, the first of which I picked up four years ago on vinyl. Their major hit on it was “Intuition”, a Caribbean flavored post disco number became popular to its accompanying music video being played so often on the British music program Top Of The Pops. And all due to a technicians strike. The overall album is a superb example of how the post disco/boogie funk sound thrived,prospered and evolved along with new romantic/synth pop during the early 80’s. One fine example of this was the song “Together We Can Shine”.
A dance beat begins the song with a pulsing Fender Rhodes and a bluesy funk rhythm guitar break. As the main song kicks in, Martin’s slap bass line kicks in heavy. The dance beat becomes more steady. Carter adds spacey synthesizer flourishes-which become very high pitched on the choruses along with the melodic, liquid rhythm guitar bubbling right along. On the bridge of the song, the vocals of the refrain move aside for Carter’s piano solo before Grant’s vocals return. Before the fading refrain, the song breaks off into a percussive Brazilian funk breakdown.
Musically speaking, “Together We Can Shine” showcases the vitality and diversity within the UK post disco/boogie scene. Many American groups/ soloists emerging from that were primarily disco and funk based from the get go. In terms of Linx, its a different story. Bob Carter and Canute Edwards play in a manner very indicative of jazz oriented instrumentalists. Bassist “Sketch” Martin and drummer Andy Duncan have a strong Brazilian funk flavor to their playing. So this song is a superb example of the post disco sound coming from a diverse level of musicianship from the sound of things.