DNCE, a group just introduced to me by my boyfriend Scott, are a never band who are in a somewhat complex musical position. Its a functional band of musicians consisting of bassist/keyboardist Cole Whittle, guitarist JinJoo Lee and drummer/percussionist Jack Lawless. Its lead singer is Joe Jonas,a member of the Disney based family pop/rock band The Jonas Brothers. Of course,JinJoo Lee was a member of Cee-Lo Green’s touring band in the early 2010’s. Whittle describes DNCE’s sound as being like funk and disco hits played by a good garage band. And of course,they have their influences.
70’s and 80’s funk,pop and disco of the likes of EWF,The Bee Gee’s,ELO,Hall & Oates and Prince. They also site 90’s alternative band Weezer as an influence as well. Having heard several songs from their self titled debut from 2016, this is obviously a very diverse band. And vocally,they have their modern pop ethic down pat. Still they have a strong love of a strong groove with a strong melody. There were several songs that stood out on the album for Scott and myself. The one that stood out most for me personally was basically the album and bands self titled theme song.
An acapella chant of the groups name starts out the song-just before a tougher vocal grunt gets the main melody going. Its a thick,slow drum accented by shuffling percussion. The rhythm guitar/slapping bass interaction has a rolling thickness. And the lead synthesizer plays a bright “church style” melody. On the third chorus of the song, horns (or at least horn samples come in) come into accent the melody-with each choral bridge having a a chugging guitar and percussion sound. The bridge breaks it all down to the drums,bass,horns and vocals before the chorus repeats to its abrupt final curtain.
“DNCE” is a groove that has a lot going on in it. There’s a little bit of the Bee Gee’s “Jive Talkin'”,and the use of Prince style synthesizers to create gospel oriented melodic chords. The band are a very talented quartet. Counter to what I hear in much pop music of the 2010’s,everything on this song makes distinct musical statements. And every one of them come from the roots of the soul/funk/disco dance persuasion. The surface melodies are very strong and prominent. But the bottom has a thickness too. Should DNCE continue in this direction,they will be a nu funk to watch for more from.
Armando Anthony Corea,known by his professional name of “Chick”, is a native of Chesterfield,Massachusetts. Son of a former Dixieland musician from Boston, Corea took up drums and notably piano on his own. A largely self taught player who seriously sought out musical learning on his own, he began playing gigs throughout high school. While attending both Columbia and Julliard university’s later, his be-bop style piano took on avant garde elements. After a pair of solo recordings,he began working with Miles Davis on his ground breaking 1969 fusion recording In The Silent Way.
Just about every musician who touched Miles creatively became an innovator in their own right. And Corea was no exception. He formed Return To Forever in 1970-originally including the Brazilian duo of Airto Moriera and Flora Purim. By 1973 though the band consisted of bassist Stanley Clarke,drummer Lenny White and the young guitarist Al Di Meola. RTF’s albums generally focused on the more progressive,pyrotechnical variation of jazz/rock fusion. It was on their 1975 album No Mystery that the fluidity of funk flowed into their sound. Especially on songs such as “Sofistifunk”.
Corea’s computerized synthesizer riff starts off the song-followed soon by White’s nimble stop/start jazzy funk drumming. Di Meola’s guitar squawks and Corea’s extra melodic synth come into play-as well as Clarke’s very supporting bass line keeping a very funky groove. That could amount to the chorus of the song. On the refrains,the drum is fuller with more fills. And Di Meola takes on some rocking solos with Corea’s synth acting as straight up melodic support. The song has a long conclusion of the chorus before the synths and guitar fall apart into near incoherence as the songs crescendo.
“Sofistifunk”,or rather a variation of that phrase based upon this song,is actually an adjective I used to describe certain types of what’s referred to as post disco or boogie funk that’s live instrumental and well produced. This song however is nothing like that. It is melodically and harmonically complex jazz-funk-full of intense rhythmic turns and soloing that Return To Forever did so well. Still it lives up to its title by melding the intensity of all the players into a fluid musical flow. That’s not too easy to accomplish. And Chick Corea with Return To Forever really made it work very well in this case.
William Royce Scaggs,nicknamed “Boz” (short for Bosley by a childhood pal) came out of his birthplace of Canton,Ohio to meet his original mentor Steve Miller-who went to college in Madison Wisconsin with Scaggs as well. After a failed stint on the London scene and a little known solo album released in Sweden in 1965, Scaggs returned to the US and became a key member of the Steve Miller Band for two albums of theirs during 1968. In 1969 he teamed up with the Muscle Shoals studio grew (in particular Duane Allman) to record his self titled major label debut album.
Scaggs always had the ability to surprise people with his music. He himself said he was interested in soul,R&B and funk. But what was contemporary in that music at the given time. The the result of his forward thinking musicianship were iconic songs such as “Lowdown”,”Jojo” and “Miss Sun”. In 1987,he retired from music to concentrate on his San Francisco nightclub Slims. After touring with a super group called the New York Rock & Soul Revue,he made his official comeback with the 1994 album Some Change. The song on it that got to me most was called “I’ll Be The One”.
A slow,swinging funky drum machine opens up the song with a light wah wah rhythm guitar. As well as brief accents from the vibraphone playing chordally off the bass and guitar parts. On the chorus,as the chords of the song change town,Scaggs’ voice is accompanied by a sustained organ like keyboard sound. On the secondary part of the chorus,the song changes chords again as a chorus of Vocorderized backup singers keep with these changes of melody. On the final few verses of the song,all of its instrumental elements come together with Scaggs’ vocal improvisation.
“I’ll Be The One” is one of those songs where,during a period when a good deal of soul music lacked instrumental vitality,that actually got exactly the right kind of vibe for the smooth jazz era. The production is slow,the groove a spare jazzy,funky soul. But the production is both sleek and punchy enough to stick out with its relaxed flavor. It also has a similar vibe to what would work for the Chicago stepping dances that originated in the 70’s. Don’t think its one of his best known songs,since the Some Change album produced no hit singles. At the same time,this is a very soulful non hit kind of hit.
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.
Deniece Williams was born in Gary,Indiana-also the home town of the Jacksons. And is very close in age to the musical family’s eldest member Rebbie. Very much like EWF’s late founder Maurice White,she initially had her eyes on the medical profession-in her case in becoming a nurse and anesthetist. She dropped out after one year at Morgan State University in Baltimore. She then recorded as a singer for a number of small labels until she joined Stevie Wonder’s band Wonderlove during the early 70’s.
After leaving Wonderlove in 1975,she released her solo debut This Is Niecy on the Columbia label,in the company of Maurice White and much of the Earth Wind & Fire musical crew. Her epic song “Free” really broke her into hit status,even getting her an appearance on Soul Train. She continued her association with EWF on through her followup album in 1977’s Song Bird. Discovered the album last year in the vinyl bins and became really entranced with every song on it. One particular song from the album that got my attention was the opening song entitled “Time”.
The Phenix Horns are fanfarring call and response style with the marching call like drum breaks on the intro of the song. After that,the entire musical flavor of the song thickens up with this big rhythm with a three note snare drum hit around the middle. Al McKay’s heavily reverbed guitar and Verdine White’s extended bass runs play musical hide and seek with Niecy’s vocals along with Larry Dunn’s electric piano and the Phenix horns. While the chorus merely changes the chord of the refrain a bit higher,the final part of the song finds the drums playing a more stop/start beat until it all fades out.
“Time” is the kind of intricately structured song EWF delivered in such a consistent,well oiled way during their mid/late 70’s salad days. Williams’ high and often quite loud voice literally does seem to sour and fly in her fine gospel drenched style throughout the entirety of this song. EWF were a band who had mastered their ability to be highly daring musically,often very jazzy and still leave room to accomodate singers with big voices. Like The Emotions,Deniece Williams was another such singer. And this song was a total funk triumph for her in her years recording with the members of EWF.
Gregg Allman was of course married to Cher from 1975 to 1978. The union of course produced their only child,Elijah Blue. But just learned shortly after Allman’s passing that it produced a duo album for the couple in 1977. Credited as Allman And Woman,the album was entitled “Two The Hard Way”. They also went on a mini tour to support the album-also titled after the name of the album. The album was not a commercial success. And was even called “worthless” by one critic. Allman was part of the rock music scene. And Cher more general pop. This may have led to some of the album’s poor reception.
For her part,Cher could basically do whatever type of material she desired due to her long back round in pop and 60’s era musical sensibilities. Allman was a Southern rock innovator-always expected to be daring,rebellious and somehow “authentic”. Still with classic pop/rock songwriters such as Jimmy Webb and the versatile classic funky soul session bass player Willie Weeks on board,the album actually has its share of powerful musical moments. Among them was the first single (and the first song on the album) that was entitled “Move On”.
Steve Beckmeier’s ringing,higher pitched guitar grooving opens the song before Bill Stewart’s drum and Bobbye Hall’s conga fanfare leads right into the basic horn fanfare of the intro. The chorus is a steady dance rhythm accompanied by a heavy mix of flangered electric piano and Clavinet riffing playing close to Week’s bass line. The horn charts basically serve to glue the songs extended choruses together. The intro basically repeats itself for the bridge-with a brief electric piano solo before hand illustrated by the horns building into the mix. The final chorus of the song shows up to fade out the song.
“Move Me” is a wonderful song. What’s interesting about is that Cher, now a renowned diva, sings either call and response or in total unison with Allman throughout the entirety of this song. The production has a very uptown, Philly soul inspired groove to it. Filled with horns,punchy keyboards and high stepping rhythms. Allman’s gruff vocal delivery compliments Cher’s husky,tremolo laden approach extremely well on this song. Its basically a Philly style dance/soul groove out of the disco era though. Its not a pop /rock styled record at all. That’s important to consider with this musical pairing too.
Passport are one of my favorite jazz-funk fusion bands. Klaus Doldinger,a Berlin native who’d studied in Dusseldorf and come in Oscar Peterson tribute bands and recorded solo records in America, is the saxophone player who formed the group in the year 1970. The band still exists today. In the 70’s and 80’s,they were perceived as a mainly European centered Weather Report-not having WR’s major international acclaim. Yet whether they were making progressive jazz/rock,jazz-funk,Brazilian jazz or even new wave inflected pop later, they generally seemed to always find just the right groove for their songs.
It was my father who first exposed me to Passport. He found their 1974 LP Looking Thru in the attic of his parents house when a tenant left some vinyl behind. Hearing that got me looking for more albums of there’s. One I did find was 1976’s Infinity Machine. This was in an early to mid 70’s lineup of the group which included drummer Curt Cress,keyboardist Kristian Schultze and bassist/guitarist Wolfgang Schmid. Today I have all their 70’s and 80’s album on CD. In any case Infinity Machine opened with a bang with the elongated instrumental “Ju-Ju Man”.
After a brief little drum kick,the song begins with a bumping uptempo percussion kick-with Cress’s drums fan-faring in with a strong swinging groove. Than a melodic 14 note Moog bass riff takes hold-with Doldinger’s sax accenting it. Afterwards,Doldinger solos with Schmid’s bass and guitar as call and response. After the sax breakdown of this choral/refrain sequence,Doldinger takes an elongated sax solo with Schmid’s bass the the Moog right along with him. After another solo on lead synthesizer,the main chorus/ refrain of the song repeats until it concludes the song.
“Ju-Ju Man” is some of the most vital,energetic and melodic jazzy funk I’ve heard this side of the Headhunters. The rhythm is driving,the solos are off the hook powerful and there are several parts of the song that are instantly hummable. Its also the type of jazz/funk that’s totally solo based. Curt Cress,as the drummer gives Doldinger and Schmid as primary soloists all the room to do their solos without merely vamping at “tennis without a net”. So in the end,it exemplifies Passport as one of the 70’s jazz/funk/fusion groups who really knew how to keep grooving and soloing locked right into place.
Chairman Of The Board are a true example of just how deeply seeded the Motor City soul sound of Motown became by the end of the 60’s. The late “General” Norman Johnson was the groups lead singer. He had started out in a group called The Showman. And when Motown’s classic songwriting trio Holland/Dozier/Holland left Motown to form their own label Invictus (also home to George Clinton’s Parliaments at the time), Johnson was paired with Eddie Curtis,Danny Young and the Canadian native Harrison Kennedy to form Chairman Of The Board.
The band had their debut hit in 1970 with “Give Me Just A Little More Time”. Musically it was squarely within the classic Motown style soul sound. What made it so unique was Johnson’s hiccuping,idiosyncratic lead vocals and very strong songwriting. By the mid 70’s, most of the members of the group were on the way to solo recording. The groups place in funk history was confirmed by their final album in 1974 entitled Skin I’m In. It was produced by another Motown alumni in Jeffrey Bowen. And one of its key numbers was its title song.
A swirling,bluesy rhythm guitar and bass bursts open the song. That guitar gradually mutates into a fuzz tone. And as the slow,funky drum slogs its way in,that rhythm guitar is accompanied by a fuzz toned one. As the song progresses,Johnson’s rangy vocals build up the song musically with Clavinet riffs and horns that build in intensity during the choral sequences. After a thunder like burst of sound, an instrumental bridge consisting of bell like synths and piano scaling returns the songs to its horn/Clavinet/bass and guitar oriented chorus until the song fades itself out.
“Skin I’m In” is the very funkiest song I’ve ever heard from Chairman Of The Board. Of course, was somewhat prepped for it by my literary funk research during the late 90’s and early aughts. Musically its a supreme example of slower rhythms making a song funkier-and full of a psychedelic soul blusiness in the instrumentation and melody. Johnson’s lyrics about black Americans consistently being kept from progressing in America is “united funk” at its finest too-with him exclaiming on the choruses “Its so HARD to live in the skin I’m in!”. So this is prime mid 70’s funk with a message!