Tag Archives: Funk

88 On The Longplay: ‘Stronger Than Pride’ by Sade

Sade’s first two albums Diamond Life and Promise were both enormous successes. Their respective hits being all over the place-that former album even ending up represented on a breakfast cereal premium sticker I had growing up. It was hard to believe that the band themselves-including the regal beauty of their lead singer Sade Adu herself, were very much unlike most hit musicians of their time period. They were straight out of the same UK jazz/funk scene that had spawned Loose Ends, Incognito, Level 42 and Spandau Ballet.

Despite succeeding on a level that perhaps exceeded the best that any of their contemporaries did, Sade always kept themselves just a little bit behind their own public face. Which was almost totally related to their music. And their music videos with a strong cinematic scope and stylish live performances. They had always possessed a very distinctive quality about their music-almost to the point where they deserved a genre all their own. When this third album, and final of their first decade, arrived in 1988 I have vivid memories of Sade albums somehow being an event.

Over the years I’ve actually had to do much growing into this album-somewhat like a pair of shoes that were just a tad too big for me. “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” itself is nothing like any Sade song I’d ever heard up to that point. There is a wide, empty void in the middle of the songs rhythm-extremely subtle percussion with only a stronger little heartbeat on the choruses. With its atmospheric,ethereal keyboards and sustaining melody it very much encompasses the feeling of a humid, sensuous encounter. Maybe even a mildly distant one at that.

Of course the rhythm is entirely absent from “I Never Thought I’d See The Day”,which flows right along with its moody melody as far as it can take it. “Paradise”,”Nothing Can Come Between Us”,”Keep Looking” and the closing instrumental “Siempre Hay Esperanza” all embody this grooving, heavily stripped down funk sound that has since become most strongly associated with Sade. They are filled with heavy percussion and some of the fattest and locked down bass lines Paul S. Denman has ever thrown down. And he’s thrown down many.

“Turn My Back On You” is a particular favorite of mine-built on a strong,subtle variation of the James Brown-like bass/guitar interaction following each vocal and instrumental chorus. “Haunt Me” is a pretty Flamenco flavored Spanish guitar ballad while “Clean Heart” takes a jazzier pop mid tempo ballad cue-a bit like a more stripped bare variation of some of the music on their debut. When I first heard this album? I didn’t really understand it. Though relatively intelligent by the age of 8, this album contains more adult oriented outlooks on romance. And melodies that were somewhat harder to hum.

During my earliest years of adulthood, I rediscovered this album By that time of course having absorbed a lot of Prince, Crusaders, Miles Davis and an entire myriad of jazz/Afro/Funk hybrids. So one day I found this album on CD,with my father having had the cassette for years and listened to it-as some point near or around the summer of 2003. All of a sudden this album leaped out at me in a way that it never had before. While present this album doesn’t focus in on the horns and piano as much as the first two Sade albums.

The entire album is very much oriented around a very spare type of funk. It was a groove which emphasized Sade’s singing as well as bringing the bass/guitar accents more out front. What I didn’t realize at the time was this Sade were laying the groundwork for all the music they’ve since created on this particular. And for the most part? That hasn’t been a bad thing at all. So in the context of where this took Sade rather than in comparison to what came before,this album is a resounding,romantic and hard grooving success.

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Funk To The Future: 2018 & What’s To Come On Andresmusictalk

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Happy 2018 to everyone! This is not per say something I needed to write. Just saw it as appropriate at this point to update the loyal readers/followers of Andremusictalk on some new developments for the year. As of later 2017, I made the decision to roll back on blogging for five days in succession every week. And to concentrate on artists birthdays, special events, album and song releases instead. And of course if any of you readers follow me on Facebook, your always welcome to tell me about any new funk/soul/jazz /disco things for me to hear. And possibly review here as well.

Andresmusictalk is also seeking to reach out for new ways of sharing its content to those who enjoy it. Ever since the summer of 2017, found myself consistently in “Facebook jail” in terms of sharing in groups. Apparently in some circles, my content is perceived as spam. And am unfortunately beginning 2018 in that same situation. So if any of you know of an online group/community/page/forum on or off Facebook? One on which I could more effectively and safely share Andresmusictalk’s content with those interested? Would be very happy and gracious to know such information.

Wanted to personally thank the musicians in 2017, including sax player Gary Bartz, for taking the time to message me (again via Facebook) in regard to articles I’ve written about their albums and songs.  One of the aims of Andresmusictalk was to reach out to musicians who create the music. Just as much as much as to the admirers who make that music so beloved and inspiring. In the truest sense, its moments like that which makes the bumps and bruises of doing Andresmusictalk worthwhile. Thank you all so much! And a very happy new year to THE PEOPLE!!!!!!

 

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Funk & Disco Pops Of 1977: ‘Bridges’ by Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson

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Gil Scott-Heron released this album at a very key time for his particular creative bent. This came out during the beginning of the disco era and for many, outside the influence of the Philly sound, there just didn’t seem to be too much room for complex sociological dialog in the music. There were songs with MESSAGES, yes. But in terms of the deep poetic insights you’d find from someone such as Gil Scott? It all seemed to be getting away from us at a time when it was needed most.

Heron was intensely aware of these changes in music. And had every intention of maintaining his vision and style. Even in the face of so many uncertain changes in the music industry. This album was recorded using TONTO, the massive synthesizer complex that had worked miracles for Stevie Wonder and the Isley Brothers during their early/mid 70’s height. Even at this point,  it was all too easy for this huge instrumental complex to create a sound that was both very much in the now and futuristic.

And musically, Bridges is indeed futuristic sounding funk for the people . Aside from Brian Jackson’s multi instrumental talents, the Fender Rhodes as well as the sound of the massive TONTO weaves it’s electronic, bubbling chords and bass lines into the musical tapestry to create unique sounds. Just as much as what Stevie and the Isley’s had done with the same instrument. The mood it sets goes right along with the emotional accompaniment of Gil Scott’s vocal style. The bass oriented sounds in the production is pushed up front. And the improvised jazz-funk element gets the same effect.

Song wise the album ranges from uptempo, positive spirited melodic funk such as “Hello Sunday! Hello Road”, the amazing “Racetrack In France” and “Under The Hammer” to slower and richly varied in texture and melody type tunes such as “Vildgolia (Deaf,Dumb & Blind,”We Almost Lost Detroit” and “Delta Man”. The range of subject matter of these songs (as usual with Gil Scott) is densely layered-ranging from enlightening muses both the concept of prejudice itself to the escape from it. Along with the usual historical contexts.

Songs such as the acapella “Tuskegee #626” tackle a well known historical atrocity (in this case the Tuskegee Experiments) but does so with a very bright and almost sunny melody. This showcases Heron’s understand of the very sharp contrasts in the lifestyles of not only the African American culture. But how it also extends those contrasts into other aspects of life for Americans of other nationalities. This welcoming, humanistic album would be followed the more darkly reflective Secrets- also using TONTO for that as well.

Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson had certainly proved their meddle in terms of how they were able to continue adapting their art their own way during an era. An era when artists were losing more and more control of what they did. And when you listen to this, and realize the influence it’s had on so much musical poetry and the hip-hop world today, (and Gil Scott is for all intents and purposes a hip-hop artist anyway) than you know your in for something very special and meaningful.

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Funky Revelations Of 1987: ‘Alphabet City’ by ABC

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Officially, this was not ABC’s final album of the 1980’s. At the same time it did a lot to some up these survivors of the 1980’s. In many ways, the 80’s had a few different pop cultural periods. And when each one was over,it was over. There was new-wave/synth pop early on, then it evolved into a more dance/pop sound. And by decades end, it was getting into different house/DJ dance music variations. ABC had seen themselves through the first two of those movements very cleanly. Even surviving a bit of a near miss with their second (and underappreciated) 1983 sophomore album Beauty Stab.

ABC  came back with vigor to spare on their follow up album How to Be a Zillionaire .  And stayed on track from that point on. Even if (as the decade wore on) pop music was becoming less and less fashionable, especially with more adult listeners, ABC remained on a roll after this. Even as pop music listeners found other things to listen to. But creatively and commercially, they remained at their peak when their  fourth album here. And it shows. Basically this album features songs that,both musically and lyrically are more balanced than anything since their debut The Lexicon Of Love.

Alphabet City is presented as something of a loose follow up to that debut- with bluish cover art and a movie poster like liner notes. And the songs here very much stick out as well oiled 80’s pop basically. And it brings in all their elements from the Motown inspired “When Smokey Sings”,with a similar rhythm to the Smokey/Steve Wonder track “Tears Of A Clown”, praising Smokey and (seemingly) Marvin Gaye as influences to the band. Excellent artists to be inspired by musically anyway. Especially for pop/soul oriented people.

“The Night You Murdered Love”, “Think Again,”Rage And Regret” and “Ark Angel” all have a more down to Earth pop/funk-dance sound without a lot of the heavy sound attack of the proceeding album. Rhythm and catchy melody are the key to these songs. “King Without A Crown”,”Rage And Regret” and “One Day” showcase a heavy contemporary (for 1987) sophistifunk. The album closes with one of it’s finest cuts “Minneapolis”. Needless to say,it’s totally a Jam-Lewis/SOS Band styled number musically,not dissimilar to what you might hear on a record such as Sands of Time.

To be honest. it’s kind of too bad Jam/Lewis didn’t produce ABC as they did Human League and Robert Palmer. Their style of polished, electronic sophistifunk would’ve been ideal for ABC’s stylized sound and probing melodies and lyrics. Over the years I’ve heard ABC’s singles and always been on the cusp of picking up a compilation of them. But being an album listener I had this feeling it might be the best way to deal with their particular musical bent. And it was an excellent choice too. ABC craft these wonderful little mini synth/pop/dance/funk symphonies,complete with strong arrangements and harmonies.

But they definitely carry that over into album length concepts as well. All of ABC’s first four albums are very strong musical affairs. Full of liveliness,energy and some extremely clear buts of writing. And to hear them all back to back..well at least on my end I know what I’ve been missing all this time. As my friend Henrique pointed out? The funk/soul music that 1987 produced balanced classic live and cutting edge electronic sounds in the audio equivalent of fine wine. On Alphabet City, ABC showcase how this musical ethic was strong and vital on both sides of the pond in its time.

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Funk Revelations Of 1987: ‘Freedom’ by Santana

Considering the revivalist creative spirit of the 80’s, it was still surprising that a musician as innovative and distinctive as Carlos Santana was not only still around but had never went away. Signed to Columbia,his music kept reaching the people. And thereby producing an audience-especially when one of his fusions of the contemporary sounds of the given time period impacted strongly on them. All the same, the Mexican American spirituality and Carlos’s 60’s type idealism hadn’t left him either.

During 1987, with social movements such as the ones to end Apartheid in Africa and even the AIDS activism of Act Up were showcasing that positive social protest was alas not dead during the last years of Reaganomics. On this album Santana expanded the hybrid band he was going for to include both Genesis’s Chester Thompson and Graham Lear (himself a Gino Vannelli alumbi) as drummers,along with bringing back keyboardist Tom Coster and bassist Alphonso Johnson into the mix.

In addition to guesting blues icons Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, this album also marked the return of another Santana alumni in Buddy Miles-lead vocalist for this potent album.  “Veracruz” opens this album on the note much of it maintains: heavy duty uptempo danceable funk with Minneapolis style synthesizer riffs and some mean bass lines. With the harmonica solo of Junior Welles here its clear that,outside the instrumentation this song is also squarely in the 12 bar electric blues tradition.  Never a surprise in any funk but it really sticks out strong on this one.

“Once It’s Gotcha” is right in the same heavy funk vein. “Songs Of Freedom”, “Deeper,Dig Deeper”and “Praise” are all right there too. And on them Santana has re-introduced something that the best of funk is always wise to embrace: a strong humanitarian consciousness in the lyrics. “She Can’t Let Go” is a slower tune with a chill styled aura about the moaning electronics and the dynamically intense melody of the chorus. “Love Is You” is a very pretty instrumental-with a strong contemporary jazz/pop flavor with Coster’s glassy synthesizer playing the dreamy melody with Santana’s spirited soloing.

“Before We Go” has a deep gospel/soul flavor about it while “Mandella” is a deeply fluid African inspired instrumental jam that gets everyone on board instrumentally. The album rounds out with the break rhythm oriented and brooding dance/rock of “Victim Of Circumstance”. Two things characterize this album from start to finish. For one, every song on the album are strongly based in soul/funk and are very danceable. This doesn’t have the typical bed of percussion that you’ll find on most Santana albums. Its more integrated into the steady rhythms,which always stay firmly on the one.

Yet Freedom still holds onto the funk era ethnic identification that Santana always held. The production is just as contemporary as it had been on Santana’s previous album Beyond Appearances. Difference is a more live instrumental flavor is strongly showcased here. Another important element of this album is that it truly lives up to its title both lyrically and conceptually. The focus is squarely on both romantic love and the love that humanity has (and should have) for one another as well.  Santana are respected both by musicians musicians and as “classic rock” survivors.

That well rounded respect of Santana’s musical ethic is why I’d highly recommend this album. Both in lyrical and instrumental terms. And to anyone who thought the entirety of the 1980’s represented musical soullessness. Its an album of the band that I personally discovered long after it came it. But it still felt extremely familiar. True, Santana didn’t have the capability of ever being soulless as far as I’m concerned. And in a way, that is a big reason as to why this album can effectively serve as such a high example of what it is.

 

 

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Funk & Disco Pops Of 1977: ‘Goin’ Places’ by The Jacksons

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Pop chart statistics may mislead you otherwise but, in terms of The Jackson’s’ early years at Epic this has to be their more consistent and enjoyable album. Whereas some of the production on their self titled debut from the previous year is somewhat by-the-numbers Philly soul and is also recorded rather flat this album is mixed up a lot hotter and,while still deeply ingrained in the Philly sound the grooves,rhythms and sense of funk are much strong emphasized. So this second Epic album is a lot more punchy, aggressive and uptempo than the debut.

I didn’t realize until recently that “Music’s Takin’ Over” was really huge in New York during this time-according to an interview with Chuck D of Public Enemy my friend Henrique heard. And I can see how it would be a huge funk monster because the guitar and bass riffs are MEAN and Mikes voice has a lot of strength on the song.The title song is the only tune here that doesn’t really represent anything entirely new for the group and kind of sounds just a little behind the times.

“Diff’rent Kind Of Lady” is one of two (again) self written songs and is another incredible groove that has this great sense of tension in the rhythm and a tad of Vocorder in the end.”Even Though Your Gone” and “Find Me A Girl” are more glossy Philly ballads than the kind heard on the debut and actually serve as good selling points for this album.There are a couple more great uptempo tunes in the heavily,percussive bounce of “Jump For Joy”-one of the most genuinely “positive thinking” type songs I’ve heard and the happily funky orientation of the music really delivers on the promise.

There are some excellent celebratory synthesizer squiggles at the conclusion of the song that help to bring it even more to life.”Do What You Wanna”,another self written tune has a really crisp Philly jump to it and..is yet another positive attitude kind of song.Michael singing “Don’t be phony just be for real” may seem slightly awkward now but at least then I could sense he believed it even for himself.

The pointed anti war ballad “Man Of War” points to the Jackson’s’ future Utopian vision of unity over conflict. This more than any other Jackson’s album from the mid/late 70’s really pointed the most to an individual musical and conceptual direction for the brothers.And even though this is still a very much ignored part of their recorded legacy that should at least be taken into consideration.

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Funky Revelations Of 1987: ‘Touch The World’ by Earth Wind & Fire

Earth Wind & Fire had slowly declined in commercial success during the early 80’s. But even then? They still had enough momentum from their still recent classic run of the late 70’s to sustain them creatively and with the public. Still, the pressures of losing members due to creative differences, plus the effects of the post disco freeze out, was beginning to take it’s tole on a band who’d always been able to adapt to musical changes at every point.

In 1987 the bands core Maurice and Verdine White, Phillip Bailey, Ralph Johnson and Andrew Woolfolk were convinced by Columbia to reunite. They added guitarists Sheldon Reynolds, fresh from The Commodores and Dick Smith along with drummer Sonny Avery and a brand new horn section called the Earth Wind & Fire horns. The result is probably the first major comeback album experienced in my personal memory.

“System Of Survival” begins the album with with a very fast paced horn packed call and response type modern dance/funk jam dealing with the disintegrating effects of Reagan era trickle down economics. “Evil Roy” is an even harder edged,somewhat slower tempo’d groove with a strong bass/guitar interaction illustrating the slice of life tale of a drug pusher.

“Thinking Of You” is a kalimba-led melodic pop-jazzy jam with some creamy vocal exchanges from Maurice and Phillip.”You And I”,”Every Now And Then” and “Here Today And Gone Tomorrow” are all mid-tempo,melodic funk ballads that function as an update of the Charles Stepney era EWF school of balladry. “New Horizons” references samples of songs like “Shinning Star”,”That’s The Way Of The World”,”Reasons”,Serpentine Fire” and “Magnetic” before going into a fast paced,digitized synthesizer jazz-fusion led by an Andrew Woolfolk sax solo.

“Money Tight” is a stomping,electrified hard funk number dealing with the matter of unemployment. The title song is a shuffling mid tempo gospel number-featuring White,Bailey and Reynolds vocally illustrating how individual people’s lives of turmoil effect others. “Victim Of The Modern Heart” has a powerfully jazzy melodic exchange and another show stopping vocal from Bailey.

This album is one of those that I had the privilege to experience the moment it came out. It was an enormous family event when the cassette tape was bought into the this. “System Of Survival” and “Evil Roy” were showing up on the FM dial on car rides around the town while my father gave me the chance to tune into the music videos to these songs via Friday Night Videos. It was a proud experience for me, a young man growing up in semi rural Northeast Maine in the mid/late 1980’s, to hear music that not only had a strong social consciousness but offered hope for a better future.

It’s proud to know that this album might’ve been a successful entry point to EWF for people of the late Gen X age group living in areas that may not have had access to see them in a concert setting,and where funky music wasn’t as emphasized in the culture. Overall,a very successful entry for EWF into being able to fully integrate electronics into what amounts to a total revisit to their classic sound and musical spirit.

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Funk Revelations Of 1987: ‘Hold On To Love’ by Third World

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By this time Third World had been around ten years and,since they started off their career with a cover of a Gamble & Huff song, it made sense that Kenny and Leon would wind up the producer/writers of half of this album. Even with the band producing their own half this album doesn’t have the same high energy electro funk flavors of the excellent previous album Sense of Purpose and instead this is music that relies more on atmosphere and texture than on rhythms and grooves. “The Spirit Live”,”Hold Onto Love” and “Simplicity” all have elaborate arrangements than even typical pop-reggae.
There’s also Christian/gospel messages underlying these tunes which actually work in an interesting way with the bands Rastafarian back round surprisingly. As for the other two Gamble & Huff tracks here there’s the hardcore funk/reggae jam in “Corruption” which conjures up images of a Jamaican version of the O’Jays making music in the mid 80’s. “Manners” is a great uptempo Philly jam as only Gamble & Huff could deliver it that show that,no matter what your beliefs are treating other people right is always the way to go and it was a great plea for humanism in the “me” generation.
Of the songs Third World provided themselves, they bring the Minneapolis connection  back into their sound (in the most lean possible way) on “We Could Be Jammin’ Reggae”. This groove is also home to some amazing jazzy Latin chords too. “Get Outta Town” and “Reggae Radio Station” are the more reggae oriented of the songs here. And again showcase subtlety over showmanship. From the sound and lyric of “Pyramid” there’s no doubt that it comes from a similar musical environment as Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl” from his album Bad which by sheer coincidence was released the same year.
The album ends again on a somewhat gospel/Rastafarian combination (only this time from the bands own pens) on “Peace Flags”. Third World were always a reggae band who worked with American soul/funk artists such as Stevie Wonder, members of Kool & The Gang and on this album Gamble & Huff. Even still, this album shifts Third World’s  focus on melodic harmonics over rhythmic music/vocal approaches. It’s a different kind of Third World and at the very least it was a good example of a band progressing as opposed to remaining in the same place just to keep an audience.

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Funk & Disco Pops Of 1977: ‘The Force’ by Kool & The Gang

 

Kool & The Gang had been present for every single crucial development in funk music-right along with James Brown. . That being the case,the quality of their output during the funk era was very high in relation to their commercial success. By the time the 70’s entered it’s second half, the music was changing. Kool & The Gang for their part responded very well with their previous release Open Sesame‘. And also added more female singers as well and slicker arrangements. By the time they put out this follow up that hadn’t changed for them. Except their commercial fortunes.

“A Place In Space”, “Slick Superchick”, “Just Be True” and the title song represent what amounts to five in your face K&TG style funk numbers very much in their early/mid 70’s style period-very high on that quotient on their classic funk sound . On songs like “Mighty Mighty High” and “Oasis”, there’s something of a new element beginning to take root in their sound that can also be heard on “Life’s A Song”. The collective style funk vocals are still a huge part of their sound. They have come to better refine the mellower, melodically crafted elements into their hard funk sound.

And why not anyway?  K&TG came from a jazz back round and more than knew their way around a wonderful melody. That shows up pretty much on Khalis Bayyan’s flowering solo on the closer “Free”. This album made it clear they’d more than be able to function outside just cranking out popular funk jams. That there was possibilities for something mildly more popularly engaging.

The best part of The Force is the message in their music is not only intact, but grown in strength and conviction through the musical changes they were beginning to go through. Still as with the album to come, this would be considered something of a load barring album for the band.  An album that was part of a two prong connective thread that served as transitional music between two very different periods of their musical output.

 

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Funkentelechy Vs. Four Decades: P-Funk Set On Mood Control, Even For Those Who Can’t Afford Free Speech

How many times have I heard how important the Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome album was? And how many times have I walked passed this album? Even to the point of buying the CD and (at first) returning it because I felt the sound quality was bad? Funkentelechy has the distinction of being both a transitional P-Funk album-as well as a transitional for Parliament on its own. Before this album, Parliament was largely built around it’s horn/rhythm section rather then layers of keyboard/guitar solos. That element is a key part of this album as well with of course “Bop Gun” and the title song.

From there, things get even more interesting very fast. “Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk” not only serves to introduce an important P-Funk character conception to the scene but also the kind of tune that builds from the ground up into a Clinton style variation of “Three Blind Mice”. Thematically this album is a lot different than Mothership Connection. Whereas that albums concept was fairly implicit the band apparently had decided at this juncture that few were getting the point so the Sir Nose character and the story they built around him said it all.

Sir Nose’s story was that the sense of funk in music was being replaced by the “placebo syndrome”. And that it was spilling into areas outside music too. Unusually enough, there are two songs here that seem to have to do with P-Funk’s new music. While conceptually “Wizard Of Finance” and “Placebo Syndrome” are right in tune with the album, and are full of Clinton’s renowned wit, they connect more musically with his past-with their shuffling doo-wop sound. As with everything else on this album it’s Bootsy who carries this album along with the vocal harmonies and horns as usual.

Of course, the album ends with both eyes on the future with one of the bands best known numbers “Flashlight”. Thanks largely to the late Bernie Worrell’s layers of bass synthesizer, the song showcases the sound most people will tend to think of in terms of P-Funk;rhythmically dense,relatively mid tempo and very electronic. It’s the P-Funk sound that would define Parliament to the end. While Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome may not be quite as defining musically as some other Parliament albums due to its  transitional nature, it does its job on that end in terms of conceptual realization.

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