Anita Baker’s music always felt (to my childhood self ) like what it might’ve been like to be an adult. The music and lyrics came off as so learned and experienced in life. This is one of the key qualities of Baker’s music that I share a common interest in with my friend Henrique. Another quality that Baker’s 1988 album Giving You The Best That I Got is that it presents a relatively small group of musicians. With a sound that’s immaculately produced and compositionally strong all at once. As the follow up to the blockbuster album Rapture this album often suffered from unfair comparisons.
After all, when you have an album like that? Its usually a nearly impossible act to follow. Now I’ve been hearing this album in one way or another since the day it came out? I have to say that this album is packed with great songs and as always Anita’s distinctive voice. Between the styles of Sarah Vaughn, and several years later with Toni Braxton, has any female vocalist been able to almost instrumentally work their way around a song the way Anita does on songs such as “Priceless” and the title cut. These are vital R&B/jazz compositions.
These compositions are to strong grooves Anita made famous beforehand. But on tracks like “Rules”, the barrier that developed between jazz and R&B melted right away. The instrumental sound of these songs are both concise and elegantly produced. And that’s no small feat to accomplish. Michael J. Powell, founder of Baker’s former band Chapter 8, did a masterful job in that regard for this album. Critic/writer Nelson George described the kind of music Anita Baker specialized in as “retro nouveau” in his book The Death of Rhythm and Blues. And I suppose it fits as well as any.
Songs such as “Lead Me Into Love”,”Good Love”,”Just Because”,”Good Enough” and “You Belong To Me” assure this album has no filler at all. The level of songwriting consistency is maintained throughout every one of these songs. Elektra was really and sound popping with some of the best fusions of jazz-pop, quiet storm and R&B/funk during the course of the 80’s. That tends to be what happens when musicians such as Omar Hakim, Nathan East and the late George Duke get together with a talent like Baker’s. And if that period of music was a living being? It should be grateful to have had Anita Baker around.
Somehow it hit me listening to this…just how much of my adult musical understanding comes out of the artistry of the late George Duke. Painted his portrait several times. Made a friend because of him,who had me speak to Duke himself on a radio show and later taught me how to play chords on the keyboard to the man’s song “Capricorn”. Obviously this is not the first time I’ve heard this particular album.
It was the first record by him I ever heard of. And the first of his I ever saw sitting in the record store CD racks. It was a major album for the man career wise. So many jazz/funk lovers and fellow musicians have aurally eaten this album whole over the decades. So hear is what I hear when listening to it.
Opening up with the cinematic bass synthesizer of “The Beginning”,the album goes right into the powerful guitar/bass interaction based jazz/rock fusion of “Lemme At It”. Opening with a fanfare on the electric piano,”Hot Fire” deals with some heavy duty Afro Cuban rhythms and melodies. The title track of course finds the classic half rapped/half sung slow bass synth funk stomp holding down what amounts to a “P-Jazzfunk” masterpiece.
“Just For You” is a melodically complex pop/soul ballad with an electronically symphonic instrumental chorus. “Omi (Fresh Water)” and “Diamonds” are both kinetic,uptempo Brazilian fusion jams while “Searchin’ My Mind” is an EWF like uptempo pop/funk number sung by singers Dee Henrichs,Deborah and Sybil Thomas.
“Watch Out Baby!” is a grinding hard funk stomp with the bass/guitar rhythmic chunkiness of Stanley Clarke and Michael Sembello leading the way. “The End” concludes the album similarly to how it began,while the additional unreleased bonus selection “Bring It On Home” deals with a down home bluesy soul instrumental. What George Duke and his extremely talented band of players does here is really quite amazing. For the last several years before this?
He’d musically sought to locate and lock down the unifying rhythmic/melodic threads between jazz, soul, rock, blues and the music of Brazil. The unifying factor he discovered was a strong sense of musical Afrocentrism. And that’s the quality that this album,across it’s oozing mix of musical genres,possesses in abundance. Exciting, joyous and adventurous jazz/funk that I feel is among the most essential of it’s particular spectrum
Freddie Hubbard was one of the most important trumpet players of the post bop era. His many interactions in music had him involved with some of the most important developments in jazz throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Running from playing with Wayne Shorter,replacing Lee Morgan in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and beginning to lead his own groups. One of his best known works is 1970’s Red Clay-not only his first for the CTI label but the very first release Creed Taylor’s label ever put out. After several successful releases there,Hubbard began recording for Columbia.
Hubbard’s most famous album from his post bop period is Ready For Freddie from 1961. And so far,the only Freddie Hubbard album I have in any format. He’s an artist I’ve heard many times,but neglected just as much in terms of album purchases. He actually made some amazing contributions to the jazz-funk genre in the 70’s as well. That’s especially true for his mid to late 70’s Columbia albums. Always playing along with the best musicians of the era,one perhaps unsung example of Hubbard’s music in this period is the epic title song for his final Columbia album from 1979 entitled Skagly.
Hubbard,saxophonist Hadley Caliman and trombonist Phil Ranelin start this song out with a bluesy horn fanfare-with drummer Carl Burnett marching right to their beat. Burnett and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa then set up a Latin funk rhythm wherein Hubbard, guitarist Jeff Skunk Baxter, bassist Larry Klein, Billy Child’s Fender Rhodes and George Duke’s Clavinet all exchange a think rhythmic interplay together. Hubbard goes on an extended 8+ minute solo-expanding in melodic intensity and loudness before solos from Klein and Baxter lead up to the fanfare brings it all to an abrupt stop.
“Skagly” is a wonderful long form example of hard pop horn solos playing along with strong,live band jazz/funk interplay. George Duke and drummer Carl Burnett in particular knew exactly the kind of rhythmic environment that would be both jazzy and funky enough for Hubbard to literally blow his horn over. Its definitely Hubbard’s show in terms of the solo,and nobody playing on this song ever forgets that. That may be way it is so live band oriented and less electronic than much jazz/funk of the time. That gives the song a certain distinction as late 70’s jazz/funk built heavily around a trumpet solo.
Al Jarreau’s artistry as a world class vocalist/singer has seldom been disputed. Though there was a time when it was said that,after the mid 70’s,Jarreau abandoned jazz for pop crossover. Its an age old argument. And honestly,it usually derives from ignorance. In Jarreau’s case,his musical and vocal approach always remained squarely rooted in jazz. From the vocalese/scat and tremolo effects of his musical heroes Jon Hendricks and Johnny Mathis to the arrangements of the music itself,Jarreau was one of a handful of jazz vocalists who could bring improvisation to a wider audience with a pop/funk musical twist.
Jarreau’s best known album was 1981’s Breakin Away. It was a Jay Graydon production. Graydon,like Rod Temperton,was a figure who really knows how to deliver soulful and funky music that has a strong jazz flavor to it. This style was extremely well suited for Jarreau’s jazz approach,since it was still required to make the whole thing work. And it was a massive (and in my opinion deserved) crossover triumph. And it spawned his best known hit with the mid tempo ballad “We’re In This Love Together”. While spawning two more big hits,a favorite of mine and many fans of Jarreau on this album is “Roof Garden”.
Its the trio of Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements,Steve Gadd’s impeccable funky shuffle and George Duke’s strutting Fender Rhodes that starts off this song with Jarreau’s spoken word/scat intro. Of course Abraham Laboriel’s stomping bass line is right along for the right. On the choruses,Jarreau is singing like a chocked,muted trumpet alongside Graydon’s liquid guitar. On the refrains,the horns and drums lock themselves into a dramatic big band swing style melodic arrangement. The bridge finds Jarreau scatting with Duke’s Rhodes until the big horn,choral and lead vocal part the fades out the song.
“Roof Garden” is one of my personal favorite Al Jarreau numbers. Its got so much high stepping,high strutting jazz/funk personality. Everything from the bass/guitar interaction to the horns is locked right into place. Jarreau was alternately comical and sassy on this song vocally. Especially singing lines at the beginning like “hang on,what ‘cha mama gonna say if she found you in a spot like this”. Jarreau delivered on every strength he had: improvising complex scales,scatting and vocalese of many sorts. While its still hard to believe he’s no longer with us,jazz funk like this will assure his sound will endure.
Jeffrey Osborne-a Providence,Rhode Island native was came from significant musical lineage. His father Clarence “Legs” Osborne,who played trumpet for the likes of Duke Ellington,Lionel Hampton and Count Basie. Osborne formed up with the group that would become LTD in 1970. By 1976,the band was off to a run of successful funk/soul ballad based albums in the late 70’s and early 80’s that included major successes such as the funk of “Back In Love Again” and “Holding On” as well as slow jams such as “Love Ballad” and “Shine”. Osborne’s robust,gospel drenched baritone voice was a major highlight too.
Osborne left LTD in 1980 to begin a solo career. His self titled solo debut came out on his bands label A&M in 1982. It was produced by the late jazz/funk luminary George Duke. It was through Duke that I first took interest in this first solo album when I discovered it on CD about 12 years or so ago. Because of where LTD’s music had seemed to be going in the early 80’s,had the impression this would be a Lionel Richie like album that strong emphasized ballads. And Osborne’s solo career seemed to have been marketed that way. Yet he also came through with songs like “Who You Talkin’ To” as well.
Jerry’s Hey’s horn arrangements begin the affair-with the refrain consisting of Terry Smith’s drumming,Paulinho Da Costa’s always spicy percussion,a high chunky rhythm guitar part and a hard slap bass line from Larry Graham himself. George Duke provides the sung song title through his Vocorder along with Osborne’s straight lead. The horns punctuate every bar of the song. They also play a low thundering chart on the lead up to the choruses. The bridge finds the drums,percussion,horns and Vocorder playing for a rocking guitar solo before another series of choruses closes out the song.
The early 80’s did seem to find a lot of baby boom age and/or aged black American recording artists emphasizing heavily arranged ballads. That seemed to be the emphasis of vocal based artists of that day. Jeffrey Osborne was always diverse in projecting epic soul ballads and hardcore funk. And his solo debut changed nothing. I cannot think of a black male American vocal album of its time with such a hardcore funk piece as “Who You Talkin’ To?” on it. And including slap bass innovator Larry Graham no less. So for the funk lover,this might be the highlight of Jeffrey Osborne’s solo debut.
Jean-Luc Ponty is an artist who probably most represents my adult focus on jazz fusion/funk. A virtuosic violinist from Avranches,France Ponty was born into a family of classically trained musicians. While graduating fairly young from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris with their highest honor,he began listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane while playing with one of the countries major symphony orchestra’s Concerts Lamoureux. Ponty became known by the end of the 60’s as being a premier example of “jazz fiddle”.
The jazz community at the time had similar doubts as to the violin’s viability in jazz as they had when Rufus Harley introduced bagpipe into the genre. But with his mixture of be-bop phrasings and European classical movements,Ponty became part of the link between jazz fusion and what would become the new age music genre. He released his first solo album at the age of 22 in 1964’s Jazz Long Playing. He played with key members of the modern jazz movement until Frank Zappa wrote songs for his 1969 album King Kong. He emigrated with his family to America when asked to join Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention.
Ponty participated in the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra albums in the early 70’s as well,before restarting his solo career in 1975. By the early 80’s,he’d toured the world and recorded more than a handful of premier jazz/rock fusion albums. In 1983 he released his 15th studio album Individual Choice. The title song was given one of the first jazz music videos. He also re-ignited his collaboration with the late George Duke. He and Duke recorded a collaborative album together in 1969. And he was the chief composer of my favorite song on Ponty’s 1983 release entitled “In Spiritual Love”.
The main body of this song entirely surrounds the rhythm. Its a funky R&B shuffle done up on a brittle drum machine-surrounded by multiple synthesizer parts. One is a jangling guitar like one,the other is a bluesy bass line while a low and high orchestral one accent both. The melody begins with Ponty plucking the main melody,than playing the last part out on his violin. The song also contains two separate instrumental solos. The first is a classic Minimoog solo from George Duke. The second one is is a full violin solo from Ponty before the song fades back out on its main theme.
Over the last decade or more,I’ve heard most of Jean-Luc Ponty’s 70’s and 80’s studio albums. And enjoyed them strongly based on their album oriented context and impeccable playing. Yet of all the individual songs he’s done,”In Spiritual Love” is one of a handful that stand out strong on its own. The solos are strongly based on Ponty and Duke’s keen understanding of harmonic virtuosity and an inviting sense of melody. But the rhythmic base of the entire song is,outside its electronic presentation,a very funky rhythm & blues shuffle. So this really puts Ponty’s entire musical focus into excellent perspective.
William Emanuel “Billy” Cobham shared the same Panamanian heritage with members of the 70’s Latin-funk band Mandrill. After his family moved to New York and playing drums throughout childhood,Cobham attended the New York High School For Music And Art-after which he had a brief time in the army where he played in their band. Upon discharge, he played in Horace Silver’s band-in addition to doing sessions with Stanley Turrentine, Shirley Scott and George Benson. He was part of the original lineup of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early 1970’s before branching out into a solo career.
His solo debut Spectrum was released in 1973 while he was still in the Mahavishnu Orchestra-with band mate Jan Hammer helping out on keyboards. This album is considered a fusion classic. Though it’s funkiness comes mainly as bridges amidst elongated,speedy hard rock rhythms with elaborate improvisations. His sophomore album Crosswinds got far deeper inside the groove-especially with folks like George Duke and the Brecker brothers aboard. And it’s the closing title song that makes that point best.
Cobham set’s the groove up with a slow,funky drum with Lee Pastora providing some thick percussion accents. George Duke lays down a strong bluesy groove of his own with a loud,fuzzed out Fender Rhodes while John Williams brings in an excellent foundational bass line. The Brecker’s and trombonist Garnett Brown provide some accenting,melodic horn charts. John Abercrombie,who worked with Cobham for years,provides some brittle,scintillating hard rock guitar solos until the rhythm section and the horn section brings the entire groove to an abrupt halt.
This song is a fantastic rocking funk-played by some talented jazz players who KNEW how to play funk and do some heavy rock soloing. Though the instrumentation is quite a lot more sleek and tight on this song,the shuffling drum/percussion part and slow,bluesy melody has a similar flavor to Funkadelic’s song “Nappy Dugout” from the same general time period. It really showcases how high the then fairly new funk sound was effecting the most technically inclined of jazz/rock fusion players at the same time that genre was beginning to enter it’s own peak period of musical excellence.
Filed under 1974, Billy Cobham, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Garnett Brown, George Duke, horns, jazz funk, jazz fusion, John Abercrombie, John Williams, Lee Pastora, Michael Brecker, percussion, Randy Brecker, rock guitar, Saxophone, trombone, trumpet
Somewhere between the final two EWF albums of the early 80’s Powerlight and Electric Universe this album came out during the same year in 1983. Gradually during the first three years of the 80’s the entire Earth Wind & Fire camp was starting to falter from various pressures and creative differences. A lot of this moved in tandem with the same sort of situation occurring within the R&B/soul/funk world during that anti disco freeze out. Since this would be the first real formalized solo album by any member of that band Philip didn’t have to look hard to find a way to carve out his own musical niche.
He went to musician/producer George Duke,whose jazz/funk/pop musical style was very close at this point to EWF and whose falsetto vocals were deeply influenced by Bailey’s,to produce and play on this album. Seldom has there ever been a more appropriate marriage of talents in recent years. The result is a short,crisp album that respects musical quality to such as degree I have to say I’ll personally claim it as my favorite of Bailey’s solo albums.
Consisting of eight tracks,six of which are uptempo and very heavily steeped in the funk idiom there’s a great degree of variety and strength to everything to be heard here. The album opens on a very strong note with “I Know”,a number reflecting how much 70’s funk and 80’s new wave had in common and there the two styles could intermix into 80’s urban funk. It also has this great slow driving bass groove as well. “I’m Waitin’ For Your Love” and the closer “You Boyfriend’s Back” also bring in the rockier new wave influence,soon to be a primary element in Bailey’s solo music.
In these cases Duke’s Seawind Horns take the place of EWF’s Phenix Horns so…may be a somewhat new song and dance but definitely the same old tune. Because of it’s hybrid of classic funk styles with electronic arrangements the newer sub-genre of boogie funk found a place here on the potent “Desire”,with it’s popping synth bass and Bailey mostly in his lower vocal register and and the more deeply funky boogie variant of “The Good Guy’s Supposed To Get The Girl”. “Vaya (Go With Love)”,with it’s cleaner urban funk/pop/jazz fusion sounds more like a straight up George Duke number but seems in a way one of those hit type songs that got away.
On the strong “Trapped” and “It’s Our Time” with Deniece Williams Bailey is essentially still in his old fashioned EWF ballad style with the sweeping arrangements mixed with the idea of rhythm. Overall this album has nothing on it that might lower it’s quality. Also it contains more than a fair share of strong,melodic pop/funk styled grooves. So why did it go so unnoticed in it’s day?And why did people such as myself have to learn of it’s existence over a decade after it came out? Honestly after listening to this album not only on vinyl for years but on this wonderfully remastered CD….I really have no idea.
Bailey was huge at the time due to associations with EWF,the album was contemporary with not an embarrassing moment to be heard and Bailey’s voice was in prime shape. Sometimes when a great album goes unnoticed…it just does so for no rhyme or reason. Anyway what matters to me is that Bailey didn’t wind up becoming a full on pop crooner or an adult contemporary solo artist. Even outside EWF he managed to continue innovating and experimenting within the funk genre.
The results could be very surprising. But Philip Bailey had the potential as a huge creative talent. He also had the potential with his melodic,pop friendly approach to be coerced by others into becoming a big time sellout. Luckily the years have shown him to be someone who tends to follow the creative drummer rather than the more obviously commercial one. And as pop friendly as this is,no matter how little success it had commercially at it’s time it may be one of his most significant releases from a purely creative standpoint.
Originally posted on September 22nd,2011
LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE*
Filed under Boogie Funk, Earth Wind & Fire, elecro funk, George Duke, jazz funk, New Wave, Phenix Horns, Philip Bailey, pop funk, post disco, Uncategorized
In a lot of ways, the song being presented here today represents the passing of two great and different artists whom I admire. That was the actor Leonard Nimoy from Star Trek,who passed last year and the jazz pianist George Duke-who left us four years ago this coming august. It was about a dozen years ago now that I became very immersed in all things related to George Duke. This was thanks in part to my acquaintanceship with DJ/musician/Duke aficionado Nigel Hall. This led me to George Duke Online. It was on this site that George actually reviewed his own discography. This allowed people such as myself to get inside the man’s views on his own musical past.
In the early/mid 70’s during his tenure with Frank Zappa, Duke signed a solo deal with the German jazz label MPS. When he departed the label to sign with CBS/Epic in 1976, he recorded what amounted to a solo piano album where, with the help of Genesis drummer Chester Thompson, Duke played other instruments as well. It was released in America in a slightly altered form in 1982. But throughout most of Europe in 1978 as the now quite rare record entitled The Dream. The song I’m going to talk to you about today is one whose sound and title were originally quite different from the early 80’s variation. The name of the original song was “Spock Does The Bump At The Space Disco”.
Duke starts off the song with a lone funky drum-accented by a percussive bump on between the first and second beat. Starting with some of his own grunts and groans, Duke’s low piano than comes in playing the songs bluesy theme along with a distant, popping bass ARP synthesizer in the back round. A huge,deeply popping slap bass chimes in along with another theremin like synthesizer solo pipes up in the back round. Duke’s Fender Rhodes electric piano than comes in playing an accessory solo. By which time all the instrumentation that built up from the beginning of song all comes together beautifully before the song ends on a three note slap bass riff.
George Duke was the man behind some of the most potent and experienced funk that the jazz world had to offer from the early 70’s up until his death. And in every possible way? This song is among his very funkiest. It falls somewhere between the stripped down funk of Rufus and Prince. The one man band that is George Duke on this album does something fairly unique. Though multi tracked in creation? This groove showcases Duke’s experience as both a session player and band leader by being able to play off his own instrumental strengths and weakness. It does in fact sound like a band playing together-with the pianos and synthesizers creating a thick bed of funk one can always swim deeply within.
Filed under 1970's, Chester Thompson, drums, Epic Records, Fender Rhodes, Frank Zappa, George Duke, George Duke Online, Jazz-Funk, Leonard Nimoy, piano, slap bass, Spock, Uncategorized
Michael Jackson was likely the first artist who ever focused my attention on instrumentalists. While admiring the vocal,songwriting and performance ability of the Jackson brothers in general? My attention would focus on the liner notes of their albums. This came after watching The Jackson’s-An American Dream mini series on TV. And my parents loaning me their Michael Jackson/Jackson related albums. I personally wanted to know more about the musicians whose sound made the rhythms snap,crackle and pop with funkiness and soul the way they did. It has gone on to be a tremendous learning experience for me.
Two of these musicians that I noticed on the liner notes to Mike’s iconic Off The Wall album,from my mom and dad’s original vinyl copy,were guitarist George Johnson and his bassist brother Louis. Considering my interest in bass players even then? It was amazing to learn just what a bass icon Louis Johnson in particular was. Not to mention his enormous debt to the 1980’s by his iconic electric bass line on Mike’s “Billie Jean”. While I knew who Quincy Jones was of course? I had no idea of the breadth and scope of his musical outreach until learning more about the Brothers Johnson.
A few years later during mid adolescence? I was browsing the CD racks at the now defunct Borders Books & Music. I noticed a collection of four newly arrived releases by…The Brothers Johnson. The earliest one, 1976 album called Look Out For #1 showed a photographically powerful image,take from below,of two super hip looking young musicians playing bass and guitar and singing with enormously enthusiastic expressions and stances. All of these album covers projected intensity. Album art is just art of course. But the best part was,as I veered toward adulthood, was discovering that these albums were musically just as energetically funkified as their cover art implied.
During my early 20’s? Something began to become uppermost in my understanding of the Johnson brothers musicality. Free jazz/bluesgrass/rock guitarist and writer for Allmusic.com Eugene Chadbourne perhaps worded it best about the revelation I had-when Mister Chadborne described the Johnson’s as coming from a period where musicians in the jazz/funk/soul genre were judged by the dues they paid in professional situations. As opposed to being judged by a romantic notion of street credibility. Since that latter notion totally defined the local understanding of musical appreciation around me at that time? This led me to more research,both through physical literature and my earliest experiences online, about the Johnson’s and other funk era instrumentalists.
By the time 2004 rolled around? And I was connecting with a group of local musicians/DJ’s as something of a local funk bands volunteer videographer? It was the story arc of how musicians such as George and Louis Johnson became musical icons that was fascinating me most. The brothers started playing with the Billy Preston band while still in high school. Quincy Jones then became taken with the duos talents. And he bought them in to record with his mid 70’s band on his 1975 release Mellow Madness-much of which qualifies as the earliest introduction of the Johnson’s duel playing and vocal harmonies. And the rest was history. In addition to success as a duo with their own albums? They would go from blistering session work with Herbie Hancock and George Duke to 80’s era work with Leon Sylvers and Slave’s Steve Arrington.
Looking back on it all now? The Brothers Johnson are the main reason why I have continued to focus so heavily on the instrumentalists relationship in the creation of the funk,soul and jazz music that has become such a source of creative and emotional inspiration for me. Getting back to the Michael Jackson angle? Now that the man sadly isn’t with us anymore? Whenever I hear his first two Quincy Jones produced solo records? It’s a lot more easy to tune into how Mike’s vocal hiccups take their turns popping right along with George and Louis’s instrumental licks on songs such as “Get On The Floor”,”Burn This Disco Out”,”Baby Be Mine” or the aforementioned “Billie Jean”. So among all the wonderful funky soul the Johnson’s have made? What I’d personally thank them for is helping increase my level of understanding of why playing in the groove works in music.
Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Allmusic.com, Billie Jean, Billy Preston, Borders Books & Music, Brothers Johnson, Eugene Chadbourne, Funk, Funk Bass, George Duke, George Johnson, guitar, Herbie Hancock, Leon Sylers, Look Out For #1, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Off The Wall, Quincy Jones, Steve Arringon, The Jacksons, Thriller