Tag Archives: Grammy Awards

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Greatest” by King

King are an LA female trio who seem to be getting a lot “magazine time” in Rolling Stone, The Fader, Spin and The New York Times. The core of the trio are the Strother sisters Paris and Amber as well as Anita Bias. This gives the group roots in Minneapolis as their late uncle was twin city bluesman Percy Strother. Its the sister Paris who produces the music,while the songwriting is a collaborative effort between all the members. There sound is a mixture of dreamy,funkified 80’s style “Afr0-Chill” as it were-with a strong Afro Caribbean influence in their heavily rhythmic electronic approach to music.

Since the release of their debut EP The Story in 2011,they appeared on the HIV/AIDS benefit tribute album Red Hot+Fela a couple of years later-doing the song “Go Slow”. Right in between that,they collaborated with contemporary jazz maestro Robert Glasper on the song “Move Love” from his Black Radio. Their 2016 debut album We Are King was nominated for best urban contemporary album at this years Grammy’s. That inspired me to seek out and purchase the CD of it. So far in my listening,the song that speaks and sings to me most is the Muhammad Ali tribute entitled “The Greatest”.

An electronic Afro Latin conga drum percussion stomp opens the album,as the main rhythm of the entire song. A synth riser brings the vocals in on its sonic wave. This is accompanied on the ethereal vocal harmonies on the song with song tingling,high pitched melodic synthesizers. There’s also a more brittle synth spike right in the middle of the arrangement-which solos right before the second refrain. As the song progresses,further stabs of arpeggiated synthesizers rise up to the same aural level as the lead vocal before the song fades out.

“The Greatest” is an amazing tribute to late champion Ali. It talks about the man being a fighter both in and out of the boxing ring. Have to congratulate the Strother sisters and Anita Bias for focusing on such a strong African American hero at a time when anti black racism continues to rear its ugly head. The music of the song never loses focus of its strong Afrofuturism. The rhythm is full on Afro Caribbean. And its complex, jazzy melodies are sung in meditative,chant like harmonies. King prove on this, and what I’ve heard of their debut album,to be a strong contemporary African American musical voice.



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Al Jarreau (1940-2017): We Thank You For Your Service,But Do We Have You Covered?


Al Jarreau is one of those artists whose followed me from my first understandings of music to the present day.  “We’re In This Love Together” is one of the first pop song memories I have from a sentimental standpoint. Jarreau’s voice is now the creature of massive creative and commercial recognition-by everyone from music critics to the Grammy Awards.  Now its come to the realization that admiring Al Jarreau’s vocals is to understand the improvisational technique and unique phrasing of Jon Hendricks and Johnny Mathis. And that’s the way I will always think of the man.

Sadly,Mister Jarreau is no longer with us. A week ago,he cancelled his recent tour and announced his retirement. And yesterday my friend Henrique said he was no longer with us. He was exactly one month shy of his 77th birthday. Jarreau was an extremely successful man as an artist. A seven time Grammy winner (and 20 time nominee) from 1979-2013,he was also the recipient of two honorary doctorate degrees in music. The most significant part of this legacy was that his major label debut album didn’t get recorded or released until Jarreau was 35 years old.

Born in Millwakee,Wisconsin Jarreau graduated from Ripton College,and started a career as a rehabilitation counselor. By 1968, Jarreau was totally devoted to music after years of great success in the California bay area club scene. By 1975,he was signed to Warner Bros. records and recorded his major label debut We Got By. It started a precedence for the man writing songs that matched his distinctive vocals. These were chordally busy songs,always accompanied by the cream of the crop of jazz players of that era such as-which would go on to include the likes of Lee Ritenour,Freddie Hubbard and Paulinho Da Costa.

Al Jarreau’s vocal instrument was as idiosyncratic as it was ingenious. He was able to cross heavy jazz improvisational vocals over for funk,soul and pop listener’s with great success. That meant that his major breakout album Breakin Away could contain the urban classic “We’re In This Love Together” along with a show stopping performance of Dave Brubeck’s jazz standard “Blue Rondo Ala Turk”. How many crossover jazz singers of the mid 70’s to early 80’s can any of us say that about? There’s a lot of Jarreau’s music I have yet to hear. But even though he’s gone now,there’s much more to say of his musical legacy.

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Anatomy of THE groove 5/23/14 Rique’s Pick : “Radio Song” by Esperanza Spalding

I can see why jazz purists like Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis get upset when artists like Esperanza do funky music like this. In the commentary of music purists such as those two esteemed examples, there is always a sense of the old black musical critical trope of, ” (artist) sold their soul to the Devil, for commercial success. The reason Spalding’s “Radio Music Society” is such a gift to the worlds of pop and R&B, as her overall career is to jazz, is it is truly rare to get an attractive, well educated, instrumentally talented, young vocalist who plays upright and electric bass and knows music well enough to teach at Berklee College of Music, to come into the popular imagination.  During the 1980s a musician/singer as pretty as Esperanza might be advised by the record labels to deemphasize her bass playing, in favor of pre fab beats by the hot producer of the moment. It might be a sign of this type of musics water in the desert quality that she has been able to do her thing without much hinderance. This weeks Anatomy of THE groove pick, “Radio Song, is a jazz-funk throwback that speaks to the power of a simple, good song on the radio to change a persons attitude and mood, therefore changing their day, and in a small way, their life. Spalding uses her unique talents to deliver one of the first songs in true ’70s jazz-funk style I’ve heard in a while, that mixture of jazz, funk, soul and pop that is more song oriented than the musician and rock and roll oriented genre of “fusion.”

The song begins with an intro of shakers and two tracks of Spalding’s wordless vocalizing, singing a playful little melody. The shaker percussion and melody set the song up into a playful, melodic Afro-Latin groove. From there, the bass line kicks in that will define “Radio Song”, but which will no means be played straight through the whole tune. Esperanza plays an extremely funky jazzy bassline, , that makes up what it lacks in notes in slick, rhythmic and melodic sophistication. The bass line is partially chromatic, and uses approach notes to get to its target tones which are the key, standout notes of the line. The bass line too has an Afro-Latin feel to it’s funk, very slinky, most defintitely inspiring movement in the lower back regions. This bass line is basically the main motif of the song, along with Esperanza’s melodies. The bass line represents the “radio song” and that irresistable musical hook that makes a song a hit that sticks in ones mind.

She goes on to tell a story, supported in the video, of a person stuck in traffic, or at work, who turns on the radio, either out of boredom, or a search for a relief. “Somehow he feels it/the DJ at the station/sends sweet salvation”, the DJ at the radio station is a conspiritor int he grand scheme to brighten your day. She sings of how the DJ puts on a song that will “lift your spirits”, a song that you have never heard before but you keep “Singing along”. I think that’s extremely slick and superior song writing on Esperanza’s part. And it also comes from her musical training and jazz background, as well as her background as a listener to music. She speaks to the musical technique’s of writing, and that a skilled writer of music, can make a song you’re hearing for the first time sound like one you’ve already lived with, by the apt use of structure, bridges, melody, hook, chorus, etc. Which is exactly what she does in this song.

She uses a different bassline for the verse, a spare bass line that covers the chord roots with a bossa nova feel. The song alternates between four bars of this line and four bars of the “Radio Song” jazz bass. Around 2:10 the tune goes into a free time passage, with the horns riffing and one horn soloing behind her, the bass walking 4’s, and the drums playing rhythms in a free style. This lasts until 2:57, when the main riff returns. One interesting thing that differentiates the main riff on the chorus and the verse is the jazzy latin style rhythmic piano that backs the bass line on the chorus. Around 4:55 there is a nice piano solo section, where the pianist does a good job of cordinating chordal hits in their left hand with runs and scale lines in the right.

“Radio Song” is a delightful, well composed, bouncy, funky single. The melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and lyrical content are definitely sorely needed on today’s radio stations. Esperanza, like Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, and Minnie Riperton before her, elevates the genre of R&B in this song by virtue of her vast musical training and experience. It’s a thing that used to be common in R&B, as the funk and soul also serve to make all that jazz technique RELEVANT to things people are living and grooving to TODAY.  Her song is very clever in it’s lyrical thrust as well as it’s sneaky, sexy groove. Once again, I have to mention my local station KBLX. I can really imagine this on KBLX in the old days, a station on which I heard many jazz-funk releases. Whether or not contemporary outlets play it or not is their problem however, as on my side, I’m convinced “this song’s the one.”


Filed under 1970's, Earth Wind & Fire, Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Funk Bass