Tag Archives: Groove

Anatomy of THE Groove 01/17/15 Rique’s Pick : “Forest Green” by Butcher Brown

One of both my blogging partner Andre Grindle and myself’s favorite subgenre’s of funk has to be jazz-funk, instrumentals in particular. The sophisticated funk flavors of George Duke, The Headhunters, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, Weather Report, Grover Washington Jr, The Crusaders and many other bands were a key point in my musical development, usually coming from the turntable of my mom and dad. If pops were still living, I know he’d dig “Forest Green” by Butcher Brown. Butcher Brown is a furiously funky quartet from Virginia. They first came to my attention on Mult Instrumentalist Nicholas Paytons 2013 release, “Numbers”, itself one of the funkiest and best musical releases of last year. The members are DJ Harrison on keys, Keith Askey on guitar, Andrew Randazzo on bass, and Corey Fonville on drums. “Forest Green” is the type of intense, kaeladescopic, frantically funky song that hasn’t been heard in quite some time. It was most def at the top of my personal funk charts for last year!

The song begins with a unison lick, played by the bass, and several keyboard sounds, including one with a wah wah. The opening lick is both brighter in tone than the rest of the song and also lands mostly on the upbeats. The instruments sustain their last note for a few bars and the drummer Corey Fonville, introduces the intricate fills he laces the whole track with. Then the main riff starts, which is also played in unison by several instruments, including the bass, guitars and keys. The main riff is agressive, very sharp and on top of the beat. The lead keyboard has a somewhat harsh, quacking filter tone to it. After that main riff is played, the band plays chords, with the bass playing the root of the chord and the keyboards and guitar playing sustained suspended chords. The clavinet sound has a wah wah attached to it, which makes the suspended chord come at you another kind of way. The melody goes through that cycle and when it reaches the end of it, Andrew Randazzo plays a fleet fingered bass line that leads you right back to the top of the cyle. DJ Harrison plays a melody type line on what sounds like a processed Rhodes, but gives you the feeling of machines or computers talking in an old science fiction movie.

The band soon switches to another intense section, lead by Randazzo’s bass playing a simple two sixteenth note line and leaving a lot of space.The whole band kills it on those two notes, jamming away furiosly, with Fonville’s drums leading the way with fills, leading you back up to the beginning of the pattern, and the band hitting a chord sequence before the new pattern begins. In between this there is plenty of room for DJ Harrison to jam on clavinet as well as playing his repetitive computer style melodic lines on top of that. After this the song comes back to the melody used at the beginning of the song, with Fonville going totally free on the drums, playing funky linear lines like Mike Clark of The Headhunters. The song basically repeats this two section pattern, with Fonville’s drummings becoming more powerful and noticeable as the song progresses, Harrison adding all kinds of beautiful texture on keys, Randazzo making you think about Paul Jackson on bass, and room for Keith Askey to solo over the top on guitar.

“Forest Green” is a terrific achievement and statement. The band sustains a high level of intensity and virtuosity over the course of an over six minute jazz funk piece. The song both grooves and takes you different places at the same time, with texture as well as punch. And its a great introduction to the tunes on their album “All Purpose Music.” Butcher Brown is most definitely one of those independent groups to watch. I’m looking for more great music from them and their label Jellostone!

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Filed under 1970's, Acid Jazz, Blogging, Crusaders, drums, Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/03/14 Rique’s Pick: “Chicken Grease” by D’Angelo

When D’Angelo and his fellow Soulquarians and other collaborators such as Questlove, James Poysuer, the late great J Dilla, Raphael Saddiq and Pino Palladino got together to produce what would become the landmark smoky funk masterpiece “Voodoo”, they took a deep and studious approach to their craft. What came out of that is an album, that, as Saul Williams spoke of in his wonderful liner note essay, distilled the essence of many of the great artists of the Funk/Jazz/Soul boom into D’s brew. One of the most prominent flavors in that brew was the mercurial and kalaedoscopic funk of the artist who went back to his birth name, Prince, in the same year D’s album was released. “Chicken Grease” is a funky stepper from that album that is my pick for today’s Friday Funk Feature. The song takes it’s title from one of Prince’s funk music concepts, a name he has for a sixteenth note, droning, unaccented funk guitar figure that goes back to things such as the intro to The Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces.” D’Angelo includes that “chicken grease” guitar part in this song, but the track itself was a manifesto of back to the basics new funk in the ’00s, with it’s dry sound and bopping, hip rhythm.

“Chicken Grease” begins with a drummer tapping out a New Orleans snare drum rhythm and people laughing and hanging out in the background. Soon after, Questlove kicks in with a dry, funky drum beat played in the classic rhythm style D and his co creators pioneered on this album. This album has been noted for it’s lazy, laid back swinging rhythms, mainly influenced by the late great Detroit Hip Hop and R&B Producer Jay Dee’s funky drum programming. Jay Dee went through great lengths to program his drums with the feeling of a human drummer. The result on “Voodoo” was an album whos beats felt like they came from an entirely different planet than what was popular on the radio at the time. Even live drummers had been focusing on making their drum beats as precise as the drum machine if they wanted to get work. The musicians on the tracks on this album adopted a laid back, behind the beat approach, the kind found in the work of Funk artists such as The Meters and Parliament-Funkadelic, and is a hallmark of New Orleans funk in particular.

After the drum beat kicks in, a clean guitar tone massages the ear, reminiscent of ’90s jazz-funk-hip hop fusions. A greasy, funky bass line soon joins it, totally avoiding the “one ” of the measure, letting the guitar part play on that beat, and playing off beat two. The guitar and bass points line up in holy matrimony on beat two. The bass rests and plays a funky phrase in the next bar. All in all the bass is a sparse, funky line that reminds one of the sparese type of funk you’d find on a hip hop record, but the tone is straight up dry funk!

As far as the “Chicken Grease” that Prince named, is it in the song? Yes, the droning funky guitar part can be found in several points of the tune, at one point in particular D asks for it and you can hear it chiming in in the background. As for the lyrics? D did something here close to a “true” funk song if you will. Funky beats can support any type of lyrical text, from political protest, to ballad themes, to sex, to novelty lyrics, to explicit gangster rap. But when James Brown made his seminal contribution to the funk groove with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, he hit with a lyrical text that simply described his amazement at the groove he had concocted with his band. From then on, a good portion of funk lyrics have simply described and reveled in how funky the groove was and what that groove would do to ‘ya. D’Angelo does this and approaches it in the manner of the original party starting hip hop M.C’s, even quoting one of the greatest, Rakim, saying, “Let the others go first/so the brothers won’t miss”, from the Eric B and Rakim classic “I Know You Got Soul.”

D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” was an album that surprised me when it came out. It promised a return to funk, but by the year 2000, Lauryn Hill and Outkast had already done that to various degrees with great success. But I never expected the type of lazy, dry toned, unaccented, grooving funk D’Angelo and co. gave us on this album, music inspired by the boom bap head nod of hip hop. Just as funk adapted itself to the up tempos of disco in the late ’70s, D tailored his funk to his love of the prevailing lyrically focused, slow but chunky hip hop of the ’90s. He also did it with a sound that used very few gimmicks or studio flourishes. I see that album more and more as D giving you the basic nutrients of funk, and he relaid the foundation so well he left artists coming behind him nothing to do but build up from there.


Filed under 1990s, ?uestlove, Acid Jazz, Africa, Blogging, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jazz-Funk, Lauryn Hill, Music Reviewing

The Anatomy of THE Groove 5/30/14 Rique’s Pick : “On the One” by the RH Factor

Texan Trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s “RH Factor” band/project was one of the most interesting and consistent funk projects of the ’00s. Hargrove has made a name for himself as a trumpet leader who performs music in a wide variety of contexts. He won a Grammy in 1998 with his Afro Cuban band, Crisol, and participated in D’Angelo’s seminal funky neo-soul classic, “Voodoo.” “On the One” is a bumping, hand clapping summertime funky song, perfect for both twilight dance scenes filmed with old 8mm camera’s at summertime cookouts and driving down the cost. The song is written and sung by RH Factor vocalist and keyboardist Renee Nuefville. Nuefville is the RH Factor vocalist but she was also a member of the great ’90s group Zhane.

The tune establishes it’s dreamy summertime feel right from the start with an 8 bar intro that sets up the mood. The drums hit softly on the kick drum for all four beats of the measure, as the bass riffs very melodic lines. A clavinet is also in play, delivering very vocal, wah wah accented rhythmic lines. The main  feature is a little melodic fragment, very syncopated and sing songy, played on a keyboard, that sets up a call and response relationship with a musician on the flute. The pattern is only three notes, played in a syncopated rhythm, with the keyboard playing and the flute echoing the phrase in the next bar. This cheerful, melodic, almost Seaseme Street like phrase will recur throughout the song. It also gives one a feeling of the sun on a bright new day, which is made clear when Nuefville begins her vocals, “It’s a new day”.

Once the song has woken up so to speak, it wakes up with a thunderous funk swagger. The drum beat hits with simple, solid, steady, two and four drumming, supported by a rarity now days, real live hand claps. The bass line is a beauty, and the anchor of the song. It’s a monsterous classic ascending funk pattern, playing a stomping ascending line in one bar, and a sparser, accenting pattern in the second and final bar of the phrase. This bass line does not change for the song, simply dropping in and out during certain dreamy sections. The combination of the bass line, handclaps and keyboard tones all intensify the summer time swagger of the song. One of the textures that makes RH Factor unique and different from the typical R&B production you’d hear on the radio is the support and comping of Roy Hargrove’s trumpet. Hargrove plays around Nuefville’s vocals, blowing supporting riffs and tones, in the tradition of Louis Armstrongs comping with Bessie Smith. It reminds me of Miles Davis saying he didn’t play “over” a singer, rather playing a little before or a little after the singer delivers their line.  Nuefville sings a song of a relationship that is a bit astray, going through problems of communication. Periodically, the groove lets up to uncover the dreamy, wistful summer time flavor, at which point Nuefivlle says, “I really miss the days I used to talk to you.” Her solution? “Drop it on the One.”

“On the One” is interesting for using the funk terminology of “On the one” in a romantic context. Most of us of a certain age remember Malcom Jamal Warner as Theo’s phrase of “Jamming on the One” on the classic episode of The Cosby Show featuring the great Stevie Wonder. And we know “The One” is the key beat in funk, and the centerpiece of the musics ability to capture hearts and booties, upheld primarily by James Brown. George Clinton expanded the metaphor from music into a call for social harmony, and here Rene Neufville and the RH Factor bring that into the specific context of a harmonious relationship.

Hargrove plays some brash trumpet calls around 3:17 into the song, making you think he’s going to play a flame throwing trumpet solo, but instead, mellowing out into trumpet riffs that support the overall groove. One of the interesting things about playing funk for jazz musicians, is that the service of a groove requires even more humility than the group improvisations of jazz often times. Jazz rhythm section people might be used to this, but the trumpet by its nature is an instrument that stands out. Hargrove however, has no problem on the RH Factor recordings sublimating his horn to the groove, as he does beautifully on the fadeout of “On the One”. The song vamps out for two minutes on the end, and Hargrove plays both harmonized horn parts and beautiful, softly blown melodies.

“On the One” is a very special song that merges a great feel good, get down groove with a wistful, romantic song of longing, and resolution of that longing. The RH Factor proves itself to be a very unique and versatile group with the ability to communicate in multiple ways, both musically and lyrically. Very soon after clearing the space to listen to this song, you may very well find yourself “On the One.”

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Filed under Blogging, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz, Late 70's Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove 5/2/14 Rique’s Pick : “The Talking Fish” by Ibibio Sound Machine


One of the most interesting developments of the funk era is it’s strong explicit African connection. The funk era represented a unique point in the often strained relationship between Africa and her descendants in the West. One might say that the continent itself as well as it’s descendants in the “New World” were all at similar critical points in their history. Africa was going through the beginning stages of independence from colonialism and nationalism, and in America descendants of Africa were fighting for Human and Civil Rights, as well as increasing the consciousness of their history and even envisioning revolutionary justice in many cases. There was a great exchange of ideas at that time, with MLK,  Malcom X, Richard Wright, CLR James, Frantz Fanon and other American and Carribean people of African descent providing inspiration in Africa that was returned in equal measure by African figures such as Kwame Nkrumah,  Patryce Lumumba, Tom Mboya, Hallie Sellasie and Nelson Mandela, among others. For adherents to the international African groove thang, this was represented most prominently by James Brown and Fela Kuti, but also by other artists such as Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder. In recent years, Fela’s music has become more and more celebrated in the Western world, as perhaps the last great revolutionary popular music maverick of the ’70s. Fela’s country, Nigeria, has been a particular focal point in this African/American exchange, being a large country with a high percentage of people living or educated in the West, a country where English is the official language, and one with a particular cultural connection to the New World because many Black inhabitants were taken from that region.

Ibibio Sound Machine is a new group based in London that revives the Afro-Funk sound and updates it for the modern internet age. The creators of the group are three producer/musicians, Max Grunhard, Leon Brichard, and Benji Bouton, who were huge fans of African grooves. The lead singer is the lovely Eno Williams, a British national of Nigerian descent, who’s roots lie with the Ibibio people of south eastern Nigeria, hence the name of the band. Eno grew up in England raised by a mother who was a native Ibibio speaker. The Ibibio people are one of the many ethic groups in Nigeria, but I was not aware of them as I was other Nigerian tribes such as the Ibo, Hausa, Yoruba and Fulani. Eno’s lyrics take traditional Ibibio folk tales that her grandparents related to her and put them to a groove that mixes West African funk and disco, post punk and modern electro. The 8 person touring band also features Ghanian guitarist Alfred “Kari” Bannerman and Brazillian percussionist Anselmo Netto, making the sound truly Pan African.

“The Talking Fish” is a funky delight sung in the highly rhythmic Ibibio language. Williams tells a funny folk tale that I had to resarch the story behind to understand. The story is about a young girl going down to the stream to fetch water. When she got there, she met a fish that was happy, and running down a mean stream of consiousness dialog. The young girls were amazed by the fish’s singular verbosity. They knew they couldnt eat such an intelligent and vocal fish, partially out of the fear the fish would keep talking even after they’d consumed it! Their squeals of delight and alarm scare the whole village because they think something has happened to the girls. Instead of eating the fish the fish becomes a celebrated local attraction.

From the first notes of the song, it’s clear Ibibio Sound Machine is going for a cinematic, blaxploitation era, classic funk sound. The tune starts off with a classic funk bass figure backed simply by hi hats and a trippy lead analog synth sound playing a wide “scoop.” The bass figure is pure funk, a strong and dominant Major Second interval going up a step and then jumping up an octave. After that clear statement, the bass player plays around with the same notes, displacing their rhythm here and there, playing with the groove. The horns come in with call and response patterns. The music sounds dramatic, like a movie score, calling to mind Bernie Casey from “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka”, “Every hero needs theme music.”

After that scene setting introduction, the band plays a phrase that will reappear throughout the song as a kind of a hook. The phrase is four notes going up the scale, accompanied by snare drum hits, then going back down twice. After the first appearance of the phrase, the track starts in earnest, supported by heavy disco-funk drumming, a meat and potatoes kick and snare eq’ed right with the hi-hats playing the classic disco “pea soup” pattern, the opening and closing of the hi hats. This pattern was introduced into the ’70s lexicon by the drummers of Philly International and quickly became the standard in disco drumming.

Williams sings her funky tale of the Talking Fish as the band riffs behind her, the music is highly responsive to her vocals and features synth squiggles as well as single note muted guitar riffs courtesy of Ghanaian highlife guitar legend Bannerman. Williams delivery is rhythmic, playful, and gets to you even if you don’t understand her Ibibio tounge, you will feel it no doubt.

The funk breaks down at 2:50 or so, adding deep percission with a synth bass playing one note on the ONE, a basic drumbeat with lots of funky small instrument chatter, with percussionist Anselmo Netto bringing the Brazillian contingent of the African musical diaspora to the fore. Around 3:40, Kari Bannerman gets his chance to solo, and he does so with a nasty distorted tone. Bannerman delivers a rhythmic, hard plucked, funky and well phrased blues/funk solo. By the end he builds up the intensity with rock and roll double stops and chords as the song fades out.

The Ibibio people are a 5,000,000 strong ethnic group in Nigeria that I’d never heard of, and this album represents the first time their language has been sung and recorded for a worldwide audience. Williams mentioned in an interview that to her, Highlife music, the one time most popular genre in all of West Africa, was as traditional as any other music to her growing up. Of course, this is the same view a modern Black kid might have in America with regards to funk, viewing it as something older and akin to the early blues and rock and roll. Ibibio Sound Machine is another wave in the reclaimation of Funk and Afro-Funk styles. Their vibrant music brings one back to a time when the Black communities of the world were full of much hope and forward movement, and hopefully children of the future will one day look back on music such as this as the soundtrack to another positive time in their history.




Filed under Blogging, Funk, Funk Bass, Music, Music Reviewing