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The Crusaders Remembered: “Gimme Some Space” by Stix Hooper

Nesbert “Stix” Hooper is the last surviving member of the band who originally called themselves The Jazz Crusaders. The Houston native spent most of his youth studying music even before any of this occurred. While enrolled at Texas Southern University, Hooper , he got a musical education that most would envy. Everyone from members of the Houston Symphony Orchestra to a number of local professional players. By the time of his peak with the Crusaders, Hooper’s musical excellent touched on everyone from The Rolling Stones,B.B. King and onto London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

What Hooper brought to his drum and percussion work was the in the pocket funk rhythm. And basically helped to shape the sound of what became the jazz-funk subgenre from the outset. As a Crusader,the man was and remains a musical icon. His solo career, consisting of two albums released in 1979 and 1982, didn’t seem to receive the recognition they deserved. Especially having heard them both. The first I got was the 1982 album called Touch The Feeling. My dad pointed it out in a discount vinyl crate to me some years ago. My own favorite cut on it is its final one called “Gimme Some Space”.

Todd Cochran’s huge synthesizer riser fades into the song before the intro comes in. Its a powerful one for sure-with Hooper’s drum hits announcing the horn charts coming at within 3-4 seconds of time between each other. That’s when the entire song kicks in. This consists of Hooper’s huge funky beat, Neil Stubenhaus’s thick slap bass and Larry Carlton wah wah toned bluesy guitar along with Cochran’s synth and the horn section. On the next part, the synths take on a distinctly spacey late 70’s P-Funk air. Everything comes together after that-from the calculated pauses and solos until it actually fades out.

“Gimme Some Space” is one of those funk jams that gives you exactly what the title implies. A good portion of the song relies on adding musical drama with long and calculated silences. That makes it very much in line with the James Brown/Clyde Stubblefield/Jabo Starks type of funk from the late 60’s. That being said, its basic instrumental character comes out of the late 70’s/early 80’s jazz/funk George Duke style take on the P-Funk sound. Its a powerful and strong blend of acoustic and electronic funk ideas that shows how powerful a musical figure Stix Hooper truly is.

 

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After Dark At 30: Ray Parker’s Fourth Official Solo Album Gets Some Love From Going Back To The Past

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After the very Minneapolis dance/funk influenced Sex And The Single Man Ray Parker Jr was very well aware of the changing tide in the R&B world during the latter half of the 80’s. The success of Anita Baker and Gregory Abbot was showcasing urban music’s move again back into the relm of a more adult jazz-pop frame of mind. At the same time this was mixed with some of the live/electronic rhythmic elements of boogie funk as well.

This late 80’s urban sound was great news for Ray Parker Jr. Sometimes thought of as the purveyor of almost novelty funk for teenagers,as a lyricist Ray did possess that Smokey Robinson sense of wordplay and a refreshingly witty plain spokenness. Not to mention the man was one serious guitar player. On this album,he delivered on one of his most significant and vital musical statements of a very successful decade for him.

“I Don’t Think That Man Should Sleep Alone” is a wonderful hit,an honest lyric on male vulnerability with some thickly layered keyboards playing some mood and complex jazzy chords that are also melodic. It’s definitely a highlight of Ray’s career. The ballads here “Over You” with Natalie Cole and “The Past” are unlike any of Ray’s earlier ballads;fully fleshed out and arranged numbers with very well done orchestrations. The uptempo numbers are some of the most funky and varied of his career.

“Lovin’ You” and “You Make My Nature Dance” are both thick grooves with a lot of bottom and some excellent electronic percussion effects. “Perfect Lovers” makes even better use of that as the groove kind of rolls right along with similar rhythmic patterns. “After Midnight”,harmonically similar to Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies” is an instrumental with a beautiful soul jazz solo from Parker.

On “You Shoulda Kept A Spare” he lets his inner Anita Baker shine with powerful sax from Gerald Albright and another example of his wit and worldly lyrics.  “I Love Your Daughter” is a somewhat more conversational number reference that..certain little hook that I noticed Ray has present on every album at least once since it first appeared on 1980’s “For Those Who Like To Groove”. The title track that concludes the album is a perfect summation of everything on here.

It’s got a hard funk groove,a mean mean bass/guitar line and great wordplay likening a hidden affair to mechanical repair work. Without any bias this is musically one of Ray Parker’s finest and most consistent solo album. Because it was released during the 1980,it might not be a bad full length album for anyone only aware of Ray Parker Jr’s singles. In terms of full lengths,this might actually be his very best release.

*This is take from my Amazon.com review of this album posted there on July 8th,2012

 

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Anatomy of THE GRoove: “Sammy-Joanne (One Half Woman,One Half Man)” by Vernon Burch

Vernon Burch  is a musical figure who is relatively obscure to me. Born in Washington DC, Burch is a guitarist whom its hard to find a great deal of personal information about. What could be found out about him was that he played with The Bar Kays during the time they recorded their Do You See What I See? album in 1972. He embarked on hissolo career starting in 1975-at first at United Artists and Columbia. He finally signed to Casablanca subsidiary Chocolate City in 1978,best known at the time as the label for funk stalwarts Cameo.

This was the disco era. And Burch’s place in music history was cemented in funk.  In 1979,he released his second album for the label entitled Get Up.  On the album he had arrangement help from Tom Tom 84 and funk icon Fred Wesley of the JB’s and P-Funk. Wesley arranged the horns on three of the songs on this disco funk album. While pursuing some of its songs on YouTube,one of these Fred Wesley arranged tunes leaped right out at me-for a number of different reasons both musical and otherwise. The name of the song is “Sammy-Joanne (One Half Woman,One Half Man)”.

A hard hitting disco beat from non other than James Gadson starts the song-along with a ticking keyboard from Michael Thompson. Burch’s rumbling,rocking guitar provides a string orchestra like effect as the intro slides into the main song-along with David N. Shields slap bass. As a descending synth and descending horns enter into it, the drum/ rhythm guitar/Clavinet/slap bass interaction all lock in  for the refrain of the song. The stripped down bass/drum/synth sound of the intro provides the chorus. A bluesy guitar solo from Burch on the bridge extends into an extended,fading refrain.

“Sammy-Joanne” is a hard driving stomper- a perfect example of a funk song functioning as disco. What surprised me in the song is how it focused on a healthier and perhaps less hedonistic aspect of the disco era. The Sammy-Joanne character in the song is a hermaphrodite who finds acceptance and love as an implied transgender’ disco dancer. The character is celebrated,not made fun of and hated. And with gender related matters being a strangely controversial matter in 2017, this 1979 song celebrates sexual difference with some of the most funkified disco-dance music possible.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Toque De Cuica” by Airto Moreira

Airto Guimorvan Moreira almost seemed to have had a nearly innate sense of creativity. Raised in several different parts of Brazil by a family of folk healers, he was a professional musician by the time he just entered his early adolescence. After playing with Hermeto Pascal as a percussionist in the mid to late 60’s, he followed his wife (the vocalist Flora Purim) to the US. While there, his percussion sound became one of the building blocks of jazz rock fusion. In particular it most Latin end. His recordings with Miles Davis,Joe Zawinul,George Duke and Cannonball Adderley are now iconic.

Airto began his career as a band leader in the year 1970. And was fortunate enough to have released a brand new studio album every year until 1979. That and in between his many collaborations-including those with wife Flora Purim. That final album of the 1970’s was entitled Touching You,Touching Me. It wasn’t the most common album to find until the Wounded Bird label reissued it on CD several years ago.  As with all the Airto albums I’ve heard, the album has a very high respect for musical quality. One song I truly love on it is a remake of Azymuth’s “Toque De Cuica”.

Airto’s percussion and Pete Bunetta’s drums start out the Brazilian disco funk rhythm the begins the song-with George Duke’s Clavinet, Marcos Valle’s Fender Rhodes, Bayete’s rhythmic piano and Alphonso Johnson’s bass all playing call and response with both the melody and rhythm. That rhythm changes to an elaborate series of funk patterns for the chorus and its B section-with Airto scatting fast and then slow-bringing in former Rufus member Al Ciner on guitar. After a couple of bridges echoing the intro, the first section of the chorus plays between percussive breaks until the song comes to an end.

Airto’s version of this song is an extremely complex one rhythmically. Took the time to listen to Azymuth’s original 1977 version entitled “Tamborim Cuíca Ganza Berimbau” and their version has more of a bossa fusion atmosphere. Its a good song for sure from both. Airto brings another whole energy to the song. And its generally the passion of the excellent players who joined him for it on this album. Its one of a handful of songs on the Touching You, Touching Me album that leaped right out in terms of rhythm and melody. And is one of many dozens of superb examples of Airto’s amazing artistry.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love Is All Around” by Eric Burdon & War

Eric Burdon’s best known for being the lead singer for The Animals,part of the bluesiest end of the 60’s British Invasion along with the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Of course The Animals are best known for their version of “House Of The Rising Sun”. After that band split up in 1969, Burdon and producer Jerry Goldstein formed the band War out of a group of black LA musicians such as Lonnie Jordan, Thomas “Papa Dee” Allen,Harold Brown and Danish born harmonica player Lee Oskar. And they were a commercial and musical success right of the box.

The debut album of this outfit was 1970’s Eric Burdon Declares War. Its blend of Latin rock and soul was an important part of the funk process. Recording only two albums while together, Burdon left the band to their own devices after collapsing onstage of an asthma attack during one of their performances. The band officially reunited for a live performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008. Via YouTube listening,one of my favorite songs by the Eric Burdon led edition of War is the title song to their 1976 archival release-which was entitled Love Is All Around.

With a hi hat tapping away at the beginning,the low growling bluesy guitar that defines Burdon’s vocal melody start out the song. Its one that has a very basic groove throughout it. It consists of that same guitar riff from the intro,the hi hat and lightly shuffling funky drum. Each bar is accentuated by a grooving organ riff. After several bars of this, a pitch bent horn section plays the refrains with the organ. On the bridge,the drums rock out a bit more-with the organ and horns in a more sustained. The basic groove of the song repeats itself with call and response vocal choruses until the song fades out.

When I first heard the way this song was put together,it instantly reminded me of the sound that Sly & The Family Stone had on their first three albums. Those pitched up and down horns,the rhythmic organ andthe instrumental trade offs. Most of this very late 60’s style groove (both musically and lyrically) is actually very instrumentally condensed -consisting mostly of an evolving refrain. The bridge more or less serves as an in a break in sound to the choral vocals that end the album. Even though it was released later,its a vital example of War and Eric Burdon’s contribution to the funk process.

 

 

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Prince And His Music’s Deliverance From Official Release

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Prince’s infamous vault of unreleased music-spanning almost 38 years now,has been something that has been thought of has having the floodgates released on following his passing last year. That tons of Prince music no one’s ever heard will be pouring out to the public from now on. It was announced earlier this year that new Prince material would be seeing the light of day soon. It came in the form Deliverance-a six song EP that was set to be released on the first anniversary of his passing. It was even available on Amazon Prime. Than…its release was abruptly pulled. From everywhere.

It would seem that Prince’s longtime recording engineer George Ian Boxill planned on releasing these half a dozen songs (recorded between 2006 and 2008) independently. But he was hit with a cease and desist by the Prince estate. They claimed he never received any proper authorization to release this music. If this reminds anyone of the sort of vexatious litigation Prince practiced in life, they wouldn’t likely be far off. As for me,I managed to snag it as a download before it was pulled and listened to it. So what exactly is Deliverance in musical terms?

The title track of the album is a combination of Southern gospel soul and blues rock-full of organ,piano,choir singers and Prince’s falsetto.  “I Am” is a bluesy rock with Prince speeding up his voice and delivering some heavy power chords. “Touch Me”,clocking in at under 2 minutes,is a pop ballad with European classical guitar and string overtones. “Sunrise,Sunset” is more of the same-only with a somewhat more soul inflected chorus. The closer “No One Else” is basically classic stripped down,live band funk/rock from Prince-coupled with some strong synth and horn orchestrations.

Deliverance conceptually comes across as something of a gospel album. As was typical of the Prince material of the early/mid 2000’s heavily built around his Jehovah’s Witness faith. There’s a lot to enjoy here…if your a big fan of Prince as a rocker that is. Only one song-the closer “No One Else” offers up anything right in the groove. While the material does showcase Prince as the amazing guitar player that he was, it also brings out a quality that I’ve only noticed more looking back at Prince’s music from the 90’s and beyond.

A YouTuber calling himself Morrisman,notable for being so critical of Prince as to declare him not to be a musical genius at all,did make one point on Prince’s music that could have strong objective merit. While I do not agree with him that an artist first album is always their best, he did say that some artists who get heavily revered by a devoted fan base can start taking their own music for granted. And sometimes even resort to releasing less than stellar music based on name recognition. This is a huge factor in the rock world. And yes,it did occasionally seem to happen to Prince.

After listening to all six songs (including an extended mix of “I Am”) on Deliverance? I’d have to say that aside from Prince’s unique performance style shinning out,more than half the songs on this album just don’t stand out as having anything particularly special about them. They sound like possible filler tracks Prince would’ve put on albums such as Planet Earth and Lotusflow3r. So aside from a strong book ended start and finish,  Deliverance certainly doesn’t sound like a prime example of what Prince had in his vault. Nasty as this may sound, its fairly by the numbers music by Prince’s creative standards.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” by Arthur Blythe

Arthur Blythe,the LA/San Diego free jazz sax player,passed away on March 25th this year at the age of 76 due to complications from Parkisons disease. The only reason I am aware of him comes from a question to my father. It was about the last jazz album he brought before I was born. And it was Blythe’s 1979 album Lenox Avenue Breakdown. His recording career started comparatively late,similar to the also recently passed vocalist Al Jarreau. His group in the late 70’s was also a major training ground for a new generation of free jazz musicians such as guitarist James Blood Ulmer.

Not being an academic jazz writer,the best way for me to write about the more acoustic styles of jazz would be based on the feeling and sound they convey. Arthur Blythe’s music came across to me as being very similar in flavor to how Miles Davis approached his music during its electric period-strong rhythmic foundation but with a more abstract,free jazz compositional style. Blythe and his group seemed to be doing something similar but more acoustically. One song that best exemplifies that musical attitude is the title song to the album Lenox Avenue Breakdown.

Jack DeJohnette’s drums get the groove going with some hard swinging-with Ulmer and bassist Cecil McBee’s interaction keeping up with James Newton’s melodically bluesy flute. Newton and Blythe really let loose with their reed fanfarring after that,and just before each solo section of the song as well. The first solo is an extremely intense one from Blythe-flying into the higher registers with DeJohnette and Ulmer following along with his intensity. Next up is Newton’s extremely atonal flute solo-following by Bob Stewart’s bouncing tuba solo before that reed fanfare brings it all to a halt.

Arthur Blythe had been a member of the The Underground Musicians and Artists Association in the mid 60’s. And he began his recording career under the name ‘Black Arthur Blythe” to maintain his strong ethnic identification. His playing on the song “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” is filled with that passion,but is very clean in tone. This actually adds to its power. The aggressive loudness and emphasis on solos actually adds a bit of a rock feeling to the free funk-jazz atmosphere of the song. Its taken me some years to really get into the song. But its a strong musical statement from Arthur Blythe.

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “My Dream” by Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry’s passing a couple of days came as something of a surprise to me. Not the passing of the 90 year old man. But just the idea that his name was suddenly back in the news. Berry was a legacy artist before I was born. And retired from recording just a year before. Basically,the man can be regarded as the three crowned royal triad of rock n’ roll along with Ike Turner and Little Richard. As a matter of fact,Chuck Berry took from the Chess blues sound,from which he derived, to mix in the country influence and essentially innovate some of the basic and classic rock guitar riffs for the entire genre.

Berry faded from grace over the years,due perhaps in part to thick and fast changes in rock ‘n roll during the late 60’s. That and a couple of personal scandals he had to deal with. While he was recording an album before he died that had yet to be released when he passed on,he recorded a series of albums on Chess in the early 70’s that showcased him broadening out different ends of his personality. One of them was a 1971 release entitled San Francisco Dues. Its gained enough popularity to get a recent CD reissue. And one telling song on the album is entitled “My Dream”.

Berry played a high pitched guitar riff at the beginning of the song,before the main groove kicks in. The song has a slow,grinding beat from Bill Metros. The big,round bass line of Jack Groendal bounces ably along. Chuck follows the rhythm of the song with his rolling,bluesy piano-which increases in intensity as the song progresses. Of course,the music of song is basically a template for Berry to softly “rap” a poem that describes his ideal home,ideal female companion,literary choices and the music that he’d want to play there. All before the song comes to a flat close.

“My Dream” musically has a grinding New Orleans bluesy funk vibe about it. The fact that Berry primarily concentrates on his piano rather than better known guitar playing makes it tonally very interesting. The tale he tells has the feeling of a man contentedly prepared to settle down and enter into a comfortable semi retirement. That would not happen for another 7-8 years after this song came out of course. But he’d continue to perform his classics for years after this. Of course,soulful moments like this should not be forgotten among Chuck Berry’s classic 50’s and 60’s rock ‘n roll bible of hits all the same.

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Larry Coryell: Fuzzy Memories Of The Godfather Of Fusion

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Larry Coryell is a somewhat unique musician for me to discuss. My friend Henrique informed me of the guitarists passing this past Sunday-at the age of 73. Generally speaking when doing a tribute to a fallen musician,I come at it from the point of view of strong knowledge about their music and often their back round. In the case of Mister Coryell,the exact opposite is true. Haven’t actually had much experience (if any) with his music at all. Still,an outsiders perspective might be an interesting place to come at him from. So I’ll start out discussing my only experience with him.

Again,this is a family musical story about me and my father. He was my first inspiration in terms of music and knowledge of it. This story started out with one of our many musical discussions when I was in my late teens. The subject was Miles Davis and his innovation of jazz fusion. And my father mentioned Larry Coryell as an artist who also innovated fusion. The only album he had by Coryell at that time was a cassette of a 1970 album called Spaces. With John McLaughlin,Miroslav Vitous,Chick Corea and Billy Cobham aboard, the album is apparently considered a ground zero for fusion along with Miles’s  Bitches Brew.

Perhaps from listening to so much music,particularly electric jazz in all its forms,the memories I have of the Spaces album have also faded somewhat with time. Do remember that it was the first jazz records I heard that was heavily based in acoustic guitar. In the ensuing years,I began to listen to other acoustic jazz guitar maestros such as Earl Klugh. The only other time within the next two decades that I heard Coryell’s playing again was when I reviewed the Larry Young song “Moonwalker” on this blog,which featured Coryell’s playing on it.

In a case similar to the also recently departed David Axelrod, my musical case with Larry Coryell represents something that I’ve often disliked being done by other people. And that is embracing an artists music only after they pass away-the cult of the dead being a motivating factor in appreciating a musician. All that being said,if any of you out there haven’t checked out musical innovators who are still living,it would be a great idea to do so. There’s something so creatively rewarding about embracing art while the artist themselves are still with us. Even if their music will never simply die with them.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Door Number Two” by Walter Becker

Walter Becker is one of those players whose proven himself the ultimate “comeback kid” as it were. The Queens native met Donald Fagan while the two attended Bard College. And of course they would soon be the core of Steely Dan. While the songwriting of Steely Dan was a collaborative effort between the two,Becker’s instrumental influence generally came through his guitar solos.  They grew from a virtuosic blues rock style in the early 70’s to an intricate,crisp jazz tone later on. A serious of exhausting events led Becker to leave Steely Dan following their Gaucho album-remaining musically inactive for a decade.’

In 1993,Steely Dan reformed and began touring. Becker released his solo debut album 11 Tracks Of Whack a year later. With a somewhat more stripped down musical approach and vocal style closer to that of Eric Clapton,his albums were as critically successful as Fagans. But didn’t have quite the same commercial appeal. It would be another 15 years later that his sophomore album Circus Money. This was an independently released project from 2008 that featured the same superb studio players Becker had worked with in the past. It also started out with just the right groove on the song “Door Number Two”.

A bass and light snare based beat,crystalized sounding piano and bluesy rhythm guitar provide the intro-along with a moody electric piano solo. The basic rhythm of the chorus than comes in. This is a bossa with a clean guitar burst playing a single chord on every other bar or so-with the piano,keyboard and slippery bass line playing along with the female backup singers vocalizing the choral lyric. The refrain finds Becker singing a bluesy line with more piano improvisations behind him. Chris Potter provides a great bop sax solo on the bridge and extends it into the chorus that fades out the song.

Years of being a record producer and even a one time member of the sophisti pop group China Crisis really helped to enhance Walter Becker’s musical flavors as a solo artist. It wasn’t until revisiting “Door Number Two” for this overview did I realize that it has the vibe of a lower key “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”. The bossa Latin/boogaloo funk is there in the rhythm. Still Becker’s love of jazz comes through all the way-with musicians Keith Carlock,Jon Herington,Jim Beard and Ted Baker all solo right in the pocket of this groove. And it all makes for a great example of jazz with a raw rhythm attitude.

 

 

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