Tag Archives: Instrumental

Ramsey Lewis’s ‘Legacy’ At 40 Years: Looking Back And Moogin’ On!

 

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Ramsey Lewis’s main musical personality is as an interpreter. Of both classic and modern standards. He wasn’t generally a Quincy Jones style arranger and producer, who had grand ideas for long form musical concepts. Lewis’s 1978 album Legacy changed that dynamic for the soul jazz pianist. Anyone who is going into this album fresh without any familiarity with it’s contents should be made aware of some important facts. For starters,  this is not your average Ramsey Lewis album. The pianist had divided the majority of the 70’s up until this point recording in two distinct kinds of fusion styles.

One of these styles was a very poppy R&B-inflected style that owed at least as much to orchestration as to melody (example: Tequila Mockingbird and the other a very dynamic funk-jazz sound strongly influenced by Earth Wind & Fire and the Ohio Players (example: Don’t It Feel Good). On Legacy, those distinctions begin the blur. And a lot of it was very much intentional. The title track,a long 22 + minute track here (and sidelong suite on the original vinyl LP) is more or less a concerto featuring three distinct sections,listed on the album featuring Lewis’s piano playing in those unique settings.

It’s not a classical piece though. The piano solo’s are based more in different jazz and gospel mixtures than anything in the European classic tradition. In between they are bound together with these interludes that are basically very cinematic theatrical scores. The whole thing comes off as a mixture of that all encompassing musical suite Quincy Jones tinkered with around this same time and a 70’s style movie soundtrack. The second part of the album though is where those “blurring lines” surrounding Ramsey’s separate musical sides of the decade are most apparent.

He was born under the Gemini star after all so it’s not surprising that compositions such as “All The Way Live”,”Don’t Look Back” and “Well,Well,Well” blend both flowery orchestral rhetoric with a very direct polyrhythmic, staccato funk. Strangely enough because you have the two musical dynamics occurring at the same time,there appears to be too much instrumentation on some of the songs. Interestingly enough at times a couple of them sometimes break off into a disco beat. It’s not that they are particularly overproduced but there’s often a huge amount of musical content.

Out of all the tunes, “Moogin On” is the most impressive as it focuses squarely into an impressive, upbeat Latin-funk piece that’s incredibly catchy and a wonderful standout song for this album. The more gentle “I Love To Please You” is the single thoroughly mellow tune here,if on that hand your into that kind of thing. Some people just aren’t. This is an album that’s very commendable for the typically masterful musicianship from Ramsey and his band,as well as their collective intent on stringing together over a century of musical development into a contemporary context.

It’s not something even easy to conceptualize. The fact that Ramsey was able to pull this off so well here says a lot. Legacy is also vital  in terms of its visual packaging. The front cover depicts “clones” of Ramsey Lewis in different outfits. On the back is a checklist illustrating which end of music each outfit was associated with-from rock, Latin to New Orleans. This gives an image for Ramsey’s hope of showcasing the scope of jazz from its origins up to the funk/disco era that Legacy was recorded in. And what makes the album an important and unsung diamond in Ramsey’s vast recorded catalog.

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Warmer Communications At 40: AWB First And Under-Explored Comeback Album

Warmer Communications...And More

Average White Band began work on their sixth studio album during 1977. According to the liner notes for AWB’s 2014 box set All Of The Pieces, the band were creatively exhausted after their first four studio albums-in particular the hugely successful later three of them. Hamish Stuart, Alan Gorie, Roger Ball, Steve Ferrone and company first recorded a duet album with Ben E. King. Seeing that collaboration could rejuvinate their sound, the band brought in guitarist Cornell Dupree (from Stuff) with a number of NYC session musicians for their 1978 release Warmer Communications.

“Your Love Is A Miracle” is a straight up wah wah guitar powered number-with the in the pocket Family Stone inspired horn charts, “duck face” bass popping, Steve Ferrone’s stop/start funky drum and (vocally) low leads and falsetto harmonies. “Same Feeling, Different Song” has the classic AWB horn style based off the JB’s. The rhythm, tempo and lead guitar comes out of the same vibe. But the liquid rhythm guitar of the refrains come out of the later 70’s sound more. “Daddy’s Come Home” benefits from Dupree’s crying bluesy guitar tone and the organ based country/rock style balladry of the song itself.

“Big City Lights” takes a straight up bass/guitar oriented uptempo funk number-focusing heavy on the horn charts that are often combined with a round synth bass tone for an even bigger sound. “She’s A Dream” is a jazzy melange of bass, guitar with melodic and creamy horn charts playing a medium tempo ballad. The title track lays down a groove that combines the grooves of funk with the repetitive chugging of reggae. “The Price Of A Dream” is a melodically strong sophistifunk styled number-again based heavily in the vocal harmonies.

“Sweet & Sour” is sleek yet heavy horn funk instrumental before the album ends with “One Look Over My Shoulder”. This is the song I remember most off this album for some reason. It has one of the most singable, hit oriented choruses. But the percussive mid tempo groove allows the horns to hit in all the right places. And make both the instrumental and vocal focuses of the song stand out equally. Musically speaking,  Warmer Communications covers pretty familiar territory for AWB. And session players like the Brecker Brothers did make for strong writing and musicality as intended.

Where Warmer Communications  might’ve been somewhat problematic had to do with changes in music among funk bands during the late 70’s. Between 1977 and 1979, the larger horn funk bands such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower Of Power, Kool & The Gang and the JB’s were beginning to update to the more high tech production style of the disco era. AWB’s  production approach didn’t change in the late 70’s, even as their writing and playing remained strong. They’d rectify this (with controversial results) in the early 80’s. Still, Warmer Communications remains one of the bands strongest late 70’s albums.

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‘Blam!!’: Ride-O-Rocket With The Brothers Johnson!

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Louis and George Johnson were pretty deeply involved with the LA session scene when they released their third duo outing in 1978. Its actually a superb example how even larger groups from that era were often augmented by sometimes over a dozen other session players. On the Blam!! album it was some fine, funky company in that regard. With the likes of Larry Carlton, Steve Khan, Richard Tee, Jerry Hey, Eddie “Bongo” Brown, Michael Brecker and David Foster (among others) as the musicians featured on this albums eight tracks.

Blam!! itself is musically one of the finest albums the Johnson’s made with Quincy Jones. And certainly among the most thoroughly funky. “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now” has that infectious hook-with Louis Johnson’s slap bass right up in your face. Not to even mention the call and response lead vocals that define both the chorus and refrains of it. The liquid instrumentation of the title song and on “Mista Cool” are tailor made for more hard and heavy funk-especially the delicious is the intro to the latter tune, where the keyboard fades in and out of the left and right channels of the speaker as the chords change.

“Ride O Rocket” puts Ashford & Simpson’s songwriting/production stamp on the bands sound. So its a funky uptempo soul tune where the refrain has that disco friendly piano walk down that Nick & Val always achieved so well in their 70’s heyday .As for the closing instrumental “Streetwave”? Well its  probably the finest instrumental these guys had done. It builds to a fevered intensity and works superbly as jazz, funk, R&B and even pop. With the bass and Rhodes providing a wonderfully cinematic intro.  Along with Jones’ big band style, muted horn fueled refrains.

The only element on this album that really contrasts with it’s harder edged core are the inclusion of two ballads. “It’s You Girl” is another instrumentally liquid number-with some beautiful processed guitar and Rhodes-along with Alex Weir singing lead and with an uptempo chorus. is a nice enough quiet storm kind of song but,sometimes a change of pace isn’t necessary if the rest of the music smokes.”So Won’t You Stay” is a more traditional slow jam-with George Johnson doing a pretty sweet vocal lead. Again it has a somewhat faster chorus-though a bit smoother in this particular case.

Blam!represents The Brothers Johnson’s final album released of the 70’s. Coming into recording on their on mid decade, Louis Johnson would soon get the gig of the lifetime. That was, of course playing on the first two Quincy Jones produced Michael Jackson albums, both of which became the biggest selling recordings of all time. The album also showcases the most sonically even blend of hard funk and sleek pop jazz in the late 70’s. And in all fairness, if I was asked to recommend one stand alone Brothers Johnson album that brought in all of their musical flavors in one place, Blam!! would likely it.

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Herbie Hancock-‘Thrust’ & The Continuing Musical Mission Of The Headhunters

Herbie Hancock’s turned career heavily toward funk with the Head Hunters album. Its a style he’s never fully abandoned to this day. True, he never stopped playing acoustic jazz either. There’s a quality of “oneness” he sees in regard to the two musics,which he’d later extend into the hip-hop era. By this point he’s dealt with a lineup change. Harvey Mason has left for a solo career in 1974. So Herbie brought in the worthy, and very talented, successor Mike Clark. This not only made the Headhunters a biracial unit.  But it also represented another musically funky stride ahead.

While it was every bit the success of it’s predecessor, it was out of print on CD until the late 90’s and even still tends to be slightly overlooked. But if your familiar with Herbie’s albums before this you’d know his sound for the rest of the 70’s would’ve been completely different without the presence of this album. While it’s not fundamentally different than Head Hunters there are vital changes in approach that make the difference. With it’s use of breaks “Palm Grease” this funk groove is the closest thing to what was heard on the previous album.

“Palm Grease” also augments the pulsing synthesizers ,as it does on most of this album, with Herbie’s processed Clavinet. Also the synthesizers are more of an orchestral sort-using the newly employed ARP strings which Herbie himself would later lament he too often tried to use to simulate actual strings. This created a dreamier effect than perhaps intended. “Actual Proof”, a title based on a certain type of Buddhist chanting is an extremely fast past, repetitive yet musically crowded piece with lightening fast Clavinet riffs until again, towards the middle it’s back towards more of a jazzy keyboard groove.

“Butterfly” is a wonderful composition, one of Herbie’s finest and features a smoother Rhodes solo showcasing more use of space than the rest of this album tends to,focusing on inventing new melodies from the reeds and keyboards. “Spank-A-Lee” on the other hand is very straight ahead jazz-funk, NOTHING like what you’d hear on the previous album with its in the pocket rhythms and Clavinet riffs. With  striking cover art depicting Herbie in a musical space pod descending upon some lunar base, this has a place as one of my favorite Headhunters era releases.

For me, Thrust contains the most well realized fusion of jazz, funk and soul of any of Herbie in this period. And expands on the sound  forged on Head Hunters. It also show show funk wasn’t merely a 70’s R&B/soul style. But that it represented a creative way of using rhythm in music to expand it towards its most creative end. One can easily dance to this, it contains more than enough musical breadth to enjoy it on the instrumental level. And one can even hum or sing the melody of tunes like “Butterfly”. Whatever else Herbie Hancock has done and continues to do, he can be proud of music of this caliber

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mick’s Company” by The Style Council

Michael “Mick” Talbot could be described as the man who, even prior to James Taylor, pioneered the revival of Hammond organ based soul/funk on the British musical scene. In the late 70’s, Talbot played in a trio of mod revivalist bands. The best known of them in the end would be Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Mick of course found his voice with Paul Weller as The Style Council. They embraced an often jazz laced blend of contemporary funk,soul and dance music’s. All inspired by Weller and Talbot’s mutual goal to musically shatter the myths and culture of the rock music world.

The band released their debut EP in 1983 in several countries except for the UK,                interestingly enough. The following year they released their be bop and hip-hop laced full length debut Cafe Bleu. On both these releases, a precedence was set for including Talbot composed Hammond organ based instrumentals into different sections of the albums. One of my favorites was originally featured as the B-side to the 1984 single version of the song “My Ever Changing Moods”. The name of this particular instrumental had a cute wordplay about it: “Mick’s Company”.

Talbot starts off the song playing an ultra funky riff-doubling up what sounds like a Clavinet setting on a DX-7 synthesizer-all before Hammond organ swirl breaks into the drum roll right into the song. The main theme is this Clavinet effect played with a round synth bass pumping heavy behind it. And Talbot’s bluesy organ playing a counter solo to the introductory synth riff. There are two B sections of the songs where it changes chords. And the organ solo becomes more elaborate. Talbot improvises more and more on the organ as the song processes towards its fade out.

“Mick’s Company”, perhaps the most of Mick Talbot’s organ based instrumentals with the Style Council, really epitomize a somewhat under explored instrumental funk direction for the 1980’s. It combines the bluesy song structure and organ improvising of hard bop/soul jazz, the guitar like Clavinet based sound of the 70’s and mixes both together with a mid 80’s digitized synthesizer/bass oriented approach. It really encapsulates the previous three decades of instrumental soul/funk in under 3 minutes. In the end, it helped give the Style Council their distinctive spin on funk and soul  for the 80’s.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Chase” by Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermeyer

Giorgio Moroder first came to my attention through his productions with Donna Summer. Most notably his 1977 triumph “I Feel Love”. This heralded in the electronic space disco sound. And also,along with Kraftwerk,began the re-writing of the book for dance music in the decade to come. He came from a mixed Italian/German back round, and began releasing singles from the early 60’s to the early 70’s under the name Giorgio. Most notable of these was 1972’s Son Of My Father. A few of these songs being used in a film showcased Moroder’s future direction: as a king of the electronic soundtrack.

Moroder was a very busy man from 1976 to 1979. In addition to working with Summer along with lyricist Pete Bellote out of Munich,Germany he was also continuing his film scoring work. One protege he began working with during these years was fellow early electronic musician Harold Faltemeyer. He would later achieve a cinematic success of his own with his 1984 theme song to the Eddie Murphy vehicle Beverley Hills Cop with “Axel F”. Faltemeyer’s first taste of musical success came in collaboration with Moroder on the hit single from their soundtrack to the 1978 film Midnight Express called “Chase”.

A sequenced synth bass (a Moroder musical trademark) starts off the song-along with synth string orchestration using an echoed flanging effect. There’s also a pretty straight lead synth melody. After a few bars of this,the melody reduces down to the 4/4 drums,the bass sequencer and a series of clicking and clanging rhythmic percussion sounds. Than the synth strings slowly build back in for several more bars. After the song reduces to the drum and sequencer again,the main melodic synth plays a more involved melody before the song fades back out on several more bars of its own chorus.

“Chase” has become one of Giorgio Moroder’s signature pieces of music. Structurally the song mixes rhythmic and melodic elements of American funk and European classical music into a song that embodies the very sound of electronic/space Euro disco. Its far more stripped down and stylized than the contemporary EDM. So much so that during the height of EDM about a decade ago,the paranormal/conspiracy theory based radio show Coast to Coast AM used it as its theme song. Basically, this is one of a handful of electronic disco numbers in 1977/78 that pointed to totally to the future.

 

 

 

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Look Out For #1@40-George & Louis Johnson Tell Us About The Funk That All Of Us Release

Somehow it never occurred to me that the Brothers Johnson’s debut album Look Out For#1 was celebrating its 40th anniversary. Sadly,it did so without the presence of the late great Louis Johnson-who passed away in the spring of 2015. One of the most important things to say about this album,released on new years day of 1976,is that it represents the very peak of #1 funk-a time when the music was at its strongest in terms of crossover. It was also Quincy Jones’ first major funk/soul production for another artist. Which in turn paved the way for Quincy’s success in that arena in the early 80’s.

George and Louis Johnson started playing professionally with Billy Preston as teenagers. As they approached adulthood,the guitar/bass duo backed up Quincy Jones on his 1975 album Mellow Madness. The setup was that the brothers wrote the songs,played the guitar and bass parts while George did the majority of the vocals with his high,percussive vocal stutter.  This was essentially the setup for Look Out For #1. Other prominent jazz/funk instrumentalists such as Dave Grusin,Ian Underwood,Lee Ritenour ,Billy Cobham,Toots Thielemans and Ernie Watts were among the musicians who played on the album as well.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about this album is how it presents funk at its best recorded,produced and with its highest variety. “I’ll Be Good To You”,the primary single for the album,has a strong Sly & The Family Stone melodic singability. The instrumental “Tomorrow” has a similarly melodic vibe about it. Of course the song that gets the most harmonically advanced about that style is “Land Of Ladies”,the one song sung by Louis in his grunting,cooing vocal approach. Of course,after one goes from there Look Out For #1 is extremely dense with funk.

“Get The Funk Out Of My Face” is the most commercially successful example of this albums funkiness-with its fast tempo and processed wah wah effects. “Free And Single” and ‘Dancin’ And Prancin'”,with their heavy horn charts,take that same sound to the next logical step. A version of The Beatles “Come Together” and the closing “The Devil” are slow,gurgling deep funk that just grind the groove into the subconscious very deeply. The groove that pulls the sound of this entire album together in one song is titled for the brothers nicknames “Thunder Thumbs And Lightin’ Licks”.

There’s a deep point to this album that actually passed by even me,an avid funkateer,for sometime. A lot of times,even the most classic funk albums of this period mixed heavy funk in with jazz,rock or heavily arranged ballad material on an album. Even though this album has at least one slower ballad type number,the main priority of this album is on heavy uptempo funk. The immense talent of the Johnson brothers,as well as the instrumentalists playing with them,showcase how much the funk genre celebrates instrumental,melodic and rhythmic complication at its finest.

Conceptually,this album attracted me from the first time I saw the album cover on CD 20 years ago this year. It was a fish eye view from below,featuring the brothers playing their bass and guitar in front of a bright blue sky-both seemingly in the middle of singing. George is wearing a silver shirt and slacks with Louis has a silky,Indian looking shirt draped over him while in jeans. The whole image is that of just what they were-two super hip young brothers looking to play funky music for the people with enormous skill,style and flair. And that is what Look Out For#1 represents to me as it turns 40 years old.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1976, Billy Cobham, Brothers Johnson, classic albums, classic funk, Dave Grusin, Ernie Watts, Funk, funk albums, Funk Bass, funk guitar, George Johnson, Ian Underwood, instrumental, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Quincy Jones, Toots Theilmans

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Biyo” by Earth Wind & Fire

Earth Wind & Fire’s eighth studio album Spirit is an album that did a lot to help me to personally conceive of #1 hit funk in terms of an album medium. It celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. And I’ve already covered the album itself here. First purchased it on a cassette tape about 22 years ago. At that time,I remember fast forwarding through it to get to funkier songs. Upon upgrading to a CD copy a year or so later,it became clear that this was one of those very special funk era albums. Each time I listen to these songs,they improve like fine wine with each listening. Almost to the point of transcendence.
One member of EWF,who joined up on the bands fourth album Head To The Sky in 1973 was Andrew Woolfolk. This multi reed player primarily played soprano sax within EWF. As he describes it in the documentary on the band Shining Stars, the elements that he added into the band came from the jazz and funk side. He enjoyed a strong,melodic groove. He also loved to improvise in such cases too. Throughout the years,he’s done just this on many of EWF’s most popular and enduring songs. One song from the Spirit  album that amazes me to this day is the Maurice White/Al McKay composed instrumental “Biyo”.
Larry Dunn’s glassy space funk synthesizers open the song before the opening fanfare kicks in. Its full on drums,Afro Latin percussion,Verdine White’s pumping bass line,McKay’s percussive rhythm guitar and the Phenix Horns running on their usual adrenaline. Verdine’s echoed five note bass slap,Maurice’s four note Kalimba melody and Johnny Graham’s bluesy guitar accents make up the refrains. Four members of the band get a chance to solo. Woolfolk does twice-starting and at the end. Graham and Dunn do a solo that dovetail right into each other before Maurice’s Kalimba solo before its fade out.
Earth Wind & Fire added many instrumental interludes/bridges to the albums from their late 70’s crossover period. But for me this is the finest full instrumental based on their sound of that time. The production and recording is a fine example of the band making some of the best recorded funk of that era. Its a melodically and instrumentally busy number with a lot going on sonically. But the powerful Afro-Caribbean funk arrangement still leaves enough room for several amazing solos to interlock with each other. And as a showcase for Andrew Woolfolk,its one of his shining moments of the mid/late 70’s.

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Filed under 1976, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Al McKay, Andrew Woolfolk, drums, Funk Bass, instrumental, Johnny Graham, Kalimba, Larry Dunn, Maurice White, percussion, Phenix Horns, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, space funk, synthesizer, Verdine White

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Wide Stride” by Billy Preston

Billy Preston has been gone for a decade now. Much to my surprise,it turns out none of his songs have been covered here on Andresmusictalk. This was child organ prodigy to gained fame by playing with Ray Charles and eventually for The Beatles. Miles Davis even named a song after the keyboard maestro on his 1974 album Get Up With It. Billy Preston is a very important musician due to his renowned session work. He also created a musical vocabulary of his own as a solo artist. Also this being both Black American Music Month and LGBT Pride Month,Preston was both of those things as a human being.

Preston actually had two solo careers. In his mid teens to early 20’s,he recorded a series of organ based instrumental soul albums for three different labels. During the late 60’s and early 70’s,he recorded two acclaimed solo albums for the Beatles Apple label. That led to him being signed to A&M in 1971 and beginning to hit his stride as a solo hit maker. While he did a lot of singing on these later solo albums,each one still contained at least on instrumental. His final A&M album from 1977 was called  A Whole New Thing. It contained an instrumental Henrique Hopkins and I have often discussed called “Wide Stride”

A dense polyphonic synthesizer and a rhythmically accompanying synth bass begin the song over bell like percussion. A round whine of a keyboard brings the drum into the mix. This represents the refrain of the song. On the chorus,the polyphonic synth provides a rhythmic pulse while the main line is Preston’s trademark high pinched synth whir-playing the melody in more of a major key. As the groove goes on, the different synth lines begin to swell into a multi layered swell of bluesy funk-with Preston bringing in a highly digitized sounding synth pulse just as the song begins to fade out.

In many ways,this song is my favorite Billy Preston instrumental. And he’s had many wonderful ones. It gets right into the blues oriented funk groove. But the deep thing about it is that it came out a year before Prince’s debut album For You dropped. In his chunky 60’s style soul/funk/jazz/blues framework,Preston does here what Prince start a movement from-using layers of synthesizers to simulate heavy horn and string orchestrations. In that sense,this song is like one generation of funk instrumentation giving way to the next. And came at exactly the right time.

 

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Filed under 1970's, A&M Records, Billy Preston, blues funk, drums, instrumental, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Shout” by Miles Davis

Miles Davis late 70’s retirement period was the basis of the main plot in Don Cheadle’s semi fictitious biopic Miles Ahead this year. While he recorded some  unreleased sessions with Gil Evans during this period,Miles made what he admits to be the one crucial mistake of his career. He stopped practicing trumpet. As a beginner level alto sax player as a child,I understand how lack of practice can lead to losing ones embrasure-the key to playing any horn instrument. When his nephew,the drummer Vince Wilburn convinced Miles to start recording again,regaining that embrasure was Miles’ biggest challenge musically.

When Miles got back in the Columbia studio in 1980,he was working with a group of younger musicians. The then 54 year old trumpet icon once said of his approach to music overall was to keep creating and changing. To would keep  from getting stale and safe. One of the new musicians was the bass player/composer Marcus Miller. Miller as also a multi instrumentalist. He understood along with the other players such as  Bill Evans, Al Foster and Robert Irving III how to bring Miles into the 1980’s. His 80’s debut The Man With The Horn contains a superb example of this in the song “Shout”.

Thick sheets of up scaling synthesizers bring in the song over rolling percussion. After that the drums kick into place. Along with a six note bass line which equals out with the instruments lowest and highest tones. Miles himself plays a succinct, indeed shouting main melody on the choruses. Each trumpet solo is accompanied by Randy Hall’s chicken scratch guitar that plays throughout the song. After the refrain where Miles’s solo becomes more rhythmic in tone,he takes an improvised solo that extends right into higher pitched soaring before the song fades out on the chorus.

Composed with Randy Hall and Robert Irving III,”Shout” might be the finest funk SONG Miles Davis had done up to this point. Rhythmically it’s very structured.  Miles s keeps the melody strong on the main themes and improvised soloing. Hall and Irving also seem to have had the same early understanding of Prince’s Minneapolis sound. The horns are soloing elements while the synths and guitar lines play orchestral roles. With the rhythm locked in tight,yet the sound so full this song sets an important standard with Miles for more electronic orchestrated jazz funk for the remainder of the 1980’s.

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Filed under 1980's, chicken scratch guitar, Columbia Records, drums, Funk Bass, instrumental, jazz funk, Miles Davis, percussion, Randy Hall, Robert Irving III, synthesizers, trumpet, Vince Wilburn