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Funky Revelations Of 1987: ‘Keep Your Eye On Me’ by Herb Alpert

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Herb Alpert really never stopped recording in the years between his Tijuana Brass and his late 70’s comeback album Rise. And he never stopped recording between that album and this either. Yes both of albums have two important things in common. They both bridged different areas of his career. They also allowed him to reinvent his music for different generations. The Herb Alpert that made this album was not the relatively new record label mogul developing very individual artists like Gino Vannelli and recording albums with people like Hugh Masekela.

THIS Herb Alpert is a well oiled record mogul pressed into service to developing careers of videogenic megastars such as Janet Jackson. So he didn’t have to go far to find the right producer for this project. Jam/Lewis,even though really only four years into their career as producers were at this point already establishing what 80’s funk would sound like with Janet’s Control. So it was no surprise what so ever that their rhythmic but highly stylized dance/funk style would have the effect it did on Alpert as well. So here we have it: Herb Alpert’s Jam & Lewis album!

Starting off with the title cut,we’re instantly dealing with a bassy,deeply funky number where the sound of Alpert’s horn is used more as a percussive effect than anything,pushing out the melody in spurts rather than extended notes. “Diamonds” and “Making Love In The Rain”,the two Janet Jackson songs here were seen as the real draw on this album and really have more of Janet’s sound with Alpert more as a guest musician. And they are strong numbers for sure.

But there’s much more here than that. “Hot Shot” and “Traffic Jam” are two more heavy instrumental funk grooves where “Cat Man Do”,”Our Song”,”Rocket To The Moon” and especially the closing “Stranger On The Shore” really bring Alpert back as the star of the show as the primary instrumental soloist. And his distinctive,hyper melodic,vibrato heavy “bull fighting” trumpet style hasn’t changed one iota for this occasion either. On “Pillow” Herb takes over on vocals himself with Lani Hall so,in any spot where he may be vocally weak she can take over a little bit more. This dual lead harmony effect also serves to bring out the moody melodicism of the composition.

I’ve only really listen to this album once but I can already say from listen to it that this is the sort album that you will tend to get more out of each time you listen to it. It owes as much to the artist as it does to the producers. They both know how to keep the songs musically and melodically filled with just enough surprises to keep the music fresh and interesting with each listen. Again as with most things from this era a lot of people are bound to give this album some less than stellar commentary simply because it’s based in the production of the late 80’s.

And that’s not an era seen as very potent in pop music. All the same there was still enough of the kind of arrangement and melodicism that made music of the previous couple decades what it was. And in the era before the beat heavy hip-hop beats took over both R&B and jazz-pop even as the dominant rhythmic pattern that’s,along with Herb Alpert’s musical potency is part of what helps this to be a stand out album all the way.

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Music 4 the Nx 1, Andresmusictalk III: “Diamonds” by Herb Alpert featuring Janet Jackson

 

The year 1987 is one of my favorite ones for Funk, Soul, and Hip Hop. This particular song from that year has a mighty periodic table of elements. How much funk power can be conjured up when you mix a production team from Minneapolis that was affiliated with Prince, a singing Jackson sister in the midst of her own musical coming out party, and a legendary music biz figure who’d gone from outselling the Beatles to owning the label for the aforementioned artists? The results were the hit album “Keep Your Eye on Me” and the MPLS Funk Sound classic, “Diamonds.” Herb Alpert, trumpet and flugelhorn player was the artist, as well as record company President. In fact, he would go on to sell A&M Records for $500 million in ’87, enough money to purchase a whole boat load of “Diamonds”. Maybe this song had something to do with that? Alpert already had one of the most successful careers one could imagine, outselling the Beatles with his Tijuana Brass group in the 1960s, and enjoying a super funky #1 hit with “Rise” in 1980. Alpert had also collaborated with South African great Hugh Masekela and his label was home to the musical projects of Quincy Jones, including ’70s funk band The Brothers Johnson. “Diamonds” lyrically continues on in the materialistic, no nonsense “Aint nothing going on but the rent” female attitude of much of ’80s R&B music, the perfect antidote to mens newly unfettered, post-sexual revolution, unabated horn dogishness. In it’s unique presentation of a funky trumpet player over a funky groove, it delivers on the type of sound the great Miles Davis himself seemed to be searching for in the last decade of his career, a jazz improv based trumpeter riffing over the hottest of contemporary funk grooves.

“Diamonds” starts off with a prototypical Minneapolis drum beat, featuring a heavy kick as well as a heavy snare, accented every two bars by a big hand clap on beat four that starts the beat over again for the dancers, one clap the first time, two claps the second. There is also a rhythm in the background with a prototypical ’80s feel, like somebody playing Clave’s in an echo chamber, with a three beat rhythm. After the rhythm makes our acquaintence Alpert begins to blow his horn, and he conjures up something like a mix of Bubber Miley/early Duke Ellington growling, funky down home trumpet mixed with a fragile Miles Davis tone when he plays open notes. Alpert’s playing is really funky rhythmically, supported by a sustained Rhodes patch from a digital keyboard and Jam & Lewis typical big, brassy Fairlight keyboard stabs. Underneath the groove Terry Lewis is chugging and choking and beating up his bass strings, with very few notes breaking free from his rhythmic spanking, but a serious push and pull happening on the lower level of the groove. Alpert solo’s for 16 bars and then the main theme emerges.

The main theme of the song hits with a new energy as the keyboard plays one of them ‘ol Minneapolis riffs, 4 notes that sound like the biggest notes ever due to the digital keyboard and Jam & Lewis’s masterful studio layerings. The bass throb becomes louder and more prominent, with notes actually becoming audible. Janet Jackson sings her part in a funky, strident near mono tone, which only enhances her tough, “Diamonds are a girls best friend” stance. Her story sounds like she’s talking about a rich man who has her for eye (and arm) candy because when she’s there, “It’s like I’m not there.” The story makes you think of rich, 50 something year old Herb Alpert in 1987, with the biggest artist on his label telling him about himself. The song invokes the classic Bond trope of “Diamonds are Forever” by mentioning, “I want me a token/that wont go to waste.” Janet Jacksons vocals sound harsh and somewhat disembodied, but super funky at the same time.

The distance of Janet’s vocals makes it sound all the more human when Alpert comes back on a strong open trumpet, with a much more powerful tone than the walking on eggshells growl of the opening solo. The “fellas” encourage Alpert, singing riffs right along with his solo. They really throw down on the end vamp, as Alpert spits funky licks over a more prominent and dominant Terry Lewis bass vamp. The boys are boisterous and happy at the end of the song as they call for the next tune.

“Diamonds” pairs music biz legend and record company head Herb Alpert with two musical entities from his stable at the height of their powers. It was a song that stormed all the way up the pop and R&B charts but represented a very unique approach to a hit record, taking an instrumentalist and pairing him with the hottest female vocalist of the moment on a blazing dance/Funk track. The results more than paid off for everybody involved, with this song even making some of Janet Jackson’s greatest hits compilations. The video is a lot of fun as well, with Jerome serving as aide de camp to Herb Alpert in the same way he did for Morris Day and Prince, and TK Carter making an appearance as a DJ named Bunkh. Herb Alpert is a musician who took a lot of flak in the jazz world for blowing all the way up with a musical style that was probably less than he could play, but on this song and the whole “Keep Your Eye On Me” album he showed that the Funk is one of the most liberating musical styles a musician can get their lips on.

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Rebbie And LaToya: The Unsung Ladies Of The Jackson Family

Rebbie & Latoya

The Jackson family’s biggest female star commercially is undoubtedly Janet. However she was not the first lady of the famous family to embark on a music career. The first was LaToya Yvonne-born today in 1956. The second made her debut five years later in 1984. This was Maureen Reillette Jackson,known as Rebbie. She is the eldest of all the Jackson siblings-born in 1950 on the same day of the year as her younger sister LaToya. Both haven’t been taken very seriously-likely due to criticism they’re not talented vocalists. For their birthdays,thought I’d explore their first albums through my Amazon.com reviews.

LaToya Jackson-Self Titled/1980

Obviously not in the state of mind to be the last member of the Jackson family to record an album (that honor would go to big sister Rebbie) LaToya came out with this album in 1980 and,actually wound up becoming the FIRST Jackson girl to record rather then the last (prefiguring her little sisters debut Janet Jackson by a couple years.Even at this time LaToya was the shy and somewhat sheltered “middle child” of the Jackson family and it comes off all too clearly in her timid,restrained singing.
To some it comes of as pure vocal weakness but most of the time,that isn’t the case at all. Luckily for her LaToya chooses to begin the album in the best possible way with the “If You Feel The Funk”-it sounds not unlike a Patrice Rushen hit of the same vintage but has a lewdness in it’s lyrics I am surprised that then heavily Jehovah’s Witness LaToya could manage to project.Many of these cuts are cut from the same basic cloth as the pop/R&B/disco projects that Jermaine was cutting at this time.
Only it was without the strong sense of craft and they certainly bare little resemblance to the majestic sounds The Jackson’s were getting the same year on their Triumph album.Even Janet’s collaboration with Michael “Night Time Lover”,while a good dance tune is too much an obvious clone of a Donna Summer tune to really stick out.But this album is home to three other truly great songs-“My Love Has Passed You By” is a pretty EWF type ballad featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica (a really nice touch too).
Another great song here is “Lovely Is She”;now Wonder isn’t on this track but the arrangement of the synthesizers brings him to mind,and the light latin inflected melody is pretty infectious.”If I Ain’t Got It” ends the album the same way it begun-with hefty funk and,this time around,a more lyrically assertive LaToya.So while nothing on ‘LaToya Jackson’ qualifies as truly wretched,if this music were precious metals exactly half this album is pure gold.The other half may be good quality brass but they all shine in much the same way.And no matter what it’s nice to have this long forgotten album available for those who really want to hear it.
Since Maureen “Rebbie” Jackson was the last of her superstar family to record there were probably very few expectations;after people had been exposed to the sweet but light,whispy singing of Janet and LaToya it seemed that the talent in this family laid mainly in the boys. But after listening to this it’s clear Rebbie is the Jackson’s best kept secret. Rebbie has one HELL of a voice if I may say so:she uses a lot of jazzy phrasing and inflections and obviously possess at least a 3 octave vocal range-dropping from her materialistic high alto down to a raspy Chaka Khan-ish growl in no time at all.
Her alluring,sexy voice is married to some truly wonderful material here,most of it with a mildly exotic 80’s funk-jazz bent. The best example is the title cut.Penned by brother Michael the tune has a strong electro funk pulse which Rebbie wraps her impressive voice around…well like a crawling centipede indeed. She also gets to mix it up in much the same way on the similarly part friendly groove of “Come Alive (It’s Saturday Night)”. “Hey Boy” finds her spreading her jazzy voice along to a very 70’s style soul ballad that ups in tempo a little bit towards the end-her malisma’s and turns on this song are truly tasty.
“Open Up To My Love” is one of the best songs on this overall wonderful album-nice mid tempo soul with tasteful,80’s friendly instrumentation and a really strong catchy hook. “Play Me (I’m A Jukebox)” showcases Rebbie in a very Minneapolis-type setting-she even adds some sassy rapping to the setting;for a woman who is a devout Jehovah’s Witness this song is very openly erotic. She obviously has a strong affinity for Prince’s sound because,as Chaka Khan and earlier The Pointer Sisters had done she covered his “I Feel For You”.
Nobody can probably beat Chaka’s famous reinvention of the same vintage but like the Pointers Rebbie retains the original’s upbeat music (the instrumentation is even very similar) and the use of her higher voice and the rocking guitar solo in the middle really help that feel along. “A Fork In The Road” is beautiful with it’s 60’s soul ballad feel and Rebbie’s yearning voice throughout. The album ends in a great way with the peppy,very 80’s Jackson-sounding groove that will have you bobbing and singing right along!
Rebbie’s solo career turned out to be sadly short lived;because of the Victory tour and Michael’s huge success in 1984 “Centipede” became her only big hit-she only recorded two more albums in the 80’s after this and her long awaited fourth album didn’t come out until 1998. With the proper guidance Rebbie could’ve easily been the heiress to Michael’s throne.Sadly that never happened but we can still listen to this and muse on this legend that should’ve been.
Since writing these reviews,there’s been something of an online buzz about the growling vocal parts of Rebbie Jackson’s “Centipede” were sung by The Weather Girls’ big voiced Martha Wash. Whatever the case may be, Rebbie and LaToya Jackson both share a soft,soulfully jazzy whisper of a voice. And actually are able to utilize family members and outside musicians,writers and producers who bring in material suited to their particular style.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Say You Do” by Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson is turning 50 today. It’s amazing to think her music career is 34 years old now. She was groomed by her family to be an actress-doing Mae West impressions on the Jackson 5’s Las Vegas shows in the mid 70’s and staring on Norman Lear’s Good Times as Penny,an abused child adopted the Evans’ next door neighbor Willona Woods on the show. Just before Mothers Day this year,Janet announced she was 2 weeks pregnant with her first child by her husband of five years Wissam Al Mana. Would like to wish these expectant parents all the happiness in the world for this happy event.

Growing up Janet was actually interested in becoming a horse racing jockey or an entertainment lawyer- supporting herself through acting. By her early teens,she’d become committed to being an entertainer. With the help of her father Joe,she got a contract with A&M Records in 1982. The album had an incredible array of session musicians,songwriters and producers working with an appropriate sound for Janet’s still developing vocals. The album itself did chart in the R&B Top 10. But somehow never produced any hit singles. One big potential one was the opener “Say You Do”.

Starting out with a hard hitting 5 beat pattern on the snare drum,a thunder like sound allows a thumping bass line and a cosmic space funk synthesizer to ascend in sound and pitch into the refrain. After this,a liquid rhythm guitar protects the groove with several accenting keyboard patterns. One is a horn type Clavinet accent,the other is an orchestral Fender Rhodes-themselves accompanied by aggressive Chic-like bursts of disco era strings along with Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements. These work tightly in concert with those Chic style strings arranged by Benjamin Wright.

After several choruses and refrains of Janet’s vocals-featuring the singer accompanying herself with several layers of lead and back-round choruses,there’s a thick and funky drum/Clavinet/synth bass funky bridge before a symphonic chorus of Janet’s vocals comes in. Janet’s voice is elaborately echoed in a rather psychedelic manner-again accompanying herself with her lower and higher range over the 5 beat drumming.After this, that drum breaks off into the thunder sound that started the song concluding it-with the synthesizer that fades up into the intro fading out in the exact opposite manner.

When I first heard this album 20 years ago,it came as a total surprise that so much elaborate musicality would go into an unproven teenager singer-even if she did carry the famous Jackson name. For awhile now,almost no thought goes into the majority of teen singer/boy band/girl group style musical productions. With the entire focus being on the singer’s vocal persona and the songs hook. This Rene & Angela composition that starts out Janet’s debut album takes a totally different approach-much like an early 80’s update of the sound Norman Whitfield got for The Temptation on songs like “Masterpiece”.

The incredible instrumentalists on this song might have a lot to do with this sound. Rufus’s rhythm section Bobby Watson,Tony Maiden,John Robinson AND Andre Fischer are all over this groove. Not to mention James Jamerson Jr. coming in on bass too along jazz oriented keyboardists/synthesizer players  Jeff Lorber and Frank Zappa’s Ian Underwood. Janet’s teenage voice is very impressive on this song. Her maturing vocals not only scale from a low tenor to her high mezzo soprano by turns-along with the multi tracked and echo-plexed symphony of her voice added to the mix too.

Of course there’s also the influence of her brother Michael here too. Michael Jackson was one of the biggest personalities in the music world in 1982,and only about to get bigger on that level. Janet does her own versions of his vocal hiccups and range on this song for sure. But the idea of combining a tight rhythm section of strong session instrumentalists with the horn arrangements of Jerry Hey,also working with Quincy Jones and MJ at the time,showcased her influence from her brother was as much musical as it was from the performance standpoint of her presentation.

Musically this song also bridges two generations of funk as well. It has the elaborate arrangements of the cinematic soul sound of Isaac Hayes and Barry White that inaugurated the disco era. But the clipped,stripped down presentation of the rhythm section and spare bursts of strings and horns also fall in line with the new wave influenced Minneapolis sound of Prince. Which was one Janet would embrace more fully in the next several years. This sort of instrumental thoughtfulness and funkiness stands for me as a superb model for teen singers. And stands as a highly unsung debut song from Miss Janet!

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Control” by Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson released her third album Control 30 years ago today. Yes that does feel like it’s aging me a bit,though I was technically five years old when it first came out. Years of looking at the past,present and possible future of black American music bring out just how important Janet’s first big moment in the sun actually was. Not only did it do a lot for her career wise. But with the level of consistency producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis bought to it, the album focused attention back on full albums as a prime medium for uptempo funk and dance oriented music in the late 1980’s. Needless to say,my ongoing journey with Control is full of personal reflections as well.

First time I ever heard of Janet Jackson was a gift of the first 45 RPM records in my collection in 1987. They were Janet’s “Nasty” and “When I Think Of You” from this particular album. It wouldn’t be for another decade or so that I’d finally hear the entire album. It’s yet another in that special CD rack reserved for my very favorite albums. Am sure many of you reading this have similarly nostalgic memories of when they first heard this album. Of course I was also hearing this while almost simultaneously getting seriously into The Time. So just the idea of the Minneapolis sound meeting up with Janet Jackson let me to talk about the song “Control” itself.

Opening up with wind chime effects,whirring electronic hums and liquid guitar-like accents,the main groove opens with some brittle hand claps/drum machine percussion effects. The song’s sections is separated out by distinct breaks. The first is an instrumental chorus with Minneapolis funk’s trademark of (by this time) digital synthesizers playing the strong grooving horn lines. Janet’s vocals duet call and response style with her own harmonies on the main chorus. The bridge has a sunny melody with digitized bells. The final choruses of the song Janet’s lead and harmony vocals play in beautiful harmony with the percussion and synth horn lines with a playful synergy.

Rhythmically,this song has a very strong industrial and hard hitting sound that is right on time with the dance music coming out of Japan and Europe during that time. Yet even with the hard slamming electronic instrumentation, “Control” is still structured entirely in the mold of a James Brown style funk jam.  The big beat on the one,with it’s many breaks continues to drive the groove. Also Janet’s budding confidence in singing about if it has to do with her life,she wants to be the one in control in response Jam & Lewis’s synth horns. Whatever musician and/or producer was personally involved,this showcased how Minneapolis was a major source for revitalizing a hard funk attitude for the late 1980’s.

 

 

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Andre’s Amazon Archive for 5/16/2015: ‘Dream Street’ by Janet Jackson

Dream Street

A truly amazing album and,with little doubt in my mind THE BEST of Janet’s pre Control recordings. At this point in her life Janet was officially entering adulthood and breaking away from her families control by marrying (then leaving) James DeBarge. On this album Janet has found her musical niche and is starting to put her sound together. She wasn’t all the way there but was edging closer and closer to the sound of her breakthrough only a year and a half later. Produced alternately between her brother Marlon,The Time’s Jesse Johnson and Donna Summer’s former producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Ballotte the sound of this album is dominated by uptempo tunes with a far more aggressive musicianship,sharper sonic’s and top notch songwriting as well.

The opening is the slamming electro funk of “Don’t Stand Another Chance” which really shows you how underrated Marlon Jackson is as a producer and how much of the early electro/hip-hop/funk sound he’d actually assimilated,especially hearing some of Janet’s growls and snarls in the vocals. “Two To The Power Of Love” is the lone ballad here and is the only song that really doesn’t quite fit,with a very corny arrangement not that different from something you might heard sung by a Jem doll at that time frankly. “Pretty Boy” gets the mood up very quickly. Prince,“Purple Rain” and the Minneapolis sound in general was super hot at that point and here you see the reason.

Janet and Jesse Johnson JAM out this song that completely exposes the nucleus of the sound she’d soon make famous only in a somewhat rawer Minneapolis funk context with some screaming synthesizers and Janet’s call and response “PLAY THOSE FUNKY HORNS!”. On Giorgio Moroder’s title song,with a video that was snuck into one of her appearances in Fame definitely finds Janet maturing on every front,singing a very bittersweet tale of the realities in the struggle for celebrity to one of Moroder’s patented euro/Italo disco style arrangements.

“Communication” and “Hold Back The Tears” are his other two productions and find Janet succeeding much better in the new wave/rock style she’d attempted less successfully at the end of her previous album. Jesse returns again for the very break dance/electro friendly mid 80’s street funk of “Fast Girls”,another driving and amazingly effective groove. Marlon returns with “All My Love To You” which very much echoes the flavors of the first song on this album.

The record closes with another Moroder tune in the potent new wave-soul-dance hybrid of “If It Takes All Night”. You’d think with all the cooks in the kitchen on the production of this album that Janet’s identity would remain very submerged-it didn’t. If anything on this album Janet’s actually began to develop a persona driven by intense,funky 80’s style dance jams and some unbeatable hooks and breaks as well. For those looking into early Janet for music that points to her big breakthrough later in the decade this album would be the sure fire place to find it.

Originally Posted On March 31st,2010

Link to original review here*

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