Cat Stevens, now known as Yusef Islam, was born Steven Demetre Georgiou in London. He was from a Greek and Sweedish back round, from a family of restaurateurs. Adopting the name Cat Stevens by 1966, he began singing in coffee houses before recording a pair of popular albums and singles such as Matthew & Son in the late 60’s. After that, he contracted tuberculosis. And his long recuperation encouraged him to seek holistic therapies to improve his health. This not only effected his spiritual life, which would lead him to the Muslim faith later. But a change in his music focus.
By 1970 Cat Stevens was the UK’s top representative of the signer/songwriter movement. For the next several years songs such as “Lady D’Arbanville”, “Wild World”,”Moon Shadow”,”Peace Train” and “Oh Very Young”. By the mid/late 70’s, Cat Stevens was growing restless with his music and identity yet again-prompted by a near drowning in 1976. A year later he released the album Izitso, which added synthesizers to his musical mix. The hit off the album was “Remember The Days of The Old Schoolyard”. What popped off the album for me though was an instrumental called “Was Dog A Doughnut?”.
A deep electronic pulse that evolves into a spacey synthesizer wobble provides the intro to the song-almost like an introductory fanfare. After that,a four note synth bass melody comes in,at first unaccompanied,to be joined shortly by a spacious 2 beat drum pattern that repeats on the second. A high pitched digital sequencer accompanies this until it evolves into a mid range one playing an extension of the bass part. The sound of a dog part plays a percussive role in between. Chick Corea plays an electric piano solo on the bridge before an extended chorus leads to the song closing with the dog barking sound.
“Was Dog A Doughnut?” is unlike anything I’d personally have ever associated with 70’s Cat Stevens. First heard the song as part of a CD mix by New York DJ Danny Tenaglia that my mother picked up in the early aughts. It got the perhaps expected accusation of being “too robotic” by some rock oriented critics of the late 70’s. But basically, along with Kraftwerk, it provided a jazzy funk tinged addition to the European end of the proto hip-hop/electro sound to come in the 1980’s. Strange a it might seem to some, this very quality make it one my personal favorite Cat Stevens songs.
Brian Auger has been, much like Americans Art Blakey and Norman Connors, a great assembler and cultivator of talent during the 60’s and 70’s in his native England. His first band was The Steampacket in 1965,which included a young and then unknown Rod Stewart. As a session musician and famed player of the Hammond B-3 organ, Auger worked with everyone from Tony Williams to Jimi Hendrix. Formed in 1970, his Oblivion Express represented when Auger became such a talent cultivator. In particular with members of what became the Average White Band.
For the first six years of the 70’s, Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express released on album every year. The last of this series of albums released prior to 1977 was the 1975 album Reinforcements. Seen it on vinyl once,never picked it up and have come to regret it. This album helped to cultivate the guitar/percussion/vocal talents of soon to be Santana band member Alex Ligertwood as well. Being a jazz-funk innovator, this would seem to be an album based upon online listening that delved very strongly into funkiness. And one of its finest examples is the opening song entitled “Brain Damage”.
Ligertwood’s rhythm guitar,and soon percussion provides the intro the song. Auger himself comes in on electric piano along with bassist Clive Chaman’s thundering,jazzy line. Dave Dowle’s drums come into the arrangement-along with the biting lead guitar of Jack Mills. The refrains A section is a thick funky grind with a heavy Moog synthesizer providing the melody,while the B section goes into a heavier electric piano part. As this pattern continues, the B sections often serve as forums for solos. First for Auger’s electric piano,than his organ and Mills’ guitar before fading out on the main melody.
“Brain Damage” is a hefty jazz funk jam of the finest sort-very solo based and full of instrumental excitement. Not to mention its confident strut. The A-section of the main melody has a bass/guitar/drum/percussion interaction that reminds me somewhat of mid/late 70’s P-Funk to some degree. At the same time, its the instrumental soloing (all of which is very clear and beautiful) that relates it to the jazz/funk fusion sound of that period so strongly. Brian Auger is someone I’ll personally have to be checking out more of in the future. Simply based on hearing music like this from him.
Deodato was one of the first major artists I had a experiences with during my early crate digging exercises. So much so that looking back, I wonder if the people in charge of stocking their 50 cent-$1 used vinyl bins had any idea who Eumir Deodato was. The history of this artist is something I thoroughly addressed last year with an overview of his 1978 song “Area Code 808”. This year, wanted to share a song connected to a one of these crate digging sessions that occurred in the early 2000’s. One that really taught me how to better scope out vinyl.
About 14 years ago, I was visiting the city of Portland Maine with my family. We found a new shop there-one we often still visit to this day. Its called Strange Maine. They sell old video games,books,movies and used vinyl. On the first visit,the store had a sizable jazz section. Flipping through it, I came across a 1980 Deodato album called Night Cruiser. Upon turning it over, the back cover proclaimed it featured a sax solo from Khalis Bayyan. Which made sense since Deodato was producing Kool & The Gang at the time. The song on the album that leaped out at me upon hearing it is called “Skatin'”.
A slow dragging 4/4 beat starts off the song with a flange filtered slap bass line and processed Fender Rhodes as the intro. The high pitched rhythm guitar joins in halfway through-with the scaling up strings getting into the main chorus. This showcases the rhythm section of the intro with a horn like synthesizer playing the leads. On the refrain,an ascending synth bass provides the backup to a melodic trumpet solo and string synthesizer. As each chorus goes on,the lead synth becomes more bell like in tone. Even the pitch of the song goes up on the last chorus before it fades out.
“Skatin'” is a song that truly plays up to both Deodato’s talents as both a funky musician and a cinematic,melodic arranger. This was a mixture that extended from the blacksploitation soundtrack to the extended disco mix. Its surely a disco era song if there ever was one. At the same time,the groove is slowed down to give it a deeply funkified crawl. And the fact that the song is as driven as much by a punched up slap bass as well as string and horn orchestrations makes this as strutting a jazz funk jam as The Crusaders “Street Life” in a way. Very much an unsung musical treasure from Deodato.
Armando Anthony Corea,known by his professional name of “Chick”, is a native of Chesterfield,Massachusetts. Son of a former Dixieland musician from Boston, Corea took up drums and notably piano on his own. A largely self taught player who seriously sought out musical learning on his own, he began playing gigs throughout high school. While attending both Columbia and Julliard university’s later, his be-bop style piano took on avant garde elements. After a pair of solo recordings,he began working with Miles Davis on his ground breaking 1969 fusion recording In The Silent Way.
Just about every musician who touched Miles creatively became an innovator in their own right. And Corea was no exception. He formed Return To Forever in 1970-originally including the Brazilian duo of Airto Moriera and Flora Purim. By 1973 though the band consisted of bassist Stanley Clarke,drummer Lenny White and the young guitarist Al Di Meola. RTF’s albums generally focused on the more progressive,pyrotechnical variation of jazz/rock fusion. It was on their 1975 album No Mystery that the fluidity of funk flowed into their sound. Especially on songs such as “Sofistifunk”.
Corea’s computerized synthesizer riff starts off the song-followed soon by White’s nimble stop/start jazzy funk drumming. Di Meola’s guitar squawks and Corea’s extra melodic synth come into play-as well as Clarke’s very supporting bass line keeping a very funky groove. That could amount to the chorus of the song. On the refrains,the drum is fuller with more fills. And Di Meola takes on some rocking solos with Corea’s synth acting as straight up melodic support. The song has a long conclusion of the chorus before the synths and guitar fall apart into near incoherence as the songs crescendo.
“Sofistifunk”,or rather a variation of that phrase based upon this song,is actually an adjective I used to describe certain types of what’s referred to as post disco or boogie funk that’s live instrumental and well produced. This song however is nothing like that. It is melodically and harmonically complex jazz-funk-full of intense rhythmic turns and soloing that Return To Forever did so well. Still it lives up to its title by melding the intensity of all the players into a fluid musical flow. That’s not too easy to accomplish. And Chick Corea with Return To Forever really made it work very well in this case.
Prince developed a carefully crafted persona as a man of mystery. That extended far into his music as well. If one looks at any Prince based website today, he seems to have revealed uneven information on his recording sessions: when he made what and who played with him if applicable. What is well established is that he’d recorded dozens of songs for each album,as many artists actually do. And siphon off the cream of that crop for the album in question. This is a likely case involving a song I’ve enjoyed by him since hearing it during the mid 90’s.
On the soundtrack for the Spike Lee Joint Girl 6,one song that every single member of my family fell in love with was “She Spoke 2 Me”. It was one of two unreleased songs (including a seemingly new title song) Prince provided for the film. A few years later,Warner Bros released a collection of Prince music recorded in the early 90’s called The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale. This included an extended version of “She Spoke 2 Me”,apparently recorded with the original NPG lineup in late 1991 according to PrinceVault.com. And that’s the version of this song I’m reviewing today.
A rumbling bass and drum begins the song,before it all settles into the musical statement of the chorus. This brings in a sizzling jazz-funk styled drum break with Prince playing a bluesy 7 note ascending rhythm guitar part-with the NPG horns responding with an instrumental version of the vocal hook. The refrain has more sustained muted trumpets and a slightly higher chord progression. After several rounds of this,the last 3-4 minutes of the song go from a swinging big band jazz chart with a break for a free jazz horn freak out. The main melody of the song returns as it all fades out.
Especially as an extended song,”She Spoke 2 Me” is one of my favorite Prince songs of the 90’s period. It really showcases Prince actually being in a very collaborative state with the NPG. Overall,its a slinky nigh club friendly jazzy funk groove with a totally live band flavor. This comes to light especially well on the swinging final part. Just Kathy Jensen and Brian Gallagher’s avant garde “sax attack” on it says it all for this songs power. The NPG have often been described as the best band Prince ever assembled. And this song is a very strong contender to prove that position as having merit.
Passport are one of my favorite jazz-funk fusion bands. Klaus Doldinger,a Berlin native who’d studied in Dusseldorf and come in Oscar Peterson tribute bands and recorded solo records in America, is the saxophone player who formed the group in the year 1970. The band still exists today. In the 70’s and 80’s,they were perceived as a mainly European centered Weather Report-not having WR’s major international acclaim. Yet whether they were making progressive jazz/rock,jazz-funk,Brazilian jazz or even new wave inflected pop later, they generally seemed to always find just the right groove for their songs.
It was my father who first exposed me to Passport. He found their 1974 LP Looking Thru in the attic of his parents house when a tenant left some vinyl behind. Hearing that got me looking for more albums of there’s. One I did find was 1976’s Infinity Machine. This was in an early to mid 70’s lineup of the group which included drummer Curt Cress,keyboardist Kristian Schultze and bassist/guitarist Wolfgang Schmid. Today I have all their 70’s and 80’s album on CD. In any case Infinity Machine opened with a bang with the elongated instrumental “Ju-Ju Man”.
After a brief little drum kick,the song begins with a bumping uptempo percussion kick-with Cress’s drums fan-faring in with a strong swinging groove. Than a melodic 14 note Moog bass riff takes hold-with Doldinger’s sax accenting it. Afterwards,Doldinger solos with Schmid’s bass and guitar as call and response. After the sax breakdown of this choral/refrain sequence,Doldinger takes an elongated sax solo with Schmid’s bass the the Moog right along with him. After another solo on lead synthesizer,the main chorus/ refrain of the song repeats until it concludes the song.
“Ju-Ju Man” is some of the most vital,energetic and melodic jazzy funk I’ve heard this side of the Headhunters. The rhythm is driving,the solos are off the hook powerful and there are several parts of the song that are instantly hummable. Its also the type of jazz/funk that’s totally solo based. Curt Cress,as the drummer gives Doldinger and Schmid as primary soloists all the room to do their solos without merely vamping at “tennis without a net”. So in the end,it exemplifies Passport as one of the 70’s jazz/funk/fusion groups who really knew how to keep grooving and soloing locked right into place.
Jan Hammer is known by most American’s as a keyboardist who scored many films and TV shows-namely the iconic theme to Miami Vice. Interestingly,the unique sound of that particular theme song gave an indication just what sort of musician Hammer was. Starting his musical education at university in his home city of Prague,he migrated to US in 1968 with a scholarship at Boston’s Berklee following the Warsaw Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. A couple of years after that,he was the keyboard player of the iconic fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra-led by John McLaughlin.
After leaving the band in 1973, Hammer formed a new band called The Jan Hammer Group. This included violinist Steve Kindler,drummer and vocalist Tony Smith and bassist/vocalist Fernando Saunders. They released two masterful albums in 1976 and 77 with Oh Yeah? and Melodies. Both had a sound that foreshadowed the most industrial end of new wave influenced jazz funk. Especially with Hammer’s custom Oberheim/ Moog synthesizer combination which had a rock guitar like tone. One of my favorite songs form the first of these to albums is the tune “One To One”.
A 20 note bar of round toned Moog bass gets the song started. Tony Smith’s drums joins in after that-following up David Earle Johnson’s congas. When Smith’s lead vocals come on,Hammer’s Fender Rhodes plays a counter melody to the Moog bass. The Oberheim synth orchestration comes to play on the refrains and the little bridges leading up to them. On the main bridges of the song,Hammer solos on his guitar synthesizer. After a small instrumental part near the end of the song, the Oberheim string synths guide a totally new vocal segment from Smith before themselves closing out the song afterwards.
“One To One” is a very strong mid 70’s entry for the Jan Hammer Group,and they had many such songs during this time. Compositionally, this song could easily stand up to the sound and melodies in Stevie Wonder’s funk numbers during that era. Also the type of progressive,cinematic orchestration of Hammer’s 80’s TV scoring work is very much present here. This also served as a prototype for the sound Hammer and this group would bring to Jeff Beck over the next few years. So its a song that showcases extremely strong writing and composing on one of the most elaborate jazz/funk numbers of its day.