Tag Archives: Justin Timberlake

Anatomy of The Groove 2018: “Filthy” By Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake has had a very full several years. He had a successful comeback tour for his previous two albums-both parts of The 20/20 Experience. That tour was the subject of a Netflix concert film entitled Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids. In addition, he also provided voice over work in the Dream Works animated film Trolls-as well as contributing the commercially successful single “Can’t Stop The Music” to the soundtrack as well. Since then, JT has been back in the studio. And at the end of this week, his newest album Man Of The Woods will drop to the public.

This latest album will feature 16 new songs from Timberlake-with two guest stars in the new millennium neo soul songstress Alicia Keys and another with modern country singer Chris Stapleton. So far there have been three videos for three of the new songs pre released from this album-including the duet with Stapleton. The first video/song from this new album to be released came as a bit of a surprise to me. And results showcased where Timberlake seemed to be focusing his musical energies as he was approaching his 37th birthday today. The name of this song is “Filthy”.

A rumbling guitar rumbles into a marching beat and a rocking, up-scaling riff as the intro the song. The drum suddenly changes to funky electronic tone-with a double percussion accent on the second beat. There is a dub-step style wobble bass starting things out on that rhythm. Than a live electric bass/guitar interaction comes into that mix for the song its main groove. Timberlake is rapping/chanting somewhat James Brown style in the beginning. On the chorus, an ethereal synth pad adds a high pitched layer of color. That pattern continues until a digital tone brings the song to a total halt.

“Filthy” is a song with a strong groove and a strong video-one with JT presenting himself as a Steve Jobs style figure presenting a animatronic dancing robot. The groove of the song is also an electro funk one as well.  The wobbling bass is normally associated with dub-step, EDM and trap. These are musical genres that usually emphasis more decorative beats and sounds. “Filthy” takes that modern instrumentation and brings it into a solid electro funk groove. Timberlake’s soulful vocal turns also help give the melody that funkified flavor as well. Making the song a good possible new direction for funk to take.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Rock Your Body” by Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake is an artist whose creative (as well as commercially success) has surprised me on some level. A Memphis native who came directly out of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club along with Brittney Spears (who he dated for a short time),Timerlake was the lead singer of N’Sync,who came to be the poster child for what a lot of art house rock music people hated about “manufactured boy bands” as they’d put it. My late paternal grandfather,however,agreed with me Timberlake-with his soulful voice and beat boxing,came at music with a very different attitude.

This very musical oriented ethic even my grandpa,a man never into youth culture of any kind,was confirmed in late 2002 when he made his solo debut Justified. Its an album I got into a decade after it came out. Coming out during a time when most pop albums were being made by one or two people and was focused mainly on vocals,Timberlake’s debut featured not only The Neptunes (featuring Pharell Williams) and Timbaland,but also 70’s/80’s session great Nathan East along with Harvey Mason Jr. There was one song on it that remains my personal favorite. Its called “Rock Your Body”.

This is one of those songs where the refrains and choruses are carried by Timberlake’s vocal call and responses with himself. Musically however,this basic groove is extremely funkified. The high pitched rhythm guitar-like Clavicord synthesizer and bass line are both playing the same 8 note pattern-on opposite ends of the scale. A pulsing synth expands in and out lightly in the back round. The choruses and refrains are separated by calculated breaks in the music. After a jazzier chorded bridge,the song fades out with the bass line,drum and Timberlake beat boxing the bass line building back into itself.

“Rock Your Body” is a masterful production,one of Pharrell’s strongest overall. First time I heard it,it reminded me of Michael Jackson. Turns out Pharell had originally recorded the track for inclusion on MJ’s 2001 album Invincible. The late Jackson apparently turned it down,so Timberlake got one of his first major solo hits with it instead. The song has a grinding,glittery post disco funk sound to it that was very atypical for a lot of pop music of the early aughts. The build,structure and especially the singled out beatboxing at the end showcased Justin Timberlake totally living up to the musical promise he always exhibited.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Can’t Stop The Feeling” by Justin Timberlake

Spring and summer are always good times for releasing new funk grooves,no matter from what era of the music they might derive from. As my friend Henrique pointed out in one of his articles a bit back,it’s a time of a lot weekend getaways and being outdoors. So with so much activity,the dance of life is officially commencing. And that dance needs some funky music to go with it. Two years ago,Pharrell Williams gave us such as song in the culturally influential “Happy”. Again it would seem that that the same thing is about to happen again,only this time from Justin Timberlake.

Timberlake  really excited the pop music world four summers ago with the first volume of his two part 20/20 Experience. This helped herald in the modern pop world’s reboot of appreciating full length albums as both musically and commercially vital.. As well as giving the cinematic soul/funk genre a big leg back up on that same level as well. Since then,even greater such experiences as D’Angelo’s Black Messiah were set upon the public. And now Timberlake is  is returning with a new groove from the forthcoming DreamWorks film Trolls. It’s appropriately entitled “Can’t Stop The Feeling”.

The song starts out with a deep piano based melody accompanied by some swinging hi hat. Hand claps enter the mix before the snare drum kicks into the 4/4 beat of the song. This accompanies Timberlake’s voice,a round and bubbly synthesizer line and one of the most funky dance oriented bass lines this side of the late Bernard Edwards of Chic. On the choruses,rhythm guitars and later in the song string and horn effects enter the mix. A breakdown bridge near the end of the song builds back up from the bass,guitar and back on into the song-closing it all out with a gospel like vocal choir of the songs chorus.

Justin Timberlake premiered this song six days ago. The song was co-written with Swedish music producers Max Martin and Shellback. These two have been responsible for hits from Ariana Grande,Pink,Taylor Swift and Adele in recent years. Doing this song really brings out the tradition of European producers continuing to have a firm grip on the soul/funk/disco sound that black America has struggled to find success with on their own terms for decades. In any case,the fact that a new Justin Timberlake song is proudly based in the disco funk vibe says a lot for his potential future musical priorities.

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Filed under 2016, disco funk, drums, Funk Bass, hand claps, Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, new music, nu disco, Nu Funk, rhythm guitar, Shellback, Uncategorized

Albums Matter: Andre’s List Of The Top Funky Full Length Albums Of From The Past Five Years

Prince At the grammys

The 57th annual Grammy Award ceremony’s this past Sunday seemed to have surprised everyone. Many performances had a far more serious, even evangelical tone with references to domestic violence and the revived understanding of racism bought on by the police violence of 2014. Maturity and growth were very heavily emphasized on every level-performance and presentation wise. It was Prince,who just released two albums at the end of the last year,who got everyone’s attention-with the words printed above spoken as he presented the Grammy for the best album of 2014.

Prince’s words are what moved me to pick this particular topic for this weeks blog. One very important musical factor shared with my blogging partner Rique is our appreciation and advocacy for the full length album as an important artistic format in terms of how the music we love and are socially moved by is presented. To have someone with as rich a musical history as Prince bring this up at a major award ceremony confirmed the 2010’s have been all about the revival of the album as a driving force in the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum in particular. So here’s my list,year by year of the music on that particular playing field that’s deeply effected my listening.

2010

Erykah Badu Return Of The Ankh

Erykah Badu is always one to throw the unexpected into her grooves. Here her thick,burbling jams blend into songs that are not only a cohesive statement but when sampling is used? They are of things like Paul McCartney album tracks of AOR oriented fusion artists such as David Sancious or Roy Ayers’ Sylvia Striplin. A wondrously sexy celebration of the funk album.

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Janelle Monae here was a key figure in the focus of both my music related blogs with her multi-genre embrace of the Afro Futurist ethic. This album was and is a true game changer in that regard.

John Legend Wake Up!

With both artists always edging just on the border of funk with their own respective releases? The groove burst out completely and with a total fluidity for John Legend and his backing band The Roots-including drummer/producer ?ueslove, for this (so far) one time musical collaboration.

2011

Beyonce 4

Known more for being innovative in terms of single songs,Beyonce’s fourth solo album gained a complete full length flow with a much more mature sound. Including the very polished Quincy Jones/Westlake style production of “Love On Top”.

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz always had loads of funk in him. Here and there. Took him a long time before he fully identified with that funkier instrumental groove. And did so on one of his most thorough musical statements to date.

2012

Chris Brown Fortune

With contemporary electronic pop/hip-hop/dance music usually having enough energy to stretch only across a few songs? Chris Brown,during a less than satisfactory period for him personally no less,managed to take the contemporary musical end of his genre and stretch it out successfully longer than I’ve heard most do such a thing in some time.

Antibalas

This explosively percussion Afro-Funk group recording for Daptone were so connected to the original Afrocentric  pulse that spawned the original funk process groups such as Santana,Mandrill and War that following this album they became the backing band for the Broadway musical Fela! A rebirth of full length poly-rhythm at it’s finest!

Kaleidoscope Dream

Psychedelic,meditative and non traditionally structured sophomore release from new comer Miguel.

Victor Wooten

Bassist Victor Wooten saw such depth in this material that he released it both as a vocal and instrumental piece. Very original musical presentation at this time.

Macy Gray Talking Book

Macy Gray bought out her inner Sly Stone for this literal celebration of the album-re-making every song in original order from Stevie Wonder’s 1972 breakthrough album Talking Book on it’s 40th anniversary.

Talented bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding brings out the sprawling mid 70’s jazz/funk vibe for what is probably her most defining album as of yet.

Radio Music Society

Electronica meets boogie funk from a very interesting source blending a hard grooving as well as an ethereal quality.

2013

Toro Y Moi

Potent mix of electronica and boogie/synth funk.

Jyoti

Very bold sound from Georgia Anne Muldrow that embraces dramatic jazz/funk with a boom rap approach to production.

Trombone Shorty

Crescent City native Trombone Shorty presents the instrumental style of horn funk as a genre of sorts all it’s own,with many different tributaries,on this one album.

Apocalypse

Flying Lotus bassist Thundercat brings a huge,cinematic approach to psychedelic jazz-funk.

20 20 Experience

The first of two Justin Timberlake comeback’s this year. Probably a huge re-awakening for the album length music format,complete with 7-8 minute jams,that bough extended soul/funk to the broader contemporary pop audience.

2014

Pharrell

Long time producer emerges as a fully complete solo artist-full of funkified rhythmic energy and shook the world up in a way no funky music has in over three decades with “Happy”.

Kelis-Food

Kelis returns with an album that takes a very JB like organic instrumental soul/funk turn.

Paula

Robin Thicke’s emotionally charged break up album is a full on raw, muscular funk/soul extravaganza

Plectrumelectrum

Prince and the female instrumental trio 3rdEyeGirl become part of the double edged album sword in his studio comeback. It showcases a multi hued psychedelic funk/rock sound where the whole is definitely more important than the sum of it’s parts.

Goapele-Strong-As-Glass

Oaklands own Goapele lends the funk of Pharrell Williams and flowing,piano based jazzy soul/pop on an album that celebrates the flow of musical depth,dignity and elegance.

Black Messiah

D’Angelo shakes the world up with an extremely funkified statement that is still,at the time of this writing,showing people that black lives (and black music) matter a great deal.

2015 (So Far)

Uptown Special

With the month of January often being a driftwood month for new music? Mark Ronson brings Bruno Mars,Mystikal and Stevie Wonder together for some serious,churning “uptown funk? of many colors!


There were honestly more albums than I could’ve seriously listed in this blog that also fit right into it. But these ones made the most important statements on their own terms perhaps. A single song will always say a great deal. But if one impulse or a series of musical/lyrical impulse can be expanded out in a way that expands the mind naturally through a powerfully grooving auditory experience? Than I saw so much the better. So let’s all have it for the musical impact of the album! It’s a key organ in the anatomy of the groove!

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Filed under Beyonce', D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Goapele, Janelle Monae, John Legend, Justin Timerlake, Kelis, Lenny Kravitz, Macy Gray, Mark Ronson, Miguel, Pharrell Willaims, Prince, Robin Thicke, The Roots, Trombone Shorty

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/31/2015: ‘The 20/20 Experience’ by Justin Timberlake

The 20 20 Experience

Eight years ago Justin Timberlake released his second studio album FutureSex / LoveSounds,an album very much defined by uptempo funk and EDM musical ideas and hybrids. The grooves were emphasized over the vocals a lot of the times, and it was quite a creative departure from his debut. In the time since that release Justin Timberlake has taken time to star in feature films and,for awhile seemed to be joining the ranks of Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston who traded in their musical banner for shots at the silver screen. But not only did his theatrical roles turn out to be a big success, but they seemed to have inspired him creatively as well.

During mid summer my friend Henrique informed me that Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience would be followed up by the end of September by a second volume. Seems Timberlake has recorded easily enough usable material in the last seven years for a double album. But probably knowing the economy level of most music buyers he elected to release it in two parts,also releasing the two full albums as the double set it was intended for those who haven’t gotten the first part yet.

For one thing,the idea that a contemporary recording artist to think creatively in terms of double albums (or albums period) is a profound revelation. Of course it helped that the first volume on this focused primarily on a genre one could call AOS/AOF (album oriented soul and/or funk) that hearkened back to the prime of the 70’s funk era. Of course I was eagerly anticipating this album. Of course I steered clear of streaming as I wanted to allow this album to speak for itself as I listened. From what came through that was a very good idea.

Most popularly inclined music artists today have gone backwards to a degree to emphasizing single songs again. Mainly,as with the 45 RPM record half a century ago, that format is more in tune with the age of internet based formats such as YouTube and MP3’s. Not only is Timberlake a fan of dressing and grooming himself in a sharp,elegant manner but his time in film probably exposed him more to the medium’s dynamic way of presenting its vision. So since Timberlake bought “sexy” back last time out,he is now bringing the musical quality of the album format back in a similar fashion.

The album opens with the upbeat melody and stop and start groove of “Pusher Love Girl”,with Timberlake’s sensuously subtle vocal approaching wrapping around the hiccuping rhythms as he compares a strong relationship to an addiction. Hearing it here I’ve warmed up heavily to “Suit & Tie”,a percussively rhythmic funk piece where Jay Z’s rap is perfectly in tune with the musical setting and never intrudes on Timberlake’s melodic vocal harmonies. “Don’t Hold The Wall” blends a slower 2-step dance groove with a trance music-type harmonic atmosphere,complete with East Indian singing and flutes. “Strawberry Bubblegum” is one of my favorite songs here. It begins with a lightly pulsing,spare electro funk and builds in it’s last three minutes into a afrolatin dance/funk/percussive jam.

The enormous rhythmic dynamics of “Tunnel Vision” and the slower “Spaceship Coupe” but more of the emphasis on Timberlake’s songwriting and vocals again-as he vocally harmonizes with himself Marvin Gaye side to express both the romantic and carnal side of his personality in these songs. “That Girl” is a sweetly melodic neo soul type number-led by a fantastic jazzy guitar riff that again places the focus on his singing and melodicism. “Let The Groove In” is just amazing-a hyper kinetic funk era style jam that is heavy on a genuine African percussion/tribal dance rhythm.

“Mirrors” is a very potent mixture of modern soul and progressive pop/rock that grows stronger in tone as the song progresses-especially in terms of its melodic development. The final song “Blue Ocean Floor”-with it’s spare trance/electronica sound and backwards loops takes the overall approach of this entire album to its most basic level. “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)”,”True Blood” and “Murder” are driving,rhythmically thick funk of the highest order. Justin jams on the one throughout all of these-intersecting the related grooves of James Brown,Michael Jackson and Prince through his own distinctive vocals,beat boxing and sexually eccentric lyrical orientation.

His slyness,wit and assertions to freedom of expression permeate all of these. While both very well composed and rhythmically complex the 2-step hip-hop/dance styles of “Cabaret” and “TKO” are probably my least favorite here. Yet the fact they are not stereotypically overproduced does give them extra vitality and groove. “Take Back The Night” is a beautiful dance/funk odyssey-almost a follow up to “Rock Your Body” from Justified only with a fuller production. Its easily my favorite here,and one of my favorite Timberlake songs of all time. “Drink You Away” is a grinding,rocking and funky blues type number-with Timberlake supplying some grooving guitar work of his own.

And what is the overall approach of this album exactly? In a modern production concept from Justin and Timbaland,who produced the previous album, Justin Timberlake has managed to bring out a re-visitation of the cinematic psychedelic soul/funk/pop-rock sound that permeated music by Isaac Hayes and much of the Norman Whitfield era Temptations. The songs here are generally seven + minutes and therefore have enough space to develop instrumentally and vocally. But as opposed to relying on a backup vocalists and enormous orchestral instrumental passages with no vocals, Timberlake’s own talents in singing/songwriting are integrally linked to the conceptually dynamic instrumental approach this album takes.

And the mixture of tradition string and horn arrangements with modern day EDM/hip-hop electronics give this album the possibility of being the commercial fruition of how music in the last three or four years has began to grow out of the unsettling complacency its been in since the turn of the millennium. Considering this albums already strong commercial success, if an approach to music like this catches on in the coming years, the funk/soul album innovations of the century might reach their commercial golden age.

Originally Posted As Two Separate Reviews On April 15th And September 30th,2013

Links to the original reviews for both albums below:

The 20/20 Experience 1 of 2

The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2

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Andre’s Amazon Archive for 6/28/2014: Michael Jackson’s ‘Xscape’

Xcape

 

While greeting it with a great sense of both surprise and anticipation? I was extremely disappointed in one thing about Mike’s first posthumous album Michael: the fact that it used impersonators (and incredibly inaccurate ones at that) to fill in any unrecorded vocal parts by the man himself. To me it was a tacky way to present his musical legacy. Especially only a year after he passed away. That CD has been relegated to the bargain bins where I live now. And very likely for similar reasons to the ones that troubled me about it. So when this album was announced,again somewhat surprisingly? I was a bit concerned. However this time? Some important precautions were made on this particular set to give it a more cohesive flavor. A deluxe edition,this one,was released which contained the original eight song set along with the original demos to which the songs were based. The “new” tracks on the album were produced by and remixed under the supervision of LA Reid and Timbaland-who is also one of the producers behind guest artist on this album Justin Timberlake. Mostly originally recorded between the Bad and Dangerous,the happy news about this album is the simple fact that none of it features impersonators. They are all original MJ vocal tracks of some form or other. While set up to be an excellent set upon inspecting the liner notes,there was still the curiosity to find out about the contents within.

“Love Never Felt So Good”,a fabulously arranged uptempo “sophistifunk” number is classic early 80’s Mike: the sound that made him and has influenced so many others. Its presented three times: one solo,one the original mix and the other as a duet with the completely Mike influenced (and if I may say so,extremely talented in his own right) Justin Timberlake. As for the main album itself “Chicago” and “Blue Gangsta” are the more contemporary hip-hop/soul arrangements. On the other hand? They are not far removed from how Mike himself was approaching his own outlook on that form in the early/mid 90’s-with the funk at a premium. “A Place With No Name”,with it’s heavy beat boxing and bass synth led,shuffling R&B type tempo along with the electronically textured “Loving You” both showcase how much the sound Mike pioneered in the 80’s is actually effecting music today. “Slave To The Rhythm” and “Do You Know Where Your Children Are” again feature densely percussive dance/funk tracks that are not only ideal to move to but are full of consciencous and thought provoking lyrics. The title song ends out the album with another strong funky dance jam.

The original version of “Chicago” is my favorite of the unmixed versions-a strongly Thriller era sounding number that uses those pitch bended synthesizer melodic phrases I love about some jazzy mid 80’s funk-pop. “A Place With No Name” was of course a lot closer to the America hit which inspired it-with a strong West Coast folk-pop guitar flavor about it. “Slave To The Rhythm”,”Do You Know Where Your Children Are” and the title track all have a similar flavor to the funkier end of Mike’s late 80’s sound while only “Blue Gangsta” isn’t far removed in quality from the original. Including a DVD documentary about the making of it,this album represents to me the album Mike would’ve been good to release before he passed away. Quite frankly the instrumentation,compositions and vocal performances completely blow away anything on either Invincible or Michael in terms of quality. For one thing,Reid never takes his eye off the fact that part of what made Mike such a musical icon was his reliance on uptempo music-especially FUNKY uptempo music. And honestly? This album gives you nothing but that. This is the Michael Jackson that I loved and who inspired my own musical journeys. And I think those who admired his musical melodies and grooves might feel the same way.

 

Originally Posted On May 13th,2014

*Here is my original Amazon.com review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/REVYYZFYZ1JA5/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

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Filed under Amazon.com, Funk, Justin Timberlake, LA Reid, Michael Jackson, Motown, Music Reviewing, Rodney Jerkins, Timaland

The Anatomy of ‘Happy’-Andre’s Outlook: An Anatomy of THE Groove Special Presentation

It would seem that during 2013,with his involvement in the major hit records of Justin Timberlake,Daft Punk and Robin Thicke,that Pharrell Williams was suddenly everywhere. He is by no means an unknown to the world. Much as with Quincy Jones before him,Pharrell represents a strong symbol of the music producer-as-artist-someone who both maintains a musical stamp all his own yet is able to adapt his sound,along with that of his partnership team The Neptunes to suit the musical flavors everyone from Brittney Spears to Nelly. Earlier this year Pharrell released a single from his then forthcoming album GIRL entitled “Happy”. At first it didn’t have much success. Finally it began to take off in Europe when a music video was released and then its appearance in the Pixar film Despicable Me 2.  Instead of our usual duel song format,Henrique and myself have decided to do a two part special presentation this week. That is due to the suddenly evident importance of this song.

Musically the song kicks into gear with a count down of sorts,using a repeating electric piano chord five times before the a sturdy rock ‘n soul style drum comes in,accompanied by a bluesy electric piano and Pharrell’s smoothly soulful voice declaring “It might seem crazy what I’m about to say”-dipping in and out of his sleek falsetto into his high tenor with great ease. Throughout the song Pharrell describes the emotion of happiness not as a theoretical concept,but as a living entity that has a physical nature he describes as “sunshine,she’s here”-the sun often being a revered symbol for a regal type of joy.  On the chorus of asking “clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth”,clapping does ensue before a second verse-fading out with the same clapping refrain that began this song to start with.

Instrumentally this song has much of the melodically upbeat and sophisticated atmosphere of 60’s Motown while the stripped down and bluesy funk style of instrumentation also calls to mind both the Muscle Shoals sound of that era as well as the jazz-funk of early 70’s Crusaders. What is most impressive is the nature of this songs massive cultural impact. While trendy songs and dances have always come and gone in the past,even ones that had a message to them,its been a very long time since a song that represented funk and soul’s musically meaningful and sophisticated nature has been such a positive source of inspiration in the post internet world community. This week even Pharrell himself has said to have been moved to tears by seeing many people creating videos of their own to his song-in particular a video created by those of the Muslim faith.

Having lived through almost half of the life cycle of Generation X,Pharell himself has seen many people (in particular in the black community) lose hope and fall into a never never land of hopelessness,despair,cynicism and lack of interest in getting involved. Having seen Pharell interviewed several times myself recently? He is a musically and sociologically grounded man who understands exactly what he is doing. Part of that sight is of a world where a black man in particular seems to have to be edgy and angry to make any sort of difference. Knowing from second hand experience with producing other artists that those conditions tend to feed back on themselves with time? Pharrell declares in this song that he is assuming a quality of happiness-that despite such negative conditions slowly improving around him that he can harness that inner assumption of joy within him to instill those feelings in others. After all,what is more satisfying than feeling genuinely hopeful and optimistic? That’s part of what people need to make conditions in the world better. And Pharell’s song “Happy” appears to be effecting that kind of change in many different people-including myself and my family. I thank Pharrell for his message of goodwill to music lovers everywhere,and hope people continue to heed and take creative inspiration from his vision!

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Filed under Blues, Funk, Jazz, Motown, Pharrell Willaims, Soul

Andre’s Amazon Archives for March 22nd,2014-Pharrell Williams ‘GIRL’

Pharrell  Pharrell Williams is one of a scant few who’ve emerged,both on his own and as one half of the Neptunes,that has been striving for musical eloquence in his approach to soul/funk. And as much as I admire the uniquely vital musicality of the artists I’m about to mention,for Pharrell finding that sound for himself has been largely dipping into the often under explored well of the post James Brown/pre-Prince funk era-which would encompass approximately 1977-1980. When I first heard his music with NERD,it deep seem that one challenge Pharrell might be facing in the long run was a tendency to be too self consciously eclectic in terms of his musical approach. If rhythmic and instrumental diversity flow through you organically,that’s fine. However if one is just doing it to fit in or be critically credible,it can eat up ones creativity from within. I am still not sure in Pharrell’s case here where he came from in that regard. What I do know is that last year his productions for Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience,Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and of course the Grammy winning Daft Punk album Random Access Memories demonstrated that Pharrell was strongly re-introducing pre hip-hop era funk aesthetics back into the modern soul/R&B framework. So when I learned just under a week ago he was releasing his first solo album in many years,I was very excited to hear how this funky revelation as a producer would effect his own music.

“Marilyn Monroe” begins the album with a very insistent bass/guitar oriented dance funk groove that’s bought further to life by some sumptuously soulful string arrangements. “Brand New”,featuring Justin Timberlake’s showcases the similarity in Timberlake’s and Pharrell’s approach to a groove: again in this case a very thick African inspired percussion part with a lot of breaks and slippery,catchy melodies,and of course some wonderfully bright and fan-faring horns. “Hunter” is one of my very favorite pieces on this album. It has a very thick and metallic bass line and a very steady percussive flavor which recalls some of the deepest and most authentically funk oriented songs one could ever imagine. “Gush” and “Gust Of Wind”,featuring Daft Punk on vocorder, showcase how perfectly comfortable Pharrell is in the milieu of that late 70’s disco era funk sound-when the genre’s uptempo music was retreating from the “4 on the floor” stereotype into the more streamlined and sleeker productions and instrumentation. The sounds of Chic and even the somewhat lesser known funk band Slave are all over these songs from top to bottom-along with Pharrell’s strong adhesion to staying eternally on the one. “Happy”,the big soundtrack hit from this album is a lively uptempo soul number strongly recalling the mid 60’s uptempo soul vibe of Arthur Conley and such-especially with it’s clever outlook on human emotion with it’s chorus of “Clap your hands if you feel like happiness is the truth”. “Lost Queen” goes for melding a modern hip-hop arrangement with a South African folk styled focus and percussion arrangement. Personally? I don’t really feel the meld takes on this particular musical fusion.

“Know Who You Are” is a strongly crafted and instrumentally thick soul/funk/pop number featuring a duet with Alicia Keys. Keys,not known much these days for doing live instrumental uptempo tunes,shines like a glistening crystal on this song. The last number “It Girl” features a somewhat cooler approach to the same sound,and a jazzier one at that with an instrumental electric piano section closing out the final minute or so from the song. This album completely succeeds on almost every level instrumentally. By focusing on studio production of live instrumentation,Pharrell has actually broadened his musical horizons as a solo artist quite significantly. And his non stop focus on funk,percussive rhythms and new ways of re inventing melody on this album fully explores his true musical heart. As wonderfully colorful as the funk on this album is? It is by no means a near perfect masterpiece. Sometimes,if you can imagine it Pharrell stays on the one a bit too much on some songs. This gives the effect of being more like a digitized skipping record than a fluid live band (even though that is present here quite a bit) now and then. And though he does approach the subject eloquently on many occasions,Pharrell’s constant skirt chasing here also drags on which,in the case of me being a very commitment minded homosexual is sometimes downright lyrically un-relatable. But even if one is emphasizing this albums flaws,its definitely a step in the right direction if we’re talking about funk functioning in the contemporary musical idiom. And definitely another feather in Pharrell’s musical cap and for a second time in his career,doing it with himself as the star of the show.

Originally Posted On March 4th,2014

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Filed under 1970's, Africa, Amazon.com, Funk, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Soul

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/21/14: “Long Weekend” by Trombone Shorty

Since it would seem that that New Orleans has the reputation of being the birthplace of the concept of funk itself,what with the first acknowledged jazz musician’s Buddy Bolden’s song “The Funky Butt”,it makes perfect sence that an important element of the modern funk revival would emerge with the Crescent City’s own Trombone Shorty. Originally named Troy Andrews,he grew up in the cities Treme’ region-playing in the local marching bands and eventually becoming a featured member of Lenny Kravitz horn section in 2005. Having already entered into rising adulthood having been reared with a musical synergy of the traditional Dixie Land marches of his local area as well as the late 80’s funk revelations such Cameo’s “Word Up” and Prince’s “Housequake” ,Andrew’s had the musical wherewithal to zero in on a somewhat under-explored middle ground between both those divergent funk approaches on Trombone Shorty’s 2013 release Say This To That with a groove entitled “Long Weekend”.

Kicking off with an announcing drum kick,the rather percussive and slow crawling drumming is immediately joined by a cleanly played,melodic funk guitar line with a high electric organ swirl slowly building in the back round. Another drum kick announces the introduction of Andrew’s expressively earnest lead vocals. When singing the chorus of the song,he’s joined by his own multi tracked backup vocals when the songs title is mentioned. The bass line of the song isn’t generally as prominent throughout the song as the guitar and drum/percussion part is. However at the end of each instrumental chorus,especially before a drum kick,the popping jazz/funk bass line comes to the forefront much more heavily. On the bridge and during the outro of the song,the melodic and rhythmic structure of the song totally changes. The bass is lifted to the forefront scaling down to a powerful bass/guitar chord that intensely amplifies the funkiness in the center and end of the song.

While funk is not as widely known as a musical genre as some of its admirers might think that it is, a majority of musicians performing funk are doing so very much in the late 60’s/early 70’s raw live band type James Brown/Tower Of Power style. Considering his music is strongly based in jazz-fusion/blues and psychedelic soul/rock, Trombone Shorty and his bands’ approach to this song emphasizes a trend in contemporary funk music that seemed to have spawned from Pharrell Williams productions for Justin Timberlake,Robin Thicke and Daft Punk. And that is a strong emphasis on the production style of late 70’s Ohio based funk bands such as Heatwave and Slave. This is a style where the bass/guitar/drum interaction is still hard grooving funk. But the sound is more studiocentric than developed mainly for live performance. Of course Andrew’s adds a more jazz oriented electric piano groove on the bridge to give the song his own type of flavor.

Another element of “Long Weekend” that’s very similar to the music of Slave in particular is how close the lyrical and melodic content of the vocals are to that Ohio bands adolescent party funk aestetic. In particular the way Andrew’s is pitching woo to an older woman,once the subject of a high school type unrequited love and is now old enough to appreciate her-particularly on a somewhat scandalous “long weekend” with this lady that even includes “a trip to the liquor store” to ensure a little physical adventure-even though he doesn’t feel able to tell his peers. Of course this attitude lends itself very well to the near perfect balance of studio production and live instrumental production. Judging from what I have seen in a video of Trombone Shorty performing this song live? Today that late 70’s style of recorded danceable funk music is just as viable on stage as it is on record. And “Long Weekend” emphasizes that very strongly.

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Filed under 1970's, Blues, Funk, Funk Bass, Late 70's Funk, New Orleans, Rhythm, Trombone Shorty