Raul Midon represents that strong Afro-Latin cultural and musical intersection for the mid to late 2000’s. Born in New Mexico,he and his brother Marco (currently a NASA scientist) were both blinded after birth due to an incubator malfunction. He went on to attend the University Of Miami,which he sought out for its strong jazz curriculum. He migrated to NYC after that,playing guitar for different Latin artists such as the then newcomer Shakira. While he started his solo career at the end of the 90’s,his big break came in 2005’s State Of Mind album,produced by the late great Arif Mardin.
Midon’s music was consistently a must buy,every album artist for me during the mid to late 2000’s. Being of Afro-Latin descent myself,the mans mixture of acoustic Latin jazz,soul and funk really spoke to a than strongly developing musical heart. During the 2010’s,I began neglecting following up on Midon’s career for no positive reason. And that includes his current album Bad Ass And Blind. But the other night,I decided to explore the albums songs on YouTube,where Midon had personally posted some of the albums songs. It was the title song that instantly stood out for me.
After a count off to four in Spanish,the song kicks right into gear. Its the main theme that extends musically throughout much of the song. The funky shuffling drums are accompanied by Midon’s equally bouncing acoustic rhythm guitar-along with a bubbling bass line right along for the ride. Only on one brief refrain does this rhythmic pattern change-quickly changing in rhythm to a hand clapped powered English folk/rock type melody. During the bridge of the song,Midon adds in a rap he wrote and performed before concluding the song with a rocking electric guitar solo.
“Bad Ass And Blind” has a vibe to it that reminds me somewhat of the vibe that Prince brought to his music. It has that sense of fusing a funky rhythm with acoustic folk/rock,hip-hop and rock instrumental elements. All while keeping the groove hot and alive. Midon also uses this to lyrically point out his musical uniqueness in this day and age. He discusses the modern means people use now to hear music and see videos. He also comments Stevie Wonder style on the unique musical visions his blindness engenders for him. So its an excellent example of hybridized funk grooves for 2017.
Walter Becker is one of those players whose proven himself the ultimate “comeback kid” as it were. The Queens native met Donald Fagan while the two attended Bard College. And of course they would soon be the core of Steely Dan. While the songwriting of Steely Dan was a collaborative effort between the two,Becker’s instrumental influence generally came through his guitar solos. They grew from a virtuosic blues rock style in the early 70’s to an intricate,crisp jazz tone later on. A serious of exhausting events led Becker to leave Steely Dan following their Gaucho album-remaining musically inactive for a decade.’
In 1993,Steely Dan reformed and began touring. Becker released his solo debut album 11 Tracks Of Whack a year later. With a somewhat more stripped down musical approach and vocal style closer to that of Eric Clapton,his albums were as critically successful as Fagans. But didn’t have quite the same commercial appeal. It would be another 15 years later that his sophomore album Circus Money. This was an independently released project from 2008 that featured the same superb studio players Becker had worked with in the past. It also started out with just the right groove on the song “Door Number Two”.
A bass and light snare based beat,crystalized sounding piano and bluesy rhythm guitar provide the intro-along with a moody electric piano solo. The basic rhythm of the chorus than comes in. This is a bossa with a clean guitar burst playing a single chord on every other bar or so-with the piano,keyboard and slippery bass line playing along with the female backup singers vocalizing the choral lyric. The refrain finds Becker singing a bluesy line with more piano improvisations behind him. Chris Potter provides a great bop sax solo on the bridge and extends it into the chorus that fades out the song.
Years of being a record producer and even a one time member of the sophisti pop group China Crisis really helped to enhance Walter Becker’s musical flavors as a solo artist. It wasn’t until revisiting “Door Number Two” for this overview did I realize that it has the vibe of a lower key “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”. The bossa Latin/boogaloo funk is there in the rhythm. Still Becker’s love of jazz comes through all the way-with musicians Keith Carlock,Jon Herington,Jim Beard and Ted Baker all solo right in the pocket of this groove. And it all makes for a great example of jazz with a raw rhythm attitude.
Barry White is probably best remembered as soul’s ultimate baritone. And as it were,one of the founding fathers of “baby makin’ music”. And on that level,he stands possibly only alongside Isaac Hayes. One of the things that has been bought more and more since his passing is that White was a brilliant arranger. When it came to combining percussion, piano and strings with a rhythm section,he was able to create some of the most defining arrangements of the funk AND disco era. And among his collection of side projects,this side of him came out most strongly on albums by the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
One of the things about Love Unlimited Orchestra that fascinated me is that,like Barry White himself,they recorded under that name with White long after their commercial peak was thought to have passed. The final Love Unlimited Orchestra to drop came out in 1983 and is called Rise. This was an album that I was unable to track down on CD,and missed out on one occasion in the vinyl format. When I finally did hear it from an MP3 copy,I was amazed what a strong and unexpected album it was. One song from it that stood out to both me and my mom is called “Do It To The Music”.
A resonant,buzzing synthesizer starts out the song. Then the drum machine kicks in playing a danceable Afro-Latin type beat-right along with a clean,round synth bass. On the chorus,the orchestra itself plays a spicy and melodic horn chart. The first three notes descend,while the final four ascend upwards. Throughout the song,the funky sounding vocal group The Voices Of Love sing call and response to the horns and buzzing synth that weave throughout the entirety of the songs. On the refrains,they mainly sing with the rhythm section. And its on the powerful chorus that the song fades out.
This is an excellent example of high octane Latin funk to come out of the Barry White musical camp in the early 80’s. With its prominent use of synthesizers and horns as opposed to strings,musically this song did for Barry White what “You’ve Got The Power” did for War a year earlier. It took the basic framework White had made famous,and updated the instrumental approach in an extremely positive way. And its solid proof that a lot of Barry White/Love Unlimited Orchestra’s music of the early/mid 80’s is a lot more obscure than it deserves to be.
Jennifer Lopez,that Bronx born Nuyorican “Jenny from the block”,had a fabulous career as an actress in the mid 80’s. Her fame skyrocketed when she stared in the title role of the biopic Selena,the story of the murdered Latin pop pioneer. When she began her musical career a couple of years later,she still held fast by her Latina heritage in that medium as well. Over the years,Lopez’s music has drifted further into hi NRG techno pop territory. In the beginning of her musical career however,she developed a creative team who helped her fashion danceable music that became popular by being pretty daring musically.
Racially speaking,I tend to culturally identify with my own Nuyorican back around-though it was my mother who was born in Brooklyn,NYC. So even though I never followed Lopez’s career intently,songs such as “If You Want My Love”,”Let’s Get Loud”,”Love Don’t Cost A Thing” and “Jenny From The Block” were always around on the radio and TV video shows during my early rising adulthood. Many celebrities get abbreviated nicknames. And Lopez set her’s up very early on-as the title for her sophomore album J.Lo in 2001. This album had a huge hit with what’s probably my favorite song of hers, entitled “Play”.
A deep choral synthesizer starts off the jam,essentially playing what becomes the regular bass line of the entire song. Than the drum machine kicks in playing an ultra funky, kicking shuffle. The lead synth and bass line are accompanied by a higher pitched trumpet like synth accent,and another that resembled a barking dog. A thick chicken scratch rhythm guitar introduces J.Lo’s vocal choruses and refrains. After one of the longest calculated musical pauses/breaks I’ve heard in modern music,that instrumental groove plays out the song as it fades out.
In the end,what does this song have to do with Prince? Obviously,he’s not creatively involved. But the musical approach,from the synthesizer arrangements to the rhythm guitar,are based in his approach to stripped down electro funk. With it’s fast tempo and heavy emphasis on danceability,this song also furthers the collaborative nature of the Minneapolis sound by taking a nod to the sound Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis got with Janet Jackson in the late 80’s/early 90’s. “Play” showcases the durability of Minneapolis funk during the synth dominated early aughts. And is strong pop/funk for it’s time as well.
Filed under 2001, chicken scratch guitar, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, funky pop, J.Lo, Jennifer Lopez, Latin Funk, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers
War had an excellent creative and commercial run in the early to mid 70’s. From “Slippin’ Into Darkness” up through “Low Rider”,this LA band had a very full and interested audience. The funk/soul audience were wrapped up in them,many jazz folks admired their musicianship and the rockers enjoyed their hard driving sound. Having caught onto a similar kind of Latin funk/rock vibe of bands such as Mandrill and Santana,War completed a triad that represented the strongest end of Afro-Cuban based percussive sounds within the funk,soul and rock spectrum of music in their heyday.
By the time 1977 rolled around,the Afro-Latin sound that War had helped pioneer had become part of another sound. This was the middle of the disco era. And dance music built on the four on the floor dance beats often had this percussive style as an integral element to the rhythm. Saxophonist and flutist Charles W. Miller was murdered tragically 36 years ago. But today was the day of his birth in 1939. He was a key participant in writing a song that really helped to keep War vital as the musical tide was changing. And that song was the title track to the bands 1977 album Galaxy.
Laser-like space funk synthesizers start out the song. This serves as an instrumental wind to blow in the storm. First the light drumming,the five not bass thump and then the walk up piano. Than the 4/4 drums kick into high gear. On each vocal chorus,the band chant “it’s out of sight,it’s gone” to the tune of Miller Lee Oskar’s clarinet/harmonica unison. This pattern continues throughout a few refrains. Than the space funk synths come back in backing up tingling percussion with a full on piano walk up solo. For the finale of the song,Miller plays a solo on clarinet over the same rhythmic bed as the song fades out.
- “Galaxy” is one of my favorite War songs of all time. The song begins with a 3-4 minute segment that could be easily extended for play by disco DJ’s,with it’s insistent dance beat. Yet War’s polyrhythmic Latin funk attitude remains as hot and heavy as it always was during the 1970’s. As it appears on the album,it’s one of their most conceptually interesting. Likely inspired by one of the battle scenes from Star Wars, the space funk synthesizer orchestrating the song serve up some seriously jazzy solo by the end of the album version of the song. This makes it all out to be one of War’s funkiest moments.
Filed under 1970's, Charles W. Miller, disco funk, Funk Bass, Galaxy, jazz funk, Latin Funk, Lee Oskar, percussion, piano, Saxophone, space funk, synthesizers, War
Paulinho Da Costa has probably played on more albums than any other musician of the late 20th century. Possibly thousands. So chances are if you look in the notes of any pop,soul,R&B,funk or jazz record of the 70’s or 80’s, Da Costa’s name will probably be on it. The man began learning percussion as a child in Brazil-emerging from the samba genre to became one of the most regarded percussionists the world over. After playing with Sergio Mendes And The Brasil 77 in the early to mid 70’s, Da Costa got signed to Norman Granz’s Pablo label. This allowed him permanent residency in the US.
My first direct encounter with Da Costa’s sound was of course via his epic work with Michael Jackson on “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. All of a sudden his name appeared as the percussionist on album every bit of used vinyl I got my hands on. After browsing through a Fantasy Records CD catalog in the late 90’s,it listed a handful of solo albums Da Costa had recorded. One was from 1979 and called Happy People. It included some Earth Wind & Fire members along with Greg Phillinganes and Nathan Watts. One song I just heard from it really got my attention-called “Take It On Up”.
The sunny,melodic horn charts play festively over Da Costa’s intense percussion. A rhythmic electric piano,a revving high pitched rhythm guitar and an elaborately scaling bass line keep the rhythm steady throughout the song. Bill Champlin sings the lead vocal-accompanied on the chorus by a group of female backup singers. On the bridge of the song,all of this instrumentation comes to a high key pitched-with the fanfare of the horn charts filled with as much joy as funk can muster. One replay of this bridge comes into play before the chorus of the song fades it right out.
“Take It On Up” is one of those high energy Brazilian funk numbers that maintains a super high level of joyous musicality all the way. Surrounded by a group of A-1 session players from the jazz and funk scenes of the day,this is also some of the most well recorded (and generally presented) uptempo jams of it’s time. Da Costa’s percussion is mixed right up as the star of the show-right up with the blaring horns and Champlin’s tough, aggressive lead vocal. Happy People isn’t an easy album to locate these days. But with online video streaming,songs like this incredible melodic funk groove can be enjoyed by more people.
Filed under 1970's, Bill Champlin, Brazil, Brazilian Jazz, Funk Bass, Greg Philinganes, horns, Latin Funk, Nathan Watts, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, rhythm guitar, samba funk, session musicians
Stevie Wonder’s life was almost lost on August 6th,1973. A truck driven by his late brother Calvin hit the back of a truck. Wonder was in a coma for four days. And the ensuing health complications almost denied him his sense of taste and smell. Blind from shortly after birth due to overexposure to an incubator leaving him with retinophothy of premurity, this knowledge of near death combined with losing two more of his senses had a profound effect on Wonder’s artistry. Already in a state of commercial and creative revelry with his music,these events deeply informed his music that was just yet to come.
Having dealt with a near death experience really informed Wonder’s next album entitled Fullfillingness’ First Finale. It was originally planned (and seemingly recorded) as a double album that Wonder decided to release in two parts. He never did. The part we did get in 1974 was a more somber,reflective album with a more stripped down instrumental approach. With songs such as “They Won’t Go When I Go” and “Creepin'” being fairly representative of the albums overall sound,it’s interesting that the album closes with two more upbeat songs. The first of which was called “Bird Of Beauty”.
Wonder begins the song with a 2 beat salsa rhythm-sticking the clave percussion in around the middle while Bobbye Hall plays a solo on the hollow sounding guica drum. The main body of the song has intertwining,jazz melodies played on the Clavinet and Fender Rhodes electric piano-with a rhythmic Moog bass bubbling in around the bottom. The chorus of the song has Wonder building up the hi hats before returning to the refrain. In addition to a bridge sung in Portuguese Denise Williams,Lani Groves and Shirly Brewer provide the backing vocals-with the song extending ethereally on the chorus as it fades.
Stevie Wonder’s fascination with Brazilian rhythms became very apparent after he gained his creative freedom in the early 70’s. They were very prominent before this on “I Love Every Little Thing About You” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”. This songs blend of sunny Latin jazz/salsa rhythms and funky rhythmic keyboards really emphasize it’s joyous sound. One that allows it to instrumentally dance and sing in so many different ways-all at the same time. Rhythm,melody and harmony all come together in the most beautiful ways here-all under the light of the musical sun Wonder creates.
The songs lyrical content has a double meaning for me. One is very personal. To overcome a fear of flying,my mother went skydiving 14 years ago. The words of “mind excersions” of this song made it part of the soundtrack to the video they assembled of the dive for her. It’s actually a song about altering ones state of consciousness naturally-without “black,white or yellow pills”. One could speculate this may have derived from Wonder having perhaps been given pain killers after his accident. With the recent and possibly pain killer related death of Prince,this is something to think about.
Filed under 1970's, backup singers, Bobbye Hall, Brazilian Jazz, clave, clavinet, Denise Williams, drums, Fender Rhodes, guica, Lani Groves, Latin Funk, Moog bass, Motown, Shirley Brewer, Stevie Wonder