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.
Somehow I clearly remember first hearing jazz/fusion icon Lenny White as solo artist first. And never even having heard him as the drummer for Chick Corea’s Return To Forever from 1973 through 76. My first impression,through DJ/musician Nigel Hall’s radio show at the University Of Maine,was via White’s debut solo album Venusian Summer from 1975. Had to warm to that album. At the time? The Wounded Bird label was reissuing White’s 70’s solo catalog on CD. So it was exciting to know I’d be hearing more of his music.
Now eventually ended up with all of those reissues. But the one that caught my years most was a 1978 album called The Adventures Of Astral Pirates. It blended some of the sci fi elements of RTF’s music,not to mention the spirituality of EWF and the narrative style of P-Funk with it’s comic strip style liner notes. However there was one song on this wonderfully space funk/fusion recording that really caught my ear in a big way. It was sung by the late Don Blackman,soon to be part of White’s group Twennynine. And it was called “Universal Love”.
It all gets started with Blackman’s piano and and Jeff Sigman’s Brazilian style rhythm guitar,which quickly morphs into a thick and fat funky bass/guitar interaction to sequel into Blackman’s first vocal refrain. The first chorus begins with a falsetto vocal that goes into a sleek,electric piano led late 70’s jazz/pop melody before going into an instrumentally chunkier version of the refrain before going into an extended version of the chorus and the intro itself. And it all concludes with very final crescendo’s for each of the songs musical themes.
This song stands as a fine example of the dreamiest end of the space funk sound. The atmospheric jazz/fusion element that comes from bassist Alex Blake and Don Blackman’s touches put this right tune with what I call “people music”. Even with the talented Lenny White’s fast paced,spasmodic progressive style of drumming? It’s impressive to hear how much he seems to have learned from Clyde Stubblefield about what not to play as a funky drummer. The space White puts into this song really allows the powerful groove and melody to be at it’s most expansive.
Filed under 1970's, Alex Blake, bass guitar, Don Blackman, drums, Funk Bass, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lenny White, Uncategorized, Wounded Bird Records
Bernard Wright is probably one of the more significant instrumentalists in terms of my own musical progression. He is not only the first I discovered completely online,but also one of the first that I discovered without any word of mouth recommendation from family,friends,books or magazines. He still doesn’t have the hugest recorded catalog. But he was an important part of the early 80’s Jamaica,Queens jazz/funk scene alongside luminaries such as Lenny White,Tom Browne and the late Weldon Irvine. In addition to that he was also a youth prodigy-still high school age when he released his debut ‘Nard for Dave Grusin’s then fairly new GRP label. This album was my first introduction to Bernard Wright-having been a recommendation on Amazon.com when it was available on CD as a Japanese import. Of the many exciting and lovable grooves on the album was an instrumental called “Bread Sandwiches”.
Starting off with a dramatic piano scale from ‘Nard himself,the song goes into some of the most pleasurable combination of highly melodic and percussive piano playing I’ve ever heard. Wright’s fingers can be clearly heard dancing and bouncing on the keys. During the song he plays a beautifully chorded,phat synthesizer harmony. On the bridge he plays what I’d call a jazz/funk version of stride piano,with a more spacey synthesizer accent. After this,before a break going back to the main theme Mike Flythe,one of two drummers on this album,plays an attention getting marching band type drum solo send off. After another complete round of this,there’s another bridge where in front of a buzzing bass synth bed,Wright plays a more bop style piano solo before the song fades out the same repeated melodic phrase right before Flythe’s drum solo before the second refrain of the song.
Musically speaking? This song brims over with a potent blend of learned instrumental ability and completely youthful enthusiasm of style. Bernard Wright himself is very much the embodiment of,as my blogging partner Henrique and I might describe it,of a super hip young black middle class man who might be driving to a gig where he’d be rehearsing Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk compositions while listening to the funk band Slave on his car stereo. This song is very much in the Crusaders /Stuff/ Steely Dan type studiocentric jazz-funk bands of the mid/late 70’s. And coming out in 1981,it was a very important time because a huge musical transition was occurring in NYC during this period. Hip-hop was beginning to emerge-partly of out the fact that aspiring musicians in Wright’s age group found themselves perhaps unable to have access to musical instruments and good instruction as the music scene was dividing up.
In one sense,”Bread Sandwiches” represents the end of an era. But also would eventually open the door to a new beginning. I have my issues with what some commercial hip-hop has ended up doing conceptually. But during the sample heavy era,it did serve as an important archive for music just like this. The ‘Nard album came out during what Henrique and myself refer to as the post disco radio freeze out. Basically any uptempo,danceable music made by black artists (funk in particular) went unheard and heatedly debated in literature due to the anti disco backlash of 1979. However a decade later? This album,which might’ve been rather unnoticed in its time emerged as being among the many albums whose grooves and breaks become the bedrock for the sampedelic end of the jazz hip-hop sub-genre of the mid 90’s into the early aughts. Today many musicians and funkateers likely celebrate Bernard Wright for his own merits either through hip-hop or the online music world-which is how I discovered him. So especially in the sense of songs such as thing? Progressions in in both music and technology have surely been a good friend to Bernard Wright!