Bill Withers is certainly an artist I’ve grown with. Especially his non hit material, which never ceases to be wonderful to hear. And is often extremely funky too. In 1978 he released his final album of the decade ‘Bout Love’. It featured on it a song that I first heard recorded and sung by Herb Alpert on his Rise album a year later. When I first heard Wither’s version, it was a bit surprising he’d actually wrote it. As hadn’t paid proper attention to Alpert’ personnel credits. Still its the exact song I’d want to project for this Valentines Day-especially in America. The song is entitled “Love Is”.
Keni Burke of the Five Stairsteps gets the medium paced beat of Russel Kunkel going off with a heavy, rhythmic slap bass riff. Paul Smith adds a high pitched Clavinet (or Clavinet like keyboard) into the mix before the strings and horns kick in playing the main melody along with Withers’ voice. There’s a bridge where the bass and strings scale up before the song essentially builds back up from where it started-with everything building up from a milder sound to a more theatrical one. After another such scaled up refrain, that same pattern builds back up for a third time before the songs finally fades out on itself.
“Love Is” has both the structure of a funk song right on the one musically-with a gospel/folk like chorus-on-chorus melodic content. The funk is assured by Burke’s Larry Graham like slap bass and the overall Sly Stone type groove-mixed in with a healthy dose of disco era lushness with the horns and strings. Wither’s own guitar also plays a wonderfully supplementary role alongside Burke’s bass-especially with its bluesy drawl. Lyrically the call and response lyrics-alternately illustrating both love’s basics and more complex tenants are another aspect of why I love this song.
Holiday’s can be beloved, despised or even abandoned. Depending on the social and political atmosphere of the given time period. Valentine’s Day can be difficult even for those who generally love holidays. Bill Withers song here speaks a good message to such a situation. Suppose that when times of love for one’s individual self seems lacking? Or if someone is unlucky enough to be without love in a somewhat loveless community? Using romantic love as a worldly concept FOR community, empathy, caring and/or spirituality is one of the most positive things a soulful, funky song can offer. Happy Valentines Day!
Joni Mitchell did something very special in the mid to late 1970’s. Something that impacted on me personally roughly 25 years later. She began to combine folk oriented singer/songwriter instrumentation with jazz chords and harmonies. Her approach at this evolved from working with Crusaders Joe Sample and Wilton Felder to fretless bass icon Jaco Pastorius-all between 1974 and 1974. In particularly on 1975’s The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Mitchell’s music was her own unique hybrid. Neither jazz or folk. This all came to a tremendous head with her 1977 release Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.
It was an album where the cover art (as was typical done by Mitchell herself) drew me into its musical world. It depicts three images of herself. One seems to be a herself as a teenager. The other is a character she portrayed at a Halloween party named Art Nouveau. This was based on a black man she met who complimented her at that time. Mitchell describes her soul as “not being that of a white woman”. And that she often writes from a black perspective. Embracing the jazz aestetic, from be bop style poetics to the music itself, all became a part of what made this 1977 double LP what it was.
The song “Cotton Avenue” starts the album with an overture, one where Mitchell is playing six differently tuned guitar tracks simultaneously. The song itself is a swinging number-heavily textured by Jaco’s atmospheric bass lines. The faster “Talk To Me” and the slower “Jericho” both explore the approach of Mitchell’s guitar with Jaco’s bass-playing in an almost Salsa like rhythm on the former, and back to the jazzy swing on the latter. “Paprika Pains” is a 16+ minute cinematic number, showcasing Mitchell’s improvised piano with full jazz orchestration.
“Paprika Plains”‘s music also serves as the soundtrack to a first person description of a late night bar gathering of Canadian First Nations tribe’s people-poetically touching on matters of alcoholism and despair. “Otis & Marlena” is a fairly conventional country tinged folk number. Its based in the acoustic guitar. Its a character sketch of two people vacationing in Miami while “Muslims are sticking up Washington”. “The Tenth Worlds” is primarily the work of Puerto Rican percussionist Manolo Badrena, one which focuses only on his fluid Afro-Latin percussion and improvised vocal chants.
Weather Report member Alex Acuna joins in for “Dreamland”, my personal favorite number on this album.”Dreamland” merges an even broader (and somewhat slower) Salsa percussion sound with the highly hummable, Caribbean folk style melody of Mitchell’s. Chaka Khan provides a very tribal sounding back up vocalese right along with Mitchell’s on the song. The title song is somewhat similar to “Talk To Me” from earlier in the album-as well as “Coyote” from her previous album Heijra. The more rocky “Off Night Backstreet” and the folk oriented “The Silky Veils Of Ardor” close out the album.
Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter represents the official birth of what could best be described as a Joni Mitchell sound. Its true that jazz always accommodated other musical styles into it. Mitchell wasn’t new at doing that. But she did manage to expand on the possibilities of jazz fusion at the same time as she did the same for her own songwriting style. That coalition of personal and overall creative intent would is likely a lot rarer a thing than it might seem. And just for creating a welcoming and enticing entry point into Joni Mitchell’s musical hybridizing makes this album one of her most iconic ones.
For this weeks posting,I wanted to play a little jazz for everyone. Considering this blog was started with the intention of projecting modern songs in the entire jazz,soul,funk,R&B,blues and pop spectrum? I’ve neglected going too deep into jazz because the critical medium of that musical genre has a tendency to take itself much more seriously than perhaps other levels of critical assessment. Yet there was something about this artist and this song that was right up my alley in terms of actually writing about it.
Lorraine Feather,herself the daughter of famous NYC jazz critic Leonard Feather. Her mother Jane was a big band singer in the trio Full Swing. After studying musical theater acting in LA,Lorraine returned to New York to pursue that career. Eventually landing nigh club gigs between numerous waitress jobs. After a successful career doing songs for films by Disney among others? She began her recording career in the year 2000. And nine years later released her sixth solo album Language,which includes the song that’s the subject of today’s post in “We Appreciate Your Patience”.
Instrumentally the song is is a very stripped down mid-tempo bluesy number. That with drummer Gregg Field and percussion Michael Shapiro actually providing a slow,loping and rhythmically well accented hip-hop/jazz swinging shuffle to the music itself. This is accompanied by the melodic participating of pianist/co-writer Shelly Berg,bassist Michael Valerio with Spanish tinged acoustic guitar from Grant Geissman. On the bridge Field’s dreamy brushing is accompanied by Berg scaling back and forth similarly on piano-taking a solo before returning to the main theme that the song fades out on.
The best thing thing about this song for me is how it updates the traditions of vocal jazz. It takes on the dragging shuffle of the hip-hop beat for sure. But also focuses on Feathers embracing of the witty cultural references in vocal jazz lyricism. The concept of dealing with calling customer service lines over the phone is a thoroughly modern frustration. Feather illustrates this with her own singular wit and mildly dry,yet harmless sarcasm about being put on hold while listening to “some music from the 80s”,as well as being directed to said company’s website as the preferred means of contact. In the end,it appears she develops a crush on one particular rep. Both musically and lyrically? This is one contemporary acoustic vocal jazz number that is right on time.
Filed under 2008, Blues, customer service, Grant Geissman, Greg Field, hip-hop/jazz, humor, Jazz, Leonard Feather, Lorraine Feather, Los Angeles, lyrics, Michael Shapiro, Michael Valerio, New York, Shelly Berg, vocal jazz