Tag Archives: Mark Ronson

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 11/30/2015: “Someday” by The Gap Band

Much as injecting personal affairs into this blog has been controversial on many different ends? It’s unavoidable in this case. 2015 has proven to be a year consisting of many hardships, challenges and often misery for humanity. On the creative end of that? It was deeply soul destroying for me when Ronnie and Charlie Wilson sued both Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for credit in their massive hit “Uptown Funk”. Unsure what upsets me more: that the surviving Wilson brothers were negating their own possible comeback over greed? Or because of the fact that they themselves could be accused of musical plagiarism of P-Funk with their 1979 hit “Oops Upside Your Head”.

The matter was so distressing on this end that it became one of a bucket list of reasons why I took a six month hiatus from this blog to begin with. And why it may not be as it was again in the future. Still? Nothing in creativity is carved in stone. Not funk music,not the Gap Band and not even the future of either. And it reminded me of a time (the late 1990’s) when I was collecting Gap Band CD’s with great enthusiasm. And noticing the  resemblance of the vocal timbre of “Uncle” Charlie Wilson and Stevie Wonder. At the conclusion of their 1983 release Gap Band V: Jammin’? A collaboration between the Wilson’s and Wonder finally occurred with a song entitled “Someday”. And it had a lot more to say beyond even that.

It’s actually one of the few funk,soul or R&B numbers I’ve heard that not only has a cold start both musically and vocally. But it also maintains that basic character throughout the entire song. The rhythmic body of the song is a steady drum beat accentuated by rolling percussion-that train like motion the Wilson’s tended to specialize in. The main melodic phrase is a very Wonder-like synthesized Clavinet-like baroque classical one-though likely played by Charlie himself. And this is accessorized by a slippery synth bass line. On the bridge? Wonder does provide an appropriate harmonica solo before leading into the pleasing,gospel soul vocal coda as the song fades out.

Charlie,Ronnie and the late Robert Wilson were not only successful at adapting the approach of Stevie Wonder into their own funk style on this song, but also gave up the props by gleefully collaborating with the artist himself-without whom the sound of the song wouldn’t have been so possible. This spirit of creative unity goes well with the beautifully stated tribute to the struggle for civil rights. And to the then yet unrecognized holiday in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s one of the most eloquently layered and topical of the Gap Band’s songs. It may never have been recognized due to not being a hit. But it may be one of the Wilson’s crowning musical (and proudly funky) achievements.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Charlie Wilson, civil rights, electro funk, Gap Band, Martin Luther King Jr., naked funk, Stevie Wonder, synth bass

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/6/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Turn It Up” by Baby Funk

One of the major things I wanted to do with this blog is to promote new funk bands and soloists with my blogging partner Rique. Particularly indie funk bands,who often need the sort of word of mouth campaign to bring awareness of their music to the people. Last month a lady named Sheli Casana contacted me about a new song that she (under the professional name Baby Funk) had put together called the Original Stone city Band. Featuring members of George Clinton’s P-Funk and the late Rick James’ Stone City Band? They dropped a song called “Turn It Up”. And after repeated listening on my part? Just had to tell you all about this groove.

Starting with a voluminous synthesizer wash from Eddie Fluellen,Nate and Lenise Hughes chime in with a meaty conga based percussive groove after which a big drum kick launches into the main body of the jam. This body consists of a thick and phat interaction between Fluellen’s bass synthesizer  and the high up on the neck rhythm guitar/slap bass of Jerome Ali and Tom McDermott. The interaction of the jazz oriented Baby Funk herself and the bluesy funk  growl  of Mark Love coalesce on a lightly percussive rap where Baby Funk evokes her admiration of the late Teena Marie before going back to the main instrumental themes-now punctuated rhythmically and melodically with ascending/descending horn charts and a rocking lead guitar solo to close out this groove.

It feels important to note that as this blog is being written? Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” is still the #1 pop record in America. As I just told Rique in a comment on his blog on this topic yesterday? What matters most to me is not chart statistics but how records like that,as well as Pharrell Williams associated productions like “Happy”,”Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky”,manage to connect with the people. This song is not only a wonderful example of the massive public appreciation of indie funk in the past half decade or so. But also how it brings together two key players in funk’s transition from the 70’s to the 80’s into it’s actual instrumental orbit-drawing in the influence of George Clinton and Rick James with the channeling of Sly Stone and the Ohio Players horns and vocals into their own distinct flavor of the groove.

Personally? I am extremely proud that a song like this represents the full realization of the original dreams and goals of this blog. Especially the single song oriented weekly feature Anatomy of THE Groove! As Michael Jackson once sang in 1977? Music is a doctor that can cure a troubled mind. Like to hope these grooves not only move,but remove as wel. I would like to give my greatest thanks to my talented and knowledgeable blogging partner Rique for the efforts and inspiration he manages to put into this blog with an extremely busy schedule of his own to upkeep. Would also like give a very special thanks to Sheli Casana for providing me with detailed information on the personnel of her band and all available musical information on them. Stay tuned for Baby Funk/Original Stone City Band’s upcoming website and full album release-available at some pout this spring or summer on CD and MP3.  And don’t forget to check out their live show when and if they travel through your home town. Thank you!

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Filed under Baby Funk, bass synthesizer, Funk, Funk Bass, Jerome Ali, Nu Funk, Original Stone City Band, P-Funk, percussion, Pharrell Williams, Rick James, Teena Marie

“The One” on the One, with a Bullet : The Triumph of “Uptown Funk”

images-1 Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars song “Uptown Funk” has been #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 9 weeks and counting. When I first heard the song and saw the video I knew it would be a triumph for funky music in the mainstream unlike any we’ve seen in quite some time. The past few years we’ve had funky songs such as “Blurred Lines”, “Get Lucky”, and “Happy” all enjoy long reigns at the top of the Billboard single charts. The history of funk at fifty years and counting has had periodic momments of great success on the pop charts. Funky songs like “Superstition”, “Thank You Fa Lettin Me Be Mice Elf”, “Got to Give it Up”, “Kiss”, “Theme from Shaft”, “Tighten Up”, “Keep on Truckin”, “Love Hangover”, “Family Affair”, and several others have thumped their way all the way to the top of the charts. But when we think of the funk, its never judged by sales and chart positions, what’s truly funky is determined by the way it makes us groove.

For that reason “Atomic Dog”, while being one of the most anthemic songs in the funk music canon, topped out just outside of the Hot 100 at 101. Graham Central Station’s classic funk workout “The Jam” topped out at #63 on the pop charts in 1976. One could go on and on but any funk fan would agree that Funk is not judged by what hit’s the top of the billboard charts. Funk sightings at the top of the pop 100 have been so unique however, that when a song does climb that summit, it calls for serious appreciation and assesment of how the artist managed to put together a package of funk that breaks out with such mass appeal.

The story behind “Uptown Funk” is that D.J, Producer and Artist Mark Ronson took a riff that Bruno Mars and his band had been performing in concert and expanded on it until they came up with “Uptown Funk.” This origin story mirrors that of many great songs in funk music, with bands taking snippets of music and expanding them into larger song forms. James Brown, the cornerstone in the House of Funk himself, was known for doing the same thing with his seminal “Cold Sweat”, developing from live vamps. The Genius Ray Charles was also known for the same, developing his classic funky soul groover “What’d I Say” from a routine at the end of a live song. So “Uptown Funk’s” in a live gem Bruno and his crew had laying around that Ronson heard potential in is firmly in the funk tradition and it may be part of the reason the groove is so lively. Ronson’s triumph with “Uptown Funk”, much like the success of “Blurred Lines”, and Daft Punk on “Get Lucky”, also represents a coming of age of Gen X music makers and their ability to create music in the mold of their influences as opposed to just using their music. Ronson began his career in music as a DJ, and his albums have always reflected his musicology, somewhat comparable to a figure like Questlove of The Roots. I’d been a fan of these music makers for their earnest devotion to archiving and reviving classic sounds for years but the one thing most of them lacked was signature, great, songs. Ronson had them through his productions for Amy Winehouse but this is a whole other level. “Uptown Funk” is a song that belongs in the canon of funk in its own right.

James Brown once said that the primary value of his musical emphasis, “The One”, was it’s ability to get people’s attention. He said the “Two and Four” beats had been played so long they couldn’t hold people’s attention anymore. In a similar vein, Hip Hop generation musicians and producers such as Mark Ronson can no longer sample “Funky Drummer” and “More Bounce to the Ounce” and catch people’s attention. Kanye West in his early oughts prominence as a hip hop producer, mostly stayed away from funk samples, preferring to take from soul ballads. The only way to bring the funk back then, is in it’s own right, with actual new funk grooves. This approach has been championed by many bands from the ’90s to now, but has especially heated up in the past ten years or so. In fact, I read a brief interview with Ronson himself over five years ago where he said “Funk” was the next direction for music or the next direction music needed.

“Uptown Funk” in particular builds from the work of artists such as Dam-Funk in highlighting the underappreciated Funk of the early ’80s. Early ’80s funk suffered from a particular embargo on black dance music in the wake of the rejection of disco that many writers term “The post disco freeze out.” So while a group like The Ohio Players was able to enjoy two Number One Pop Hits that indelibly burn them into the memory of the 1970s, their Ohio successor Roger Troutman and his group Zapp, had a successful career more limited to the R&B charts in the ’80s. In fact, Roger didn’t enjoy his first #1 pop hit until 2Pac and Dr. Dre used him to sing on a sample of an imitation of him, “California Love” in 1996.

Thus it’s fitting that Roger’s sound is one of the sounds most heavily invoked on “Uptown Funk.” The song has a high on the neck guitar part quite similar to his guitar playing on a tune like “So Ruff, So Tuff” and a vocal bassline like his work on “Doo Waa Ditty.” There are echoes of many kinds of funk on the song, from the works of Prince and his band The Time, to bright brassy funk band horns, from Bruno’s end chant “Uptown Funk you up” which is reminiscent of early hip hop group The Sequence’s “We’re gonna funk you right on up”, to the early ’80s new wavey funk synths. Bruno’s vocals remind you very much of the sung/spoken/rapped stylings of St. Louis rapper Nelly, who himself voiced one of the funkiest hits of the ’00s, the “Bustin Loose” inspired, “Hot in Herrre.”

All of this adds up to a somewhat new sound for the top of the pop charts. The sounds that “Uptown Funk” is reviving never made it to the top of the pop charts in their own forms, but their musical innovations remain a part of the DNA of the past 35 years. Many times people would ask me what kind of music I liked. Of course I’m a fan of hip hop, rock, soul, R&B and jazz, but Funk has got to e my favorite. When I’d tell people this, they’d look at me strangely, with no recognition of what I was talking about. Of course, folks older than me understood, but people my own age didn’t. They vaguely understood what it meant for a song to be “Funky”, and they knew many funky songs, but somehow they didn’t understand what a funk band was or that Funk could be it’s own category.

Hopefully “Uptown Funk” lays that attitude to rest for good. It’s long reign at the top of the pop charts reminds me of Funkadelics proclaimation “Us is what time it is!” The great Funk Master George Clinton, in his raps spoke of “Returning to reclaim the pyramids.” He also spoke of this as being carried out by “Clones of Dr. Funkenstein.” Well, Ronson, Bruno and everybody involved in playing on, producing and recording this record have proven to be very good clones. And I hope we all succeed in the quest to make this world a whole lot funkier.

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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

Anatomy of THE Groove 11/21/14 Rique’s Pick : “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars

I have a confession: when I came to Andre with this blog idea, I was not sure there would be enough songs released this year to fill it out. Oh, there has been plenty of funky songs released from the turn of the millenium on, as well as from the ’80s and ’90s to cover. But the past four years or so had been so fruitful in terms of new funk recordings, I just couldn’t be sure we’d have the funk bomb in 2014 as well. Unfortunately, a funkateer can no longer take new funk for granted. But if Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars combustible new single “Uptown Funk” continues to get the reception it so richly deserves, we should have plenty of funk in the near future. Mark Ronson, the celebrity D.J slash musician-producer, has done plenty of funky songs over the years, like his “Pretty Green” featuring Santigold, or “Glass Mountian Trust” featuring D’Angelo. Not to mention his soulful Afrobeat inflected remix of Robin Thicke’s “Magic.” Add to that Bruno Mars and his performing and musical acumen, including a full band that is a dedicated part of his package, and you have the makings of something very stank indeed. But did I expect them to drop this Morris Day and the Time cum Roger and Zapp sprinkled with Earth, Wind & Fire (its in the horns man, the horns!) funk in the twilight of 2014? NO! Just like that, Ronson reserved a top spot for the “Blurred Lines” award, which I’m gonna start giving to the over 30 dance record of the year, every year. This thang is that potent.

The jam kicks in from the very beginning, with a bass clef voice singing a bass line on the one. The bassline being sung is a very funky one, hitting hard on the one and leaving plenty of space. The technique itself harkens back to funky songs like Jimmy Castor’s “Bertha Butt” and Roger and Zapp’s “Doo Waa Ditty”, on before that to the bass voices in doo wop, back before that to choral musics in Europe and vocalizing in Africa. Yeah, that far back. When u establish some funk that boldly, you have to have something backing it, and Ronson chooses some loud, brash handclaps hitting on the two and four beats, with some shifting effects coming in and out. After that funky four bar intro, the rhythm guitar comes in. The guitar is playing small chord voicings, high up the neck, in the ’80s funk style of players like Prince and Roger Troutman. A voice comes in bellowing “ow”backed by the horn section, which introduces Bruno Mars vocals. Bruno comes in, bragging in the self referential funk style, “This is that ice cold/Michelle Pfifer/That white gold.” Those vocals are backed by a solid funk beat. Bruno goes on to brag “I’m too Hot!/Call the Police/and the Fireman!” A single note, low register, insistent funky guitar line is introduced, with funky guitar chords backing it up. This all builds up to a pre chorus that says “Uptown Funk gonna give it to ya!” The pre chorus is backed by double time hand claps and a sound effect that sounds like a jet taking off and Bruno borrows the hook line from Trinidad James 2012 hit “All Gold Everything”, “Don’t believe me just watch!”

From there the song goes into a high powered Earth, Wind & Fire style horn led chorus, with a line that also is reminiscent of the horns on Michael Jackson’s classic, “Jam.” This is also backed by a funky early ’80s funk cum new wave synth pad.

The video is also very funky, with Bruno, Mark Ronson and the band strutting through an old school street scene, hitting funky poses and drinking ‘yac. The fellas take up the old school image of super sharp, super hip players, getting their hair done under the blow dryer, and getting their patent leather shoes shined. They also dance down the street in front of a stretch Lincoln.  Bruno himself is hilarious in the video, hitting all of the prissy, narcissistic, affected motions of the type of player he’s potraying in the song, reminding one instantly of such funky egomaniacs as Morris Day.

This is a record that speaks for itself. One of George Clinton’s central contributions to funk as a music was his branding of it. James Brown was a pioneer in that regard, naming tunes “Aint it Funky Now”, and “Funky Drummer” and “It’s Too Funky in Here.” But it was George Clinton who used the word and term “Funk” for all aspects of his music as well as worldview. One of the frustrating things about Funk is its seeming low name recognition. Many times that is as it should be because even when the head does not know the funk, the hips and ass generally do. But until hips and asses speak the Queens English, it’s the mouth that must testify to the musics greatness. So Mark Ronson and Bruno are doing a big thing here by naming this cut “Uptown Funk”, they’re not hiding it, nor being coy, nor trying to be new. If you’re ashamed of the funk the funk will be ashamed of you, right? Of course, the word “Uptown” brings various things to mind, from Prince’s utopian “Uptown”, to Harlem, New York which is “Uptown”, which extends to the general characterization of the black part of any city as “Uptown.” That word also conjures up a certain slick, strutting sophistication that is the finest mixture of city and country, modern and ancient. Kind of like the Funk itself. By digging up these energies with some funk for right now, Ronson and Bruno will most definitely increase their own success, as “funk is it’s own reward.” But it’s the music lovers of the world who will reap the greatest benefits!

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Filed under 1980's, 2014, 2015