Tag Archives: Michael Sembello

Funk & Disco Pops Of 1977: ‘Reach For It’ by George Duke

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Somehow it hit me listening to this…just how much of my adult musical understanding comes out of the artistry of the late George Duke. Painted his portrait several times. Made a friend because of him,who had me speak to Duke himself on a radio show and later taught me how to play chords on the keyboard to the man’s song “Capricorn”. Obviously this is not the first time I’ve heard this particular album.

It was the first record by him I ever heard of. And the first of his I ever saw sitting in the record store CD racks. It was a major album for the man career wise. So many jazz/funk lovers and fellow musicians have aurally eaten this album whole over the decades. So hear is what I hear when listening to it.

Opening up with the cinematic bass synthesizer of “The Beginning”,the album goes right into the powerful guitar/bass interaction based jazz/rock fusion of “Lemme At It”. Opening with a fanfare on the electric piano,”Hot Fire” deals with some heavy duty Afro Cuban rhythms and melodies. The title track of course finds the classic half rapped/half sung slow bass synth funk stomp holding down what amounts to a “P-Jazzfunk” masterpiece.

“Just For You” is a melodically complex pop/soul ballad with an electronically symphonic instrumental chorus. “Omi (Fresh Water)” and “Diamonds” are both kinetic,uptempo Brazilian fusion jams while “Searchin’ My Mind” is an EWF like uptempo pop/funk number sung by singers Dee Henrichs,Deborah and Sybil Thomas.

“Watch Out Baby!” is a grinding hard funk stomp with the bass/guitar rhythmic chunkiness of Stanley Clarke and Michael Sembello leading the way. “The End” concludes the album similarly to how it began,while the additional unreleased bonus selection “Bring It On Home” deals with a down home bluesy soul instrumental. What George Duke and his extremely talented band of players does here is really quite amazing. For the last several years before this?

He’d musically sought to locate and lock down the unifying rhythmic/melodic threads between jazz, soul, rock, blues and the music of Brazil. The unifying factor he discovered was a strong sense of musical Afrocentrism. And that’s the quality that this album,across it’s oozing mix of musical genres,possesses in abundance. Exciting, joyous and adventurous jazz/funk that I feel is among the most essential of it’s particular spectrum

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)” by Donna Summer

Donna Summer was an artist who could’ve suffered the worst face of the post disco demolition radio freeze out. Under the guidance of Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, Summer was responsible for developing different sub genres of disco. She also helped to conceptualize disco culture with a series of themed albums that established disco as an album based medium. At the end of the 70’s,she began to slowly change her style by singing in her amazing gospel belt of a lower voice. And releasing music with a more rock oriented flavor on 1979’s Bad Girls and even more so on the following years The Wanderer.

After one final (and sadly then unreleased album) in 1981 with Moroder and Bellotte called I Am A Rainbow,the owner of her new label David Geffen hooked her up with Quincy Jones for what turned out to be her self titled 1982 album. Her working relationship with Quincy was apparently difficult,as she didn’t feel she had as much creative input with him. At the same time,it produced some of her strongest music-accompanied by Quincy’s iconic early 80’s musicians. Among them was the hit single that opened up the album that was entitled “Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)”.

Paulinho Da Costa’s fast past percussion and Michael Sembello’s rhythm guitar open the song on the intro,just before Summer’s voice chimes in. Greg Phillinganes’  bass synth and Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements open into the main chorus of the song-playing call and response with Summer’s falsetto. On the refrains,Summer’s lower voice takes hold with the music emphasizing Phillinganes Clavinet like synth. After a couple more chorus and refrain exchanges,the bridge revisits the intro-adding in a disco whistle to accent the rhythm. After this the chorus repeats to the fade of the song.

Some may not necessarily agree but for me personally,”Love Is In Control” is one of the finest examples of the Quincy Jones/Westlake studio crew collaboration this side of  Thriller. Being its another song penned by the late and great Rod Temperton,the song just kicks with energy and funk with its excited horns,percussion and synth bass lines. It has a pronounced Brazilian pop/funk flavor overall. And Summer absolutely aces it vocally with vocal backup of Howard Hewett along with James and Philip Ingram. And it rightfully got her the Top 10 chart hit the strong post disco funk groove deserved.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mozambique” by Sergio Mendes & The New Brazil 77

Sergio Mendes has in some form or other been a huge part of my core appreciation for music. And the knowledge of his continuing musical journey only continues to grow with the me over the passage of time. Equally adept at coming out with some of the greatest Brazilian jazz instrumentals around to interpretations of American pop hits, Sergio’s Brazil 66 and Brazil 77 carried his music from the swinging 60’s on into the funky 70’s. The songs of Burt Bacharach gave way to the songs of Stevie Wonder in terms of their interpretations. And with a whole new generation of new,musically inventive songwriters coming out in the mid/late 70’s,the landscape only grew more fertile for Sergio.

It was musician/DJ Nigel Hall who turned me onto the music of Sergio Mendes & The New Brazil 77. This lineup included jazz/funk greats such as Nathan East,former Mothers Of Invention keyboardist Ian Understood and guitarist Michael Sembello-at the time fresh from working on Stevie Wonder’s iconic Songs In The Key Of Life. The 1977 self titled debut for the New Brazil 77 turned out to be the first and final release from this particular lineup of Sergio’s band. It included the participation of Wonder himself and a couple of tracks he wrote specifically for this album. One song that stands out strongly for me is an instrumental entitled “Mozambique”.

A skipping,throbbing 4/4 rhythm accented by a descending Brazilian funk whistle gets the groove started. The one stays together very strong on this groove-holding down Watt’s phat slap bass bottom and the thick guitar and synthesizer harmony that defines the melodic core of the affair.  Co-composer Sebastian Neto’s percussion keeps keeps the beat progressive and strong the whole way. On the songs refrains,the slap bass is singled out a lot more while Sembello’s guitar and the synthesizer engage in some subtle call and response interaction. On the last of these refrains,the slap bass descends upward continually while reaching back to the main groove that plays until the song fades away.

One thing I’ve noticed in hearing music by people such as Flora Purim and Sergio Mendes here that was made in Brazil at the height of the disco era is how thoroughly funkified it is. This entire song is based completely on rhythm-emphasizing Brazilian music’s total Afrocentricity. The percussion and drum line behave every bit as one polyrhythmic pulse. The Afro-Brazilian vocal chant provided by the musicians also keeps the song in tune with full on rhythm. Every time I think about Sergio Mendes and his music, it’s this song that comes to mind as some of the most powerfully funky he made during his late 70’s period. And catches onto the Stevie Wonder vibe by virtue of spirit and participation.

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Filed under 1970's, Afro Funk, Brazilian Jazz, disco funk, funk guitar, Michael Sembello, Nathan East, percussion, Sebastian Neto, Sergio Mendes, Sergio Mendes New Brazil 77, slap bass, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of The Groove For 2/6/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Big Man” by Greg Phillinganes

Sometimes the synergy of two instrumentalists/composers can create exceptionally powerful music in much the same way as a big band. Having both played with Stevie Wonder together as part of Wonderlove during the artists salad days? Keyboardist Greg Phillinganes and guitarist Michael Sembello both took a similar directions as session people by both playing for The Jacksons/Michael Jackson one after the other. And both making solo debuts in the early 1980’s.

Greg Phillinganes was the first to make his solo debut with the Significant Gains album for Richard Perry’s Planet label in 1981. The album featured Greg working with a number of crackerjack musicians such as Paulinho Da Costa,Paul Jackson,fellow Stevie Wonder alum Ronnie Foster,Herbie Hancock and indeed Michael Sembello as well. His main collaboration with Sembello from this debut was a song called “Big Man”,which makes it’s own sort of musical statement altogether.

Opening with a bluesy scaling clavinet,Greg’s keyboard is soon joined by a closely unison guitar solo from Sembello before the songs main chorus comes in. This chorus is instrumentally built around layers of bass clavinet and electric guitar soloing accented by higher pitched melodic synth bass. On the vocal bridge,the very processed vocal of Phillinganes is accented by his own higher pitched harmonies before he vocally growls his way into a flamboyant guitar like synthesizer solo before returning to three repeated choruses of the refrain before Phillinganes declares “I won’t go back on my word at all!”

Musically and lyrically? This song bridges the time gap between Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”-both a decade apart and both by artists with whom Phillinganes had worked with. The combination of Phillinganes clavinets and Sembello’s guitars and strong bluesy composition makes this a wonderful black American take on the mechanized new wave dance/rock style of the early 1980’s. Lyrically obscure as it seems to be? The song seems to be warning the black community about despotic hucksters seeking to violently take advantaged of oppressed and misrepresented people. It’s probably the best (and likely most hidden) politically charged funk/rock fusion of the early 80’s and brings the powerful 60’s activist spirit into the new decade

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Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, clavinet, Funk, Funk Bass, Greg Phillinganes, Michael Jackson, Michael Sembello, New Wave, rock guitar, Stevie Wonder