Tag Archives: musical innovators

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Dara Factor One” by Weather Report

Weather Report are probably the first jazz fusion band I ever knew. Each lineup of the band, of course the first official spin off from Miles Davis’s electric period, became musical superstars in their own right. Of course the most famous was the 1978 through 1982 lineup featuring,along with its founding members,drummer Peter Erksine and the incomparable kind of fretless fusion bass Jaco Pastorius. Erksine,a New Jersey born drummer,played with a diverse array of artists. Ranging from his beginnings with Stan Kenton all the way to later collaborations with Kate Bush and even Queen Latifah.

Erkine’s final album with Weather Report was actually a second self titled album, released in 1982. It was the final album for Jaco Pastorius as well. This is one of the Weather Report albums I admit to not continuously exploring as much as it deserves to be explored. But in looking for a song where the traditionally collaborative composing process of Weather Report included Erksine in a greater capacity,this album seems to have closed with such a song. One that just revealed its strength to my ears upon reviewing it for this overview. Its entitled “Dara Factor One”.

Robert Thomas Jr’s percussion and Erksine’s drums start off the song with a deeply funky Afro-Brazilian groove. Joe Zawinul then comes in playing his many layers of synthesizer voices. The first are on the low end of sound, and gradually higher pitched tones come into the mix playing synth horn and string/orchestral charts. Thomas’s percussion rings right along. Jaco’s bass starts out basically hugging tight to Erksine’s drums and Shorter’s sax. By the final parts of the song, he’s at his flamboyant and technically brilliant best circling all around Zawinul’s synthesizers until the song fades itself out.

“Dara Factor One” is one of Weather Reports “moments” of the early 80’s. Each period of their creativity had its own contained brilliance. They also had individual moments that stood out as flat out defining-either for a given musician or the genre itself. This is one of those musician defining songs. Its Brazilian funk/world fusion approach is a truly democratic musical collaboration. Everyone is playing together without grabbing at time to shine as soloists. And all the melodies from Zawinul and Shorter are very vocal-singing away to the dancing rhythm of a very human type of funky Afro-fusion jam!

 

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Larry Coryell: Fuzzy Memories Of The Godfather Of Fusion

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Larry Coryell is a somewhat unique musician for me to discuss. My friend Henrique informed me of the guitarists passing this past Sunday-at the age of 73. Generally speaking when doing a tribute to a fallen musician,I come at it from the point of view of strong knowledge about their music and often their back round. In the case of Mister Coryell,the exact opposite is true. Haven’t actually had much experience (if any) with his music at all. Still,an outsiders perspective might be an interesting place to come at him from. So I’ll start out discussing my only experience with him.

Again,this is a family musical story about me and my father. He was my first inspiration in terms of music and knowledge of it. This story started out with one of our many musical discussions when I was in my late teens. The subject was Miles Davis and his innovation of jazz fusion. And my father mentioned Larry Coryell as an artist who also innovated fusion. The only album he had by Coryell at that time was a cassette of a 1970 album called Spaces. With John McLaughlin,Miroslav Vitous,Chick Corea and Billy Cobham aboard, the album is apparently considered a ground zero for fusion along with Miles’s  Bitches Brew.

Perhaps from listening to so much music,particularly electric jazz in all its forms,the memories I have of the Spaces album have also faded somewhat with time. Do remember that it was the first jazz records I heard that was heavily based in acoustic guitar. In the ensuing years,I began to listen to other acoustic jazz guitar maestros such as Earl Klugh. The only other time within the next two decades that I heard Coryell’s playing again was when I reviewed the Larry Young song “Moonwalker” on this blog,which featured Coryell’s playing on it.

In a case similar to the also recently departed David Axelrod, my musical case with Larry Coryell represents something that I’ve often disliked being done by other people. And that is embracing an artists music only after they pass away-the cult of the dead being a motivating factor in appreciating a musician. All that being said,if any of you out there haven’t checked out musical innovators who are still living,it would be a great idea to do so. There’s something so creatively rewarding about embracing art while the artist themselves are still with us. Even if their music will never simply die with them.

 

 

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Clyde Stubblefield,Thank You For Laying The Foundation

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Clyde Stubblefield,born in Chattanooga Tennessee in  1943,became interested in music based on his interest in the rhythms of the factories and trains around him. This is a fitting legacy for a man who,in 1967,would be asked along with fellow JB drummer John “Jabo” Starks to “make the entire band sound like a drum”. Everything from the shuffling rhythms of hip-hop and new jack swing,along with the stripped down rhythms of modern electronica,come directly from Mister Stubblefield.  Sadly,one of the most sampled drummers in music history passed of kidney failure on February 18th,2017.

I first learned the name of Stubblefield from a wonderful documentary on sampling entitled Copyright Criminals. Stubblefield was a participant-playing and discussing his famous drum break from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”. The man said he wasn’t particularly concerned with money in regard to sampling his drum break. But just credit for it. Even Rolling Stone magazine,who often snub the influence of funk/soul musicians,named Stubblefield their drummer of the year in 1990. This began a series of accolades to a musician who I’m about to discuss the reason why he’s so revered.

Stubblefield’s approach to drumming,from “Cold Sweat” through “Funky Drummer” is based on playing a series of unusual syncopation’s with a light touch on his drums. This technique has been referred to as playing “ghost notes”. Its something a lot easier to hear and dance to than it is to explain with the written word. Speaking personally,it was a sound that myself (and I’m sure many others) knew extremely well before we even heard of Clyde Stubblefield. Even though he and James Brown are not with us anymore,their approach to music can never be extinguished from existence.

The saddest thing about Stubblefield is that his latter day health problems had him falling victim to the syndrome of a lot of elder musicians. Without record company residuals or health insurance for support,his medical bills ended up coming from other musical benefactors. Prince (who passed away last year) was a major one. Considering Stubblefield his idol as a drummer,he donated $80,000 to help pay his medical bills. So in terms of both his music and healthcare,Clyde Stubblefield’s legacy seemed to bring out the best in other musicians in terms of preserving his creative legacy.

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Walter “Junie” Morrison 1954-2017: We May Just Have You Covered More Then Bread Alone

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Walter “Junie” Morrison,who passed away yesterday at the age of 62,is a reminder to me of something me and friend Henrique Hopkins often discuss. With American pop’s music nonstop focus on vocalists,the musicians who helped create sounds we love to dance, listen and sing to often get neglected. Sometimes forgotten. I personally feel Junie is one of those people. One of the great Dayton Ohio funk innovators,Junie twice made his mark on the funk genre. First as a member of the Westbound era Ohio Players,with his Funky Worm” being their major breakthrough. And of course as a member of P-Funk.

Junie’s work with P-Funk on their late 70’s albums and jams,especially Funkadelic’s 1979 magnum opuses “One Nation Under A Groove” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep”,showcased him as an instrumental innovator yet to be. Whenever one of us here’s a flamboyant, melodic synthesizer riff from 80’s electro new wave to present day dubstep,they are in fact hearing a sound that Junie Morrison helped to created. Junie also maintained a successful solo career from the early 70’s to mid 80’s. My review of the Funkytowngroove’s reissue of a two CD set of a couple of a those solo records say a lot about what the man did for music.


Walter Junie Morrison is one of those three career punches in the R&B world. He started out in the Ohio Players during their Westbound years,started a solo career mid decade and of course became a starring member/contributer to P-Funk before relaunching his solo career in the early 1980’s. As one of the prime innovators of the “video game” style of melodic,high pitched funk synthesizer,a sound that’s come to transcend decades and fashion Junie already had something good to go with anyway.

Of course he’s also a very unique artist anyway. He really loves to be eclectic musically. And he also enjoys blending genres in ways that are very different and sometimes may even sound incompatible. That probably has a lot to do with why George Clinton bought him into his fold to begin with. Sometimes though artists such as this seem to say more as part of a whole than as their own people. Lucky for us that was definitely not the case for Junie here.

This set presents Junie’s 1980 recording ‘Bread Alone’ and 1981 realese ‘5’. Both of them showcase his interest in heavy songcraft,closer to the Ohio Players or Slave in that regard as opposed to P-Funk’s more abstract sound. Still that influence cannot help but show up. “Love Has Taken Me Over (Be My Baby)” for sure has a Parliament aspect to production. But songs such as “Why” and especially “Seaman’s First Class (Jock Rock)” have a much sleeker jazz-funk take with very strong sophistifunk overtones.

As a mutli instrumentalist “everything man” his bass,keyboard and drum lines all pop and thunder right with the demands of the melody and arrangement. “Funk Parts” is a very straight synth funk groove,heavy on the video game synthesizer. The title track,on the other hand is a very sentimental,romantic number mixing,interestingly enough country western and reggae. “Apple Song” showcases his unique take on arena rock with a very humanitarian/spiritual message over the seemingly simple melody.

‘5’ is another matter. Now this is pretty much stomping boogie funk all the way,starting with the mildly jazzy/pop styled “Rappin About Rappin” that has a very P-Funk inspired hook with the piano chords and female choruses-talking about “rapping about the games people play”. “I Love You Madly” and the hyper melodic “Last One To Know”, “Jarr To The Ground” and “Taste Of Love” follow in the same league-heavily crafted sophistifunk. On “Victim Of Love” Junie is rocking out on heavy cars belting out vocally JB style about a frustrating,forbidden love afair.

The ballad “Cry Me A River” again brings in that country pop flavor while the title track (there is one) sounds like it might be one of those implicit sexual messages that have gotten somewhat lost from music with time. Overall on both these albums Junie offers up a wide yet connected range of musical stylings into a music that is definitely eccentric and definitely his own. Actually on a similar path to Prince in a way,only with a much more obvious sense of wit and humor. Junie Morrison is probably one of the more unheralded all around talents in funk,soul and R&B. And for those in doubt these albums,especially taken together will go far in even changing the minds of any doubters.


Because Junie Morrison was a musical figure who deserves major celebration for his contributions to music (both sung and unsung),wanted to personally thank my Facebook friend Anthony Michael Calvert for being largely responsible for reissuing some of Junie’s solo albums on CD. He is the founder/joint owner of Funkytowngrooves,who issued this set as part of their Hidden Treasures series. So whether your a fan of P-Funk,the Ohio Players or just love that particular synthesizer approach Junie brought to the table,Mister Morrison’s musical life is one that deserves a strong degree of celebration.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Devil In Mrs. Jones” by Jerry Butler

Jerry Butler,known as the “Iceman” from Philadelphia DJ George Woods,is someone I consider to be one of the prime architects of the soul ballad. He co wrote the song “For Your Precious Love” with the Impressions. And as Rolling Stone magazine once put it,it embodied that marriage of gospel and doo-wop pop music that became the essence of soul music. Shortly after this 1958 crossover hit,Butler went solo. Many of his early hits such as the calypso flavored”He Will Break Your Heart ” were written by the late,great Curtis Mayfield. He currently serves as County Commissioner for Cooks County,Illinois.

The first time I heard Jerry Butler was from a very unusual source. It was via one of many free vinyl albums from a 1994 WMEB radio giveaway at the University of Maine in Orono that I often reference. The album was a 1976 Motown release entitled Love’s On The Menu. Didn’t yet know anything about Butler’s importance to the history of soul. The song that first stuck out to me was the “Motownphilly” style opener “I Don’t Want Nobody To Know”. Looking into the album today,another stand out song was its only R&B hit in the song “The Devil In Mrs. Jones”.

A cymbal heavy drum swing opens the album,with a thick Moog bass rising into a clucking wah wah guitar. That gives way to the slow crawl of a drum shuffle that’s the rhythm foundation of the song. The thick,ultra funky bass line is uppermost in the song-filling in the empty spaces between the Moog and drums. Female backup vocals and horns color the bluesy melody that leads directly into the chorus of the song.  All the instrumental elements of the song come most prominently into play during the choruses. And its on that chorus that the song repeats on as it fades out.

Somehow when I first heard this album,this song got ignored. Today,it emerges as the heaviest funk I’ve yet heard Jerry Butler record. And of course,the vast majority of Butler’s recorded catalog isn’t something I’m particularly familiar. Known for his deep,smokey baritone on melodic pop soul numbers,”The Devil In Mrs. Jones” not only gives up the funk,but does so with the heaviest possible stomp. Its got the walking wah wah guitar,snaky bass,ticklish Moog synthesizer and slow shuffle that really defined mid 70’s “united funk”. Right along with Butler’s growling vocal turns as well.

 

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Filed under 1976, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Jerry Butler, Moog bass, Motown, musical innovators, wah wah guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Victory” by Larry Graham

Larry Graham was described by Bootsy Collins one time on a PBS Rock N Roll documentary I saw as being “definitely” the innovator of funk bass. A lot of times,new instrumental ideas in music are an organic,collaborative process. In this case,Graham brought out a new approach for,what was in the late 1960’s the relatively new bass guitar. A lot of people who help write the musical vocabulary for a key part of a whole musical genre (as Graham did for funk) simply rest on their creative laurels .Graham didn’t. Upon leaving Sly & The Family Stone,he continued to innovate as the bandleader of Graham Central Station.

When I first began seeing Larry Graham solo albums while crate digging in the late 90’s and early aughts during summertime visits to the coast of Maine, the thoughts of both myself and my dad was “these albums must’ve really funked up the early 80’s”. It wasn’t until hearing “One In A Million You” did I realize that Graham’s initial solo focus was as a bass voiced soul balladeer. Then I  discovered  a vinyl copy of Graham’s 1983 album Victory,which I later got on CD. Its rich with rhythmically fat,often horn heavy post disco and boogie funk. What really hooked me in was the closing instrumental title song.

A high pitched synth brass plays a 12 bar blues type horn chart as the intro to this jam. After that,shuffling drums kick in. The main bass line of the song is a synth bass line playing its own 12 bar blues accompaniment to the higher lead line. On the refrains of the song,the melody becomes a bit more complicated and jazzy. The synth bass introduces a rocking electric guitar solo playing a driving,bluesy solo yet again. After another refrain,the song reduces down to bass and percussion-with Graham’s slap bass sololing being assisted by the high pitched synth brass as the song fades out.

This instrumental was written,produced and performed entirely by Larry Graham. Its a powerful song for me because it’s essentially a classic 50’s style rhythm & blues shuffle totally updated for the early/mid 80’s electro/boogie funk era. It uses modern synthesizers and drum machines. But the general feeling of the melody and rhythm is very much of the juke joint and the 60’s proto funk shuffle. Instrumentally,its all very powerful. The synths are played very intensely. And the slap bass is some of Graham’s finest thumping on the outro. Its a wonderful and unsung example of Larry Graham’s early 80’s solo funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, Boogie Funk, drum machines, electro funk, Larry Graham, musical innovators, rhythm & blues, rock guitar, slap bass, synth bass, synth brass