Tag Archives: Narada Michael Walden

Funky Revelations Of 1987: ‘Whitney’ by Whitney Houston

Interestingly enough, I didn’t hear this particular album until well over a decade after it came out. Some of it might’ve been a degree of overexposure,even within the family to her self titled debut album. Even after this had been out for some time. Produced as before with the Narada Michael Walden/Clive Davis team who were also churning out mid 80’s hits for Whitney’s godmother Aretha Franklin,boogie funk maestro Kashif is also on board for this session. Over the years, I’ve read in many publications that all these “cooks in the kitchen” (when it came to producers) diminished Whitney’s vocal presence.

Considering  how much I’d felt Whitney had been bound by her producers when she first came out, this album gave me the impression of being nothing but surface glitter for a wonderful vocal talent. Whitney is also someone who at the time everyone was really rooting for positively. And perhaps we all still do musically anyway. But once I took the negativity of some writers and that of musical pop culture in general,the whole “antieightiesitis” deal,out of the context of this album and really listened to it there’s a possibility this may be Whitney’s most varied and accomplished work of the decade.

For sure the production is big, bright,full of life and major chords but so is Whitney. Her utter joy and rapture in succeeding so much musical blood already in her family is more than apparent. First off this album is home to two of her brightest dance numbers. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” is a complete late 80’s dance/pop tune but with enough of that gospel/soul style joy from Whitney to make it work. “So Emotional” is meaner and funkier,with something of a Minneapolis/Janet Jackson synth influence.

In a lot of ways Whitney is a far more uptempo based album than her debut,with far more danceable songs. My two personal favorite in that regard are the sleekly jazzy/funk style of “Love Will Save The Day”,featuring a vibraphone solo from Roy Ayers himself and a cleverly chorded hook. “Love Is A Contact Sport” showcases this shuffling retro Motown/Holland-Dozier-Holland type rhythm and a sassy pop/soul atmosphere. Of the ballads my favorite here, probably one of my favorite slower tunes of all of Whitney’s is “Just The Lonley Talking Again”,a reflective,jazzy heartbreak type slow groove.

Ideally, Miles Davis would’ve been perfect playing on “Just The Lonely Talking Again”. And while the name of Kenny G being on it might induce some to cringe…his sax solos do actually gather some some quiet fire here. Of the slower material I honestly prefer Kashif’s “Where Are You” and the gospel powered “I Know Him So Well”,a mother/ daughter duet between Whitney and the husky voiced Cissy. “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”,”You’re Still My Man” and “Where Do Broken Hears Go”? Well two of them were huge radio smashes but were somewhat predictable with what her debut had to offer.

If your a fan of that “big ballad” thing of Whitney’s, the songs just discussed  are great examples of that. And taken as they are they really do complete this in terms of being a pop package. Aside from these matters, the album is actually full of some exciting and energetic vocal and compositional surprises. And in the end,the mix of four producers including Jellybean and Michael Masser (along with Narada and Kashif) actually don’t end up being very intrusive at all. Everyone involved realized how to accommodate the “star” vocalist here.

I imagine her abilities and enthusiasm more than carried the sessions too. Not to mention Whitney also doing her own vocal arrangements here. As with the female soul vocalist greats Whitney admired and came from,she elected to remain an interpretive force strongly involved with the creative process. And on these upbeat songs about love,longing,devotion and joy itself are a reminder of all of her talents. And why so many including myself will miss her being around.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love Will Save The Day” by Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston became the first female artist in the US to enter the album chart at #1 30 years and two days ago. That reminded me of that element of Whitney’s success that always had me torn. Nobody can deny Whitney’s pipes. Yet even early on in her recording career, artist development on the musical level wasn’t always considered too heavily. Her output was uneven across her albums as a result. That being said, along with her huge commercial success went through the roof, some came to view her as a natural born sellout later on.

This matter led to my mother,an early fan of Whitney,basically abandoning any and all interest in her after Whitney’s self titled 1985 debut album. So it wasn’t for decades after did I go back and rediscover her second record. Whitney basically polishes up the sound of her debut album-mixing dance numbers with heavily arranged “big ballads”. There was one song on the album that instantly got my attention-both musically and lyrically. It featured jazz/funk vibraphonist Roy Ayers (a personal favorite of mine) as well. The name of the song in question was “Love Will Save The Day”.

A gated drum opens the song,after which the rhythm turns to a steady dance one accentuated by ringing Latin style bell percussion-along with a thick rhythm guitar held together by a slippery synth bass line and Pitch bent synthesizers.intro. By the refrains, that synth is replaced by one with an Asian type melody to it. On the choruses,the synths begin the match the bell like percussion more. After a few rounds of this, Roy Ayers improvises on the vocal melody right along with Whitney’s vocals on the bridge. The song then climbs up an octave for the final chorus which brings the song to a dead stop.

“Love Will Save The Day” is, to me anyway, where everyone from producer Narada Michael Walden and musical guest Roy Ayers actually seemed to understand what Whitney Houston required in an uptempo song. The base of the song is synthesized Latin freestyle, with that jazzy funk flavor on the solo.. The lyrics set up a serious of emotional situations and emotions. With Whitney offering comforting words not to “panic when you hit the danger zone”. Honestly, if Whitney’s music had forged ahead in this manner consistently? She’d probably be more of a musical icon than a mere celebrity one.

 

 

 

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Gratitude: Thank You’s From Andresmusictalk

i-wanna-thank-you

Its been three years since Henrique Hopkins and I began Andresmusictalk as a blogging partnership. Its grown in many different directions since then. There have been many stops and starts. And especially in the previous year,sometimes more tributes to music icons than articles on new music itself. On the other hand,2016 was also Andresmusictalk’s most successful year in terms of content,viewership and above all interactivity. So for today,my first article of the year,wanted to thank everyone who participated in its most successful year.

Henrique of course has continued to be a strong jelly maker-consulting me on ideas in the back round whenever he has the chance. Often times,my own family are inspiration. And this year,my new boyfriend Scott. Of course,Andresmusictalk took on two new content creators this year. One is veteran All Music Guide columnist,currently sports writer Ron Wynn. He has contributed album and band reviews regarding genres not normally covered by this blog-such as American roots,blues and world musics. Zach Hoskins came by way of his own blog Dystopian Dance Party following the tragic death of Prince.

Zach has contributed many tributes regarding the Minneapolis sound as well as recent funk/soul music,as well as acting in a similar consulting position as Henrique has. This year,some events occurred that changed my perception of the blog forever. Beforehand,it was more than tempting to view the success of Andresmusictalk in terms of stats,and the numbers of people viewing it. Generally I tried to share my content with the artists I was writing about whenever it was possible. It wasn’t until this year that I actually started receiving some feedback in this regard on Facebook.

Many of the artists whom I share this blogs content with on Facebook is session musicians. One ongoing conversation Henrique and I have had is that session players generally get unheralded or even unnoticed for their contributions. Though I’d never call hum particularly unsung,Brazil’s Paulinho Da Costa is one such artist I shared related content with. A percussionist whose played on thousands of sessions in the pop and jazz world,he sent me a message of best wishes for my acknowledgement this past summer. Wanted to show him my sincere appreciation for that here today.

Lisa Coleman of Prince’s Revolution wrote me back on stating that she was interested in looking at a review I did for Prince’s “DMSR”-the indirect beginning of my “Prince Summer” concept. Narada Michael Walden also expressed similar interest in an Amazon.com archived review of his latest album. But most important was a message from Junior Giscombe of “Mama Used To Say” fame. My re-post of the review of his debut album Ji moved him to tell me  that my support helped him move forward and that love of music made him want to do more even better. That email was moving beyond words to me.

Over the last 366 days,Andresmusictalk has become a lot more than it set out to be. It started out as the work of a disabled man who couldn’t work in the traditional way. And deeply wanted to share his newfound musical/social understandings with the world in some way-with the help of a close friend. Now,the content is actually making a difference to some of the people I write about. And with the addition of new commentators on it (and perhaps more to come),Andresmusictalk is growing into a family of its own kind. So wanted to thank this family for everything,and hope for even more in the year to come!

 

 

 

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Filed under 2016, Blogging, Music

Anatomy of THE Groove: “16” by Stacy Lattisaw

Stacy Lattisaw first came to my attention via reading Aretha Franklin’s first autobiography. She described Lattisaw’s duets with future New Edition vocalist Johnny Gill as inspiring her to choose Narada Michael Walden to produce her on 1985’s Who’s Zoomin Who album. Aretha made note of the strong production involved. A DC native,Lattisaw debut at age 12 in 1979,produced by the late Van McCoy. As soon as she began her involvement with Walden as her producer in 1981,he had a string of five albums through 1986. Not to mention being the opening act for the Jackson’s 1981 Triumph tour.

Along with the aforementioned New Edition and (solo) Johnny Gill,Lattisaw represented the major teen idols of the black community for America during the early/mid 1980’s. I made it my business to seek out her many find post disco records on CD over the last three or four years. Interestingly enough,I haven’t absorbed them in as strong a way as they probably deserve to be. One of these albums was 1983’s 16,released at a key transitional period between the live instrumental post disco sound and the electro funk/dance style that was about to emerge. So far,its opening title song says an awful lot.

A loud howl inaugurates Walden’s opening drum line-a strong 3-4 beat hit with pounding percussion accents. His synth bass collides with Randy Jackson’s ticklish 6 note bass line. On the many refrains and choruses, Corrado Rustici’s rhythm guitar either plays a straight one chord groove or a deeper liquid one. On the second half of each bridge,there’s a dance friendly,melodic digital bell sound. On the bridge,David Sancious plays an improvisational synthesizer solo. On the repeating choruses that lead the song out,the discordant sax improvisations of Marc Russo play on with Lattisaw’s vocals as the song fades out.

As with pretty much any uptempo number Narada Michael Walden sunk his teeth into in the early 80’s,”16″ grooves extremely hard. Its definitely possessed of the synth brass oriented electro dance/funk approach of its time. On the other hand,its electro dance/funk played by some of the most creative jazz/funk instrumentalists to emerge from the mid to late 1970’s. And none of them every simplify their talents to suit the more poppy electronic grooves. They and Lattisaw bring out the funk,and all the musical improvisation,they can in this song. Which in turn is some of the finest funk of its time.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Corrado Rustici, David Sancious, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, Marc Russo, Narada Michael Walden, percussion, Randy Jackson, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Stacy Lattisaw, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizer

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Evolution’ by Narada Michael Walden (released on October 30th,2015)

Evolution

Narada Michael Walden is an artist whose influence on both music’s instrumentation and lyrical themes is still little realized. He’s one of the last jazz based musicians whose influence as a producer touched on 80’s and 90’s pop hits most American’s know by heart. Not only that,but even with some very long absences from the recording studio, he’s always come out celebrating live musicianship and strong humanitarian messages in his songs. Keeping the 60’s and 70’s “people music” era of funk and soul alive has always seemed a big priority for him. So three years after his hard rock oriented Thunder,Walden returns with an album whose music and message is right on time.

The title track and “Billionaire On Soul Street” are both percussive,fast past dancefloor friendly disco/funk grooves that continues on the lower key chicken scratch guitar oriented “Song For You”,”Tear The House Down” and the pulsing “Standing Tall”. “Heaven’s In My Heart” brings the propulsive flavor of the two opening cuts back into play while Richie Haven’s “Freedom” begins as a percussive Afro pop type number and ends as a heavily processed alternative rocker. “Baby’s Got It Going On” is a thick,horn heavy funk full of the celebratory energy of Rick James’ Stone City Band,which the song itself references.

“It’s The Sixties” is an uptempo Calypso pop type number paying tribute to Walden’s musical influences while his version of the Beatles “Long And Winding Road” has a rich,elaborate rhythm and orchestration. The album ends with the booda remix of another fast disco/funk piece called “Show Me How To Love Again” and the opener “Billionaire On Soul Street”. On this album,Narada Michael Walden and his band find the hyper kinetic disco/funk sound he helped pioneer in a very powerful way.He uses his own drum/percussion based sound continually in the brittle,concise manner of a drum machine that would be heard on EDM/house tracks This in turn helped advance the lyrical messages about re-awakenings of the ideas of civil rights and social awareness. A record full of powerful, funkified grooves more people would be wise to check out!

Original review posted on April 23rd,2016

*Link to original review here. Please follow this link,rate if the review helped you or not and please comment if you can. Thank you!

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Filed under 2015, alternative rock, Amazon.com, chicken scratch guitar, disco funk, drums, EDM funk, funk rock, message music, message songs, Music Reviewing, Narada Michael Walden, new music, Nu Funk, percussion, Richie Havens, Rick James, The Beatles, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Shake It Off” by Narada Michael Walden

Narada Michael Walden,who got his current first name from guru Sri Chimnoy in the early 70s,was probably one of the busiest musician/producers of the 1980’s. The Kalamzoo,Michegan born drummer/vocalist started out as the successor to Billy Cobham in the Mahavishnu Orchestra-working with Cobham later on his solo dates as well as playing with the late guitar hero Tommy Bolin. In the mid 70’s he began making solo records. While his 1976 debut Garden Of Love Light followed in the jazz-rock fusion mode he’d been in,his solo works veered towards funky soul by the late 70’s. These albums had a big Quincy Jones type arrangement style,often with a pronounced rock edge.

His theatrical style of melodic funk transitioned from the disco era to the electro/boogie one with ease as his solo career continued into the 1980’s.  During that time,he began a career as a producer of largely female talent in a similar vein to Luther Vandross. This went from working with Sister Sledge in 1981 to his stellar work introducing Whitney Houston to the world in the mid/late 80’s. His work with Stacy Lattisaw and Johnny Gill got him hooked up with Aretha Franklin for her big comeback. In 1983 he recorded his third solo album of the decade called Looking At You,Looking At Me. One song it really achieves full funkiness in “Shake It Off”.

Walden and Sheila E open up the brittle, polyrhythmic drums/percussion of this song on the intro. Walden asks a musician named RJ to “play it right” before a thick slap bass line comes churning in scaling down and around the melodic chord changes. “RJ” turns out to be bassist,arranger and more recently American Idol talent scout Randy “The King” Jackson. This combination of drums,percussion and phat slap bass holds in the funk heavy by the time two densely arranged horn charts  from Jerry Hey come in. That along with glossy synthesizer washes of Frank Martin and some churning chicken scratch guitar of Carrado Rustci. There’s also a vocal bridge where Walden provides a full jazz scat.

The adenoidal talk singing approach of Walden plays call and response with the rhythm for most of the song. On the chorus and it’s refrains,he’s in direct contact on that same level with the darting horns. On the bridge,the horns subside for Jackson to thump out his thick slap bass solo over the rhythm before the choruses re-emerges to close things out. All of these qualities make this song perhaps one of the most unsung examples of how the boogie funk era blended together both the live band flavors of the 70’s with newer synthesized/electronic touches. The instrumentation is brittle while still keeping deep in the Afro-Latin rhythmic clave. For me,it’s one of  Walden’s finest funk numbers ever!

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, Carrado Rustci, clave, drums, elecro funk, Frank Martin, horns, jazz funk, Jerry Hey, Narada Michael Walden, percussion, Randy "The King" Jackson, rhythm guitar, Sheila E., slap bass, synthesizer, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “On The Case” by Alphonso Johnson

Alphonso Johnson seems to me as a bassist whose contributions to the iconic fusion band Weather Report are rather under heralded. That could be because he was sandwiched in between their original bass player Miroslav Vitous and of course Jaco Pastorious. As a session man,he joined up with Billy Cobham on and off for many years. He also had stints back up Genesis/Phil Collins on multiple occasions as well playing on former LTD lead singer Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 solo debut. The reason I personally tend to view Johnson as a rather obscure artist is because I only found out that he even had a solo career at all just under a decade ago. And have the feeling I may not be the only one.

One of the greatest things to happen in the post millennium internet age is the advent of two things: reissue record labels and YouTube. If it weren’t for those two things, this blog would be a lot different than it is. In 1976-1977 during his years with Cobham,Alphonso Johnson recorded three solo albums on the Epic label. These featured the backing of some of the major fusion instrumentalists of the time-all touched by the music of Alphonso in some kind of way. I have two on vinyl,since the CD versions were difficult to locate upon going out of print. Only his second album Moonshadows was something I was able to locate on CD. And one song that stood out on it for me was “On The Case”.

Alphonso starts off with a shuffling bass solo that has a bluesy,up-scaling melody that is very similar in tone to the electric piano solo on Steely Dan’s ” Black Friday”. Drummer Narada Michael Walden keeps that shuffle going while Dawilli Conga adds a counter melody on electric piano. Separated by progressive fusion bursts of intense drums, Alphonso’s solos expand along with the electric piano into fuzz toned psychedelia. On the second refrain,Lee Ritenour plays a mid toned rhythm guitar solo. This grows to a heavier intensity with the solo Lee takes on the third and final refrain of the song. Conga’s electric piano leads the shuffling rhythm to the songs fade out.

This particular song always stuck out to me with how much it finds the funk in the blues and the blues when it rocks. The rhythmic base of the song is in a strong groove-with Narada staying on the one primarily through the use of hi hat. And all of the musicians understanding of the jazz/rock fusion style comes out here as well. Alphonso’s funkiness on the bass gives it all a phat center that keeps the focus consistent.  I’ve started to realize that rock ‘n’ roll is often a far simpler musical form than it might like itself to be. Yet with the combination of jazz harmonies and electric funk within the fusion genre,songs like this found a great middle ground in which to rock up the funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Alphonso Johnson, bass guitar, Blues, Epic Records, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lee Ritenour, Narada Michael Walden, Psychedelia, rock 'n' roll, Steely Dan, Uncategorized, YouTube