Anita Baker’s music always felt (to my childhood self ) like what it might’ve been like to be an adult. The music and lyrics came off as so learned and experienced in life. This is one of the key qualities of Baker’s music that I share a common interest in with my friend Henrique. Another quality that Baker’s 1988 album Giving You The Best That I Got is that it presents a relatively small group of musicians. With a sound that’s immaculately produced and compositionally strong all at once. As the follow up to the blockbuster album Rapture this album often suffered from unfair comparisons.
After all, when you have an album like that? Its usually a nearly impossible act to follow. Now I’ve been hearing this album in one way or another since the day it came out? I have to say that this album is packed with great songs and as always Anita’s distinctive voice. Between the styles of Sarah Vaughn, and several years later with Toni Braxton, has any female vocalist been able to almost instrumentally work their way around a song the way Anita does on songs such as “Priceless” and the title cut. These are vital R&B/jazz compositions.
These compositions are to strong grooves Anita made famous beforehand. But on tracks like “Rules”, the barrier that developed between jazz and R&B melted right away. The instrumental sound of these songs are both concise and elegantly produced. And that’s no small feat to accomplish. Michael J. Powell, founder of Baker’s former band Chapter 8, did a masterful job in that regard for this album. Critic/writer Nelson George described the kind of music Anita Baker specialized in as “retro nouveau” in his book The Death of Rhythm and Blues. And I suppose it fits as well as any.
Songs such as “Lead Me Into Love”,”Good Love”,”Just Because”,”Good Enough” and “You Belong To Me” assure this album has no filler at all. The level of songwriting consistency is maintained throughout every one of these songs. Elektra was really and sound popping with some of the best fusions of jazz-pop, quiet storm and R&B/funk during the course of the 80’s. That tends to be what happens when musicians such as Omar Hakim, Nathan East and the late George Duke get together with a talent like Baker’s. And if that period of music was a living being? It should be grateful to have had Anita Baker around.
Jackie Jackson,being the eldest of the Jackson’s siblings whose turning 65 today,brings to mind an important element in the Jackson family musical dynamic. With the enormous commercial success of the late Michael Jackson,it often seems that the different musical talents of the other family members are torn down in order to build up MJ’s cult of personality. Michael Jackson was a very talented performer,and one of the most rhythmic and distinctive vocalists of his era. Yet with such a musical family,his talent was made stronger (not weaker) by the unity he had with his brothers.
Born Sigmund Esco,Jackie was part of the main vocal trade-off’s between young Michael and Jermaine during the salad days of the Jackson 5. At that time he often sang high,reedy falsetto parts. When four of the brothers,including him,teamed with youngest brother Randy at Epic,the lead vocals Jackie provided to the group found him singing in his gruff,gravelly low tenor. Between the summer of 1979 and 1980,the by that time re-christened Jackson’s began work on their sixths album Triumph. Dominated vocally by Michael,the final song was a major triumph for Jackie in “Wondering Who”.
Ollie Brown’s hi hat drum kick off starts the song off along with Michael Boddicker’s melodic Vocorder line. It then kicks off into a percussive,uptempo Latin-funk rhythm with Boddicker’s brittle synthesizers and Vocorder providing equally rhythmic accompaniment. Nathan Watts’ 2 on three note bass thump and Tito Jackson’s low,fast past chicken scratch guitar lines lead into the 4/4 dance beat of the chorus-with the synthesizer’s becoming more orchestral. Tito’s bluesy guitar riff’s buffet each choral/refrain pattern. Michael and Jackie duet on the final chorus before Boddicker’s jazzy Vocorder scat fade out the song.
The first time I heard this song,it sounded as if the Jackson’s were ending their first album of the 1980’s with a nod to the future of funk. Indeed, they were. Composed wonderfully by Jackie and Randy Jackson,this song has a strong bluesy melody. Instrumentally it is extremely compelling. It’s a full on boogie/electro funk groove. And one where the synthesizers and Vocorder play the same role as the live percussion. The frenetic power of the songs music,combined with Jackie’s matured versatility as a singer,make this one of the best examples of futurist funk that ever came out of the Jackson’s camp in it’s day.
Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, chicken scratch guitar, elecro funk, Jackie Jackson, Michael Boddicker, Michael Jackson, Nathan East, Ollie Brown, Randy Jackson, synthesizers, The Jacksons, Tito Jackson, Uncategorized, vocoder
Carl Anderson came from the world of Broadway into the soul/funk scene,in a manner similar to Stephanie Mills. The key difference is the level of success. The only reason I even knew about Anderson’s music was through a YouTube search. In the mid 70’s,the Jackson 5 had done some recording of songs composed by Stevie Wonder. The one song from these sessions that have publicly surfaced was the song “Buttercup”. Turns out Carl Anderson had done a version in the mid 80’s as well. Never heard of the man before. But was very impressed with what I heard. Turns out this was not the first time that Anderson had recorded this song.
In 1982 Anderson signed up with Epic Records. There he recorded his debut album entitled Absence Without Love. The title song of this album was a strong boogie funk number featuring a vocal duet with Teena Marie,who like Anderson has since passed away. Richard Rudolph,having produced Lady T a couple of years earlier,was also behind the recording console for Carl Anderson’s debut. He was now singing in an environment with session aces such as Smokey Robinson’s keyboardist Sonny Burke,Nathan East,Omar Hakim,Jerry Hey and Lee Ritenour backing him up. It was here that Anderson first introduced his version of the previously unreleased Stevie Wonder song “Buttercup”.
The drum starts out playing a sauntering Caribbean rhythm with a round,electrified bump on each accent. The main bass line accompanies this-scaling up and down right up with the groove. Suddenly the main melody comes in. This features fan faring horn charts,a high pitched rhythm guitar and an equally higher toned electric piano playing around the chords. On the refrains,the horns take a back seat to Anderson’s vocals. On the choruses,the horns and vocals take on a totally harmonious role. This happens on a bridge where Anderson is doing some percussive scat singing before going onto his vocalizing of the refrain. This pattern repeats a few times before the song fades out.
This song,especially in it’s original 1982 version is one of the finest example of an unheard Steve Wonder composition being done in a way that’s special and distinctive. On both the vocal and instrumental level,this song has so many elements of the popular Afrocentric musical spectrum within it. It has the Caribbean style rhythm and horns,the slowness of tempo and slap bass lines of hard funk along with the harmonic and vocal qualities of jazz. The deep,gospel drenched pipes of Carl Anderson expresses a fullness of range and dramatic presentation that adds even more musical excitement. As far as I’m concerned,this is one of the finest musical moments for Carl Anderson.
Filed under 1980's, Caribbean Funk, Carl Anderson, drums, Epic Records, funky soul, horns, Jerry Hey, Lee Ritenour, Nathan East, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Sonny Burke, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized
James Ingram is an artist whose contributions to the disco/post disco era musical continuum are ones that I’d totally neglected. Conversations with Henrique revealed the man to have started out as a guitar and keyboard player on the Dolemite movies. That while being a member of the band Revelation Funk as well. And that Motown funk band Switch’s Philip Ingram was in fact James’ younger brother. All I’d previously known about the man was as a man who’d duetted with Patti Austin and Linda Ronstadt. As well as his early 80’s songs such as “Just Once” and “One Hundred Ways”. The revelation of Ingram having a history with strong uptempo funk/soul was a very happy one for me.
Following session word for Leon Haywood and The Stylistics in the late 70’s and early 80’s,Ingram signed with Quincy Jones’ Qwest as a solo act. His debut set was called It’s Your Night. It featured many of the famous Westlake Studio session crew such as Jerry Hey,Paulinho Da Costa,Nathan East,Larry Carlton and David Foster. It had a big hit with the Westcoast inflected uptempo groove of “Ya Mo Be There” with Michael McDonald. Upon hearing the generally ballad themed album in it’s entirety,it was another uptempo song that actually caught my attention very heavily. It was written by Heatwave’s Rod Temperton and was called “One More Rhythm”.
A swinging cymbal heavy drum roll starts the groove off. Suddenly the equally swinging horn charts dramatically roll right in as the rest of the song sets off. The refrain of the song features a stride style honky tonk piano solo from Ingram-along with a brittle synth bass line. This is set up with a steady post disco rhythm accented with a clapping on each beat. On the choruses the horns start up again before the theme that starts out the song chimes back into another refrain. The bridge of the song the song finds Ingram vocally scaling upward towards an organ solo from the late,great Jimmy Smith. The chorus returns for the songs fade out in a slightly higher key.
In many ways this song presents itself musically as an early/mid 80’s variant of what Stevie Wonder did eight years earlier with “Sir Duke”. It comes out of the harmonic flavors and arranging style of big band swing and Kansas City jazz. Than it adds to that contemporary instrumental and production touches. In this case a synth bass line mainly. Ingram’s soulful wail of a voice,Jimmy Smith’s solo and Temperton’s good understanding of jazz styled melodies makes this an interesting retro futurist big band pop/jazz/funk number in it’s time. And both compositionally and rhythmically,it’s a song that might be difficult to get out of one’s brain and booty.
Filed under 1980's, big band swing, funky pop, horns, James Ingram, Jerry Hey, Jimmy Smith, Nathan East, Paulinho Da Costa, Quincy Jones, QWest, Rod Temperton, Uncategorized
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.
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
Looking back on my own musical understanding? The husky,deeply rangy and jazz flavored vocals of Anita Baker remain to this day as a key aspect of my musical core when it comes to singers. One thing about her that I did not know is that her musical career not only didn’t start as a grooving quiet storm based artist specializing in lush,mid-tempo ballads. But that she actually started out in the late 70’s with the primarily uptempo funk/soul based band Chapter 8. The most startling part of it was that she was fired from the band (after their self titled debut) because they actually didn’t think she was a very good singer.
Understanding her late 80’s album smashes such as Rapture and Giving You The Best That I Got and their accompanying hit songs very well? It never occurred to me that her actual solo debut album came out in 1983,on the Beverly Glen label. And that it was so unsuccessful that a lot of people had actually never heard of it. Elektra had to reissue it with new cover art following her huge success there. Actually had the original vinyl first-only later picking it up on CD being so impressed by it’s contents. As a whole? It is actually fairly familiar territory for Baker admirers,save for some startling exceptions. One of which is a song called “Squeeze Me”.
The song opens with a dramatic drum roll that outro’s with a spiraling bass synthesizer. The beat becomes a steady two by two dance rhythm-over which the fan faring horn section is embraced by that always present (and very brittle) synth bass. The refrains also had an orchestral string type synthesizer into the mix and a powerful,thick rhythm guitar as well. The instrumentation bleeds together into a strong thickness of sound that is both very exciting and very sleek all at the same time. When Baker’s vocal chorus takes presidents? The overall sound of the music becomes more stripped down to accommodate them. This occurs most strongly on the final chorus of the song.
While being more than aware of Anita’s creative trademark of allying herself with strong funky soul musicians and producers throughout her career? It was still very much a shock to hear her so successfully make a straight up boogie funk jam right of the solo box. Some might see this as her not having a strong individual sound yet. But considering the presence of Michael Jackson associated session aces as Jerry Hey,Nathan East and Paul Jackson Jr. aboard for this song? Hearing Anita’s distinctive voice belting out such a hefty funk number is has actually given me an even stronger view of her talents as an instrumentally minded singer in the vein of the jazz sirens who influenced her.