Tag Archives: percussion

‘Here, My Dear’ At 40-Marvin Gaye’s Funky Space Reincarnation Of Romantic Endings & Beginnings

Marvin Gaye’s back story for his fifteenth studio album is well known by this point. Gaye’s wife Anna Gordy sued him for divorce following as he was pursuing a relationship with teenage Janice Hunter. And it was agreed that half the proceeds from his next album to go to Gordy as part of the divorce settlement. At first considering making a lukewarm album out of spite, Marvin decided to weave the reality about the end of  his marriage into one of his musically cinematic narratives- with a conceptually abstract twist. That was the nucleus of the album that became Here, My Dear.

The wah wah heavy title track starts out the album. As writer David Ritz pointed out, Marvin’s vocal harmony based style is rooted in doo wop. And the 70’s funky soft soul of this number, in the 6/8th country/soul shuffle tempo. “I Met A Little Girl” has a similar style- only a bit gentler reflecting both early 60’s Motown balladry and its narrative about the 12 years of his marriage to Anna. “Everybody Needs Love” is a moment where the basic groove of the opening title song extends into a full blown self examination of Gaye’s view on love in general.

“When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You” is also reprised as an instrumental. But its a whole other beast musically- a powerful, percussion laced groove filled with the kind of jazzy chords and melodic exchanges this album celebrates. Now for songs that get heavily into the jazz styled vibe? “Sparrow” alternates from blues to Afro Latin percussion-including a bop styled sax solo from Ernie Fields. “Is That Enough” goes for a cinematic approach that showcases not only heavily arranged orchestration, but a section of the song where the musicians jam away without lead vocals from Gaye.

“Anna’s Song” returns to the medium tempo R&B shuffling of “Trouble Man” from seven years earlier. “Time To Get It Together” gets deep into the thumping,percussion laced funk groove-filled with Marvin’s melodically soulful yet futuristic synthesizer playing. “Anger” and “A Funky Space Reincarnation” are both musically based on the same type of sophistifunk Rhodes/wah wah/percussion based funk crawl. Each conceptually contrasts the other. On the former, Gaye is reconciling his scattered emotions. On the latter, he in on a sci fi odyssey with Anna-attempt to seduce her in with “Venusian smoke”.

“You Can Leave, But It’s Going To Cost You”  is another funk number-this time with a more bluesy style of bass/guitar interaction as Gaye illustrates with journalistic clarity his final attempt to reconcile with his estranged wife. The almost Barry White like cinematic funky soul of “Falling In Love Again” goes into his assumed future with Janice. Over the years, my friend Henrique and I have discussed this perhaps more than any other Marvin Gaye album. It was actually first brought to my knowledge through my father purchasing the 8 Track during the 1990’s.

Having heard it with this depth of musical knowledge today? Here, My Dear emerges as probably the most funky breakup album to have been released. While it plays out like the kinds of cinematic soul album opera’s that Gaye had been doing with Leon Ware? A good cross section of the music gets as deep into a contemporary late 70’s sophisticated funk groove with a number of variations in flow and style. From deep in the pocket to jazzier and free flowing. And that goes directly with the “moods of Marvin Gaye” during the time this was recorded too.

With musicians such as guitarists Gordon Banks and Wali Ali interacting with  bassist Frank Blair? Not to mention the drum/percussion flow of drummer Bunny Wilcox with percussionists  Gary Jones and Elmira Collins? The added sweeteners of horn players Nolan Smith’s trump and tenor sax players Charlie Owens and Fernando Hawkins all play their roles in providing what amounts to the soundtrack for the divorce of Marvin Gaye. This is even played out in the Monopoly game of “judgement” on the albums back cover.

Here, My Dear didn’t endear itself to Anna Gordy at first. As David Ritz explained in his Gaye biography Divided Soul, Marvin invited Anna to a private listening of the album. Its conceptual voyeurism had her contemplating a suit for invasion of privacy.  That didn’t seem to have occurred. As my friend Henrique also pointed out, the modern cinematic video approach of a Kanye West might’ve helped visualize Marvin Gaye’s narrative on this album. Gaye did however help innovate the confessional funk approach with soul, class and imagination. Resulting in another album that continues to age like fine wine.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Weekend In L.A.” by George Benson

George Benson could likely call the 1970’s the salad days of his musical career. He began the decade with an instrumental interpretation of the entire Beatles album Abbey Road. And ended it with a double that included a hit version of L.T.D’s “Love Ballad”-redone as an uptempo song. Benson’s musical virtuosity and style of scat singing in accompaniment to his playing made him a contemporary jazz guitar icon of the decade. Especially combined with his strong, soulful singing voice. Still there is one particular George Benson album from this period I’ve had yet to explore all the way through.

Benson’s second live album Weekend In L.A. was recovered over three days in autumn of 1977 at the West Hollywood Roxy Theater. And released in 1978. Its probably his most famous and popular live album too. Its been a fixture in my family’s record collection since I’ve been alive. But still know it primarily for songs such as “On Broadway” and “The Greatest Love Of All”. Decided that, in lieu of having not yet explored the album as its about to turn 40, decided that it would make some sense to take an in depth look at the albums instrumental title song.

Benson’s introductory solo begins the song-with Harvey Mason and Ralph McDonald’s drum/percussion rhythm laying the groundwork for the Nick DeCaro’s string synthesizer providing some beautiful harmony.  Stanley Banks’ round, popping bass line joins in on the sunny, major key chorus of the song. The first solo comes from the electric piano of Jorge Dalto-with the harmonic counterpoint coming from Stevie Wonder’s keyboardist Ronnie Foster on synthesizer. Benson takes an extended refrain/choral solo during the center of the song-with everything in the song being built around it until the very end.

“Weekend In L.A.” is, as a song, representative of George Benson’s Breezin’  era late 70’s  commercial and instrumental peak.This album showcases his guitar talents. In its 7+ minutes, it gives Benson every opportunity to explore his melodically singable guitar solos. Musicians like Mason, McDonald and Foster understand as Benson how to keep the song jazzy, soulful, funky and poppy all at once. Benson even takes a moment to quote Gershwin’s standard “I’ve Got Rhythm” on guitar near the end of the song. Making it one of his strongest live musical moments.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “White Boys And Heroes” by Gary Numan

Gary Anthony James Webb was born into a working class family in the Hammersmith area of West London. Interestingly enough, his bus driver father brought him his first guitar. And after playing in a number of bands, he became the lead singer/ songwriter/ producer of the pioneering British new wave band Tubeway Army. His biggest success with them was the #1 hit “Are Friends Electric” in 1979. Later that year, his solo career kicked off to a major start with his internationally successful song “Cars”-from his debut solo album Pleasure Principle. These songs both helped kick off the synth pop genre.

Numan’s music began to take on a more orchestral based sound as the 80’s drew in. Albums such as 1981’s Dance even took on elements of jazz into the musical mix. With bands such as Level 42, Duran Duran and Heaven 17 deriving their sound from American funk and disco, Numan looked to the driving rhythm and expert playing of the funk genre as part of his 1982 album I, Assassin. Numan himself felt this change was important for his music-as he saw many synth pop artists at the time being stuck in a rut. And this 1982 album got right off with the funk on the song “White Boys And Heroes”.

A brittle drum machine and a dark, prickly synth bass tone build up into the refrain. This consists of Chris Slade and John Webb’s heavy Afro Cuban drum/percussion interaction. Pino Palladino’s thick, grooving fretless slap bass completes that part of the song. On the chorus, Numan takes off on a chorus with his swelling synth/guitar orchestral parts. With Pallidino’s bass taking off on runs more. After an couple choral/refrain rounds, the bass led refrain of the song becomes an instrumental bridge for the song. And it all ends on an extended chorus featuring “Mike” on sax as the song fades out.

“White Boys And Heroes” explores one of early 80’s new wave/synth pop’s most interesting elements. Part of it was the turn to funkiness-its combinations of brittle beats and synth washes with The Who’s Pino Palladino’s fretless slap bass and percussive groove made it very complimentary to what Talking Heads and Prince were doing at the time. The songs theme-seeming to parody the jingoistic, white male macho image also works with the mechanized rock end of new wave with the Afrocentric funk groove. So Gary Numan hit on a compelling musical and thematic mixture on this song.

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1978 On The Longplay: Larry Carlton’s Self Titled Warner Bros. Debut From Room 335!

Larry Carlton spent the mid 70’s as an active member of The Crusaders. They were, during that time, a significant training group for musicians playing in the jazz/funk/ fusion genre. Musicians such as Wayne Henderson, Joe Sample and Carlton himself were part of the LA scene of session players who helped augment the sound of everyone from Sammy Davis Jr, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and of course Steely Dan. So by the time 1978 rolled around, Carlton had access to musicians such as then Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro and percussion icon Paulinho Da Costa. So his solo career was off and running.

Porcaro and keyboardist Greg Mathison shine on the opener “Room 335”-named for the recording studio the album was recorded in. The main theme of the song has a very similar melody to Steely Dan’s hit song “Peg”. This is augmented by string arrangements and serves as a forum for Carlton’s precise yet emotionally stratospheric playing style. “Where Did You Come From” is a soulful samba where Da Costa really shines percussion wise. Carlton sings lead vocal on the song-in a smooth,romantic. voice reminiscent of a higher toned version of how Herb Alpert sounds when he’s singing.

“Night Crawler” is of course a redone song that Carlton contributed to the Crusaders Free As The Wind album a year earlier. This version is very similar, though just a slight bit more polished in execution. “Point It Up” goes for a straight ahead jazz/rock shuffle-with Carlton and bassist Abraham Laboriel really taking off-especially with Laboriel’s slap bass riffing. “Rio Samba” brings Da Costa’s percussion, Mathison’s Rhodes and organ along with Carlton’s guitar for an melodically uptempo Brazilian fusion number. One where Carlton even finds a moment or two to rock out on its refrains.

“I Apologize” is a personal favorite of mine on this album. Its a heavily bluesy jazz/funk number-again with Carlton taking the lead vocal. This time, the vibe on that level is more Michael Franks. Enhanced by Laboriel’s slap bass again and the backing vocals from William “Smitty”Smith. With Carlton even taking off to solo on the bridge before the song changes pitch on the final few bars. “Don’t Give Up” brings in that clean, rocking R&B shuffle that sounds like an instrumental written for a Boz Scaggs. Again, Carlton really takes off on both ultra melodic and bluesy style solos throughout the song.

“(It Was) Only Yesterday” ends the album on its lone ballad-again with the string orchestra coming in behind Carlton. And at the same time as enhancement to the sustained cry of his guitar. One thing the Larry Carlton album clarifies, actually being his third proper solo album, is how much of an amazing vocal tone Carlton’s guitar has. Its actually close in technique to Carlos Santana at times. Yet is based more heavily around arpeggiated runs and pitch bending than consistently sustaining notes. But Carlton’s guitar sings. And on this album, many more times than he actually does with his voice.

Because the sound blends both late 70’s studio polish with heavy duty jazz/funk grooves and soloing, again many of these songs sound as if they were recorded for specific popular singers of that day. That makes this album an excellent album of how much late 70’s jazz/funk session musicians had an impact on the big West Coast pop albums of that era, especially. So Larry Carlton offers a great deal to the listener. Its got the blues, its got the Brazilian jazz, its got the funk and it rocks. Its also hummable and musical at the same time. And all those are excellent qualities for any instrumentally based album.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Save Your Love (For #1)” by Rene & Angela

Angela Winbush has had an astounding musical journey. Its started in churches in her native St. Louis.  After a time singing to finance architectural studies, she began studying  with gospel legend Richard Smallwood. It was from there to stints with Mtume and Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove. That proved a training ground for Winbush’s talents at songwriting/composition-as well as producing and arranging. She teamed up with fellow singer/producer Rene Moore, the brother of Rufus’s bassist Bobby Watson. The duo recorded four albums together between 1980 and 1985 before perusing solo careers.

Before the (eventually) legal recriminations that broke the duo up, Rene and Angela also embarked on a career of writing/producing for other female talent. Namely the first four songs on Janet Jackson’s self titled debut album in 1982. The duo’s final album, 1985’s  Street Called Desire is their post popular. And features contributions from Quincy Jones alumni in producer Bruce Swedien and Paulinho Da Costa. As well as Jeff Lorber and the majority of Rufus. The albums opening song is one of my favorites on the album. Its entitled “Save Your Love (For #1)”.

An industrial sounding orchestral synth riser opens up the song-just before its basic groove kicks into heavy gear. That groove is based around a brittle 808 drum machine-with ringing cowbell effects. Not to mention guest star Kurtis Blow rapping the chorus. Along with a 3 note synth bass line and pulsing, razor like synthesizer. This makes up most of both the refrains and choruses of the song-with Winbush and Moore’s vocal exchanges making up for most of the melody.  On that chorus,  Da Costa’s percussion and some gigantic swelling synths take over before the song fades out on an extended chorus.

“Save Your Love (For #1)” is naked funk of the most transitional kind. Its sound anticipates the stripped down, beat based sound of second generation recorded hip-hop. While in terms of the rhythm, it maintains a heavy freestyle funk ethic that’s tonally sharp and cutting. Of the two voices, Winbush delivers the husky soul vocals. While Moore comes at it from the higher pitched, romantic croon. On the musical, vocal and conceptual level, “Save Your Love (For #1)” brings together different approaches to soul and funk that make its very approach fairly unique and special.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Saturday Night” by Bobby Broom

Bobby Broom’s musical career has always, in some way, been tied into musical education. Born in Harlem in 1961, he went onto study jazz guitar with local player Jimmy Carter. He then went onto gigs with musicians such as Charlie Parker alumni Al Haig. After his university education at Berkeley, he began a stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, probably the ultimate training ground there was in jazz at that time. As well as maintaining a recording career, the now 57 year old Broom is also Director of African American Music at Studies at the University Of Hartford, Connecticut.

One of Broom’s childhood heroes was George Benson. Both physically and stylistically, that’s how he presented himself on his 1981 GRP/Arista debut Clean Sweep. In a career that would find him playing with both Sonny Rollins in the 80’s and even guesting on R.Kelly’s 12 Play album in the 90’s, Broom’s solo debut found his music in a jazz/funk plus a one jazz standard format similar to Bernard Wright’s ‘Nard album of the same vintage. Having listened to it, the album has no weak songs. And is generally instrumental. One of my favorite funk numbers on the album is called “Saturday Night”.

Marcus Miller walks right up to Buddy Williams’ funkified drums on the intro-settling into a seven note bass run as percussionist Crusher Bennett joins in on the congas. Broom’s very Benson like melodic guitar solos-both on the refrains and choral sequences, are accented by Terry Burrus Fender Rhodes textures and acoustic piano walks. The backup vocals of Lori-Ann Velez, Omar Hakim, Cliff Branch and Poogie Bell provide a party atmosphere in the back round of the entire song. After the drums kick up a notch for Broom’s extended solo on the bridge, the song fades out on an extended chorus.

“Saturday Night” is one of the finest electric guitar centered jazz funk grooves of the early 80’s that I’ve heard. Probably coming in right in the same league as George Benson’s “Off Broadway”. Marcus Miller both played and arranged the tune. And the conversational vocals and chants of Broom and the backup singers involved really evoke the atmosphere of a hip dance party of that period. As my friend Henrique pointed out, its also probably of the last generation of jazz funk that was not synthesizer based. And that makes “Saturday Night” the type of groove that spans an evolution within jazz/funk.

 

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Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter Turns 40: Joni Mitchell In Dreamland

 

Joni Mitchell did something very special in the mid to late 1970’s. Something that impacted on me personally roughly 25 years later. She began to combine folk oriented singer/songwriter instrumentation with jazz chords and harmonies. Her approach at this evolved from working with Crusaders Joe Sample and Wilton Felder to fretless bass icon Jaco Pastorius-all between 1974 and 1974. In particularly on 1975’s The Hissing Of Summer Lawns,  Mitchell’s music was her own unique hybrid. Neither jazz or folk. This all came to a tremendous head with her 1977 release Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.

It was an album where the cover art (as was typical done by Mitchell herself) drew me into its musical world. It depicts three images of herself. One seems to be a herself as a teenager. The other is a character she portrayed at a Halloween party named Art Nouveau. This was based on a black man she met who complimented her at that time. Mitchell describes her soul as “not being that of a white woman”.  And that she often writes from a black perspective. Embracing the jazz aestetic, from be bop style poetics to the music itself, all became a part of what made this 1977 double LP what it was.

The song “Cotton Avenue” starts the album with an overture, one where Mitchell is playing six differently tuned guitar tracks simultaneously. The song itself is a swinging number-heavily textured by Jaco’s atmospheric bass lines.  The faster “Talk To Me” and the slower “Jericho” both explore the approach of Mitchell’s guitar with Jaco’s bass-playing in an almost Salsa like rhythm on the former, and back to the jazzy swing on the latter. “Paprika Pains” is a 16+ minute cinematic number, showcasing Mitchell’s improvised piano with full jazz orchestration.

“Paprika Plains”‘s music also serves as the soundtrack to a first person description of a late night bar gathering of Canadian First Nations tribe’s people-poetically touching on matters of alcoholism and despair. “Otis & Marlena” is a fairly conventional country tinged folk number. Its based in the acoustic guitar. Its a character sketch of two people vacationing in Miami while “Muslims are sticking up Washington”. “The Tenth Worlds” is primarily the work of Puerto Rican percussionist Manolo Badrena, one which focuses only on his fluid Afro-Latin percussion and improvised vocal chants.

Weather Report member Alex Acuna joins in for “Dreamland”, my personal favorite number on this album.”Dreamland” merges an even broader (and somewhat slower) Salsa percussion sound with the highly hummable, Caribbean folk style melody of Mitchell’s. Chaka Khan provides a very tribal sounding back up vocalese right along with Mitchell’s on the song. The title song is somewhat similar to “Talk To Me” from earlier in the album-as well as “Coyote” from her previous album Heijra.  The more rocky “Off Night Backstreet” and the folk oriented “The Silky Veils Of Ardor” close out the album.

Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter represents the official birth of what could best be described as a Joni Mitchell sound. Its true that jazz always accommodated other musical styles into it. Mitchell wasn’t new at doing that. But she did manage to expand on the possibilities of jazz fusion at the same time as she did the same for her own songwriting style. That coalition of personal and overall creative intent would is likely a lot rarer a thing than it might seem. And just for creating a welcoming and enticing entry point into Joni Mitchell’s musical hybridizing makes this album one of her most iconic ones.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Little Things” by India.Arie

India Arie Simpson was born in Denver, Colorado to a family not only drenched in music. But with a history at Motown as well. Her mother Joyce was a singer who toured with Stevie Wonder-as well as Al Green. After her parents divorced and she moved to Georgia, India’s musical interests (always encouraged by her family) became even more pronounced-as she actively began to learn both guitar and composition. This occurred while attending the Savannah School Of Art & Design. She also learned of her strong African roots via DNA testing-including that of the Kru people of the nation of Liberia.

India. Arie made her debut on Motown in 2001 with her Acoustic Soul. That literally described the first song I heard from her entitled “Video”, where she talked of her she desired music and humanity, for herself and others, not to be seen as a product. This resulted in India becoming a major face of the coalescing neo soul movement of the time. Her second album Voyage To India came out the next year. Its main single didn’t perform commercially the way “Video” did. But it was a huge step ahead in terms of instrumentation and songwriting. It was called “Little Things”.

The sound of the gong starts of the intro of vocal harmonies from India.Arie that begins the song-with a bell like electric piano echo in the back round. The drum, at first stop and start comes into the mix with a strong accent of heavy percussion and a heavy, ascending bass line. As the vocal/lyrical flavor of the song changes, so does the feeling of the music. Sometimes its mostly rhythm and bass. Other times rhythm guitar and electric piano flourishes are stronger-along with what sounds like a baby crying. The song comes to an abrupt end after a long vocal run on the extended chorus.

“Little Things” is an interesting song. Musically speaking, its a somewhat more stripped down variant of the jazzy chords of Stevie Wonder compositions and a soul/funk rhythm-similar to Mary J Blige’s “All That I Can Say”. In terms of  its actual structure, its more of a folk type song. A lot of lyrical verses after another rather than a refrain/chorus/bridge setup. It has a heavier studiocentric approach than much of her debut album. To me, “Little Things” is an example of India. Arie using her amazing abilities as a composer for a beautifully flowing, neo soul friendly funky soul number.

 

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The Crusaders Remembered: “Summer Nights In Rio” by Wilton Felder

Wilton Felder was far more to me than a founding member of the Crusaders. And even that was an great accomplishment. He set the precedence along with David Sanborn for the top session sax king of the late 60’s and early 70’s. He was pretty much Joni Mitchell’s go to guy for sax during her mid/late 70’s jazz explorations. He even told the Virginian Pilot in 2006 that her music was just  fun to play for him. Of course his session work also extended to electric bass. An ongoing project that myself, Henrique Hopkins and Calvin Lincoln have been on is to figure out just how many sessions Wilton played on.

Today, wanted to talk a little about Felder’s solo career. It started out with the soundtrack to the 1969 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. Since my father described the album as one which turned him away from Felder’s solo albums, I didn’t actively pursue it. But he did record a number of solo albums in the late 70’s to the late 80’s. These were done concurrently with Crusaders releases and under their production moniker. I have three of them on vinyl. One of them is a 1983 LP entitled Gentle Fire. It contains one song I’ll be talking to about today entitled “Summer Nights In Rio”.

The Afro Latin drums and percussion starts off the songs-courtesy of drummer Rayford Griffin and one of Rio’s finest in Paulinho Da Costa on percussion. A liquid guitar and thumping bass solo accompany it. Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements come into the mix at that point.  These horns play over an extended, chordally complex melodic movement with fellow Crusader Joe Sample providing the Fender Rhodes. Felder’s solos, ranging from higher pitched to deeper tones, occupy most of the songs middle before an extended chorus fades it out.

“Summer Nights In Rio” represents the very best aspects of Brazilian jazz/funk fusion. Felder,Da Costa, Joe Sample and (with six musicians between both instruments) the bass and guitarist on this song are all seemingly experiencing a great deal of joy in playing it. Its strongly based in Felder’s sax solos. At the same time, everyone playing with him are focusing on beautiful melodic and rhythmic dynamics. It showcased how that well oiled Crusaders sound of the late 70’s and early 80’s remained a major aspect of Felder’s solo albums as well.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Candango” by Airto Moreira

Airto Moreira is someone whom I recently covered here. Since his official birthday is Saturday, decided to pay tribute to a song by him that I just couldn’t resist. The origins of the album the 1976 Airto album Promises Of The Sun in my collection comes from the budget vinyl crate digging days. Just learned about Airto from his work on Miles Davis’s album from the early 70’s. And his solo albums were popping up on a lot of these crate digging exercises. The cover art depicting Airto in the middle of a ritualistic chant drew me to thinking this album would have a tribal musical content. And it actually did.

During a period where I was still actually making a lot of mix tapes, there was one song from this particular album that got my attention. Its title was hard to translate. But it apparently refers to anyone who came from another state to participate in the development of the city of Brasilia, the federal capital of Brazil. So when it comes to increased knowledge of this songs place in Airto’s musical history, its good history on this song that ends the second side of the vinyl edition of Promises Of The Sun. The name of this particular song is “Candango”.

Airto starts off the song with swinging march-one that evolves into a percussion laden Brazilian swing with Airto chanting-likely in Portuguese. On the first part of the song it showcases Rhodes player Hugo Fattorusa,guitarist Toninho Horta and bassist Novelli playing to Airto’s melodically spirited scat singing. This breaks for a moment with Rhodes-before the second part of this verse goes into a much bluesier, psychedelic part of the song. Here Horta’s guitar plays a rockier solo with Airto’s chants and scatting blending together in this cavalcade of sound before the first verse closes the song out.

“Candango” is a song that,even after all these years, has an idiosyncratic air about it that still delights me to this day. Its a sandwiched type of song really. The middle is this psychedelic jazz/rock/blues explosion of Fender Rhodes,guitar and bass. But they are bookended with this swinging Brazilian jazz style melody that still retains Airto’s unique creative air throughout. Its a strong reminder of how much Airto and another fellow collaborator in the late George Duke had in common: both loving to compose music with abrupt changes in sound. For me at least, “Candango” is one of Airto’s top compositions.

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