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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mick Jagger had been a longtime loyalist to the Rolling Stones from the early 60’s all the way up through the early 80’s. In 1983, the iconic rock ‘n roll band signed to CBS Records. One clause in this deal was the opportunity for all of its members to pursue solo projects without the band. Jagger was the first one to seize this opportunity during 1984. Keith Richards erupted in anger at Jagger during this time,publically accusing him of breaking allegiance to the Stones in a feud that took the rest of the decade to resolve. But Jagger’s solo career continued onward. As did his presence in the Rolling Stones.
She’s The Boss, Jagger’s first solo album,had a very different focus from what The Rolling Stones had done before. Whereas their albums featured the core band,production and a guest singer or musician here or there, this solo recording featured 32 musicians across its nine cuts. That’s somewhat more in keeping with the way the soul and funk albums were recorded at the time rather than rock. And in keeping with Jagger’s musical vision. That approach to the recording also spilled over into the sound of the music. And an excellent example of this is the title song.
A drum machine fanfare and deep digitized voice transition directly into Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare’s stuttering,tight bass and snare heavy drum interaction. Jeff Beck provides a rocking rhythm guitar over this-playing a higher chorded version of Shakespeare’s bass line directly over it. Jagger raps/talk sings the lyrics in his classic bluesy style during the refrains and choruses of the songs,featuring a heavier guitar sustain. Jeff Beck takes some harder rocking solos during the coarse of the song as well before the basic refrain fades it all out.
“She’s The Boss” is a very busy song,both in terms of style and instrumentation. Wally Badarou and Guy Fletcher’s synths,along with the percussion of Anton Fier and Aiyb Dieng’s talking drum provide extra textural and rhythmic bedding for this song. Stylistically, its a song that that blends a funk/reggae/rock mixture of approaches-all put together via producer Bill Laswell. Lyrically, it extends on “Emotional Rescue” by the Stones. Musically, that fact its a fuller affair stays in keeping with Jagger and the Stones keeping up with the progressions of black American music they had genuine love for.
Superfly is a film I’ve never seen. Nor have the soundtrack to. One of the oddest omissions in my collection. The reason having the album never seemed a priority to own is because my father had the 2 CD special edition in the early aughts. A set complete with radio spots for the album from Curtis himself. And it was played to death. So there was a lot of exposure to the music from this 1972 classic soundtrack for the Gordon Parks Jr’s drug scene related epic staring Ron O’Neal as the dealer Priest-so as I understand a character planning on retirement after a final “sweet” drug deal.
Apparently Mayfield wasn’t particularly pleased by Parks’ movie after seeing a screening during the film scoring process. He was said to have described it as an “infomercial for cocaine”. Being the socially conscious man that Mayfield was? He decided to write a series of songs that not only ran thematically counter to the film. But also added depth based on different perspectives of Superfly‘s seemingly pro crime themes. The film itself can be debated. But what cannot be so easily is how Mayfield fleshed out one particular “flunky” pusher from the film in one of its classics called “Freddie’s Dead”.
Tyrone McCullen’s ultra funky drums start of the song accompanying Mayfield’s lead melody on a punchy fuzz guitar,with a layer of wah wah in the back round. As the song comes into itself,that bluesy melody the song starts out of with the countering orchestral strings,dreamy glockenspiel and big band horn charts accentuating the melody. All along with Henry Gibson’s percussion. Especially as the song jumps up a chord on the chorus. As the song progress,muted horns and psychedelic guitars and all, a bridge with a bass/string/percussion delay goes into extended chorus fading out the song.
“Freddie’s Dead” is one of those masterpieces of early 70’s cinematic funk for what became known as the “blacksploitation” genre of cinema at the time. It was famously covered by the ska/funk band Fishbone 16 years after the original due to its iconic status. Heard only as an instrumental in the movie, it gives a seemingly minor character an identity of people having “misused him,ripped him off and abused him”. Curtis then advises “Freddie’s on the corner now,so you wanna be a junkie wow,remember Freddie’s dead” in a beautiful example of funk working cinematically to help heal society’s ills.
Brian Auger has been, much like Americans Art Blakey and Norman Connors, a great assembler and cultivator of talent during the 60’s and 70’s in his native England. His first band was The Steampacket in 1965,which included a young and then unknown Rod Stewart. As a session musician and famed player of the Hammond B-3 organ, Auger worked with everyone from Tony Williams to Jimi Hendrix. Formed in 1970, his Oblivion Express represented when Auger became such a talent cultivator. In particular with members of what became the Average White Band.
For the first six years of the 70’s, Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express released on album every year. The last of this series of albums released prior to 1977 was the 1975 album Reinforcements. Seen it on vinyl once,never picked it up and have come to regret it. This album helped to cultivate the guitar/percussion/vocal talents of soon to be Santana band member Alex Ligertwood as well. Being a jazz-funk innovator, this would seem to be an album based upon online listening that delved very strongly into funkiness. And one of its finest examples is the opening song entitled “Brain Damage”.
Ligertwood’s rhythm guitar,and soon percussion provides the intro the song. Auger himself comes in on electric piano along with bassist Clive Chaman’s thundering,jazzy line. Dave Dowle’s drums come into the arrangement-along with the biting lead guitar of Jack Mills. The refrains A section is a thick funky grind with a heavy Moog synthesizer providing the melody,while the B section goes into a heavier electric piano part. As this pattern continues, the B sections often serve as forums for solos. First for Auger’s electric piano,than his organ and Mills’ guitar before fading out on the main melody.
“Brain Damage” is a hefty jazz funk jam of the finest sort-very solo based and full of instrumental excitement. Not to mention its confident strut. The A-section of the main melody has a bass/guitar/drum/percussion interaction that reminds me somewhat of mid/late 70’s P-Funk to some degree. At the same time, its the instrumental soloing (all of which is very clear and beautiful) that relates it to the jazz/funk fusion sound of that period so strongly. Brian Auger is someone I’ll personally have to be checking out more of in the future. Simply based on hearing music like this from him.