Ramsey Lewis’s main musical personality is as an interpreter. Of both classic and modern standards. He wasn’t generally a Quincy Jones style arranger and producer, who had grand ideas for long form musical concepts. Lewis’s 1978 album Legacy changed that dynamic for the soul jazz pianist. Anyone who is going into this album fresh without any familiarity with it’s contents should be made aware of some important facts. For starters, this is not your average Ramsey Lewis album. The pianist had divided the majority of the 70’s up until this point recording in two distinct kinds of fusion styles.
One of these styles was a very poppy R&B-inflected style that owed at least as much to orchestration as to melody (example: Tequila Mockingbird and the other a very dynamic funk-jazz sound strongly influenced by Earth Wind & Fire and the Ohio Players (example: Don’t It Feel Good). On Legacy, those distinctions begin the blur. And a lot of it was very much intentional. The title track,a long 22 + minute track here (and sidelong suite on the original vinyl LP) is more or less a concerto featuring three distinct sections,listed on the album featuring Lewis’s piano playing in those unique settings.
It’s not a classical piece though. The piano solo’s are based more in different jazz and gospel mixtures than anything in the European classic tradition. In between they are bound together with these interludes that are basically very cinematic theatrical scores. The whole thing comes off as a mixture of that all encompassing musical suite Quincy Jones tinkered with around this same time and a 70’s style movie soundtrack. The second part of the album though is where those “blurring lines” surrounding Ramsey’s separate musical sides of the decade are most apparent.
He was born under the Gemini star after all so it’s not surprising that compositions such as “All The Way Live”,”Don’t Look Back” and “Well,Well,Well” blend both flowery orchestral rhetoric with a very direct polyrhythmic, staccato funk. Strangely enough because you have the two musical dynamics occurring at the same time,there appears to be too much instrumentation on some of the songs. Interestingly enough at times a couple of them sometimes break off into a disco beat. It’s not that they are particularly overproduced but there’s often a huge amount of musical content.
Out of all the tunes, “Moogin On” is the most impressive as it focuses squarely into an impressive, upbeat Latin-funk piece that’s incredibly catchy and a wonderful standout song for this album. The more gentle “I Love To Please You” is the single thoroughly mellow tune here,if on that hand your into that kind of thing. Some people just aren’t. This is an album that’s very commendable for the typically masterful musicianship from Ramsey and his band,as well as their collective intent on stringing together over a century of musical development into a contemporary context.
It’s not something even easy to conceptualize. The fact that Ramsey was able to pull this off so well here says a lot. Legacy is also vital in terms of its visual packaging. The front cover depicts “clones” of Ramsey Lewis in different outfits. On the back is a checklist illustrating which end of music each outfit was associated with-from rock, Latin to New Orleans. This gives an image for Ramsey’s hope of showcasing the scope of jazz from its origins up to the funk/disco era that Legacy was recorded in. And what makes the album an important and unsung diamond in Ramsey’s vast recorded catalog.
All The Woo In The World is an album I have an interesting personal history with. It first came to my attention as a budget priced import CD my father (regretfully) gave the slip to in the late 1990’s. I finally got a hold of a reissue for Black Friday’s Record Store Day of 2017-one with translucent orange vinyl. Bernie Worrell was the living embodiment of how his European classical training at Julliard didn’t solely represent the most advanced American musical forms. My main inner question was what would Worrell’s 1978 debut album bring to the P-Funk musical cannon as it reached its peak?
“Woo Together” has a heavy cinematic soul intro-full of layered wah wah guitar and melodic string arrangements from Dave Van De Pitte-with members of Parlet and Brides Of Funkenstein singing harmony with Worrell throughout the rest of the mid 70’s Parliament era groove. “I’ll Be With You” showcases a melodic harmony based number-with a lot of processed instrumentation and jazzy chord changes based around that classic P-Funk acoustic and electric piano walk down. The acoustic piano solo on the last part has some similarities to Ramsey Lewis’s style of playing in this same era.
“Hold On” is a rhythmically theatrical, almost marching kind of Philly soul ballad kind of song. Its a showcase for both Fred Wesley’s trombone and Worrell’s “8 bit video game” style of high pitched synthesizer melodies. “Must Thrust” starts out a conversation with a Sir Nose sounding voice as well as Bootsy’s. And then launches right into a stomping blues/rocker with a stinging guitar solo along with Worrell’s piano and synth- with a number of vocal ad libs from both Bootsy and Worrell in the back round of the song. The harmony vocals, as on much classic P Funk, tends to take the lead end.
“Happy To Have (Happiness On Our Side)” has a compelling reggae shuffle/cinematic funk hybrid. Rodney Skeet Curtis, from what I can gather, comes in with a very jazzy bass to compliment Billy Bass Nelson’s rhythmic slapping. “Insurance Man For The Funk” brings in vocal assistance from Dr. Funkenstein himself. And its a classic late 70’s mid tempo P-Funk number in every possible respect-with its horn charts and and doo wop inspired vocal harmonies. With Worrell’s “video game” synth duetting with Maceo Parker’s sax. A reprise of “Must Thrust” concludes the album.
All The Woo In The World is representative to me of P-Funk at a logistical crossroads. George Clinton and company were trying to maintain a growing musical colony of different bands-all the while starting to focus on solo acts as well. So the album seemed to span the two end of P-Funk in 1978. Bernie Worrell’s musical focus here is also a lot more jazzy and orchestrated. Its only when George Clinton enters the picture that it sounds rather like mid/late 70’s , horn driven Parliament style P-Funk. Which was often the sound Clinton preferred for presenting his spin off acts with at that time.
Worrell also presented himself with a cracking, often high pitched voice that resembled Sly Stone across much of this album. So it offered a unique lead vocal flavor in much the same way Gary Mudbone Cooper and Walter Junie Morrison were. In the end, my own view of All The Woo In The World combines two different views I’ve already heard about it. Bernie Worrell gave much of the music a unique and colorful instrumental flavor.. At the same time, it wasn’t all that it could have been either. Still All The Woo In The World remains a distinctive album in the pantheon of late 70’s P-Funk side projects.
Eliane Elias was born in São Paulo. And was a musical prodigy. She began learning piano at the age of 7, transcribing solos from musicians at 12 and teaching music by 15, She went on to perform with singer Toquino and poet Vinicius de Moraes during her late teens. After journeying to New York to attend the Julliard School Of Music, Elias joined up with the new jazz fusion outfit Steps Ahead. It was there she met jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker, to whom married for a time and with whom she had a daughter Amanda Elias Brecker.
As a multi talented pianist/singer/ composer/arranger, Elias has gone onto earn praise from the jazz press over the decades. The first time I ever heard about her was via a cassette she recorded when married to Randy Brecker in 1985 entitled Amanda. It would seem to have been her first album as a leader. Having it on vinyl now? Its a lot easier for me to hear the albums reconciliation of Elias’s Brazilian jazz approach with Brecker’s funk/fusion approach in their improvisations and orchestrations. And the song that really pulls this all together for me is this albums lead off number entitled “Splash”.
Danny Gottlieb’s funky drumming starts things out with Elias’s phat synth bass and Jeff Mironov’s rhythm guitar interaction. Where Will Lee’s electric bass supplies the rest of the song’s bass lines. Brecker plays a brittle melody over this before the main chorus-where Elias provides a chordally complex, flute like wordless vocal-duetting in harmony with Brecker’s trumpet. The bridge of the song features an energetic piano solo from Elias along with her synth bass. Then after a break,there’s a muted electric solo from Brecker before an extended chorus continues to the songs fade out.
“Splash” is a song that crosses a lot of different jazz bridges. Its production sonic’s are cleanly of the mid 80’s. At the same time, the actual arrangement Brecker provides from this song is a mix of jazz samba and be-bop. Same goes for the how Elias and Brecker approach their solos. At the same time, the rhythm section and electricity of the synth bass and trumpet/guitar interaction hits on thick funk/jazz grooving. At the same time, the melody takes a cue from the Miles Davis/Dizzy Gillespie school of “something you can hum”. So “Splash” hits its bop/funk/Latin jazz hybrid in all the right places.
Dr John is truly in a class by himself. I’ve seen the man live. And in that context, I can utter him in the same sentence as James Brown, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. You hear this guy, there’s instant recognition. It’s his musical sound. In terms of sheer funkitivity this album is a dream come true. His band on this album is the Meters. It was produced by Allen Toussaint. And it was recorded in 1973 at the height of the funk era. So if you go into this album expecting something different thank funk,funk and more funk? You indeed probably are not in “the right place”.
The album opens up with the title track…I don’t think I can say anymore. It’s one of those select few bonafide funk songs that almost everybody knows . On “Same Old Place”? Surprise surprise; more slinky,swampy Clavinet driven funk of the highest order. On “Just The Same”,”Qualified” and “Travelling Mood” there’s a tad bit more of a relaxed soul atmosphere to it. But the songs are no less in the groove. On “Peace Brother Peace” the funk is back full throttle,like Sly Stone in the Bayou with those calling horns and Dr John belting out a “people music” lyric about world peace not being merely a far off slogan.
And he does have the effect of making even the most offbeat things as real as one would want them to be. “Life” continues on this theme,with some great piano licks and a strong melody to boot. On “Such A Night” there’s a heavy dixieland jazz style soul-pop flavor to the proceedings. “Shoo Fly Marches On” and “I Been Hoodood” are the deepest, swampiest funk here and the closer “Cold Cold Cold” brings The Meters own sound more strongly in Dr. John’s sound. Almost everything this guy gets his claws into is going to be dripping from side to side with funk. Always has been that way for him.
In The Right Place is definitely a full on funk album. The Crescent City, from where Dr. John and The Meters come, is probably the main origin point for funk as a social concept. In the late 19th century, a musician named Buddy Bolden, often credited for being the first person to play jazz, played an original number of his called “The Funky Butt”. This might’ve been the birth of the term funk in a musical context. In The Right Place comes from it’s early 70’s as some of the most rooted, vital funk of it’s era. Its also one of Dr John’s classic albums. And it couldn’t deserve that status more if it tried.
Jean Paul “Bluey” Maunick decided to change things up in 2013. A long standing member of the flexible lineup oriented acid jazz/funk group Incognito, he began a solo career. Bluey’s sound has by now joined many of the jazz/funk greats such as Donald Fagen and the late Joe Sample in aging to near perfection much like fine vintage wine. Of course a lot of changes have come thick and fast during the years 2012 through 2015. His solo music had enormous potential to showcase the many bright shades of the musical rainbow.
Bluey has elected to expand his musical vision into something that represents the very core of what funk (as a thematic concept) can truly accomplish in terms of speaking directly to people’s souls. “Dance To My Drums” opens with applause,funky drums, popping slap bass and rhythmic backup singing right upfront. The title song has a bass and dripping rhythm guitar based uptempo post disco/boogie funk sunshine to it.”Hold On” keeps that same instrumental vibe-only stripping it down to emphasize the hand clap powered rhythm.
“Saints And Sinners” is a very stripped down electric piano led neo soul/acid jazz style rhythm while “Trippin’ On The Feelin'” features a melodic synthesized symphony in a thickly percussive Brazilian jazz rhythm. “I’ve Got A Weakness For Love” extends the spare instrumentation into a more rhythm guitar led mid tempo groove. “Tomorrow Never Lies” is a stomping Brazilian tinged jazz funk melody while “Columbus Avenue” has a swinging rhythm accompanied by big heavy piano chords for an acoustic vocal jazz oriented number.
“Caught Up In The Grey” has a sleek contemporary jazz flavor based on the piano. “Been There Before” has a melodically bright groove about its thick rhythm. “More Than Getting By” and “The Poetry Of Life” are both stripped down acid jazz mid tempo numbers while ‘Sunships On The Shores Of Mars” takes on an acoustic bossa with cosmic lyrical poetry concluding the album. On every level, this astounding album is a fluid journey that references jazz/funk’s past,present and future as one expansive musical continuum. Very happily? Bluey accomplishes that beautifully with this album.
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.
The Five Stairsteps were the prototype family soul group-predating the Jackson 5 and The Sylvers by several years. They were made up of five out of the six children of Betty and Clarence Burke,a detective for the CPD. They were Alohe Jean, James, Clarence Jr., Dennis and Kenneth-known as Keni. For a brief time, the late Cubie Burke (the youngest brother” was part of the outfit. The became known as Chicago’s “first family of soul”. Their second album Our Family Portrait yeilded the hit “Something’s Missing’. But their best known song was 1970’s “O-o-h Child”.
By that time, the group were known as The Stairsteps. Alohe left the group in 1972. This was just before the group were brought to The Beatles attention by Billy Preston. After a five year hiatus, Preston and Robert Margouleff all came together to produce a comeback along with The Stairsteps-in their new configuration as a quartet. This 1976 album was entitled 2nd Resurrection. I’ve never heard the entire album. But what I’ve heard about it is that, it had a more synthesizer oriented sound. One song I did hear from it was the Keni Burke composition “From Us To You”.
Alvin Taylor’s drums come right in along with Preston’s wailing synthesizer. It keeps a steady, occasionally marching rhythm throughout. The main melody is first played by the harmonizing of Preston’s synth and Dennis Burke’s guitar for a massive melodic sound. This also represents the chorus of the song. Between each chorus, Preston harmonizes with himself on his honky tonk piano, bluesy polyphonic synth riffing and sustained organ. For much of the rest of the song, the Stairsteps vocal harmonies and adlibs sing right along with Preston until the organ fades out on the main melody.
“From Us To You” doesn’t sound to me like anything I’d ever think The Five Stairsteps (by any other name) would do. The drawling chorus, style of singalong melody and the thick groove of the music is far closer in flavor to the Brothers Johnson’s “I’ll Be Good To You” or a Graham Central Station number. Of course, Billy Preston’s instrumentation probably has a lot to do with its heavy funkiness. Interestingly enough, the Preston connection got the band signed to George Harrison’s Dark Horse label to make this album as well. And it certainly started with a strongly funkified new direction for them.
Gary Bartz is a Baltimore native. He was a Julliard graduate who played with musicians like McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis. He formed the Ntu group as a leader-combining a number of different afrocentric forms of music that complemented each other. My friend Henrique had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Bartz one time. He discussed with me Bartz place as a “post Coltrane soprano sax player”-someone who was able to cut through the music of the electric jazz era with his sound. He now teaches at the Oberlin Conservatory Of Music in Ohio, when he’s not on the road.
Bartz generally toured with his own group. But he also seemed to have loved playing with funk musicians too. That came into play during the mid 70’s-when that particular groove became a bigger part of his sound. By his 1980 album Bartz, he was prettying much acting as an adjunct of the band Mtume. With James Mtume and Reggie Lucas writing, producing and using their band as Bartz’ backup musicians. Since its the only Gary Bartz album I presently have, it was easy to discover one particular song from this collaboration that stuck out for me. Its called “One-Eyed Jack”.
A passionate “OOOOOOH!!!” and a five beat drum intro gets the song right into gear. From there on its a slow, dragging drum beat. The bass is slapping hard on the one. A rhythm guitar, one with a wah wah sound and an acoustic piano are all speaking in similar musical phrases with the horns bouncing right along with them-led by Bartz’s sax. Mtume’s Tawatha sings the vocal hook throughout the majority of the song-accentuated by additional space funk synths. There are two refrains-which have the rhythm guitar/bass playing a smoother and more melodic jazz/funk phrase.
Even before the extended chorus fades out this song, “One-Eyed Jack” will likely call to mind mid 70’s P-Funk. In the spirit of Mothership Connection and “Undisco Kidd”. Bartz taking part in another band rather than totally leading it also showcases his versatility here. Henrique also mentioned Bartz’s favorite TV show was the documentary series Unsung. His only hope for it was that it would showcase more unsung jazz musicians than merely soul,funk and hip-hop ones. Considering these kids of jazz soloist and funk band crossovers? Bartz’s comment is more than apropos in this case.
Eric Gale started to teach himself guitar in his native Brooklyn at the age of 12. He played on the R&B circuit with acts such as King Curtis, Maxine Brown and Little Anthony & The Imperials. This laid the ground work for his future as a session great. While at Niagra University, he studied chemistry. The music bug never left Gale however. His major claim to fame was as a session ace during the 60’s and 70’s. As a member of the instrumental jazz funk outfit Stuff, Gale played with Paul Simon in 1980 for his One Trick Pony soundtrack. He was also part of Aretha Franklin’s stage band for a time.
He began a concurrent career as a leader with 1973’s Forecast, on the Kudu label. He recorded the bulk of his late 70’s albums on Columbia however. His first two albums on the label were Ginseng Woman in 1977 and Multiplication the following year. Both albums have been combined together at least twice during the CD era. And were recommended to me by my dad while crate digging. Revisiting some of the songs via YouTube, the song that really stood out uppermost in my head with the title song to the Multiplication album.
Andrew Smith’s jazzy march on drums starts out the groove-with Gale’s ringing guitar improvising along with Bob James’ synths and Alphonso Johnson’s exploratory bass line-starting the groove in a dreamy fashion. Then the horns kick into the groove with Gale playing an ever evolving, down home blues type solo while Richard Tee’s piano and organ join the rhythm section in holding up a soulful groove. All with the horns accenting the changes in key on virtually every chorus and refrain. Its on the closing extended chorus that Gale scales down on his guitar solo as the song itself fades out.
“Multiplication” is an excellent example of ace jazz/funk/rock/fusion session musicians bring a wonderful feeling to their grooves. Sometimes, albums made by session players are thought to be too technical and less human. Gale, Johnson, Jackson, James and Tee’s years of experience playing together really give this groove a great late 70’s jazz/funk version of the uptown, bluesy/soul nightclub musical ethic. And its Gale’s fluid playing style and rich, ballsy tone that lead the way with grooves of this particular type. Basically a theme he’d always variate on as a band leader.