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
It’s been over 40 years since Return To Forever member Stanley Clarke began his solo career. One of the major gifts he gave to the world of the then still developing jazz fusion genre was how he showcased two separate styles of playing-on electric and upright bass respectively. As an electric bassist? This was a man who’d come up listening to bass player icons such as Motown’s James Jamerson and the Bay Area’s Larry Graham. So he had both a gift for melody and for the then still developing slap bass style from later in the 60’s. This quality also musically endeared him to his frequent musical partner-the late George Duke.
One thing Stanley has continually worked on throughout his career is the challenge of composition. He started out relatively weak in that area. Yet it wasn’t too long before he was competent enough to become an in demand scorer of Hollywood films. Today he is something of an honored elder who doesn’t exactly need to make music for any career reasons. But he still has so much music left in him,he keeps doing it and reaching for new ideas. With the release of the James Brown biopic ‘Get On Up’,this has been (as my blogging partner Rique might put it) The Year of JB. Even I’ve been hearing his direct influence everywhere. And it would seem Stanley Clarke is no exception.
Driven by a back-round of hand claps,the song begins with Stanley playing what a horn fanfare soon kicks into gear:essentially a very straight re-rendering of James Brown’s classic hit “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”. Stanley of course is playing James’ vocal line on the slap bass,which is very appropriate. With the outro to the second refrain,you’ve got a wailing and funky saxophone solo blasting to life. On the bridge however,an isolated and very spirited drum solo kicks into life. After this Stanley plays a deep,even more drum-like than usual rolling electric slap bass line after which the entire band lock right into superb funky unison with Stanley.
Not only is this an amazing re-visitation of James Brown funk from Stanley Clarke,but also succeeds strongly by virtue of his band on this song. They are members of the famous Quincy Jones Westlake Studio. Guitarist Paul Jackson,keyboardist Greg Phillinganes,drummer John Robinson and horns arranged by Jerry Hey. These are the same people who spun musical gold not only for icons such as Michael Jackson,Phil Collins,Michael McDonald and Patti Austin but also for many pop/soul studio sessions during the mid/late 80’s.
These are people known for their polished studio sheen-something the eternally road bound James Brown didn’t always have the advantage to have on his original studio classics. They deliver some polish hear,but they also maintain James’ instrumental plain spoken manner while still maintaining there renowned studio professionalism. Makes one wonder what those original records with the JB’s band would’ve sounded like in such a studio setting. Also,it shows how many different venues of sound that James Brown’s sound can operate under even today. So it’s worthwhile to thank Stanley Clarke on many levels for taking James Brown’s innovations as a musical launching pad for funk futurism.
Beyonce’ is figure who,interestingly enough has spawned a surprising amount of controversy and downright hostility in a specific circle around me. Having had little luck relating musically to my peers in the past? It has continued to be my mother and father who remain my main guides in terms of music. Beyonce’ represents a point where that began to change. For their part? My parents are not Beyonce’ fans. She has provoked far more dislike from them than Prince ever did during his prime. My father seems to see her as unimaginative and uninteresting. Whereas my mother views her as nothing more than a performing prostitute-someone sacrificing their very real talent merely to make a quick buck and get attention. At first I was completely with them on that. And truthfully? I still feel those are valid points. Yet Beyonce’ is a character with more to her than her flamboyant onstage persona would suggest.
The most obvious element for an instrumentally inclined music lover about Beyonce’s sound would be the fact that so much of her music is rather non Western based rhythmically. From her years in Destiny’s Child on through her solo career,songs such as “Jumpin’,Jumpin”,”Survivor” and “Naughty Girl” were based in an Arabic sound while “Get Me Bodied” and “Single Ladies” admittedly were inspired by the Nigerian Highlife sound of Fela Kuti. In short,Beyonce’s sound is very ethnically Afrocentric. That’s of course taken outside the contemporary production settings of the given songs. By embracing many elements of her African (not merely African American) roots,yet embracing some of the nastier elements of modern American performance ethic? She has got many people talking-some in a positive way and some not. The song I am discussing today found Beyonce’ in another sort of groove. It is her song “Love On Top” from her 2011 album 4.
She begins with a finger snapping vocalese of “ba,ba,ba,da,ba,ba ba”,accompanied by both a high pitched keyboard melody and,just as the song is joined by an sizzling bass synthesizer Beyonce frankly asks to “bring the beat in!” The beat in question is very much a slow,slogging type of funk drumming with a similar attitude to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. At the same time,a chunky and solid guitar line shows up playing a lowly mixed yet sonically powerful and funky lead line. Beyonce meanwhile is singing of a relationship that’s matured to the point where the love grows stronger after conflict and may inspire others-so long as she has her “love on top”. The high pitched synthesizer melody,its accompanying keyboard accents and the bass keyboard line all support the main guitar riff. And that maintains itself throughout the song. Its Beyonce’s vocals that provide the majority of chordal changes. That is,until the final refrain when the instrumentation all climbs up a whole chord until the song comes to a stop.
The uptown,funky urban bump of the song was said to have been inspired by Michael Jackson’s late 70’s/early 80’s sound when working with Quincy Jones and his Westlake studio crew. While I can hear that to a degree? Somehow I feel that may have been just a little bit of a patronizing gesture to certain contemporary music listeners who are perceived to have not developed an ear for listening to music of that era. From the first time I ever heard this song? First thing I thought of was George Benson’s “Turn Your Love Around”-with that R&B rhythm shuffle. That Quincy/Westlake production style of the post disco years was widely influential on many people. And when I hear this? The post disco/boogie oriented sound with that production sheen about it instantly bought to mind just how spacious that studiocentric soul/funk-pop sound became during the early 80’s. This level of funk sophistication was something I’d never really heard out of Beyonce’-who usually went (and often still goes) for rhythmic excitement over instrumental cleanliness. This is a sound the Crusaders first perfected,Quincy’s Westlake crew managed to cross over and has become part of the American pop/R&B lexicon of music. And it’s a tribute to Beyonce’s talents that she’s come to understand it’s importance and vitality.