Five years before he left to found Earth Wind & Fire, Maurice White was the second drummer for the Ramsey Lewis Trio. He had succeeded the groups original drummer Isaac “Red” Holt after he’d left to form Young-Holt Unlimited in 1966. That group in turn had a huge instrumental hit with “Soulful Strut” three years after leaving Ramsey’s trio. Maurice observed that while the trio played on a lot of college campuses while he was in it, most of the audience were more in his age group than Ramsey and bassist Cleveland Eaton. In the latter period of his being part of the trio,began to envision a jazzy funk/soul sound that would appeal more to latter silent generation people.
Maurice’s final album as the drummer for the Ramsey Lewis Trio was 1969’s Another Voyage. For the most part,it continued in the groove and rhythm centered soul jazz the trio had pioneered throughout the 60’s. A groove that became crucial to the development of the jazz/funk genre as much as that of the Jazz Crusaders. For his part,Maurice had already developed a strong interest in Egyptology. That cultural ethic and music had also been popular with free jazz pioneers such as Sun Ra beforehand. And Maurice was intent on integrating that into Ramsey’s trio by the end of the 60’s. The result was my favorite song on this particular album entitled “Uhuru”-the Swahili word for “freedom”.
Eaton’s funky upright bass popping opens the song. It lays the groundwork for the rhythm of the song-most of which is supplied courtesy of Maurice White himself. His percussive drumming on the song is based on a slower Clyde Stubblefield style rhythm with a lot of jazzier fills on brushing cymbals and hi hat. Over that Maurice brings in the main melody on the African thumb piano known as the Kalimba. This melodic statement evolves into a thick,purely rhythmic solo as the song continues. The sound of the trios members hooting and hollering ques to one another comes together with hand claps on the final verses of the song for an extra thick groove.
When I first heard this song,it occurred to me that the melody Maurice played on Kalimba here was one which I’d heard before. That same Kalimba melody did in fact show up 14 years later on the EWF album Powerlight in 1983. It was used on the more electronic interlude of “Mizar” at the end of the albums first side on vinyl. The sound on this song,it’s title and general atmosphere showcased the beginning of Maurice White’s expression of Afrocentricity as a positive social and musical force as the 1960’s transitioned into the 70’s. On the more personal level,it was exciting to hear the main framework of EWF’s sound begin while Maurice was the drummer in another group.
Filed under 1960's, Afro Funk, Afrocentrism, Cleveland Eaton, drums, Earth Wind & Fire, Egyptology, jazz funk, Kalimba, Maurice White, Ramsey Lewis, Ramsey Lewis Trio, soul jazz, Uncategorized, upright bass
A Celebratory Album For Incognito!
When I first discovered Incognito when my own mother purchased their 1999 album No Time Like the Future album in a budget bin at the now defunct Wild Rufus records on Coastal Maine,who could’ve guessed that by that time there would be a decade or more of catching up to do with them. There was no internet in our household at that time. So all there was to pay attention to was the music. Since then I’ve been able to learn what a journeyman musicians career Bluey has had since he first recorded as Incognito in the early 80’s and reformed the outfit a decade later. I call them that because its never been a totally formalized band. Many members have come in and out over the years. Yet since 1991 they’ve maintained a very consistent schedule of album releases,touring and appearances on other artists records. They represent not only a modern day jazz-funk band,but a similar spirit to the originals in the sense that much of the “acid jazz” genre,which encompasses that ethic,seems to revolve around them in some kind of way. And here we are,its 2014 and Incognito are celebrating 35 years as an entity. And this album represents part of that big celebration.
Normally I’d start such a review discussing the pluses. However,just to get it out of the way “I Couldn’t Love You More”,”Rapture”,”Day Or Night”,”Another Way”,”I See The Sun” and “The Hands Of Time” are not only highly repetitive of one another,but also of the sort of major/minor chorded horn based mid-tempo grooves that seem to comprise the bulk of much of Incognito’s albums since the beginning of the millennium. That being said,they are all wonderfully played and performed. “Hands Up If You Want To Be Loved” mixes it up with a rhythmic lilt and a bit of a slick gospel drenched juke joint type piano. “Hats (Makes Me Wanna Holler)”,with its 60’s era Crusaders/Ramsey Lewis/Young Holt uptempo hand clap-powered gospel soul/funk just cannot help but bring to mind a musical response to Pharrell Williams newly iconic hit Happy. “Silver Shadow” is my favorite song on the album,with its powerfully melodic chorus and glistening,high pitched dyno’d electric piano chords right out of the early 80’s sophistifunk school the band themselves came out of to begin with.
“Day Or Night” has a jazzy neo soul flavor very much in the vein of a Jill Scott or Erykah Badu. “Something ‘Bout July” gets into a Stevie Wonder style Latin soul/funk samba type groove while “Wind Sorceress” again provides that hyper melodic stop/start sophistifunk groove on a more instrumental end of things. “Never Known A Love Like This Before” is one of their always strong disco friendly uptempo dance/funk scorchers “Stop Running Away” is a cinematic type groove with Bluey singing in a captivating (at least to me) choked Curtis Mayfield style falsetto. The title song,presented in two parts,also continues in the cinematic funk vein. This would’ve been a near perfect album in every way since there is an overriding Chitlin’ Circuit style of chunky,gospel drenched funky soul-jazz about some of these songs that showcase a new instrumental direction with Incognito. Not to mention the uptempo Afro-Latin style percussion dance/funk numbers are among their best. Maysa,while an asset,is not present here however this I have no trouble with. The only thing that detracts from this album is something they’ve tended to do a lot: rely too much of minor chorded mid-tempo grooves that sound similar and make the album go on somewhat longer than it may need to. Still that doesn’t take away too much from the fact they are still here. And make it clear they have intentions on innovating their music and perhaps learning from their creative missteps in their bright looking future to come.
*Here is a link to the original review on Amazon.com. Please view and comment on site as well. Thank you!
Filed under Acid Jazz, Disco, Funk, Incognito, Jazz, Memphis Soul, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Pharrell Willaims, Soul, Stevie Wonder