Grace Jones is someone who feels a bit like a creative soul sister to me. Despite the 32 year age difference,we were both born on the same day of the year. As Tauruses, both of us very much contradict our supposed astrological traits. It’s kind of fun to think about the fact that both Grace Jones and myself revel in being somewhat daring. Yet both of us exact strong control over how said daring is projected. So far,she’s really made her controlled sense of performance art really function well for her. That’s made her something of a cultural icon for Afrocentricity from the beginning to the middle of the 1980’s.
Jones recorded three albums during between 1980 and 1982 for Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point studios. All would feature the production and instrumental talents of dub reggae pioneers Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. These albums all fashioned a funky,pan ethnic type of new wave dance/rock music. Her final album of this triad was called Living My Life. In many ways,it was the most fully realized of her albums in terms embracing different strains of Afrocentric musicality. And it all started off with a song that really summed this sound up in “My Jamaican Guy”.
Wally Badarou starts out with a synthesizer solo deep in the Asiatic pentatonic scale. Dunbar then comes in with the 8 beat,break heavy jazzy funk/reggae skank throughout the song. On the refrain there are two more layers of keyboard-one is a lower and more bluesy one,the other of is a higher pitched synth brass/horn chart type riff. Shakespeare’s bass and guitarists Barry Reynonds stay in chunky,syncopated interplay throughout-all the while a round,hiccuping electronic pulse adds a percussive thump. After a bridge that reduces the song back to the drum,the chorus lets the song come to a hand clapping stop.
Instrumentally speaking,this might be the most thoroughly pan ethnic funk jam of 1982. It’s got the Asian style melody,the stripped down dub funk drumming as well as the equally drum like bass/guitar interplay. Everything from Grace and Sly & Robbie’s grunts and calls to the electronic hiccups make this song one big sea of rhythm and movement along with it’s deep reggae melody and lyrics. The “laid back,not layed back” Jamaican guy Jones sings about turned out to be Tyrone Downie of Bob Marley’s Wailers. And this all makes up for one of the best examples of where the funky groove took Miss Grace Jones.
Filed under 1980's, Afrocentrism, Barry Reynolds, Chris Blackwell, Compass Point, drums, Funk Bass, Grace Jones, naked funk, pentatonic scale, rhythm guitar, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly & Robbie, Sly Dunbar, synthesizers, Uncategorized
The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (often abbreviated to TAFKAP) hasn’t wound up being the most musically consistent of his career. At the same time he was fighting Warner Bros for ownership of his master tapes as well as changing his name,he had inner daemons as well. Heart palpitations resulted in him having to start taking pain killers. The hip-hop genre he’d once looked down his nose on was by then becoming the mainstream of popular music. So now Prince was facing in the 90’s what Stevie Wonder had faced in the 80’s: still musically strong,but no quite as apt to amaze his listeners.
Happily 1996 proved a happy one for Prince. He ended up being released from his Warner Bros. contract. And now had the creative autonomy he desired. Plus he got married for the first time in his life to Mayte Garcia,one of his dancers of the last seven years. During this time he began recording his triple CD set Emancipation. This was as much a musical love letter to Mayte as it was a declaration of musical independence for him. Especially the second disc of the set. One of the songs on it came as a result of Mayte becoming pregnant with what would’ve been their first child. This song was called “Sex In The Summer”.
Prince starts the song out singing the chorus of the song acapella. After this,the round synth bass line and reggae like drum beat get the song started. This is accompanied by a soulful piano part and the percussive pulses of Prince sampling the ultrasound of he and Mayte’s son’s beating heart. The full chorus starts earnestly with ringing synths bringing the counter melody-and the synth bass/ultra sound derived bass line assisted by a bluesy wah wah guitar. The refrains strip the rhythm down to the drums,bass lines and a much lower and chunkier rhythm guitar tone.
The song itself contains two musical bridges. The first one consists of Prince duetting rather George Benson style with his wah wah guitar improvisations. After another chorus and refrain round,including one with Prince singing said chorus over the drum and ultra sound,the second bridge starts up. This is defined by the bluesy wah wah,low synth brass and a Ramsey Lewis like Chicago soul jazz piano solo over a bed of heavy rock guitar. This bluesy jazz flavor set up by the second bridge of the song keeps the song high on the groove until Prince closes it out with the title chorus just as he began it.
Seeing Prince and Mayte talking about the joyous experiencing of recording their unborn child’s ultra sound on the Oprah Winfrey show during this time was deep for me. Though sadly the child did not survive. The very best of music,especially rhythm based sounds,express the very essence of life itself. And Prince using that ultrasound as part of the bass line,the foundation of any strong groove, really bought out that creative spirit. By mixing reggae and soul jazz/hard bop styles,this song perhaps stood out most fully as a prime example of Prince liberating his own funk during the mid 1990’s.
Filed under 1990s, blues funk, drums, jazz funk, Mayte Garcia, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, piano, Prince, reggae funk, rock guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, ultrasound, wah wah guitar, Warner Bros.
The Pointer Sisters-Anita,the late June and today’d birthday girl Ruth Pointer (also the eldest of them) have always stood to me as an example of a truly democratic group. Aside from the 1977 departure of sister Bonnie,the remaining three sisters developed a vocal approach that focused on the importance of groups in vocally centered funky music. Their 3 part harmonies assisted one or the others sisters’ vocal lead generally. Ruth’s voice has always stood out very strongly for me. Her gospel powered husky tenor calls to mind what I’ve heard from the iconic Mavis Staples and more recently Lalah Hathaway. So Ruth and her sisters have really prioritized uptempo music in their repertoire.
Diversity seemed to be the key for the Pointers while recording for the Blue Thumb label in the mid 70’s. Their first three albums on that label were a mixture of swinging jazz,jump blues and even country/western. Vocally they performed everything as if each was their chosen approach to music. Of course each of these albums got seriously funky at one time or another. And for me that’s where their musical soul really shined through. Their 1975 album Steppin’ is the best such example-containing contributions from Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. It was their classic writing partner of the era Allen Toussaint who provided Ruth’s shining groove on here called “Going Down Slowly”.
The drum and Melvin Ragin’s high pitched wah wah guitar give the basic beat a heavy reggae like skank to it. There are several layers of wah wah guitar-some of which trickle like falling rain while others burst forth like a revving engine. The piano comes down equally as hard while the bass line scales up and down as a strong,phat support system. Sharing the lead with her sisters Anita and June’s gospel/jazz style harmonies,Ruth even sometimes double tracks her own leads. After a brief bridge where the sisters “doo doo wop” harmonies scale up a pitch,the chorus repeats as the drums,guitar and piano to a fevered frenzy before fading down for the piano bring the song to an abrupt end.
One thing I love about this number is how it incorporates some of the static rhythm of reggae,itself a new and developing genre at that time,into it’s frenetic funk stew. The instrumentation of the song is pretty thick from the very start. But as the song evolves,the reverb and some more rocking guitar layers really thicken right up. In a more stripped down sort of way,this has a somewhat similar reggae/funk/rock approach that could be found a year later in the Rolling Stones “Hot Stuff”. Ruth’s voice has a power and elasticity that’s ideal for uptempo material. And she truly shines as the vocal lead on this example of musically powerful and lyrically assertive funk.
Filed under 1970's, Allen Toussaint, Anita Pointer, Bonnie Pointer, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, funk rock, June Pointer, Pointer Sisters, reggae funk, Ruth Pointer, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar, Wah Wah Waston