Tag Archives: Return To Forever

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sofistifunk” by Return To Forever featuring Chick Corea

Armando Anthony Corea,known by his professional name of “Chick”, is a native of Chesterfield,Massachusetts. Son of a former Dixieland musician from Boston, Corea took up drums and notably piano on his own. A largely self taught player who seriously sought out musical learning on his own, he began playing gigs throughout high school. While attending both Columbia and Julliard university’s later, his be-bop style piano took on avant garde elements. After a pair of solo recordings,he began working with Miles Davis on his ground breaking 1969 fusion recording In The Silent Way.

Just about every musician who touched Miles creatively became an innovator in their own right. And Corea was no exception. He formed Return To Forever in 1970-originally including the Brazilian duo of Airto Moriera and Flora Purim. By 1973 though the band consisted of bassist Stanley Clarke,drummer Lenny White and the young guitarist Al Di Meola. RTF’s albums generally focused on the more progressive,pyrotechnical variation of jazz/rock fusion. It was on their 1975 album No Mystery that the fluidity of funk flowed into their sound. Especially on songs such as “Sofistifunk”.

Corea’s computerized synthesizer riff starts off the song-followed soon by White’s nimble stop/start jazzy funk drumming. Di Meola’s guitar squawks and Corea’s extra melodic synth come into play-as well as Clarke’s very supporting bass line keeping a very funky groove. That could amount to the chorus of the song. On the refrains,the drum is fuller with more fills. And Di Meola takes on some rocking solos with Corea’s synth acting as straight up melodic support. The song has a long conclusion of the chorus before the synths and guitar fall apart into near incoherence as the songs crescendo.

“Sofistifunk”,or rather a variation of that phrase based upon this song,is actually an adjective I used to describe certain types of what’s referred to as post disco or boogie funk that’s live instrumental and well produced. This song however is nothing like that. It is melodically and harmonically complex jazz-funk-full of intense rhythmic turns and soloing that Return To Forever did so well. Still it lives up to its title by melding the intensity of all the players into a fluid musical flow. That’s not too easy to accomplish. And Chick Corea with Return To Forever really made it work very well in this case.

 

 

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Stanley Clarke: His First Solo Decade

Stanley Clarke painting

Stanley Clarke showcases yet another example of how the City Of Brotherly Love sometimes comes across like the most musical city north of New Orleans. Since NYC and Miami lays between them,it’s more complex than that. That describes Stanley’s approach to bass playing too. He was of course one of the premier jazz fusion bass players of the 70s alongside Jaco Pastorious-with whom he recorded.  He also had a distinct style on the two different bass types-a Larry Graham inspired slap on the electric,and a smooth vamp on the upright acoustic. That helped give his playing style it’s distinctiveness.

I’ve covered one Stanley Clarke song from his most recent album Up,as well as having him be a part of my list of key funky bassists. Thought of covering one or three of his songs on this blogs Anatomy of THE Groove feature. But there’s something about the breadth and expansion of Stanley’s career that lent itself to something else. Recently I’ve been doing individual articles that focus on a large number of songs by such artists with vast musical catalogs. So here is a rundown of the Stanley Clarke numbers that made the funkiest impact on me personally out of his now 44 year old solo career.


“Vulcan Princess”/1974

This song rips right out of Stanley’s self titled sophomore album as a vital extension of Return To Forever’s   (with whom he was bass player still) “Vulcan Worlds”. This version takes the powerful Minimoog based melody into a phat funky slap bass groove on the refrain. Actually,my very first time hearing Stanley Clarke playing funk.

“Hot Fun”/1976

It is very easy to lean on the title song of Stanley’s 1976  release School Days. While that has one of the most iconic funk bass lines in history,something about the horn arrangements building up this song and it’s slap bass improvisations really bring out the funk. And showcases Stanley really developing as a cinematically strong composer.

“Modern Man”/1978

Stanley Clarke really paved the way for his ability to score arrangements with this song. With it’s multiple sections ranging from jazzy ballad to melodic uptempo pop-funk,this busily cinematic groove also showcases Stanley playing a lot of higher toned bass links and really working very well with his developing vocal abilities.

“Just A Feeling”/1979

Stanley’s partner in funky music,the late George Duke,provided some bluesy chromatic walks on the Yamaha electric piano on this bouncy disco-funk tribute to Louis Armstrong. On the choruses,Duke and Tom Scott on wah wah lyricon provide a sunny and triumphant melody.

“Together Again”/1979

On this very hummable disco pop number,Stanley Clarke plays all the instruments. Again it points to his talents to score a number that could’ve easily been a film or television show theme song of the time. Has some similarities to a Bob James composition in that area,only with a more stripped down instrumental style.

“We Supply”/1980

With it’s slow dragging beat,horn charts,synth washes and intense slap bass ruffs from Stanley this song was a great way for Stanley to bring in the 80’s with one of the heaviest P-Funk inspired grooves the man ever came up with.

“New York City”/1982

Stanley Clarke was working with Carlos Santana a lot during this time. Both artists were pursuing a vocally oriented boogie/post disco pop-funk sound. Stanley’s Let Me Know You album is defined by it and this stripped down number-with it’s drumming that seems to gradually slow on the intro and the bubbling bass licks help this tribute to NYC come right to life.

“Are You Ready (For The Future)”/1984

With it’s use of sequencers,brittle synthesizer riffs and drum machines this song is one fellow blogger Zach Hoskins might refer to as “the Jheri curl sound”. With it’s use of processed,ghostly back vocals and chipmunk’d leads,the real star of the show on this song is Ray Gomez’s scratching rhythm guitar along with Stanley’s equally chugging lines.

“Time Exposure”/1984

The title song to Stanley’s 1984 album stands as a synth pop/new wave showcases for some of Stanley’s heaviest slap bass riffs-even playing in a duet style with his own higher pitched riffs.


It’s true that Stanley Clarke has recorded many albums and many songs since the mid 1980’s. At the same time,very little he has done since that time has stood out in terms of individuals songs. He became more of an album artist. And one of the best in terms of bass at that. Of course he continued to parlay his talents in scoring films and television. So it felt important to showcase how funk helped Stanley to develop the compositional style that has served him well-both creatively and commercially.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, cinematic funk, elecro funk, Funk Bass, funk rock, jazz funk, Moog bass, Ray Gomez, slap bass, Stanley Clarke, upright bass

Anatomy Of THE Groove Special Presentation-Wishing A Happy Birthday To Lenny White: “Universal Love” (1978)

Somehow I  clearly remember first hearing jazz/fusion icon Lenny White as solo artist first. And never even having heard him as the drummer for Chick Corea’s Return To Forever from 1973 through 76.  My first impression,through DJ/musician Nigel Hall’s radio show at the University Of Maine,was via White’s debut solo album Venusian Summer from 1975. Had to warm to that album. At the time? The Wounded Bird label was reissuing White’s 70’s solo catalog on CD. So it was exciting to know I’d be hearing more of his music.

Now eventually ended up with all of those reissues. But the one that caught my years most was a 1978 album called The Adventures Of Astral Pirates. It blended some of the sci fi elements of RTF’s music,not to mention the spirituality of EWF and the narrative style of P-Funk with it’s comic strip style liner notes. However there was one song on this wonderfully space funk/fusion recording that really caught my ear in a big way. It was sung by the late Don Blackman,soon to be part of White’s group Twennynine. And it was called “Universal Love”.

It all gets started with Blackman’s piano and and Jeff Sigman’s Brazilian style rhythm guitar,which quickly morphs into a thick and fat funky bass/guitar interaction to sequel into Blackman’s first vocal refrain. The first chorus begins with a falsetto vocal that goes into a sleek,electric piano led late 70’s jazz/pop melody before going into an instrumentally chunkier version of the refrain before going into an extended version of the chorus and the intro itself. And it all concludes with very final crescendo’s for each of the songs musical themes.

This song stands as a fine example of the dreamiest end of the space funk sound. The atmospheric jazz/fusion element that comes from bassist Alex Blake and Don Blackman’s touches put this right tune with what I call “people music”. Even with the talented Lenny White’s fast paced,spasmodic progressive style of drumming? It’s impressive to hear how much he seems to have learned from Clyde Stubblefield about what not to play as a funky drummer. The space White puts into this song really allows the powerful groove and melody to be at it’s most expansive.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Alex Blake, bass guitar, Don Blackman, drums, Funk Bass, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lenny White, Uncategorized, Wounded Bird Records

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/10/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Pop Virgil” by Stanley Clarke

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.

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Filed under Funk, Funk Bass, Jackie Lomax, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Michael Jackson, Motown, Quincy Jones, Stanley Clarke