Gino Vanelli is someone who was not the type of artist I’d always imagined he was. My earliest understanding of him was as a melodic pop balladeer. During the summer of 2008 I was pretty absorbed in his music,as well as learning about Gino’s ever evolving depth of character. And the most important thing about his music is that he allowed it to evolve. That’s because he was and still remains a jazz/funk based singer songwriter-an expressive songwriter,dramatic vocalist and a poetic lyrical storyteller right up there with the best in his respective genre of music.
His very first album was 1973’s Crazy Life on A&M. For all intents and purposes,this album was a duet album between Gino and his keyboardist brother Joe,who’d of course remain by his side for the rest of Gino’s musical career. The album has a pronounced Brazilian jazz rhythmic flavor about most of it-with just a touch of blues. But it’s stripped down,cozy night club flavor sets it apart from the cinematic fusion pop masterpieces Gino would turn out during the mid to late 70’s. One song on the album that truly stood out on my fourth full listen to Gino’s debut was a tune entitled “Great Lake Canoe”.
A processed Fender Rhodes electric paino starts off the groove-underpinned by a floating two note bass line. As the refrain starts up in earnest,the drum and percussion pump right up into the cleanest end of the Afro-Cuban rhythmic clave. That Rhodes piano and bass churn right away as Gino sings right there with the same major/minor chord melodic transition. Before each chorus a brittle,metallic synthesizer plays the change. On the bridge,that synth introduces a melodically improvised Clavinet solo before the final refrain and chorus of the song-where that metallic synth fades the rhythm right out.
It’s taken many listens to realize just how strong a Brazilian jazz-funk song “Great Lake Canoe” actually is. The groove never loses focus of the melodic content of the song. But the Fender Rhodes is a reverb laden friendly,funky giant on this song. Processed in the finest tradition of Steely Dan,Joe Vanelli hits the keys hard on this. While Crazy Life is a slower,mellower album this for sure is it’s funkiest moments. Gino sings of the natural beauty of a boat ride on America’s Great Lakes as a source of perspective on reality. And this groove gives a strong perspective itself on the funkiest side of Gino Vanelli’s sound.
Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, clave, clavinet, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Joe Vannelli, percussion, reverb, Uncategorized
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