Tag Archives: Roland Bautista

‘Free As The Wind’ At 40: Joe,Wilton,Stix And Larry Feeling The Funky,Funky Love

Free As The Wind, released at some point in early 1977, is one particular album by The Crusaders that is kind of special to me. Over the years,its come to my understanding how important jazz-funk was to the funk genre as a whole. Most classic “united funk” derived from a strong jazz influence anyway. In terms of a sax and bass/guitar oriented variety of jazzy funk,mid to late 70’s Crusaders were simply hard to beat. Especially the way Joe Sample colored them with his piano and Fender Rhodes based compositions. And Free As The Wind exemplifies this so much.

Its an album that’s been part of my whole life from very early on. From it being part of the vinyl library at WLBZ TV where my father worked (along with other fusion records used as back round music in promos in the early 80’s) to seeing it in every used record store I visited as a teenager. Its been a huge key point in Henrique and my discussions on The Crusaders. Especially when he purchased a Crusaders wind chime of ebay which was used to promote Free As The Wind. Here’s an Amazon.com review I did 12 years ago about my initial enthusiasm upon first picking it up on CD.


The Crusaders are a band you just can’t go wrong with during this era and this album is no different.The funky beat just doesn’t give out on this record until just about the end.The jazzy ‘It Happens Everyday” is a gentler showcase for Joe Sample’s piano and it is the smoothest thing you’ll hear on this album.’Free As The Wind’ is dominated by the hefty jazz funk that these guys do so well-for a genre not noted for great collective musicianship (by some CRITICS anyway) The Crusaders always have that under wraps.

But spaces for solo’s such as on the speedy “Sweet ‘N Sour” gives Larry Carlton a chance to shine and solo while the highly memorable “Night Crawler” gives Wilton Felder the same chance.”Feel It” is my favorite on the record-like everything here it grooves and grooves HARD but it has an unusually hard funkiness that I appreciate.The title cut is the most arranged tune here but still-nothing to scoff at.

Even by the most obviously hard core of snobbish jazz critics and journalists,most of whom are quick to condemn jazz musicians for making funky music give ‘Free As Wind’ a five star review,same as most of The Crusaders catalog.That may be because,as stated earlier The Crusaders were one of a unique group of jazz-funk artists (aside from The Blackbyrds perhaps) who kept a sense of collective soul-jazz improvisation and superb musical chemistry while also playing highly electric funk.And no critic I have heard of could possibly scoff at that and these guy’s memorable compositions!I can’t,can you?


When writing this review,it seemed important to challenge the perception of the jazz funk/fusion genre as being based totally on selling records. Free As The Wind is very important to jazz funk because not only does it it keep the Crusader’s brilliance at soloing intact. EWF alumni Roland Bautista even guested on two of the albums most particularly powerful tunes in “Feel It” and “River Rat”.  In terms of its string arrangements, Joe Sample did a superb job of supplementing the grooves songs melodically by giving the songs exactly what they need for string and horn orchestration.

But it also showcases some of the most consistently strong grooves they ever put onto an album. And it is very much an album experience-without any dull moments that would take away from the strong melodies and grooves of Joe Sample,Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper. Many individual songs stand out too-such as Larry Carlton’s amazing “Night Crawler”. That song was so strong that Carlton elected to record his own version of it for his self titled solo album released the following year. At the end of the day, Free As The Wind really helped to give late 70’s jazz funk one of its strongest voices.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Can’t Save Tomorrow” by Ronnie Laws

Ronnie Laws is one of my favorite contemporary sax players of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Along with people such as David Sanborn,Laws’ sound bridged the gap between the bar walking sax style of the 60’s and the sleek smooth jazz sound that was to come. He’s someone who has a way of driving a melody into ones sub-conscience  with the power and beauty of his tone. He was also a fantastic soul/funk vocalist. While he obviously can’t vocally accompany his sax the way George Benson can his guitar, his ability to switch off works the funky emotions in the studio.

Laws had worked primarily with EWF keyboardist Larry Dunn as his producer in the mid to late 70’s. The sound they forged together started with a hard bass/guitar centered jazz/funk sound. Later in the decade some of the most cutting edge,spacey electronics /synthesizer orchestrations became an integral aspect of Laws’ sound. . In the early 80’s, the pair continued to adapt their synthesizer based jazz/funk sound into a decade that would be defined by it. One of my favorite examples of this is the lead off track from Law’s 1983 album Mr.Nice Guy entitled “Can’t Save Tomorrow”.

Laws starts out the song sing to the accompanying bass plucks of multi instrumentalist Leon Johnson. Its Johnson who provides most of the instruments on this song. After this intro,Laws’ voice and the bass line dovetail into the main rhythm of the song. That is a fast,funky shuffle consisting of several metallic synthesizers and Roland Bautista’s guitar harmonizing with a jazzy melody to Johnson’s slap bass. On The choruses,Laws sings his lead vocals in falsetto. There are two bridges here. One a sax solo from Laws,the other one of Larry Dunn’s spacey synth interludes before the refrain fades the song out.

All summer long,I’ve had this song on my phone’s MP3 player while peddling my bicycle around town. Its the perfect song for such physical activity because the song is propelled by a lot of forward motion. The drums,the bass,the synths,the vocals and the sax are all extremely earnest here-almost like a musical manifestation of the heart Laws’ lyrics indicate is pounding with intense passion. On the other hand,the production and overall sound of the song remains just about as sweet as any kind of funky music can be. And that’s what makes it one of my favorite Ronnie Laws jams.

 

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Filed under 1980's, drums, jazz funk, Larry Dunn, Leon Johnson, rhythm guitar, Roland Bautista, Ronnie Laws, Saxophone, slap bass, synth funk, synthesizers

Grooves On Wax: Funky Music Spinning On A Rough Week

Up Pops Ramsey Lewis

This is the first in a series exploring the vinyl records I’m spinning on my turntable. Often at the very same time these articles are being shared with the online community of soul funkateers who support this blog. This first on today’s list is the 1967 album Up Pops Ramsey Lewis.  It was during the period when Maurice White was the drummer in the band and is super heavy funk process soul jazz straight out of Chi-town.

Key jam: “Party Time”

Changing Times

Frank Wilson takes the Four Tops in a grand cinematic soul direction on this 1970 album. It was changing times for Motown,moving out to the West Coast when this was recorded. And it was changing times for America 60’s had just come to an end. The Tops mixed covers and originals here in a strong song cycle across two sides of the record!

Key Jams: “These Changing Times” and “Try To Remember”

Bautista

Roland Bautista was Earth Wind & Fire’s supplicant lead guitarist-both preceding and succeeding Al McKany in 1972 and 1981 respectively. In between that time,he recorded two albums as a leader. This is his first from 1977. It’s a wonderful mixture of funk,Latin rock and jazz fusion.

Key Jam: “Diggin’ It In”

Slick

Eddie Kendricks’ final album for Motown in 1977 finds the former Temptation  really getting into the grooves with ballads and uptempo songs bring that big band R&B/jazz flavor out in the type of melodies that Motown’s king of falsetto loved so well.

Key Jams: “Intimate Friends” and “California Woman”

Brasil 88

Sergio Mendes followed on his New Brasil 77 with a new idea the following year. Some years ago,this album cover lured me in. Not only was it a happy find on vinyl,but the fact it contained two ticket stubs to one of his concerts from 1978 was more than the icing on the cake for this bright and slick Brazilian pop jazz set.

Key Jam: “Tiro Cruzado (Crossfire)”

feel the phuff

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds got his first band big with this Indianapolis band after a stint with Bootsy Collins,who apparently gave him the Babyface name to start with. Manchild had a very adventurous funk/blues/rock flair,not to mention a few potently arranged ballads. Edmonds really ripped on the rocking guitar solos here Ernie Isley style too on the bands 1978 sophomore set.

Key Jams: “The Phuff” and “Rowdy-Dowdy Blues”

Summertime Groove

Hamilton Bohannon,former Motown session drummer and member of Stevie Wonder’s late 60’s band, gives the drums the extreme funky workout on “Let’s Start The Dance” to get this party started. But it doesn’t stop there. Especially on the uptempo songs,the songs have a heavy and funky danceability with a distinctive kind of focus on the funky drummer himself.

Key Jams: “Summertime Groove” and “Let’s Star The Dance”

minnie_riperton_love_lives_forever

Minnie Riperton’s posthumously released final album from 1980 is a sleek,jazzy affair. Plenty of West Coast style light funk and soulful pop well suited for Minnie’s amazing range. She recorded the vocals for the this song in 1977 while people such as Greg Phillinganes,Harvey Mason,Lee Ritenour,Paulinho Da Costa,George Benson,Tom Scott,Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder helped to complete the music for this as produced by her widower Richard Rudolph.

Key Jams: “Strange Affair” and “Island In The Sun”

Learning To Love

Rodney Franklin is one of the more unheralded jazz-funk keyboard player so late 70’s and early 80’s. Known primarily as the composer and performer of the TV theme song Hill Street Blues,his 1982 album Learning To Love goes from slick,liquid pop/funk songs to exploratory fusion funk/jazz improvisations.

Key Jam: “Enuff Is Enuff”

Game Of Life

T-Connection keep getting better to my ears. And loved their grooves the first time I heard them years ago. This Nassau band really impressed me with a copy of their 1983 album The Game Of Life that I found at my local record store Bull Moose. This is a fine example of melodic,well composed boogie funk. With a jazz Afrocentric twist of course. It even delivered a “people music” message song right off the bat with the title song as well!

Key Jams: “The Game Of Life” and “I’ve Got News For You”

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Babyface, Bohannon, Boogie Funk, Brazilian Jazz, disco funk, Eddie Kendricks, Four Tops, jazz funk, Latin Funk, Manchild, Minnie Riperton, Motown, Ramsey Lewis, record collecting, Rodney Franklin, Roland Bautista, Sergio Mendes, soul jazz, T-Connection, Vinyl

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Street Life” by The Crusaders Featuring Randy Crawford

With the passing of Joe Sample in 2014 and Wilton Felder just last year, I had a plan to pay tribute to The Crusaders here in a major way. In a similar manner to Earth Wind & Fire and James Brown, the music of the Crusaders were a key reference point for everything Henrique Hopkins and myself have done as bloggers. Now today is the birthday of Randy Crawford. Her own solo body of work contains some strong funk,soul and jazzy pop on it’s own. But it was through the Crusaders that I even discovered that she existed. To goes back to listening to that double Crusaders cassette at age 14 in the car stereo with my father. One of those albums was 1979’s Street Life. And it’s title song.

A brushing cymbal opens the song-joined shortly by a soulful sax solo from Wilton. After that the strings come into play as the main melodic theme that Randy is singing-along with Sample’s accents on the Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes. After the strings fade out,the song pauses for two seconds before the scaling horn charts and drums introduce the main body of the song. This main body of the song features Stix Hooper’s disco friendly funky shuffle that swings along at a thick 112 beats per minute. EWF’s Roland Bautista is one of the guitarists providing a liquid rhythm guitar in fine rhythmic harmony with Wilton’s popping bass line.

At the conclusion of each refrain,the strings come back into play as the rhythm increases in strength. The percussion and the horn charts accessorize the melody even further on the chorus of the song. After these,a second whole refrain chimes in. Here the liquid guitar pulses along with the low swing of the cymbal based percussive groove behind it while the strings scale over and around it. The next part of the song features the main body featuring Wilton improvising the vocal chorus on sax. After Randy comes in for another vocal chorus,the second refrain concludes the album. The percussion evolves into a marching drum in this section as the song fades out.

Over twenty years of listening to this song has engendered a huge growth process for my musical ear. At the time I first heard it,I was listening to a lot of late 70’s and early 80’s Jacksons/Michael Jackson. And heard a lot of sonic similarities while listening to this song. Of course with the participation of percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,plus the Crusaders participation on many early 70’s Jackson 5 records that comes as no surprise now. Instrumentally,it’s nearly 12 minute length blends the jazz orchestration of people such as Gil Evans with the band disco era jazz/funk rhythms. The addition of additional session musicians into the brew further beefs up the core Crusaders sound as well.

Another friend of mine named Calvin Lincoln hosts a TV program called Soul School in Vallejo,California on Saturday evenings. One time he and Henrique did an episode together following Joe Sample’s passing discussing how many records different Crusaders played on throughout the 70’s as session musicians. That really bought out what a clean,well oiled sound this song had. As Henrique also once pointed out to me, this song has the aural vibe of a slick OG walking down an urban downtown sidewalk after dark. It’s one of the finest,most multi faceted examples of funky jazz/pop/soul and a defining moment for both the Crusaders and Randy Crawford.

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Filed under 1970's, Calvin Lincoln, disco funk, drums, Dyno-My-Piano, Fender Rhodes, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Randy Crawford, Roland Bautista, Soul School TV, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, Uncategorized, Wilton Felder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Kalimba Tree” by Earth Wind & Fire

Earth Wind & Fire had one of the most telling experiences with the post disco radio freeze out of the early 1980’s. Their inaugural album of the decade entitled Faces an alternately Afrocentric and idiosyncratic double album that was not as popular with audience as it’s sale figures indicated. Philip Bailey often mentioned he felt that when record label pressures began being put upon EWF to began courting their own classic sound, it actually began the downfall of that sound. Their subsequent album Raise! is actually among my favorites of theirs and got them a huge hit in “Let’s Groove”. The band indicate they felt that song signified them chasing success. Still this was a creative fertile period for EWF.

From their very first days at Columbia,EWF had always reserved some of their more experimental musical elements to linking interludes between songs. They were generally under a minute long. And the more pop oriented their sound became,the more anachronistic these interludes seemed to become. Still it was an excellent chance to showcase that they were still musicians. On vinyl the second side of the Raise! album began with such an interlude entitled “Kalimba Tree”. On the album it was under 30 seconds long. As featured in the 1982 EWF concert filmed in Oakland California,it was a lot longer. The new Funkytowngrooves reissue of the album features this longer version.

A round,space funk synthesizer wash opens up the groove. The percussion rings away as Verdine White’s bass line provides the most potent rhythmic element. As the higher key choral element comes in,brother Maurice’s Kalimba comes as Verdine’s bass scales down more. All along with one of Philip Bailey’s classic ebonic chants-later repeated on a second vocal course by Maurice. Roland Bautista plays a glassy guitar solo along with Don Myrick’s  jazzy sax solo. On the final refrain,hand claps come deep into play with a more rocking solo from Bautista as the same space funk synth wash that opened the song closes it out.

Sometimes when I hear a song,the mind begins to wander in terms of what might’ve been. Earth Wind & Fire would only have two more albums out of their original Columbia run after 1981. Hearing what I only understood to be a brief interlude extended out in this fashion got me to think just how long numbers such as “Departure”,”Brazilian Rhyme” or even 1983’s “Mizar” might’ve actually been as originally recorded. In any case,this showcases that the mixture of Afro-Brazilian rhythm,funk and jazz that were at the core of EWF’s sound were still alive and well amid the technological changes during the 1980’s. And that the band were still thinking on that same level as well.

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Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Afro-Latin jazz, Afrocentrism, Don Myrick, Earth Wind & Fire, Kalimba, Maurice White, Philip Bailey, post disco, Roland Bautista, Uncategorized, Verdine White

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/11/14: Andre’s Pick-Ronnie Laws “Live Your Life Away”

The entire purpose of this column began as a means by which to showcase the presence of funk,in its many forms,within music released just before or after the new millennium. In the case of today’s song,I am making a huge exception. The reason for this is to make a point about the message behind funk music itself and how it effects people in society. The message in the music is a very liberating one. So often one hears songs such as Earth Wind & Fire’s “Singasong”,Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” or Kool & The Gang’s “Love And Understanding”  and has a romantic vision in their minds of the 1970’s as being a thoroughly incredible time frame. I include myself in having has such visions.

Historically however,the 70’s decade had many similarities to today. The Watergate scandal created mass cynicism about political change for the better among a generation,an fuel shortage made transportation and even the pressing of vinyl albums themselves a difficult matter and poverty continued to broaden across America. That presumed “incredible time” comes from the fact that the popular culture,the funk era in particular,responded generally with hope for the future and encouragement for the present after the more paranoid outlook of The O’Jays “Backstabbers” or Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes”. And I cannot think of a song that encompasses this ethic much better than Ronnie Laws’s “Live Your Life Away”.

Musically the song,produced by EWF’s Larry Dunn and featured on the end of Laws’ 1978 album Flame,the song is instrumentally an very encompassing mixture of the sleekly produced band sound that one would hear from an EWF recording. On the other hand the instrumentation is based around a glistening,high pitched and chiming synthesizer solo with a strong and slinky bass synth set both beneath and all around it. So in terms of the playing style in general, the approach is a lot closer to that of Stevie Wonder-all coming together for that synergy that create an instrumental stamp unique for Ronnie Laws’ music. On the other hand on the chorus,the chords of the songs change to a basic blues hook-matched by the smooth 12-bar blues guitar riff courtesy of EWF supplicant,the late Roland Bautista. This perfect matches the duel nature in the mood of this song.

And this songs duel lyrical nature comes from the lyrics. On the rather melodically bright vocal refrains,the message is one that is sorely needed from popular music in today’s workaminute world-basically to “push ahead but don’t move too fast” and that people can spend too much energy and time “pursuing pleasures that really never pay”. The songs message is not only uplifting but extremely practical as it encourages balance over struggle,genuine relief of stress over denial. At the same time the chorus warns that this is so important to do because “you can live your life away”-instrumentally accompanied by the classic blues riff. And though this song represented something of a “so long” to the original funk era? It is the idea instrumental and lyrically conceptual funk direction for modern musicians to take in a society where the extremes of apathy and frustration and strong allegiances to social/political parties offered up as a confusing mixed message. As George Clinton said, funk not only moves but can remove. And today this type of groove would be just what the doctor ordered.

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Filed under 1970's, Disco, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Jazz, Late 70's Funk, Ronnie Laws, Stevie Wonder