Passport are one of my favorite jazz-funk fusion bands. Klaus Doldinger,a Berlin native who’d studied in Dusseldorf and come in Oscar Peterson tribute bands and recorded solo records in America, is the saxophone player who formed the group in the year 1970. The band still exists today. In the 70’s and 80’s,they were perceived as a mainly European centered Weather Report-not having WR’s major international acclaim. Yet whether they were making progressive jazz/rock,jazz-funk,Brazilian jazz or even new wave inflected pop later, they generally seemed to always find just the right groove for their songs.
It was my father who first exposed me to Passport. He found their 1974 LP Looking Thru in the attic of his parents house when a tenant left some vinyl behind. Hearing that got me looking for more albums of there’s. One I did find was 1976’s Infinity Machine. This was in an early to mid 70’s lineup of the group which included drummer Curt Cress,keyboardist Kristian Schultze and bassist/guitarist Wolfgang Schmid. Today I have all their 70’s and 80’s album on CD. In any case Infinity Machine opened with a bang with the elongated instrumental “Ju-Ju Man”.
After a brief little drum kick,the song begins with a bumping uptempo percussion kick-with Cress’s drums fan-faring in with a strong swinging groove. Than a melodic 14 note Moog bass riff takes hold-with Doldinger’s sax accenting it. Afterwards,Doldinger solos with Schmid’s bass and guitar as call and response. After the sax breakdown of this choral/refrain sequence,Doldinger takes an elongated sax solo with Schmid’s bass the the Moog right along with him. After another solo on lead synthesizer,the main chorus/ refrain of the song repeats until it concludes the song.
“Ju-Ju Man” is some of the most vital,energetic and melodic jazzy funk I’ve heard this side of the Headhunters. The rhythm is driving,the solos are off the hook powerful and there are several parts of the song that are instantly hummable. Its also the type of jazz/funk that’s totally solo based. Curt Cress,as the drummer gives Doldinger and Schmid as primary soloists all the room to do their solos without merely vamping at “tennis without a net”. So in the end,it exemplifies Passport as one of the 70’s jazz/funk/fusion groups who really knew how to keep grooving and soloing locked right into place.
Peabo Bryson isn’t an artist associated with funk at all. The South Carolina native made a name for himself as a quiet storm ballad vocalist-most notably with female singers such as Roberta Flack. He also became known a “Disney singer” as I call it-in particular the themes to the movies Aladdin and Beauty And The Beast. A consistent concert goer on the chitlin circuit as a teen,Bryson began singing and writing for local bands shortly thereafter. His 1976 debut album did well in his particular area. But it was when he signed with Capitol records a year later that his career really took off.
I actually came to that first Capitol album entitled Reaching For The Sky via that free vinyl radio station giveaway. There were a series of funk and disco songs on the album that forever changed my perception of Bryson. With his rich,expressive soul baritone he has an amazing way with thick uptempo songs on the same level as he does interpreting ballads. When I got on YouTube,I began exploring this side of his artistry further. A wonderful example of Bryson’s uptempo majesty came via the title song of his 1982 album entitled Don’t Play With Fire.
The album opens with a big three not synthesizer and drum based fanfare. Bryson himself than provides the percussion and electric piano as a bed for Ron Dover’s powerful tenor sax solo. This musical progression represents each chorus of the song as well. The refrain showcases the same rhythm with a jazzy,liquid rhythm guitar and a popping bass line that slaps down heavy every few bars. On the segments between each part of the song,the melody changes to have a more Latin flavor in the rhythm before the song fades out on the chorus.
“Don’t Play With Fire” is an excellent example of Peabo Bryson producing strong “sophistifunk”. Between its reality check based lyrics and Bryson’s literally fiery vocals,this jazz/funk based groove moves between slinky,seductive and theatrical between different sections of the song. Its a quality that was prominent in the uptempo songs on Peabo Bryson’s uptempo material during the late 70’s and early 80’s. From what I see on YouTube, it is considered one of his strongest general songs. And just in terms of the level of fine wine jazzy funk,it surely is to my ears.
Freddie Hubbard was one of the most important trumpet players of the post bop era. His many interactions in music had him involved with some of the most important developments in jazz throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Running from playing with Wayne Shorter,replacing Lee Morgan in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and beginning to lead his own groups. One of his best known works is 1970’s Red Clay-not only his first for the CTI label but the very first release Creed Taylor’s label ever put out. After several successful releases there,Hubbard began recording for Columbia.
Hubbard’s most famous album from his post bop period is Ready For Freddie from 1961. And so far,the only Freddie Hubbard album I have in any format. He’s an artist I’ve heard many times,but neglected just as much in terms of album purchases. He actually made some amazing contributions to the jazz-funk genre in the 70’s as well. That’s especially true for his mid to late 70’s Columbia albums. Always playing along with the best musicians of the era,one perhaps unsung example of Hubbard’s music in this period is the epic title song for his final Columbia album from 1979 entitled Skagly.
Hubbard,saxophonist Hadley Caliman and trombonist Phil Ranelin start this song out with a bluesy horn fanfare-with drummer Carl Burnett marching right to their beat. Burnett and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa then set up a Latin funk rhythm wherein Hubbard, guitarist Jeff Skunk Baxter, bassist Larry Klein, Billy Child’s Fender Rhodes and George Duke’s Clavinet all exchange a think rhythmic interplay together. Hubbard goes on an extended 8+ minute solo-expanding in melodic intensity and loudness before solos from Klein and Baxter lead up to the fanfare brings it all to an abrupt stop.
“Skagly” is a wonderful long form example of hard pop horn solos playing along with strong,live band jazz/funk interplay. George Duke and drummer Carl Burnett in particular knew exactly the kind of rhythmic environment that would be both jazzy and funky enough for Hubbard to literally blow his horn over. Its definitely Hubbard’s show in terms of the solo,and nobody playing on this song ever forgets that. That may be way it is so live band oriented and less electronic than much jazz/funk of the time. That gives the song a certain distinction as late 70’s jazz/funk built heavily around a trumpet solo.
Jimmy McGriff was a major soul jazz era pioneer of the Hammond B-3 organ. The Pennsylvania native studied a number of instruments growing up-taking up a day job as a cop in Philly for a short time. He later attended Julliard-also studying privately with the major Hammond organist (and childhood friend) before him Jimmy Smith-among others. He led a series of jazz combos during the 60’s,some of which included later jazz organ icon (then sax player) Charles Earland before he began moving into a funk direction during the late 60’s and early 70’s.
By the early 70’s,McGriff would’ve been apparently content to have began a semi retirement on his Connecticut horse farm. Due the rapid rate of issues his new record label were doing for his music,he began recording and touring again mid decade. One of his records during this period was 1976’s Red Beans. Only reason I know about the album and McGriff at all would be DJ/musician Nigel Hall. He played a number of tracks from his vinyl copy of the album on his radio show in the early/mid 2000’s. One of them was the albums opening title song.
A fast paced,almost Clyde Stubblefield like drum joins in with this flamboyant bass/rhythm guitar interaction before McGriff comes in-riffing right in rhythm on Clavinet. After that,the horn section comes in and alternate with McGriff in playing the rhythmic changes of the groove. On the choruses of the song,there’s a rocking fuzz guitar that takes over with the horns. On a couple of the refrains,Michael Brecker (I believe) takes a spirited sax solo that extends over a number of bars. This instrumental back and forth alternates until the song concludes.
“Red Beans” is one of the more instrumentally energetic,perhaps even punishing jazz/funk jams of the mid 80’s. It adds a strong improvisational flair to a groove that,with its fast tempo and spirited melodies, has a similar musical vibe to something Larry Graham & Graham Central Station might’ve done during this period. The bright,high recording quality of the song also adds to its strength. It also showcases McGriff finding an instrumental place for himself in funk with him playing Clavinet as opposed to organ. And in essence it signaled the beginning of a musical rebirth for him at that time.
Terence Trent D’Arby is yet another example of a vital funk/soul revival occurring 30 years ago,in 1987. This ambitious NYC multi instrumentalist came from a multi racial and very confusing back round-with bigamy and a lot of moving around involved. After a failed career attempt as a boxer and going AWOL from the US Army after collage,D’Arby formed the band The Touch while in Germany in 1984. After their debut album,the ambitious D’Arby decided to forge ahead with a solo career. His first and generally best known release being 1987’s Introducing The Hardline-produced out of London.
The first time I heard of D’Arby was with his hit song “Sign Your Name”,a jazzy Brazilian number that I thought was Stevie Wonder at the age of 8. It was decades until I purchased his entire debut album. Many of its other successful songs I’d missed out on originally. Knowing only of another D’Arby song called “Delicate” recorded for his third album Symphony Or Damn from 1991. At that time,one song leaped right out for me and my mom. Especially in terms of its groove. So much so that we actually planned on doing a conceptual music video for the song. Its called “Dance Little Sister”
A high hat heavy funky drum groove begins the song-with D’Arby improvising a a humorous vocal ad lib. After this,the lead synthesizer plays a high pitched,ten note riff over two bars before the instrumentation of the refrain comes in. This is a chunky rhythm guitar and ascending bass line playing call and response to accompanying horn charts. On the choruses of the songs,the harmonic phrases of the melody becomes more sustained to follow D’Arby’s gospel soul shouting. Saxophonist Mel Collins plays a solo over the rhythm section during the bridge before the chorus repeats until the song fades out.
Listening to it all these decades since it first came out, “Dance Little Sister” sounds like something of a middle ground between Prince’s Minneapolis live band funk sound and the approach of neo soul to come within the next decade. It definitely maintains the mid/late 80’s approach of condensing a funk groove. On the other hand,its one of the hardest live band funk jams of the late 80’s to be sure. Not only are horns used on it,but the synthesizer is used in the 70’s approach of having it be part of a full band sound rather than a dominating factor in the groove. Another international funk breakthrough of 1987.
The late Karen Carpenter and her brother Richard dominated the early 70’s pop charts and radio. And were a duo who helped define what we now know as the easy listening sub genre. As such,The Carpenters are still only very loosely considered to be a rock act. And would likely be exhibit A for “devoid of funk” to the ears of many. That is…not entirely true on the last part. As instrumentalists, Karen especially came out of being a jazz drummer. She loved classic Motown too. While at first not always evident,Karen Carpenter’s love of rhythm proved very significant for The Carpenters a bit later on.
By 1977,Karen’s anorexia and Richard’s prescription drug addiction kept them from being too musically involved. This happening at a time when both desired to mature as artists and change up their sound. The result was the 1977 album Passage. Not only did it contain no drumming from Karen,but no songs written by Richard either. The duo produced the album with a variety of contemporary jazz songwriters and musicians. The hit they had was a version of Klaatu’s “Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)” But the song that really got me here was the Michael Franks composed opener “B’wana She No Home”.
Ron Tutt’s bossa/calypso drumming (with Tommy Vig and Jerry Steinholtz on percussion and congas),Joe Osborn’s slinky and flamboyant bass line along with Peter Jolly’s piano make up the intro and refrain of the song-along with Tony Peluso’s bluesy electric guitar. On the choruses,this guitar gets more fuzz filtered. Tom Scott joins in with his sax breaks on the second refrain. He also solos twice in the song. Once on the bridge playing a flute solo. And then,after Karen’s final chorus of the song,he plays a bop styled improvised sax solo as the song fades out.
One of the best things about “B’wana She No Home” is that its the bluesy Calypso jazz/funk vibe Michael Franks set up in his composition brings out another side of Karen Carpenter vocally. Rather than being in her usual reflective and somewhat sad vocal mood, she gave this song the female equivilant of Frank’s sensual and amorous vocal delivery. Even though the Carpenters who not as creatively involved in this song as they normally were,it set up the more soul/disco influence Karen Carpenter solo material recorded a couple of years later. And the more soul/pop based music of their final albums together.
Walter Becker is one of those players whose proven himself the ultimate “comeback kid” as it were. The Queens native met Donald Fagan while the two attended Bard College. And of course they would soon be the core of Steely Dan. While the songwriting of Steely Dan was a collaborative effort between the two,Becker’s instrumental influence generally came through his guitar solos. They grew from a virtuosic blues rock style in the early 70’s to an intricate,crisp jazz tone later on. A serious of exhausting events led Becker to leave Steely Dan following their Gaucho album-remaining musically inactive for a decade.’
In 1993,Steely Dan reformed and began touring. Becker released his solo debut album 11 Tracks Of Whack a year later. With a somewhat more stripped down musical approach and vocal style closer to that of Eric Clapton,his albums were as critically successful as Fagans. But didn’t have quite the same commercial appeal. It would be another 15 years later that his sophomore album Circus Money. This was an independently released project from 2008 that featured the same superb studio players Becker had worked with in the past. It also started out with just the right groove on the song “Door Number Two”.
A bass and light snare based beat,crystalized sounding piano and bluesy rhythm guitar provide the intro-along with a moody electric piano solo. The basic rhythm of the chorus than comes in. This is a bossa with a clean guitar burst playing a single chord on every other bar or so-with the piano,keyboard and slippery bass line playing along with the female backup singers vocalizing the choral lyric. The refrain finds Becker singing a bluesy line with more piano improvisations behind him. Chris Potter provides a great bop sax solo on the bridge and extends it into the chorus that fades out the song.
Years of being a record producer and even a one time member of the sophisti pop group China Crisis really helped to enhance Walter Becker’s musical flavors as a solo artist. It wasn’t until revisiting “Door Number Two” for this overview did I realize that it has the vibe of a lower key “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”. The bossa Latin/boogaloo funk is there in the rhythm. Still Becker’s love of jazz comes through all the way-with musicians Keith Carlock,Jon Herington,Jim Beard and Ted Baker all solo right in the pocket of this groove. And it all makes for a great example of jazz with a raw rhythm attitude.
The Crusaders were a band whom I somehow would’ve thought were out of commission by the mid 80’s. In 1983,the bands original drummer Styx Hooper left the group. And they hadn’t recorded any new studio material under their own name for a few years at that point. The core of the Crusaders,by any other name,was always Joe Sample and Wilton Felder. Neither are with us anymore. But in 1984 they rebounded as a trio with George Duke’s former drumer Leon Ndugu Chancler as the successor to Hooper. That year they released the album Ghetto Blaster,with cover art by the ever distinctive Ernie Barnes.
Ghetto Blaster is the first album to help me to realize the Crusaders were very active as a group during the 80’s. They continued to record and tour every few years during the decade. I found the vinyl copy for under a dollar about 15-16 years ago. Every song on the album was so diverse and impressive,actually decided to hunt down the original CD. It wasn’t terribly easy to find,but managed to get hold of it last year. Its an album that I always wanted to cover a song from here on Andresmusictalk. In the end,the best track I could pick to break down would be its first,entitled “Dead End”.
Ndugu and the songs composer Joe Sample get the groove started with their combination of a two bar drum that kicks heavy on the snare around the middle and the slithering 9 note synth bass. One of the five guest guitarists present on this album picks a rhythm guitar lick into another rhythm guitar lick on top of the basic groove. Sample comes back in with some heavy polyphonic synth brass-changing chords at the B section before adding his trademark electric piano solo on the first bridge. Wilton Felder takes a solo on the second bridge before the song fades on its original theme.
“Dead End” is a wonderful example of the Crusaders updating their signature well oiled jazz funk sound for the boogie/electro funk era. The lean production of the era was actually really good for the Crusaders rhythm section based sound. Where this differs from a lot of boogie/naked funk productions is that it totally maintains the jazz/funk genre’s emphasis on instrumental soloing. Sample provides a superb and very vocal lead synth brass melody. But he and Wilton also take the time to solo in their classic style. That makes this song perhaps the ideal Crusaders song for the mid 1980’s.
Genesis began their career in the early 70’s as a progressive rock outfit,whose lead singer was the charismatic performer Peter Gabriel. Up until 1975,the bands sound was based in different forms of European classical music. Phil Collins succeeded Gabriel as a vocalist as well as being the drummer and one of the writers for the group with 1976’s Trick Of The Tail. Gradually, Genesis began to take on elements of jazz/rock fusion of a type Collins was playing in his other band Brand X. By the time of Genesis’s 1981 album Abacab,elements of modern funk and soul became an aspect of their sound as well.
That same year,Collins released his solo debut album Face Value. It was a very diverse album that’s now considered a classic. And also had its share modern funky/soul uptempo numbers. For both Collins’ solo effort and Genesis’s,Earth Wind & Fire’s Phenix Horns. They consisted of trumpeters Rahmlee Michael Davis and Michael Harris-along with the late,greats in sax player Don Myrick and trombonist/bassist Louis Satterfield. As a drummer,Collins musically related very well to the horn sections combination of melody and rhythm. This really showed in Genesis’s big hit from 1981 called “No Reply At All”.
The song starts out hot. The refrain consists of Collins’ percussive,fast paced rhythms with Tony Banks’ equally percussive synthesizer melody adding to Mike Rutherford’s phat,jazzy funk bass line. The Phenix Horns accent hard on every second beat. On the chorus,Collins’ drum roll brings in the refrain where the keyboard,guitars and bass line play along with a fuller horn chart-until another drum roll bridges each refrain/choral exchange. Banks on a solo piano with a Wall Of Sound style drum from Collins’ represents a bridge that leads into the choral/refrain exchange the closes out the song.
In terms of an English band mixing progressive pop/rock with Afrocentric,percussion/ horn based funk,”No Reply At All” is one of the finest examples at the beginning of the decade. The sound is not at all overcooked,which is a frequent aspect (and to some writers and critics,a complaint) about Phil Collins’ own solo combinations of the styles. Because this is coming as a collaborative writing effort from Genesis,a power trio band,each member deals with the combinations of rhythm,melody and arrangement extremely well. That makes this probably the funkiest moment Genesis had up to this point in time.