Tag Archives: saxophone

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Glamour Profession” by Steely Dan

Steely Dan’s 1980 album Gaucho had its rough patches in terms of productions. Started only months after the release of their Aja album in 1977, there were some major issues that hampered the sessions. Two revolved around the now late Walter Becker. One had to do with his increasing drug problem. The other had to do with a traffic accident that sent Becker to the hospital. And into six months of recovery. Donald Fagen collaborated with him via phone during that time. The album finally came out just a little over three years after its predecessor-in November of 1980.

Even for all that and a number of legal battles over the album title from Keith Jarrett, Gaucho continued Steely Dan’s peak of musical excellent. It would be their final studio album for twenty years. And that was just fine for most people. It was one of the few newer albums my parents had in their record collection during my own early years. Most of my life, the song from it I was most familiar with was “Hey Nineteen”. By the time its followup Two Against Nature came out, I began to explore Gaucho even deeper. And that’s how I discovered what’s likely my favorite song on it called “Glamour Profession”.

Steve Gadd’s straight up dance beat sets the pace right away. Its accompanied by Fagen’s processed Fender Rhodes piano and Anthony Jackson’s counter melodic bass hump. Before the refrain comes in, Tom Scott’s Lyricon and Michael Brecker’s sax play a nighttime friendly horn chart. During the refrains and chorus, Steve Khan plays some bluesy jazz guitar riffs. He also gets time for a solo just before the vocal bridge of the song-where the song changes key for a bar or so. The song fades out on an extended instrumental refrain with Khan’s soloing taking precedence.

“Glamour Profession” is likely the coolest song (and only one as I recall) about a fading basketball player’s involvement in an elaborate drug deal I’ve ever heard. Donald Fagen’s lyrics are as poetically cryptic as usual. Its also an amazing “dazz” song-its disco jazz flavor enhanced by the jazzy chords of the guitar,bass and processed Rhodes part that define the song. The production and melody are the sonic equivilent of clear glossy lacquer. The sound is slick and slippery. Yet is also full of weight and texture. And surely one of Steely Dan’s many fine musical moments of their original run.

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The Crusaders Remembered: “Summer Nights In Rio” by Wilton Felder

Wilton Felder was far more to me than a founding member of the Crusaders. And even that was an great accomplishment. He set the precedence along with David Sanborn for the top session sax king of the late 60’s and early 70’s. He was pretty much Joni Mitchell’s go to guy for sax during her mid/late 70’s jazz explorations. He even told the Virginian Pilot in 2006 that her music was just  fun to play for him. Of course his session work also extended to electric bass. An ongoing project that myself, Henrique Hopkins and Calvin Lincoln have been on is to figure out just how many sessions Wilton played on.

Today, wanted to talk a little about Felder’s solo career. It started out with the soundtrack to the 1969 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. Since my father described the album as one which turned him away from Felder’s solo albums, I didn’t actively pursue it. But he did record a number of solo albums in the late 70’s to the late 80’s. These were done concurrently with Crusaders releases and under their production moniker. I have three of them on vinyl. One of them is a 1983 LP entitled Gentle Fire. It contains one song I’ll be talking to about today entitled “Summer Nights In Rio”.

The Afro Latin drums and percussion starts off the songs-courtesy of drummer Rayford Griffin and one of Rio’s finest in Paulinho Da Costa on percussion. A liquid guitar and thumping bass solo accompany it. Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements come into the mix at that point.  These horns play over an extended, chordally complex melodic movement with fellow Crusader Joe Sample providing the Fender Rhodes. Felder’s solos, ranging from higher pitched to deeper tones, occupy most of the songs middle before an extended chorus fades it out.

“Summer Nights In Rio” represents the very best aspects of Brazilian jazz/funk fusion. Felder,Da Costa, Joe Sample and (with six musicians between both instruments) the bass and guitarist on this song are all seemingly experiencing a great deal of joy in playing it. Its strongly based in Felder’s sax solos. At the same time, everyone playing with him are focusing on beautiful melodic and rhythmic dynamics. It showcased how that well oiled Crusaders sound of the late 70’s and early 80’s remained a major aspect of Felder’s solo albums as well.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funky National Anthem: Message 2 America” by Sheila E.

 

Sheila Escovedo was written about very well last summer by my former blogging partner Zach Hoskins. She came up in Oakland,California. And of a Creole,black and Mexican heritage. Not to even mention a childhood taking place during the summer of love in Frisco. And the ascendance of the Black Panther Party in her own hometown. She was only 19 when she made her musical debut as percussionist on jazz-funk bassist Alphonso Johnson’s sophomore LP Yesterday’s Dreams. It was a dry run from there to her work with the George Duke man,her time as a session ace and her hit making time with Prince.

On the first of September, Sheila is releasing a new album entitled Iconic Message 4 America. This album appears similar in concept to the Isley Brothers and Santana collaborative album Power Of Peace. Mainly in that it consists of covers of progressive message songs of the late 1960’s. Sheila however is collaborating with artists such from as Ringo Starr,George Clinton and Sly’s brother Freddy-just to name a few. A few days ago, Sheila uploaded a video she did of one for one of the new songs on the album to YouTube. Upon seeing it, the musical and visual concept was mind blowing. The song is called”Funky National Anthem: Message 2 America”.

The song starts out with a straight ahead version of the Star Spangled Banner. After this, the music suddenly goes into a re-recorded version of The JB’s “Doin It To Death”. It starts out maintaining the shuffling boogie and rhythm guitar of the song. And on the choruses, a heavy gospel organ comes in-all to Sheila and a number of other singers singing the Star Spangled Banner in its original tune. The next part of the song features a version of Maceo Parker’s sax solo,the organ plus samples of speeches from Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama.

Sheila’s musical concept for this song is personally exciting. It takes America’s national anthem, ironically composed by staunch slavery advocate Francis Scott Key, and mixes it with the famous JB’s funk anthem from 1973. Both songs maintain their melody-with the JB’s soloing kept intact. Visually, the concept is a woman being interrogated seemingly for just having hope in a better future. The samples from MLK, FDR and Obama speeches feature multi racial American children lip syncing to their inspiring words. In an era when American must again confront hardcore racism, this song is right on time.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Freaks For The Festival” by Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Rahsaan Roland Kirk, born Ronald Theodore in Columbus,Ohio, had a creative ethic strongly connected to his nigh time dreaming. That includes the two changes he made to his given name. As he started leading his own bands, his music grew from its hard bop roots to bring in elements of the avant garde and even older jazz styles such as ragtime. Kirk’s music also thematically explored the black power ethic of the 60’s-with a socially conscious comic wit that perhaps influenced 70’s funk era icons as George Clinton. As a multi instrumentalist, particularly with reed instruments, he was also a major innovator.

Blind from childhood due to a botched medical treatment, he developed a form of playing that has thematically broken records. It was known as circular breathing-which allowed him to sustain complex notes on saxophone almost indefinitely. Not to mention often playing three saxes at the same time. One album of his my father often playing parts of for me as a child was 1975’s The Case Of The 3 Sides Dream In Audio Color. It was a double album whose fourth side was largely empty saves for a sound snippet at the end. The song from it I’m talking about today though is called “Freaks At The Festival”.

Kirk’s rapping starts out the song before the ultra funky JB’s/Clyde Stubblefield style drum comes in-soon accompanied by Kirk’s bass sax melody. After this, his self made “one man horn section” accompanies the ever more flamboyant drumming, an amazing and complex funky electric jazz bass line. During the third chorus in, Kirk’s flute solo accompanies what I’m pretty sure is Richard Tee’s Fender Rhodes piano-with Kirk and the band exchange some their vocal raps. With some of the sax tones having some heavy fuzz peddle on them-all before everything comes to a big musical climax at the end.

“Freaks At The Festival” musically reminds me of what one might get if Cannonball Adderley,Art Ensemble Of Chicago and The JB’s all got together to do an avant funk record. The sound that the instrumentalists (who are hard to pin down due to crediting and my knowledge level at identifying musicians) is alternately controlled, focused, rhythmic and thematically chaotic. The wild way in which the melodies are played contrast heavily with its coherent funk rhythm attitude. And knowing what I know of him, this is one of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s most defining songs that I’ve yet heard.

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A Blow For Me,A Happy 40 Years For You: The Album Where Fred, Maceo And P-Funk Officially Met At Their Crossroads

The clean transition from James Brown to George Clinton’s P-Funk all comes down to Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker. These were two totally different approaches to funk. JB laid down the groundwork. P-Funk, while more psychedelic in the beginning, took over where Sly Stone left off by the mid 70’s in terms of embellishing JB’s basic structure for the music. It was the horns that really did a lot of this of course. And George Clinton knew that. And in 1977 he gave that end of P-Funk its own identity with A Blow For Me,A Toot For You. Here’s my Amazon.com review that goes further into what it was musically.


As probably the most significant horn section in all of funk? The band that Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley led had a lot of different names. They were the JB’s,they were All The King’s Men,they were The Macks and eventually a part of the funky heartbeat in the nervous system of George Clinton’s P-Funk during the mid 70’s. After working as part of Bootsy’s Rubber Band,George decided that the already iconic Maceo and Fred needed a P-Funk era album of their own. And in 1977 they got their chance.

“Up From The Downstroke” is presented here as an extended stripped down variation of Parliament’s original where the collective horn charts interact call and response style to the horn solos. The title song slows the tempo right into the groove with the horns responding directly to Bernie Worrell’s orchestral synthesizer. “When In Doubt,Vamp” finds the horns all playing rhythmically in classic James Brown style.

“Between The Sheets” finds the horns intertwined into a thick mixture of reverbed, liquefied bounding bass and rhythm guitar/keyboard interaction while “Four Play” begins with a singled out funky drum before going into a jazzy rhythm guitar led jam. “Peace Fugue” ends the album with the electric piano tinged ballad that closes it all out with a more melodic style of trumpet solo.

During the time I first listened to this on vinyl? Something about the album lacked some of the rhythmic sauciness and vigor that I was used to hearing out of P-Funk at that particular time. Listening to the vinyl again over a decade later? I realize just how important this album had been in showcasing how musically clean,spit and polished the P-Funk sound actually was during the peak of it’s powers.

Maceo and Fred’s expert horn solos and interactions are explored in ultra sleek productions where time was taken in the studio rather than the often hit and run recording sessions James Brown had often done. This became a model for some of the later studio works of these musicians after they departed from P-Funk. And is a superb example of George Clinton and Bootsy Collins’ prowess as studio producers.


Back when I was first getting into P-Funk,it was during a crate digging experience that I located this album on vinyl In all honesty, it is not as powerfully innovative as Mothership Connection or Ahh The Name Is Bootsy Baby. In a way, that was kind of the point. P-Funk began as a somewhat instrumentally undisciplined psychedelic rock and soul outfit. And the discipline that JB alumni such as Fred,Maceo and Bootsy (mainstays of the Horny Horns) brought their blend of controlled chaos to make sense of P-Funk’s intent. On that level, this album is a crucial stepping stone for P-Funk’s late 70’s peak.

 

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Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Dara Factor One” by Weather Report

Weather Report are probably the first jazz fusion band I ever knew. Each lineup of the band, of course the first official spin off from Miles Davis’s electric period, became musical superstars in their own right. Of course the most famous was the 1978 through 1982 lineup featuring,along with its founding members,drummer Peter Erksine and the incomparable kind of fretless fusion bass Jaco Pastorius. Erksine,a New Jersey born drummer,played with a diverse array of artists. Ranging from his beginnings with Stan Kenton all the way to later collaborations with Kate Bush and even Queen Latifah.

Erkine’s final album with Weather Report was actually a second self titled album, released in 1982. It was the final album for Jaco Pastorius as well. This is one of the Weather Report albums I admit to not continuously exploring as much as it deserves to be explored. But in looking for a song where the traditionally collaborative composing process of Weather Report included Erksine in a greater capacity,this album seems to have closed with such a song. One that just revealed its strength to my ears upon reviewing it for this overview. Its entitled “Dara Factor One”.

Robert Thomas Jr’s percussion and Erksine’s drums start off the song with a deeply funky Afro-Brazilian groove. Joe Zawinul then comes in playing his many layers of synthesizer voices. The first are on the low end of sound, and gradually higher pitched tones come into the mix playing synth horn and string/orchestral charts. Thomas’s percussion rings right along. Jaco’s bass starts out basically hugging tight to Erksine’s drums and Shorter’s sax. By the final parts of the song, he’s at his flamboyant and technically brilliant best circling all around Zawinul’s synthesizers until the song fades itself out.

“Dara Factor One” is one of Weather Reports “moments” of the early 80’s. Each period of their creativity had its own contained brilliance. They also had individual moments that stood out as flat out defining-either for a given musician or the genre itself. This is one of those musician defining songs. Its Brazilian funk/world fusion approach is a truly democratic musical collaboration. Everyone is playing together without grabbing at time to shine as soloists. And all the melodies from Zawinul and Shorter are very vocal-singing away to the dancing rhythm of a very human type of funky Afro-fusion jam!

 

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Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Ju-Ju Man” by Passport

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.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Don’t Play With Fire” by Peabo Bryson

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.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Skagly” by Freddie Hubbard

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.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” by Arthur Blythe

Arthur Blythe,the LA/San Diego free jazz sax player,passed away on March 25th this year at the age of 76 due to complications from Parkisons disease. The only reason I am aware of him comes from a question to my father. It was about the last jazz album he brought before I was born. And it was Blythe’s 1979 album Lenox Avenue Breakdown. His recording career started comparatively late,similar to the also recently passed vocalist Al Jarreau. His group in the late 70’s was also a major training ground for a new generation of free jazz musicians such as guitarist James Blood Ulmer.

Not being an academic jazz writer,the best way for me to write about the more acoustic styles of jazz would be based on the feeling and sound they convey. Arthur Blythe’s music came across to me as being very similar in flavor to how Miles Davis approached his music during its electric period-strong rhythmic foundation but with a more abstract,free jazz compositional style. Blythe and his group seemed to be doing something similar but more acoustically. One song that best exemplifies that musical attitude is the title song to the album Lenox Avenue Breakdown.

Jack DeJohnette’s drums get the groove going with some hard swinging-with Ulmer and bassist Cecil McBee’s interaction keeping up with James Newton’s melodically bluesy flute. Newton and Blythe really let loose with their reed fanfarring after that,and just before each solo section of the song as well. The first solo is an extremely intense one from Blythe-flying into the higher registers with DeJohnette and Ulmer following along with his intensity. Next up is Newton’s extremely atonal flute solo-following by Bob Stewart’s bouncing tuba solo before that reed fanfare brings it all to a halt.

Arthur Blythe had been a member of the The Underground Musicians and Artists Association in the mid 60’s. And he began his recording career under the name ‘Black Arthur Blythe” to maintain his strong ethnic identification. His playing on the song “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” is filled with that passion,but is very clean in tone. This actually adds to its power. The aggressive loudness and emphasis on solos actually adds a bit of a rock feeling to the free funk-jazz atmosphere of the song. Its taken me some years to really get into the song. But its a strong musical statement from Arthur Blythe.

 

 

 

 

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