Tag Archives: Steve Gadd

Aja At 40: Welcome To The Land Of Steely Dan

Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja was an album whose success has been based far more on its quality than its commercial potential. In 2010, it was even inducted by the Library of Congress into their United States National Recording Registry. It even won a Grammy in the the year of its release for being the best engineered non classical record of the year. For me, it represented the precision musicianship of the jazz funk era musicians who played on the album at some of their personal best. Also in 2010, I wrote a review on Amazon.com about the album and how I personally heard it.


Time has a way of testing a work of art that might be today’s masterpiece but tomorrow’s rubbish pile. One would probably find that not only would this album ace such a test with flying colors but could actually still be considered something of a yardstick of it’s kind. I am not sure but before this album very little music that qualified as jazz-funk,fusion or pop/jazz ever quite had the same level of all around success this one had in pop and rock circles and especially among pop radio listeners. There are a couple reasons for this.

For one the music featured here is a fully realized refinement on what was accomplished with The Royal Scam and unlike that albums more jagged moments both the production and arrangements on this album are clean as a whistle. For another thing none of that took away from the daring and adventurous flavors here. So you have this mixture of elegance,sophistication and a strong groove that only those really in the know about funk can provide.

The production of the Clavinet on “Black Cow” pretty much tell the story and some of the songs people don’t remember as well here such as “Home At Last” and “I Got The News” there’s some of the most intricate and uniquely textured piano work Donald Fagen had committed to record thus far and trust me: on that area he’d more than earned a few brownie points already. The title song has one of the most complex melodic constructions your liable to find in a pop record.

And of course it’s not easy to get Steve Gadd’s amazing fusion style drum solo at the songs conclusion out of one’s memory even after the passing of time. The popular hits from this album “Deacon Blues” and of course “Peg” showcase another surprising element of this album. Those familiar with Steely Dan before this album realize lyrically they tended to specialize in warped tales,usually of people no one wanted to know. These songs maintain their lyrical style but the tales they tell are a bit more accessible in tone and are among the more lighthearted and quaint in their catalog.

Yeah they were probably making a few funnies about the stereotypical simplicity of pop music lyrics but….a lot of it just is what it is and that’s kind of different for their usually double meaning approach. “Josie” ends the album on a similar note although the lyrics on that one may be just a tad slinkier and the groove just mildly edgier. At this point you could say this was Steely Dan’s best overall album and it’s certainly their best known.

But it’s also important to know their “laboratory in the studio” approach to recording across their previous two albums really opened the door for this to happen. So this was the conclusion to a long enduring musical experiment rather than something that came out of this air. That taken into considering the amazing thing about this is…..all these years later it still doesn’t sound like a product of hard labor.


Aja was an album that I first heard playing in my family’s car “boom box” when, as I recall, we were going to pick apples. Its an excellent example of a record where the melodic and very welcoming jazz/funk fusion grooves of the album deflect from Steely Dan’s typically cryptic and “insider commentary” based nature of their lyrical content. There’s a lot on the musical end of this album that I was able to project into a YouTube video I did about the album recently.  Aja is a record I could go on and on about here. But in the end, its best for the music to do the talking in this case.

 

 

 

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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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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Roof Garden” by Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau’s artistry as a world class vocalist/singer has seldom been disputed. Though there was a time when it was said that,after the mid 70’s,Jarreau abandoned jazz for pop crossover. Its an age old argument. And honestly,it usually derives from ignorance. In Jarreau’s case,his musical and vocal approach always remained squarely rooted in jazz. From the vocalese/scat and tremolo effects of his musical heroes Jon Hendricks and Johnny Mathis to the arrangements of the music itself,Jarreau was one of a handful of jazz vocalists who could bring improvisation to a wider audience with a pop/funk musical twist.

Jarreau’s best known album was 1981’s Breakin Away. It was a Jay Graydon production. Graydon,like Rod Temperton,was a figure who really knows how to deliver soulful and funky music that has a strong jazz flavor to it. This style was extremely well suited for Jarreau’s jazz approach,since it was still required to make the whole thing work. And it was a massive (and in my opinion deserved) crossover triumph. And it spawned his best known hit with the mid tempo ballad “We’re In This Love Together”. While spawning two more big hits,a favorite of mine and many fans of Jarreau on this album is “Roof Garden”.

Its the trio of Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements,Steve Gadd’s impeccable funky shuffle and George Duke’s strutting Fender Rhodes that starts off this song with Jarreau’s spoken word/scat intro. Of course Abraham Laboriel’s stomping bass line is right along for the right. On the choruses,Jarreau is singing like a chocked,muted trumpet alongside Graydon’s liquid guitar. On the refrains,the horns and drums lock themselves into a dramatic big band swing style melodic arrangement. The bridge finds Jarreau scatting with Duke’s Rhodes until the big horn,choral and lead vocal part the fades out the song.

“Roof Garden” is one of my personal favorite Al Jarreau numbers. Its got so much high stepping,high strutting jazz/funk personality. Everything from the bass/guitar interaction to the horns is locked right into place. Jarreau was alternately comical and sassy on this song vocally. Especially singing lines at the beginning like “hang on,what ‘cha mama gonna say if she found you in a spot like this”. Jarreau delivered on every strength he had: improvising complex scales,scatting and vocalese of many sorts. While its still hard to believe he’s no longer with us,jazz funk like this will assure his sound will endure.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Star Fire” by The Sylvers

One of the key musical inspirations that led to the creation of my music blogs was the discovery of The Sylvers. For a teenager seeking to bring the world of Star Trek and other thoughtful science fiction into reality,the fascination with the cosmic funk of Earth Wind & Fire and P-Funk held a special meaning. An often referenced story of my musical back round is that 1994 vinyl giveaway at the University of Maine. It’s where I discovered a very beat up copy of The Sylvers 1977 New Horizons album. Never heard anything about this group before,save for that they seemed to resemble the Jacksons. Only with the women in the family on board. And the album contained the extra goodie of a fan club order sheet.

The cover art showing the seven member group dancing on a spaceship shaped like their own logo was designed by Japanese illustrator Shusei Nagaoka. He had a strong back round in funk album jacket design with his work for Earth Wind & Fire, Rose Royce, Sun and George Clinton. This was a very special album for the band. It was for them what Destiny would be for the Jacksons’ a year later. All of the band members got a chance to write and produce. And Leon Sylvers III really showed his growth in this regard. The bands adult oriented funk,soul and disco oriented sound culminated for me at the end of the album with a song entitled “Star Fire”.

A peddling cymbal/hi hat solo accompanied by a high spacey synthesizer opens the song. Then the rhythm guitar kicks,along with Leon’s crunching bass and the ascending strings. The main body of the groove consists of all of these elements,plus many more. A percussive main beat keeps the rhythm hot during the refrains of the song,as the strings play melodic call and response with the bass/guitar interaction. On the choruses the horns lead into the Sylvers harmony vocals. There are two separate bridges. One continues the call and response between the strings,bass and guitar. The other features the spacey synth. This last one closes out the song with a bluesy muted trumpet solo.

Listening to this song in the context of what else I’ve heard of the Sylvers music,this is very likely the strongest jazz-funk tune they ever made. And very likely the only one. It has the harmonic feeling of swing and hard bop with the rhythmic crunch of heavy late 70’s dance funk. The presence of jazz-funk session players such as Richard Tee,Steve Gadd and Tom Scott on this song really adds instrumental might to the Sylvers’ growing abilities as composers,producers and musicians. Each time I hear this,it really brings out just how musically strong this musical family became under such strong instrumental tutelage-both during and before the time this particular song came out.

 

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Filed under 1970's, drums, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, Leon Sylvers III, rhythm guitar, Richard Tee, Shusei Nagaoka, space funk, Steve Gadd, strings, synthesizer, The Sylvers, Tom Scott, trumpet, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Viva De Funk” by Joe Sample & The Soul Committee

Joe Sample is one of a handful of instrumentalists whose music was a major source of inspiration for this entire blog. Over the years,the music he and members of the Crusaders have made became key conversational points between myself and Henrique Hopkins. That’s because in both our cases, Sample was also key in bringing us into the big and wonderful world of the funk jazz genre. And I’m going to put funk first there because Joe Sample is someone whose very sound on the keyboards was defined by a great technical understanding of how to project his soul. So it only seems appropriate that Sample would refer to his early/mid 90’s era group as the Soul Committee.

Right around the time I was just seriously getting into The Crusaders, my dad and I would frequent a small record store in the Maine college town of Orono known as Dr. Records. One day one of the people who worked there had the then new Joe Sample & The Soul Committee 1993 album entitled Did You Feel That? playing in the store as we browsed the racks and crates. My dad picked the CD up that day. And it’s been a frequent road trip favorite on family car rides ever since. There’s a sense of motion about all of it. One song I just could not get out of my head-even to this day. And the name of the song is a strong musical statement of intent: “Viva De Funk”.

Crowd sounds with a strong party atmosphere not only begin this song,but define it’s rhythmic element in the classic soul jazz manner of numbers like the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s “The In Crowd”.  Steve Gadd’s slow rolling,percussive drums keep the rhythm moving straight ahead with Freddie Washington’s bass thump,the wah wah  guitar and the trumpeter Oscar Breshear carrying the main melody along with Sample’s bluesy Fender Rhodes electric piano playing. The trumpet plays another whole melodic statement before the wah wah mixes up and sax player Joe Peskin adds his own grease before Sample returns on acoustic piano for the final refrain before the main rhythm closes it all out.

One thing that always gets me about this groove is that while the instrumentation seems small,their band’s interaction is very full. That’s probably because the melodic aspect of the song carries it, but the bulk of the song is based in rhythm. In classic funk style the drums,guitar,bass and crowd noises all play a percussive element to it’s own movement. It all stays right on the one. Joe Sample’s place in this works on both levels. The thick sound of his Rhodes takes on the rhythmic meat of the tune, while the piano solo carries the melody. So Sample again showcases his strong understanding of funk here, but also where a given instrumental sound’s place within the groove should be.

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Anatomy Of THE Groove for 11/28/2015: “I Believe In Love” by Kenny Loggins

For the past six months? Have been debating with myself as to how to reintroduce this blog. There were some personal matters involved. Yet I was continually discouraged by saturation news about one act of gun violence and other forms of terrorism right after another. And over and over people defending the right for this to keep happening-rather than striving to do something about it.

For over a decade since my own family started playing a vinyl to cassette dub of Kenny Loggins’ 1977 solo debut album Celebrate Me Home? There were a number of songs on it that made an impact me-especially with former partner in the famous singer/songwriter (itself a soul based sub genre of course) duo with John Messina creating such a soul/R&B oriented debut album with his strong lyrical and melodic sensibility. One of those songs has been ringing through my mind all month long. And it’s called “I Believe In Love”.

The song opens with the spirited,uptempo percussion of Sergio Mendes alumni Laudier de Oliveira and Steve Foreman. This is accompanied a melodically jazzy soprano recorder solo from Jon Clarke. Loggins ethereal falsetto rings in at this point over a short instrumental break to introduce the refrain-again sung in a whisper over Steve Gadd’s drums. Loggins drops into the lower end of his vocal range.

On the second chorus? Album producer Bob James kicks in for a spirited synthesizer accompaniment. This leads into the bridge of the song being lead by the lyrically narrative chorus-wherein Clarke’s recorder ,Lee Ritenour’s rhythm guitar and James’ synthesizer are both in strong harmony with Gadd’s drumming and Loggins spirited vocal inflections. At the conclusion of the song? There’s an alternately phrased variation of the chorus that concludes the song.

Instrumentally speaking,this song is absolutely phenomenal and happy spirited funky soul. It’s also from that mid/late 70’s period where this variation on of the genre was thriving and prevalent. And not only on the radio, but in private record collections from all sections of the record stores of the day just about. The participation of the most talented and prolific jazz/funk session players of the day of course really helped to give the song it’s driving,positive energy.

Considering contemporary fears,anxiety and often near inability of people to show affection to one another, as well as the tendency to feel blood lust in protecting the most violent and inhumane aspects of religion? Drawing on a late 70’s take on the 60’s era gospel/soul concepts of humanity such as the potential loss of soul runs very deep to me right now. Especially coming to the conclusion that believing in love as a broader concept is far healthier then people being guarded and “believin’ in gods that never knew them”. Perhaps it’s music such as this seemingly simple song that might hold the answers to major problems so many are refusing to deal with today.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Bob James, Humanity, Jazz-Funk, Kenny Loggins, Late 70's Funk, Lee Ritenour, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 9/13/2014: “Sample This” by Joe Sample

Sample This

I could spend a good deal of time focusing in on the double meanings behind this album title. Of course Joe Sample,on his own and with the Crusaders was being sampled right and left by this time by one jazz/funk obsessed DJ after another at this time when there was a huge sense of 70’s funk revivalism occurring in the hip-hop/electronic/scratch scene. Kind of good news for Joe Sample,whose career was still going incredibly strong at this time with successful releases with the Soul Committee on Did You Feel That? and reunions with the Crusaders. Ever the jazz improviser however funky and soulful he was,Sample bought in George Duke to help with production as well as his classic team of session aces from Steve Gadd,Lenny Castro,Dean Parks and the multi talented Marcus Miller to re-imagine his own material.

Much of what’s here I have to admit to not hearing in it’s original form. But for those I haven’t I’ll comment on what the sound says on it’s own terms. “Rainbow Seeker II” begins the album in that soulful,piano oriented vein that he maintains throughout “Caramel”,”In All My Wildest Dreams”,”Snowflake”,”It Happens Everyday”,”Fly With The Wings Of Love” and “Melodies Of Love”. These are classic Joe Sample jazz grooves,modernized enough to keep them fresh but punchy enough to keep them out of smooth jazz cliche’s:something of a Sample trade mark. Dianne Reeves throws her pipes well into the samba flavored “I’m Coming Back Again” where Dennis Rowland takes over for Bill Withers on “Soul Shadows”.

As the album gets more into the uptempo music “Night Flight” and “Chain Reaction” slide into the grooves very smoothly and easily. On “Street Life” the rhythm is changed to a more instrumentally inclined jazz/reggae style with no lead vocal. Probably the most radically different to me. “Free As The Wind” and the classic “Put It Where You Want It” probably dig deeper into the groove,even slowing down the tempo to an even funkier level than the originals and he ends the album with his solo piano rendition of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreveport Stomps”. While I’m not usually very keen on an artist re-doing their old material,even in the jazz world defined by improvisation of all sorts,this really works wonderfully for me. For one,it’s one of a series of wonderfully made Joe Sample albums…full of soul,the blues and groove as he always is. Also it makes it more than clear that jazz-funk can,indeed,be very successfully improvised on as much as acoustic music.

Originally posted on November 4th,2012

*For original Amazon.com review,click here!

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