The contributions to every sub-genre of instrumental oriented funky dance music owes a great debt of gratitude to Nile Rodgers and the Chic Organization. Ever since his major commercial comeback in 2013 with creatively promising most millennial nu funk/disco icons Daft Punk Pharrell Williams on “Get Lucky”. Back in the game of hit production work with new artists such as Tensnake and Sam Smith? Nile began fine tuning some discarded tapes recorded originally for Sister Sledge and featuring the late bassist Bernard Edwards and singer Luther Vandross on vocals, and re-introduced his much anticipated comeback with Chic on a new groove entitled “I’ll Be There”.
It begins with the rolling percussion of Ralph Rolle,with Jerry Barnes bass weaving itself into the mix for a colorful rhythmic tapestry. ‘Nard himself then chimes in on his iconic mid toned rhythm guitar for his always danceable,rhythmic and chunky groove along with melodic (and sometimes spacey) accenting horns.-having Barnes take over on bass as the lead instrument on the vocal refrains. Just before the bridge of the song,the music again reduces down to the bass and percussion sound before even the bass strips out-leaving nothing but the fast paced Afro-Latin percussion before the song fads out on Nile’s chorus.
First thing that I can say about this Chic groove is that it has the complete flavor of a Chic song from their late 70’s,early 80’s heyday. The emphasis is again on the rhythm instruments such as bass,guitar and percussion. These are the elements that made Nile and Chic some of the funkiest musicians of the disco era. As well as being the core element of the post “Rapper’s Delight” take on commercially viable hip-hop that used live musicians as opposed to samples. The music video featuring a then and now look at a fashion conscious lady enjoying old Soul Train episodes,and spinning Chic vinyl records while the current band perform in a contemporary club perfectly captures their modern/retro disco vibe.
Wanted to close off with a little personal story time about myself and Chic. My own adolescence in the mid/late 90’s seemed to represent a gradual change in the music world’s attitude towards disco. It started out with a very virulent hatred in the “disco sucks” mold of the early 80’s freeze out of the music. Yet it ended with huge popular rappers such as Biggie Smalls and even Will Smith sampling disco/post disco era songs with total pride. Not to mention the importance of those songs complete embrace by the public in a positive light. This reminds me of my favorite lyric in this song which says “I don’t want to live in the past,but it’s a nice place to visit”. The disco era at it’s most musically vital represented a full channeling of Afro-Latin world music,big band jazz and the long form rhythms of funk. And it’s wonderful to hear that Chic and Nile Rodgers are still able to pull it all together so wonderfully!
Filed under 2015, Bernard Edwards, Chic, Daft Punk, Disco, Funk, Funk Bass, Get Lucky, Jerry Barnes, Luther Vandross, Nile Rodgers, nu disco, Pharrell Willaims, Ralpe Rolle, Sam Smith, Sister Sledge, Tensnake
In tribute to one of my favorite musical artists-the multi talented pianist,keyboardist,bandleader and composer Herbie Hancock (who turns 74 years old today),I am presenting a review of an album he recorded 36 years called ‘Sunlight’. With the the emergence of contemporary artists such as Dam Funk, Tensnake and Daft Punk all exploring new realms of the electronic fusions of jazz,disco and boogie funk? Its important to note that during the disco era of the late 1970’s,Herbie Hancock was already innovating that direction already. As an artist with classical training as well as a strong understanding of the regal and truly free nature of Latin and African rhythms in his entire career,Herbie Hancock probably understands the progression of jazz into the era of electronics more than any artist since his mentor and bandleader Miles Davis. The fact that he was also an engineer helped enhance this conception. So enjoy my review. Thank you!
Following his 1976 album with the Headhunters Secrets,Herbie Hancock elected to reform the remainder of the Miles Davis 60’s era Quintet for the album VSOP,who managed to actually record several albums and make more than one appearance despite what their name stood for. Still completely unfettered by music writers and critics frustrations (as they’d had with Miles earlier on) at Hancock refusing to stick to only one variation of jazz,the artist himself decided to expand on the Headhunters-replacing a departed Mike Clark with Leon Ndugu Chancler along with Harvey Mason and with Ray Parker Jr. and Wah Wah Watson remaining guitar players. For this album Herbie,likely aware he was not the strongest of singers decided to add his own vocals to this album-which is the first time he actually would do so. This was accomplished,as stated on the back of this album with the Sennheiser VSM-201 Vocoder,which would allowed Herbie’s voice to be encoded digitally through a special mic and played back as a completely synthesized vocal on a keyboard. This would have been the keyboardists equivalent of the guitar talk box. And with this new addition to his instrumental arsenal Herbie’s music began to make some exciting and spirited changes yet again
The album begins with two pieces over 8 minutes long. It opens with “I Thought It Was You”,an example of a rather innovative and un-commercial song that was actually quite a chart success. Its a wonderful melody built around a “funk functioning for the disco floor” type rhythm that also has a strong big band swing horn orchestration. Herbie plays some amazing Fender Rhodes solos in this song and at different intervals and breaks,layers himself scatting in different tonal colors through his new Vocoder. Its one of Hancock’s most vital compositions melodically and instrumentally as well as being one of the most important songs of that era in many ways. “Coming Running To Me” follows with breezier Brazilian fusion type shuffle with Herbie almost chanting some of the vocal lines almost in the manner of some of the Buddhist mediation he was engaging in at the time along with the main melody. The title is a beautifully melodic,high stepping funk piece-very much in mind of a Headhunters song circa 1975 only with a lead vocals and a more otherworldly use of Vocoder. “No Means Yes” starts out as a super melodic Samba played on polyphonic synthesizer before converting back to heavy Headhunters type funk for the refrains. “Good Question” brings in Tony Willians and the incomparable bassist Jaco Pastorius for an intense,rigid acoustic number almost in the mind of one of Miles’ 60’s Quintet’s more intense moments and that of VSOP. There’s also a lot of European classic theatrics in the playing,as well as a strong Afro-Latin percussion sound and Arabic melodic theme.
I first purchased this album at an enormous vinyl warehouse in Rochester,New York in 1998. I played the vinyl so often in such a concentrated time,it got worn after only about a decade. Its back cover depicting Herbie playing his vast array of synthesizers still hangs on my wall. Having purchased for the second time (due to a theft) this album on CD, this is one of the albums that I’ve heard that gets continually more brilliant each time I hear it. Recorded during the height of the disco era,most of this music is uptempo and extremely funky in the classic Headhunters tradition. At the same time,the addition of the Vocoder (which by the way has instrumentally as much in common with today’s autotune devices as Chess does with Tic Tac Toe) creates an entirely new futurist environment which enhance Herbie’s vocals on this album-giving them a surreal and very cosmic quality. For someone who isn’t a singer by trade,Herbie takes some enormous vocal chances here still-often stacking multiple layers of his Vocoderized vocalese and scatting to great a vast vocal polyphony that,while a deep source of inspiration for funk and jazz minded electronica artists such as Daft Punk,are still very much ahead of their time even from this original form. All the material here emphasizes Herbie’s exceptional talent at using his diverse synthesizers and pianos to create wonderfully hummable and improvised melodies while remaining firmly locked into the percussively rhythmic funk grooves that permeate this album. As such this album is a direct link musically between his Headhunters era jazz-funk sound and his more futuristic sound to come. So not only does this emerge as one of his strongest albums,and he has many,but also one of the most important transitional steps in his long and successful musical career.