Tag Archives: The Roots

Albums Matter: Andre’s List Of The Top Funky Full Length Albums Of From The Past Five Years

Prince At the grammys

The 57th annual Grammy Award ceremony’s this past Sunday seemed to have surprised everyone. Many performances had a far more serious, even evangelical tone with references to domestic violence and the revived understanding of racism bought on by the police violence of 2014. Maturity and growth were very heavily emphasized on every level-performance and presentation wise. It was Prince,who just released two albums at the end of the last year,who got everyone’s attention-with the words printed above spoken as he presented the Grammy for the best album of 2014.

Prince’s words are what moved me to pick this particular topic for this weeks blog. One very important musical factor shared with my blogging partner Rique is our appreciation and advocacy for the full length album as an important artistic format in terms of how the music we love and are socially moved by is presented. To have someone with as rich a musical history as Prince bring this up at a major award ceremony confirmed the 2010’s have been all about the revival of the album as a driving force in the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum in particular. So here’s my list,year by year of the music on that particular playing field that’s deeply effected my listening.

2010

Erykah Badu Return Of The Ankh

Erykah Badu is always one to throw the unexpected into her grooves. Here her thick,burbling jams blend into songs that are not only a cohesive statement but when sampling is used? They are of things like Paul McCartney album tracks of AOR oriented fusion artists such as David Sancious or Roy Ayers’ Sylvia Striplin. A wondrously sexy celebration of the funk album.

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Janelle Monae here was a key figure in the focus of both my music related blogs with her multi-genre embrace of the Afro Futurist ethic. This album was and is a true game changer in that regard.

John Legend Wake Up!

With both artists always edging just on the border of funk with their own respective releases? The groove burst out completely and with a total fluidity for John Legend and his backing band The Roots-including drummer/producer ?ueslove, for this (so far) one time musical collaboration.

2011

Beyonce 4

Known more for being innovative in terms of single songs,Beyonce’s fourth solo album gained a complete full length flow with a much more mature sound. Including the very polished Quincy Jones/Westlake style production of “Love On Top”.

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz always had loads of funk in him. Here and there. Took him a long time before he fully identified with that funkier instrumental groove. And did so on one of his most thorough musical statements to date.

2012

Chris Brown Fortune

With contemporary electronic pop/hip-hop/dance music usually having enough energy to stretch only across a few songs? Chris Brown,during a less than satisfactory period for him personally no less,managed to take the contemporary musical end of his genre and stretch it out successfully longer than I’ve heard most do such a thing in some time.

Antibalas

This explosively percussion Afro-Funk group recording for Daptone were so connected to the original Afrocentric  pulse that spawned the original funk process groups such as Santana,Mandrill and War that following this album they became the backing band for the Broadway musical Fela! A rebirth of full length poly-rhythm at it’s finest!

Kaleidoscope Dream

Psychedelic,meditative and non traditionally structured sophomore release from new comer Miguel.

Victor Wooten

Bassist Victor Wooten saw such depth in this material that he released it both as a vocal and instrumental piece. Very original musical presentation at this time.

Macy Gray Talking Book

Macy Gray bought out her inner Sly Stone for this literal celebration of the album-re-making every song in original order from Stevie Wonder’s 1972 breakthrough album Talking Book on it’s 40th anniversary.

Talented bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding brings out the sprawling mid 70’s jazz/funk vibe for what is probably her most defining album as of yet.

Radio Music Society

Electronica meets boogie funk from a very interesting source blending a hard grooving as well as an ethereal quality.

2013

Toro Y Moi

Potent mix of electronica and boogie/synth funk.

Jyoti

Very bold sound from Georgia Anne Muldrow that embraces dramatic jazz/funk with a boom rap approach to production.

Trombone Shorty

Crescent City native Trombone Shorty presents the instrumental style of horn funk as a genre of sorts all it’s own,with many different tributaries,on this one album.

Apocalypse

Flying Lotus bassist Thundercat brings a huge,cinematic approach to psychedelic jazz-funk.

20 20 Experience

The first of two Justin Timberlake comeback’s this year. Probably a huge re-awakening for the album length music format,complete with 7-8 minute jams,that bough extended soul/funk to the broader contemporary pop audience.

2014

Pharrell

Long time producer emerges as a fully complete solo artist-full of funkified rhythmic energy and shook the world up in a way no funky music has in over three decades with “Happy”.

Kelis-Food

Kelis returns with an album that takes a very JB like organic instrumental soul/funk turn.

Paula

Robin Thicke’s emotionally charged break up album is a full on raw, muscular funk/soul extravaganza

Plectrumelectrum

Prince and the female instrumental trio 3rdEyeGirl become part of the double edged album sword in his studio comeback. It showcases a multi hued psychedelic funk/rock sound where the whole is definitely more important than the sum of it’s parts.

Goapele-Strong-As-Glass

Oaklands own Goapele lends the funk of Pharrell Williams and flowing,piano based jazzy soul/pop on an album that celebrates the flow of musical depth,dignity and elegance.

Black Messiah

D’Angelo shakes the world up with an extremely funkified statement that is still,at the time of this writing,showing people that black lives (and black music) matter a great deal.

2015 (So Far)

Uptown Special

With the month of January often being a driftwood month for new music? Mark Ronson brings Bruno Mars,Mystikal and Stevie Wonder together for some serious,churning “uptown funk? of many colors!


There were honestly more albums than I could’ve seriously listed in this blog that also fit right into it. But these ones made the most important statements on their own terms perhaps. A single song will always say a great deal. But if one impulse or a series of musical/lyrical impulse can be expanded out in a way that expands the mind naturally through a powerfully grooving auditory experience? Than I saw so much the better. So let’s all have it for the musical impact of the album! It’s a key organ in the anatomy of the groove!

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Filed under Beyonce', D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Goapele, Janelle Monae, John Legend, Justin Timerlake, Kelis, Lenny Kravitz, Macy Gray, Mark Ronson, Miguel, Pharrell Willaims, Prince, Robin Thicke, The Roots, Trombone Shorty

Anatomy of THE Groove 8/29/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Breakfast Can Wait” by Prince

In the past several years,Prince seems to have been concentrating more on the means by which to distribute his music than in actually releasing anything. Many,including myself,have seen this as a source of frustration. To paraphrase my blogging partner Rique? Any and all new Prince releases are seen,within the funk musician/admirer communities ,as being a major event. After all,just about every funky artist these days with a strong instrumental acumen site Prince as a primarily influence. With the majority of Prince’s music absent from YouTube,a Vevo video service showed up last year for him. It included one video to one song that,according to Amazon,features sleeve art picturing Dave Chappelle in his comic impression of Prince holding a place of pancakes. Very appropriate-especially considering the name of the song is “Breakfast Can Wait”.

It all starts off with what sounds like sizzling on a grill (a very funky sound effect,if I may say so myself) and goes into a drum kickoff after which a a fender rhodes starts into what is an intermingled blend of electric piano,phat popping slap bass lines which Prince revved up upon each refrain and a very steady variation of the stop-start drum machine pattern Prince helped pioneer over 30 years ago on the LINN. Lyrically he focuses on a similar metaphor that James Brown once used to describe musical ideas he wanted-“Pass The Peas” and so forth. Only this time,the focus is very much on a…very physical wake up call where Prince tells his lady lover “Grits and gravy,cheese eggs and jam/can nobody cook like you girl”. On the final refrain of the song,the melody slips into the minor chords a bit with Prince vocals having a modern variation of his late 80’s “chipmunked” vocal effect used as part of his Camille persona.

One of the things about this song that hit me right off is how immediately jazzy the groove is. Its very stripped down in classic Prince style. On the other hand,it explores a side of his musical spectrum that he doesn’t showcase all that often. I’ve always felt the jazz idiom and Prince’s persona went very well together as he musically matured. Wynton Marsalis once coined that the original meaning for jazz for him was procreation-a possible result of the sexuality Prince has always projected. However there’s also a profundity to that since Prince’s music is also always recreating itself-stretching one idea into another. And on this album? Prince’s renowned instrumental talents actually take on a similar direction as to the conceptualizations of The Roots’ Questlove-a jazzy live instrumental hip-hop sound based strongly in funk. Since this showcases Prince’s realization that funk is a total bottom line of his entire musical concept? There’s strong signs some of his strongest grooves are still yet ahead of him.

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The Anatomy of the Groove 7/18/14 Rique’s Pick : “Din Daa Da” by The Roots

There is no minimizing the good Philadelphia’s Legendary Roots Crew has done in their time in the public eye as a Hip Hop based band.  The Collective has produced critically acclaimed albums, had members produce legends such as Al Green, collaborated with idiosyncratic masters like Elvis Costello, backed great singers like John Legend, and spearheaded the Neo Soul movement through the Soulquarians collective. The Roots have shouldered a heavy burden, as Questlove is well aware, of being the most prominent black band in the world. This one band has taken over in public perception, for all the great bands of the past’s jazz, funk or soul. I imagine when a black kid plays drums now days, he might hear, “Go head Questlove”.  The thing with this flag bearing is, they’ve done it while also operating in an area of Hip Hop music that can often be limiting, especially apres the Late ’80s Early ’90s “Golden Era.” Roots albums have often left me disappointed, because brilliant lyricism , crisp snares, and cozy grooves notwithstanding, they’ve rarely brought the thunderous funk the way they’re known to bring on stage. 2004’s cover of George Franz’s ’80s dance classic, “Din Daa Daa” changed all of that.  This bonus track, buried at the tail end of their “Tipping Point” album, was a funky, imporvisatory “Dazz” (disco-jazz) track that finally unleashed Questlove’s drum kit with reverbed force.

George Kranz’s song “Din Daa Daa” was the soundtrack to a magical scene in the early Hip Hop dance movie “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo.  Kranz scatted drum figures to himself as he unleashed drum solos in a duet format. Black Thought and Questlove do the same here to devestating effect, with Questlove conjuring up the force of jazz drummers like Elvin Jones and Art Blakey. The track was a bonus on the album, coming after a wacky rap song featuring Dave Chappelle.

The song begins with voices singing “Din Daa Daa” against voices singing the bassline for the song. A cowbell marks the time as the groove builds. Black Thought begins to scat his rhythmic phrases, reminding me of his fellow Philadelphian Bill Cosby’s drum based jazz scatting language. Questlove comes in, not playing the exact same phrases at first, but accenting them and playing around them. Quest snare drum features something rare for him, reverb! Questlove usually goes for a dry, spare community center sound that will not overpower M.C’s. He shows no such concern here as he unleashes  thundering drum rolls that linger like a flare. Quest and Tarik (Black Thought) play off each other, talk to each other, one up one another, as well as support themselves through the first go round of the tune. Tariq escalates into orgies of mouth rhythms, rapping out millitary paraddidles and a Billy Stewart esque climax, with Quest ratcheting up the intensity until about 3:25, when the song hits it’s release. The release features a solid, crisp Neo-Philly drum beat and George Kranz’s brighter than bright, uplifting “Din Daa Daa” synthesizer tones. The song alternates between the long, funky, jazzy scat and drum sections and the bright dance funk of the chorus, until it hits a funky Neo Soul breakdown at the end. The song drops in tempo, and Questlove plays a funky beat thats a combo of a shuffle blues and his trademark ultra behind drumming style he once showcased with D’Angelo, Pino Palladino and Raphael Saddiq on D’s “Voodoo” album. This section is buried in underwater sounding, delayed keyboards. It sounds like stagehands taking down band equipment after a live show, or when the D.J puts on mid century pop ballads to clear the club at the end of the night. And so ends 9 of the most joyus minutes the Roots ever recorded.

This song was very important to me and my friends when it was released in 2004. It was inspiring for a top hip hop group like The Roots to release some improvisatory, live, jazzy instrumental funk like this. Beyond the industry aspects, it was also plain ol’ fun and a gas to groove to. We use to hit the hills in San Francisco with this song as the soundtrack to our journey. The groups trademark wit and intelligence is also at display in the song selection. They didn’t cover just any old instrumental, they covered an instrumental that is also related to the hip hop idiom, being featured in a magical dance scene in one of the early hip hop movies. That gave their audience some recognition, but they took it and flipped it like jazz or Afro-Latin dance pros on stage. I can also see the more joyus sound they introduced here as a segue to the Roots of the past decade or so, the musicians who play on The Tonight Show, collaborate with pop artists, and the Questlove that writes books about Soul Train. This record contains all those years of The Roots early live prowess on one cut. Bravo!

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Andre’s Amazon Archive for 7/5/2014: Madlib’s ‘Pinata Beats’

Pinata Beats

 

He’s been called The Beat Conductor,The Loopdigga,Quasimoto,DJ Lord Such,his own name Otis Jackson Jr,Yesterday’s New Quintet. But whatever name he chooses,Madlib is someone who crosses the barriers between two sources of musical information in my life: my friend Henrique and my father. It was my father who first started introducing me to Madlib when he shared a mutual interest with keyboardist/then local DJ Nigel Hall in his Shades of Blue and fascination with Mizell brothers period Donald Byrd. So each time a new Madlib CD came out,my father got it and we listened to it on the way home from the record store. Hearing all the layers of 70’s and 80’s soul/funk/jazz-funk samples in his music? Madlib really began to call to mind Henrique’s discussions with me about hip-hop being an important archival music for the funk,jazz and soul music that moves both of us. When this album was originally released earlier this year featuring the rapping of Freddie Gibbs? I had a feeling an album like this would follow from Madlib himself. This was what I wanted to hear. And what a thrill it is too!

With “Scarface” as the orchestral opener the album goes into the slow crawling cinematic oriented soul break of “Deeper-after which comes the the call-and-response clavinet based melodic funk of “High”-featuring the lyric “I get high” which slows down to a crawl by songs end. “Harold”,with its jazz guitar solo and “Bomb” with its symphonic electric pianos and keyboards are both deep,spare funk pieces. “S**tsville” and “Thuggin” are both beautifully dramatic pieces based on keyboard and guitar oriented orchestral soul-with the mildly classical twist a Stevie Wonder or David Sancious might add to the mix. “Real” and “Uno” are very spare pieces-more designed to focus on an MC than the music itself. “Robes” on the other hand is a melodically soulful jazz type number a beautiful female vocal looped in and out of the mix. “Broken”,”Lakers”,”Shame” and “Knicks”,the later with a male soulful vocal moan loop are all beautifully orchestrated,piano based Thom Bell style early 70’s soul ballads. The album continues on with the horn oriented intro “Watts” before going into “Pinata”-an early 70’s sitar led slow groove with the organ solo repeating again with the string refrain breaking it up now and again.

As someone who was never at all part of any aspect of hip-hop culture from the inside? I’ve had to observe the genre from without. And though I greatly admire the rapping abilities and lyrical statements of people such as The Roots’ Black Thought,Chuck D and KRS One? There are many times when certain MC’s,especially those of the more braggadocio and profane variety,to be highly distracting to the often fascinating music that is often taking place around them. Therefore the instrumental hip-hop of artists like Madlib always interest me. Since the man is obviously far,far more versed in the soul/funk spectrum than I? Have to admit I am not 100% aware of most of the artists he loops and samples in his music unless specifically indicated. But still the fact that many rap superstars give the impression that hip-hop is all about personality and not music tends to make many people forget that their is a very strong musical art form at the very core of hip-hop. Its part of the DJ based culture that rose out of the disco era. And since that mid/late 70’s era is Madlib’s favorite period to draw inspiration from? I personally champion him as a strong modern purveyor of the thoroughly music end of the hip-hop genre. And that is why I chose the instrumental version of this,as opposed to the one with Freddie Gibbs as MC. Either way,this is impressive funky soul loops,breaks and cinematic grooving delights!

*Here is the original Amazon.com review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1RXM661BTN9JO/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00K5XZC78

 

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Andre’s Amazon Archive for April 26th,2014: Kelis ‘Food’

Kelis-Food

 

On her previous release Flesh Tone five years ago,Kelis embraced an captivating balance of the modern day EDM sound with the 80’s new wave dance music and Eurodisco music that originally inspired it. While proving herself as a dance oriented artist,she began recording an album with producer Calvin Harris that was to embrace the 90’s trip-hop sound. I hadn’t personally heard about this until now because,from my own viewpoint,Kelis has always tended to lay rather low between her album releases. Though it was clear a new album by her was of course an inevitability, it again came as something of a surprise. Earlier this year,my friend (and current blogging partner) Henrique let me in on the fact that a new Kelis song was circulating online. And that it represented an album that was going to showcase a major change of musical direction. Of course,that has been Kelis’s MO from the moment she first came out. And even for that,so far? Most of what she’s released has been variations on a certain theme. So there really hasn’t been a major artistic leap for her since she first debuted at the end of the 1990’s. This album promised to change all that. And it actually delivered on that too.

“Breakfast” begins the album with the live band playing on this entire album showcasing a mid 90’s style hip-hop/soul/pop/dance type song with an ode to a very fulfilling type of love. “Jerk Kiss” is the song that bought me to this album-a shuffling,lilting song based in rining percussion and a wonderfully complex jazzy bass line and African Boogaloo style horn punctuation for an album ideal post modern funk stew and really still my favorite number here-especially with its triumphantly melodic choral refrain. “Forever Be” blends an a post punk pop/rock sound with psychedelic string orchestration with a rather Egyptian style chorus. On the spare ballads”Floyd”,”Rumble” and the uptempo soulful stomper of “Friday Fish Fry” Kelis and the band embrace the blues very heavily-with her smokey voice providing the honest atmosphere needed. If its serious funk your looking for? “Hooch” delivers the perfect storm groove with the drumming,bass/guitar bottom accents,bell-like percussion and strong,building horn lines. “Cobbler” mixes a strong Afro-Latin percussion flavor into the groove-again with the bass and horns leading the way. “Bless The Telephone” is a quietly melodic South African sounding acoustic guitar based folk melody. Following the Eastern oriented melody of the epic production in “Change”,the album ends with two complexly jazzy and melodic numbers “Biscuits And Gravy” and “Dreamer”-on which Kelis declares her creative manifesto in the most eloquently poetic terms lyrically.

Upon listening to this album initially? I didn’t really like it all that much. There is a certain type of under produced live instrumental sound that seemed to derive out of Time Out of Mind era Bob Dylan that…well I don’t think fits very well with every creatively minded artist that happens to come around. Actually heard it most recently on Elvis Costello and The Roots Wise Up Ghost,which I am still not exactly fond of for that same reason. On the other hand,once I listened to this album as a whole it became clear that it is actually very in keeping with Kelis’s musical evolution. Recorded with Dave Sitek as producer,Kelis has recently stated that the album was not intended to follow along a particular line of musical credibility. But was rather a means by which to capture the feeling of the classic soul and funk albums of her parents record collection. Utilizing a full live instrumental sound for the very first time,this album has some of the strongest funk grooves Kelis has ever recorded. Not only that, but in terms of melody and instrumental style Kelis not only embraces American soul music but African soul as well. The voiceings of the horns,bass lines and of course percussion effects spring right from the same source that originally inspired James Brown’s funk innovations. So what Kelis does here-mixing American soul/R&B,blues rock and Afro-Pop type grooves in a live equivalent of the contemporary idiom? She is reviving the idea of what some refer to as the “funk process” album for the modern age: building from post hip-hop styles to recreate a new funk. In the first listen,it may not be apparent. Yet digging a little deeper? Kelis is delivering here the type of album that has the power to revitalize live instrumental soul/funk on an enormous level if properly followed through. An album surely worth hearing!

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Filed under Blues, Disco, Funk, Funk Bass, Kelis, Music Reviewing, Pharrell Willaims, Soul

Anatomy of THE groove 3/21/14 Part II: Elvis Costello and The Roots “Stick Out Your Tounge”

Elvis Costello and the Roots 2013 collabo “Wise Up Ghost”, was one of the most fascinating albums of last year. The pairing of an artsy, eclectic vocalist who traffics in many styles with an artsy, eclectic hip hop band that traffics in various styles as well was one that sent my antenna’s buzzing. The album didn’t disapoint for me either, as it merged many classic lyrics and songs from Costello’s career with a lean, mean funk sound from the Roots. Basically, the Roots took a sound from the era that inspired the golden age of hip hop sampling, the late ’60s to mid ’70s, and plied it behind a diverse palete of vocals from Costello. That period is known as one that had a somewhat dark and sinister undercurrent to it, due to the supression of the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Anti War Movements, and the election of Richard M Nixon. This is articulated in songs such as the O’Jay’s “Backstabbers” and The Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces.” Questlove and Co spend the album giving Costello’s pointed lyrics the vibe of a scrappy funk band grooving in a room with inscence and black light posters.

“Stick Out Your Tounge” is one of the most hard hitting joints on the album, hammering home the late ’60s Daishiki and Beatle Boots vibe. It is a reworking of Costello’s classic Thatcher era lament, “Pills and Soap” from 1983. “Pills and Soap” was a dark record, much as the records mentioned earlier. “Pills and Soap” was inspired on the lyrical end by the budget cuts and the period of “austerity” introduced by Thatcher during her regime, and musically and thematically it was inspired by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s seminal 1982 classic “The Message.” Over a stark Linn Drum beat with gothic sounding gospel/jazz chords, Costello describes a scene of Biblical disaster brought on by Thatcherism: “What would you  say/what would you do?/Children and animals/two by two/give me the needle/give me the rope/we’re gonna melt them down/for pills and soap.”

“Stick Out Your Tounge” takes the lyrics of “Pills and Soap” and drops them off into some funk. The song wastes no time establishing a groove, laying in four bars before Costello begins to speak. What’s interesting about it is the way The Roots band takes the skeletal music from “Pills and Soap” and expands on it. Questlove gives you the same basic Linn Drum machine beat from the earlier classsic, pounded out from his drum kit, four stuttering, foot shuffling sixteenth note kicks that culminate in a resolute slap of the snare. The electric piano provides an almost droning sound, as wah wah guitars add rhythmic support as well as counterpoint to Costello’s vocals. The bass guitar brings up the rear of the phrase. Costello is backed by female vocal backing at various points, and also his own multi tracked vocals doing response and testifiy lines, including a track of himself singing falsetto. The classic soul-funk vibe is brought out by the horn sections riffing and support on the chorus.

One of the most exciting things about the revival of funk taking place over the last few years is the diversity of it. Artists doing funk now can pull from 20 or so strong years of the genre, as well as musical developments that have been made since the height of the funk era has finnished. On “Stick Out Your Tounge”, Elvis Costello and the Roots take “Pills and Soap” from it’s classic spare hip hop vibe of dread, and drop it off into a world of deep, meditative, activist funk. It reminds me of the deeper dark edge of early funk, such as Sly’s “Riot Going On”, Baby Huey, Issac Hayes and other artists. Questlove ads to this a breakbeat drumming sensibility that delights in reanmiating the drum parts Hip Hop producers made careers out of sampling and emulating. It all ads up to a very funky brew indeed.

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