Showdown was recorded in 1978 as the follow up to the Isley’s Go for Your Guns, which followed through with the fast paced funk style of the three previous 3+3 era Isley Brothers’ releases. On the Showdown album, everything had begun to change for this family band . In focusing more on slowing the funk down to this smoldering hot crawl of a groove,even the uptempo stuff has a sleeker (and less brittle) approach in their instrumentation. This resulted in a certain lushness that mildly hinted at the disco/dance sound in some of its rhythmic pattern.
The title track is about as great an example of this sound as one could ask. And the Isley’s of course work the groove straight into the subconscious, whilst talking full advantage of the slower tempo. In the end, that makes the bass/guitar interaction all the funkier. “Groove With You” is another case where the Isley’s do their best type of bedroom groove,setting up the most romantic imagery and of course the music just melts like caramel. “Ain’t Givin’ Up No Love” is type of funk jam that’s like a fist slamming down slow and hard onto a table and leaving an enormous crack.
The simple fact that Chris Jasper seriously throws down with his bass synth on this one right along with Marvin’s bass guitar just throws out all kinds of extra punches. “Rockin’ With Fire” and “Love Fever” are all two part Ernie Isley funk/rockers that all showcase his guitar work and the power of this rhythm section. All are taken at the faster pace of this album. “Take Me To The Next Phase” is just about the most glorious funk jam the Isley’s ever did. In the funk tradition of James Brown, “Next Phase” is a studio recording overdubbed with applause and band banter to sound like a live stadium performance.
“Take Me To The Next Phase” ends up capturing the flavor of both their own sound along with a bit of Stevie Wonder style funk chords (not surprising since they both utilized the electronic sounds of TONTO at the time) and despite it’s lengths leaves you hoping for more. ‘Coolin’ Me Out” is a more pop crafted variation of the same sound and still turns out to be an incredible jam-probably one of the most unsung on this album. “Fun And Games” harnesses a bit of a West Coast jazz-pop influence in the melody along with the peppy groove.
Showdown is an album that I felt for years was a bit of a letdown compared to its predecessors. In terms of funk, what has been revealed over many listening’s is that its actually an album with one great, iconic song (“Take Me To The Next Phase”) and seven other good to very good songs with…good to very good grooves. That is somewhat what happened upon listening to Funkadelic’s final two 70’s releases with me as well. At four decades old now, this album remains as another potent reminder of how unique the 3+3 era Isley Brother’s were with their take on the funk/rock hybrid.
Billy Preston was,in a similar manner to Stevie Wonder,an artist who used analog synthesizers,organs and pianos to create totally new sounds during the early/mid 1970’s. Wonder often utilized jazz oriented chord progressions-often emphasizing European classical arrangements as well. The sounds that Preston created were all based in hardcore soul,R&B and what had already occurred thus far with the innovation of funk. What both of them emphasized was a strong love of instrumental layering and love of leading their whole show by soloing on the Clavinet.
By 1975,the connection with Stevie Wonder’s music by Billy Preston became extremely evident. The album he recorded that year,It’s My Pleasure,was recorded at the TONTO synthesizer complex-the same facility used by Wonder,The Isley Brothers and Gil Scott Heron & Brian Jackson during this era. One of this albums hits actually featured a vocal duet with ex wife and frequent creative collaborator of Wonder’s in Syreeta Wright. She would eventually go on to do a duet album with Preston in the early 80’s. The name of this song was called “Fancy Lady”
Preston starts off the song with a descending Moog bass before the drum kicks in. This is a thick snare/cymbal kick surrounded by a bluesy sea of synth layers. This continues on the chorus-with the Moog bass and Clavinet weaving through it all like needle and thread. The refrains that Syreet sang on repeats the intro of the song instrumentally. Their are two instrumental bridges. One features polyphonic synths playing a call and response horn chart while the second is a percussive,unaccompanied drum break. Preston plays a full on synthesizer solo for the last minute and a half or so of the song before it fades out.
From the first time I heard it over 12 years ago,this song always stood out to me. Always had a special affinity for the early synth/proto electro funk that emerged out of the mid 70’s. Especially in such cases like this,it again brought the bluesy soul musical past into the electrified/digitized future. As synthesizers expanded in complexity,electro based music began to rely more on the sound than the musical base. And this is a good example of music that didn’t. Its funky because the synths are fat,play bass,guitar and horn lines and always maintain a heavy,chunky instrumental flavor.
Filed under 1975, Billy Preston, blues funk, clavinet, drums, Moog bass, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, Syreeta Wright, TONTO
The Isley Brothers,to paraphrase writer and my Facebook friend Rickey Vincent do come off strongly as the embodiment of funky masculinity. That not only goes for their mixture of pragmatism and sensitivity. But also to their musical approach as well. The family group’s 3+3 combination adding younger brothers Ernie and the late Marvin Isley and cousin Chris Jasper added a strong instrumental element to the vocal harmony approach of the elder brothers Ron,Rudy and the late Kelly Isley. During the mid 1970’s, they came up with a distinctive approach to instrumental vital funk and rock along with keeping the soulful bedroom ballads cooking at all ends.
During this time,the sextet began recording in the TONTO synthesizer complex. This is where Stevie Wonder was than working his own electronic funk/soul masterpieces as well. Most of the 3+3 Isley Brothers classic albums were recorded using the complex-especially with keyboard maestro Jasper in tow. In 1976 they released their album Harvest For The World. The album continued to expand on the throbbing grooves they developed,along with the lyrical themes of sensuous eroticism and strong minded brotherhood. Nothing on this album could ever be underrated from where I sit. But it’s the song “People Of Today” that really pulls everything else here together on every possible level.
A rolling drum launches into the song itself. It’s a gurgling mix of bass synthesizer and guitar with multiple Clavinet parts. One of them even contributing to the bottom end of the song as well. This huge tonal array of sound is calmed somewhat on the vocal refrains from Ron Isley. On the end of each chorus,a second refrain features Ron singing a call and response vocal line to a Vocoderized voice singing “my world is fine”. After this a fast and bluesy Clavinet riff leads back into the central theme of the song in which it all begins. This pattern of two separate refrains and repeated choruses maintains itself from beginning to the fade out of this song.
If I were to describe this or any Isley Brothers funk from this period, it would be as the musical equivilant of chunky peanut butter. It’s caramel colored cream texture with a strong crunchiness mixed into it. And has the same strong flavor too. The layering of the keyboard parts of this song are amazing. And it’s the perfect accompaniment as Ron Isley sings about getting ones head out of comfortable denialism. At one point he even responds to the Vocorderized “my world is fine” with the vocal response “ah your jivin’ me”. As implied in the title, it’s a wonderful example of the type of classic 70’s funk that I’ve dubbed over the years as “people music”.
Filed under 1970's, bass synthesizer, Chris Jasper, clavinet, electro funk, Funk, Isley Brothers, Rickey Vincent, Ron Isley, TONTO, Uncategorized, vocoder