Tag Archives: UK funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mick’s Company” by The Style Council

Michael “Mick” Talbot could be described as the man who, even prior to James Taylor, pioneered the revival of Hammond organ based soul/funk on the British musical scene. In the late 70’s, Talbot played in a trio of mod revivalist bands. The best known of them in the end would be Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Mick of course found his voice with Paul Weller as The Style Council. They embraced an often jazz laced blend of contemporary funk,soul and dance music’s. All inspired by Weller and Talbot’s mutual goal to musically shatter the myths and culture of the rock music world.

The band released their debut EP in 1983 in several countries except for the UK,                interestingly enough. The following year they released their be bop and hip-hop laced full length debut Cafe Bleu. On both these releases, a precedence was set for including Talbot composed Hammond organ based instrumentals into different sections of the albums. One of my favorites was originally featured as the B-side to the 1984 single version of the song “My Ever Changing Moods”. The name of this particular instrumental had a cute wordplay about it: “Mick’s Company”.

Talbot starts off the song playing an ultra funky riff-doubling up what sounds like a Clavinet setting on a DX-7 synthesizer-all before Hammond organ swirl breaks into the drum roll right into the song. The main theme is this Clavinet effect played with a round synth bass pumping heavy behind it. And Talbot’s bluesy organ playing a counter solo to the introductory synth riff. There are two B sections of the songs where it changes chords. And the organ solo becomes more elaborate. Talbot improvises more and more on the organ as the song processes towards its fade out.

“Mick’s Company”, perhaps the most of Mick Talbot’s organ based instrumentals with the Style Council, really epitomize a somewhat under explored instrumental funk direction for the 1980’s. It combines the bluesy song structure and organ improvising of hard bop/soul jazz, the guitar like Clavinet based sound of the 70’s and mixes both together with a mid 80’s digitized synthesizer/bass oriented approach. It really encapsulates the previous three decades of instrumental soul/funk in under 3 minutes. In the end, it helped give the Style Council their distinctive spin on funk and soul  for the 80’s.

 

 

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Swing Out Sister: “Blue Mood” by Swing Out Sister

Swing Out Sister began life as a UK trio in 1985. This consisted of keyboardist Andy Connell, drummer Martin Jackson and lead singer Corinne Drewery. While both Connell and Jackson had been in the bands A Certain Ratio and Magazine prior to this point, Drewery came from the world of glamour-being a fashion designer and model. This likely helped with their suave image. It was a member of another group called 52 Street, Diane Charlemagne. Connell’s association with her label Factory helped get the band signed.  Charlemagne sang on Swing Out Sister’s original demos as well.

The bands debut album Its Better To Travel came out in the spring of 1987. Its jazzy,horn fueled and very catchy debut sing “Breakout” had become a major UK hit in the autumn and early winter of 1986. It happened exactly a year later in the US of course. It was actually only several years ago that I picked up the record on CD. Did so because,while vinyl copies were available to me, the CD contained four bonus tracks. Heard “Breakout” while growing up. And enjoyment of that groove helped me to appreciate another song on the album-their non charting debut single from 1985 called “Blue Mood”.

A theatrical,orchestral crescendo beings the song. Then the popping synth bass line pops in-along with the digital percussion that is soon joined by the electro funk styled drum machine. Bursts of rhythm guitar and MIDI horns leap in and out of the mix on the refrains. For the chorus, the chord changes key to a jazzy,keyboard based melody-coming after a leaner B section of the refrain. There is a bridge of sorts that showcases a frenetic rhythm guitar playing on where the vocal line. An extended chorus closes out the song until it all fades out.

“Blue Mood” combines a number of musical threads of the mid/late 80’s. The base of it comes out of the post disco, techno based club music.  Rhythmically however, the song is structured more like an Afro-Latin jazz funk number. Tons big,bouncy percussion and freestyle drums. Accordingly, the melody is strongly based in jazz as well. It goes right in with the jazzier end of the post disco UK club scene-not dissimilar to the work of Basia/Matt Bianco in that regard. Its the emphasis on groove,from both the groove and the singer, that make this song do distinctive for Swing Out Sister.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Together We Can Shine” by Linx

Linx were a a Brit funk/soul/disco group with a rather short lived career. It was a six member band featuring keyboardist Bob Carter, drummer Andy Duncan, guitarist Canute Edwards, bassist Peter Martin,backup vocalist Junior Giscombe and lead singer David Grant. The group split up in early 1983-after Junior had left to begin a solo career and Grant was about to do the same. After a moderately successful solo career, Grant became a successful backing singer for people such as Rick Astley and The Lighthouse Family. He later became a judge on the UK TV show Pop Idol with his second wife Carrie.

Linx recorded two albums during 1981, the first of which I picked up four years ago on vinyl. Their major hit on it was “Intuition”, a Caribbean flavored post disco number became popular to its accompanying music video being played so often on the British music program Top Of The Pops. And all due to a technicians strike. The overall album is a superb example of how the post disco/boogie funk sound thrived,prospered and evolved along with new romantic/synth pop during the early 80’s. One fine example of this was the song “Together We Can Shine”.

A dance beat begins the song with a pulsing Fender Rhodes and a bluesy funk rhythm guitar break. As the main song kicks in, Martin’s slap bass line kicks in heavy. The dance beat becomes more steady. Carter adds spacey synthesizer flourishes-which become very high pitched on the choruses along with the melodic, liquid rhythm guitar bubbling right along. On the bridge of the song, the vocals of the refrain move aside for Carter’s piano solo before Grant’s vocals return. Before the fading refrain, the song breaks off into a percussive Brazilian funk breakdown.

Musically speaking, “Together We Can Shine” showcases the vitality and diversity within the UK post disco/boogie scene. Many American groups/ soloists  emerging from that were primarily disco and funk based from the get go. In terms of Linx, its a different story. Bob Carter and Canute Edwards play in a manner very indicative of jazz oriented instrumentalists. Bassist “Sketch” Martin and drummer Andy Duncan have a strong Brazilian funk flavor to their playing. So this song is a superb example of the post disco sound coming from a diverse level of musicianship from the sound of things.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mystery Boy” by Culture Club

Culture Club are not only one of my personal favorite bands of the early 80’s. But also considered by many to be representative of the music of that period as a whole. It was formed around the occasional Bow Wow Wow singer George “Boy George” O’Dowd. The rest of the quartet included multi instrumentalists Roy Hay, Mickey Craig and Jon Moss. The conception of the band was a very funk friendly one-to bring in elements of different world musics with Western pop to create meaningful,danceable grooves. It was another element of the group that caught the worlds attention at the time a but more.

Dolled out in Kabuki makeup,flamboyantly colorful clothes and embroidered braided hair Boy George’s image,while likely reflecting the bands multi cultural musical sound to a degree,became controversial due to the openly gay George’s in your face attitude about his sexuality. He refused to hide the fact he was singing about men (perhaps his then boyfriend Moss) in his romantic songs. And flaunted his image with a nudge and swagger. The band were one of the most successful of their time. One of my favorite songs by them was actually a very early one from 1982 entitled “Mystery Boy”.

A pounding 4/4 beat with ringing,Brazilian percussion accents starts out the song-along with the high chicken scratch rhythm guitar that creates the base of the entire groove. The drum turns into a round drum machine for the rest of the song-with the rhythm guitar,vocals and pulsing synth bass-accented by a heavy heavily modulated synth horn. On the refrain,the keyboard sound is bright and more melodic while the rhythm guitar rolls along more. On the refrain,the music breaks down to the synth bass,drums, percussion and modulated synth-gradually building back into the chorus as it fades out.

Culture Club had some amazing soul/Latin/disco/funk tinged pop hits that defined them such as “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me”, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya”, “Time (Clock Of The Heart”, “Miss Me Blind”, “Its A Miracle”, “Karma Chameleon” and “The War Song”-often with the accompaniment of big voiced female singer Helen Terry. “Mystery Boy”,which I originally heard as a B-side to my parents 45 of Culture Club’s “Church Of The Poison Mind”. Its a more brittle,driving post disco/boogie funk/New Romantic type song. And every element of the song kept the groove and melody percolating at the same time.

“Mystery Boy” also had its origins in a song originally composed for a Japanese TV commercial for Suntori Hot Whiskey. It just used the music however,the lyrics were originally written purely to sell the products. Some of the lyrics to the song remind of gay people in England in the 70’s and 80’s often referred to each other as “boy and girl”. With George not quite becoming quite so specific in referring to men just yet. In the end “Mystery Boy” showcases not only Culture Club’s funkiness but also their high enough musical quality to produce hit worthy non album tracks.

 

 

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Jamiroquai From 1993-2001: A Tribute To The Late Toby Smith

Jamiroquai Blog

Jamiroquai’s keyboardist Toby Smith passed away about 12 days ago-at the age of 46. Along with the bands front man Jason Kay, Smith was a prominent co-writer of much of their classic material. He left the band to spend more time with family during the making of their 2001 album A Funk Odyssey. To me,Jamiroquai’s music serves itself best across their albums. So in tribute to Toby Smith,I wanted to cover my Amazon.com reviews for their first three albums and A Funk Odyssey. Since I already posted my Amazon review of their 1999 album Synkronized  here before,that is excluded from this list.


Emergency On Planet Earth/1993

Let’s face it. The music world of 1993 was very very divided. There were those concerned mainly with matters of media credibility and those interested in the creation of their particular art. On both ends of the pond soul and funk music at this time generally wasn’t created. It was being programmed. That mixed with the whole credibility situation wasn’t making for much harmony.

Than came a British fellow named Jason Kay (known as Jay) and a talented quartet called Jamiroquai. Putting themselves out there in a mix of other groups in the “acid jazz” genre (often used as short hand for most varieties of funk) with people such as Brand New Heavies and Incognito this band didn’t exactly have the jam band tendencies of the former,nor the house/dance leanings of the latter. But they did something very special that meant a lot to myself personally.

Equally capable of top notch musicianship and melodic invention,another thing Jamiroquai understood was the value of instrumental production. The music is well mixed,with the right touches of reverb and echo when needed. Basically it’s going for a 70’s jazz/funk/soul sound that’s produced authentically. Jay’s vocals,long and very incorrectly compared with Stevie Wonder have a high to mid range lilt about them that are elastic enough to fit these songs.

A better musical comparison might be Curtis Mayfield,especially the soul stepping funky soul groove of the opening “When You Gonna Learn” and it’s environmentalist poetry. “Too Young To Die” extends to a similar groove with a more anti war message. On “Hooked Up” and “Revolution 1993” it comes out what fantastic musicians they are well with polyrhythmic jazzier funk grooves with a more instrumental leaning.

“Music Of The Mind” is similar though on the more mid tempo end of that area. Headhunters style Clavinet type stop/start funk is prominent on “Whatever It Is,I Just Can’t Stop” where as “Blow Your Mind” has this lean sophistifunk sound with Jay’s scatting George Benson style with the violin. The band also did for the didgeridoo in funk what EWF did for the kalimba: to bring it into the consciousness of the bands sound and hopefully the listener.

The title song,with it’s disco friendly dance-funk sound reprises the environmentalist concerns where “If I Like It,I Do It” again brings the Mayfield/Impressions type funk/soul to the forefront. Although clearly under the wing of his influence,it was likely too many comparisons that commercially doomed this band. Jamiroquai stand as very much their own musical animal. Sometimes sweet as funk can be,other times as deep in the groove as you could get. They epitomized everything a 90’s era funk band could be. And even for the doubters they have,this album stands very very strong.

The Return Of The Space Cowboy/1994

Have to say here that I’ve never seen a band completely slide past the very common “sophomore slump” problem in a finer way that Jamiroquai. As a matter of fact there is significant growth to be heard here on every level from their excellent debut Emergency on Planet Earth. Almost every funk band of the 70’s came to full flower through a process. Some started out more Latin rock bands. Others closer to jazz. Some straight up soul. Jamiroquai in fact did the same thing.

While their debut definitely was something new,there was still a lot of elongated jazz-funk style songs there that were just plain unheard of on “R&B” albums in this era. It was definitely still part of the process. Longer more instrumental songs aren’t nearly as common on this album. And when they show up,their somewhat more tightly constructed. Also Jay’s voice and lyrics show more emotional depth and a deeper thinking process here. Whatever the case,this is where Jamiroquai truly came into it’s own creatively anyway.

Primarily this album is dominated by uptempo,melodic sophistifunk songs with heavy use of keyboards and bass/guitar interaction. The title song,”Stillness In Time”,”Light Years”,”Mr Moon” and the dynamic “Scam” (my personal favorite here) all fall into this place. Taken together these all have the effect of sounding like a greatest hits album all by itself-literally from the first song mentioned to the last tracing funk’s development from about 1974 to 1978 or so within only four songs. Around the middle? More fascinating things are happening.

“Half The Man” is really the only song the band ever did with anything close to a genuine Stevie Wonder influence with it’s high pitched synthesizer melodies,rather slogging tempo and lyrics of romantic anxiety. “Manifest Destiny” is a terrific,soul searching journey where Jay acknowledges “the shame of his ancestors” regarding abominations such as slavery. And also makes points that indicate there was something to be learned from African culture as opposed to it being exploited. An important point to make.

“Journey To Arhemland” is a more rhythmic use of didgeridoo this time around while the ballad paced,harp led “Morning Glory”and the closer “Just Another Story”,with it’s complex keyboard/synthesizer melodic interactions close the album out. Closing out with a live,somewhat DJ/turntable heavy live version of “Light Years” one understands that Jay,a former break dancer with a bit of a…past really did (and I think still does) understand the music that he’s making and how it needs to be done. Mostly props should go to him for forming a band as talented as Jamiroquai.

Although the sound quality of the album is somewhat flat and muddy,likely to achieve the “retro analog/mono” flavor they might’ve been looking for,the band interplay on the mid 90’s Jamiroquai albums was extremely strong. As years passed Jay would become most associated with them,to the point where people believed Jay was in fact Jamiroquai. It was a similar issue that occured with Sade-a lead singer used to identify with an actual band. What’s really important however is the music. And it’s important that it existed the way it did,at this time too. Flat out haters aside,so many aspiring modern funk bands could learn a lot from Jamiroquai’s musical example.

Travelling Without Moving/1996

If your lucky enough to have followed them from the time of their debut album Emergency on Planet Earth(and even I wasn’t that fortunate) Jamiroquai were one of those bands you were probably hoping would break into the mainstream. The mid 1990’s was certainly a puzzling time for music. The keeping it real ethic of the early part of the decade was evolving into….well a number of new and different musical ideas.

But during the 1996-1997 period in which this was released at least there was a melting pot of different musical brews to draw on. A funk revival,gestating during the early part of the decade via hip-hop samples and some rock jam bands was starting to take root more heavily. This was good news for Jamiroquai. Their music always had been commercial..well if it had been the mid 1970’s anyway.

They key was in the production and craft. They weren’t just another rhythm section trying to recreate the JB’s or Sly & The Family Stone. They more freely acknowledged the dance-funk era of people such as Slave,Heatwave (to whom I’d make a close comparison actually),Brass Construction and even Quincy Jones’ early Michael Jackson productions. The fact they had a singular identity all their own as well was big in their favor. And they have that identity every workout they could give it on this one.

The first song “Virtual Insanity”,one of the few of the more hopeful and analytical message songs of the era is a fairly basic funk tune,save for a light samba style bridge. But do to the changing of eras perhaps it captivated the MTV crowd and,due to this era’s obsession with media credibility bought Jamiroquai their own pop pass for that era,getting them international hits and making Jay K (and his hats) something of cultural icons of the day.

“Cosmic Girl”,”Alright” and the title track,with more obvious hip-hop scratching all add to the sophistifunk flavor of the album. The first two were the two other big pop hits. But this isn’t a hit parade type album by any means. “Use The Force”,with it’s full on Afro Latin percussive/Fender Rhodes jamming is of the same type you’d see on their first two albums and “High Times” adds a slight bit of an edge with a heavy rock guitar/snarling sax solo and a…..well not very pro-drug message when you actually listen to the lyrics.

The reggae number “Drifting Along” is a strong reminder of how that genre is really the main point gluing the 80’s and 90’s generation directly with the 70’s,which was meaningful considering the heavy “antieightiesitis” hanging on at this point. There are a couple of didgeridoo numbers that aren’t all that interesting but “You Are My Love” is another great uptempo and horn fueled sophistifunk song where “Everyday” and “Spend A Lifetime” are elegantly crafted soul/funk ballads.

“Do You Know Where Your Going To”,a bonus track not named on the back of the CD is a potent reminder of how close the then burgeoning drum n bass sound was to wah wah fueled blacksploitation styled funk,as both of these musical techniques are employed together here. So in addition to getting Jamiroquai at that moment where they did achieve that success they deserved.

It had little to do with their musical style actual,great and underappreciated as it was. It had to do with their pop charts and very two sided press,especially how the press really played up that very iffy Stevie Wonder angle. Honestly,that influence was never as strong as it was made out to be. You’d think this sudden mass popularity would be given to a Jamiroquai album that was really grabbing for the public’s attention.

That isn’t what happened here at all. They just made a record that was a very smooth extension of where they were taking their music with their first two albums. And it was likely just a degree of luck that they were in the right place and time to be successful with it.

That fact of it being still one of their most creatively potent albums is why I recommended so highly,not just the fact it was popular. Not a bad place to get into the band. Yet not the be all and end all either. No matter what it is an important reminder when,for a short time anyway Jamiroquai and their sound…came close to ruling the pop music world.

A Funk Odyssey/2001

Jamiroquai’s fifth album and first of the new millennium had the disadvantage of being one of two famous albums released on September 11’th,2001-the other being Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft. There’s some irony this album was released at the moment the life of everyone in the world seemed to change in one morning. It didn’t have much of a chance for success stateside especially. World events just didn’t really allow for it.

For one thing the rave friendly front cover art completely dispenses with the bands “Buffalo man” trademark. Not only that no formal personnel are listed. This gives the impression that Jamiroquai had suddenly become just a trade name for Jay Kay. And this would be a disguised solo album for him. Somehow,with only his image on the front cover it did seem that way on first glance. If that wasn’t an indicator enough of something very different,even a cursory listen to the music inside would tell the tale.

From the very beginning this album is a very radical departure for Jamiroquai. “Feels So Good” starts out with a very glossy,electronic fusion of 80’s New Romantic dance and funk music,very light on the usual 70’s unfluence. On the other hand “Little L”,”You Give Me Something” and “Love Foolosophy” bring back that heavy dance/funk sound on three well crafted numbers with a heavy late 70’s Michael/Jermaine Jackson flavor to them.

“Corner Of The Earth”,a surprising hit with a symphonic bossa nova flavor contains another of Jay’s Earth conscious lyrics and this type of tune is returned to on the closing “Picture Of My Life”. “Stop Don’t Panic” and “Main Vein”,with their heavy orchestration bring that cinematic TV/blackspoitation flavor to the surface where the totally 80’s electro/hip-hop sound of “Twenty Zero One” not only sounds nothing like Jamiroquai but also completely outside their previous conceptual relm.

Overall this album is lyrically a very reflective and poetic album especially on “Black Crow”,an ode to the atrocities of war on civilians (quite appropriate and convenient for this exact time really) is actually the one jazzy funk type song most similar to their earlier material here.

When I first got this it took me a few listens before I fully absorbed what Jamiroqui were trying to pull off here. I am still not sure. Interestingly enough,for the most part the title is still a little confusing because of all the musics this album embraces,it isn’t the closest to hardcore funk in their catalog

‘A Sophistifunk Odyssey’ perhaps? Maybe the title has to do with an odyssey away from funk as opposed to into it. Either way,whoever else plays on it there’s definitely the feeling this might have in fact been a Jay Kay solo album under the Jamiroquai banner. His own vocals,lyrical concerns and style are dripping out of every pore of this album. And it comes through loud and clear.


When looking back on the way these albums progressed in terms of funk,Toby Smith helped in Jamiroquai’s sound evolving along the same lines  as the 70’s funk icons-from jazzier instrumentals earlier on to disco,boogie and electro funk sounds later on. In terms of the personal history discussed here,it also points to a time when funk was only a good word internally and among hip-hop samples. And all the way up through the the post 9/11 world. Though he’s gone now, Toby Smith did live to see the modern “funk odyssey” of today’s retro funk/disco movement spread and become successful.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Cloud 9” by Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai were a band who,two decades ago now,were the musical lifeblood of my personal interest in funk and disco. Its a story that’s been told on this blog at least once. They’ve had their lineup changes over the years for sure. Even still over the years,their mid to late 90’s albums are ones that I still continue to return to many times. As a matter of fact,they tend to define how how I view the contemporary nu funk movement as a whole. That being said,never been one to give into blind idolatry of any musical figure either. And Jamiroquai have been no exception to that rule.

Following their (unintended) 9/11 release of A Funk Odyssey, Jamiroquai album releases became less and less frequent. Albums such as 2005’s Dynamite were promoted with the over modulated hip-hop influenced single “Feels Just Like It Should”. And with their 2008 album Rock Dust Light Star fading seemingly as quick as it came, Jamiroquai seemed to have faded into the annals of the past. Early this year,they announced the release of their 8th studio album Automaton.  The title track was released first. But this EDM influenced song didn’t speak so much to me as the newest lead off single from the album “Cloud Nine”.

A deep piano chord,an ethereal synth and vocal pulse provide the intro to the song. A string burst opens into the refrain of the song. This consists of a thick disco beat-with a polyphonic synth playing the lead melody. And assisted by a pulsing rhythm guitar and bubbling synth bass line playing the higher ends of the changes. The rhythm guitar and bubbling bass are higher in the mix on the choruses-along with the string burst that leads into the heavily echoed bass/synth line on the bridge. The refrain and chorus are lightly improvised upon until it fades-accompanied by a jazzy synth solo before it ends.

“Cloud 9”, as far as I’m concerned ,is Jamiroquai’s strongest single since “Little L” came out 16 years ago. It showcases the band moving in their own career arc much the same as funk did during its first generation. Much as Jamiroquai were a live percussion/horn based jazz/funk band with extended jams and instrumentals when they started out,they are now a post disco/boogie funk group with strong jazz/funk melodic influences by the time their 8th album is about to drop. Only the future can tell if Jamiroquai’s future is going to remain in this strong progression. But “Cloud 9” is an excellent step in this direction.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Hanging On A String (Contemplating)” by Loose Ends

Loose Ends were formed in 1980 as a trio consisting of vocalist/guitarist Carl McIntosh, songwriter and keyboardist Steve Nichol and lead singer Jane Eugene. They started out as Loose End,recording a pair of singles in 1982 produced by the Emoo brothers from the UK soul group The Real Thing,who themselves had been successful in the 70’s. Their first three singles “In The Sky”,”We’ve Arrived” and “Don’t Hold Back Your Love” were all excellent live instrumental oriented boogie funk. But it wasn’t until their debut album in 1984 did their sound fully coming together and they became successful.

The debut album in question is entitled A Little Spice. This album had a stripped down electro element to it,along with the trio’s jazzy songwriting that made their sound so distinctive. It was something I found preowned at my local record store Bullmoose for literally a few bucks. Remembering having some vague knowledge about the band. But the CD cover had me interested enough to pick it up. From the first moment I heard it,wanted to here more by the group. And later sought out other albums by them. The song that motivated me most from that debut was “Hanging On A String (Contemplating)”.

A drum machine kick into an electronic Afro-Latin percussive drum machine kicks in. McIntosh provides an echoed rhythm guitar swell,along with higher alarm like tone while Nichol provides a round synth bass for fattened support at the bottom. By the time the refrain and Eugene’s vocals emerge,McIntosh’s six not guitar line and Nichol’s synthesized melody take over.  On the chorus,electronic orchestration join up with McIntosh and Eugene’s vocal harmonies. On the last bars of the song,a Clavinet like keyboard along with a spiraling guitar solo take over as the song fades out.

“Hanging On A String (Contemplating)” is one of the most rhythmically and harmonically complex songs and grooves to come out of the electro/boogie funk era. McIntosh and Nichol truly deliver on a mix of highly Afrocentric drum machines and synth bass,along with very jazzy guitar and orchestral keyboards. Jane Eugene’s vocals have a strong jazzy ranginess and an extremely soulful,passionate delivery that matches the music to a tee. Loose Ends are known for few other key songs. Yet this song is likely the one they’ll always be best remember for. And for very good reason too.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Weave Your Spell” by Level 42

Level 42 are one of those bands along with Earth Wind & Fire,Heatwave,Sly & The Family Stone,James Brown and Kool & The Gang where I could write about their songs for a month. And not get board doing so. Even though Level 42’s identity didn’t become known to me until 12 years ago or so,their four piece jazz/funk sound was approached in such a wonderful way. And one that was very suited for its time as well. This is especially true with Level 42’s first six albums-from their self titled debut in 1981 to 1985’s breakout album World Machine.

Right around the time I was first getting into Level 42,Polydor reissued Level 42’s first eight studio albums on four 2 CD sets. These sets not only included informative notes,but also the addition of unreleased demos and 12″/7″ single mixes of some of the songs. The most fascinating of these sets were the first two-especially the second volume. That one began with Level 42’s second proper studio release The Pursuit Of Accidents. This particular album represents the height of the band’s instrumentally inclined,contemporary jazz/funk approach. A perfect example is its opening track “Weave Your Spell”.

Mike Lindup’s synthesizer and Phil Gould’s cymbal kick provide the intro to the song. After that the rest of the band,especially Mark King’s bass,enter the mix in full musical motion. On the refrain,the percussive drums and King’s bass provide an ultra phat rhythm. Lindup’s different synths provide both high and low call and response to his and Mark’s vocal harmonies. This is especially true on the musically and vocally thick chorus. There is a musical bridge where King’s slap bass becomes the star of the show-with Lindup assisting on synth brass before the chorus fades out the song.

“Weave Your Spell” might be the definitive musical example of Level 42’s general sound. At its core,its an uptempo jazz funk song filled with a lot of dancability. Mike Lindup’s synthesizer’s have that strong new wave quavering reverb about them too. King’s slap bass and Phil Gould’s progressive fusion drumming give this song its own kick. The loose jamming feel of it,especially on the instrumental bridge,remind me of a sleeker version of Prince’s approach to funk-especially with the synth horn responses. So over the years,this has become one of my very favorite Level 42 grooves.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “To The Top” by Omar

Omar first came to my attention via the Lenny Henry starring “brit-com” entitled Chef, with its theme song “Serious Profession” performed entirely by Omar. During the early to mid aughts,exploring Omar’s then very hard to find import albums on CD was like hunting for buried treasure. Thanks to my online friend Jeremiah,a lot more exposure to Omar’s music came my way a decade ago. What I noticed about Omar’s music was that,very different from American neo soul very much based in live instrumental hip-hop beats,Omar’s variety of the music concentrated heavily on ornate arrangements.

Born Omar Lye-Fook in London in 1968,he grew up in Canterbury,Kent. He was classically trained trumpet,piano and percussion at two separate conservatories in London and Manchester. He worked as a computer programmer for Microsoft before pursuing music full time. His first single and album There’s Nothing Like This became his first chart hit. And established him as a founding father of neo soul. Over the years his sound swelled to incorporate elements of Brazilian jazz,dance hall reggae and cinematic funk. On the latter end,one of my favorite songs from him is 2000’s “To The Top” from his album Best By Far.

A swinging mix of hollow percussion and piano walk down introduce the song. This kicks off into a sea of strings and melodic flute harmonies before Omar himself begins duetting with his swelling backup vocals. This represents the chorus of the song,for all intents and purposes. The refrains of the song find Omar’s lead and backup vocals playing more call and response to a shuffling,funky snare drum and piano. There are two repeating chorus/refrain bars of this song. On the final chorus before the song fades,Omar’s lead and back-round vocals become the full focus of the song over the instrumentation.

Omar does something that really gets to me musically on “To The Top”. Most neo soul/proto neo soul male artists who hailed as “the next Marvin Gaye” in the beginning. And truth be told,Omar’s style of arrangement and love of backup vocals singing lead is straight out of the Gaye school of cinematic funky soul on this particular song. What Omar does is brings in the heavy funk. As with most neo soul,its lacking in any synthesized electronics. What it does have is less of a stripped down sound,and more emphasis on orchestral production. That makes Omar one of the funkiest neo soulers of his generation.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2000, arrangement, backing vocals, cinematic funk, cinematic soul, drums, flute, funky soul, Neo Soul, Omar Lye-Fook, percussion, piano, strings, UK Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tokyo Joe” by Bryan Ferry

Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music were something that I only began to explore within the 2010’s. Henrique Hopkins and myself have discussed Bryan/Roxy a great deal. And these conversations have tended to emphasize their unique place on the rock scene. My personal feeling from all this talking and listening was that Roxy were British glam rock’s answer to Steely Dan. Their songs rhythmic and melodic structures were based more in contemporary  soul and funk than allusions to amplified blues. And this was reflected in their visual attitude,which in the end comes down to Ferry.

There was somewhat of a choice to be made in terms of writing this article. Whether or not to overview a Roxy Music classic such as “Love Is The Drug”,or focus on Bryan Ferry’s solo career. Both Roxy and Ferry alone have their fair share of sleek grooves to choose from. Both from the 70’s and 80’s. In the end,seemed best to focus on Ferry as a solo artist. His initial solo career ran concurrent with Roxy Music’s first run. These albums consisted primarily of cover material. His first solo album of all original material In Your Mind contained a fantastic example of Ferry’s groove in “Tokyo Joe”.

A gong like cymbal opens up the song. The intro consists of a processed keyboard melody in close unison with plucked orchestral strings. All to the best of a swinging,hi hat heavy drum rhythm. After that the orchestra begin flat out playing the same melody-assisted by some rhythmic fuzz guitar. The rhythm then falls into a heavy 4/4 disco beat with the fuzz guitar,strings and several layers of keyboards (including what sounds like a Clavinet) playing deep inside the groove. On the choruses,the plucked strings of the intro return before the refrain closes out the song with the same gong like cymbal from the intro.

Its been awhile since I’ve really given this song a listen all the way through. But with the keyboards,drums and guitar delving so deeply into the groove,”Tokyo Joe” really showcases all the special qualities about the Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music sound. Ferry’s sleek,somewhat adenoidal vocal croon adds its distinctive character to this groove. Being from the final two Bryan Ferry solo albums of the 70’s,this song and others in a similar vein help write the musical map for what was to occur on Roxy Music’s three following comeback albums-from 1979’s Manifesto to 1982’s Avalon.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bryan Ferry, disco funk, drums, funk rock, fuzz guitar, keyboards, Roxy Music, strings, UK Funk