India Arie Simpson was born in Denver, Colorado to a family not only drenched in music. But with a history at Motown as well. Her mother Joyce was a singer who toured with Stevie Wonder-as well as Al Green. After her parents divorced and she moved to Georgia, India’s musical interests (always encouraged by her family) became even more pronounced-as she actively began to learn both guitar and composition. This occurred while attending the Savannah School Of Art & Design. She also learned of her strong African roots via DNA testing-including that of the Kru people of the nation of Liberia.
India. Arie made her debut on Motown in 2001 with her Acoustic Soul. That literally described the first song I heard from her entitled “Video”, where she talked of her she desired music and humanity, for herself and others, not to be seen as a product. This resulted in India becoming a major face of the coalescing neo soul movement of the time. Her second album Voyage To India came out the next year. Its main single didn’t perform commercially the way “Video” did. But it was a huge step ahead in terms of instrumentation and songwriting. It was called “Little Things”.
The sound of the gong starts of the intro of vocal harmonies from India.Arie that begins the song-with a bell like electric piano echo in the back round. The drum, at first stop and start comes into the mix with a strong accent of heavy percussion and a heavy, ascending bass line. As the vocal/lyrical flavor of the song changes, so does the feeling of the music. Sometimes its mostly rhythm and bass. Other times rhythm guitar and electric piano flourishes are stronger-along with what sounds like a baby crying. The song comes to an abrupt end after a long vocal run on the extended chorus.
“Little Things” is an interesting song. Musically speaking, its a somewhat more stripped down variant of the jazzy chords of Stevie Wonder compositions and a soul/funk rhythm-similar to Mary J Blige’s “All That I Can Say”. In terms of its actual structure, its more of a folk type song. A lot of lyrical verses after another rather than a refrain/chorus/bridge setup. It has a heavier studiocentric approach than much of her debut album. To me, “Little Things” is an example of India. Arie using her amazing abilities as a composer for a beautifully flowing, neo soul friendly funky soul number.
Since the early days of learning about Prince’s musical history,one thing that’s continued to enthrall me is learning of Prince’s famous 1986 recording production. He seemed to have spent much of the winter and spring of that year involved in this process. One such project was a three record set entitled The Dream Factory. Basically this was a full on band album recorded with the Revolution. Each member was bought in to participate in some way. Eventually a lot of the music would be remixed and pared down to become the Sign O The Times album. But a lot of it’s other songs turned up elsewhere over the years.
One particular song was called “All My Dreams”. According to the website Princevault.com, it was recorded and released on April 28th,1985. This is the same day Prince recorded what would become his biggest hit of 1986 “Kiss”. The song was streamed online some time ago. And has appeared online via a number of cloud sources. This is how I first heard the song. Since the passing of Prince,it never occurred to me that any of the mans legendary unreleased songs would ever show up on YouTube. But very happily,this one actually has.
The song fades into itself with a chorus of Prince,Wendy & Lisa singing massive operatic vocal choruses over a melodic piano. A shredding rock guitar accompanied by a distorted voice leading into a massive orchestral synthesizer and hi hat heavy intro to the main rhythm. This has a rolling 4/4 beat accented by ticklish percussion licks and one of the roundest funk bass lines I’ve heard come out of Prince. The piano that introduces the song keeps along with a light synth wash and mild guitar strumming in the back-round as he,Wendy and Lisa’s vocal choruses swell and thicken.
Midway through the the piano gives way to a synthesizer playing a royal bugle proclamation before stripping the song down to the drum,bass line and the guitar strumming. Over this,Prince’s low “1999” intro voice recites a spoken word monologue of intent as the drum segues into the drums swinging into a hard bop style jazz segment-complete with scaling bass,chordal piano and full on synth brass. This all goes right back to the main chorus for one more time before the song fades back out with the jazziness of it’s instrumental bridge.
As much as I champion objectivity in writing about music here,this song has become an absolute ear worm for me from the moment I first heard it. In all truth,the songs sounds incomplete lyrically,and Prince’s overly processed vocal lead is a bit distracting. But it’s a wonderful example of where he and the Revolution were taking the Minneapolis sound as the 1980’s progressed. This song wonderfully balanced the synthesized brass/horn charts that defined his early 80’s sound-while delving into the cinematic jazz/funk approach with the swelling arrangements that would define this period of Prince’s creativity.
Just before the song changes musical venues,Prince states “just for fun,nothing ethereal”. That in a word describes what this song represents. It does indeed sound like an instrumental “dream factory” that ties sweeping orchestrations with jazz timing,funky rhythms and bass lines-much like a mid 1980’s Duke Ellington-style composition. The central themes of the songs seem to be about the cycle of love. From romance to procreation itself. I have little doubt that if this song had been filled out just a little bit more,it might’ve been among the most amazing pieces of music Prince ever created.
Filed under 1980's, cinematic soul, drums, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, percussion, piano, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, synth brass, synthesizer, vocal harmonies, Wendy Melvoin
D’Angelo has already expertly been covered on this blog by Henrique Hopkins,with his articles on the songs “Chicken Grease” and “1000 Deaths”. There’s always been something about the music of the Virginia man born Michael Eugene Archer. Probably started over 20 years ago when the man’s debut Brown Sugar playing on the family car cassette deck on many a road trip. At first it was hard for me to fully understand D’Angelo’s musical appeal. The grand musical statements of Stevie Wonder and the Jackson’s were saying a lot more to me personally at that time. A year later I began to discover Prince. And D’Angelo’s approach became somewhat more clear to me.
Despite the press and the local airplay from Nigel Hall as a college radio DJ in my area,even D’Angelo’s sophomore album Voodoo didn’t light the spark of interest. It was after listening to the Roots and experiencing Questlove’s production for people like Al Green that the music of multi instrumentalist D’Angelo and his band the Soulquarians gained a new understanding within me. So I endeavored to go back and re-discover the Voodoo album. With hip-hop era jazz musicians such as bassist Charlie Hunter and trumpeter Roy Hargrove aboard for the affair,there was one groove on the album that leaped out at me in particular right about at the dead center of the album called “Spanish Joint”.
Afro Caribbean conga’s from Gionvanni Midalgo introduce the song. The man rhythm is a steady,fast paced Brazilian jazz/funk beat. Hunter’s rhythm guitar and bass line both do their nimble dance over the drums and percussion. On the choruses,Hargrove’s deep choral trumpet’s take on another life along with the more swinging cymbal/hi hat rhythms and D’Angelo’s call and response multi tracked harmony vocals. A brief bridge finds the instrumentation slowing to a complete halt and silence. After this the song swings on into a straight up Afro-Cuban jazz/funk groove with some counter melodies from D’Angelo on the Fender Rhodes until the song comes to a swinging,jazzy conclusion.
The thing that really excited me about this song is that it took neo soul’s naturalistic instrumental approach,then added to that the expansive harmonics of jazz and funk. Although D’Angelo and Questlove could’ve theoretically carried this song along as a purely rhythm section based song Midalgo’s percussion touches,Hargrove’s trumpet charts and Hunter’s bass/guitar riffs greatly broaden the songs instrumental dynamics. People who love both neo soul and 70’s Brazilian jazz/funk could both easily listen to and dance off this song with the same level of enthusiasm. Aside from the strength of the song itself, that quality of bringing two generations of the groove together was a major feat.
Filed under 2000, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Brazilian Jazz, Charlie Hunter, D'Angelo, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funk guitar, Giovanni Midalgo, Neo Soul, Questlove, Roy Hargrove, Soulquarians, trumpet, Uncategorized, vocal harmonies
Brandy Rayna Norwood has had a fascinating career behind her. Following very much on the path of Whitney Houston’s transitions from audio to visual media, she was actually quite a bit more successful as a singer/songwriter/producer and TV star on her late 90’s sitcom Moesha than she was on the silver screen. Personally I always had a creative appreciation for Brandy. With her fluid physical features and polished braids,she proudly and elegantly exhibited a strong Afrocentrism that maintained a street level identification with American hip-hop. As she grew from a teenager into a young adult,her music continually evolved along the same lines as her outward persona.
Today Brandy is a 37 year old with a 13 year old daughter Sy’rai Iman and is engaged to be married again. In addition to having a six album strong discography. In the early 2000’s, she teamed up with then up and coming producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins. Jerkins himself has a gospel back-round and had been mentored by new jack swing pioneer Teddy Riley. As electronic instrumental programming moved on from it’s brittle beginnings,by the early aughts it developed more of a flow in terms of sound. This was excellent for both instrumentally oriented producers like Jerkins and nuanced vocalists such as Brandy. The title song of her 2002 album “Full Moon” is a superb example.
A high pitched mid 80’s new wave style synthesizer opens up the album playing an introductory melody and continues as throughout the song. The refrain of the song maintains a funky,slower crawling 1/2 beat dance tempo. This is accompanied by a crackling bass synthesizer and a bleeping,percussive synthesizer. On the swiftly sung choruses,on which Brandy duets with multiple harmonies of herself,all these electronic solos come together. On the bridge,Brandy’s vocal harmonies beautifully layer over each other while a synthesized duck face bass pops along with her. This is just before the main chorus repeats on into the fade out.
“Full Moon” showcases a magically romantic new groove-with Jerkins skillfully blending a strong post millennial electro funk rhythmic framework with European classical compositional content. Instrumentally the song blends both the more brittle new wave and new jack electronic approach with the beautifully fluidity that modern synthesizer’s were beginning to create. Vocally many early ladies of neo soul such as Alicia Keys and India.Arie were deeply influenced by Brandy’s funky sea of vocals-a technique coming through both Chaka Khan and Janet Jackson. Still it was this song’s embrace of glossy production and strong,funky rhythms that make it perhaps my favorite Brandy number.