Tag Archives: Vocals

‘Chaka’-Life Is A Dance: Almost 40 Years Of Chaka Khan’s Debut Solo Album On Her 65th Birthday

Chaka Khan made a detour from Rufus in 1978 (just before they recorded their Street Player  album with her) to record her solo debut album. This came at a time when her  massively successful period as the lead singer of that band was beginning to become less personally fulfilling. With a more than enviable group of musicians at her disposal who all spanned the jazz, R&B and soul spectrum, the potent musical environment she was in an excellent position to create her persona outside of Rufus. It was  her presence that helped bring out the individual sound of  that band.

The question was still probably at this point about whether it was Rufus who were making Chaka the success she’d become. Or was it the other way around? This album actually revealed that it was a potent combination of both. “I’m Every Woman” of course starts things out,Chaka’s solo anthem and every bit a late 70’s Ashford & Simpson, piano laden disco-soul number if there ever was one. “Love Has Fallen On Me” is musically ideal for Chaka as the Charles Stepney composition has these heavy gospel/soul-jazz type chords and this intense change in arrangement.

“Roll Me Through The Rushes” actually extends the gospel flavor on what starts out as a very slow, electric piano heavy ballad than goes into some heavy funk at the end. “Sleep On It” and “We Got The Love”,with George Benson are both superbly grooving jazz-funk numbers filled with Richard Tee’s beautiful processed Fender Rhodes piano playing . “Life Is A Dance”, “Some Love”- with its chunky slap bass/wah wah guitar interaction, and “Message In The Middle Of The Bottom” get down to business with some gloriously produced funk that represent the most grooving songs here.

This album also features the more jazz-funk side of disco soul here on “A Woman In A Man’s World”,the more somber flip side to “I’m Every Woman” lyrically and closes with a potent,musically modernized update of “I Was Made To Love Him”,originally by Stevie Wonder and sung from a woman’s point of view. As a matter of fact, it’s the woman’s point of view that defines this album. Chaka presents herself here,from the cover art to the lyrics,as someone with a great deal of sex appeal but someone you could have an extremely deep conversation with as well.

Chaka’s creative approach is always very honest. In terms of her singing, this album is both instrumentally and vocally one of the more ambitious of her solo albums. This was helped all the more by the masterful production of the late, great Arif Mardin. The range of tempo and instrumentation in the material is diverse, not always 100% commercial and she even does herself one better than her customary singing her own back up vocals-all  by multi tracking them with some fuzzed out echo here for a symphony of Chaka’s. And for a wonderful a, promising debut  that gets better with each listening.

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1978 On The Longplay: Larry Carlton’s Self Titled Warner Bros. Debut From Room 335!

Larry Carlton spent the mid 70’s as an active member of The Crusaders. They were, during that time, a significant training group for musicians playing in the jazz/funk/ fusion genre. Musicians such as Wayne Henderson, Joe Sample and Carlton himself were part of the LA scene of session players who helped augment the sound of everyone from Sammy Davis Jr, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and of course Steely Dan. So by the time 1978 rolled around, Carlton had access to musicians such as then Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro and percussion icon Paulinho Da Costa. So his solo career was off and running.

Porcaro and keyboardist Greg Mathison shine on the opener “Room 335”-named for the recording studio the album was recorded in. The main theme of the song has a very similar melody to Steely Dan’s hit song “Peg”. This is augmented by string arrangements and serves as a forum for Carlton’s precise yet emotionally stratospheric playing style. “Where Did You Come From” is a soulful samba where Da Costa really shines percussion wise. Carlton sings lead vocal on the song-in a smooth,romantic. voice reminiscent of a higher toned version of how Herb Alpert sounds when he’s singing.

“Night Crawler” is of course a redone song that Carlton contributed to the Crusaders Free As The Wind album a year earlier. This version is very similar, though just a slight bit more polished in execution. “Point It Up” goes for a straight ahead jazz/rock shuffle-with Carlton and bassist Abraham Laboriel really taking off-especially with Laboriel’s slap bass riffing. “Rio Samba” brings Da Costa’s percussion, Mathison’s Rhodes and organ along with Carlton’s guitar for an melodically uptempo Brazilian fusion number. One where Carlton even finds a moment or two to rock out on its refrains.

“I Apologize” is a personal favorite of mine on this album. Its a heavily bluesy jazz/funk number-again with Carlton taking the lead vocal. This time, the vibe on that level is more Michael Franks. Enhanced by Laboriel’s slap bass again and the backing vocals from William “Smitty”Smith. With Carlton even taking off to solo on the bridge before the song changes pitch on the final few bars. “Don’t Give Up” brings in that clean, rocking R&B shuffle that sounds like an instrumental written for a Boz Scaggs. Again, Carlton really takes off on both ultra melodic and bluesy style solos throughout the song.

“(It Was) Only Yesterday” ends the album on its lone ballad-again with the string orchestra coming in behind Carlton. And at the same time as enhancement to the sustained cry of his guitar. One thing the Larry Carlton album clarifies, actually being his third proper solo album, is how much of an amazing vocal tone Carlton’s guitar has. Its actually close in technique to Carlos Santana at times. Yet is based more heavily around arpeggiated runs and pitch bending than consistently sustaining notes. But Carlton’s guitar sings. And on this album, many more times than he actually does with his voice.

Because the sound blends both late 70’s studio polish with heavy duty jazz/funk grooves and soloing, again many of these songs sound as if they were recorded for specific popular singers of that day. That makes this album an excellent album of how much late 70’s jazz/funk session musicians had an impact on the big West Coast pop albums of that era, especially. So Larry Carlton offers a great deal to the listener. Its got the blues, its got the Brazilian jazz, its got the funk and it rocks. Its also hummable and musical at the same time. And all those are excellent qualities for any instrumentally based album.


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The Anatomy of THE Groove 6/13/14 Riques’ Pick: “So in Love” by Jill Scott & Anthony Hamilton

Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton have bulletproof reps in the modern soul and R&B arena as artists of great talent as well as integrity. Those reputations both help sell records as well as limit those sales to those who still have some appreciation for “artistic integrity.” 2011’s funky spring to summer hit, “So In Love” provided both of them with something different, a #1 R&B smash that rocked barbecues, dance classes, parades, wedding receptions, lounges and karaoke bars. Scott and Hamilton successfully transfered their heartfelt earnesty and top notch vocal skills to a fun dance groove. Hamilton in particular has a reputation for singing about the downs of love perhaps a tad more enthusiastically than he sings about the ups, but “So in Love” finds him luxuriating in a groove both aesthetic and practical.

The song begins with an acoustic guitar playing an arpeggiated suspended pattern with a sound very reminiscent of a harp. The guitar is supported y a Rhodes tone. Percussion backs this harmony setting intro as A Hamilton vocalizes soulfully, with syllables sans words. After 4 seemingly quick bars of this breeze by, we’re introduced to what is in my opinion, one of the best funky soul bass lines of the past 15 years. It’s a descending pattern built off funky eight notes, sharp, funky and short. It’s the type of pattern that would be essential for a younger player just beginning to learn, in terms of its lack of complexity but maximum groove factor. The drums are also bare bones funky, a funky disco era drum beat replete with backyard hand claps. At the end of the cycle, the drummer plays huge gated orchestral sounding drum fills, a la Stevie Wonder’s drumming on the chorus of 1982’s “That Girl.”

Hamilton’s verse is filled with working man earnesty. He sings a tale in the manner of a hardworking man, delighted to see his special lady for the value she adds to his being. After a chorus of “So in Love with you”, Miss Jill Scott makes her grand entrance, her bright alto providing a sharp conrast with Anthony Hamilon’s molasses dripping baritone. I was always impressed by the thought Scott expressed in her vocal, a thought of a woman admiring her man from afar, watching him and his interactions with his male friends and colleagues. It reminded me of a woman looking at you from across the room and smiling, and if you were inexperienced, you might not know why, but Jill spills the beans on what that smile is about here, “I see you cross the room/talking to some men/I love your mannerisms baby/the way you handle them.”

The bridge hits at around 1:35 into the song, and it shifts textures a bit to a solid, steady rhythm, with the bass line playing stern quarter notes lined up with the drums, and the hi hats of the drums playing the classic disco hi hat pattern. And this section does give us a soulful disco vibe, with much in common with the feel of R&B inflected late ’70s smooth disco, like the sound of Scott’s hometown of Philadelphia. Following the bridge is a drumless breakdown with Jill putting her spoken word skills to use, describing the beneficiary of her affection as a “breath of fresh air”, among other things.

From here, quite uniquely and in an obvious funky soul throwback, the song ends out on a long vamp, without another verse of lyrics from Scott and Hamilton. Instead, backed up by choruses of “So in Love with You”, Scott and Hamilton work their vocal magic, ad libbing, as the bass also has more room to stretch out and try different patterns, and the drummer adds in fills to keep the groove moving. At one point, Jill lets out a sexy, playful giggle. The song breaks downs and ends on a vamp without drums, a long vamp backed by percussion and finger snaps, with the guitar playing it’s broken chord pattern. The deletion of the drums in particular allows you to hear the movement of the guitarists hands across the strings. Jill sings in a cool after glow, terms of endearment for her love, also backing herself with a track of high vocals, with Hamilton riffing along soulfully.

With the passage of Maya Angelou earlier this month and Ruby Dee yesterday, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about who is going to replace them in our current generation, who’s going to carry their legacies on. This would be not merely in terms of talent, but also moral authority and inspiration. Of course, we all have to live our own courses, but Jill Scott has always been one of my top choices since she came on the scene in 2000. Her albums with songs such as “Golden” and “Is it the Way”, and other hits, and her acting roles such as her Mama Rowatse in “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency”, as well as her poetry have always presented her as a woman of depth and class, with the sparkling ability to make sense of her experineces, whether they be ecstacies, agonies, ponderings or actions.

The video for “So in Love” is also special and captures the music perfectly. “So in Love” basically has an old school groove, that is in a ’70s style but actually reminds you of any time period from the ’60s to now. A backyard barbecue, family reunion, parents having a party downstairs type of vibe. The video focuses on Hamilton and Scott as a couple, Hamilton getting off work to go see Scott. But it also has a multi generational vibe, as they seem to be present at a renewal of vows for possibly, Scott’s mother. Seeing the older couple energizes Scott and Hamilton to keep going on  along the vibrant romantic path they find themselves on. There is also a cool dancing scene that features different generations, sons dancing with moms, getting down with aunts, daughters cutting a rug with fathers, older and younger people all together under a groove.

One of the reasons this song is so refreshing for me is that at times I think about current black music and I wonder how you could ever play it for your children. I remember when I was a kid and the “Bad” video debuted and our whole family watching it together, as well as my dad who was 55 at the time playing that album just as much as he played his Jimmy Smith or Crusaders, along with Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross and other artists of the ’80s. There was always music that was off limits as well, such as certain Prince songs, but there was a lot to choose from that could be enjoyed as a family. I hate to think of the same thing being done with Lil Wayne’s music. “So in Love” is a definite throwback to that feel good family music. It’s not corny, because the emotions and sentiments are not easily understood by children either, but the groove is something that’s uplifting, as is the intent. It’s one they can groove to now and appreciate more later, as was much of the music I grew up on. The video’s dance scenes reminds me that the kids have grown up and  are dancing (living, working, moving, being responsible) with the parents now. Scott and Hamilton also have a great deal of fun, with Hamilton doing some playful, goofy popping moves. So as we lose artists and entertainers who have stood tall as luminaries of human feeling, responsibility and positive action, I celebrate those among us today like Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton, and I’m sure they will be remebered as great artists often are, with even more love and appreciation in the future than they are currently, after the cream rises to the top that is.

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