Jean-Michel Andre’ Jarre-born in Lyon, France, was raised by a mother and grandparents. His father was the composer Maurice Jarre, and his mother a member of the French resistance fighter. As well as a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. Jean-Michel trained early on piano-an instrument he struggled with. Even at that point,he was introduced to a lot of street performers,jazz musicians and became an admirer of sculptor Pierre Soulages. A particular interest of his were the free jazz musicians John Coltrane,Don Cherry and Archie Shepp.
He saw these artists on a semi regular basis at a Paris jazz club called Le Chat Qui Pêche,which his mother frequented with him once his father had slip up with her to base himself in America. Jarre’s musical influences in adult life could fill a book-especially his love of combining jazz harmonies,elements of musique’ concrete. After the home recording of his 1976 debut Oxygene was released, Jarre had become a pioneer of transitioning from electronic music into what became known as new age. Jarre was known for his elaborate,outdoor multi media live performances as well.
In the early 1980’s, his solo albums began to make use of the then new Fairlight CMI synthesizer and sampler. In 1984, Jarre combined a couple of compositions from his multi media projects with some newer material on an album called Zoolook. This album had a heavy polyrhythmic base-built around world fusion and synth pop sounds of the era. And sampling from the Fairlight. He brought in a group of guests from Laurie Anderson, Talking Heads guitarist Adrien Belew and jazz-funk slap bass maestro Marcus Miller. One of the songs that caught me on this album is called “Zoolookologie”.
A backwards drum loop starts out the song-followed up by a series of Vocoderized samples-some higher and others lower pitched. After that,the main choral body of the song comes in. Its defined by a strong electro funk/freestyle drum machine rhythm and hand clapping percussion. The melody of the song is defined by a series of sampled human voices-from the low,high and right around the middle, accented by some of the same digitized voices samples from the intro. These samples also make up the bridge. All before an extended chorus fades the song into a series of clicking,brittle digital sounds.
“Zoolookogie” reminds me of what a musically successful graft of the sound of Afrika Bambaataa and The Art Of Noise would sound like. The electro funk/hip-hop rhythms are very strong here. And the sounds of many of the vocal samples still have a very atmospheric quality. It does showcase a strong move away from the near total drone that represents the stereotype of new age music. This song has a great melody,brittle synth bass line and utilizes early sampling techniques brilliantly. And is one of my favorite Jean-Michel Jarre songs from the album of his which I know best.
William Royce Scaggs,nicknamed “Boz” (short for Bosley by a childhood pal) came out of his birthplace of Canton,Ohio to meet his original mentor Steve Miller-who went to college in Madison Wisconsin with Scaggs as well. After a failed stint on the London scene and a little known solo album released in Sweden in 1965, Scaggs returned to the US and became a key member of the Steve Miller Band for two albums of theirs during 1968. In 1969 he teamed up with the Muscle Shoals studio grew (in particular Duane Allman) to record his self titled major label debut album.
Scaggs always had the ability to surprise people with his music. He himself said he was interested in soul,R&B and funk. But what was contemporary in that music at the given time. The the result of his forward thinking musicianship were iconic songs such as “Lowdown”,”Jojo” and “Miss Sun”. In 1987,he retired from music to concentrate on his San Francisco nightclub Slims. After touring with a super group called the New York Rock & Soul Revue,he made his official comeback with the 1994 album Some Change. The song on it that got to me most was called “I’ll Be The One”.
A slow,swinging funky drum machine opens up the song with a light wah wah rhythm guitar. As well as brief accents from the vibraphone playing chordally off the bass and guitar parts. On the chorus,as the chords of the song change town,Scaggs’ voice is accompanied by a sustained organ like keyboard sound. On the secondary part of the chorus,the song changes chords again as a chorus of Vocorderized backup singers keep with these changes of melody. On the final few verses of the song,all of its instrumental elements come together with Scaggs’ vocal improvisation.
“I’ll Be The One” is one of those songs where,during a period when a good deal of soul music lacked instrumental vitality,that actually got exactly the right kind of vibe for the smooth jazz era. The production is slow,the groove a spare jazzy,funky soul. But the production is both sleek and punchy enough to stick out with its relaxed flavor. It also has a similar vibe to what would work for the Chicago stepping dances that originated in the 70’s. Don’t think its one of his best known songs,since the Some Change album produced no hit singles. At the same time,this is a very soulful non hit kind of hit.
During his time as a member of Kraftwerk, Karl Bartos was apparently something of a musical archivist-using a number of tape machines to record different synthesizer ,computer and electric keyboard loops and snippets that were floating around as raw material as Kraftwerk were producing the music that would be so massively influential to future generations. Karl knew they would probably be of some use to him,someday.
But he didn’t know exactly when. Then came a period between 2010 and this release where,in the midst of conceptualizing his next album,he decided it was now appropriate to construct some type of form out of all the unfinished bits and pieces he had taped during Kraftwerk’s fruitful constructivist period. So he added his own new album concept into fleshing out these musical archives,and the result is this new album.
Not surprisingly this album has the flavor of a classic Kraftwerk album in their heyday. But there’s a very strong individual flavor as well. “Atomium” opens the album,a very orchestral and cinematic venture atypical of Kraftwerk’s more stripped down approach. It sounds like the opening of a feature film almost until snippets of vocoderized conversation about the rise and fall of the atomic age kick in,and one realizes it’s something else.
“Nachtfahrt”,”International Velvet” and even the largely instrumental closer “Hausmusik” are all happily melodic,minimal electronic pop firmly in the late 70’s Kraftwerk tradition of the form. “Without A Trace Of Emotion” and “The Tuning Of The World” strike more somber chords,as a longing for a grand creative subculture and,with no irony lost,a sense of humanity even in electronic music making up the lyrical form of these songs.
“The Binary Code” is a nearly two minute embodiment of “the video game sound” synthesizer composition in action,likely a taped loop unmixed from it’s approach. The almost industrial house approach of “Musica Ex Machina” as well as the far more experimental sound abstractions of “Instant Bayreuth”,”Vox Humana” and “Rhythmus”. These songs are a lot more complex rhythmically and melodically. And sound as if they come from the mid 80’s as Kraftwerk were regrouping to record as they reflect the influence of electro-funk/hip-hop to some degree.
There is a flavor to this album of a compilation of unreleased Kraftwerk material. But if one digs a little deeper there’s quite a lot more of Karl Bartos the individual as well. He has a thoughtful and reflective personality,illustrated in the in depth liner notes on this CD,that comes across loud and clear on his musical and lyrical choices. It’s an excellent recording I highly recommend to anyone who has a strong interest in Kraftwerk and the electronic music revolution in general.
Originally written as an Amazon.com customer review on March 22nd,2013
Lee Ritenour is an excellent example of a musician who functioned equally as strong as both a session player and as a soloist. The LA guitar maestro began his session career in in 1968 playing on a Mama’s & The Papa’s section at age 16. His dexterous,often fluttering sound earned him the name Captain Fingers by the early 70’s. He continued to do session work for artists such as George Duke before launching his solo career in 1976. For the next four or five years, he continued with his session work (most popularly for Pink Floyd for their album The Wall) and releasing solo records in the Brazilian flavored jazz-funk vein.
In 1981 Ritenour released his album Rit,which added a strong pop focus and vocals than even before. The song “Is It You?”,with singer Eric Tagg,was actually part of the first rotation of music videos to be aired on the then very new MTV. Of course with other session greats who enjoyed popular acclaim such as Greg Phillinganes,Jeff Porcoro and the late Louis Johnson the album represented a turning point in the turning point from jazz-funk into what would become known as smooth jazz. One of its most defining and distinctive songs to me on the album is “Countdown (Captain Fingers)”.
A round synth riser opens the song. This segues directly into the songs intro-which also acts as its bridge. This finds Ritenour playing a bassy chugging rhythm guitar with flourishes of a higher pitched melodic line along with think slap bass lines. Combined with percussive drumming it has a strong Brazilian flavor. On the choruses,the synths play an ascending melody with a Vocorder-ized vocal chorus as the bassy chugging continues. After a few bars of this chorus/refrain exchange,the album outro’s on a melodically virtuosic duet between Ritenour’s guitar sustains and the synthesizers before it fades out.
Each time I hear “Countdown (Captain Fingers)”,it becomes apparent what an ingenious song this actually is. Its Afro Brazilian rhythmic and melodic flavor is seamlessly connected to the West Coast sophistfunk/jazz-pop vibe of the songs main melodic theme. Especially fitting is the outro where the music’s general volume lowers and the wooden percussion clavs become the main rhythm element of the song. In terms of almost flawlessly blending Brazilian fusion,jazz funk and West Coast pop elements this jam almost epitomizes the general American musical atmosphere of the early 80’s.
Bernard Edwards was a bassist who truly left his musical footprint in time. Even long before his best known audio footprint came along with Chic’s 1979 jam “Good Times”. This essentially showcased the exact transition from disco to hip-hop-by ‘Nard’s iconic bass line also being the basis for Sugarhill Gangs equally iconic “Rappers Delight”. Edwards style was based is economy with style,especially on his bass lines/solos on Chic hits such as “Dance,Dance,Dance”,”Everybody Dance” and of course “Good Times”. This was a major aspect in how Chic innovated their disco style through some heavy funkiness.
Some years ago,I became familiar with the first two solo albums by Chic guitarist/ songwriter /producer Nile Rodgers. I only found out that Bernard Edwards recorded a solo album in 1983 (around the time Chic ended its original run of albums) following his death 20 years ago now of pneumonia. It was entitled Glad To Be Here. It was reissued on CD roughly around the time as they reissued Chic’s early 80’s catalog. Only recently have I began to explore the songs from by listening to them via YouTube. The tune that really epitomized the album was the closing title song.
A heavy drum kick opens the song before the Vocorder comes in to introduce a melody. That’s when the main body of the song comes in. This consists of a tight,dripping higher pitched rhythm guitar. Edwards bass accompanies this sometimes to the letter,other times with stick slapping lines. This is accompanied by quavering bursts of synth brass. Edwards raps seem to count down to the next section of the song. There are two instrumental bridges. One is built around a thumping synth bass solo. The other is a stiff,hiccuping higher pitched synthesizer that begins the refrain that fades out the song.
It comes as now surprise to me that,for all intents and purposes,this is still a complete Chic song. Tony Thompson provides the drums,Bernard Edwards is carrying on the bass while the guitar is from Nile Rodgers himself. The only thing it does is strip out the strings and lead/backup female vocals. So this represents Chic in its core rhythm section. And it becomes clear how funkified that sound is. This is heavy,naked electro funk. Basically what Chic might’ve sounded like going through the Minneapolis funk filter of the day. And it showcases how vital Edwards’ sound was as a part of Chic. Even on his solo material.
Filed under 1980's, Bernard Edwards, Chic, drums, electro funk, Funk Bass, naked funk, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Tony Thompson, vocoder
It was Henrique who brought to my attention today that Kashif Saleem,born Michael Jones in NYC,passed away this last Sunday. The causes is still unknown as of now,and not that important. What does matter is that while Kashif was well known as a producer for other artists,it all stemmed from lesser sung achievements of his own. He joined the disco funk band B.T Express as a teenager for their third album Energy To Burn in 1976. He began producing for Evelyn King on her 1981 hit “I’m In Love”-beginning a long tradition of him producing funky female talent in the early 80’s. His talent went even further than that.
Alongside Stevie Wonder,Kashif is known as a synthesizer pioneer in funk/soul. He extended on Wonder’s work by creating sounds that became known as the boogie funk sound. That is mixing live rhythm sections with electronic orchestrations and melodies. He was an orphan who managed to get up of a very abusive foster family. While in primary school,he focused strongly on music. Even learning woodwind instruments-pretty rare for even multi instrumentalists. His self titled solo debut came out in 1983. The song that epitomizes his artistry on it for me is an instrumental entitled “The Mood”.
A strong,space heavy Afro Latin snare/hi hat drum starts off the song. The remainder of the song consists primarily of Kashif’s vocals and many layers of synthesizers. There’s a fluttering synth string,a wispy higher tones one in the back round and a brittle bass one accompanying the multi tracked layers of Kashif’s almost operatic,jazzy vocalese. On the refrains of the song,the melody goes into a higher key and a high funky rhythm guitar assists the melody. On the final choruses of the song,Kashif sings vocalese through a Vocoder before the song fades out.
Kashif’s boogie funk production style is generally spare but glistening enough to appeal to 80’s soul singers. But the moment I heard this instrumental 12 years ago,it was entrancing what a sonic marvel this really is. Its basically an Afro Latin jazz/funk number produced in the more electronic boogie style-with some beautiful chordal modulations and…just a general magical quality to the synthesized sounds created. Kashif will be remembered for me as someone able to get the most warmth out of 80’s era synthesizers. And I am hoping that will continue to be his most enduring musical legacy.
Generally speaking I wouldn’t qualify myself as a “buy it for the cover” type when it comes to approach new music. But while browsing the new release rack at Bull Moose Books & Music last weekend,I came across one particular CD that did catch my eye. It featured 1980’s pop culture inspired artwork-including characters usually associated with McDonald’s. Luckily the store has a listening station where you can scan a CD and preview the contents. This doesn’t often work with new release music. But in some cases,such as this,it does. And the music was impressive enough where it caught my attention. On the other hand,I didn’t know anything about the group who made it.
M83 are actually an electronica group out of Antibes,France.It was started by singer/songwriter Anthony Gonzalez. And since than it’s membership has had a pretty consistent revolving door of personnel coming in and out. This new album of theirs I speak of is entitled Junk. It’s their seventh full length release and features guest musicians ranging from Beck Hanson to an uncredited appearance by Steve Vai. Gonzalez and M83 profile their music as celebrating the melodic and rhythmic approach of 80’s synth/electro instrumentation. The song that struck my particular musical ear the most on this overall strong album was called “Bibi The Dog”.
Starting off with a brittle 808 style drum machine stomp,the groove starts right out a stomping synth bass and wavering,orchestral lead line. By the time lead singer Mai Lan Chapiron begins rapping in French,the orchestration takes a total backseat for heavier percussive effects-including electronic ones. On the first chorus,she is singing with another vocoderized voice a very big band jazz phrased melody. On the second and third repeating of this chorus,horn charts accent this main melody. In between that,a sped up voice sings the lyric of the chorus in a Chipmunk-like tone before a chorus led by the wavering synth tones and horns lead the track to it’s sudden conclusion.
This groove is an excellent example of contemporary electro/boogie revival. It has a strong sense of song construction with a pronounced Parisian cabaret jazz flavor. Most important though is how well the musicians involved understand the importance of keeping the funk percolating within the groove. Bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen actually provides a thick, almost boppish electric bass line filled with fast paced chord fills.The horns and percussion play that vital call and response with the electronic orchestrations on this song. The strong rhythmic foundation of this electronic groove make it (to my ears anyway) one of the funkiest to emerge from this genre so far in 2016.
Filed under 2016, 80's revival, Andrew Gonzalez, Boogie Funk, elecro funk, France, Funk Bass, horns, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, M83, Mai Lan Chapiron, new music, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder
Many jazz musicians made funk albums during the late 60’s and throughout the following decade. Being that this was a music based primarily in rhythm,starting with James Brown’s concept of his entire band becoming a drum,it was a wonderful new medium for melodic piano and horn players to improvise over. Herbie Hancock took a very different path than his ex boss in this area,with Miles Davis playing his horn primarily over funky vamps. Hancock took the time to create strong funk compositions that are today considered jazz/funk standards. And both musicians innovated enormously during this time with their approaches to the jazz/funk sub genre.
By the middle of the decade,Miles had gone into temporary retirement. And Herbie continued to forge ahead musically. His relationship with producer David Rubinson dated back to his arrival at Columbia. As the 70’s progressed, jazz/funk began to evolve towards what the band Brick would describe in song as dazz-short for a new subgenre called disco jazz. With the new four on the floor dance beats providing optimal opportunities for a composer as keen as Hancock’s,he allowed his musical imagination to take flight right across the dancefloor in the same way he had with earlier forms of funk. The result was his 1979 album Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Know and it’s opening number “You Bet Your Love”.
The drum and percussion rhythm laid is laid down the the Headhunters’ Bill Summers and Kansas City session ace James Gadson. Ray Obiedo’s rhythm guitar and Eddie Watkins’ phat slap bass introduces Hancock’s spacy synth orchestrations. His lead vocals on vocoder are introduced by a breathy female backup group singing the chorus. These vocals continue throughout the refrain and with Hancock on the main choruses. They also introduce the bridge of the song where Watkin’s and Obiedo again solo with Hancock’s synths playing the horn charts-plus his Fender Rhodes soloing. The song concludes with a continual repetition of the chorus with vocoder improvisations from Hancock himself.
Writer Rickey Vincent referred to Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Now as being one of the best records of 1979. Sonically and in terms of funk,I have no argument with him. This song is important for Herbie Hancock in two ways. For one,the song is structurally right out of the big band swing school. At the same time,thick and phat bass/guitar lines and percussion beef up it’s glossy space disco/funk sound. This allows for the second important aspect of this song. On it’s bridge,Hancock uses polyphonic synthesizers to simulate big band horn charts-actually his variation of the Minneapolis sound on the jazz level. That makes this a rhythmically vital and musically innovative Herbie Hancock groove.
Filed under 1970's, Bill Summers, David Rubinson, disco funk, disco jazz, drums, Eddie Watkins, Fender Rhodes, Herbie Hancock, James Gadson, jazz funk, percussion, Ray Obiedo, rhythm guitar, slap bass, space funk, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder
Quincy Jones has been on my mind a lot lately when thinking about music. Last week in fact,my friend Henrique pointed out something he read on the back of a vinyl album about how important Quincy was to the jazz world in general. And this was at the height of his career no less. From being mentored by Clark Terry in the 1940’s up to helping shape up and coming hip-hoppers 60 years later,the evolutionary nature of Quincy’s career had me wondering how to present his music here today. The question was would it be good to express that musical arc by overviewing several songs from several decades,or focus on one song that might tell it’s own kind of story about Quincy Jones.
Last year at this time,I posted up an older review I had done for the 1981 Quincy Jones release of The Dude. Albums released under his own name always had a specific flavor to them. For example,his early albums showcased him largely as an instrumental band leader. His releases since the 70’s have generally been showcases not only for his evolving production approach,but also with the different musicians and vocalists he was involved with or mentoring at the given time. In the case of this early 80’s album,the spotlight was on James Ingram and Patti Austin. And the title track of the album said so much about where the classic Quincy Jones sound was going to be at that time.
A pulsing,nasal synthesizer starts off the song before the drums and horns kick in. This is accompanied by opening backup that includes Syreeta Wright and Michael Jackson among a massive chorus. The horns lead into a stripped down percussion break that’s accented by a slow crawling drum beat-over which a bluesy Fender Rhodes plays the lead keyboard line accented by Louis Johnson’s slap bass lines. The refrains start off with Austin and Ingram trading off vocals along. with Michael Boddicker’s Vocoder. Quincy himself provides a rap as the title character on several choruses after which the horns the male backup singers provide an accompanying chorus.
On the third of these choruses, the backup chorus led along by Austin sings a swinging variation of the chorus. Steve Luckather comes in to play a wah wah pedal heavy guitar line that mimics the low volume,bluesy solo on the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that comes out of Stevie Wonder on the bridge,which basically repeats the melodic theme of the refrain. After this the fanfarring horns that generally introduce Quincy raps instead segues into Austin’s swinging vocal choruses. There’s a repeat of the refrain after this. And the song fades out on a repeat of the chorus. Only on this one,Ingram accentuates the lyrics vocally before the song comes to an end.
Getting back to Quincy’s varied musical career,there are many qualities in this song that sum up everything he had done in his then nearly four decades of creative activity. The classic Westlake studio crew including drummer John Robinson,percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,trumpeter/arranger Jerry Hey and of course Louis Johnson play on this number. On the surface,this song written with Patti Austin and Rod Temperton has that sleek west coast production matched with the deep funk groove Quincy had been perfecting over much of the 1970’s. On that level,it’s alternately stripped down and boisterous depending on the mood the song is trying to project at a given time.
On the broader level,this song totally epitomizes the musical evolution of Quincy thus far. The accessory vocal harmonies on the chorus reflect the big band swing era as do the horns. And Stevie Wonder’s synth solo additionally brings the flavor of the blusiness that came from jazz to rock ‘n roll and onto funk and soul as well. The character of “The Dude”,represented as a stone sculpture on the cover and later to become Quincy’d mascot for his media production company,is basically an elder statesmen whose philosophy could be summed up by him stating “don’t put your moth around a check that your body can’t cash”. In this instance for me,this is Quincy’s most defining song overall up to this point.
Filed under 1980's, big band swing, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, horns, James Ingram, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, QWest, rap, Rod Temperton, slap bass, Steve Luckather, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder, wah wah guitar, West Coast
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