Tag Archives: Wilton Felder

Get It Together@44: The Jackson 5 Get A Brand New Thing

The Jackson 5 arrived at an important crossroads in 1973. Their recording career at Motown began with a string of four record breaking #1 pop and R&B hits for this literal band of brothers during 1969-1970. And the success continued fairly well over the next couple of years-with songs such as “Never Can Say Goodbye”,”Sugar Daddy” and “Little Bitty Pretty One”. By 1973, the youth appeal of the Jackson’s faded fast. These were now teenagers and young adults-with Tito Jackson already married and Jermaine engaged to be so. Was there a way for the Jackson’s to maintain their career in another way?

The mid 70’s arrived with changes to the music scene as well. The 2-3 minute,melodic and uptempo soul singles Motown had helped pioneer were giving way to a new sound. A cinematic,orchestrated sound with harder, funkier rhythms. The incoming funk era was based more on instrumentation than vocal groups singing refrain/chorus based songs. The Temptations had already taken this into account in the late 70’s-changing the base of their music to a more abstract “psychedelic soul” sound with the help of producer Norman Whitfield. Now it was time for the Jackson 5 to come of age.

The first Jackson 5 album of 1973 was Skywriter, a more musically diverse album that tried to offer more to the changing voice of 14 year old Michael Jackson. But the idea of a teenager singing so seriously about seduction on a cover of the Supremes song “Touch” went against the Jackson’s wholesome,youthful appeal. And (to me) wonderful songs such as the bluesy “The Boogie Man” and the more progressive funk/soul of the title song didn’t allow the album much success. It wouldn’t be until September 21st of that year that a change began to happen. Here’s what I wrote four years ago about it.


1973 was spelling out to be the year that would sink the Jackson 5’s thus far unbeatable luster at Motown. Skywriter and Michael’s solo album Music & Me had both been creative triumphs but huge creative failures. The brothers would all come to blame this on the fact that Motown was not welcoming their own input as songwriters and producers. In short,the Jackson’s were faltering because the realities of a music industry where artists were treated as commodities to be bought and sold had taken part of their innocence away.

Yet as the year progressed,Motown was suddenly no longer the mainstay of the pop/R&B scene anymore. The success from the O’Jays and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes had made Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records the main focus on that level all of a sudden. And this began to fascinate the Jackson’s and their creative team to an enormous degree.

Inspired by this,the Jackson’s elected to musically refocus some so it seems. And one day in the summer of 1995,I managed to find someone to locate the then extremely hard to find 80’s era cassette tape of this album-not having a clue what to expect. Now that its thankfully available on CD? I can at last illustrate to others lovers of funk,soul,R&B and Motown the many wonders that this album has to offer.

The title song opens up the album. Its filled with the string orchestrations of the Philly sound. But the primary rhythmic nature of are these powerful layers of wah wah guitar,bass lines and an almost reggae style bass/guitar bridge. Michael’s nearly matured singing is heard with all it’s James Brown styled cries and accents-his iconic future already firmly in place. “Don’t Say Goodbye Again” is another Philly type midtempo groove-with a rather more resigned and adult take on romantic loss.

“Reflections” is the only interpretation that is actually relatively close to the original song. The 8+ “Hum Along And Dance” bares hardly any resemblance to the Temptations/Norman Whitfield original. Breaking out with organ,rock guitars,intense percussion,an almost Police Siren type synthesizer line, the song is a psychedelic funk/soul/dance behemoth-closing with a rather Spiritual/gospel West Indian drum style and choral vocal harmonies-with a mild Native American influence as well.

“Mama I Got A Brand New Thing” is another elongated number punctuated by a strumming acoustic style guitar and zig zagging and melodic synthesizer lines. “It’s Too Late To Change The Time” is right on time with Leon Ware acknowledging the rise of the reggae genre musically with the melodic,harpsichord led hook of a classic Jackson 5 number.

The lyrics have a reflective observation of the world at that time as well. “You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You)” is a bassy, hand jive led funk number with a driving bass and harmonies that segues into the original full version of “Dancing Machine”-which led the way towards what would soon become the disco era of course.

Not too long after this album was released,the title song became a decent sized hit-though not to the level I feel it deserved. That being said? The albums last song “Dancing Machine” is the song that,when released as a single edit the following year ended up completely changing the Jackson 5’s commercial fortunes and bringing them their first top of the charts single since their 3 hit punch in 1970,really. In a way,this would become the last album of the Jackson 5 as part of the Motown family.

The two albums released in the two years following this album were released during a period of legal battles as they sought to split themselves from Motown for the purpose to gaining the creative control they felt they required for their music to succeed and grow further. This albums elements of funk,orchestrated soul and different world music/psychedelic instrumental turns led to this not only being something of a fully unified album statement for the Jackson’s.

But also heavily reflective of the transition from the funk era (in which this album was released during) and the disco era which would come later in the decade,and in which the by then creatively liberated Jackson’s would be a huge part of. But the road to that album starts right here-probably the Jackson brothers first fully formed and mature creative musical statement.


Get It Together was, and continues to be, possibly my very favorite full length album by the Jackson 5. I emphasize albums because of a conversation with my father when I first purchased this album. He wondered why I was at all interested in a full Jackson 5 album that wasn’t a greatest hits set. When I asked him why, he described the band as inconsistent. I didn’t know what the term meant then. But now, it does bring up an important point about how the Jackson 5 were perceived then. This was a carefully crafted cycle-with all songs flowing into the other for a strong album funk sound.

In terms of the Jackson’s music for Motown, Get It Together might’ve been the beginning of the end in terms of the bands love affair with what the label could offer them. Still, this was truly their coming of age album. Mike’s vocal hiccups, a trademark of his blockbuster solo career, first showed up on this album. Norman Whitfield helped put the album together-utilizing future Commodores arranger/producer James Anthony Carmichael in the process. Members of Motown’s LA session musicians-among them Crusaders such as Joe Sample and Wilton Felder, played on the album as well.

What I personally remember most about Get It Together the intersection between myself and the Jackson’s at the time of first hearing it. I was about the same age at the time as Michael Jackson had been during the time he and his brothers recorded this album. And as with Mike, my own creative outlook (especially with music) was growing independent from that of my family and social acquaintances. That experience with Get It Together taught me that sense of creative independence is key to growing up. And I have the impression this album has impacted many others in similar ways.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Jackson 5

Steely Dan: The Early Years As A Duo-A Tribute To Walter Becker (1950-2017)

Steely Dan Early Years As A Duo

Steely Dan started life as a sextet that included musicians such as guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. By 1975, group founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were on their own. And their sound took on a sleek jazz funk sound as such-bringing in more session players from that field. A lot of this had to do with the founding members lack of interest in touring. Yesterday I woke up to the news from my boyfriend Scott that Walter Becker had passed away at the age of 67. Considering the bands relationship in their years as a duo, this essentially marked the official end of Steely Dan.

At the suggestion of Henrique Hopkins, I decided to wait a day or two in terms of writing about Becker and his music. After all, another friend in Thomas Carley already was doing some wonderful writing on Walter Becker-both as a member of Steely Dan, a solo artist and producer for people such as Ricki Lee Jones,China Crisis,Rosie Vela,Michael Franks and Fra Lippo Lippi. Woke up this morning to read a Rolling Stone article by one Rob Sheffield about Becker. This article mainly focused on Becker’s more negative “rock star” qualities. So decided there had to be another way to present Steely Dan.

In all honesty, the gritty and…cryptically jazzy poetry of Steely Dan’s lyrics have never detracted from my love of their music. Nor did it define everything about them. Becker, who according to Sheffield had the most attitude of the Dan’s founders, managed to balance (along with Fagen) the sometimes very sarcastic and cynical lyrics of Steely Dan with a romantic (and even relaxing) choice of words and a sound often defined by an extensive use of the processed Fender Rhodes piano. So as tribute to Walter Becker, wanted to present my two Amazon.com reviews of their first two albums as a duo.


Katy Lied/1975

Originally Steely Dan was a band featuring people like Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter. By this time Donald Fagen and Walter Becker had grown weary of the road the decided to stop touring and concentrate on their studio craft which,they felt was their strongest suit. They also broke up the band and Steely Dan became them as a duo plus the studio session musicians they hired for the sessions.

Even so during this time Becker and Fagen were not entirely sure how their sound was going to evolve from this point on so not only was the music on this album fairly tentative but Donald Fagen detested the recording quality of the album to such a degree he issued an apology to record buyers on the back of the original sleeve and didn’t desire to listen to this.

Well it’s not really that bad an album but it does find them beginning to re-imagine their sound with very mixed results. “Black Friday” and “Chain Lighting” are two of the best remembered songs here and even though nothing on this fared too well commercially these songs embrace a slick blues/rock flavor that Steely Dan really hadn’t emphasized in their music too much and really never would to this extent again.

“Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City Anymore” again showcases the same idea only with somewhat of a jazzier funk edge to it. A lot of the songs here are rather spare jazzy pop such as “Bad Sneakers”,”Rose Darling”,”Doctor Wu”,”Any World” and “Everyone’s Gone To The Movies”. Here also you see them really putting even more emphasis on their twisted character plays in the lyrics and things are becoming so metaphorical in that respect some of their lyrics are more impenetrable.

A second part of “Your Gold Teeth” and “Throw Back The Little Ones” show a stronger indication of their future sound,even to an extent Aja in terms of the intricate and complex jazzy arrangements and tempos. The best way to describe this is as transitional. Most of it is still very much in the same musical zone as their first three albums with a full band. But as with any retooled musical concept it takes time to both maintain AND refine a musical style and that’s basically where this album stands for Steely Dan in the context of their career.

The Royal Scam/1976

To be said Katy Lied had it’s definate moments but without any doubt this has to be Steely Dan’s most creatively and musically satisfying since Countdown To Ecstasy several years earler. Musically however the music couldn’t me more different. By this time Becker and Fagan had settled firmly into the studio oriented ethic they were hoping for but didn’t fully achieve with the previous album.

And even though this never got the recognition that what came after it did this is really the pair and the studio aces they surrounded themselves with at last finding their sound. What they really found is the funk. Now Steely Dan had ALWAYS been funky but in terms of the technically demanding rhythms and harmonics of the music,which naturally suited Becker & Fagen’s style anyway this album really finds them dipping into that area more than anything.

This was actually one of the earliest Steely Dan albums I owned and it was deep in my “funk period” so it worked pretty well. Yes true this album does feature a lot more guitars;Becker himself,Larry Carlton,Denny Dias,Dean Parks and Elliot Randell are all featured throughout this album and that’s a pretty big guitar army for these guys. Interestingly enough the guitars are used in a very jazzy funk way throughout as more of a textural sound element overall than just as soloing noise makers.

That’s exactly the effect you get on four of the albums strongest (and uptempo) cuts in the sharp,aggressive yet elegant funk styling’s of “Kid Charlemagne”,”Don’t Take Me Alive”,”The Fez” and the almost Songs in the Key of Life-period Stevie Wonder sounding “Green Earrings”. The Clavinet’s and keyboards used on these songs really add to the harmonic style as well.

Lyrically most of these songs are Steely Dan at their darkest:songs about misdirected anti heroes,youth bombers and domestic unrest are among the themes explored here and the good part is their presented in a wonderfully poetic and intelligent manner. “The Caves Of Altamira”,”Sign In Stranger” and the title song are all elaborate mid tempo jazz-funk-fusion explorations that really look the most to their sound to come although the dynamics are a bit looser than they would be in the immediate future.

“Everything You Did” and the lightly Caribbean flavored “Haitian Divorce” are closer to the breezy jazz-pop of the earlier Steely Dan but again produced very differently. Officially bidding farewell to their earlier band based sound this album finds Dan firmly on the way to Aja and if you listen to this album thoroughly you’ll realize that album was really the logical follow up.


These reviews were written seven years ago, right in between Fagen’s 2012 solo album Sunken Condos and what turned out to be Becker’s final solo release in 2008’s Circus Money. Becker and Fagen were always musical perfectionists. Both in terms of instrumentation and production. But with Katy Lied and The Royal Scam, their relationships with Crusaders’ Wilton Felder and Larry Carlton along with the great session bassist Chuck Rainey took their precision to the next level. And represent the best way for me to remember Walter Becker’s contributions to the Steely Dan’s sound.

Leave a comment

Filed under Donald Fagen, Steely Dan, Walter Becker

The Crusaders Remembered: “Summer Nights In Rio” by Wilton Felder

Wilton Felder was far more to me than a founding member of the Crusaders. And even that was an great accomplishment. He set the precedence along with David Sanborn for the top session sax king of the late 60’s and early 70’s. He was pretty much Joni Mitchell’s go to guy for sax during her mid/late 70’s jazz explorations. He even told the Virginian Pilot in 2006 that her music was just  fun to play for him. Of course his session work also extended to electric bass. An ongoing project that myself, Henrique Hopkins and Calvin Lincoln have been on is to figure out just how many sessions Wilton played on.

Today, wanted to talk a little about Felder’s solo career. It started out with the soundtrack to the 1969 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. Since my father described the album as one which turned him away from Felder’s solo albums, I didn’t actively pursue it. But he did record a number of solo albums in the late 70’s to the late 80’s. These were done concurrently with Crusaders releases and under their production moniker. I have three of them on vinyl. One of them is a 1983 LP entitled Gentle Fire. It contains one song I’ll be talking to about today entitled “Summer Nights In Rio”.

The Afro Latin drums and percussion starts off the songs-courtesy of drummer Rayford Griffin and one of Rio’s finest in Paulinho Da Costa on percussion. A liquid guitar and thumping bass solo accompany it. Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements come into the mix at that point.  These horns play over an extended, chordally complex melodic movement with fellow Crusader Joe Sample providing the Fender Rhodes. Felder’s solos, ranging from higher pitched to deeper tones, occupy most of the songs middle before an extended chorus fades it out.

“Summer Nights In Rio” represents the very best aspects of Brazilian jazz/funk fusion. Felder,Da Costa, Joe Sample and (with six musicians between both instruments) the bass and guitarist on this song are all seemingly experiencing a great deal of joy in playing it. Its strongly based in Felder’s sax solos. At the same time, everyone playing with him are focusing on beautiful melodic and rhythmic dynamics. It showcased how that well oiled Crusaders sound of the late 70’s and early 80’s remained a major aspect of Felder’s solo albums as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Wilton Felder

‘Free As The Wind’ At 40: Joe,Wilton,Stix And Larry Feeling The Funky,Funky Love

Free As The Wind, released at some point in early 1977, is one particular album by The Crusaders that is kind of special to me. Over the years,its come to my understanding how important jazz-funk was to the funk genre as a whole. Most classic “united funk” derived from a strong jazz influence anyway. In terms of a sax and bass/guitar oriented variety of jazzy funk,mid to late 70’s Crusaders were simply hard to beat. Especially the way Joe Sample colored them with his piano and Fender Rhodes based compositions. And Free As The Wind exemplifies this so much.

Its an album that’s been part of my whole life from very early on. From it being part of the vinyl library at WLBZ TV where my father worked (along with other fusion records used as back round music in promos in the early 80’s) to seeing it in every used record store I visited as a teenager. Its been a huge key point in Henrique and my discussions on The Crusaders. Especially when he purchased a Crusaders wind chime of ebay which was used to promote Free As The Wind. Here’s an Amazon.com review I did 12 years ago about my initial enthusiasm upon first picking it up on CD.


The Crusaders are a band you just can’t go wrong with during this era and this album is no different.The funky beat just doesn’t give out on this record until just about the end.The jazzy ‘It Happens Everyday” is a gentler showcase for Joe Sample’s piano and it is the smoothest thing you’ll hear on this album.’Free As The Wind’ is dominated by the hefty jazz funk that these guys do so well-for a genre not noted for great collective musicianship (by some CRITICS anyway) The Crusaders always have that under wraps.

But spaces for solo’s such as on the speedy “Sweet ‘N Sour” gives Larry Carlton a chance to shine and solo while the highly memorable “Night Crawler” gives Wilton Felder the same chance.”Feel It” is my favorite on the record-like everything here it grooves and grooves HARD but it has an unusually hard funkiness that I appreciate.The title cut is the most arranged tune here but still-nothing to scoff at.

Even by the most obviously hard core of snobbish jazz critics and journalists,most of whom are quick to condemn jazz musicians for making funky music give ‘Free As Wind’ a five star review,same as most of The Crusaders catalog.That may be because,as stated earlier The Crusaders were one of a unique group of jazz-funk artists (aside from The Blackbyrds perhaps) who kept a sense of collective soul-jazz improvisation and superb musical chemistry while also playing highly electric funk.And no critic I have heard of could possibly scoff at that and these guy’s memorable compositions!I can’t,can you?


When writing this review,it seemed important to challenge the perception of the jazz funk/fusion genre as being based totally on selling records. Free As The Wind is very important to jazz funk because not only does it it keep the Crusader’s brilliance at soloing intact. EWF alumni Roland Bautista even guested on two of the albums most particularly powerful tunes in “Feel It” and “River Rat”.  In terms of its string arrangements, Joe Sample did a superb job of supplementing the grooves songs melodically by giving the songs exactly what they need for string and horn orchestration.

But it also showcases some of the most consistently strong grooves they ever put onto an album. And it is very much an album experience-without any dull moments that would take away from the strong melodies and grooves of Joe Sample,Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper. Many individual songs stand out too-such as Larry Carlton’s amazing “Night Crawler”. That song was so strong that Carlton elected to record his own version of it for his self titled solo album released the following year. At the end of the day, Free As The Wind really helped to give late 70’s jazz funk one of its strongest voices.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under The Crusaders

The Crusaders Remembered: “Dead End” (1984)

The Crusaders were a band whom I somehow would’ve thought were out of commission by the mid 80’s. In 1983,the bands original drummer Styx Hooper left the group. And they hadn’t recorded any new studio material under their own name for a few years at that point. The core of the Crusaders,by any other name,was always Joe Sample and Wilton Felder. Neither are with us anymore. But in 1984 they rebounded as a trio with George Duke’s former drumer Leon Ndugu Chancler as the successor to Hooper. That year they released the album Ghetto Blaster,with cover art by the ever distinctive Ernie Barnes.

Ghetto Blaster is the first album to help me to realize the Crusaders were very active as a group during the 80’s. They continued to record and tour every few years during the decade. I found the vinyl copy for under a dollar about 15-16 years ago. Every song on the album was so diverse and impressive,actually decided to hunt down the original CD. It wasn’t terribly easy to find,but managed to get hold of it last year. Its an album that I always wanted to cover a song from here on Andresmusictalk. In the end,the best track I could pick to break down would be its first,entitled “Dead End”.

Ndugu and the songs composer Joe Sample get the groove started  with their combination of a two bar drum that kicks heavy on the snare around the middle and the slithering 9 note synth bass. One of the five guest guitarists present on this album picks a rhythm guitar lick into another rhythm guitar lick on top of the basic groove. Sample comes back in with some heavy polyphonic synth brass-changing chords at the B section before adding his trademark electric piano solo on the first bridge. Wilton Felder takes a solo on the second bridge before the song fades on its original theme.

“Dead End” is a wonderful example of the Crusaders updating their signature well oiled jazz funk sound for the boogie/electro funk era. The lean production of the era was actually really good for the Crusaders rhythm section based sound. Where this differs from a lot of boogie/naked funk productions is that it totally maintains the jazz/funk genre’s emphasis on instrumental soloing. Sample provides a superb and very vocal lead synth brass melody. But he and Wilton also take the time to solo in their classic style. That makes this song perhaps the ideal Crusaders song for the mid 1980’s.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Joe Sample, Leon Ndugu Chancler, The Crusaders, Wilton Felder

The Crusaders Remembered: “Honky Tonk Struttin” (1980)

Wilton Felder was lost to us earlier this year. And today is his first posthumous birthday. There’s a lot that I didn’t know about him for years. Aside from him being a founding member of the Crusaders,he also participated in songwriting and playing for artists ranging from Joan Baez to the Jackson 5. Thanks to an episode of the locally produced Bay Area TV show ‘Soul School’,hosted by my friend Calvin Lincoln and hosted by my friend Henrique Hopkins,I learned Wilton Felder played bass on the J5’s debut hit “I Want You Back”. This opened up a whole new understanding for me about the man.

Until talking to Calvin and Henrique,I had no idea that Felder was both a sax player and a bassist. And had two separate approaches to each instrument. Calvin,Henrique and myself have each had discussions with each other about how exhaustive it might be to figure out how many sessions the Crusaders played on. What I do know now is Felder also played bass on Marvin Gaye’s massive hit “Lets Get It On” in 1973. When looking for a song that exercised Felder’s duel instrumental talents,my favorite of the bunch was “Honky Tonk Struttin'” off their 1980 album Rhapsody In Blues.

Joe Sample and Stix Hooper get it all started with a grinding Clavinet and piano duet along with a percussion accented funky drum. This is the basic groove of the entire song-with melodic variations for the solos. The choral solo is a bluesy walkdown where Felder plays sax directly along with his own bass line. After that,he plays a full on improvised jazz sax solo on the first bridge. The second bridge features a honky tonk piano solo playing a similarly bluesy improvisation. Stix provides a little fanfare that takes the song right on home to the main chorus of Felder’s bass/sax duet as the song fades out.

This is one of those songs that really brings out The Crusaders most enduring and endearing musical quality. That is the ability to blend the sleek studio sheen (which defined their work from the mid 70’s onward )with their down home bluesy funk instrumental attitude. “Honky Tonk Struttin'”pulls all of this together with its sophistifunk groove and the bluesy instrumental walkdown soloing. It also emphasizes Wilton Felder strong with his two instrumental talents-the rhythmic bass and melodic sax in tandem. That makes it a true shining moment for The Crusaders.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, blues funk, clavinet, drums, Funk Bass, honky tonk piano, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Saxophone, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, Wilton Felder

The Crusaders Remembered: “Stomp And Buck Dance (1974)

The Crusaders are a huge part of the nervous system for the anatomy of the funk groove. Especially when it comes to it’s jazziest end. Now its 2016,I turn around and only one member of the original Crusaders lineup is still alive in Stix Hooper. Of course this year,there’s been so many other musicians (mostly those born in America’s “silent generation”) who’ve passed away. At the same time,its recently come to my attention that the Crusaders groove is truly immortal beyond its individual members. So in terms of profiling their songs,it seemed best to put the spotlight specifically on them.

Today,I’ll be showcasing Wayne Henderson. The Texas trombonist was a founding member of the group when the were called The Jazz Crusaders. This group were hard bop/soul jazz pioneers. And wrote some of that jazz tributary’s most defining numbers. By 1972,the band had dropped the adjective “jazz” from their name. And their concentration was squarely on the funk. In 1974 they signed to MCA. And brought in guitarist Larry Carlton as a member. One excellent example of this is the opening song off their 1974 album Southern Comfort entitled “Stomp And Buck Dance”.

This jam is one I’d describe as a superb example of unison soloing. Stix keeps the rhythm sturdy with a 6 beat funky beat accented with percussive cymbals. Wilton’s bass line and Larry’s growling guitar bursts are right there with that bottom. Joe Sample meanwhile provides ascending/descending chords with a processed Fender Rhodes piano. On the choral parts,Sample comes in with even more acoustic/electric piano parts as Wayne and Wilton come in with wonderfully harmonic sax/trumpet solos and accents. The song itself pares right down to its initial base before fading out.

Southern Comfort is a CD I picked up about twelve years ago at the now defunct Common Sense Pawn Shop. The moment my dad and I put this in the car CD player,we were both entranced in this songs thick world of funkiness. The idea of combining sharp solos with clean unison playing made “Stomp And Buck Dance” one of my very favorite Wayne Henderson compositions written for The Crusaders. All the members talents just shine like the sun on this song. And among the Crusaders many songs and albums,this one stands out as one of their finest overall funk jams.

 

2 Comments

Filed under 1974, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, piano, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, trombone, Wayne Henderson, Wilton Felder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Street Life” by The Crusaders Featuring Randy Crawford

With the passing of Joe Sample in 2014 and Wilton Felder just last year, I had a plan to pay tribute to The Crusaders here in a major way. In a similar manner to Earth Wind & Fire and James Brown, the music of the Crusaders were a key reference point for everything Henrique Hopkins and myself have done as bloggers. Now today is the birthday of Randy Crawford. Her own solo body of work contains some strong funk,soul and jazzy pop on it’s own. But it was through the Crusaders that I even discovered that she existed. To goes back to listening to that double Crusaders cassette at age 14 in the car stereo with my father. One of those albums was 1979’s Street Life. And it’s title song.

A brushing cymbal opens the song-joined shortly by a soulful sax solo from Wilton. After that the strings come into play as the main melodic theme that Randy is singing-along with Sample’s accents on the Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes. After the strings fade out,the song pauses for two seconds before the scaling horn charts and drums introduce the main body of the song. This main body of the song features Stix Hooper’s disco friendly funky shuffle that swings along at a thick 112 beats per minute. EWF’s Roland Bautista is one of the guitarists providing a liquid rhythm guitar in fine rhythmic harmony with Wilton’s popping bass line.

At the conclusion of each refrain,the strings come back into play as the rhythm increases in strength. The percussion and the horn charts accessorize the melody even further on the chorus of the song. After these,a second whole refrain chimes in. Here the liquid guitar pulses along with the low swing of the cymbal based percussive groove behind it while the strings scale over and around it. The next part of the song features the main body featuring Wilton improvising the vocal chorus on sax. After Randy comes in for another vocal chorus,the second refrain concludes the album. The percussion evolves into a marching drum in this section as the song fades out.

Over twenty years of listening to this song has engendered a huge growth process for my musical ear. At the time I first heard it,I was listening to a lot of late 70’s and early 80’s Jacksons/Michael Jackson. And heard a lot of sonic similarities while listening to this song. Of course with the participation of percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,plus the Crusaders participation on many early 70’s Jackson 5 records that comes as no surprise now. Instrumentally,it’s nearly 12 minute length blends the jazz orchestration of people such as Gil Evans with the band disco era jazz/funk rhythms. The addition of additional session musicians into the brew further beefs up the core Crusaders sound as well.

Another friend of mine named Calvin Lincoln hosts a TV program called Soul School in Vallejo,California on Saturday evenings. One time he and Henrique did an episode together following Joe Sample’s passing discussing how many records different Crusaders played on throughout the 70’s as session musicians. That really bought out what a clean,well oiled sound this song had. As Henrique also once pointed out to me, this song has the aural vibe of a slick OG walking down an urban downtown sidewalk after dark. It’s one of the finest,most multi faceted examples of funky jazz/pop/soul and a defining moment for both the Crusaders and Randy Crawford.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, Calvin Lincoln, disco funk, drums, Dyno-My-Piano, Fender Rhodes, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Randy Crawford, Roland Bautista, Soul School TV, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, Uncategorized, Wilton Felder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 5/9/2015: ‘Midnight Believer’ by B.B. King

B_B_Kingidnight_Believer-Frontal

B.B. King’s career arc was on the same timeline as the Jazz Crusaders basically-only coming from different trajectory’s. King was developing in within the electric blues tradition while Joe Sample,Wayne Henderson,Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper were developing a rather more potent hybrid. Yet both were heavily indebted musically to their strong Southern flavors. And with King’s 70’s era recording output being a bit uneven in some people’s eyes? It seemed more than a little serendipitous that the Crusaders,by the late 70’s a trio and King would eventually recorded together. Much as Sample had helped do with the Jackson 5 on their latter days at Motown? Well now he,Wilton and Stix would be helping out a musical icon. Somehow,everything just rolled right along. And here’s the result.

“When It All Comes Down” is an electric blues shuffle basically,of course with that Crusaders sense of precision rawness-full of electric piano and a locked down rhythm. The title track is one of my favorites on the album-totally in the late 70’s Crusaders style slow crawling,electric piano/sax oriented funk vein with Lucille moaning out BB’s classic blues. “I Just Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is a fascinating number-a very high stepping country-funk type sound (as some might view it,anyway) that also has a swinging,jazz ragtime sort of arrangement about it. In a way that all may be full circle anyway,but its a strong and exciting number. “Hold On (I Feel Our Love Changing)” has some swirling electric piano/keyboard riffing about it that has a soulfully funky elegance about its medium tempo balladry.

“Never Make Your Move Too Soon”,which I’ve only heard by the Captain & Tennille is presented here as a high stepping,funky blues stomp while “A World Full Of Strangers” and the amazing closer “Let Me Make You Cry A Little Longer” deal with serious,down in the groove funk stomps-with Felder’s bass interactions really coming into play on the latter. Overall BB King and the Crusaders’ late 70’s jazz/funk sound go together like a hand and glove on this album. It almost sounds to me as if this was the way BB King should’ve more or less evolved musically from the very start of the 70’s. One could only imagine if BB had the Crusaders playing with him from their “Put It Where You Want It” days of the earlier 70’s. But taken as it was,this reinvented the framework for King’s already renowned vocal/guitar technique-which in and of itself,of course,needed absolutely no tweaking. In the end,this was the beginning of what turned into two highly successful albums for BB King and members of the Crusaders.

Originally Posted On September 17th,2014

Link to original review here*

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, B.B. King, Blues, blues funk, Captain & Tennille, Crusaders, Funk, Jackson 5, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, Stix Hooper, Wilton Felder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 2/7/2015: ‘Healing The Wounds’ by The Crusaders

Healing The Wounds

In the days since the passing of Joe Sample,I continue to be bought back to the moment when I first heard the Crusaders album Street Life on the brand new cassette deck-cruising back from Strawberries record store on a balmy summer evening in the family’s 1992 Toyota Corolla sometime in early 1994. This was the first time I can recall hearing the Crusaders. Of course then being deep into my Jacksons/ Michael Jackson period,it never occurred to me that Wilton Felder played bass on “I Want You Back” in 1969. As time has marched on? The Crusaders have come to represent the very core of the qualities I most appreciate in instrumentalists overall. This was an album my father had in his collection for years. It was the Crusaders first release of the 90’s. And it featured the bass playing and production of one of my top favorite musicians-Marcus Miller. Hadn’t heard it in some years,and when I did wasn’t sure who this was. So its a privilege to come back to this now,with the knowledge I have today,to go more in depth into it’s contents.

“Pessimisticism” is ever the classic Marcus Miller style production-with the heavy funk bottom. Interesting enough,its another of Joe Sample’s harmonically expansive compositions-setting a very probing,questioning melodic mood. Joe Zawinul’s classic “Mercy Mercy Mercy” is given the classic Crusaders slow burn groove treatment-one where Felder’s sax (as usual) really gets a chance to shine as he sustains and bends the notes of the chorus just beautifully. ” Little Things Mean A Lot” is a mid tempo bossa with a Caribbean flavor added to the rhythm. Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” receives a very progressive fusion style arrangement-ending with some very cinematic chord progressions built around Stevie’s iconic melodicism. “Shake Dance” represents one of my favorites on the album-another Miller composition with a very strong late 80’s hard funk feel-centering strongly not only around his bass but rapid fire instrumental breaks. “Maputo” is another favorite of mine,and another Miller composition and is another slow burning groove with a strong,swelling melody. Joe Sample finishes off the album with the title song and “Running Man”-two more melodically probing compositions with that ideal blend of jazz and funk rhythms the Crusaders do so well.

Music throughout the decades can be slickly produced. But slick production changes with every technological innovation in recording. And in their time together,the Crusaders had by this time already been recording entities through at least three significant recording innovations. By this time,that included the era of full digital recording. What made it all work was the renowned synergy that was not only created by the Crusaders themselves,but any other musicians who happened to be playing with them. And that also adds into another thing that makes the music the band creates so special: those small instrumental touches that almost seem like they shouldn’t be too significant. Session guitarist Michael Landau’s lowly mixed guitar riffs generally only play accents on these songs,for example. But they serve as an important building block that creates the house of rhythm. What may sound like a minor instrumental part on a Crusaders albums such as this serves as far more than mere sound coloring. They have a voice. They make a statement. Everything about a Crusaders song-instrumentally and melodically,just seems to have meaning when you listen to it. And it’s this gift of instrumental personality and strong affection for their craft that made musicians such as Joe Sample masters of the very thing they did best.

Originally Posted On September 14th,2014

Link to original review here*

Leave a comment

Filed under 1990s, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, Joe Zawinul, Marcus Miller, The Crusaders, Wilton Felder