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Aja At 40: Welcome To The Land Of Steely Dan

Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja was an album whose success has been based far more on its quality than its commercial potential. In 2010, it was even inducted by the Library of Congress into their United States National Recording Registry. It even won a Grammy in the the year of its release for being the best engineered non classical record of the year. For me, it represented the precision musicianship of the jazz funk era musicians who played on the album at some of their personal best. Also in 2010, I wrote a review on Amazon.com about the album and how I personally heard it.


Time has a way of testing a work of art that might be today’s masterpiece but tomorrow’s rubbish pile. One would probably find that not only would this album ace such a test with flying colors but could actually still be considered something of a yardstick of it’s kind. I am not sure but before this album very little music that qualified as jazz-funk,fusion or pop/jazz ever quite had the same level of all around success this one had in pop and rock circles and especially among pop radio listeners. There are a couple reasons for this.

For one the music featured here is a fully realized refinement on what was accomplished with The Royal Scam and unlike that albums more jagged moments both the production and arrangements on this album are clean as a whistle. For another thing none of that took away from the daring and adventurous flavors here. So you have this mixture of elegance,sophistication and a strong groove that only those really in the know about funk can provide.

The production of the Clavinet on “Black Cow” pretty much tell the story and some of the songs people don’t remember as well here such as “Home At Last” and “I Got The News” there’s some of the most intricate and uniquely textured piano work Donald Fagen had committed to record thus far and trust me: on that area he’d more than earned a few brownie points already. The title song has one of the most complex melodic constructions your liable to find in a pop record.

And of course it’s not easy to get Steve Gadd’s amazing fusion style drum solo at the songs conclusion out of one’s memory even after the passing of time. The popular hits from this album “Deacon Blues” and of course “Peg” showcase another surprising element of this album. Those familiar with Steely Dan before this album realize lyrically they tended to specialize in warped tales,usually of people no one wanted to know. These songs maintain their lyrical style but the tales they tell are a bit more accessible in tone and are among the more lighthearted and quaint in their catalog.

Yeah they were probably making a few funnies about the stereotypical simplicity of pop music lyrics but….a lot of it just is what it is and that’s kind of different for their usually double meaning approach. “Josie” ends the album on a similar note although the lyrics on that one may be just a tad slinkier and the groove just mildly edgier. At this point you could say this was Steely Dan’s best overall album and it’s certainly their best known.

But it’s also important to know their “laboratory in the studio” approach to recording across their previous two albums really opened the door for this to happen. So this was the conclusion to a long enduring musical experiment rather than something that came out of this air. That taken into considering the amazing thing about this is…..all these years later it still doesn’t sound like a product of hard labor.


Aja was an album that I first heard playing in my family’s car “boom box” when, as I recall, we were going to pick apples. Its an excellent example of a record where the melodic and very welcoming jazz/funk fusion grooves of the album deflect from Steely Dan’s typically cryptic and “insider commentary” based nature of their lyrical content. There’s a lot on the musical end of this album that I was able to project into a YouTube video I did about the album recently.  Aja is a record I could go on and on about here. But in the end, its best for the music to do the talking in this case.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE GRoove: “Sammy-Joanne (One Half Woman,One Half Man)” by Vernon Burch

Vernon Burch  is a musical figure who is relatively obscure to me. Born in Washington DC, Burch is a guitarist whom its hard to find a great deal of personal information about. What could be found out about him was that he played with The Bar Kays during the time they recorded their Do You See What I See? album in 1972. He embarked on hissolo career starting in 1975-at first at United Artists and Columbia. He finally signed to Casablanca subsidiary Chocolate City in 1978,best known at the time as the label for funk stalwarts Cameo.

This was the disco era. And Burch’s place in music history was cemented in funk.  In 1979,he released his second album for the label entitled Get Up.  On the album he had arrangement help from Tom Tom 84 and funk icon Fred Wesley of the JB’s and P-Funk. Wesley arranged the horns on three of the songs on this disco funk album. While pursuing some of its songs on YouTube,one of these Fred Wesley arranged tunes leaped right out at me-for a number of different reasons both musical and otherwise. The name of the song is “Sammy-Joanne (One Half Woman,One Half Man)”.

A hard hitting disco beat from non other than James Gadson starts the song-along with a ticking keyboard from Michael Thompson. Burch’s rumbling,rocking guitar provides a string orchestra like effect as the intro slides into the main song-along with David N. Shields slap bass. As a descending synth and descending horns enter into it, the drum/ rhythm guitar/Clavinet/slap bass interaction all lock in  for the refrain of the song. The stripped down bass/drum/synth sound of the intro provides the chorus. A bluesy guitar solo from Burch on the bridge extends into an extended,fading refrain.

“Sammy-Joanne” is a hard driving stomper- a perfect example of a funk song functioning as disco. What surprised me in the song is how it focused on a healthier and perhaps less hedonistic aspect of the disco era. The Sammy-Joanne character in the song is a hermaphrodite who finds acceptance and love as an implied transgender’ disco dancer. The character is celebrated,not made fun of and hated. And with gender related matters being a strangely controversial matter in 2017, this 1979 song celebrates sexual difference with some of the most funkified disco-dance music possible.

 

 

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Prince & The Corperate World: The Emptying Of The Royal Purple Music Box

Prince artwork

Today I was going to bring you an article about Prince’s hip-hop oriented period-focusing on brief explanations of songs with video links attached. Unfortunately,many of them were not to be found. Since Andresmusictalk got started,I’ve only dropped hints about how deeply affected writing about Prince has been by the late musician’s contentious relationship with the worldwide web. In an effort not to focus too much on negativity,not to mention the mans tragic passing,I’ve avoided going into depth about it. But it seems the time has come to try and set the record straight about this matter.

Without doubt,this blog would not be possible if YouTube did not exist. It allows for the music discussed in it to come to life to the ears of readers. And many contemporary writers with a musical focus likely have similar views. Much as with David Bowie,Prince had a very early advocacy of the internet during it’s rudimentary,trial and error days of the mid to late 1990’s. He even developed separate websites for individual albums and songs,which wasn’t typical and still isn’t.  He even developed interactive CD-ROM content during that allowed interaction with his music in a very futurist manner.

In 1993,Prince also began a legal battle with his label Warner Bros. The purpose of this was not only to secure rights to his own music catalog. But also to release his swelling amount of recorded content as he saw fit. Warner’s had long worried Prince’s enormous wealth of recorded material would glut the market with one man’s music. This resulted in Prince changing his name to a symbol that couldn’t be pronounced in order to gain his creative autonomy. This helped secure him a position as a champion for artists rights. And doing the unconventional in order to allow this precedence to be set.

Then towards the end of the early aughts,something went terribly wrong. During a 2010 interview with the UK’s Daily Mirror,Prince declared that the internet was completely over. That computers and gadgets were no good. While (likely) shyness on his part often resulted in random hostility towards his admirers throughout his career,it came to a fevered pitch in the 2010’s. He sued fans for $22 million dollars for what he saw as bootlegging live shows he never officially released on physical media. He also began yanking any and all content related to him off YouTube and most major streaming sites.

Prince would’ve seemed to have become,according to music and law educated friends I’ve spoken to,what is officially referred to as a vexatious litigant. This means a party that sues not so much to resolve a legitimate legal matter,but rather to to subdue and/or harass subjective enemies. While the subject matter of Prince’s problems with the internet is explored in major online and offline articles,it’s seldom brought out that Prince sullied the legitimacy of his own agenda by acting in a hostile manner towards people helping to project his art onto a medium that was the future of music distribution.

Now the man is gone. And the reasons for his anger at his music being online is still mired in speculation. Was he being paid unfairly? Was seeing himself in the past reminding him of the physical pain he lived with in the present? Was he selfish? Out of touch with reality and the future of recorded music? Well during this time, his Paisley Park organization became increasingly cultish even from where it had been for some time. And still with fans trying to do tributes to his music by posting on YouTube,even an official Vevo channel for his music videos. This content is still often yanked down.

By alienating the internet, Prince missed out on one of the most tremendous opportunities of his professional career. Official Prince YouTube and other streaming channels could have focused on musician related content such as a Prince guitar camp,or tutorials on music production. He could have put exclusive musical content from his vault up as well. Now as physical media’s fate in the music world remains unclear,will Prince’s music meet the same fate? With record labels paying artists for content on YouTube via the channels known as Artist-Topic? Prince’s concerns over profit do seem to have been baseless.

The vast musical catalog of Prince’s recordings and concert footage has inspired at least two generations of music lovers. Not just to sing and dance but to pick up instruments, start bands and stand up for sexual and political liberation. Whatever Prince’s reason for cutting himself off from the internet,his artistic vision should not be allowed to die with him. I wanted to end this by encouraging you,the reader to create hashtags and Tweets focusing on finding an honorable way to get Prince’s music back online through YouTube,Spotify and iTunes again. Thank you!

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, activism, Blogging, internet, online streaming, Prince, Vevo, vexatious litigants, Warner Bros., YouTube

Prince: I Rock Therefore I Am

prince-symbol-guitar

Prince’s music enviably would end up being the Minneapolis sound. It turned out to be a rather variable form where soul,synth pop,blues,rock ‘n roll and even jazz would all combine through a particular sonic framework. Personally speaking,the basis of Prince’s sound was always funk. He did however grow up listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix,Carlos Santana and Joni Mitchell too. Whether it be on electric or acoustic guitar,Prince also enjoyed rocking out. Be it on a possible hit single or to let his virtuosity on guitar have it’s way. So here are my personal favorite rock oriented numbers from ”

“I’m Yours” from For You (1978)

Prince always insisted that Carlos Santana was a major influence on him as a guitarist. Mainly because “Santana played prettier” to quote the man on the subject. With his use of sustains and Latin style melodies,this powerfully produced number from his debut album (with it’s heavy reverb and echo) is the earliest released example of his lead guitar chops.

“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” from Prince (1979)

It was Prince’s childhood friend and fellow band mate in his earlier touring group The Rebels, Andre Cymone, who played bass and sang backup on this tune. This is where Prince really showcased his ability to write and perform radio friendly,hook filled rockers. With this one having that sleek West Coast production flair of his late 70’s albums.

“When You Were Mine” from Dirty Mind (1980)

Warner Bros executives have been said to have commented that “we signed the new Stevie Wonder,and he’s giving us the new Ric Ocasek” upon hearing Prince’s third album for the first time. And it likely has a lot to do with his song. Prince’s brittle,low rhythm guitar pump and melodic keyboards have The Cars’s musical flavor written all over it. With it’s hook filled singability and classic new wave guitar riff (not to mention becoming a hit agai with Cyndi Lauper covering it four years later),this might be one of Prince’s very finest rockers ever.

“Private Joy” from Controversy (1981)

While not a guitar rocker,this song really showcased Prince and his band the Revolution evolving into itself with synth pop/new wave based dance music. It has a simple rock style melody performed on the Linn drum machine plus a few layers of synthesizers. So it showcased Prince’s ability to rock even without guitar soloing.

“Let’s Go Crazy” from Purple Rain (1984)

With it’s gospel style theatrics,fast tempo,brittle guitar and keyboard? This song might just be the moment when Prince’s rock side fully matured musically. With rock ‘n roll really being divided along racial lines after the late 60’s,this song finds Prince “bringing it back to church” by joining Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix in re-introducing rock ‘n roll with a very heavy black American musical subtext.

“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” from Sign O The Times (1987)

Prince really bought out the hand clap powered,orchestral melodic guitar sound of Phil Spector via Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street band in this extraordinarily catchy heartland style pop/rock number. This is one of Prince’s catchiest rock songs since the days of “When You Were Mine”.

“Thieves In The Temple” from Graffiti Bridge (1990) 

Prince actually did something rather unique with this song. It has a mysterious,late 80’s arena rock flavor about it’s production and guitar sound during the main choruses. But the melodic construction has a theme similar to the type that a mid 60’s jazz musician might improvise off of. That probably has a lot to do with why Herbie Hancock did an acoustic jazz version of it on his The New Standard album seven years later.

“Cream” from Diamonds And Pearls (1991)

With it’s rhythmic mix of Southern soul and countrified blues rock, this Prince hit actually hits on a very similar musical vibe to Bonnie Raitt’s hit “Something To Talk About” from the same era. Prince also takes the instrumental sound he gets with the NPG and allows the melody to just drip with that rascally,old school blues sexuality.

“Cinnamon Girl” from Musicology (2004)

Been listening to this song lately. Since the turn of the millennium,Prince began writing hook filled protest rockers more than he ever had. This one has a similar acoustic texture to his more recent song “Baltimore”. This one tells a very significant story America is still dealing with today: post 9/11 racial profiling and discrimination against those with a Muslim back-round. Prince did himself a lot of good by being one of the view high profile musical voices taking a bold lyrical stance against America’s dog whistle heavy “war on terror” of the early aughts.

“Rock And Roll Love Affair” from Hitnrun Phase 2 (2015)

Actually a couple of years old at the time of it’s album release, this song has a similar vibe to “Cream” from a quarter century ago-in terms of it’s country/blues-rock approach. Prince adds dramatic Minneapolis style synth brass to this one though. Since there’s a good possibility this might’ve been among the very last rock numbers Prince recorded,it finds this element of his sound seeming to come full circle.

As with many of the list style Prince articles I’ve written o Andresmusictalk,the erratic presence of Prince’s music via YouTube is still a factor. Songs such as “I Rock Therefore I Am” and “Fury” are not present here for that very reason. While they will be dealt with on this blog later,and in different ways? This is really about how Prince was able to evolve as a guitar soloist and pop songwriter through the rock oriented side of his artistry. Now that the man isn’t with us anymore,the seeds he planted as a guitarist from Lenny Kravitz to Gary Clark Jr. have strong potential to carry on this particular side of his legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, Blues, funk/rock, guitar, lead guitar, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, protest songs, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, synth brass, synthesizer, Uncategorized, YouTube

Prince Rogers Nelson 1958-2016: The Musical Legacy Of The Purple One

Prince 1980's

Now that a day had passed since Prince’s rather sudden death,there’s been some time to absorb everything a bit better. Henrique Hopkins and myself have been discussing Prince’s music in a funk context for years now. Everything from the strong influence of Curtis Mayfield on his falsetto voice and high on the neck guitar playing,down to his bass playing being influenced by his guitar style. Earlier I ran down some of Prince’s most influential albums throughout the years. As the man himself said last year,,albums matter.

Also on that last article,mention was made about a good deal of Prince’s most creatively satisfying works having not been mentioned in favor of the highlights. So in this article I plan to remedy some of this. As my friend Calvin Lincoln had implied,Prince’s music has been overdressed by some. And in all truth,his album’s after the early 90’s could be extremely uneven in quality. But the key element of his musical ethic was the element of surprise. When one thought he was out of steam,couldn’t rock and had lost the funk,he came back with vigor. So here are some albums that reflected this for me anyway.

Prince 1979

Prince’s sophomore album provided him with his first major pop hit in “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. Songs such as “I Feel For You”,later done by the Pointer Sisters and most famously by Chaka Khan as well as the churning funk of “Sexy Dancer” are stand out funky grooves on an album that leans heavily towards west coast style pop/rock and mildly country influenced ballads. As Prince himself said it,the album was for the radio more than for him. But in the end it balanced his musical approach and sense of pop craft very well.

I’m listing these albums together because Prince’s third album Dirty Mind  from 1980 and and fourth Controversy from 1981 could almost be part one and part two. The former album has a rougher demo like musical quality-with “Partyup”,”Head” and “Uptown” having an anti authoritarian punk funk vibe about them. The latter album was a bit sleeker musically. And an interesting attempt for Prince to address socio political concerns as they were developing. “Sexuality” and “Annie Christian” address everything from censorship to gun violence while the title song deals with his sexually and musical free outlook. He also pulls out some heavy funk on “Let’s Work” as well. These are two albums that really lend themselves well to be heard together.

Purple Rain

Prince knew this 1984 album was going to be his commercial breakthrough album. In hindsight it’s also the album that still has a lot of radio oriented music lovers convinced (incorrectly,really) that Prince was primarily a rock based artist. And probably on purpose. That’s because this album doesn’t have much funk/soul content on it. At the same time,it could best be described as progressive new wave/synth rock at the cutting edge instrumentally-with the bass-less classic “When Does Cry”,the brittle “I Would Die 4 U” and “Computer Blue” leading the way. That plus the fierce gospel hard rocker “Let’s Go Crazy” and the arena anthem title cut really gave Prince the huge audience he has today. And it served to musically illustrate the semi autobiographical feature film of the same name.

Parade

Parade was Prince’s second soundtrack for his second film in 1986 called Under The Cherry Moon marked the ethos of a massive change in musical priorities for Prince. The electronic orchestrations of the Minneapolis sound are replaced by the sweeping strings of Claire Fischer and the sax of newcomer Eric Leeds. These shows up on the cinematic “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”,”Life Can Be So Nice” and “Mountains”. Still Prince throws down some of his most powerful funk with “Girls & Boys”,”Anotherloverholeinyohead” and the iconic hit “Kiss”-with it’s Curtis Mayfield style falsetto and that high up on the neck guitar.

Sign O The Times

Perhaps this is Prince’s most personally defining album in his career. The history of this 1987 album is enough for at least one whole article. Started as a whole other type of project during a massive period of recording the year before,it eventually became a double album. It has the uneven quality of a greatest hits album,with songs sounding as if they come from totally different sessions. But the strength of all the material make it all work.

It has it all-from soul ballads like “Slow Love”,pop/rockers such as “Play In The Sunshine” and “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” to the proto alternative/grunge sound of “The Cross”. The funk comes in many varieties from the full on JB groove of “Housequake”,the slow grinding “If I Was Your Girlfriend” to the danceable hit “U Got The Look”. There’s also two more distinctive numbers in the jazzy funk of “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” and the dreamy melodic piano pop of “Starfish And Coffee”.

The Black Album

Prince apparently recorded this album in 1987 to be played at a birthday party for drummer Sheila E,who was playing in his band Madhouse at the time. From “Le Grind” to “Rockhard In A Funky Place” at the end,this album is almost a non stop hard funk stomp. Save for the sweet ballad “When 2 R In Love”. Prince is basically playing up one big sexual orgy on all these lyrics-allegedly to showcase he hadn’t sold out. He abruptly shelved this album and didn’t put it out until 1994. But it’s a great party funk album if one is in a particularly rascally mood.

Graffiti Bridge

Prince’s third soundtrack to his final and least successful motion picture isn’t a full Prince album per se. It features many productions of his from Paisley Park signed artists such as George Clinton,Mavis Staples and the revived lineup of The Time. As for Prince’s contributions,he has some mutant funk/rockers here such as “Elephants & Flowers”,”Tick Tack Bang” and the epic,jazzy arena rocker “Thieves In The Temple”,his first hit of the 1990’s.

Love Symbol Album

This very elusive concept album from 1992 actually focuses a great deal on the funk side of things with another JB sendup with “Sexy MF” leading the way. “The Sacrifice Of Victor” keeps the funk stripped down in classic Prince style as he waxes nostalgic on the Civil Rights movement. With the psychedelic soul/gospel of “7” leading the way,this largely hip-hop inflected album finds Prince as a bandleader for the NPG “taking it back to Church” as they say in fully rediscovering his black American musical roots.

Emancipation

This 1996 triple CD set was the newest Prince album to come out when I was first getting into exploring his albums. From “We Gets Up”,”Get Your Groove On”,”Sex In The Summer” and the big band sounding “Sleep Around” represent some of his most massive funk of the 90’s decade-along with the synth heavy Minneapolis groove of “New World” and the jazzy opener “Jam Of The Year” and the witty hip-hop of “Style”. Some of the music on this album,as with much of Prince’s output at the time,hasn’t musically aged well. But when the grooves cooks,it cooks up a storm!

Musicology

Prince made a huge statement towards his music being based in funk with the title track of this 2004 album-another James Brown influenced number in the vein of “Housequake” and “Sexy MF”. This is an album of mostly pop/rockers and 60’s style soul ballads generally. Of the rockers Prince does provide a powerful message song in “Cinnamon Girl”,in which he discusses how the post 9/11 events are leading to discrimination of Muslim Americans.

MPLsound

Prince packaged this 2009 album with another of his entitled Lotusflow3r and female protege Bria Valente’s debut Elixer-exclusively at Target stores at the time. With songs such as “Chocolate Box” and “Dance 4 Me”,Prince began the reboots the 80’s Minneapolis sound this album is named for with it’s use of the Linn drum machine and synth brass. While the album itself represent Prince making his music harder to find by seeking new distribution methods,it paved the way for it’s harder to find follow up 20Ten and represents him re-embracing a sound he was in on the ground floor with.

Art Official Age

This 2014 albums turned out to be one of Prince’s final studio albums. Released after a five year hiatus from releasing any new material publicly,it also found him back on Warner Bros. after years of fighting them over artists rights. It’s something of a ground zero for Prince-donning an Afro as he did at the very start of his career and working with a younger producer Joshua Welton. The album is home to two major funk blowouts in “The Gold Standard” and the jazzy “Breakfast Can Wait”-along with some sincere efforts to embrace modern pop and rock production techniques.

I am sure there are many people who’d have very different content in such a list. As much as Prince effected me in terms of his championing of creative freedom for artists? It’s hard to get away from the fact that he died having not effectively been able to embrace online streaming and video (such as YouTube and Vimeo),and became a hostile litigant against anyone who shared his music online in lieu of him doing it. The history of the physical music media he embraced is unknown. But as long as his music exists in some form,it’s important for young people (especially aspiring musicians) to listen to and learn from his grooves.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, Funk, Joshua Welton, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, psychedelic soul, Purple Rain, rock 'n' roll, Uncategorized, YouTube

Anatomy of THE Groove: “On The Case” by Alphonso Johnson

Alphonso Johnson seems to me as a bassist whose contributions to the iconic fusion band Weather Report are rather under heralded. That could be because he was sandwiched in between their original bass player Miroslav Vitous and of course Jaco Pastorious. As a session man,he joined up with Billy Cobham on and off for many years. He also had stints back up Genesis/Phil Collins on multiple occasions as well playing on former LTD lead singer Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 solo debut. The reason I personally tend to view Johnson as a rather obscure artist is because I only found out that he even had a solo career at all just under a decade ago. And have the feeling I may not be the only one.

One of the greatest things to happen in the post millennium internet age is the advent of two things: reissue record labels and YouTube. If it weren’t for those two things, this blog would be a lot different than it is. In 1976-1977 during his years with Cobham,Alphonso Johnson recorded three solo albums on the Epic label. These featured the backing of some of the major fusion instrumentalists of the time-all touched by the music of Alphonso in some kind of way. I have two on vinyl,since the CD versions were difficult to locate upon going out of print. Only his second album Moonshadows was something I was able to locate on CD. And one song that stood out on it for me was “On The Case”.

Alphonso starts off with a shuffling bass solo that has a bluesy,up-scaling melody that is very similar in tone to the electric piano solo on Steely Dan’s ” Black Friday”. Drummer Narada Michael Walden keeps that shuffle going while Dawilli Conga adds a counter melody on electric piano. Separated by progressive fusion bursts of intense drums, Alphonso’s solos expand along with the electric piano into fuzz toned psychedelia. On the second refrain,Lee Ritenour plays a mid toned rhythm guitar solo. This grows to a heavier intensity with the solo Lee takes on the third and final refrain of the song. Conga’s electric piano leads the shuffling rhythm to the songs fade out.

This particular song always stuck out to me with how much it finds the funk in the blues and the blues when it rocks. The rhythmic base of the song is in a strong groove-with Narada staying on the one primarily through the use of hi hat. And all of the musicians understanding of the jazz/rock fusion style comes out here as well. Alphonso’s funkiness on the bass gives it all a phat center that keeps the focus consistent.  I’ve started to realize that rock ‘n’ roll is often a far simpler musical form than it might like itself to be. Yet with the combination of jazz harmonies and electric funk within the fusion genre,songs like this found a great middle ground in which to rock up the funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Alphonso Johnson, bass guitar, Blues, Epic Records, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lee Ritenour, Narada Michael Walden, Psychedelia, rock 'n' roll, Steely Dan, Uncategorized, YouTube

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/17/2015: “U.S.A Groove” by Alan Hawkshaw

The genesis of this post began with my father. Thirteen years ago,he excitedly had me listen to a various artists compilation entitled Cinemaphonic  2: Soul Punch. It consisted of fourteen short funk/soul instrumentals created for British library albums. These were used as incidental music for different television shows and motion pictures.  Later on my friend Henry Cooper,himself a musician got me listening to more UK library music through the KPM series. Interestingly enough? One caught my ears through a different source.

One day while surfing YouTube? I came across this old Sesame Street sketch called “Walk”. The backup music thrilled me so much? I looked in the comment section for more on it. Turns out it composed and performed on such a library disc by a session pianist named Alan Hawkshaw-who had backed up acts ranging from the UK rock instrumental group The Shadows in 1969 to playing on Donna Summer’s album Once Upon A Time eight years later. It’s probably the shortest song I’ve done at only 44 seconds. And it’s entitled “U.S.A. Groove”.

It all kicks into with a chunky,bassy rhythm guitar playing the hard rocking basic groove of the song. It’s first accompanied by a short burst of conga’s and than a dramatic organ burst before the drums kick off into the body of the song itself. That body maintains it’s opening guitar riff,only as an element of a broader groove. That groove’s whole consists of a soulful organ solo from Hawkshaw-along with phat percussion pushing everything along. The song ends with a very dramatic crescendo wherein the drum and organ dramatically come to a halt.

After hearing this? It doesn’t come to any surprise to me that Hawkshaw’s music has been widely sampled by hip-hoppers. But only one particular number of his entitled “The Champ” has. Because this particular jam is short and so easily loopable? It’s just the sort of tune for such purposes. It’s also an example of how in the hands of an adept and diversified instrumentalist? As much funk can be packed into a groove under a minute as one would find in a four minute song. It’s actually one of my very favorite funk instrumentals-partly for that very reason.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Alan Hawkshaw, Funk, funk guitar, funk/rock, guitar, library music, Sampling, UK Funk, YouTube

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/14/2015: “Holiday Love” by Tuxedo

Tuxedo have already been pretty thoroughly covered on Andresmusictalk already. And it looks like Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One are at it again. Just in time for the holidays too. Since I got back into doing this blog with my “five days of funk” concept?  Have had some difficulty finding any nu funk to cover,which was part of my original intention. And this single of a new Stone’s Throw label compilation came at me via my YouTube subscription to the duo’s channel on that site. And the name of the song is “Holiday Love”.

The groove gets going with a percussive,mid tempo drum machine rhythm. This is first accompanied by a glossy orchestral keyboard harmony, along with a round and brittle synth bass line. The chorus is sung Roger Troutman style by Jake through a Vocoder. On the second chorus sung with Hawthorne harmonizing on lead? It’s all accompanied by the sound of sleigh bells in a similar manner to the Average White Band’s “School Boy Crush” from 40 years ago this year. It all outro’s it begins, along with the orchestral synth wailing away.

In many ways? This song completes an important multi generational triad of Christmas themed funk. It probably began with James Brown’s “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” in the late 60’s,continued on a couple years later with Donny Hathaway’s iconic funky soul of “This Christmas” and ends with the 80’s electro funk revivalism of this jam from Tuxedo. Musically it blends elements of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and Zapp’s “Computer Love”. Topped off with Mayer Hawthorne’s soulfully honey’d lead vocals.

Message wise the song is right on time. The music video depicts Mayer and Jake pitching woo to their girlfriends-culminating with drinking wine in bed-while all sharing in their musically creative process. It’s just a simple idea of setting time aside for your romantic partner as a holiday gift. Since the last three holiday seasons have consisted mainly of depressing,gun related mass shootings and the conservatively motivated contrivance of the “war on Christmas”? This funk will not only move,but might just remove those undesired effects this holiday season.

 

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", 2015, bass synthesizer, Christmas music, Donny Hathaway, drum machine, elecro funk, Jake One, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Mayer Hawthorne, Stone Throw Records, synth bass, synth funk, Tuxedo, YouTube

Anatomy of THE Groove 8/29/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Breakfast Can Wait” by Prince

In the past several years,Prince seems to have been concentrating more on the means by which to distribute his music than in actually releasing anything. Many,including myself,have seen this as a source of frustration. To paraphrase my blogging partner Rique? Any and all new Prince releases are seen,within the funk musician/admirer communities ,as being a major event. After all,just about every funky artist these days with a strong instrumental acumen site Prince as a primarily influence. With the majority of Prince’s music absent from YouTube,a Vevo video service showed up last year for him. It included one video to one song that,according to Amazon,features sleeve art picturing Dave Chappelle in his comic impression of Prince holding a place of pancakes. Very appropriate-especially considering the name of the song is “Breakfast Can Wait”.

It all starts off with what sounds like sizzling on a grill (a very funky sound effect,if I may say so myself) and goes into a drum kickoff after which a a fender rhodes starts into what is an intermingled blend of electric piano,phat popping slap bass lines which Prince revved up upon each refrain and a very steady variation of the stop-start drum machine pattern Prince helped pioneer over 30 years ago on the LINN. Lyrically he focuses on a similar metaphor that James Brown once used to describe musical ideas he wanted-“Pass The Peas” and so forth. Only this time,the focus is very much on a…very physical wake up call where Prince tells his lady lover “Grits and gravy,cheese eggs and jam/can nobody cook like you girl”. On the final refrain of the song,the melody slips into the minor chords a bit with Prince vocals having a modern variation of his late 80’s “chipmunked” vocal effect used as part of his Camille persona.

One of the things about this song that hit me right off is how immediately jazzy the groove is. Its very stripped down in classic Prince style. On the other hand,it explores a side of his musical spectrum that he doesn’t showcase all that often. I’ve always felt the jazz idiom and Prince’s persona went very well together as he musically matured. Wynton Marsalis once coined that the original meaning for jazz for him was procreation-a possible result of the sexuality Prince has always projected. However there’s also a profundity to that since Prince’s music is also always recreating itself-stretching one idea into another. And on this album? Prince’s renowned instrumental talents actually take on a similar direction as to the conceptualizations of The Roots’ Questlove-a jazzy live instrumental hip-hop sound based strongly in funk. Since this showcases Prince’s realization that funk is a total bottom line of his entire musical concept? There’s strong signs some of his strongest grooves are still yet ahead of him.

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Filed under ?uestlove, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown, Jazz, Minneapolis, Prince