Music for the Next ONE 1/15/16: “Jump Start” by Nathalie Cole

The turning of the year 2016 AD has already brought somber reflections for those of us who grew up on late 20th century soul, pop, R&B and rock. Some of the musical deaths we’ve endured have included luminaries such as Nick Caldwell of the mighty Whispers, and the protean David Bowie. The first one to catch me off guard was the passing of Ms. Nathalie Cole. Nathalie Cole was one of those people of tremendous strength, because she lived her life with great health challenges that she never allowed to get in the way of sharing her gifts with the world. I remember marveling in recent years over how she could conduct tours while also taking dialysis treatments daily, and then three times a day. Nathalie Cole’s death is difficult because when I looked at her beautiful face, besides her tremendous talent, I always saw the mothers, aunties, church ladies, Teachers, real estate brokers, and many other women who made up the black community when I was growing up. She was always, despite her personal troubles, a beacon of class in the entertainment field, and I followed her through venues such as her Television talent competition “Big Break”, on to her great success with “Unforgettable” in 1992, and beyond. My prenatal grew up with the music of her father and that carried right on to their love of her music as well. I, along with my buddy Andre Grindle, have always talked about the year 1987 as really great years for us, musically s well as personally. Well, “Jump Start (My Heart)”, with it’s cute, catchy refrain, was a huge funky comeback hit for Nathalie in that year, that I remember vividly from Bay Are radio stations like KMEL, KSOL, and KDIA.

“Jump Start” was written by Reggie Calloway, and produced by him along with his brother Vincent. The Calloways had a strong funk pedigree, being members of the great early ’80s funk band Midnight Star. The Calloways productions such as “Operator” and “No Parking on the Dance Floor” found a fresh new electro funk direction for the music. The Calloways also gave the late ’80s much of it’s synth funk sheen,producing some of my personal favorites such as “Joy” for Tesdy Pendergrass, “Love Overboard” for Gladys Knight & The Pips, and “Cassanova” for Levert. In retrospect, they were responsible for much of the musical vitality I felt in 1987 R&B!

One of the things I love about this joint is how the Calloway’s take time to establish the groove before Ms. Cole comes in to do her thing. The song begins with some rather wistful sounding block chords on a digital keyboard, sounding somewhat like a digital keyboard’s impression of an enchanced Fender Rhodes electric piano, but also having it’s own unique, thin and slightly whispy digital character. In addition. To the chords the keyboardists right hand plays a melancholy little four note riff that sets the song up. Of course when I was a young tyke, next to some of the old bluesy ’60s R&B I still heard around town, sounds like this were the height of modern sophistication. After that plays, the all powerful ’80s construction worker drum beat comes in. The drum beat is unique in where it leaves space though, instead of keeping up a steady hammering beat, it starts and stops in a manner that is melodic in it’s own right, laying the perfect rhythmic template for the bass line that will come in later. The drum part is also supported by an active cowbell part that does much to add some human groove alongside the powerfully steady drum machine beat. Nathalie says “Alright ya’ll” as if she’s letting the band know it can come in, and let’s out some soulful vocalizing, as the ultra funky, whip tight ’80s one note, mid register funky guitar falls in line. The next instrument to be introduced is the super funky keyboard bass, which has the sound of a digital keyboard’s impression of a Mini Moog. Again, instead of hammering out every beat, the Calloways lay down a synth part that is syncopated, choppy, jumpy, and very melodically memorable as a result.

The lyrical story that Nathalie Cole handles with finesse is one very appropriate both for a star on the “comeback” trail and a person like herself, in her mid thirties at that time. She starts it off “Feels like my batteries/in need of a jump”, with rhythmic slickness in her handling of that line. She asks the target of her song to, “give me a spark/to get the fire burning/get my engine moving/set these wheels a turning.” Nathalie does this all with slick rhythmic sophistication, making some very tricky lines sound easy, and if u don’t believe me, just cue this up at Karaoke one day. The video is one of those fun 80s things, full of high color saturation and people getting down at the park while Nathalie and her dancers bring the house down. What’s not to love?

“Jump Start” went all the way up to #2 on the R&B charts in ’87, which got Nathalie Cole over a 1980s slump and got her back in the realm of visibility that would pave the way for her triumphant success singing her fathers songs alongside him in 1992. Chuck D talks about how Black musical artists are like your aunts and uncles growing up. Well for sure, Nathalie Cole was my aunt in 1987, as this jam was the soundtrack to all kinds of functions. And it will always be that type of fun, friskieness with class I will remember about Ms. Cole, from “This Will Be” on through the rest of her fantastic career.

1 Comment

Filed under FUNK, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters, Uncategorized

Riquespeaks : Looking Ahead to 2016….what’s in store

image

2015 has been an eventful year both on this blog and in my life as a whole. The year was my first full one after having left Oakland and moving to a neighboring East Bay city, and I was extremely busy at work. My primary blogging outlet was on my friend Andre Grindle’s blog, Andresmusictalk, where I developed the “Anatomy of the Groove” column and encouraged several other developments on that blog. “Anatomy of The Groove” enabled me to do something that is one of my passions, write about and promote new good music, specifically in the real, of funky music. The other exciting development in my writing career was I began writing for a new online and print magazine, “Kwee, The Liberian Literary Journal.” My involvement with the Journal stemmed from blog postings that my readers here at riquespeaks enjoyed the most, several of my posts that dealt with pre war history in the country of Liberia, West Africa. These posts on Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, and Hugh Masekela were a heartfelt contribution from me to Liberian history, information my musical digging lead me to that I knew others would appreciate as well. The response my readers gave to them, sharing and reporting them lead to this exciting oppurtunity, writing for a magazine that aims to create and strengthen a literary culture for Liberians. I enjoy writing for “Kwee” because it’s a very creative assignment, and it involves my favorite part of writing, the resarch it takes to get the facts straight. The creativity comes from unearthing little known stories about Liberia and crafting them in a way so as to broaden the narrative, history and story of Liberia. It can be a very challenging task, but as such it’s also the most rewarding. It allows me to go beyond e typical bloggers obsession with stuff I like into something that is important to a larger sphere of people. As such, in three short years of blogging, my Liberia posts and articles at Kwee represent, my whole reason for doing this.

Being the loyal Scorpio I am though, I always dance with who brought me. riquespeaks Is still of the utmost importance to me because of the immediacy and freedom it offers me as a writer. I also dig the time bomb nature of blogs, how something I wrote two years ago can blow up out of nowhere, and totally beyond my control. I anticipate 2016 to be my busiest writing year yet. My activities at “Kwee” will continue, as I strive to refine my articles and continue telling the story of Liberia in the larger world. 2016 is an election year, and I plan to do more of my own brand of political commentary, focusing not so much on policies and numbers, but on the thoughts behind political events and what they say about us as a nation. You can also of course look forward to plenty of reviews of the music, books, and movies that I feel set new templates for Black/African creative expression in 2016, as well as retrospectives on some of my old favorites. I will continue the column I introduced this year “Music for the Next ONE”, which deals with contemporary, non ’70s funk music. Some artists who will be featured soon are XL Middleton, Anderson Paak, and I will also continue to deal with under the radar funk from the 1980s, ’90s and ’00s, maybe with more passion than before. My appreciation for funky songs in the past 25 years or so continues to grow as I realize how much funk we had in a time the Funk was downplayed as a genre. To that I will be adding a new column that will deal with those funk classics of the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s. Though I know records like “Brick House” and “Shining Star” were much enjoyed in their times, I think there is still more to be said about the big time funk. I’d like to collect some of these funk stories out there in one place, give my own impressions of the music, talk a little bit about the structure of these songs and their appeal musically, and discuss what their impact has been over the 50, 40, or 35 years they’ve been around. Including how they’ve been sampled, covered, or used in television and film. I also have many other things coming up, but I’ll let them develop before I speak on them. But here are a few things you will be able to read for sure on the blog this year:

“Ben Carson and Islam”: Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson made some remarks a few months ago about the possibility of a Muslim President that provided a teachable moment I felt America let drift off it’s radar screen. It’s far easier to show outrage, for or against, than to have a sensible discussion in America today. While I feel what Ben Carson said was unwise, I do feel it was based on a point of view about America that is legitimate. The only problem is when Dr. Carson points the finger at Muslims, he has three pointing back at American religious fundamentalists of all stripes. America missed a chance given to us by Dr. Carson’s comments to discuss religion, Democracy, and whether or not any religious fundamentalist, Christian or Muslim, can serve this nation and retain the individual liberty and freedom of choice that is supposed to be a part of this nations soul. I will kick start that conversation here.

“20 years of Funk”: Rickey Vincent’s seminal book, “Funk: The Music, People, and Rhythm of the One” will turn 20 years old in 2016. This book is the reason I blog and write about Funk. I cannot underestimate it’s importance for me. Now, Funk was always my favorite music. It took me a long time to appreciate ballads, and the synth pop dance records of my youth could only satisfy me up to a certain point. I always loved Hip Hop, but musically it has it’s limits as well. But until Rickey Vincent did his book, I had no proper language to put James Brown, P Funk, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Public Enemy, Grover Washington Jr, and Michael Jackson in the same stream of music. The industry would call one Soul, the other R&B, the other Hip Hop, some Jazz, all to the detriment of the understanding of “funk.” I knew the groove but I didn’t know it represented such a thorough cultural system, really the cultural breakthrough and attitude of the decade of the 1970s. My understanding has grown from there into finding funk “in all aisles of the record store”. Now some of my favorite funk songs come from artists who cut in many different genres. I thank Rickey for this understanding he blessed me with and I will celebrate it this coming year.

“Dad and two Jazz Visions of Liberia”: I did an article in “Kwee” about two jazz records dedicated to Liberia, by the tenor saxophonists Curtis Amy, and the great John Coltrane. Since the article in “Kwee” was for the public at large, I didn’t get as personal on how those two records remind me of Dad and his time in Liberia in particular and why they are so special personally. In 2016 I will write about that here.

Review of “Midnight”: I’ve always felt, since I first read “The Coldest Winter Ever” that Sister Souljah’s book cycle was a major work. On my last birthday, 11-11-15, Souljah released the novel that saw her beloved hero character, Midnight, end up in jail. I hesitate to review the Midnight books because I enjoy reading them so much. In this review I will explore why I feel Souljah’s wide international sweep, ethical vision for African people’s, and unique viewpoints on Manhood outweigh her preachiness and often times prosaic and stilted language. Souljah’s “Midnight” represents her critique of America, as well as her solutions for Black people in America. I never cease to be amazed by the thoroughness of her vision and critique and the almost scriptural life system she lays out in her “Midnight” books. It’s almost like the comprehensive cultural critique of her old group Public Enemy put into book form.

“Pharrell and the Art of Interpolation”: the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit shined a light on a creative technique that has always existed in Hip Hop (and music as a whole). Pharrell Williams has been a master in his musical career of taking the feeling of older pieces of music without electronically sampling them or copying them wholesale. This series will be a celebration of his music and his influences, as well a s either a possible defense, or further indictment, depending on your outlook.

“Its Time for A Bill Russell Statue in Oakland”: We all know Gertrude Stein’s famous Oakland quote, “there’s no there, there.” While that quote is almost always taken out of context, sometimes we try our damnedest to make it true in The Town it would seem. One of the problems is we don’t preserve or create enough landmarks to represent our cities rich history and potentials. In Bill Russell, we have the greatest winning player in NBA history. As such, Mr. Russell is also a symbol of the journey of the black community to Oakland during the second great migration, which provided Oakland with the dynamic Black population that defined the city for half a century. As a great example of sportsmanship, dedication, humanitarianism and achievement, Bill Russell is one of the greatest people to come through the Oakland public school system. Honoring him here would symbolize the achievements of the time period during which Oakland became the most diverse city in America and a city talked about all across the globe.

“Miss Veronica”: a tribute to a dear friend and mentor I lost in 2015.

There is much more in store but that is just a little bit to whet the palette. I’d like to wish my readers much success and happiness in the coming year, thank you for your support and make sure to check in with me in 2016!

1 Comment

Filed under Appreciation, Oakland-Bay Area

Music for the Next ONE 12/5/15: “Famous” by The Internet

I was introduced to the music of L.A based band The Internet by my good friend and musical associate Andre Grindle, when he wrote about their Nu-Funk banger “Dontcha”, produced by Chad Hugo of The Neptunes. That song is a funky tune that struck me for it’s fresh takes on “I Need a Freak” by Sexual Harrasment and “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave, melded with a dry, Neo-Soul influenced studio sound, prominent phat drums, and singer Syd the Kid’s sensually soulful vocals. There was something about this combination of regular looking Black kids playing instrumental, Hip Hop inflected modern R&B Funk that activated my hope genes. And I’m not the only one, as their music became a favorite of most of my music loving friends, without any prior discussion among us about the bands dopeness. One of my favorite music podcasts, “The Music Snobs”, actually recorded an episode with the conversation starter of a theme, “Is the group The Internet the future of R&B?” As the band represents for me a package of good instrumental Funky R&B, with a dynamically modern, relate able and up to date image, with a slyly charismatic front in Syd the Kid, who breaks new ground with her boyish stud vibe. It’s not enough for a would be paradigm shifting Black band to simply play instruments, they must also make those instruments relate able to a young public nourished on drum machines and samplers, beyond the traditional instrumental mainstays of the church and school band room. Today’s Funk feature, “Famous”, is an uptempo stepper released as a digital bonus to their 2015 album, “Ego Death.”

“Famous” wastes no time jumping on the One, starting off with a lead in snare fill from the drummer, setting off the groove at a brisk tempo. The groove has an uptempo Afro-Latin syncopated funk feel, executed as crisply as a funky song from Earth, Wind & Fire, Barry White, M.J, or Sade. The bass line’s broken up syncopated beats combine to create a funky, quick, short and simple pattern. This bass pattern leaves space for the funky, low rhythm guitar part, which goes from single line to emphasizing the holes in the groove with chopping guitar chords. The drum part is recorded in the bands trademark crisp drum style! with. Sizzling hi hats and an anticipatory kick drum. Every fourth bar the instruments stop the groove a fraction of a beat early, creating a bouncy, stop/start groove.

At the chorus, the chords are extended out, the bass has more room to play notes, and the guitar strumming becomes more prominent, as the vocals are enhanced by a multi tracked choir of Syd the Kid’s. Syd flips the script with her lyrics on this one, making the traditional, “I can make you famous”, casting couch romantic jive from a female stud’s perspective. Syd sings “You have something special/I can tell just by the way you dance.” “if you knew girl/the things that I could do for your career.” The whole band punches out a James Brown horn like band “stab” to move from the chorus to the next verse, which is enriched by Fender Rhodes sustained chording. The music grows in nuance, as the guitar adds wahw ah slides up the neck to accentuate the holes in the groove. The song also goes into a slow/rubato/free time breakdown before kicking the groove back into high gear, with the rhythm guitar and drummer in particular showing up to show out.

What I appreciate so much about this joint is the usage of traditional groove band techniques in a modern context. Even a tremendously funky groove like “Uptown Funk” sounds like a “track”. In this song, The Internet steps toward mastering the Funk band ability to create a wall of sound with limited musicians, in this case, 5. The way the drummer kicks it off at the top, then goes to the ride cymbal to give the chorus a different texture, the contrast in bass feels on the verse and chorus, the ratcheting up of guitar activity as the band progresses, the horn stabs that spee rate the chorus from the following verses, the slowing down of the song and picking it back up to end with energy; all musical techniques of a tight, well rehearsed, BAND. They ain’t trying to emulate drum machines or sequenced loops on this one, they’re giving you a sound only a well rehearsed band can give you. And Syd puts a new sincerity to the line, “I can make you famous.” It all adds upto The internet taking this live band thing very seriously!

2 Comments

Filed under Music for the Next ONE

Music for the Next ONE 11/14/15 : “Zillionaire” by Nao

Jazz musicians used to say the true test of a jazz musicians expressive ability was how they played ballads and slow tempos. One could similarly say as far as Funk, there is nothing quite like a slow, dirty tempo in bringing out all the various musical techniques and sensations we deem “funky.” Today’s post, “Zillionaire” by Nao, is a mean, sleek humper with a glossy, retro futuristic pop finish, like the space funk of Missy’s late ’90s work. Nao is a singer-songwriter based in the U.K, blessing us with our daily funk this weekend.

The song begins with a classic funky intro, the bass synthesizer and a higher pitched French horn-ish synth tone, playing a line in unison, but yet slightly and subtly emphasizing and falling on different beats. Behind that a kick drum sparingly plays in classic J Dilla/D’Angelo/Questlove style, sometimes slightly anticipating the second beat, other times reaching the egg just a hair before the “One.” In classic funk style, it’s important to set the groove up first, and the two bar phrase does that for four bars, then the beat drops, and when it does, it lays go go percussion all over the dance floor, with Nao singing some ad libs over the top. The kick drum continues on in that “slightly ahead/slightly late” style introduced by the great Jay Dee.

The groove keeps on churning, with Nao’s voice being phased as she sings and slap bass making it’s presence felt. Nao sings a story based on the idea of her having a lot of money and how she would use that to please her beloved, but she does not sing about purchasing material things so much as the vistas being “richer than a zillionaire” would open up. When She goes into the chorus the musical backdrop goes into more chaotic, freaky sounding electronic effects, very much like the type you’d hear in electronic based dance musics. The drumbeat under the chorus is also more straight forward in it’s rhythmic timing. After the first chorus the groove goes back to the synth bass and synth lead in unison, with some pitched 808 style drums adding texture. From 3:20 on, the track vamps out on a heavy, pure funk octave bass figure.

“Zillionaire” accomplishes something that makes me very happy, even though I know some other Funkateers might easily dismiss it. It’s a short, concise funk tune in the guise of a modern R&B/Pop song, a sleek, sexy, inviting Trojan horse to get the One back on the radio. Nao builds her 2015 Funk on top of the ideas and sounds of late ’90s/early 2000s R&B, the Rodney Jerkin’s, Brandy, Neptunes, Timbaland, Missy Elliot, Aaliyah side of it, artists who worked with electronics but had a great deal of Funk in their approaches. One thing I usually think about with a heavily programmed song like this, is how would the local Funk band that plays weddings handle it? I could see this groove being a very nasty vehicle for musicians to lay some grease over, a slow funk bomb like Rufus & Chaka’s “Tell Me Something Good.” As it stands I love Nao’s pretty voice, and the poetic imagery of her lyrics, over such a low down and nasty (as Robots can be) groove!

Leave a comment

Filed under FUNK, Music for the Next ONE

Music for the NEXT One 10/31/15 : “Living Life” by Malice and Mario Sweet ft. Geologic

Finding new Funk is always a delight, and this weekends song marks the first time I found some on Twitter! Malice and Mario Sweet are a husband and wife modern soul, funk and R&B act hailing from the Emrald City, Seattle, Washington. Back in the early 2000s, Kofy Brown pretended to be a couple act, releasing the classic “After Party”, which we hope to cover one day. But the Sweet’s are the real deal. Today’s tune, “Living Life” is a very special one, combining a dope Linn Drum beat with a phat laid back funk groove and The Sweets tasty vocals.

The tune begins with a drum machine kick off in the vein of the classic snare heavy intro to Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You.” From there the groove kicks in with classic MPLS style swagger. The drumbeat incorporates the phat snares and unique timings of the MPLS era of funk, while the sub toned bass is strong and resolute, accented by bass guitar pops, while a mellow Rhodes tone comes in right on top of the beat and sustains. Malice and Mario lay beautiful, jazzy, behind the beat melodious lines on top of the easy flowing funk track. Synth tones spice up the groove as Malice and Mario set the mood, speaking about the end of a day, when people settle down from the hustle and bustle and get their own thing going.

:55 in the music hits a nice chord sequence/change to support the group’s assertion that they “ain’t trying to be no one else but Me.” The chorus of “I’m just out here living my life” soon comes into play, backed by an interesting bass line with a suspended chord flavoring. From there the groove begins to heat up, as the group sings “And Everybody’s dancing/profiling and romancing.” Rhythm guitar adds further support to the groove as the bass gets more room to work. The music goes back to the top, as Malice comes in like Janet on “Control”, “When I was 17/I did what people told me.” As she develops her verse the bass guitar begins to play some hip, funky/jazzy runs in the rhythmic holes left by her verse. She ends making the proclamation “I’m standing on my own two feet”, which leads the way for the chorus of “I’m just out here living my life” to re appear. ” Geologic pops in after this to drop a rap verse of the unusual length of 10 bars, in which he tells us in my favorite line that he’s “Hungry/but bullshit’s off the menu.” The song goes out with an extended vamp that gives the vocalists room to express, and breaks it all the way down to the instruments for it’s final bow.

“Living Life” is an example of the excellent quality music that exists off most of our radio dials and television screens that can be found on the World Wide Web. And it’s the type of song and group that represent why I do this blog. Some of my friends ask me from time to time, “how do you find this stuff?” In this particular instance, because of other things I was writing, the group and song found me. One of my best friends, Frank, sometimes gets into a habit of parroting that old line, “there’s no good music out there”, which I gotta tell him is hogwash. There’s a truckload, but the traditional channels no longer bring it to you! “Living Life” sounds like a prime time, drive time, lazy days of Summer, cocktails and grilled skewers hit to me! Big props to the artists involved, and you can be sure to hear more from Malice and Mario on this blog from now ’till!

1 Comment

Filed under FUNK, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters

Wilton Felder : Remembering a Crusader

image

Last month marked the passing of one of my favorite musicians, Wilton Felder, Tenor Saxophonist and co-founder of the legendary Jazz-Funk group The (Jazz) Crusaders, and a great session bass player as well. His brother Crusaders, Joe Sample and Wayne Henderson, pianist and trombonist respectively, passed last year, leaving drummer Nesbert “Stix” Hooper as the sole surviving founding member.

The Crusaders music is among the music closest to my heart, alongside that of the other legendary musicians of their era and every era since. The Crusaders music in particular stands out for me because they were able to create a sound that was both earthy and sophisticated at the same time. I got into their music, like so many artists I’ve mentioned on this blog, growing up in my household. My father, Herman, was a huge fan of their music. He was a fan of blues and jazz in all forms, from the chamber school, to the Big bands, from jazz vocalists and crooners, to the way out musicians of free jazz, and from field folk blues recordings to the electrified city blues, right on down to soul inflected blues. But I think at the end of the day the music I associate him with the most is the variations of jazz that tried to maintain it’s roots in the black community, jazz with a full bodied sound that excelled both as romantic music and at finger popping time.

There have been many artists that fit this category, such as Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, Ray Charles, Cannonball Adderley, Lou Donaldson, Les McCann, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Milt Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Grover Washington Jr, Roy Ayers, George Duke, the list goes on and on and on. Many of these artists have faced more than their share of criticism over the years, mainly for “selling out”, the same charge I would see branded on artists chests like a scarlet letter in the Hip Hop 1990s. But I think there was something in particular about this type of music that reflected the type of person Dad was,and what his journey had been. All of these artists had the specialized, elite musical knowledge that it takes to play jazz, and yet retained a close connection to their roots in the rural and urban Black community’s of their day.

Pops left Arkansas in the late ’40s, serving in the military in the Korean War and eventually settling in San Francisco. He became a Lawyer and spent a large portion of his life in West Africa, in the Republic of Liberia, and was fortunate to do things very few got a chance to do during his time period. However, all of his close friends that I knew were similar in the same way. Their journeys had taken them many places. Most Black men I knew of that generation had very interesting journeys that took them into interesting areas, if they were trying to get anywhere at all. Their early experiences, picking cotton, vegetables, and other such humble experiences kept them grounded. Pops was well spoken, studious, strict in many ways, well read, imaginative, and very hip. Dad, and the members of his generation for the most part had seen and been through too much to reach the type of Black elitism and conservatism we see from people like Larry Elder and Dr. Ben Carson.

Now I did all of that personal talk to say, Mr. Wilton Felder and the Crusaders truly represented all of this in their music, as well as the way they came to making that music. The Crusaders came together in Houston, Texas, and made the decision to further their career in music in Los Angeles. The Bay Area, where I’m from, got it’s major influx of black residents in the 1940s-60s. The Crusaders came out to Los Angeles,and made someday fairly well received jazz albums. But the ’60s would prove to be a tough decade for jazz, with the free thing of Ornette Coleman alienating many listeners, the Motown sound booming and a general explosion of youth culture. By the end of the decade, The Crusaders had dropped the “Jazz” from their name, and some critics would argue from their sound.

The R&B fans always considered them a “Jazz” group however. Being excellent musicians they were able to supplement their income with studio work, and they were very prominent in the early years of Motown’s move to Los Angeles. It was during this time that Wilton Felder took up the bass guitar,on which he played some of my favorite basslines, such as “I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You” by Leon Haywood, “Slick” by Willie Hutch, “Root Down” by Jimmie Smith, and “I Want You Back”, the foundational hit for The Jackson 5.

Felder also wrote a song for The Crusaders that would jump start their prominence in the soul/pop arena, an instrumental entitled “Way Back Home.” “Way Back Home” is a soul-jazz song along the lines of records like Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and “Country Preacher.” The electric bass lays out a funky, rolling obstinato as the horns repeat the soothing melody over and over again, with the melody musically saying “Way Back Home”. The song is one that reminds you of the journey the Crusaders made from Texas to L.A, and the journeys many Black people had made in the 20th century along with them. I imagine my Dad listening to that record in Liberia, a decade into his sojourn in Africa. That song would go on to be covered by other Motown luminaries such as Jr. Walker and Gladys Knight and The Pips.

The Crusaders would go on to become the top selling instrumental group of their time. Their greatest success came with the Joe Sample penned “Street Life” in 1979. 1979-1980 were pivotal times for my family and our nation of Liberia. In 1980 Liberia would see it’s first successful coup de tat, the effects of which would be felt until 2006. That same year Felder released a song entitled “Inherit the Wind”, with Bobby Womack on lead vocals. Now my Dad was not one to say he had a “favorite song”, he was too broad based for that. But there is something about Felder’s “Inherit the Wind” that had a special meaning for Dad over he last thirty years or so of his life. The song was funky and upbeat, but also had notes of deeimagep wistful sadness and pain, being voiced by the master of soulful, joyful pain, Bobby Womack. The song is one that makes you want to dance and cry at the same time if u let it truly get to you, t least it does that for me. The chaos in Liberia would be a great disappointment to Dad until the day he died. I think “Inherit the Wind” gave him much comfort in those first few years after the coup especially.

I never got the chance to meet Felder, but I heard he was a very warm man. My parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, as Felder was, and my mother took care of his grand children at a Day care. I remember Dad got to meet Felder once at a Witness convention in Fremont. Of course he was totally shocked to meet a musician who’s career he’d followed for so long at his place of worship. I was not there to witness that meeting, but I can only imagine how excited Pops was.

The saxophone tone and funky bass playing of Wilton Felder will remain with me as long as I live. It’s a sound that reminds me of my roots. There is always a concern in the black community about getting so far away from your roots that u become basically a black zombie. I don’t know if that is as much of an issue today, as difficult as upward mobility has become. In Hip Hop during the last decade, they’d express it in somewhat corny sentiments such as “You can take me out the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetto out of me.” A variation of an old saying using he N word of course. The music of the soul jazz pioneers such as Wilton Felder, The Crusaders and others of their inclination totally transcends that for me, as they were able to meld the complex musical terminology of jazz theory with the down home music of the churches, porches, fields and pool halls. They were not ashamed of their backgrounds, and were therefore able to produce music that represented where they had been, where they were, and where they were going, without apology or chasing “respectability.” Therefore I think that in their music there is a blueprint for the type of progress the black community seeks to make in these early years of the 21st century. And though Wilton is gone along with several of his brothers, I will always take his example, and his sound with me.

Leave a comment

Filed under All That Jazz, FUNK, Music Matters

Music for the Next ONE 10/17/15 : “Fela 1” by Nicholas Payton

This weekends post is in honor of the worldwide celebration of Fela Kuti’s life, music and political activism known as the “Felabration” which falls yearly around his birthday of October the 15th. This celebration was inaugurated by his daughter Yeni a year after his death, in 1998. It has been exciting to see this festival grow in Africa, Europe, and The United States as the legend of Fela has continued to grow bigger and broader. Today’s tribute recording, “Fela 1” is the first part of a two part Fela suite on Nicholas Payton’s 2003 album “Sonic Trance.” Payton is one of my favorite musicians and he shares the sign of Libra with Fela. The song also will remind you of a man who was an influence on Fela and Nick, and who was himself inspired by Fela’s music later on, Miles Davis. “Fela 1” combines a Fela Kuti inspired rhythmic setting with a texture based environment that recalls the fusion work of Miles Davis and his bands on albums such as “Bitches Brew”, “Get Up With It”, “Jack Johnson”, and other now legendary records. The album marks an ever ongoing broadness in Payton’s work and worldview, in which he has substituted the term jazz for the term “Black American Music”, or #BAM.

The tune starts off with Vicente Archer playing a strong, archetypical Fela Kuti bassline on acoustic bass. I must say right off the bat, this is what hooked me on the song first, the incorporation of Fela Kuti’s style of funky African bass, being played with the timbre of the acoustic bass, which we associate with “jazz”, is a new sonic texture that opens new possibilities in sound. The funky strut of the bassline is soon joined by sizzling, consistent hi hat/cymbal work from Adonis Rose on drums. The piano gets going with some dark sounding, minor key/whole tone sounding arpeggios that capture the dark Miles Davis type melodic flavor of the piece. The percussion work by Daniel Sedownick adds to the rhythmic foundation, as the drums come in with kick drums placed in a manner similar to Africa 70 drummer Tony Allen.

After the rhythm is set, the horns play a short, dark blue melody that’s is kind of Monkish, kind of Milesian. Saxophonist Tim Warfield then goes I to a ex tended solo on soprano sax that recalls Miles’ saxophonists of the fusion period, such as Steve Grossman, Wayne Shorter, and Gary Bartz. The Fender Rhodes piano, overdriven here to “Bitches Brew” darkness as opposed to Ohio Players lushness, makes statements and comps in the back, with the horn sometimes answering the piano. As the solo reaches it’s peak and falls, a Clavinet line is introduced that doubles the Afro-Beat bass line. The Rhodes adds texture as Nicholas Payton comes in on wah wah trumpet. The solo he plays is more atmospheric, based more on manipulation of the wah wah and it’s rhythms than on telling a story by running through the scales. He hits low growl notes and ends his solo with the wah wah opening up slowly as he manipulates the notes to color the groove.

“Fela 1” uses the mighty musical ancestory of Fela Kuti and Miles Davis to provide Nicholas Payton with a way to escape the prison that he regards the term “jazz” as. It’s thrilling to hear Afro Beat rhythms enrich improvisational music. Jelly Roll Morton often spoke of “The Spanish Tinge”, a rhythmic flavor that was essential to jazz. Well, Jelly Roll’s era was so racist it could not acknowledge the African roots of this “Spanish Tinge”, with it’s congas, shakers, clave’s and dance rhythms. The inclusion of Baba Fela’s beat, which itself was inspired to become more African by musicians such as James Brown and Miles Davis, is a wonderful expansion of the transatlantic conversation of the African diaspora. It’s my firm belief that if more “jazz” took on this funky challenge, it would receive it’s rightful credit as the soul moving music it is. But it needs a new dance beat. My man Nick Payton finds it here with Fela Kuti and Tony Allen, letting Miles oversee it all! “Fela 1” is a fine tribute song for this weekends “Felabration” as well as an example of how Fela’s music can help the world of music as a whole move forward.

1 Comment

Filed under All That Jazz, FUNK, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters