The late great Arif Mardin had the most Quincy Jones like career of anybody not named Quincy Jones. That was fitting, as his fellow Piscean Jones encouraged him to leave his native Turkey, allowing him to became the first recipient of the Quincy Jones music scholarship. He might have out Quincied Quincy at times, as he had perhaps less musical success than Jones putting out albums under his own name, and more as a pure pop producer, in addition to his talents as an arranger. He produced numerous hit acts such as The Average White band, Aretha Franklin, The Bee Gees, Hall & Oates, Donny Hathaway, Chaka Khan and David “Fathead” Newman, among others. Mardin was a foremost member of that group of Turkish American music men who contributed to American music through their strong love for black music. Being that Mardin produced music in almost every style of R&B inflected music from the ’50s to the 90s, it should come as no surprise that his funk resume is strong. He was the producer of songs such as The Average White Band’s “Pick up the Pieces” and “Schoolboy Crush”, “Get Ready, Get Set” by Chaka Khan, “Listen Here” by Eddie Harris, and “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin. Today’s funk feature, “All my Friends are Here” is big jam session of a track featuring many artists that he produced, coming back to pay tribute to their friend and mentor in the twilight of his life.
The song begins with a super funky slow drum beat with the snare drum accenting the fourth beat, a very common beat in New Orleans music. That slow beat from the drum set is melded with funky accents from the Conga drum. Soon, Lalah Hathaway sings wordless, soulful vowel sounds as the super funky clavinet riff that’s the meat of the song gets going, played by Robbie Konder. Soon a full groove is struck up with sparse Meters like bass, organ, rhythm guitar and an interesting harmony on the horn stabs. The track contains the current lineup of The Average White Band on rhythm, including original member Onnie McIntyre. After the beat gets comfortable, the big chorus melody line of “All my Friends are Here!” Kicks in, and it’s voiced by singers such as the Gibb brothers of the Bee Gees, The Rascals, Hall & Oates, Phil Collins, Cissy Houston and many other artists Mardin worked with. The line itself has a booming, soaring horn part feeling, and it’s answered immediately by a horn phrase, from a section including trumpeter Randy Brecker and Tenor man Fathead Newman.
Arifs son comes in with a bass voice vocal that his father meant to sing but was too sick to do, influenced directly by Larry Graham’s vocals on “Dance to the Music”, saying “I’m gonna do it from the bottom”, to which Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees replies in falsetto, “And I’m gonna sing the top.” The feel is really loose as the choir sings the main line and the great singers ad lib around it. From there, the Mardin writes in a horn interlude with the horns sustaining an interesting harmony with a slightly dark tone. After that the arrangement moves to an interesting funky unison lick, like Stevie Wonder uses in so many tunes, played by bass, guitar, clavinet, and also vocalized by one of the singers, with the drums also playing along. After the lick the song breaks all the way down to drums and conga and the “I’m gonna do the bottom” Larry Graham style vocals. The song goes back to the main line, with the singers having even more room to improvise.
After another go round of the unison lick, Randy Brecker announces his time at the mic, with some “get out of my way” trumpet phrases before playing his solo, with singers ad living as he solos. He solos through the different grooves of the song as Mardin sends the arrangement back to the sustained horn chords for Brecker to blow over. The song ends out in a joyful riot of vocalization.
“All My Friends Are Here” is Arif Mardins last album, one in which he struggled to complete as he knew he was dying. It’s title and theme could well be one that he or any other “super producer” could call their work, emphasizing the connections they develop from the intimate work of making music. For that reason it’s very touching for me that all of these artists would arrange their schedules to do a song for their mentors album. And I like the way he went out, not on a morbid note, but on a funky jam session, rich with the joy if collaboration, peace, unity, and having fun, making the song an epitaph both funky and fitting.