Category Archives: All That Jazz

Jazz music, past, present and future

“The Band is his Orchestra/The Sounds of Delight”- A Riquespeaks feature series on Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones turned 84 earlier this month, in a year that has already seen the passing of such musical luminaries as Junie Morrison, Clyde Stubblefield, Al Jarreau and most recently, the cornerstone of Rock & Roll Chuck Berry. It is going on eleven years since we lost James Brown, who Quincy was three months older than, and we just lost Prince last year. It is now seven years since we lost the man who’s career is seen as Quincy’s foremost musical legacy, Michael Jackson. A few years ago, Quincy’s close friend and Montreaux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobbs passed on in a skiing accident. But Quincy remains a unifying figure, one who speaks to the history of African American music in the 20th century and how that tradition can be carried on into the future and recognized as a key contribution to world heritage.

One very interesting project that Q had on the table during the administration of President Barack Obama was to get music and American culture in general cabinet level recognition in the United States. He was not able to get that project accomplished, though I’m sure he gave it his all. Although that particular project was not successful, Quincy has used his own music and albums as a platform toward that very same aim.

Respect and appreciation for Quincy Jones was something I grew up with, outside of his production for Michael Jackson. His work with M.J might have been the main reason I was checking for this “old jazz guy” as a kid, but the facts are, my father was a serious Quincy Jones fan. I grew up hearing albums like “Quincy Jones plays the Hip Hits”, and “The Quintessence.” My father highly respected Q as somebody who took the mantle from the great jazz composers and arrangers such as Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Gil Evans, and so many others. Q was highly proffesional, had trained at the future Berklee School of Music back when it was called “The Schillinger House”, and has also trained in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He also was one of the first Black arrangers to be involved on an ongoing basis with film scoring.

Through all of this, Q was developing a particular brand of musical magic that prepared him perfectly to deliver three of the best selling, most incredible examples of American popular music ever assembled, namely, “Off the Wall”, “Thriller”, and “Bad.” Now I don’t mean to make these three albums the focus of Q’s entire career that encompasses so much of whats good in American music, from Count Basie, to Frank Sinatra, to The Brothers Johnson, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. But what I will do with this series is talk about how the unique musical, experiential and spiritual gifts of Quincy Jones were present throughout his career on his solo albums, which really meant Michael Jackson was stepping into a rolling train when he and Q began work on “Off the Wall.” Which also made possible the later star studded success of “The Dude” and “Back on the Block.”

The different musical approaches of Q’s albums, from his skillful use of guest stars, his choice in cover songs, his incorporation of his portage’s compositions, his usage of tones such as flutes mixed with synthesizer leads, his dipping into the old blues and African styles, his jazz based pop language, and his strong rhythm sections manifest themselves on his pre “Off the Wall” and “The Dude” albums. So this particular series will focus on how Q innovated this genre of the producer led album, which is a genre that would later give us great musical works such as Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” Q really brought “The Producer” out as a star and musical artist in a way few have done. His skills as a producer were based in his skills as a composer and arranger, but when he reached the peak of his career he no longer needed to write or even arrange the tunes on his album. He mastered the very modern musical skills of setting the right tempos, choosing the right artists, both instrumentalists and vocalists, choosing the right songs, and a million other musical details that went beyond the magic of simply sitting at the piano or holding a guitar and writing a song. This magic of the producer is one that has been appreciated more and more by the music industry and the public at large in recent years. And it’s one I intend to explore in depth, from “Walking In Space” all the way to “Juke Joint”. Q’s success with MJ and his other R&B/pop hybrids in the 1980s was definitley not a fluke, but something masterminded by one of the greatest social musicians we’ve seen, the great Quincy Delight Jones!!!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Give me My Flowers While I'm Alive, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Edition II: “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah ft. Monie Love

One thing I’m always thankful for is that I grew into my appreciation for Hip Hop in the middle of it’s late ’80s, early ’90s “Golden Age.” Besides the dope funk samples, high tech rhymes and pure fun of the music and images of that era, one of the most valuable things the artists of that time did were strengthen my familiarity, understanding, and appreciation of Black issues. The majority of artists mentioned something in this vein at that time, but of course the most prominent were Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, X Clan, and The Native Tongue family. One of the most powerful records from the Native Tongue family was a record I discovered watching the local video music station, “California Music Channel”, with my father, Queen Latifah and Monie Love’s classic, “Ladies First.” This song hit me on several levels, from the smooth way the ladies sang the chorus, to the fresh sample based beat, the Afrocentric attractivness of the ladies rhyming, and the seriousness of it’s divestment era South African aparteid footage, which was possibly the first time in my life I’d seen those images.

After the video opens with powerful images of great Black women like Harriet Tubman, Sojurner Truth, Winnie Mandela and Angela Davis, the beat comes in. The groove is based on a funky drumbeat sample of Bahamian percussionist King Erricsons cover of The Doobie Brothers classic, “Listen to the Music.” The heavy fatback funk drumming is supplanted in this case by the prominent mix of King Erricsons hand drums. It creates a very similar effect to another prominent Hip Hop sample, Chuck Brown & the Soul Searcher’s “Ashley’s Roadclip.” Very soon after the drumbeat comes in, we’re hit by the sweet chorus, a female voice crooning “Ooooh/Ladies First/Ladies First”. The next time around another vocal comes in that harmonizes the first. After that sweet refrain, the music intensifies it’s aggressive funk, as a funky bass line comes in, which will repeat its one bar pattern for the song, and the top end is taken care of by a horn sample of five notes playing a syncopated melody. Latifah kicks in the door hard like Big Daddy Kane, “The ladies will kick it/The Rhyming is wicked/Those that don’t know/how to be pros/get evicted/A woman can bear you/break you/take you/Now its time to rhyme/can you relate to?/A sister dope enough to make you/Holler and Scream”, before she turns the mic over to the super fresh London born M.C Monie Love, one of my great crushes of that era! Monie gets on the mic and spits some super fresh, tongue twisting syncopated rhymes ending with “Let me state the position/Ladies first yes?/Yes.” After another short chorus interlude, Monie comes back rapping another verse, which she ends with “we are the ones to give birth/to a new generation of prophets/cause its Ladies First!” Queen Latifah follows her with a “lyrical freestyle” much looser than the tense rhymes of her first verse, and one of my favorite rhymes in the song is her call and response couplet, “Some think that we cant flow. Monie Love: “Cant Flow? Stereotypes they’ve got to go, Monie Love: “Got to go”. The South African Apartheid footage of the video is intersperesed with Latifah in a darkened conference room pushing giant African fist chest pieces off the map, as well as shots of Latifah’s two B-Girl dancers. Latifah and Monie go on to drop fleet lounged rhymes as the video features other female rappers of the day such as BDP’s Miss Melodie, who was KRS ONE’s wife at that time! Latifah ends the song with a freestyle lyric in a very laid back cadence where she speaks of the songs producer, DJ Mark the 45 King wanting her to “sing”, which she would go on to do later in her career in classics like “Just Another Day” and in her career as Dana Owens.

“Ladies First” made an incredible impression on me as a young dude, to see beautiful Black sisters rhyming so competently and invoking both the history of great Black women in America as well as how that connected to the struggles in South Africa. It did something to me to see all those Black people running from the Afrikaner cops in the days of Apartheid. In one of the great ironies of Hip Hop, Latifah’s rhymes were co written by a member of the Flavor Unit named Apache, who went on to have a hit with a song a few years later called “I want to Gangster Boogie with my Gangster Bitch.” That transition in itself pretty much summed up where Hip Hop went after the golden age, with the same MC who penned lyrics for this song penning “Gangster Bitch.” Apache pretty much renounced that part of his career in the later years of his life though. But no matter, I am thankful that Queen Latifah and Monie Love’s “Ladies First” formed a positive, strong attitude about Black women for me in my formative years. I remember my Dad, who was only impressed with Hip Hop when it was weighty or just so funny it could be enjoyed in a disposable way, enjoying this song on that video show back in 1989, and being shocked by its sophisticated potrayal of Black history and the then current struggles in South Africa. And no matter how far I or Hip Hop have strayed, I’m thankful that songs like “Ladies First” provided my foundation in the music and culture, as opposed to the negativity that often came later.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, FUNK, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month I: “March of the Panther” by Mongo Santamaria

Mongo Santamaria is the one of the best artists to talk about during Black History Month because the cultural forces behind his music cover such a large part of the African diaspora. A native of pre Revolutionary Cuba, he learned music in his community based on rhythms that had come directly from Africa. It was said one of his grandfathers had in fact been a Yoruba priest. His composition, “Afro Blue”, was considered to be the first jazz standard based on an African “3 over 2” rhythm, and was popularized by John Coltrane. In the ’60s he moved from a straight Afro Latin jazz to a Boogaloo based melange of Afro Latin rhythms interlaid with the popular sounds of Soul and Funk. One album I grew up with during that period was an album he did called “Soul Bag”, that featured an incredible version of “Cold Sweat.” Today’s Black History Month special is a song from his 1970 LP, “Mongo 70”, entitled “March of the Panther.” This song was composed by guitarist Sonny Henry, who was the composer of Carlos Santana’s breakthrough hit, “Evil Ways”, which he originally recorded with Willie Bobo. “March of the Panther” is a funky, strident, striving number with the electric energy of the Black Panther Party in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The song begins with an old school military march theme, featuring snare drum, tuba, flutes and horns playing in a style straight out of the Revolutionary War period. The allusion is very clear as the song transitions from music for that old school revolutionary army to a groove for the new school revolutionary army, The Black Panther Party, as the drummer plays a snare fill that leads to the groove. Bass Player John Hart plays a funky two note baseline supported by two pickup notes in the classic late ’60s, early ’70s style. There is a call and response relationship between the bass line and the electric piano, as the piano plays a syncopated rhythm chord figure after the bass plays its eighth notes. The drums play two strong kick drum notes in harmony with the bass but besides the cracking snare drum hits the drums are partially obscured by Mongo’s powerful African percussive figures, which are both pattern setting but also communicate in an improvisational way. These provide the setting for the rousing horn fanfare, which is a national anthem type melody that plays long, sustained notes, in the style of marching/military music, but also reminiscent of horn sections in African and Afro Latin bands, playing horn lines in unison. The bass and horn melody goes between two chords, as the bass line walks down to second chord sequence and the horns follow. After playing through that sequence the arrangement goes to a change part where the whole arrangement seems to come together in unity for the chorus, which is then followed by another vamp/statement of the main melody, with more attention paid to the trumpets, followed by another chorus that is again, heavier on the top end of the horns. After that a tenor sax solo is introduced, under which the bass player is given more freedom to improvise funky lines that support the solo. After the solo ends, Mongo’s conga playing becomes more pronounced, as he varies his rhythm and begins to take more of a leadership role, introducing the sections of the song with his drum flurries. The song grooves on and fades out, shifting back to a straight military march at the end.

“March of the Panther” took up the call that was made during the 1960s for new forms of Black art that would be the new symbols of the New Black Nation. In this case, it envisions itself as the theme for The Black Panther Party as the military arm of that nation. Mongo always foregrounded African/Black identity in his music, naming songs after Yoruba Gods and Black figures such as Malcom X. It was amazing for me to discover this funky song that took the idea of a military march and remade it for the age of The Panthers. The song itself is a good example of uptempo, super rhythmic, boogaloo inspired early 70s funk, in fact it would work very well over a montage movie scene about The Panthers or activists set in that time period. It was said that Herbie Hancock played his classic “Watermelon Man” for Mongo after Mongo had said he couldn’t see the connection between Afro Cuban and Afro American music. Upon hearing the funky tune, Mongo immediately got excited and began playing along with it. Of course, in Mongo’s hands, “Watermelon Man” went on to become one of the biggest hits in jazz history. It was this ability to connect the African roots, modern Afro Cuban music, jazz, and the then current funk and soul vibes that gave Mongo the unique place in Black music history and Black culture that he occupies. And that is one reason, along with his excellent musicianship, that a figure like Mongo deserves more consideration when contemplating the bonds of Africans in the Americas. And “March of the Panther” stands tall as an anthem for the Party that is no longer that brings together the energy of the whole African diaspora for the long waged fight for total prosperity and liberation!

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Filed under All That Jazz, Black Issues, FUNK, Music for the Next ONE, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Special

Black History Month is admittedly one of those things my opinion of has vacillated on through the course of my life. When I was a young child in school I enjoyed it more than anything else in my school curriculum. I have always been the type of individual who views the acquisition of knowledge with the attitude of exploration and discovery. And Black history, both in Africa and America having the “Hidden” quality that it does, due to suppression, ignorance, arrogance the profitability of subjugation and domination. My parents always had a strong sense of Black history simply from their backgrounds, my father being born in the Depression era south and being active in the Civil Rights movement, and my mother being a Liberian with a rich understanding of both Africa and her country’s roots in being established as a haven from American slavery and white supremacy. Still, I don’t think the majority of Black parents want to overburden their children with sad and negative messages. So even with my parents having the knowledge of things that they did, some of the most substantial information would come out when they were watching and responding to news items.

I was fortunate enough to have Asian and white teachers in Oakland, California who were very responsive and understanding of the predominantly Black demographics of their school, under the guidance of Mrs. Kelly, a strong Black Principal, to inject Black and multi cultural information into the curriculum. I still remember my kindergarten Teacher Ms. Huen giving us red envelopes for Chinese New Year, which is also this month, and marks the return of my birth sign, the Rooster!

So I always enjoyed learning about Carter G Woodson, Lewis Latimer, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Phyllis Wheatley, W.E.B DuBois, Madame C.J Walker, and the numerous other luminary figures who against all odds contributed to America and kept Black people alive to get to the point we are today. Many of their inventions and discoveries proved to me a truth my father related to me from his experience down south, that a great many things were invented by very hands on Black people who were tasked with getting the work done and took it upon themselves to find an easier way to get those tasks accomplished.

Then when I grew up, in the Def Comedy Jam ’90s, I got innundated with the same jokes as everybody else, about how they “gave Black people the shortest month.” Which totally overlooks the contributions of Carter G Woodson and the fact that Black History Month is a BLACK invention. More recently the line has been “Black history is all year round”, which is one that I wholeheartedly agree with and try to practice on this blog and my other writing activities. However, just as with holidays, wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other events, there is a reason Human beings choose dates to commemorate things. There is a great power to Human ritual that we sometimes forget in our modern fragmented world, a certain purification of purpose and inspiration. And it’s in that spirit that I’m adding a supplement to “Music 4 the Nxt 1” in honor of Black history month. I will still review funky songs but the scope will expand in terms of era, genre, and locale. I will cover songs of inspiration, songs in honor of Black historical figures, and songs that were just breakthroughs or inspiring to Black people at any given point of time. These grooves will come from Reggae, Soul, Funk, Rock, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz and many other genres. I hope that my readers enjoy it and that it reminds you of the struggles, accomplishments, joys, pains and exultations of peoples of African descent and why it is critical our position continue to be strengthened for the good of all.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

riquespeaks Inaguration Day Music Special

Friday January 20th, 2017 marks the Inaguration of the 45th President of the United States. It is clear from the divisive, childish, rude campaign he ran, and the den of thieves he has appointed to his cabinet that he is coming in with very clear plans to undo many positive things that have taken place in this country over the last 50 years. For me personally, this is one of the most dramatic political events of my life, following the election of Barack Obama, and the drama over George W Bush’s election in 2000. But this new Administration poses a greater threat to what I hold dear in both style and content than that of GWB. Times like this demand that I go back into what brought me here to understand whats going on and how to go forward, and that is the social and political information distilled in some of my favorite music! So I’d like to take this opportunity to share some music with you today that will be uplifting, informative, insightful, and useful on the first day of the Trump “Error.”

“Party for Your Right to Fight” by Public Enemy

Public Enemy is one of my favorite musical groups and their music and the lyrics of Chuck D have been a guiding force for most of my life. “Party for Your Right to Fight” is a lesser played track from their classic second album, “It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.” The title inverts The Beastie Boys classic rebel without a cause anthem, “Fight For Your Right to Party” into a rousing call to arms, with the “Party” in the title being synonymous to political action, especially that of the Black Panther Party. In a unique production move for P.E, Chuck and Flavor rap the whole song together, with one voice slightly delayed behind the other, in a break from their usual style of Chuck raps and Flavor interjections. The song itself minces no words, attacking the U.S Government’s COINTELPRO operations during the 1960s. It also features a great sample from prime period George Clinton, saying, “Aint nothing but a party ya’ll, lets get it on!”

James Brown Economic Plans




The Godfather of Soul James Brown always used his musical voice and powerful standing in the Black International community as a platform to speak on various issues of wide concern. Although he was reputed to be a conservative, the economic philosophy he espouses on these songs is far from the “Trickle down greed and pain” that has been Republican economic philosophy since Ronald Reagens time. “Take Some, Leave Some” for example espouses a communal, humanistic economic philosophy over a brutally crawling funk groove. JB says, “Ive never been the type of cat that has to have it all.” “You Cant Take It With You” from 1976’s “Get Up Offa That Thang” LP is a companion piece, a furiously funky B-Boy/Locking groove where JB disavows money as the full measure of a persons life because at the end of the day, theres no such thing as a rich dead person! The classic breakbeat “Funky President” is a commentary on the Presidency of Gerald Ford and the tough economic times the country was facing in the mid ’70s. Here JB unveils an economic plan of self sufficiency for Black America, inspired by Marcus Garvey, Booker T Washington, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammed, “Lets get together/get some land/raise our food like the man/save our money/like the mob/put up a factory OWN the job.” “The Whole World Needs Liberation” from the “Get on the Good Foot” LP is a track built off the earlier Bootsy Collins fired “Brother Rapp” that focuses on a topic of Third World liberation, which on the economic side is still one unfolding today. JB states strongly, “It’s neither Black or White/it’s what’s right/its neither White or Black/It’s a fact/the whole world needs Liberation.”

“We the People” by The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers used the guitar playing of “Pops”, and the wonderful voices of Mavis, Cleotha and Yvonne to provide a soulful companion in sound to the Civil Rights movement. When the tide turned to Black power, pride and identity, The Staples actually hit their peak from a popular standpoint, as their rootsy, gutsy sound was very much in league with the heart of the Black community at that time. “We The People” is a funky national anthem for the community at that time, and it’s message is very pertinent in the age of Trump. Although we have a very despicable man taking office today, it is “We the People” who “have to make the world go round.” Meaning this can not only be Donald Trumps America, the people must remain engaged and vigorous in checking his hand!

“B Movie” by Gil Scott Heron

This song is still hands down the best summation of the types of forces in American life that got us to the point a Donald J Trump could get elected, for my money. It’s that because of the cutting, insightful brilliance and experiences of Gil Scott Heron, and its also that because it was inspired by the election of a somewhat similar figure, Ronald Reagen, 36 years ago. In this epically funky poem and song Heron traces America’s enthusiasm for Ronald Reagen to the celluloid images of white masculinity and manifest destiny sold to the American public by actors such as John Wayne. Ronald Reagen himself became the stand in for John Wayne because Wayne was “no longer avaliable for the part.” Replace the Saturday matinee with television reality shows and you get an analysis of how the American forms of media speak to the dark side of American ideals and produce figures like both President Reagen and Trump. And it also makes you wonder if Americans could ever resist a half credible celebrity being sold as a political savior?

“International Thief Thief” by Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti is the artist I think of the most during the Trump error. When George W Bush won the election in 2000, a local Nigerian commentator in the Bay Area, Tunde Okorodudu, laughingly commented on a local Black news show, “So you people want to make America a BUSH huh?” Meaning in the African sense, backward, less developed and potentially chaotic. Some of the things a vote for Trump represents, ethnic strife, less world engagement, less immigration, less civil and political freedom, are exactly the type of strongman politics many people in the world have been running away from. And here we have a winning plurality in America running TOWARDS them. The voice of Fela Kuti wailing out against his own government in Nigeria and the way it had been ill set up and miseducated by the colonial powers in Britain loom large in this environment. And we must remember that the Nigeria Fela was railing against was a nation swimming in oil cash, doled out very selectively among an elite and split along ethnic lines of tribe. Fela was a tireless critic of every segment of the Nigerian society that needed change, and he always tied it back to their history of colonialism and getting away from African values. This song attacks the “International Telephone and Trust Company” which with African humor, Fela calls “International Thief Thief”. “Thief Thief” is what African people yell in neighborhood settings as a call for the community to apprehend a fleeing criminal and bring them to community justice. In this way, Fela brings the high and mighty governmental and business leaders down to an understandable level of common thieves operating on a mass scale. This is the way Trump’s cabinet seems to be shaping up, a consortium of rich buisness leaders being put into positions they can profit from.

“This is My Country” by The Impressions

Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions song end this playlist on a positive note. Curtis actually caught some flack from this song from some in the Black militant community at the time it was released. They thought it was jingoism, but in reality Curtis song is a strong, soulful declaration that he and other Black people would not cede this nation to the Bull Conners, Governor Faubeses, George Wallaces and Storm Thurmonds of the country. The reason? “We struggled 300 years or more!” This song then is a soulful rallying cry for Black people, women, immigrants, disabled people, LGBT, poor people, middle class workers, Native Americans, Muslims, and any other group that faces hatred in the Trump years. This country does not belong solely to people like Donald Trump and his “mad as hell” voters but to everybody who lives here and contributes!

This list could go on and on but I will stop here for now. I hope I’ve give you some thoughtful grooves on this Inaguration Day. Sociopolitcal music will be a strong presence on this blog in the next four years, both through classics such as these as well as highlighting newer grooves to come that will take on the ironies of the Trump error. It will be wild ride for sure, but one thing I do know is that Donald Trump is NOT God (or Godly), meaning even he will have to bow before a committed majority of freedom loving Americans.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Politrix, Social Timing

Music 4 the Next 1 “Loose Ends edition”: “Franceessence” by Robert Glasper

When Don Cheadle set out to assemble the creative team for last years Miles Davis biopic, “Miles Ahead”, he was very much concerned with assembling a creative team for the film that would reflect the ways in which the great trumpeter and musical conceptualist bandleader’s musical conceptions remain relevant in the 21st Century. After all, Miles was a musican who grew up with the blues, swing and bebop, and was collaborating with Prince and Easy Mo Bee in his last years. The films late ’70s setting also meant that someone like Wynton Marsalis with his more conservative outlook would be totally inappropriate. The musician Cheadle settled on for the film was pianist Robert Glasper, a jazz pianist who’s relative youth and involvement in Neo Soul and Hip Hop mark him as a successor to the musical and social values of musicians like Davis and his most famous collaborators, such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Michael Henderson, Mtume Heath and Reggie Lucas, and a host of others. Glasper responded with two albums, one a score of the movie, and another an album that featured modern takes and remixes of mostly unreleased Davis material. The song “Franceessence” is a song that plays underneath a tender love scene in “Miles Ahead” between Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis, and Emayatzy Corinealdi as Frances Davis. The song itself is a beautiful Fender Rhodes driven tune that in its own beautiful way harkens back to Miles ballads from albums such as “Neferetiti” and other albums in the early stages of his involvement with what would be called “fusion.”

The song begins with a beautiful downward stepping chord introduction from a lushly chorused and vibrating Fender Rhodes. The downward stepping “Call” is then responded to by the piano itself, with acoustic bass underneath, both playing a phrase that goes up an interval and comes back down. Just like that a languorous, romantic, candlelit/twilight mood is struck. In the background a sweeping, wind like effect gathers like a storm. A beautiful melody comes in, with a very complex sound playing a simple, tender melody. The melody sounds as if it’s being played by flute, flugelhorn and Rhodes together, which in itself is a very Quincy Jones like combination of sounds. After the melody makes its gentle statement, the Rhodes punches in sharp chords and a muted trumpet fills in. The next time the melody is stated the flute sound is predominant, while Glasper runs arpeggios underneath and the trumpet ornaments the phrases. The flute improvises for a while while the trumpet adds poking and pleading phrases in at sparse intervals. The short interlude plays out beautifully as a duet for muted trumpet and flute as the track floats into wonderland.

I had “Miles Ahead” on one day at my home when the love scene flashed on, and besides being enjoying the romantic maneuvers on screen I was struck by Glasper’s tune. I thought it was a Miles tune from those days I somehow missed, and it also reminded me of the early fusion ballad sound that Quincy Jones would use both in his movie scores and on his albums. I must admit I actually had to resort to the “Shazam” app to find out who made this song! Which was sad because I already had the CD from the week it came out! “Francessence” is a lovely mood tune in the tradition of electric jazz film music and another example of the versatility of Robert Glasper in composing music to suit many different occasions and eras.

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Music for The Next 1, 11/19/16: “Day to Day” by The Robert Glasper Experiment

Robert Glasper has pulled off something very thrilling within the past decade that has great meaning for a lover of variations of R&B, Funk, and Hip Hop that have space for the type of swinging improvisational music known as “jazz.” Just as Miles Davis, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Charles Lloyd and many other luminaries did in the ’60s and ’70s, he has sought out, with his band, an instrumental jazz form that maintained the root rhythmic appeal of popular Black music. He’s advanced the type of instrumental fusions championed by Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and Quincy Jones, by opening up Jazz improvisation to the more modern R&B variants of Neo Soul and J-Dilla influenced Hip Hop. Now mixtures of Jazz and Hip Hop are by no means new, with Herbie Hancock striking gold with “Rockit” in 1984, and Miles Davis final “Doo Bop” album with Easy Mo Bee, in addition to the way artists like George Duke and Norman Brown in the smooth jazz idiom embraced New Jack Swing beats as a foundation for improv. What makes what The Robert Glasper Experiment unique is by virtue of age, its members are just as much Hip Hop people as they are Jazz/instrumental people. So they have no qualms giving a song exactly what they feel it needs, as opposed to viewing a songs primary purpose being as a vehicle for improvisation. While I have not always liked everything they’ve done, feeling they’ve tended to rely more on setting a head nod mood in the vein of ’90s Neo Soul, “Day to Day” is truly a standout cut from their latest album, “ArtScience.” The band does something unique on this song, which is far more frequently done across the pond than here in the lower 48, which is craft a disco-jazz influenced dance floor vocal song in the vein of Herbie Hancock’s work in the late ’70s. “Day to Day” was a groovy surprise to me and is our featured song of this week.

The song begins with a rock solid, march step post-disco dance beat, accompanied by an off beat cowbell riff. Corey Benjamin’s vocals come in at a somewhat surprising spot, before the introduction has finished it’s 8 bar cycle. His first lyrics are “Its Now…”, which combined with his earlier than expected entry, helps magnify the funky sense of urgency. When Benjamin comes in, he’s accompanied by some middle aged piano chords. Benjamin’s vocals also are coated with a slight layer of auto tune which forcefully send one note into the next. After he gets through one verse, the bass guitar is introduced, and it plays an interesting variation on Michael Jackson’s classic “Billie Jean” bassline, but instead of repeating the pumping 8th note riff on the same notes, the bass player moves the baseline through the chord change sequence. At the chorus uplifting chords are introduced along with the hook, “I’m living day to day/show me the way to your heart.” The bass also gets in some Paul Jackson style fills, while the arrangement adds Fender Rhodes to its acoustic piano tones. During the next verse a funky rhythm guitar riff is introduced along with strings as the arrangement begins to build in intensity. By the next chorus the strings are more lively, as is the background singing, as the chorus adds some extra repetitions. This is followed by a bridge section where Benjamin sings accompanied by Glaspers Fender Rhodes runs. Which then falls off into an interlude where Glasper plays a simple but funky single note Fender Rhodes rhythm part supported by string stabs. After which, the chorus comes back in with its vamps, which puts the record solidly in the mode of late ’70s dance records. As the record vamps on and on Glasper has more space for the Herbie Hancock like Rhodes playing. Glasper plays his steady Rhodes parts in the interlude as the guitar plays a chopping octave part. The guitar continues to vamp on in that vein until it fades away to the sound of the guitar player playing a bluesy riff.

“Day to Day” is a unique disco/funk/jazz song. Most musicians who reference the fusion era of jazz tend to go for the more experimental, solo heavy side of it. But there was a whole other school of funky jazz that also toyed around with disco rhythms and structures at the end of the ’70s on into the early ’80s. Herbie Hancock played with this style on his albums like “Sunlight”, “Feets Don’t Fail Me Now”, and “Monster.” And this song screams Hancock, from Corey Benjamin’s vocoder like auto tune, to Glaspers Fender Rhodes noodling, to Paul Jackson like bass playing. What makes it unique is that these jazz men who play brilliant straight ahead on the rest of the album, here find the song craft and production sheen to play a straight dance oriented song with vocals. Bringing back the sound of quality dance music played and produced by well trained musicians, something lacking in today’s music that was so common it was taken for granted in the ’70s and ’80s. Lets hope that highly eclectic and diverse band continues to mine this as one of their musical sounds on into its future!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, FUNK, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters, Uncategorized