May 20, 2009

How Bad for You?

I've realized that in the past few weeks I've been focusing a lot on work famed artists did that did not, in itself, lead to their fame. Here's another one.

First of all, James Brown is the right, and only, guy for this job:

Fight Against Drug Abuse (PSA) - James Brown, Funk Power 1970: Brand New Thang

Second of all, in 1979 he produced an album for one of his long time back up singers on Salsoul. I know that people often say that Salsoul is worth buying because they did interesting, often odd stuff, but I always get stuff that is way too heavy on the kind of disco that people wanted to die. Not this though, soul brother number one knows what he is doing in the production. This is the kind of music that was made for people to dance to. And not only to dance to, to really enjoy and get on down to:

Showdown - Martha High, Martha High (1979)

By that I mean, I can't wait to put it on and watch the Brown/High magic.

May 18, 2009

In the House

Short Dog's in the House
- Too Short, Short Dog's in the House (1990)

Early funk based hip hop. This is so much fun. I am currently engaged in trying to get Rich JC 'in the house' via a Craigslist search. Soon I will live in Oakland and listen to this record there, it will sound so good.

This is possibly the widest lens I've ever seen in a autobiographical rap. He just travels all over the place not really doing anything. You know, though, that he was having a lot of fun and just doesn't tell you about it.

Call Me Weird

Don't Call Me Whitey, Nigger - Jane's Addiction ft. Ice T

Guess they are giving the finger to the Family Stone. Finally - we are fighting back?

May 16, 2009

Be Soul Good

Singing, and being a singer, is very often related to being a man or being a woman (whatever the individual case may be). This is pronounced even more so in the love-song filled halls of rhythm and blues. One has got to be a guy in order to sing to a girl. The soul singer's voice becomes infused with that sex-meaning, even when the lyrics stray from love (see everyone's mother melting over her favorite R&B artist's voice). Lady crooners too need to fill up their voices with passion. The difference between the voice of the male singer and the female singer is somewhat ineffable (certainly related to pitch), and not necessarily limited by the actual gender of the singer (uncertainty as to who it is that is hitting those high notes). Even on her first record in 1958, Nina Simone seems to trouble this distinction. But she does so more profoundly than simply shifting into a masculine register, rather her voice falls distinctly outside of sexual categories:

Love Me or Leave Me
- Nina Simone, Little Girl Blue (1959)

The timbre of her voice is surprising. There is something metallic about it, and it is, of course, quite eerie. In her rendition of Gershwin's "Porgy", she somehow conveys a sensation beyond the intended emotion of the song. This sensation is apparent from even the first line: "I loves you Porgy..." It is a sorrow beyond concerns of this world. Departing from the tragedy of the dramatic situation (which is what covering a single song from a musical does), she sings the blues, the pure quality of the blues. The Gershwin song is just a vehicle for her tenor:

I Loves You Porgy - Nina Simone, Little Girl Blue (1959)

Conceiving her status as 'artist' proves quite enjoyable. She transcends many typical categories, including, importantly, The Feminine. This, again, is something particularly rare for soul artists. Her genius itself, and the fact that she composed her own music contributes to her transcendence of gender roles. To get a little theoretical: It is not that Simone accesses some status reserved for the male-singer, and it is also not that she becomes some version of male-soul. Furthermore, this is not to say that the woman in soul can do less than the man. Rather that, because she is not the one with the 'power to make soul' (a power reserved for record executives and successful male artists), the woman has the opportunity to become Soul. The man can only use Soul, while the woman can be it. What makes Simone particularly incredible is that when she becomes Soul, she does not become sensuous:

Watching this video I just keep thinking to myself how so cool she is. What I wrote above about her "becoming Soul", I don't care about as much as this feeling that she is doing her own thing in such a fucking serious way.

May 11, 2009

Crossover Comments (well-linked)

Comments from the Aging Well post on Ramsey Lewis, from two of my most music heavy buddies.

Your Ramsey post reminded me of another cat who made the "crossover" from jazz to...funk, or something: Roy Ayers. With the benefit of hindsight it starts to look a little tragic how so many jazz men and women threw down their axes in the funk ring come mid70s when everyone suddenly decided that the scene was dead (or maybe just not lucrative) and made shitty "crossover" music that ended up appealing to just about nobody (SAY this TO this). How would music be different today if they had never strayed?

So who was successful at 'the leap' besides Ramsey and Roy? I mean successful artistically, sorry George "Breezin'" Benson (that one really hurts. Early GB is dope.) SO, Rich JC, countless anonymous readers---Eddie Harris? Miles, duh. Uh...John Klemmer? Dude is kind of a beast, I swear.

Roy Ayers' vibes.

Uncle Jam:

Eddie Harris was definitely one of the first to come to mind, but man, there are SO many "jazz" artists that recorded tons of x-over material, and, IMO, in that mix there are TONS of great R&B tracks by those we tend to primarily consider "jazz" artists.

Hell, almost every R&B cat in NOLA in the 60s & 70s came up playing "jazz". Seriously-almost all of them. And that goes for much of the rest of the country too. Booker T & The MGs and the rest of the Stax instrumentalists played in jazz bands at night after they left the studio.

Nowadays we view jazz, soul, funk, blues, and rock as separate entities with distinct, albeit vague, boundaries, but most interviews I've read/heard suggest that these cats viewed music as more of seamless continuum. It was all just "the blues".

Some great x-over by "jazz" artists:
Eddie Harris - How Can I Find Some Way to Tell You

Lonnie Smith - All In My Mind (on that Stevie Wonder tip)

Donald Byrd - Love's So Far Away

Bernard Wright - Just Chillin Out (Miles Davis' Solar appears on the same album):

Idris Muhammad - Disco Man (drummer on countless Prestige/Blue Note jazz sessions in the 60s)

Oscar Brown, Jr. - Feel The Fire (put lyrics to The Work Song et al)

Joe Thomas - Funky Fever

& oh so appropriately - Eddie Harris' I Need Some Money

disclaimer: this is only jazz artists who were well-known when they went x-over; go deeper and there are tons more. also doesn't include jazz artists covering pop songs, or vice versa.

May 8, 2009

Soul Power

Props to The Bern for bringing this to all of our funkattention.

Actually it was Uncle Jam. Ben is not a very descriptive Bloggername.

Ye Olde Remixe

King Tubby - possible first 'producer as artist'.

The meaning of the word 'producer' has expanded over the last few musical eras, it now includes folks such as the remix artist and the DJ-turned-studio-album-creator. The creative status of the producer's work has leaped into prominence with the increased incidence of artist's whose product is music which has as its most defining element the fact that it was produced (rather than played or sung).

While many of these artists can and do recreate their production in live performance (Kid Koala serving a decidedly non-dance remix of "Moon River" on three platters), the point is that they make studio albums which are not constituted by any element of performance (see the extreme example of Girltalk, who watches his laptop as it plays his show for him, thereby relegating himself to the role of observer of his own studio work - his musical status as performer is reduced to knowing what is coming next in the song).

Allen Toussaint jamming.

Previous to the inception of the hip-hop producer, and anterior to even the disco producer, there were plenty of 'producers', but rarely did they play an acknowledged role in the creative brilliance of a given song. My dawg DJ Uncle Jam observed once that in terms of Allen Toussaint's production: "everything dude touched turned to gold". This may well be true, but he was still working with real live musicians, and while that might be considered even more impressive than mixing and programming, it is certainly different.

So, what do we make of the conceptual quality of this Quincy Jones meditation:

What's Going On
- Quincy Jones, Smackwater Jack (1971)

Jones is reinterpreting Marvin Gaye's original in a significant way (both came out in the same year). But what he's doing sounds nothing like a jazz interpretation, or an older school soul version, or a funk version. In fact, it sort of just sounds like the original version, but in different order, with different emphasis and timing. The first vocals we hear - "sister, sister, sister, sister" - come from the original version: "picket lines (sister) and picket signs (sister) don't punish me (sister) with brutality (sister)..." But those main vocals are left out. Sounds like a remix to me. Except performed.

This kind of conceptual remixing can be mapped almost exactly to Kid Koala's live/studio version of "Moon River".

Jones plays guitar in another track on the album. To be specific, he samples from the history of guitar blues moving forward in time. It is a cataloging project, much in the same way that Girltalk catalogs contemporary pop:

Guitar Blues Odyssey: From Roots to Fruits - Quincy Jones, Smackwater Jack (1971)

This song is clearly the work of a producer. Production requires some quality of perspective, a wider view than the average artist possesses. Creative production is making music about music. It is from these minds that the most innovative songs and albums emerge (e.g. Thriller).

Note: I've more or less omitted reggae's turn into dub from this discussion, and don't mean to say that Q. Jones was a first, just that he was the rad.

May 5, 2009

Soul to Soul

Merry Christmas
by Drew Cosbie

On March 6th, 1971 a 14 hour soul fest went down in Accra, Ghana. The event featured prominent African-American and African artists. Ending at 6:45 am, I'm sure the concert was absolutely the rad, it featured Wilson Pickett as its most popular act, but also included Ike & Tina, The Staple Singers, and Santana. Despite failing to obtain a number of desired acts, from what my 40-minute live album conveys, it was off the hook:

Run Shaker Life - The Voices of East Harlem, Soul to Soul (1971)

My favorite thing Drew said about Ghana was there were no bullies in the elementary school. Plenty of children were rambunctious, but none of them were mean:

Heyjorler - Eddie Harris and Les McCann with Amoa, Soul to Soul (1971)

As part of the project, Roberta Flack was recorded (in mono) singing this traditional inside a slave castle:

Freedom Song - Roberta Flack, Soul to Soul (1971)

May 2, 2009

How Do We Get Back to the Beach?

Maybe it is growing up in a beach town, maybe California, maybe the United States (as my non-Californio friends contend), but there is really something about singing along with Sublime that makes me feel good. As my relationship to music has progressed, I have at various times come back to Sublime to appreciate some other element previously gone unseen. The thing that continues to get me is how effectively they innovated in the spaces between hip-hop and reggae. The scratches and break beats meld contentedly into the island vibes. My favorite, a lyrically complex reggae diversion, continues to awe me with its simple image of the ocean involved in sharing a bed:

Badfish - Sublime, 40 oz to Freedom (1992).

Along with that increased understanding and enthusiasm comes the recurring and impossible nostalgia associated with any dead artist. Bradley Nowell died taking Sublime's effusive quality with him. Any of those coming of musical age at the moment of Sublime's graceful collapse and simultaneous skyrocketing looked immediately to the Long Beach Dub All Stars ("Sunny Hours" for example is a neurotic breach of "What I Got" from a post-Sublime unconscious). The fact was, however, the quality was missing. The pure carefree sound that came from a day's annoyances and struggles, the sound that remedied the impossibility of putting one's life together because the ocean is really fucking big.

I think though, that thanks to the Tunawax homies at djnodj, we have a track that provides hope. Suffice it to say that with this song by The Snugs (really really check them out) we can get at that sublime quality. That is my contention.

Trying ft. Little Hannah Collins - The Snugs (2009)