Friday, April 24, 2015

Turn This Mutha Out by Idris Muhammad

The late, great jazz drummer/composer Idris Muhammad had clubs, parties and discos jumpin’ with this bodacious dance-funk track back in the day. This cut hits you right in the bump zone and will have you breaking for the dance floor in record time. Wilbur Bascomb’s percolating bass line drives this kinetic groove, while Muhammad keeps things funky with his tight drumming. And there is no shortage of cowbell on this irresistible cut. Additionally, the track features a scorching solo from late guitarist Hiram Bullock. And the soulful vocals are provided by Frank Floyd, Kenny Williams and Zachary Sanders.

The song is the title track off Muhammad’s fifth studio album, which was released on Kudu Records in 1977. The collection was produced and arranged by David Matthews. The producer co-wrote “Turn This Mutha Out” with Tony Sarafino. The song climbed to #21 on the U.S. Billboard R&B singles chart. The elegantly smooth dance track “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” is another single from the album that charted, peaking at #68 on the U.S. Billboard R&B singles chart and #76 on the Billboard Hot 100. And it shot to #2 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart.

Idris Muhammad was born Leo Morris on November 13, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He began playing drums at the age eight and was performing with jazz bands by the time he was 16. The talented musician is recognized as one of the most innovative drummers in soul music and had worked with legendary music acts such as Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler, Sonny Stitt, Roberta Flack, George Benson, John Scofield, Grover Washington, Jr. and Curtis Mayfield.  And he played on Fats Domino’s Rock ‘n’ Roll classic “Blueberry Hill” when he was just 16. Muhammad also worked extensively with jazz greats Lou Donaldson, Ahmad Jamal and Pharoah Sanders. Also, he was the house drummer at Prestige Records from 1970 through '72. 

The famed drummer/composer was quite an eclectic artist. He took on a number of different styles during his long, distinguished musical career, including jazz, funk, R&B, soul, fusion, post-bop, soul-jazz, bebop, dance and jazz-funk. And he played on some of the best soul-jazz tracks ever recorded. In the 1960s, the musician changed his name to Idris Muhammad after converting to Islam. And in the ‘70s, he released a string of stellar albums that are now prized among funk, soul-jazz and R&B fans.

Muhammad’s music was introduced to a new generation via hip hop. A slew of celebrated hip-hop artists have sampled his music for their tracks, including Nas, Eminem, Drake, 2Pac, the Notorious B.I.G. and the Beastie Boys.

The legendary drummer died at the age of 74 on July 29, 2014, leaving behind a wealth of great music and performances. He’s remembered as one of the greatest soul-jazz drummers of all time.

Turn This Mutha Out (album) at Amazon

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Album Review of Earth, Wind & Fire's All ‘N All

Legendary R&B/funk/jazz band Earth, Wind & Fire were at the peak of their popularity and success when they released their ninth album All ‘N All in late November of 1977. They were probably the biggest African-American band in the world at the time, boasting legions of fans of all races and nationalities across the globe. However, the mega-talented outfit didn’t rest on their laurels and broke new sonic ground with this amazing collection. It’s a highly creative work but still very accessible to a wide audience.
The album is chock full of musical gems and is extremely cohesive; all the songs complement one another, with one song flowing seamlessly to the next.  The lead single, “Serpentine Fire,” is a rhythmic masterpiece—fusing funk, African, gospel, soul and Latin in one explosive package. The track has a really unique percussion-laden groove; and it boasts a monstrous bass line and a super-tight horn arrangement. Also, the dynamic intro sounds like the band is bursting out of a volcano. In short, this is massive RHINOCEROS FUNK. The song was a big hit, spending seven weeks atop the U.S. Billboard R&B singles chart and peaking at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The other big hit from the collection is the majestic, uplifting “Fantasy.” The song is superbly arranged and orchestrated, and Philip Bailey delivers a sterling lead vocal performance. It charted at #12 on the U.S. Billboard R&B singles chart and at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s one of Earth, Wind & Fire’s best-known tracks and still gets a lot of play on the radio.

The hyperkinetic “Magic Mind” is one of the band’s most underrated songs. It’s about striving to achieve your highest potential in all aspects of life, taking risks and not being afraid to fail—as well as not allowing the negativity in the world to consume you. The song’s title refers to how powerful the human mind is and the endless things you can accomplish if you fully utilize it.  The potent, hard-driving groove boasts some incredible playing from the celebrated Phenix Horns; and Verdine White keeps things nice and funky with his impeccable bass work.

 “I’ll Write A Song for You” is a gorgeous ballad that features an exquisite vocal performance from Bailey. This track illustrates what a truly gifted vocalist he is.

The urgent, high-energy “Jupiter” is a about a wise and benevolent extraterrestrial who travels to Earth to spread a message of love and positivity. The band’s flawless musicianship elevates this supersonic groove to the stratosphere.  The primitive-sounding “In the Marketplace” interlude is a great lead-in to “Jupiter.” It takes the listener from ancient times to high-velocity futuristic funk. And Maurice White provides some great kalimba work on the interlude.

The powerful ballad “Be Ever Wonderful” showcases Maurice’s impressive vocal chops. Another track in which he shines on lead vocals is the luminous mellow jam “Love’s Holiday.” And it features a terrific guitar solo from Johnny Graham. “Love’s Holiday” is followed by the irresistible interlude “Brazilian Rhyme,” which has a marvelous vocal arrangement and some splendid bass work from Verdine. Even the interludes are first-rate on this album. This could stand on its own as a full song.

The band flexes its jazz muscles on the fusion-jazz instrumental “Runnin’.” The song features some dazzling keyboard work from Larry Dunn and excellent solos from saxophonist Don Myrick and trumpeter Michael Harris.

All ‘N All was produced solely by Maurice White, who also helped write the majority of the album’s tracks. It’s one of EWF’s most successful albums, both critically and commercially. The collection climbed to the summit of the U.S. Billboard R&B album chart, where it remained for nine weeks; and it peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 pop album chart. It also charted in the top 20 in several other countries and made the top 10 in Canada and the Netherlands. The collection went triple platinum and was the best-selling R&B album of 1978. And it received high marks from music critics. Additionally, the album won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group or Chorus; and “Runnin’” landed the band another Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental.

Earth, Wind & Fire outdid themselves with All ‘N All—one of the landmark albums of the late ‘70s and a jewel among the band’s acclaimed oeuvre.

Serpentine Fire

In The Marketplace (Interlude)/Jupiter

All 'N All at Amazon

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Album Review of Sly & Robbie's Rhythm Killers

Celebrated Jamaican rhythm section Sly & Robbie thrilled funk and reggae music lovers with their inventive 1987 album Rhythm Killers. In the 1980s, the talented musical duo began transitioning to a more electronic-based sound, which was a significant departure from the more rootsy reggae sound of their earlier work in the ‘70s. And this album captures them at the peak of their new sonic direction. The musicians utilized contemporary technology and electronic equipment for this record, including a Fairlight CMI synthesizer and electronic drums.

Rhythm Killers, which was released on Island Records, offers a terrific cross-genre stew of funk, reggae, hip hop, rock, world beat and dance; and it showcases drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare’s tremendous musical chops, which earned them the distinction of being one of the world’s greatest rhythm sections. The duo brought in Bill Laswell to produce the album. The bassist/producer is known for his experimental, avant-garde production work and was the ideal choice for this ambitious effort.

Probably the strongest track on Rhythm Killers is the irresistible “Boops (Here To Go).” The song is about a dude with no game who tries to buy the affections of the ladies but instead gets played by them.  It’s a really unique-sounding track, which effectively melds hip hop, reggae and funk. Everything just clicks on this cut, and it immediately grabs your attention with its singular groove. And it features Jamaican reggae singer/rapper/toaster Shinehead, who serves up an inspired rap performance. Moreover, this track contains one of my favorite Star Trek puns: “Bass, the final frontier.” You just know you’re in for some heavy-duty, unalloyed funk with that line.

“Let’s Rock” is another really strong track. The high-octane funk/rock cut features funk legend Bootsy Collins, who provides some nasty guitar work and a cool vocal performance. This track just smokes and has an urgency about it; and Sly & Robbie’s potent rhythms ably power this monster groove. Also, singers Bernard Fowler and P-Funk alumnus Gary “Mudbone” Cooper contribute some funkified vocals. And guitarist Pat Thrall delivers some wicked rock-tinged licks, while the dynamic strings further increase the track’s groove quotient.

"Rhythm Killer" is an infectious reggae/hip-hop track that boasts a dope bass line, a bomb-ass beat and a great descending string arrangement from Karl Berger. And Shinehead returns with some more tight bars.

The album also contains covers of two ‘70s R&B classics: the Ohio Players’ funk/dance smash “Fire” and the Pointer Sisters’ 1973 hit “Yes We Can Can.” Sly& Robbie’s cover of “Fire” is pretty solid but not as good as it could have been. They didn’t really bring anything new, unique or interesting to their rendition, which is disappointing considering all the great talent involved on this project. It just makes you want to go listen to the original version. Their cover of “Yes We Can Can” is better but still not great. I would have preferred listening to some original Sly & Robbie tracks in place of these two rather uninspired covers. 

The album’s final track, “Bank Job,” is one badass groove—boasting tight vocals, a sterling string arrangement and some killer bass work from Robbie. The track features the late Rammellzee, who was a highly influential graffiti, hip-hop and performance artist. This was an excellent song choice to close out the album.

With the exception of “Fire” and “Yes We Can Can,” Laswell, Sly and Robbie contributed to the writing of all the tracks on the album. And Bootsy helped pen “Boops (Here To Go),” “Let’s Rock” and “Bank Job.” Also, Bootsy and Mudbone weren’t the only P-Funk alums who appeared on the album. P-Funk keyboard maestro Bernie Worrell brought his considerable skills to the mix. Some of the other notable musicians who played on the album included acclaimed saxophonist/flautist and composer Henry Threadgill; Senegalese percussionist and drummer Aïyb Dieng; jazz-fusion guitarist Nicky Skopelitis; and the late, great Cuban percussionist Daniel Ponce.

Upon its release, Rhythm Killers received mostly positive reviews from music critics and charted in the UK (#35), Sweden (#44), New Zealand (#12) and the Netherlands (#75). "Boops (Here To Go)" spent 11 weeks on the UK Singles chart, peaking at #12; and it charted at #22 on the U.S. Billboard Dance Club Play Singles chart. NME Magazine ranked Rhythm Killers at 25 on its 1987 year-end best albums list. And "Boops (Here To Go)" ranked at number 18 on the magazine's best singles list.

On the whole, Rhythm Killers is a very strong effort and a must-have for Sly & Robbie fans, as well as funk and reggae aficionados. Although it’s a highly creative and experimental album, Sly & Robbie never lost sight of the FUNK, which is why it’s such a rewarding listening experience. It’s at once inventive, super-funky and accessible.

Full Rhythm Killers album

Rhythm Killers at Amazon

Friday, April 3, 2015

"Space Is The Place" by Pleasure

R&B/Funk/jazz band Pleasure are widely known for their bass-driven funk classic “Glide.” The track is beloved by funk fans and bass players alike.  However, the Portland, Oregon-bred band recorded a number of other stellar tracks that barely get any play these days. “Glide” kind of overshadows the rest of the band’s oeuvre; and that’s a shame, because soul/funk gems like “Space Is the Place Place” often get overlooked. 

Not to be confused with avant garde jazz innovator Sun Ra’s composition of the same title, Pleasure’s “Space Is the Place” is an infectiously funky groove. The track is brimming with funk and soul. And the musicianship is impeccable. Nathaniel Phillips’ bass work is smooth, fluid and very funky.  And guitarist Douglas Lewis serves up some fretboard funkiness, including a smoldering solo. The cool vocal arrangement has some early Earth, Wind & Fire flavor, with lead singer Sherman Davis delivering a strong, soulful vocal performance. Additionally, the late, great Bruce Carter is working his rhythmic magic on the drums.

The song has a positive message about finding inner peace through mentally transporting yourself from the negativity in the world and discovering a new space: “In search of an outer groove/You don’t have to move /You’ll find a place.”

“Space Is The Place” is a track from Pleasure’s fifth album Future Now, which was released in 1979. The song was penned by Nathaniel Phillips and percussionist Bruce Smith. The album also contains the band’s biggest hit “Glide.” There are also several other strong cuts on this impressive collection.

The lineup for Pleasure when they recorded Future Now was the following: Nathaniel Phillips (bass, vocals); Bruce Carter (drums); Donald Hepburn (keyboards, vocals); Marlon “The Magician” McClain (guitar, backing vocals); Bruce Smith (percussion, backing vocals); Dennis Springer (tenor saxophone); Sherman Davis (lead vocals, backing vocals); Michael Hepburn (keyboards, vocals); and Tony Collins (trumpet, flugelhorn). And guitarist Douglas Lewis, who played on "Space Is The Place" and "Universal," would officially become a band member on Pleasure's next album Special Things (1980).

Space Is the Place at Amazon

Related Blog entry: "Glide" by Pleasure