Friday, November 30, 2007
Tommy McCook (3 March 1927 – 5 May 1998) was a Jamaican saxophonist. A founding member of The Skatalites, he also directed The Supersonics for Duke Reid, and backed many sessions for Bunny Lee or with The Revolutionaries at Channel One Studios in the 1970s.
"Harvest in the East" was recorded and released by Clive Chin, one of Jamaican music's greatest unsung heroes. While working at the family business, Randy's Record Store and the crucial studio upstairs, Randy's Studio 17, Chin oversaw seminal recordings by the '70s top reggae performers and producers: the Wailers, Alton Ellis, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Lee Perry and Black Uhuru. From 1969, when it opened, Randy's Studio 17 became a focal point of Jamaican music, with the studio booked non-stop. Working with innovative engineer Errol Thompson, a teenaged Clive Chin laid down thick bass and drum rhythms which became both the signature sound and the roots of reggae and dub.
Often hailed as one of the 20 greatest Reggae seven inches, Tommy McCook's "Harvest in the East" is a true masterpiece.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Like its predecessor, "Spirit in the Dark," 1972's "Young, Gifted and Black" found Aretha moving with soul music's elite into a progressive phase that opened up the emotional content of her work even further. It mixed both sides of Aretha -- the earlier hard-hitting soulsister, and the developing vocalist with a rich talent for more sophisticated material. The album features the anthemic title cut in Aretha's famous version -- plus the sample favorite "Rock Steady."
The track was recorded in Miami’s Criteria Studios in the fall of 1970. Franklin, who wrote the song and provided a scratch vocal and piano part, was present at the morning session along with Bernard Purdie on drums, Cornell Dupree on guitar, Richard Tee on organ, and Chuck Rainey on bass. (Franklin’s final vocal, the backup vocals, and the horn parts would all be added later.) Producer Arif Mardin eventually wrote out charts, but none were really needed for the simple two-chord, two-section ditty about, ahem, jumping into your car and “taking a ride.”
After a few quick run-throughs, engineer Gene Paul (who was responsible for Rainey’s massive bass presence in the mix), said, “Let’s put one down so we can hear what it sounds like.” Rainey, Purdie, Dupree, and Tee had cut many a side together, and in a testament to their creative powers, the foursome issued a slamming first take. The diligent production team of Mardin, Jerry Wexler, and Tom Dowd had the musicians rework and re-record the song for the next three or four hours before it was finally realized that the first pass was perfection.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Born Sylvester Thompson in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Syl Johnson sang and played with blues artists Magic Sam, Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells and Howlin' Wolf in the 1950s, before recording with Jimmy Reed for Vee-Jay in 1959. He made his solo debut that same year with Federal, a subsidiary of King Records of Cincinnati, backed by Freddie King on guitar.
He then began recording for Twinight Records of Chicago in the mid 1960s. Beginning with his first hit, Come On Sock It to Me in 1967, Johnson dominated the label as both a hitmaker and producer. With a hard-hitting, funk and blues drenched, west side style, Johnson became a leading figure in the Chicago soul scene at the end of the 60s.
The track below, "Different Strokes," might be Syl's best known jam--it starts with a massive break and continues to scorch everything in its path. A true funk classic, "Different Strokes" has been sampled by hundreds of hip-hop artists (Boogie Down Productions, Wu-Tang Clan, N.W.A., and Public Enemy, just to name a few) and continues to light up dancefloors the world over.
Boogie Down Productions' "Criminal Minded":
Monday, November 26, 2007
The Backyard Heavies may well have been the house band at Reflection Sound studio in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they cut a series of singles in the early ‘70s. Certainly they included Roger Branch, the leader of the Reflection Sound band and formerly sound engineer at Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn’s Sea-Saint studio. A classy, pocket-hugging instrumental, Chitlin’ Strut appeared initially on the New Orleans Hotline label and was later picked up by Scepter Records, but it didn’t sell well and remains hellish tricky to locate.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
"Boot-Leg" finds Booker T. & The MG's core group (Booker, Duck Dunn, Al Jackson, and Steve Cropper) joining forces with the Mar-Keys horn section. The Mar-Keys were a session band for the Stax label from Memphis, Tennessee in the 1960s. As the first house band for the label, their backing music formed the foundation for the early 1960s Stax sound. Featuring Charles "Packy" Axton on tenor sax and Don Nix on saxophone, this track is often overlooked in the Booker T. anthology, and it's a shame--because it's a ton of fun. What else can you say?
Monday, November 19, 2007
William E. Cobham Jr. is simply one of the best jazz drummers there has ever been. Period. Armed with formidable technical skill, he came to prominence in the early days of fusion as the rhythmic force behind Miles Davis' fusion experiments. (Oddly enough, he also played drums on my ex-stepfather's solo album.) His other notable early 70s posting was in the engine room of fusion supergroup the Mahavishnu Orchestra. "Crosswinds" comes from the next stage of his career, as the powerful and superfast jazz-rock of Mahavishnu gave way to a more human jazz-funk sound. The transformation was taking place through 1973's 'Spectrum' (being particularly evident in sampler's favourite, "Stratus") but the change of guitarist to John Abercrombie ushered in a less frenetic sound.
The Brecker brothers are on particularly good form, especially Michael with his keening soprano. And don't forget George Duke, anchoring the whole thing with a funky riff on a heavily funked-up rhodes. Where the album really stands out, though, is on the slower cuts like "Crosswind." Sampled ad infinitum by hip-hop acts (check Gang Starr's "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow") and paid homage by modern funk acts like the Breakestra, "Crosswind" is a jazz-funk classic.
Gang Starr's "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow":
Friday, November 16, 2007
A funky 45 that never fails to please, courtesy of the Fabulous Shalimars. With a nasty drum break about :20 in, and a fun, lowdown sound, this track has become a dancefloor classic. Unfortunately, a google search about the Shalimars proved rather fruitless--no one seems to know where these guys came from, or what year this dusty nugget was released. But one thing's for sure...it's a jam! (A copy of the 45 recently sold for $70 on Ebay.)
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
A truly rare gem of big-band funk from Poland's Big Band Katowice. Released in 1977, the "Music for My Friends" LP is one of the best Eastern European Jazz funk records (courtesy of the MUZA label) you'll ever find.
"Sorcery" is a wonderful introduction to the kinds of rare grooves DJ's and crate-diggers have been digging from Poland for years -- that mad mix of jazz, funk, fusion, and electric elements that somehow managed to flourish wonderfully during the 70s years of Soviet control -- a real musical marvel, considering the setting -- and because of tight border control, very few of these LP's made it out to the Western world. "Music for My Friends" has stood the test of time and then some, with wicked breaks, dense brass sections, and an unrelenting groove.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Since 1998, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra has been spreading their singular blend of Afrobeat around the world. Their live performances are legendary -- lasting up to 3 hours, they play a heady blend of booty-shaking grooves coupled with inflammatory political messages. Songs routinely stretch out past the 15 minute mark. While they may be the torchbearers of the sound pioneered by Fela Kuti, they're no tribute band -- they pull in elements of rock, dub, and Latin music to make a sound all their own.
This EP, available only through their website and at shows, may be the perfect introduction to this complex band. At only 30 minutes long, it manages to concisely show off all of their strengths -- the excellent playing, the awe-inspiring grooves, and the leftist politics -- all in about the span of time it generally takes them to finish up one song.
The instrumental "Dub Je Je" features an unaccompanied trombone before a hypnotic groove kicks in, complete with the signature guitar rhythm and gigantic horn section. With a hypnotic, echo-drenched sound groove and narcotic dub atmosphere, this track is one of Antibalas' shining moments. Admittedly, Afrobeat can be an acquired taste--those with a fondness for conciseness should stay clear. But anyone looking for truly intelligent dance music -- music to dance to until you're ready to storm the barricades -- is advised to start here. And what a bass line!
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Produced by Dave Marais, this dusty nugget comes courtesy of the mysterious funk outfit, The World Wonders. Not much is known about the band or the track, other than it was released on Alarm Records, based in Shreveport, LA. This track was featured by legendary crate digger Kenny Dope on his joint effort with Keb Darge, "Funk Spectrum Volume 2", which you can find on amazon.
The track is a monster, featuring some wicked horn lines, and a stuttering, greasy groove that rolls and tumbles in all the right places--truly the funkiest washing machine you'll ever hear!
Monday, November 5, 2007
Essential killer French soul-funk from Ben & The Platano Group. Recorded in 1970 and issued by Barclay in 1971, Paris Soul is an album that wears the test of time well. The dynamtic orchestral arrangements by Evaristo Nata blend some Afro-Cuban flavors (such as the Santana tribute "Salute to Santa," on which they bite a chunk from "Oye Como Va" and bend it into a near salsa jam), some Brazilian samba, Memphis soul, and post-bop jazz soloing to achieve a smoky, sexy, funky groove.
The band members, apart from their arranger, are anonymous, but it hardly matters; whether it's the Brazilian-tinged "Culzean," with its flowering guitars and reeds turning through one another in a simple airy melody embossed by some serious polyrhythms; or the easy, shuffling track "Black Waders," (MP3 below) with its entwining organ and horn lines that sound like they could have come from some underground club version of the Alfie soundtrack, the result is the same: this is one of the finest recordings of pure groove music made on either side of the Atlantic during the early '70s.
Friday, November 2, 2007
The name of this group makes this release seem like a calypso record, which it isn't. The sound is more like a lost Meters album from 1969, which it isn't quite either. The credits imply that the band is from Finland, which is a matter of dispute. (Some insist that the band is actually an exercise in New Orleans-style instrumental workouts from the Soul Fire crew, New York's resident retro-funk chameleons--the same people behind J.D. & the Evil's Dynamite Band, the Soul Providers, etc.) Finnish or not, it's a delicious and unbelievably convincing pastiche of vintage Meters, right down to the guitar and organ tone. Half the fun is figuring out which early funk classics yielded its borrowed riffs ("Struggling My Way," for instance, is a cousin to Sly and the Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song"). The other half of the fun is kicking back and surrendering to the groove. And DJs looking for a fresh beat can take their pick of the crisp, inventive breaks here, featuring heavy breakbeat drums pounding away, jangly guitar chopping like mad, and hot Hammond organ licking away at the bubbling pot.
Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy--you can find it on Amazon. Here's "Struggling My Way":
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Alvin Cash was the undisputed boss of the small-time dance craze in the 1960s, recording as Alvin Cash & the Registers (get it?) or with the band The Crawlers. If there was a dance craze going, he was either right on it or up there creating it, singing about Muhammad Ali’s moves, doing the Twine or funkin’ like there’s no tomorrow on a series of labels, like Mar-V-Lus or the label that released this funky racket in 1968, Toddlin’ Town. First discovered by the Northern fraternity, then used as a breakbeat, "Keep On Dancing" remains a floor filler killer when it comes to party time. You might recognize it from DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's "Product Placement" sets, or perhaps from Queen Latifah's "Dance for Me" or Masta Ace's "Letter to the Better."