Thursday, August 06, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

The Herbaliser Band: Geddim!
From Session 2 (K7, 2009)

Nearly a decade after first delivering on the idea of making live band versions of their sample-based songs, The Herbaliser are back again. The live band thing, slowly but surely making its way back industry-wide, is proving to be no fad. Just as Session 1 featured no vocals, this set follows the same pattern, aside from the vocal samples sprinkled throughout.

What you get here is richer, more organic pieces that put more meat on your plate. Think of the originals as appetizers and the Sessions albums as the main entree. The difference is comparable to hearing the original sample-based versions of N.E.R.D.'s “In Search Of...” or Pharrell's “In My Mind” and then hearing their live-band reworkings with Spymob and ?uestlove and crew, respectively. It's night and day, and after hearing the full-band jazz and funk it up you don't want to go back. The snares have more snap, the bass is a bit juicier, and the sax has more swagger.

The lead single, “Geddim!,” is pure spy movie chase scene material. It moves, it darts, and it throws things in your way as it turns the corner. Just as you're about to catch up, it jumps a fence and you're left pausing for a moment to catch your breath before resuming the chase. The album is not all cat-and-mouse, though. The closer “Stranded On Earth” is an almost mournful piece that moves from weeping to crying before the song's end.

Even though Session 2 covers material spanning 12 years, it sounds quite cohesive. It's freaked-out acid jazz/funk with a bit of turntable thrown in for good measure. While brighter in tone than Portishead, I haven't heard mood music like this since, well... Portishead's first 2 albums, which I hold in very high regard. And while Session 2 may not be as genre-bending, musically it certainly belongs in the same conversation with its strong aural aesthetics.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Nite-Liters: Anything Goes
From A-Nal-Y-Sis (Reissue) (RCA/Dusty Groove, 2009)

I first heard of this album through an article in Waxpoetics issue 4, which focused on the interesting body-painted cover. The music is less artsy and more straightforward instrumental funk. Dusty Groove got into the reissue game over the past couple of years, and their latest offering is the New Birth-associated, Fuqua III-produced offshoot The Nite-Liters’ 1973 album “A-Nal-Y-Sis.” While it has a wide release later in September, you can buy it now through Dusty Groove.

The album’s intro “Serenade For A Jive Turkey” is a sweat-it-out scorcher. Featuring a steady back rhythm, its horn section is the star. Like the title implies, this song ain't for suckers. While the album features no true lead vocals, the second cut peppers in some nonsensical lyrics on “Anything Goes,” perhaps the most accessible song on the album.

You might recognize the guitar lick from “Damn” from Dr. Dre's “Lyrical Gangbang” (albeit it with thicker drums on the Dre posse cut). They also give a funkier performance on the Hathaway-penned “Valdez In The Country” by adding in their powerhouse horn section. Finally, for you budding (and seasoned) samplers out there needing some drums, take note of the class-is-in-session workout on “Drumology,” aptly named for Robin Russell's almost Lesson-like session with Leroy Taylor with the assist on bass. Wowsers.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Mulatu Astatke And The Heliocentrics: Epic + Masenqo

From Inspiration Information Vol. 3 (K7/Strut, 2009)

Aside from my Beatles kick I've been on lately as I am eagerly anticipating the recently announced remastered reissues, I've been a bit of a jazz head lately with the recently reviewed P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble and now this Ethio-jazz album from the renowned Mulatu Astatke and his new-found friends in the Heliocentrics.

Astatke, a vibraphonist and pianist, who has worked and performed with the likes of Duke Ellington and Phil Ranelin, met up with the Heliocentrics early last year. The groups hit it off so well that they decided to record a full album.

Inspiration Information Vol. 3 follows in the line of releases from Strut that pairs up current artists/producers with their musical influences from a variety of backgrounds – kind of like the Red Hot + series from the last decade. The album is nearly entirely instrumental – allowing the arrangements to do the talking. One stunning example is “An Epic Story.” It has a haunting riff to it and feels almost operatic (not at all surprising since Astatke has been working on one) with its dark undertone and wide assortment of instruments featuring a nice, understated harp.

It wouldn't be a Heliocentrics release without some semblance of funky psychedelia. “Addis Black Widow” is a rollicking tune that makes you feel like you're trying to tame the lions on a jungle safari... or maybe they're trying to tame you? Elsewhere “Masenqo” features one of the few spots where you hear singing on the album. With its many moods, it goes from jazz-piano beginning to featuring the title instrument, an Ethiopian single-string violin... and then the drums thud their way in. The vocals are just dying to have Timbaland sample them for an off-kilter beat that he's known for.

Bottom line: if you dig the Heliocentrics, you'll enjoy this release as well. If you've never heard a Heliocentrics-featured album, this is as good of a place as any to start. Mulatu and friends do not disappoint here.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Poets Of Rhythm: Practice What You Preach
From Practice What You Preach (Daptone, 2006)

Bus People Express: Augusta, Georgia
From Original Raw Soul (Instinct, 1996)

Syrup: Chocolate
From Different Flavours (Compost, 2000)

With all the press that Daptone's Dap Kings get for their funky soul roots revival (and deservedly so), many seem to forget the groundwork that Jan and Max Weissenfeldt (aka Whitefield) and their band of funky brothers from another mother laid down in the early to mid 1990s. Much of the time they were known as the Poets of Rhythm, but they had more monikers than Prince has had backup bands.

The three tracks above give you a sense of versatility the band has. “Practice What You Preach” is one of my favorite funk workout jams of all time. It features a bassline that rides like a rollercoaster and the syncopated chorus is a real sweat. Then you get a killer sax/drums duet followed up by a nice organ solo. And if you think these guys couldn't have held their own with the J.B.s, check out their alterego's tribute to James Brown's hometown with its frenetic pace and nice touch of congas. Finally, the oft-forgotten Syrup side project finds the band still utilizing more synths. With its steady rhythm guitar riff and still keeping true to their ever-present top-notch hornwork, it could easily blend in with late 70s/early 80s sets.

Recently I had the chance to talk with Jan about his thoughts on the resurgence of funk, where he's been, and where he's going with music.

EL: With all the press that The Dap Kings get as being the “in” nu-funk band, people tend to forget you and your bandmates. Talk about some of the groundwork you and your bandmates help to lay with this renaissance of funk in early/mid-90s - struggles to get labels to believe in your music, issues with getting heard, etc.

JW: We self produced and released a 7" in 1992. I gave a copy to a friend who went to Hamburg and passed it on to the DJ at a small club called Soul Kitchen. Two weeks later I got a call from the guys from the newly founded label Soulciety asking if we want to record an album for them. Of course we agreed as we never even thought that could happen. Before that we just jammed in the basement and had a couple of shows where we covered meters songs.

EL: How many alteregos did the Poets Of Rhythm have? To name a few there was the Bus People Express, The Mighty Continentals, The Pan Atlantics, and The New Process. It's hard to keep up with your catalog! Why so many?

JW: I lost count myself but the reason is easy to explain: two of our biggest influences in the early days were George Clinton and James Brown. Both gave many of their musicians their own records which had their unique sound but still were part of the whole concept. We just imagined different projects with different sounds or styles and made records for them.

EL: Last we talked, you had mentioned that you were working on a follow-up Whitefield Brothers album to the now-reissued In The Raw LP. Are those sessions finished? Did you stick with the Ethiopian sound you talked about last time?

JW: The album is nearly done. It has some Ethiopian stuff but also compositions based on japanese and turkish scales and all kinds of exotic rhythms. Ethnic or world funk would be good description, I guess.

EL: From your Hotpie & Candy Records days, Poets Of Rhythm really had a lock on that JB's style with the syncopated rhythms and just a nasty horn section. Then the follow-up Discern/Define went in a different direction, overall a more toned down sound. You really don't like to stay too much in one musical element, do you?

JW: When we started making music together, Bo Baral and I were only 16 years old so you start with the basic stuff. After a while when more records are bought and you keep studying the works of previous generations, first you look at the classics from the different eras then you start looking behind the icons that everybody knows. You learn there are different approaches to music and there is loads of stuff that got lost because it didn´t meet the current tastes. So you add up and change influences all the time and as we don´t do albums every year the difference in sound can be quite big but still it contains a big part of what we grew up on.

EL: Do you have any desire to start up another label? If so, what would you do differently?

JW: I have a new label I started a couple of years ago – Field Records. So far I only did reissues of Whitefied Brothers and Pan-Atlantics as I don´t really have the time to put too much effort into label work. It´s all 7"s anyways and is more of a fun thing. Hotpie & Candy Records was a fun thing as well. We pressed up own 45s because that´s what our inspirations did. It was never handled as a serious business and in the end we probably gave more copies away for free than we sold.

EL: I read in Waxpoetics that at your live shows you don't do much (if any) of your older Poets Of Rhythm material. Is that still true?

JW: As I tried to explain with the changing influences, it´s kind of boring to stick to the same formula too long. It´s even harder to keep the music fresh if you have to perform many shows in a row. We try to incorporate as much improvisation as possible so every concert is different and you never know where it´s gonna take you. That keeps it interesting for us and for the audience.

EL: Some in the media have speculated that several years from now that CDs may not exist; they also note that it's one of the only times in history where the replacement technology is actually of inferior quality. Given the choice of a new album coming out, would you rather get a digital download or own a physical copy? Talk about your thoughts of the digital revolution.

JW: Soundwise digital definitely has a disadvantage compared to analog. They try to tell you you can't hear the difference and in high resolution that might be true, but I´m sure I can feel it and digital has a cleaner, colder appearance. On the other hand, it freed the music from the industry as the access is almost unlimited. Nowadays you can listen to countless hours of music for free on the web and you can choose what you want to listen to. Just 15 years ago you only could copy music in realtime with decreasing quality. You had to wait till the program on the radio met your taste or you had to buy countless records. On the production side it gives you more freedom as well cause you are not dependent on expensive studio time to do recordings or editing. So summed up it it´s like: more quantity, less quality – more freedom, less money. Like with all things there is the good side and the bad side. Yin and yang will always be relevant.

EL: Are you sour on the music industry these days? I know you had a falling out with Soulciety. Have you had to up your music biz game?

JW: Not sour at all. The only way to do it is to find people who care about music more than money (but still make you some) and work with them. Hard to find.

EL: What other flavors of sound would you like to try? Not necessarily that you're currently working on, but “someday I'd like to go for a _____________ sound.”

JW: Ambient soundscapes, tone poems.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

posted by O.W.

Soul II Soul: Back To Life (acapella mix)
From 12" (Virgin, 1989)

Bonnie and Shelia: You Keep Me Hanging On
From 7" (King, 1971). Also on New Orleans Funk Vol. 2.

Patti Drew: Stop and Listen
From Tell Him (Capitol, 1967). Also on Workin' On a Groovy Thing.

Bobby Matos: Nadie Baila Como Yo
From My Latin Soul (Phillips, 1968)

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: If You Can Want
From Special Occasion (Motown, 1968)

Menahan Street Band: Home Again
From Make the Road By Walking (Dunham/Daptone, forthcoming 10/14/08)

Final Solution: I Don't Care
From Brotherman soundtrack (Numero Group, 2008)

Freeway: Let the Beat Build freestyle
From ? (?, 2008)

Q-Tip: Gettin' Up
From The Renaissance (Motown, forthcoming 2008)

Black Ivory: You and I
From Don't Turn Around (Today, 1972)

It's the end of another summer, alas.

Looking back over the summer songs season, I wanted to do the last post on the songs that ended up forming my personal soundtrack the last few months. To be honest, I thought this list would be a lot longer than it ended up being but I wanted to keep it to songs that I kept returning to over and over rather than something I found merely "good."

Soul II Soul's acapella mix of "Back to Life" came at me three different ways: Murphy's Law dropped it at Boogaloo[la] and reminded me how cotdamn fresh it was, Greg Tate's Summer Songs post made me revisit the Soul II Soul catalog and I finally saw Belly which makes incredible use of the song to open the movie. Personally, I grew impatient to actually get to where the beat drops so I edited my version down to about a 30 second teaser before the "Impeach the President" drums kick in. As ML showed me, it's always a fun cut to play out.

The Bonnie and Sheila, I have to admit, I learned about first through a quirky youtube video[1] and I wondered how the hell I didn't know about this earlier. Great little slice of New Orleans funk produced by the great Wardell Quezergue and released on King (the Cincinnati label most associated with James Brown). Words are insufficient to explain to you how much I love this song.

The Patti Drew I owe to Chairman Mao. When I interviewed him for Asia Pacific Arts, he mentioned "Stop and Listen" as an example of a great soul tune that doesn't cost and arm and a leg yet sounds like a million bucks (not his exact words but you catch the meaning). I couldn't agree more. Don't sleep on the equally excellent ballad, "Tell Him" on the same album.

I had totally forgotten about the Bobby Matos and Combo Conquistadores song, "Nadie Baila Como Yo" (nobody dances like me) off the incredible My Latin Soul album until I heard the Boogaloo Assassins play it at their shows. This may very well elevate itself to my top 10 Latin soul songs given how it changes up chord progressions and tepos not once but twice - it's like getting three songs in one; one of the marks of a superior son montuno. I can't believe I slept on this track all these years.

I found the Smokey Robinson and Miracles song during my search through Motown's catalog to find tracks to play out that wasn't part of their Big Chill/Greatest Hits collection and I never failed to be amazed at the generosity of greatness that Motown provided over the years. For those who think Smokey is all droopy ballads, "If You Can Want" is a loud, proud wake-up call of funky power. How has no one ever done a 12" edit of this?

I already wrote about the Menahan Street Band and Brotherman songs already but they're so nice, I had to list 'em twice.

Freeway's freestyle over "Let the Beat Build" goes well with my official, beginning of the summer post where I nodded at Lil Wayne's original. Free, who had one of the best albums of last year that few seemed to notice, murders over Kanye's beat here. After, uh, a million subpar "A Milli" freestyles, I was happy to hear someone pick a different track to rip.

The last song is one I should have started the summer with. Late pass. Q-Tip's had a rough, um, decade so far in terms of being able to get this music to the masses but I'm hoping "Gettin' Up" does it right for him in preparation for his Renaissance album. This is, by far, the best thing I've heard from 'Tip since this and without getting all misty-eyed for my halcyon teens and 20s, listening to Tribe, this song just f---ing sounds good in the way the best Tribe songs just sounded f---ing good. (No doubt, it helps that the sample source is also f---ng good: "You and I" by Black Ivory. Read more here.).

By the way, if I had to pick my absolute favorite song of the summer...surprisingly, it'd end up being Solange Knowles' "I Decided." Don't ask me why but this has stuck with me the entire time through without ever ceasing to be pleasurable.

And with that...I bid all you adieu until next May but hope you keep the memory of summer in your mind alive until then.[2]

[1] Don't laugh - he dances better than you.

[2] Unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Synthetic Fonk Across The Ages
posted by murphyslaw

edwin starr - get up whirlpool 1980.JPG Ripple.jpg

IMG_4930.JPG ltfireman60.jpg

Edwin Starr: Get Up Whirlpool
Taken from the 12" on 20th Century (1980)

Ripple: I Don't Know What It Is (But It Sure Is Funky)
Taken from the self-titled LP on GRC (1973)

Sun: Fall Out On the Dancefloor
Taken from the album Eclipse on Air City Records (1984)

Jim: I'm a Baller + How Do You Like It
Taken from the album Long Time Comin' (2007)

Today we indulge in some guilty pleasures of synthesizer-imbued fonkery. A few notes on the selections:

The Edwinn Starr joint I recently came upon and fell in love with instantly. Though the song never really blossoms beyond the riff and the tranced-out vocal, I can make certain allowances. You can't get too mad at the guy who wrote "War".

Doesn't really fall into the "synthetic" realm per se, but the Ripple jam is an absolute classic. You should own this record. Oh-la oh-la-ay, suckas.

"Fallout" is taken off the last record that Sun recorded before sadly biting the dust. After repeated attempts with various labels and even despite having enlisted the support of the Ohio Players, who are credited on the back of this LP, the Daytonians called it quits in the year of my birth... but not before leaving us with this gem. This LP also boasts one of my current favorite record covers. Take a look at that magic.

Lastly, and certainly not leastly, Jim. A random find and a truly guilty pleasure (listen to the lyrics on "How Do U Want It" and you'll see what I mean). But I get gushy like an girlscout at the first intimation of voice-box-ery and these songs go no-holds-barred in that department. (Don't know the difference between a Voice Box, a Vocoder and Pitch Correction? Ask the Captain. He explained it all to me.) . Plus, I love the idea of the guy (JIM! What a name!) sitting in his basement, not in 1982 but last year, finally getting around to paying homage to Roger Troutman. Been a long time comin', indeed.

And don't forget: TONIGHT IS BOOGALOO! Holla!

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