Grant Green: Ain't It Funky Now

This is the ultimate rare groove—true funk perfection. The undemanding harmony forces the focus onto the rhythm, which is gritty, commanding, thick and multi-layered with flawless auxiliary percussion. Check out Idris Muhammad’s slammin’ drum breaks between 0:59 and 1:11—wow!! During his funk phase, Green limited himself to blues pentatonics and a finite number of licks. He uses them brilliantly here, however, constructing the most exciting solo in his funk catalog. Bartee and Mitchell contribute sizzling improvisations that are so smart and melodic they are actually catchier and more singable than the melody itself. Infectious and powerful, this is unquestionably a “must have” recording, and it is guaranteed that one listen will not be enough.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Stanley Clarke: School Days

The bass was an optional instrument in early jazz. But in the 1930s and 1940s its importance grew -- especially through the influence of the Kansas City sound and its smooth 4/4 time. The bass was now a key part of the accompaniment -- although bass solos were still as rare as caviar at a juke joint. But with the emergence of fusion in the late 1960s and 1970s, basslines drove the band. Even keyboardists and saxophonists looked to the bass to create the hook and move the audience to its feet. Thus began the age of the superstar electric bassist, with Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke setting the tone. "School Days" was a grand bass anthem -- short on harmonic variety and about as subtle as a SWAT team at the door, but full of energy and boasting a very danceable beat. Clarke is the star here, and hits the mark with one of his most admired and imitated performances. A fusion classic that may be a bit dated, but with a groove that still packs a punch.

December 13, 2007 · 0 comments


Herbie Hancock (featuring John Mayer): Stitched Up

Sometimes these pop-star-meets-jazzcat dream dates go bad before the appetizers are on the table. But Mayer is not your typical pop star, and Hancock knows how to cross over without losing his balance. It helps that the song is hot, with an irresistible dance beat on the refrain. Hancock deserves a lot of credit for the groove, digging in with that acoustic funk sound he pioneered back in his Blue Note days, but the rest of the band is also in the pocket. Steve Jordan may be a rock-pop drummer, but he could teach jazz snobs how to lay down a beat. And Mayer sings with the white Motown soulfulness he pioneered on that crazy Continuum release -- yeah, you know, that disk that looked like ECM on the cover but sounded like Marvin Gaye when you popped in into the CD player. Hey guys, how about a second date?

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments


Herbie Hancock: Hidden Shadows

Before he got the fusion formula right with Headhunters, Hancock tested the crossover waters with his Mwandishi ensemble, a high-energy funk band that caused the lights to dim every time it plugged in its large arsenal of electronic equipment. But the groove on "Hidden Shadows," from the Sextant LP, is not strong enough to sustain the 10-minute performance. The multilayered sound swallows up the soloists, and the monotonous bassline needs a stronger hook if it wants to catch some fish. Hancock was funkier on his acoustic outings "Watermelon Man" and "Cantaloupe Island" and on his fusion hit "Chameleon."

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments


Herbie Hancock: Cantaloupe Island

This is one of the funkiest acoustic jazz performances of the era, ranking with those other Blue Note classics, Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder," Art Blakey's "Moanin'" and Hancock's own previous entry in the slam-funk competition, "Watermelon Man." The largely static harmonies impart a slight modal tinge to the composition, creating a spacey-futuristic groove that still sounds modernistic today. Hancock's piano vamp drives the band, and Hubbard contributes one of his most memorable solos. Forget about Gilligan's or Crusoe's boring beachfront property . . . the nightlife is better on "Cantaloupe Island."

November 26, 2007 · 1 comment


Eddie Henderson: The Kumquat Kids

Eddie Henderson established himself in Herbie Hancock’s futuristic fusion outfit Mwandishi from 1969 to 1972. On this 1975 release, Henderson recruits former Hancock alumni Maupin, Priester, and Mason, along with George Duke and bassist Alphonso Johnson, to piece together a stimulating space-funk group of his own. Henderson’s trumpet, soaked in electronic echo and wah-wah effects, sweeps into and darts out of his high register, using trills, glissandos, and off-kilter chromatics. The synthesized otherworldliness of Mwandishi is present, but Duke, Johnson, and Mason lock into a tighter groove, keeping “The Kumquat Kids” groovy and grounded. Highly recommended for all funksters and fusion-heads.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments


Joe Sample: The Sidewinder

The 1994 Northridge earthquake so unsettled Joe Sample that he temporarily shelved his smooth jazz ministrations in favor of a full-frontal funk foray on an album titled, appropriately, Did You Feel That? Here he shakes up Lee Morgan's churning 1963 Blue Note classic "The Sidewinder" just enough to rattle dishes without breaking anything. Sample's soul by committee registers a 7.0 on the funk Richter scale. Granted, remakes are almost never as good as the original. But sometimes they're fun in their own right. Here's a case in point. First listen to Lee. Then sample Joe. You will feel that.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments


Herbie Hancock: Chameleon

Get down tonight! Set your K-tel Time-Travel Device to the 1970s and prepare to boogie! Naturally you'll need platform shoes and polyester bell-bottoms, with an Aubrey Beardsley peacock shirt open to the navel. Now add 19 necklaces with garish pendants, topped by a Pam Grier Autographed Afro. I'm talkin' about Shaft! Or rather about Herbie Hancock giving jazz the shaft. "Chameleon" shows his career-long adaptive advantage in camouflaging appearance to fit the environment. With jazz's audience shrunk to the capacity of a Volkswagen Bus, heeeere's Herbie alchemizing trendy electronic gadgetry and monotonous funk into fool's gold. Act now! Supplies are limited!

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments


Horace Silver: The Preacher

"I can't stand the faggot-type jazz," Horace Silver fumed to Down Beat in 1956, "the jazz with no guts." He didn't name names, but insinuated West Coast jazz, then at high tide. Homophobic Horace's alternative was funk, which to hipsters meant earthiness. Despite its title, "The Preacher" was funk incarnate, a down-to-earth, backslapping, goodtime Reverend with fire but no brimstone. Surprisingly, given his missionary masculinization, Horace was born not in a barrelhouse but in Norwalk, Connecticut—founded in 1640, rebuilt after the British torched it during our Revolutionary Unpleasantness, and renowned for oysters. Horace Silver was Norwalk's funkiest pearl.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments


Jimmy Smith: Root Down

Once he had his fill of hard bop and soul jazz, Jimmy Smith turned his organ toward funk jazz for a while. “Root Down” and the rest of this album, taken from a 1972 concert at the Bombay Bicycle Club in Los Angeles, are the epitome of that effort. Arthur Adams’ funk licks and wah-wah pedal give the sound the extra kick it needs to grab the kids’ attention, and Wilton Felder’s electric bass – an instrument one might consider gratuitous given the Hammond B-3’s pedals – helps sustain the soul groove so Smith can focus on his keyboard laboratory, and indeed he solos through virtually the entire 12 minutes here. “Root Down” gained new currency in 1994 when the Beastie Boys used the recording as the basis for a rap song of the same title. More proof that Smith’s sound never gets old.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments


Mongo Santamaria: Watermelon Man

“Watermelon Man” was an enormously successful hit for both Mongo Santamaria and its composer, Herbie Hancock. The trumpet player, Marty Sheller, plays the only solo in a song that features a groove-oriented melody in an arrangement favoring more Latin percussion than the Hancock original. This song anticipated the bugalu movement in Latin jazz that would take hold later in the 1960s. Bugalu (or boogaloo) incorporated elements of Cuban and Puerto Rican music, as well as American soul and R&B.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments


Herbie Hancock: Watermelon Man

Appearing on Herbie Hancock’s first album as a leader, the catchy “Watermelon Man,” with its strong backbeat and earthy quality, quickly became extremely popular. A Latin pop-jazz version issued a short time later by the Afro-Cuban percussionist-bandleader Mongo Santamaria became a major hit and led to numerous other recordings of the song over the years. Hancock himself released a new, electronically enhanced funk version on his 1973 album Head Hunters. Tenorist Dexter Gordon’s solo on the original track is as down-and-dirty as any he ever recorded.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments


Jimmy Smith: Back at the Chicken Shack

Jimmy Smith was not the first to exploit the potential of the Hammond organ’s down-home, earthy sound. But Smith became the instrument’s most popular and influential exponent during the heyday of soul-jazz at Blue Note in the late fifties and early sixties. His classic 1960 shuffle blues “Back at the Chicken Shack” is still performed widely in the 21st century. This original version features not only Smith’s own simple, blues-infused organ phrasing, but also Kenny Burrell’s funky guitar and Stanley Turrentine’s gritty, quintessentially soulful tenor saxophone.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments


Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder

Having been a member of both Art Blakey’s and Dizzy Gillespie’s bands at age 18, the prodigious trumpeter Lee Morgan, at first a disciple of Clifford Brown, was well into the development of a personal style at his untimely death at age 33. The Sidewinder is one of numerous recordings he made under his own name in the mid-1960s. Its hip-shaking title selection, with its funky bassline, strong backbeat, and Latinesque accents underpinning an earthy blues line, became a major hit and helped usher in the soul jazz/ boogaloo style.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments


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