Home > 2012, dancehall, disco, fusion, Haiti > Picks 11/11/12

Picks 11/11/12

I like to think about the geographical coverage that music has, about the routes it takes – how it seems to drop off influence like straying musicians on a long tour. This weeks picks cover a kind-of relationship between NY and the Caribbean, in that all the records were based out of NYC, but two of them bear cultural significance to the Caribbean, but wouldn’t  be the same without their NY musical counterparts.

Pulled from a trip to Bagatelle.

Chic –Chic (Atlantic, 1977)

I’ve gotta get something off my chest real quick: Disco was my first true love; I have incredibly fond memories of being a young kid and dancing in my room to Ray Rhodes DJing on Disco Saturday Night – bumping the boombox, just bugging out to all the funky grooves. Even when I discovered punk, and consequently became consumed in that world, I was still drawn to four-on-the-floor and fat basslines wherever I could find it. Consequently, my re-immersion in disco has been very nostalgic and extremely fulfilling. Looking back to the Disco Saturday Night show on KBIG, I realize that Chic, played a big part my favorite songs of that time, tracks that still hold up today. Listen to “Dance Dance Dance” (above), “He’s the Greatest Dancer” or “Le Freak” and feel how suggestive the 4/4 percussion and slinky bass grooves are, especially when paired with simple refrains and subtly uplifting arrangements that aim straight for the boogie-oriented parts of your body.

Chic was the group’s first album, and the beginning of a great run for Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. The group fused the groovy, urban funk and soul of NYC with the focused kick of European disco ala Cerrone; a match that resulted in a number of hits for both the band and the numerous A-listers they worked with (Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Madonna, Debbie Harry). The band was flexible, funky, soulful, and with a sense of fun that quickly became the soundtrack to not just Studio 54, but dark clubs and aromatic backyard parties everywhere. This is clearly not disco by numbers, however, and the group uses innovative arrangements and unique instrumentation to accent their elegant vibe. The keyboard solo in “Dance Dance Dance” is a particular highlight for me, and must be included when played out.

For every ferocious floor-filler cut on the album, there lies a more gentle, jazzy, quiet storm tune with soft vocals, a warm subdued atmosphere and lots of velvety space. “Sao Paolo” has a strong bossa nova nod to it, and it allows space for the group to show off their chops while still keeping the mood up. The Luther Vandross featuring “You Can Get By,” is another highlight, which outside of the cheesy verses, predominately focuses on a groovy shuffle while the strings struggle to match the velvety voice of Vandross.

But ultimately, the reason why Nile Rodgers’ revival of Chic is not only still relevant, but powerful, is that this music has real timeless groove to it, their funk is earthy and human. The words are simple, they’re easy to sing along to, the bouncy rhythm is genre/culture-crossing – Chic’s brand of fun is universal. As they end the album with the late-night cut “Strike Up the Band“, the track’s refrain lets loose the secret to the band, “Strike up the band / Making music is our plan / Got to feel the rhythm if you can.”

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Scorpio – Scorpio (Geronimo, 1987)

I’ve been playing a lot of Hatian kompas in my sets recently, and it seems to be going over very well. It’s a style related to merengue, but the truly good stuff has some of the best aspects of psych-funk, afro-beat and disco. The acidic guitars and bleeding synths spin in hypnotic loops, the percussion charges forward in never-ending groove, call and response vocals propel the feet forward, and the bouncing rhythm commands you to float.

As with most island music, the albums are predominately calypso/soca-minded and thus often fall in the pitifully cheesy spectrum of the music world. In the case of this album, side A is an exceedingly jolly affair with lots of bright images of umbrellas in glasses and palm fronds.

Thankfully from the first moment of side B the listener is lured into the dance with a rumbling groove and haunting rhythm melody. “Min Yayade La DR” (above) is really strong, an incredibly adaptable dance track that has enough low end to be snuck into anywhere from an Afro-minded set to disco or house. Aside from a faulty synth solo, the eight minutes are pure sweaty pleasure. “Noel” is a bizarre Christmas track is pretty funky, nowhere near as strong as “Min Yayade,” but there are some really memorable horn lines, some tough vocals and an overall vibrant groove. Not a track I can see myself playing out too often, but hey, Christmas is coming up.

Frankly, this is one of the more exciting finds I’ve yet to pick up at Bagatelle. It’s not easy to find Hatian records out on the west coast, as much of the music landed and stayed in either New York, Miami or France. It’s on trips like this one that I feel vindicated in my habit.

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Admiral Tibet/Coco Tea – Reality Time/Lonesome Side (1987)

This was a really great find, two strong Jammy/Steely & Cleavie riddims voiced by two great vocalists. Steve picked up a big dancehall buy last year, but new stuff keeps getting put out in pieces and this is one of the new things that totally blew me away. When I first put it on, it was the Coco Tea side that made me bring it home, but once t hit my system at home, I was able to fully experience the heaviness of the “Reality Time” riddim.

As I often stress on this blog, there are records which need to be heard with the proper instruments; a quality soundsystem or good headphones are the only way to truly experience the range in tones made available by some music. That being said, listen to the “Reality Time (Version)” and turn up the bass, the way it kicks in the left channel is absolutely killer. It has depth and roll to it that dubstep producers today wish they could replicate. But this is old school, 1987, made in Jammy’s studio in New York with both dancehalls and whips in Flatbush and Kingston predominately on his mind. I can’t express to you how much I love this riddim, I would have to geek out about the chronology of musical advancement, of genre movements – as to how this video game-esque riddim, weighed by fat synthbass and three-note casio melody would influence the IDM/Warp movement. Truly fat riddim, I love the vibes on this. Pure meditation.

Coco Tea’s track, “Lonesome Side” is great too, and works in a different setting. It’s a shuffling lover’s track; sweeping low end gives the track an infectious swing to it and Tea’s voicing is really catchy and fun. This will be a great backyard party track once the weather warms up again. Big ups to the NY-Kingston-Long Beach connection.

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Donald Byrd – Love Byrd (Elektra, 1981)

Donald Byrd’s A New Perspective was the record that made me fall in love with jazz, and it still firmly stands as one of my favorite albums today. Like many jazz heads, I loved to hear Byrd working in his soulful post-bop mode, or doing his funky thing with the Mizzell Brothers and Blackbyrds. Thus his, (as well as most jazz players’) 80’s records went overlooked and flipped past an have become dollar bin staples. I demoted the time period to quiet storm waste, elevator muzak, or sad bebop revivals.

While playing a Mizzell-Byrd track a few months ago I had someone come up to me and talk to me about a Byrd-Isaac Hayes collaboration, a record that eluded the cheesiness of 80s jazz. It was this 1981 record, with the boring cover, that hid the unassuming funk of two legends of black American music.

Looking at reviews for this album across the internet is pretty funny, they are filled with negative declamations that Byrd is selling out, that this music is not jazz, etc – but they’re missing the point entirely. This album is a production of Isaac Hayes, it’s heavily reflective of his vision and he employs Donald Byrd’s voice into the mix in a way that accents Hayes’ soulful-funk. I had a discussion the other night while seeing some friends DJ, about that particular brand of music that is the essential Sunday morning housecleaning soundtrack, those records that are airy, vaguely romantic, yet upbeat and memorable. This record falls squarely on that mark. The soft groove of a track like “Feel Like Loving You Today,” is melodic and uplifting, the vocals vague, yet romantic. Throughout the album the group is a strong representation of the work Isaac Hayes is known for, even highlighting the use of his Hot Buttered Soul Unlimited quartet, so there are plenty of moments of saccharine cheesiness that ultimately keeps Hayes from being a more revered member of my record collection. Yet, being 1981, there is plenty of bounce and quiet storm shuffle, carried out in a way that does sometimes straddle the line of tastefulness, but ultimately results in funky feel-good music that feels similar to the work of Stevie Wonder.

What separates Donald Byrd from other jazz-turned-r&b artists in the early 80s, is that he keeps the late night vibe that has made him a favorite since day one. The melodies tend to remain subtle and the focus prevails on soulful vocal intonations or a funky instrumental, as seen on “Love Has Come Around.” This album may not be without its outdated flaws, but in moments like the heart-on-the-sleeve singing in “I Love You Love” (above) we realize that we’re not listening to a jazz album – this is a soul album; and if there’s one thing that Donald Byrd has, it’s plenty of soul.

Categories: 2012, dancehall, disco, fusion, Haiti
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