Monday, April 13, 2015

FIRST YA GOTTA SHAKE THE GATE (late review by Rickey Vincent)

Talk about sneaking up on a mug after 33 years. The Funkadelic 3CD monstrosity dropped in December and bugged out all of us Funkateers, with a spectrum of reactions not heard since, well, Electric Spanking. After the pristine release of George Clinton’s memoir earlier in 2014, many of us Maggots were expecting some polished popular P-funk notions. Well weren’t we just Adolescent Funkin’ !
True to the Funkadelic mantra, this was the nasty, smelly underbelly of the Parlia-FunkadelicmentThang… rebooted for 2015, and in your face like a shot of Mace. To understand Shake the Gate, one must take it all in, all of it. It sinks in like the high from a special brownie, tickling slowly at first, but by the end of the day it overwhelms the senses.
From precision-delivered crunk-raps to baby-face ballads to distorted mutron throbs and relentless metal thrash, there is a bit of everything inside this Gate, yet all of it fits together. Each track sinks in, and has its own stank. There is a reason for the sequence of the songs, and you can get lost, then found again. Eventually you start to think there is a madd master-plan for this madness – and at that point you are hooked!
For a minute I was all into disc 3. Then I started just listening to disc 2, thinking it couldn’t possibly slam as hard as my last experience with disc 3. Well, was I kicked over! Disc 2 had something for disc 3’s ass! Now disc 1 serves more or less as an overture to the kids, the youth sound, the Southern crunk stank funk thang. But George is not just playing nice. Once you realize that he isn’t playing, but he is CLAIMING all of that music as his personal plaything, and his grandkids are more than capable of pushing that sound forward, then the utter untouchable awesomeness of Shake The Gate comes home to roost.
What is most sinister about the 3-disc adventure into the mind of the Main Maggot Dr Funkenstein is the way he allows everyone to take turns playing in the playground of Funkadelic Funk, before The Doctor smokes them all out. If you listen to George’s rapping on “The Wall” and “Snot n Booger,” the standard bearers from the final disc, George comes SO HARD, bringing ass-kicking attitude he gives a psychedelic beat-down to all who preceded him (‘cept maybe Sly). -- We are reminded here that George has been spittin’ rhymes since “Dog Talk,” before many of the pimply pups on the disc were even born –
This is not unlike what Miles Davis used to do with his legendary quintet in the 1960s and electronic swamp funk workouts in the 70s. He would let everybody shine in their own way, then with delicious subtlety emerge and blow them away. George was just slithering on the back burner through most of these tracks, until its time to Drop a Load.
Shake the Gate indeed.
Now at first I was one of the serous non-believers. I wasn’t ready to let go of Garry, to let go of Boogie, to let go of Belita, Jessica or Mallia, and all I wanted was some retro Pee and what remained of the Mob as I knew it. (and maybe some Ronkat) A great deal of that is in there to be sure, like “Jolene,” “Dirty Queen” and “Fucked Up.” But there is so much more.
There are some great clubby tracks like “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You,” “Boom There We Go Again” and “Catchin’ Boogie Fever,” and some wicked one-of-a-kind jams like the thunderous title track, and “In Da Kar,” “Zip It” and “Yellow Light.” What stands out are the rap/funk collaborations, like “Get Low,” “Roller Rink,” “I Mo B Yodog Fo Eva” and “Snot n Booger.” Some are incredibly creative productions, but they were complete surprises at first. Florida's 13teen and Bay Area producer Rob “G Koop” Mandell are geniuses with the new grooves, but I never thought they would be carrying the weight of the Future of the Funk like this. They deserve all the props for gluing this mad mess together. George knows how to find the top of the line geeps & zeeps for his ideas.
But I’m still not a fan of gratuitous rap tracks over good funk. I’m one of those O.G.’s that often thinks a rap track on good funk is like a cockroach crawling across my pizza slice! (Not only is it a shock, I’m not even hungry anymore!) Good Funk doesn’t need rap, but we all know that rap needs The Funk more than ever.
But as the wild ride through the Gate continued, the depths of the P started to hit me, and then I got it. Even though George Clinton is 21 years older than I am, I had to eat my doo doo and realize that GC is far more forward thinking than this putrid doo-loop driven maggot ever will be.
At first I treated the record like the 80’s Star Trek reboot, thinking of it as “Funkadelic, the Next Generation.” And like a lot of Trekkies who approached Star Trek the Next Generation with mild appreciation, it was ah-rite but at some point we’d say “WTF where is Kirk & Spock & Uhura!” But The Gate is more like the recent reboot of Star Trek -- the same but totally different -- with some true homages to the OG feel, and some Brand New Grooves to boot. Forward thinking Dogs pointing their paws ahead.
This Funkadelic brings new and old together in a truly original way. It is a thrill to hear Trey Lewd getting the space to play like he does, and Sly Stone’s deviousness gets threaded into the mix where he belongs. And let’s face it, Shake the Gate is keyboardist Danny Bedrosian’s Tour De Force. He’s on almost every track, doing the heavy lifting Bernie used to do, with a silly wiggle all his own. Once you understand that, the entire production falls into magnificent, beautiful place. Some Next Shit.

So now I cant wait for the new Parliament album, as much for the new surprises as for the epic, classic horn riffs and O.G. hooks that I will expect. (& maybe some Ronkat) But the bottom line is that P-Funk is alive and well, and that is the best part of this Funkadelic experience.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

RV'S FAVORITE FUNK OF 2014 - Year in Review

This is crazy late but its been on my computer all year so here goes:

2014 was a crazy crazy year for The Funk -- and a fucktkup year for black people -- and you can’t separate the two, because a lot of us need that funk to get thru the drama.  I believe that connection will continue to spawn more heavy music in the future to help us all take the weight, and to get over the Hump.

2014 was cool because so many funk legends represented yet again, and even managed to get some pop airplay.   The two greatest albums of the year, D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and Funkadelic’s First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate both dropped in December, which pushed this review back a bit.  But overall, from what I heard this past year, The Funk is alive and well. 

What struck me was the split between artists working to recapture their legendary sound, and those that are moving out, way out with their funky thangs to play with.  Former War keyboardist Lonnie Jordan’s impostor outfit he calls War put out a surprisingly enjoyable set Evolutionary that showed that for all the bullshit conflicts between him and the remaining War cats - now known as the Low Rider Band - Lonnie is a strong songwriter and damn if this record doesn’t bring that War feel.  Cheech & Chong’s cameo on the reprise of “L.A. Sunshine” helps out too, but is isn’t needed.

Jazz fusion giant Stanley Clarke released Up that brings him back to that 70’s fusion sound – and that mix of smooth jazz, edgy spastic fusion and straight up funk that characterized his best albums.  He even remakes “School Days,” and the George Duke classic “Brazillian Love Affair.” I would just download those and keep on moving.  Harvey Mason also did an album, Chameleon that tried to do the same, but it is a bit too tranquilized for my taste.  Good music, but I never thought of the Headhunters becoming dinner jazz.

Prince delivered a double-dose of rock and pop with two albums, Art Official Age and Phlectrumelectrum which featured his all female band 3rd Eye Girl.  It is polished precision pop and rock, with a lot of the riffs and lyrics that seemed aimed at the younger crowd, so don’t look for a remake of “Darling Nikki” around here, or some of those extended, adventurous workouts like “Lady Cab Driver.”  There are some brilliant tracks here like “Clouds” and “Breakdown,” but dare I say it, some filler cuts too.  Nevertheless for Prince it is a shrewd way of reaching out to a new audience and keeping his long time lovers/listeners in the loop.  The slightly more rock oriented 3rd Eye Girl effort Phlectrumelectrum isn’t so far off from Art Official Age, and I was hoping for more jamming workouts from the musicians here.  Remember, the bass player in this group is Ida Neilsen, and her 2012 solo project Sometimes A Girl Needs Some Sugar Too is one of the hottest funk albums of the past 5 years, so I was hoping to hear more of that.

Also in terms of old school, there were some strong reissues this year.  A long lost JB’s album These Are the JB’s was released – only on vinyl – that thing burns with Bootsy’s early fire.  Polydor didn’t let that go by, and released the James Brown  Live in Paris Love Power Peace as a 3 lp set – the look and format that James intended for the record.  It is a brilliant return to form for folks that want their OG funk uncut.

Compiler and researcher Alec Palao was at it again with another killer Sly Stone reissue, this one I'm Just Like You: Sly's Stone Flower 1969-1970 unearths the Little Sister sessions and other outtakes from the short lived Stone Flower label Sly had going during his genius transition years.  This is a transcendent exploration of Sly’s genius here.

The late Chuck Brown released a sweet Go Go session Beautiful Life that follows up with his recent magnificent work We’re About the Business in 2009. It is amazing that Chuck could almost see across the river with this one, musing on how good a ride he’s had, as if he was ready to move on, even though it was a horrible shock to all of us in 2012 when he died suddenly of heart failure and complications from pneumonia.

Of all the contemporary bands that relive the old school, no one does it for me like Osaka Monaurail, the Japanese groove band that holds a James Brown pocket throughout their work, and their latest release Riptide is a stellar example of what they do.  I still play the hell out of “Fruit Basket,” “Ball of Fire” and “Determination.”

Two of my favorite “roots funk” bands are hard to get ahold of because their music is not yet on itunes.  My man Joe Keyes has an ass-kicking horn driven outfit out of Maryland that absolutely smokes.  Joe Keyes’ and the Late Bloomer Band burns with heavy horn hooks, great solos and swinging guitar riffs that gives a feel as if Eddie Hazel sat in with Side Effect.   In a local news story on the Band, Joe Keyes was asked what 3 albums he would want on a desert Island, he said Agartha by Miles Davis, Thermonuclear Sweat by Defunkt, and First Minute of a New Day by Gil Scott Heron.  Nuff said!  Look for their EP Forever is A Long Time on Itunes soon.

One of the most bangin’ club funk bands is the United Funk Order, led by vocalist Thulani Jeffries, and Indigo Blu on multiple instruments.  They have a 4 song EP called “Fried Ice Cream” on Itunes that is a helluva teaser.  Their sound is that kind of soulful grown folks funk we have wanted to hear since Steve Washington put all those great vocalists onto Slave and Aurra’s records.  I had to undertake a serious funk hunt to get ahold of their entire Fried Ice Cream album.  My man Philip Colley played some tracks on his “Funk Bus” show and got my nose open.  But like so many of our favorite funk bands, their record release situation is all muddled up and the CD is not yet on itunes.  I would also like it if they could EQ those songs with more bass & volume, but hey they are unquestionably on the One!

Out of the south, great New Orleans Funk bands keep coming and coming with the good stuff.  I came across Analog Son, and their debut album Analog Son has a tough grind and tight horn driven swing.   A lot of these bands make a living doing covers of great Southern soul & rock.  But I was really blown away by “Earphunk” and their 4th album Sweet Nasty. Yes the big, soulful funky chops are there but some of the songs are simply transcendent; “Sunup to Sundown,” “Lippy” and “Check the Pulse” are on another level, deliciously mellow and hard all at once.  And out of the blue they drop a Roger/Zapp vibe on “Phine” that stands up against any Dayton thunder-funk.  They are my surprise discovery of 2014.

Out of France a spicy funk outfit the HornDogz dropped a nice slice of modern R&B Funk with a lot of old school flavors.  Their sound has the influence of the recent Maceo Parker funk albums, and their original spin on classic soul & funk is infectious.   They do a particularly asskicking version of Aretha’s “Rock Steady” that features P-Funk guest vocalist Mary Griffin in full effect.  A mean cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” kicks too, and the overall feel is modern but very soulful & funky.

Other funkers were good at pushing a new type thang forward in 2014.  My man Maurice Richmond collaborated with a gang of L.A. Maggots and Euro-peein funkers to produce Double Dose of Funk, a street strong mash of thump.  This is that satisfying underground Hump that should be on every street corner!

The Amsterdam Funk band Seven Eleven keeps getting better and better, and their Live in Uden is both a retrospective of their decades of stank and a dog’s paw pointing forward to a new era of polished, swinging smelly funkiness from them.

The P-Funk veteran players are going strong as ever.  Our girl Sheila Horne, aka Amuka Kelly aka Sheila Washington aka Sheila Brody delivered a mean & lean 5 song EP Mississippi released under the name Sheila Brody that was produced by Chuck D of Public Enemy.  The sound is hot and slamming soul with a modern feel and an old school theme.  Chuck and Sheila even do a hip hop /blues number that kicks.  At 5 songs you’re just left wanting more. 

The prolific P-Funk keyboardist Danny Bedrosian was at it again with Endangered.  His trademark whimsy and brilliance is on display here once again, and it is hard to imagine he can put out at least an album every year and keep up with George Clinton’s traveling circus too.   

P-Funk bassist Lige Curry was in fine form as well, delivering a stomping 13 track monster with his group the Naked Funk Project: All Around The World For The Funk.  The thundering set could have been called “All Around The Funk” because Lige has produced one of his most satisfying and diverse productions. 

The year was going good but without a dominant funk release until December when D’Angelo dropped Black Messiah, and Funkadelic’s 3 disc monstrosity First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate hit.  Each release was thrilling and challenging at the same time.  D’Angelo clearly has grown, and ironically he rushed his album into a 2014 release because of all of the cop murders and Black Lives Matter protests.  It was and is stunning, and I wrote back in December:

This is the album Kanye West tried to do but he had neither the consciousness nor the musicianship. It is the album Jay Z or Pharrel or the other pop rappers will never do because they must come to terms with an Awakened Black Man with a Vision for his craft. it is the album the wannabe Thicke-Timberlake-Bieber bozos can’t do because they will never understand the Rhythm it Takes to dance through what we have to live through…

I stand by that assessment.

For the first time in YEARS I was proud to be black – buying music in the record store!  What a long lost feeling!   

Barely a week later, the Funkadelic session dropped, and to make a long story short, it didn’t feel like a Funkadelic session at first.  But George Clintons’ genius is relentless, and eventually that emerges throughout the production, and you are left in the presence of a Master, who is taking you beyond your own funktastic imagination into the realm of Post P Funk for the next P Funk generation.  Then gradually it sinks in, this is the stankiest record of the year, of many years.  It comes at you sideways with some Crunk and some wackiness you might not have expected, but in the end the deliverance is so wide you cant get around it, and low you can’t get under it. BAM.

It took a long time to figure out which release was heavier, D’Angelo’s pop soul juggernaut, or George Clinton’s Next Generation Funkadelic adventure.  Either way it’s been a great way to wind up a funked up year in America.

Honorable mention has to go to Andre Cymone’s The Stone.  That is an absolutely brilliant package of clean & hot rock and roll.  It is clear to me that if he was of a lighter shade, he would be all up at the award shows raking in prizes.   Les Klaypool’s nutty Primus and the Chocolate Factory spins a goofball take on the classic children’s movie and keeps the chewy funk vibe throughout.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the tribute to the Sly & the Family Stone album “Stand!” produced by Undercover Presents.  Nine Bay Area bands each contributed a spirited interpretation of the legendary album and the legendary band.  This is what The History of Funk is all about.  All in all a solid year for funksters…

MY TOP 14 OF 2014 (now 2015)



Friday, August 15, 2014


The August 1, 2014 release of the James Brown biopic Get On Up has been a long anticipated event for many music fans and people that grew up with Soul Brother Number One as an integral part of their lives.  The film has been praised by mainstream critics and ripped by many who believe it did a disservice to one of the greatest African Americans that ever lived.  I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Many of Brown’s closest supporters such as Bootsy Collins and Charles Bobbitt have stated that while flawed, they enjoyed the film also. 

If nothing else, the release of the film has given many of us “insiders” into the discourse of soul music a reason to publicly reassess the narrative of the most important black musicians - and black people - of our generation.

While Chadwick Boseman’s role as James Brown has been universally praised, and the producers have delivered an entertaining treatment of Brown’s rags to riches story, there are some omissions and issues of emphasis that stand out more and more as sins of omission, particularly when the subject matter is one of the Greatest African Americans that ever lived.  There has been strong criticism that of all the writers, producers and directors associated with the film, none of them are African Americans.  This is not a reason to avoid the film, but it is one reason why I was trepidatious when I went to see it.  One should approach the film more accurately as "Mick Jagger presents Get On Up" and the perspective will become clear.  Jagger, lead singer of the Rolling Stones, is a very sympathetic and strong supporter of soul music and the legacy of black entertainers in his work and of Western popular music in general.  He and the other producers are nevertheless coming from an outsider's perspective and it is revealed in the film in many places.

Here is a - pared down – list of sinful omissions from the film:

1-Emcee Danny Ray does not exist in the film, yet Danny Ray was with James Brown longer than Bobby Byrd was, and was the reliable voice introducing “Mr Dynamite, Mr. Please Please Please himself…”  at countless concerts and events for over 40years.  Danny Ray also donned the cape on Mr Brown during the shows and was integral to the stage act for decades.  During music performances, the film shows numerous times when the cape is placed on Mr. Brown but the cape holder is conspicuously anonymous.  This is inexplicableto any JB fan.  Why his character was omitted is unconscionable.  Similarly, longtime (black) business manager and confidante Charles Bobbitt was eliminated from the film altogether.  There were many backstage scenes in which Bobbit’s sage council and trustworthiness could have been shown, however briefly. Bobbitt’s loyalty was and is legendary, and for it to be rewarded by his omission is also unconscionable.

2-Fred Wesley does not exist in the film.  As Mr. Brown’s bandleader off and on from1969 to 1975, Wesley was responsible for such classics as “Get On the GoodFoot”  “The Payback,” “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” and “Mother Popcorn”  all of which    were heard or referenced in the film, yet Wesley is nonexistent.  Further, Maceo Parker’s character was playedby a heavy set, comic actor Craig Robinson that resembled Fred Wesley bothvisually and in terms of temperament. Robinson did not in any way resemble or reflect the smooth, slender dark chocolate hued Maceo.  Essentially Fred and Maceo were fused into one person. This was unforgiveable.  (It is plausible however in light of the fact that Fred Wesley was among the first of the sidemen to pen his own autobiography which delineated the trials andtribulations of working for the Godfather of Soul.  It is possible that the family members that “approved” the script were petty enough to request that Fred Wesley be removed from the story line)

Many of us music collectors figured that once the JB reissues came out in the 1980s, with liner notes from Cliff White and later Harry Weinger, that the days of ignoring the genius of the James Brown bandwere over… but with the omission of Fred Wesley from this film, they are back again.

Further, during Brown’s 1971 Paris concert, his last great one in the timeline of the film, there are cutaways to the white bandleader (David Matthews most likely) that night.  This was a subtle nod to the worldliness of James Brown, and a subtle erasure of Fred Wesley once again.  This was troubling to me because it reflects once again an outsider’s view of Brown’s music which ignores the genius of Fred Wesley in the creation and maintenance of the JB’s funk sound of the early 70s.

3-The women are all cardboard cut-out characters with lines thata film school intern could have written, and probably did.  They were dimensionless tragic victims of Brown’s ambition, without any complications, back stories or personality.  Viola Davis’ role as Brown’s mother was particularly troubling, not because she can’t act, but because we’ve seen that act so many times before.  Almost no references to who these people were and how they dealt with life as black women during Jim Crow, was consistently troubling.

Furthermore, there were many other important women in Brown’s life and career, such as Anna King, Martha High, Lyn Collins, Marva Whitney and Tammi Montgomery a.k.a. TammiTerrell, which the movie chose to wipe away from the narrative. 

Brown’s third wife Adrienne was left out of the film, as was Brown’s companion Tammy Ray at the time of Brown’s death.  These were white women that Brown was passionate about and should have been seen.  While the chronology of the film did not make a necessity of their roles, their absence denies a particular element of Brown’s racial ideology that is more complex  - and reflective of the complexity of blacklife in America - and deserved to be seen as such.  This leaves little doubt that the film was from a white Brit’s viewpoint of blackness. In the absence of these women, Brown is seen as a racial simpleton, a victim of the binary logic of Jim Crow and little more.  He was far more than that.

4-The film re-creates absurd encounters with white pop culture such as the “Ski Party” sequence in great detail.  However Brown’s encounters with radical black leaders, while well documented in the literature on Brown, were only mentionedin passing.   Brown writes in his autobiography of a face-to-face meeting with black radical H. Rap Brown on the Harlem streets.  This would have been a priceless encounter and priceless opportunity to educate the audience, black white and other, of Brown’s steadfast positions on black pride and black power.  This was clearly a dimension that the (entirely white) team of writers and producers were not equipped to develop with any authority. 

Further, the only references to Brown’s relationship to black power were portrayed in the context of his revealing to his confidante, his white manager Ben Bart.  It is an incongruity that would only be generated by a writer/producer with more affinity with the white manager than to the brother from the block.  This is where the ‘center’ of the story gets lost.  James Brown is a product of America to be sure, but he is first and foremost a product of Black America, and the film lost touch with this point just as the racial consciousness of the nation was on the rise, compelling Brown to remain in touch with his people in ways he saw fit.

5-The film could have dealt with Brown’s visits to Africa –his trip to Nigeria in 1971 when he and his band witnessed the genius of “The African James Brown,” Fela Kuti, and most importantly, his 1974 performance in Zaire ahead of the Muhammad Ali – George Foreman fight, the “Rumble in theJungle.”  This was a true cultural moment appropriately named in the 1996 film WhenWe Were Kings.  The filmmakers chose not to emphasize Brown’s worldwide impact as a musician and cultural icon of African / Black identity.  

6-The encounter with Brown’s recording of “Say it Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud” while exciting, was unsubtle and cartoonish.  Out of the blue – and inconsistent with the plot up to that point - the characters were dressed in African garb and natural hair.  Then just as quickly, that moment ends and the story moves on.  As if Black Power – and Brown’s popularization of Black Power came and went in a whiff, yet it is perhaps Brown’s most lasting contribution to the world.

There are any number of live performances on tape that could have been re-created to show Brown’s towering stance in the community at that moment.  Cutaways to the 1968 Olympic games,with the triumphant black power fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos could have been shown, as “Say it Loud” was the #1 R&B song on the radio at that very moment.  Visual images of the Black Panthers, of Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver, Ron Karenga and others that represented what “black and proud” meant to the black community and the world community could have been shown.  This is the singular moment where James Brown did not simply cross over to the mainstream as a black artist, he made the mainstream cross over to black.  This is perhaps his greatest accomplishment, and the greatest omission from thefilm.

The cutaway from the gleeful chorus of “I’m Black and I’mProud” in the film to Brown’s character shoveling dirt on a casket with aJewish symbol is the most jarring and incomprehensible edit in the film.  This is a moment when a sensitive director (of color?) would have embellished the “Say It Loud” moments with cutaways to Brown’s influence on black popular culture, fashion, language, style and identity.  A few seconds would not have been difficult to produce, but instead a moment was cut off, crushed in orderto emphasize Brown’s sentiment toward his white manager -deliberately identified as Jewish – just as the film was embellishing Brown’s blackness.  It was an inexplicable jump cut from a filmmaking perspective, and a racially insensitive one.  It is hard to imagine an African American director making that kind of edit on this film, in that moment.  (Furthermore, the son of manager Ben Bart contends that Brown did not even attend Ben Bart’s funeral….)

7- The film could have easily referenced a young (black) Michael Jackson doing the “James Brown moves” as part of the Jackson 5 audition for Motown.  Mick Jagger was not the only superstar transformed – note for note and move for move by James Brown.  During a lifetime achievement award for Brown on BET in 2003, Michael Jackson emerges (at the peak of his popularity) to introduce his mentor James Brown and to educate the mass of MJ supporters where he got his funk from.  This is on tape and could be reconstructed like the other Jim Crow era events on tape.  The King of Pop’s profound debt to James Brown could have been mentioned in less than one sentence but was omitted.

8- The final performance sequence in which Brown walks to a stage and sings “Try Me” with Bobby Byrd and Vicki Anderson in the audience was given a deliberately intimate feel.  But anyone that saw James Brown in the years after his prison release in the early1990s saw a spectacle of a stage show, with tall glamorous dancing girls and a sprawling stage set reflecting the scope of Brown’s triumphant return.  This final scene implied that Brown was a shell of his earlier star power, which was not the case. 

Further, the decision to render the climactic scene of Brown’s triumphant life to a forlorn Jim Crow era ballad speaks volumes about the orientation of the all white, predominantly British filmmakers.   This did not reflect the triumphant natureof the man’s life.  The previous scene,in which Brown is seen as a young boy, still wearing the painted number one on his chest (from one of the few illuminating scenes about the racism of JimCrow) speaks to the camera and says “I paid the cost to be the boss.”  That would have been the proper moment to end the film.  On the undisputed triumph of Brown’s life.  Period.

9.  The film harps on Brown’s isolation and loneliness in the years from the death of his son Teddy in 1973 until his arrest in 1988, as if those intervening years were not relevant to his life.  Only to outsiders to the black experience would this be plausible.

The narrative should have continued until The Payback in1974, and should have featured Browns’ dominant presence on Soul Train, and his strong relationshipwith Soul Train host DonCornelius.   A behind the scenes dialogue between Brown and Cornelius about the state of black people and black music would have been priceless.  But apparently this was “not important enough” in this film about yet another self-made Jim Crow survivor. 

In addition there exists footage of a young Al Sharpton on Soul Train during an interview giving Brown a “Black Record” (a prize for having the best black song of 1974, “ThePayback”).  Sharpton would go on to become a “surrogate son,” stand-in for Teddy, and an important part of Brown’s self-recovery.  But the producers chose to simplify Brown’s loneliness, as if he was in a death spiral for 15 years and not a single event was worthy of inclusion until 1988.  And yet to these filmmakers the entire comic-tragic highway chase was worthy of detailed reconstruction on film.

10.  James Brown, through his raw Soul Power in the late 1960s and early 70s, taught us how to frame our blackness.  Perhaps more than Malcolm, more than Huey & Bobby, it was Soul Brother Number One that gave us the fuel for our emerging black identity. During the first half of the 70s with songs like “Get on the Good Foot,” “Make it Funky,” “Hot Pants,”  “Doing itto Death,” “Funky President,” “My Thang,” “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,”  “Take Some, Leave Some,”  “Mind Power,”  Lyn Colllins’ “Think,” Fred Wesley’s “Damn Right I Am Somebody” and “The Payback” all helped us define our “blackness” in a certain way.  This film completely missed a means of truly bringing that to light. A quick passage to a deejay in the mix, or a montage of rappers sampling JB, might have illuminated this essential aspect of the great man’s life.

The entire creation of hip hop should be seen as an outgrowth of this fact, yet the fact that hip hop has taken over the world, andis STILL and FOREVER based on the work of James Brown was barely even mentioned. 

Having said all of this, I truly enjoyed the film and would recommend that people go and see it while it is in the theaters.

People should realize that it has been many years since we have all been able to see a truly impactful performance of The Godfather of Soul.  He was performing up to his death in 2006, but those later shows were relatively mild showcases of a pop superstar rather than a burning beacon of black self-awareness.  This film brings back Soul Brother Number One in many entertaining ways despite all of its flaws. 

There have been complaints of "why can't black filmmakers do projects like these" and that white film producers have such privilege they can just peruse wikipedia and stumble on a black cultural icon and get a film green-lighted about them.  It is not that simple.  The Ray movie took years to get approved, and it was produced by Taylor Hackford, a white man.  I also noticed with chagrin that at the peak of the popularity of black film makers in the 1990s with Spike Lee, the Hudlin Brothers, John Singleton, Mario Van Peeples, Oprah Winfrey and others, I don't remember any of them seriously taking on a biographical project involving a black musical icon.  So stop hating on this very thoughtful and professional production and Get Up Offa That Thang and do something to change this situation!

Get On Up should open the door for other films to focus on more events in Brown’s life with greater detail, emphasis and affection.    It is a good first step, on the goodfoot…

Sunday, February 9, 2014

10 classic albums that sound different on CD.

For a lot of us crate diggers, the transition to CD in the late 1980s was both a blessing and a curse.  The convenience of the CD format made it easier for some people to get an entire listening experience, especially when double albums like Funkadelic’s “America Eats Its Young” or the Crusaders “Southern Comfort” are finally easy to play in sequence.

But the CD thing also made listening to the album a more rewarding experience, from the great visuals of the album art, to the extra sparkles that came from the lp sound, not simply from the scratches on the disc.  Often the sound is still brighter on my lps than the CD’s.

After years of listening to some great funk & soul in both formats, there are a few tracks that are glaring in the contrast from lp to CD, both good and bad:

Here are the most memorable to me:

1) Parliament Live: P-Funk Earth Tour (1977).  When the 2lp came out when I was in high school, I was thrilled, only to discover that the mix was hella murky on lp.  It would be another 15 years before the CD reissue would “fix” the sound and deliver a much brighter mix.  You can finally hear the Mike Hampton guitar solo on “Dr. Funkenstein” live.  This is one instance when the CD was an upgrade sound wise from the lp.  But you don’t get “Fantasy is Reality” on the CD, so you are missing something.  And of course you don’t get the crazy Dr Funkenstein poster and Iron on T-Shirt Transfer!

2) Similarly, I always tripped on how murky Stevie Wonder’s 70’s albums sounded.  Particularly Fulfillingness First Finale and Songs in the Key of Life.  But the 2000 remaster of “Songs …” (thanks Harry Weinger) brings out all kinds of new layers on songs like “Another Star” and “All Day Sucker” that I never heard before on the album.  In this case, the CD is a great new treat.

3) Brick “Good High”  (1976) This was always one of my favorite creative funk records back in the day, and I had to wait a hella long time for the CD reissue on Wounded Bird in 2011.  Unfortunately by then I had already converted my lp to an mp3 album – And that still sounds way brighter than the new CD.  That was a big downer.   I don’t know what was missed but something is flat on all the tracks.  You can compare the versions from the Greatest Hits versions of “Dazz” and “Good High” to that disc and it won’t feel good.

4) Collectibles has always had a shaky reputation when it comes to putting classic soul on CD.  Maybe it is because other labels will remaster tracks and Collectibles appears to just take a tape and put it directly to CD.   That was the case when they did Slave’s two albums “Hardness of the World” and “The Concept,” two of the wildest funk albums ever created, put on one CD.    I really wanted The Concept so I could put all 9 glorious minutes of “Stellar Fungk” on the radio with all the spacey sounds (and Steve Arrington’s other-worldly percussion!) nice and clean for a change!  But no, the sound is gloomy and murky to the point where I’m still playing my lp or mp3 from my lp on the radio.

The tough part with this is that Rhino did a best of Slave featuring Steve Arrington that really brought to life “Stellar Fungk” and “The Party Song” – but cut them way down to fit single versions on the CD comp.  So you can easily see how hot the Rhino mix is versus the Collectibles mix.  So I’m still pining for a sparkly clean version of Stellar Fungk.

I wasn’t impressed with that 5CD Album Series release either.  Coulda given a mug some sparkle on their funk.

5-6) Earth Wind & Fire: Gratitude and That’s the Way of The World.  Somehow the CD manufacturers just don’t know what to do with EWF and their style of putting silly interludes all over their albums.  Do we track them as individual tracks?  Or blend them into main tracks, therefore messing them up for those of us making mixes.   Or do we just delete the sounds altogether?

On “Way of the World” on both my CD’s the first piano interlude in front of “All About Love” is gone altogether.  Just like it never happened. WTF?  That song is magic, for a reason, because of Larry Dunn’s weird piano/synth tripping, the lovely song enjoys a special place “inside” EWF’s jazzy world, but not on the CD.   Poof.  Some industry hack just distorted the vision of Maurice White.  Also, the 2 minute piano/synthesizer vamp at the end is stuck on the track, so if you only want the ballad, too bad, you get: no mellow intro but you have to get the long outro. 

I have an old version of the “Way of the World” CD that put the piano/synth intro to “All About Love” at the end of the previous track “Happy Feelin’” which meant that Happy Feelin’ in a mix would go into a piano ballad before the track ends, making a mess of the mixes I was trying to make with that song.

Gratitude was almost as bad, as the intro to “Sun Goddess” is messed up.  Most of us OG’s love hearing the nice intro:  “Right now, we have a special song for you, a song we recorded with Ramsey Lewis…”  and then it kicks into the jam.  That is one of the most memorable moments of a legendary live album.  For the CD the track kicks in right on the song, and the dialogue is stuck at the end of “Devotion.”  That means, if you want to play “Devotion” live in a mix, you also have to listen to the Ramsey Lewis intro before the song cuts out. 

They did put that crazy riff that comes just before “Cant Hide Love” on the last side of the lp, on the CD and it is tracked by itself, which was a good idea.  An idea that should apply to all EWF interludes; make them all separate tracks, period.

7) “Aqua Boogie” on Motor Booty Affair.  When I came across “Motor Booty Affair” for the first time in 1978 it was one of the greatest surprises!  I didn’t know Parliament was coming out with something new, and I was still swimming in the P, with One Nation Under A Groove and Bootsy’s latest “Player of the Year” still making noise.  So I copped that disc and ran home and played the whole thing!  I couldn’t believe how trippy, liquefied and stanky the album was, and Aqua Boogie was just on another level, with the final ripping groove turning a mutha out!  But dang it faded out hella quick!  As it turned out, the lp LISTED the song at 6:43 but it was about a minute shorter.  It always bugged me out.  Nevertheless the song was psychedelic p-funk perfection, so I wasn’t trippin’…

But when the CD came out in 1990 I was stunned to hear the final minute of Aqua Boogie in all its super stankiness, and sloppiness.  I figure it was faded on the lp because that underwater bird (performed by who?...) kinda lost his breath in that final minute, and the perfection of the arrangement is somewhat lost.  Maybe that was the case, maybe it was just a ghost in the machine…

8) Spider on Herbie Hancock’s “Secrets” album.  This has always been one of my all time favorite jazz funk albums, and “Spider” is to me a masterpiece of precision stank funk hiding on a jazz album.   Herbie’s ability to put a serene sheen on the gangly spidery groove has always been hypnotic to me.  The ending, in a splash of synthesizer splatter is also a memorable jazz funk legendary moment.  But when I rushed out to buy the first CD reissue, there was a “glitch” in the end of Spider, as if the “tape” had folded as it was being digitized.  A funk buzzkill if there ever was one.

So I figured it was just a bad CD, and I bought another one, same glitch.  Dang.  Glad to know that used CD’s are always being bought & sold, but I really wanted that Spider to come out clean.  Many of those mid 70s albums have been remastered and completely upgraded sound wise, but not Secrets.  Still waiting.   Fortunately one can download “Spider” from itunes from a “Greatest Hits” and it sounds fine.  Or better yet, crank the original album!

9) Sometimes CD reissues come with sound that is way too hot & loud, like my best of the Emotions, and my best of Mother’s Finest.  Sometimes CD reissues come in way too low, like for some reason a lot Al Jarreau, my Gil Scott Heron “Pieces of a Man” comp, and my Quincy Jones “Mellow Madness” CD from Japan.  For a long time there was no real standard for what level to put the lp out on CD.  Drove me nuts trying to make a radio mix.

10) Does anybody else remember when CBS messed up and put the “alternate” Fresh album by Sly & the Family Stone out?  That was a trip.  Apparently it was murkier and trippier than the album most of us knew and loved anyway.  I believe it is what Sly gave originally to the label, and somebody decided to mix it again after Sly handed it in.    

Any other big surprises?