There’s a part of me that truly despises most smooth jazz. Some of this deep seeded abhorrence I harbor for the genre may be due in part to the “purist” side of the brain, while some of it may be attributed to it’s association with elevator music, which as well all know, is heard in such unnerving places as the good ol’ doctor’s offices. That place always gives me the creeps. The irony of all this is today’s “smooth jazz” centerpiece features one song I do remember hearing in elevators, hotel lobbies, convenience stores in the airport and while on hold with the local cable company on the phone. And simply put, I fucks with it. The atmospheric vibe of it is super chill, and for DJ Shok to flip it into something as sincere as DMX’s Slippin’ is moving. The other two songs featured here are probably too funky to be considered “background music.” Nonetheless, Grover Washington Jr.’s Feels So Good, arranged by the one and only Bob James, is proof (at least to me) that not all smooth jazz is eerie fluff that makes you want to pull your own wisdom teeth out instead of waiting in the lobby of your dentist and having enough self control not to throw a chair at the ceiling speakers.
Wade Marcus is a beast on the low though. The brother caught his break producing and arranging for an assortment of Motown as well as a few noteworthy Blue Note artists that include Donald Byrd, The Dramatics, Marlena Shaw, Lou Donaldson, Eddie Kendricks, The Emotions and so much more. He also scored the soundtrack to the 1972 blaxploitation film The Final Comedown which was released on Blue Note. Until recently, I didn’t know much on his exceptional musical career until I blindly purchased his album, A New Era from ’71.
Boy does this album have some gems on it. Two standouts are the obvious cover of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ Spinning Wheel which was also famously covered by Dr. Lonnie Smith, which in turn gave birth to mad Hip-Hop samples. Wade’s version features a heavy break, but for me, it’s all about the title track, A New Era (up top) which features the brilliant Hubert Laws on flute for the first half of the song. The second half breaks down into a dark cinematic library funk leviathan, full of strings, rattles, gloomy brass sections and of course a monster drum break. Mood musik is the word.
As a proud Japanese brotha, another niche trade I’ve gotten pretty hardcore into is digging for Japanese funk, soul, jazz and rare groove records. Just as it was with Italian exploitation, Armenian, Peruvian or Brazilian sounds of the time, Japan was (and still is) heavily influenced by the Western sounds of Motown, Stax, Blue Note, CTI, etc. and they took it serious when it came to emulating those sounds and having it crossover to a Japanese market. The funky little mover up top is by Japanese rock band SAS (Southern All Stars) which my ani-san (big brother) Hiro (aka DJ XXXL) scooped up for me and brought back to Hawaii from Japan. Sadly I don’t understand a lick of Japanese, apart from a few well known phrases my Grandmother and Grandfather used to throw around. What I do know is the joint features a chunky drum break intro, and despite the language obstacles, you can’t help but feel the energy and soul the song exudes. Pure vibes, son!
I’ll be brutally honest: There’s not too much material from Quincy Jones that I can truly get down with and wrap my head around, save for You’ve Got It Bad, Girl, thanks in part to Summer In the City which has been beat to death, sample wise. When digging, I usually tend to skip over any of his records, however I do dig the jazz-funk fusion sounds of Body Heat and recently scooped up this amazing 70s rock-funk-soul album which serves as the official soundtrack to the 1972 heist comedy of the same name starring Robert Redford.
The LP has a lot of dark, moody moments with obvious nods to Quincy’s jazz roots; as Lord Finesse put it “dark, back-alley” instrumentation juxtaposed with the lighter side of free-jazz. The joint up top features a fat, military-esque drum break that has been sampled by Originoo Gun Clappaz, Eminem and more recently, ScHoolboy Q, with a scathing bassline and eerie horns. Tough!
I found this nifty, funky little educational tool a few days ago and was hyped-as-fuck, considering the rarity of it. Recorded in 1976, this scholastic device was released during a time when the U.S. was trying to teach the kids about the metric system and attempting to bring it into every U.S. household for everyday use (that ultimately failed). The record itself features a few funky jams including Ten Is The Number with numerous variations that cover Kilos, Liters, Kilometers and Meters, all produced by Jimmy Vann with heavy use of funky wah-wah guitars. There’s even a fat drum break on one of the joints, but it’s all about that Ten Is The Number – Kilos, a straight-forward fishscale-weighing apparatus. Word to Ghostface Killah.