Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Producer's Notes: Building The Groovalottos Album Pt 6

A little more flavor in the pot from Eddie
An element in the novel MUMBO JUMBO, by Ishmael Reed is a virus called Jes Grew that causes white people to become obsessed with Black culture. According to the text, it's the cause of the roaring 20's and the jazz age. America, being a segregated nation at it's roots, has a curious habit of categorizing music to the extent that they segregate music from itself. Also having a cultural addiction to exploitation, musical forms can be co-opted from their originators and the history re-written. Much of American music is rooted in the African and Native American musical traditions and culture. The differences between blues, funk, jazz, gospel and subsequent soul/ r&b are more about stylistic nuance then actual differences. A lot of what was called Hillbilly music (modern term, Country) was a composite of Scottish folk music mixed with blues and termed "blue-grass" to disguise the forms Black roots, the same way that Alan Freedman would call R&B "Rock & Roll" to disguise it from white parents who didn't want their kids listening to Black music.

A floor tom with a broken kick petal makes quite the boom
When you produce a soul-funk record and start to pay attention to each element and track, the American imposed lines of delineation quickly disappear, especially when the only industry standard that you adhere to is production quality. The percussion tracks are like the ancestral voices blessing your song, the patterns and grooves of various African styles, with Caribbean interpretations opens you up to new musical possibilities in the song. This you can experience when creating House music, but working on an album like this definitely takes you on that path.

As I listen to the playbacks on some of our cuts, like "The Storm" and "Make It Look Easy" I find the exploration here must be what Berry Gordy felt when he went to New York to hear Jackie Wilson record one of his songs, and the producer added some Afro-Caribbean back-beat percussion, and how it gave his song a whole new feel and groove. Likewise, when you have the basic trio rhythm section lay down one pocket, and the djembe and bongos come back with a counter groove; all tied together by 'the one', especially when we decided to lay in the western, big drum on the songs. Here, in the percussion tracks we have several examples of call and response between African (West and east) and 'Pan NDN' percussion.
My Djembe brought some ancestors into the mix

Building an album, to an extent, is like creating audio imagery, where the sound becomes a mood-based landscape if you will.  As music critic, Howard Dukes once observed of my work as a producer, I tend to be a fan of the classic 'concept album' approach to a project. With this project the concept is simple, a band of grown and funky musicians grooving through a set list at a concert. The final sound needs to be organic, ambient and exciting, while groovy, warm and funky... a dichotomy of sounds and textures... an audio rice and beans dish.

In building these tracks, what I've done is taken the recipe of funk albums produced in the 1960's and 70's, combined it with elements found in 1980s and '90's hip-hop and creating an album of the raw, funky, boom and bap free of samples, drum machines, time correction, and left as a pure work of musicianship.

bongos and cowbells... funky...
The nature of funk The 'jes grew' of Ishmael Reed's classic novel is a virus of primal, and ancestral spirits, taking possession of all who it encounters.



Missed any of the parts? Follow the Whole Producer Notes series here
PRODUCER's NOTES




A view from the control room...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

AUDITIONS: Dancers Wanted for TV Show 3/18

AUDITION!!!

Dancers Wanted for tapping of Live From Center Stage featuring The GROOVALOTTOS. Dancers of all ages wanted for a live studio filming of a soul-funk band. Looking for dancers in the style of Soul Train and American Bandstand.

Dress in your funkiest outfit!!! Be at the Cape Cod Community Media Center by 7:30 pm (17 Shad Hole Road, Dennis Port, MA) and party with New England's Phunkiest Band!!!

A guaranteed PHUNKY Good Time!!!

Check the Series, "Producer's Notes: Building The Groovalottos Album"

For The Love of SOUL at the Brewster VFW 2/28




















Check the Series "Producer's Notes: Building The Groovalottos Album"

Friday, February 20, 2015

The GROOVALOTTOS @ Gilda's Stone Rooster - Feb 21




















Check the Series, "Producer's Notes: Building The Groovalottos Album"

Producer's Notes: Building The Groovalottos Album Pt. 5

When bass players rock the drums...
With any favorite dish, it's the seasonings that make the flavors of the main ingredients stand out. Seasoning and spice is that fine detail in a recipe that can make it or break it. For a funk and soul recording, the percussion tracks are the seasoning. You can change the entire feel and mood of a song based on what percussion you use and how it's played. Something as simple as a tambourine, cowbell or conga drum can become the difference between a classic hit records and a dud.

In these days of electronica, percussion tracks are usually samples and loops that can be cut and paste into the song. Percussion provides the framing and While not a soul records, but a definite homage to blues, "My Generation" by The Who would have been lost as a dance record completely if they had not used hand claps to frame the wild style drumming of Keith Moon, who characteristically played inside, outside, under, over and next to the pocket of the tune, as one would more so expect from a jazz drummer.

Eddie getting funky on the bongos
However, for me it was the rich funk and soul of the 1970's with Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Babatunde Olatunji, Fela Kuti, Earth Wind &Fire, and Hamilton Bohannon that are at influential play here. A lot of these artists you'll find in the loop of many classic hip-hop records, as the percussion that fattens out the drum machine base that they are building off of. In producing this album, I recognize a blend of the musicianship of the old school combined with the technology of the new school. For most of the classic albums, 8 and 16 track recording systems were the innovation and by the time the hip-hop producers were doing their thing we were up to 48 tracks and digital. Each item on a drum kit has it's own track as do the percussion tracks and loops as opposed to using four mics for a whole kit as they did back in the day. As a result, the old school records had a warmer, blended feeling while the new technology makes it rather stark and crisp.

This is also where your engineer makes a big difference, as Bob Yen has old school training, sensibilities and know how from engineering, producing and mixing countless albums as well as being a sound man for numerous live shows for a myriad of rock bands like Journey, Areosmith and the like. Most of your r&b and hip-hop engineers now are lost if the instruments are not plugged directly into the boards or are not software patches. To produce a descent, human soul record outside of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, you need to find a good rock and roll engineer.

These rich percussion tracks that the hip-hop producers loved sampling and looping in the late 1980's and 1990's also gave me an appreciation for the texture and dimension of layered percussion. The old school process of sampling and looping required a degree of skill in manipulating and placing the sample that has been largely replaced by the use of software like Pro tools and so forth. One of the most impressive examples in hip-hop history actually didn't use sampling, but pure DJing skills. On the album "Straight Out The Jungle" by The Jungle Brothers, for example, their DJ Sammy B actually mixed and cut from his turntables directly onto the recording, using a drum machine as the metronome/ percussion link. Likewise, Gangstarr alum, DJ Premiere used to use a 4-track and the pause button feature to build his loops, feeding in the breaks from his turn table every two or four bars.

A djembe player that went to Goddard? Impossible...
The hip-hop producers of the golden era also intuitively did what you would find more sophisticated musicians doing when it came to blending elements. For example, for a jazz player, the notion of three instruments in the same song playing three different time signatures against each other is what you might find in James Brown's recordings, or the drumming records of Babatunde Olatunji. The largely jazz trained session men of Motown also were known for doing this. For example, in the cut, "Donlt Sweat The Technique" by Eric B and Rakim, you find a heavy swing jazz bass and horn loop, over a straight 4/4  drum machine groove.

Armed with bongos, djembe, tambourines, cow bells, a drum kit, broom shank, riser, four pairs of hands, and shaker, we went about building the percussion tracks of the album, giving each song it's own recipe. When we play out live, especially restaurant and jazz bar gigs, we often love to play with time signatures -super imposing 4/4 over 6/8, 5/4 and under 7/8 or 12/8- we found ourselves recising this habit with bongo and shaker patterns over the grooves of the song.