2014 Remembered: A Year Of Funk

December 30, 2014

By Devon Wendell

2014 was a strange year for music. I recall thinking to myself halfway through The Playboy Jazz Festival in June; “Okay, so everyone is going funk now. Wynton Marsalis’ head would explode!” To many jazz purists, funk is considered to be sellout music.

Critics and fans freaked out when Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Herbie Hancock adapted the influence of James Brown, Sly Stone and George Clinton into their music. And it’s still a topic of debate.

Good funk, real funk thumbs its nose at people and musical genres that take themselves too seriously and engage in sniveling, purist nitpicking. Funk also incorporates jazz, blues, rock, pop, country, gospel, hip-hop and disco. Anything can be thrown into the funk stew if you’re sincere about it. Funk is more than a musical genre; it’s an attitude and lifestyle that makes the wildest of rockers look like squares. Primarily, funk is about shaking your ass with pride.

George Clinton

George Clinton

2014 was the year that George Clinton released the first Funkadelic album in 33 years. First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate features 33 songs, a song for ever year that there wasn’t a Funkadelic release. This may be Clinton’s most adventurous recording since 1972’s America Eats Its Young. George is accompanied by such P-Funk veterans as Rodney “Skeet” Curtis, Michael Hampton, Blackbyrd Mcknight, Michael B. Patterson, Garrett Shider, Kendra Foster, and dozens more. The music is very diverse on this record.
Funkadelic of today tackles electronica, hip-hop, heavy metal, and neo-soul with that one of a kind, in your face, over the top George Clinton attitude.

Sly Stone is also featured on 4 tracks on this 3 plus hour package of glorious filth. Clinton even uses the auto-tune effect the way Sly Stone and Roger Troutman used a talk-box several decades ago. To enhance the music, not correct it.

Prior to the album’s release, George Clinton released his first ever memoir along with writer Ben Greenman; Brothas Be Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? Which is one of the most compelling and candid musical memoirs ever released. The book shines a light on the many tales and experiences of founding father of Parliament/Funkadelic. Click HERE for my iRoM review.

George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic continue to tour the world, putting on 3-4 hour shows a night.

Cosmic space-bass pioneer Bootsy Collins hit the road again strong in 2014, using the name Bootsy’s Rubber Band again with most of the original Rubber Band members intact. At the age of 63, Bootsy (who played bass and wrote for James Brown and P-Funk on some of their most influential recordings) shows no sign of slowing down. I’m hoping he and the Rubber Band make their way to Los Angeles soon so this funkateer can get down!

Of course, if I didn’t mention Prince’s contributions to funk in 2014, I’d be risking my life!



The Purple one released two albums back to back this year; Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age. Prince’s guitar work, vocals, and production are stellar on both releases but I did find these albums to be a bit derivative and sounding a bit too close to Bootsy’s Rubber Band and late ‘70s Funkadelic. These albums are funky, but left me wanting more.

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars



And then you had pop artist Bruno Mars jumping on the funky band wagon with his “Uptown Funk” collaboration with Mark Ronson. It’s a little too close to James Brown and Zapp for my taste but the public loves it and this may help the pop world take funk more seriously as a genre onto itself.




Last but not least, after a 14 year hiatus from recording, D’Angelo returned with Black Messiah. This may be the most overly hyped release of any record that I’ve witnessed in many years. D’Angelo started out in a neo-soul bag but in recent years, he’s tackled songs by Parliament/Fukadelic during his live shows and grown as a musician, writer, and vocalist.

There’s no doubt that this album owes a lot to Sly & The Family Stone’s darker recording of the early ‘70s (There’s A Riot GoinOn & Fresh) in it’s dissonance. At times it’s too much and the lyrics are inaudible.



Songs like “Till It’s Done (Tutu”), “The Charade’, and “1000 Deaths” speak directly to the political climate in America today but I wish I could understand the lyrics more clearly. That Quaalude/Depressed introspective slurred vocal effect was mastered by Sly Stone but Sly’s lyrics were clearer than this. Black Messiah is still undoubtedly funky. The band (called “The Vanguard”)features some of the greatest musicians in the world from Questlove Thompson from The Roots on drums, master session player Pino Palladino on bass, to trumpeter Roy Hargrove on trumpet, and P-Funk’s Kendra Foster on vocals. Foster also co-wrote seven of the albums tracks. Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest is also a credited writer.

Some people love D’Angelo’s “comeback” album and many others are on the fence but the same can be said about Funkadelic’s latest. As George Clinton has said; “Funk is like a fine wine, it gets better with age” so time will tell how well these records fare with fans.

So 2014 was one funky year, in more ways than one. Musically, some bold statements were made by some bold artists. Funk is still the most sampled music in hip-hop and you hear the music’s influence in rock, jazz, blues, and soul. Although the music industry has treated funk as a novelty since the ‘70s, it will now be forced to look at it as a serious art form that is constantly developing and moving into many diverse directions.

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To read more posts and essays by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE

2014 Remembered: “Lost Boys” Lou Reed, Joe Cocker, Jack Bruce

December 29, 2014

By Brian Arsenault

They were so different. Unalike. Distinctive. Is that what unique is? Seems like that was typical of the era. Hendrix, not Clapton. Beatles, not Stones. Airplane, not Beach Boys. Each showed us something different. A different pulse and pace. Perhaps why we miss them in today’s largely homogenized pop rock world and why they can never be replaced. That’s the worst of it. They’re not coming back.

Lou Reed

Lou Reed

Lou Reed

I’m always amused by the various attempts to explain him. He was really a good guy, better than he seemed, say some. No he wasn’t. He was a prick and he reveled in it, say others just as fervently. The anti-hippy; maybe the anti-Christ, even if he did know how to feel like Jesus’ son. Was he a good guy or wasn’t he? That’s an argument about our insecurities, not his.

No, he probably wouldn’t have been your friend. But what did that have to do with it? He was the dark voice that had to arise amidst all the feelgood, counter-culture bullshit, even the bs that was good and true.

Lou sneered and said if you dare look at this, take a walk on the wild side, know that “there are more things in heaven and earth (read hell), Horatio, then are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Does it scare you, make you nervous, do you want to look away? Don’t avert your eyes. You might learn something. You say you love humanity, then you have to love all of it.

A guy who couldn’t sing a note could create anthems, laments; mournful and defiant, lustful and repellant. It’s the art that matters, damn it, and his art was New York underside made universal. He was rock’s Dostoyevsky and the notes were from very deep underground.

Joe Cocker

Joe Cocker

Joe Cocker

If the Stones didn’t upset your parents, Joe Cocker onstage was sure to.  The sweat, the dangling greasy locks, the impossible body positions, the erratic, spastic hands. And yet a gentle soul, just trying to give you everything in it, right down to the ground.

So many of his obits kept repeating that he was a blues singer. Please review his recordings, his performances and list the number of blues songs. That’s right, there are hardly any. An r&b singer, I’ll buy. Like the Royal Southern Brotherhood sings, rock is the son of rhythm and blues.

And rock was Joe Cocker. He took Beatles and Stones hits and made them his own. Made them better. Hell he made a song by the Box Tops, the freakin’ Box Tops, soar.
But I know the secret and so do you. We know where the blues nom came from. It’s not so wrong after all. He could bring a depth of meaning, of pain, of regret, of living, of how you feel right now that is seldom matched except by true blues singers.

“Once while traveling across the sky . . .”

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce

I said an incorrect thing about Jack Bruce in my appreciation written after he passed. Not incorrect but inadequate. I wrote that Jack, along with The Who’s John Entwhistle, invented the bass lead in rock. That’s not necessarily wrong but the more important point is that he was central to the creation of the bass-lead guitar duet.

All of us forever mesmerized by the live version of “Crossroads” know what I mean. Bruce wasn’t just keeping up with the outrageous combination of Clapton’s speed and virtuosity, he was matching it, note for note, bar for bar, stanza for stanza. It’s incredible. I think bands and bassists could write out the notes, listen to it a thousand times, hone their skills to a high level and still not get it right nor understand the creative source from which it sprang.

Caught in performance or in studio, the body of work approaches perfection. Of course, for me, that is Cream, close to perfection in its parts and in its whole. Bruce was central to the writing of most of their songs, combined with Ginger Baker to produce an ongoing war of a genius rhythm section. And his work with Clapton is unsurpassed.

Maybe that’s why neither of them ever really produced anything to match what they did in Cream.

It’s no knock on two great musicians down the decades. It just wasn’t possible.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

Radio: Further Thoughts About KJAZZ

June 26, 2013

By Norton Wright

Some final words about the KJazz benefit concert at Disney Hall providing much needed financial funding for KJazz Radio, the station which in various incarnations has been serving the southern California listenership for over 30 years.

Here are ten, perhaps little known facts about the station provided by Station Manager, Stephanie Levine –

1. The KJazz annual operating budget is just under $2 million and is judged to be a very efficient operation given its 24/7 programming and its live DJ staff of 10… Jazz radio stations in NYC and other areas have higher operating budgets.

2. As a listener supported station, KJazz raises about 85% to 90% of its annual operating budget from its audience donors via three pledge drives per year, primarily in Southern California but also around the nation and world.

3. But even with that strong listener support and some modest grants, the station often runs at an annual shortfall of $200,000 to $300,000 — that shortfall being covered by the generous financial contributions of Saul Levine, the station’s General Manager…Incidentally, Mr. Levine takes no salary from KJazz.

4 In the year 2007, Mr. Levine stepped in to reorganize the station and brought it back from the financial straits that threatened its closure, all on behalf of the licensee of KKJZ -= the California State University, Long Beach Foundation, for whom the station is operated.

5. In any given week, the station’s Arbitron Cumulative Audience is over 458,000 listeners making KJazz the most listened to full-time jazz station in the nation. The station also has a large number of listeners on the Internet – approximately 100,000 listeners in any given month.

6. A typical KJazz listener listens to the station’s programming, off and on each day, for about 1 hour.

7. KJazz daily play lists of tunes are particularly organized to provide a satisfying jazz experience for that listener who switches between radio news, traffic & weather reports, and other programs and tunes in to KJazz for that 1 hour each day. The reason that the station often repeats the same tune in the course of a week’s programming is to increase the chances that its typical listener will catch some of his/her favorite jazz tunes in the course of a day’s or week’s listening.

8. KJazz DJs make suggestions about the play lists for their shows, but the playlists for the weekday DJ’s shows are organized under the direction of General Manager Saul Levine. The music in specialty programs is determined by the programs’ hosts, e.g. John Pizzarelli’s Radio Deluxe, Ramsey Lewis’ Legends of Jazz, Bob Parlocha, et al.

9. Last Saturday night’s First Ever KJazz Summer Benefit Concert raised substantial funding, and the station has already received considerable positive feedback from donors asking that the event be made an annual one.

10. Whenever you are interested in making a tax-deductible contribution to KJazz, the station’s telephone pledge line is (800) 767-3688.

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As noted above, sometimes KJazz Radio is criticized for what a steady, all-day listener considers too many repeats of the same tune in the course of a day’s or a week’s programming. But it’s helpful to remember that the station’s daily play lists are designed to please that listener who gets to listen to the station for only 1 hour a day and wants a chance to hear some of his/her favorite tunes during that one hour. For the steady, all-day listener, it may be an occasional drag to hear the same tune several times a week on KJazz, but do all-day listeners really object to hearing some jazz classics played two or three times in the course of a seven-day week?

Sometimes criticism arises regarding KJazz’s play lists that emphasize modern jazz standards rather than the new work of up-and-coming artists or those newcomers pushing the jazz envelope. Yup, I personally would like to hear  KJazz play more of today’s new and super talented artists (e.g. Jason Moran, Halie Loren, Jenny Scheinman, Graham Dechter, Nik Bartsch, et al.) — and KJazz may already be leaning in that direction. Given that the station chose to open last Saturday night’s Benefit Concert with Harvey Mason’s new, fusion sextet, “Chameleon,” much to the delight of the audience, maybe those kinds of successful experiments will prompt the station to schedule a weekly hour or two focusing on new jazz talents — or at least infuse its weekly playlists with more of the jazz scene’s promising newcomers. Wasn’t it Dizzy who said, “With the eating, comes the appetite.” Or was it, “If you play it, they will come.”

All of which is to suggest that, in today’s America, there is occasionally the tendency to make perfection the enemy of the good. KJazz may not be perfect, but it is very good station, and in return for a contribution of modest dollars a year, we get some very heavy and satisfying jazz programming.

Congratulations and thanks are due to General Manager Saul Levine and his lean, hard-working KJazz staff who are keeping the jazz torch burning in southern California, across America, and around the world.

To read more posts by and about Norton Wright click HERE.

Op-Ed: Bob Dylan’s Appeal From One Generation To Another.

June 4, 2012

Times Have Changed

By Devon Wendell

On Tuesday, May 29th, President Obama presented Bob Dylan with the Medal Of Freedom — designated as the nation’s highest civilian honor — at the White House.   Obama’s comments at the ceremony about Dylan’s influence on his life and American culture were the typical “Voice of a generation” spiel that Dylan himself has rejected throughout his 50-year career. This got me thinking about the vast differences between Dylan’s appeal to the baby-boom generation who witnessed him first (like President Obama) and my generation, which followed.

I’m 37, and I recall viewing Dylan first on the “We Are The World” video. His phrasing was off, his tone nasal, and I thought it was the worst sound I had ever heard. My Mom drilled into me that this man “changed the world for us.” But I shrugged it off, and that was it until high school.

I attended a Quaker school in Brooklyn which was run by some aging hippies who were downright obsessed with the ‘60s culture they grew up in. The school’s Principal even had Allen Ginsberg come and read “Howl” on two separate occasions in front of the entire staff and student body.

I was already a stubborn purist who had discovered blues and jazz at the age of ten and looked down on rock and folk music. At that time, I didn’t even like The Beatles or The Stones. For me it was all about Muddy Waters, Son House and Albert King, as well as Miles, Bird, Monk, Coltrane, Ellington, and Rollins. I also liked Motown, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix, whom I’ve never considered to be a Rock n’ Roller.

I was a young, budding musician and believed rock and folk lacked originality and richness and was geared towards teeny-boppers and the pop-charts.  There was nothing remotely interesting about The Byrds or Peter, Paul and Mary to me.

The few friends I was able to collect shared my musical views and taste.

We also had resentments towards our parents and teachers. (The irony is not lost here.)

One summer afternoon, a few friends dropped by my house to hear me practice my electric guitar, listen to records, and sneak some wine.  One of them had brought a tape compilation of Bob Dylan songs.

I was weary because this kid also liked punk, which I found boring and stupid.  He knew I had a chip on my shoulder and liked the sound of rage or just being fed-up.  Howlin’ Wolf singing “I’m Gonna Leave You Woman Before I Commit A Crime” — that was real to me. When I saw the kid had a Dylan tape, I instantly thought of whining hippies in the mud, flowers, and unicorns.

After some arguing, I finally let him play the tape and I couldn’t believe what I heard.  The music was fantastically snarling and evil. “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend,”  “You’re an idiot babe. It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe,”  “How does it feel to be on your own?” “Forget the debt you left, they will not follow you,” etc.  Most of the music was set to Chicago blues or music I could relate to, so that got me too. It was clear that Dylan loved and understood American roots music and was proud of it at a time when it was being co-opted by The British Invasion.

I loved everything I heard. This wasn’t the “Times They Are a-Changin’” Dylan that my teachers and my mother spoke of.  This was a big middle finger to the world.

My friend proceeded to show me bootleg videos of Dylan’s press conferences from 1965 following the release of “Highway 61 Revisited,” in which Dylan was chain smoking, dismissive to the press, and seemed emotionally disengaged.  My pal also told me the story of how Dylan had stood up in front of  The Emergency Civil Liberties Union in 1963, a month after the assassination of JFK and declared, “There is no difference between the left and right anymore,” and that he wouldn’t be some musical puppet for anyone’s political agendas.

Suddenly Dylan seemed as rebellious and complex to me as Charles Mingus. I started really listening to Blood On The Tracks, Blonde On Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited, and Oh Mercy. I identified with the way he viewed the world as being hideously absurd, rejecting old notions of how to live and think, and most importantly the way he viciously struck back at heartbreak. With pen and tongue he relentlessly did it in a way that was both harsh and beautiful.

I felt the pain and necessity in that brutality that stemmed from his sorrows. At the same time, where you had the viciousness of “Idiot Wind,” “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” you also had “If You See Her, Say Hello,” “A Simple Twist Of Fate” and “Ramona,” in which Dylan wasn’t afraid to show his vulnerability.

That dichotomy of the pissed off nerd poet (Boy, could I really relate to that), who even said “Fuck you” to the Pete Seegers and the growing “counter culture” of his day, and the forlorn poet, whose pained verses reflected his struggles to maintain a healthy/long lasting romance, seemed more universal than the “Blowin’ In The Wind” Dylan. Wars pass, and so do trends, but the Dylan loved by my generation tapped into the same themes as did Shakespeare, Yeats, Thomas, and Rimbaud.

This being the case, I was a little disappointed that Dylan didn’t unleash the beast at The White House when receiving the medal, voicing his disgust towards such trite ceremonies and the current political climate.  To me, his lifeless stare as the President rambled on spoke volumes – he didn’t act like someone who was completely grateful for the award. But who knows how he really feels, and does it matter?

What matters is his music, and that’s something all generations can appreciate.   Wait, that sounds too corny.  Dylan would hate it.  Ultimately the great thing about Bob Dylan is that you can’t sum him up.

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To read more posts by Devon Wendell click HERE

Brick Wahl: Keeping It Real 2

February 26, 2012

By Brick Wahl

Just realized there are still comments bouncing around on this. Don Heckman’s got clout….

My whole point in that original rant is that if things continue as they are there will be no place left to play. The jazz scene has shrunk by at least two thirds in the past ten years. Clubs literally cannot afford to book the stuff. It not only does not draw people, but it literally drives them away. People leave. They listen a bit, get bored, pay their tab and leave. More leave than don’t leave in many, if not most cases. You book jazz and you will have empty rooms. The exception is the Blue Whale, but that exists because USC is nearby and has such a strong jazz program. It’s the hang for all those kids and their friends, and for jazz fans who can’t believe there is a club booking such cool crazy shit like you can see at the Blue Whale. The downside of that is that those kids don’t buy a lot of drinks and even less food. College kids are broke, and college kids who study jazz are, um, bookish….and party they don’t. If people don’t party the club doesn’t make any money. And if clubs don’t make money they close….or change music. Even the Blue Whale complains about a lot of lousy turn outs (though they seem to be doing well whenever I’m there.) .

Brick Wahl

And, oh yeah….the Movable Feasts are big successes…but they are concerts…. They are presented as concerts, marketed as concerts, structured as concerts. Concerts have always done much better than clubs. They feature well known names from NYC or Europe. Plus the place has, I believe, student rush tickets. And most importantly of all…the Jazz Bakery does not rely on bar tabs and door money for its funding. It is supported by patrons. That’s how it stayed open all those years when no one was showing up a lot of nights. But as far as genuine jazz clubs — not performance spaces but clubs that try to feature jazz a few nights a week — well, those are disappearing fast. Vibrato makes its money off its menu. Blue Whale by being a hip college joint with a vast pool of young talent to feature.. And there’s scattered other spots that have the weekly jazz night that does well. But they are few and far between, and certainly not part of any city-wide jazz scene, a scene that existed a few years ago.

So players can say that they play for themselves and don’t worry about whether people like it or not (and I think that is the general attitude)…..but that means that within a couple years there will be virtually nowhere to play And certainly almost nowhere to play for pay. I used to fully support that attitude, I loved it. Then I noticed that all the clubs were gone.

Btw…one of the signs of the shrinking jazz scene is its fragmentation….there’s a young experimental scene that’s centered at the Blue Whale; there’s a very white mainstream jazz scene that finds a home at Vitello’s, and the black cats hang on at Nola’s and a couple other small spots. There always was a young cat-old cat divide and a white cat-black jazz divide in LA, certainly in the seven or eight years I was writing things up. I was always trying to get the scenes together more. To mix ideas, influences, players. But the opposite has occurred. I don’t know what to say about that. Except that I don’t think it’s a good thing.

Incidentally, saw Jon Mayer at a bare Desert Rose a couple Saturdays ago. He was brilliant as ever. Highly recommend seeing him there if you’re near Los Feliz on a Saturday night. And Ben Wendel and combo at a very packed Blue Whale a couple weeks ago was a thrill, man. Loved every second of it. And so sorry to see that Mssrs. Melvoin and Holloway slipped away this past week. Oh well.

OK…..I’ve run outta words…..take care everybody….

To read Brick Wahl’s Keeping It Real 1 click HERE.


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