Aug 11, 2014

Producers Notes: Building The Groovalottos Album Pt. 3

Whether it's the sweet soul sound of the Delphonics, the southern funk of the Dramatics or the expansive soul of Curtis Mayfield; like any great stew or soup, the quality and success lies within the basis. In the case of soul, funk and blues, it dwells within the rhythm section. Thom Bell's string and horn arrangements on "Ready or Not" are powerful, but would not be as powerful if it were not for the rich groove sustained by the drums and bass below the haunting melody and atmospheric harmonies.

In the tradition of Black American, small combo music the structure is traditionally, drums, bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, whereby a competent pianist/ keyboardist can fill in for one or both of the guitar parts. Traditionally, the left hand locals the groove and the right hand colors with lead lines. As a left-handed pianist, I occasionally flip this tradition, playing leads with my left hand and comping the groove with my right.

Going back over the album tracks, Eddie Ray did some amazing drum work, along with the amazingly inventive and inspired bass work of Red Bone. On the original sessions, my keyboard parts were meant to be scratch tracks to be later replaced, but a few of them were keepers as rhythm parts and a few leads lines. As we build the textures and colors of the album, I once again return to my inspiration vaults to flesh out the arrangement. The weekly gigs during the summer at Torino's Restaurant in Hyannis, have given us a wonderful opportunity to experiment with the sounds on the songs as background music for the customers.

An album from my record mother's collection, that I wore out as a kid was "SOUL" by Billy Preston, particularly his renditions of "Shotgun" and "Drowning In My Tears".  I couldn't help but notice from the line notes that Preston played both the piano and organ on the tracks on this album, laying out the rhythm parts with the piano and leads with the organ. As a young one, I was completely unfamiliar with the concept of multi-track recording, and envisioned Mr. Preston playing the piano with one hand and the organ with the other, seriously trying to figure out how he did it all with only two hands. Later on I learned about overdubbing.

As I mentioned before, Preston, Jimmy Smith, Horace Silver, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and
Ray Charles were among my old-school influences as soul and blues pianists and organists.  Of the latter day musicians and producers, I have to give respect to Kashif, Bernard Wright, Pieces of A Dream, and Teddy Riley in particular who were masters of the respective "Mid-Tempo Groove" and "New Jack Swing"styles that were keyboard/ synth dominated, yet maintained the integrity of the small combo tradition.

I created a listening list of great rhythm guitarists as well, as a means of inspiring color and textures for the album's arrangement. These guitarists included:

Jimmy Nolan
Curtis Mayfield
Jimmy Hendrix (especially his work with Buddy Myles)
Eddie Willis
Catfish Collins
Chuck Berry
Freddie Green
Les Paul
Nile Rodgers
Alex Weir
Tony Maiden

For the last two sessions, the focus was to create and record rhythm tracks for the songs that would compliment the incredible bass and drum work of my brothers, locking the groove together and allow for endless possibilities of framing and coloring by lead keys, as well as backing and lead vocal parts.  From my listening list I was able to ascertain that by habit of rich, complex harmony voicing would be over-kill on a solid rhythm track, resolving instead to use a lot of 2 and 3-note chords.

As with any old recipe, there are no exact measurements, only approximations. While there are always going to be certain key ingredients that you'll need to make the dish you want. The quality of the ingredients, knowledge of the chef, monitoring of the cooking process, and ability to make proper adjustments during the process will usually yield the flavor experience you're looking for.

On we funk...

By the way, we're playing the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston on August 14th...

To Be Continued...

Jul 15, 2014

Producers Notes: Building The Groovalottos Album Pt. 1

The Groovalottos keyboard player and producer, Mwalim DaPhunkee Professor, began his habit of keeping a journal while working on a project many years ago when he produced his first demo back in the mid 1980's. Usually, these notes are simply a tool used to keep the project on course, but for this album, he decided to share his notes as they come. Welcome to part One:

This is going to be a premiere album by a band of seasoned players, so the album needs to be a statement... a calling-card of sorts. After many months of gigging and rehearsing, The Groovalottos were ready to start recording their album. After giving a listen to the original track laid down by the original line-up back in 2011, as well as the efforts of Eddie Ray and I to fix those tracks, I came to realize that we are so far beyond where we were in 2011, musically and philosophically, that the consensus (the way we decide things in the band family) was to scrap the original tracks and start from the ground up.

The thing to understand, both James "The Big Bad" Wolf and Nick "Papa Smurf" Wolf are both phenomenal live musicians in the genres of blues and progressive rock. Even in the early days of the band, when we decided that the direction of the band would be 'soul-funk' the deceptive simplicity of funk and soul created a certain learning curve. Billie and I would fall into singing or jamming on a classic funk or soul tune that would leave the Wolfs looking at us inquisitively and resulted in us giving them a listening list. Nick is a wonderful student and voraciously consumed our listening list, evolving into one of the most formidable young 'soul-funk' bass players in the scene. However, with the addition of Red Bone, the band is a much more cohesive unit of seasoned funk, soul, blues and jazz players.

Another factor in the decision is the fact that the original recording was by a live band, playing what they do on stage in the studio. With the advent of multi-track recording what happens live does not always translate well to the studio. As a studio musician, the notion of having to re-record a part because it fell of beat, out of key or needs to be simplified comes with the territory, but for the less experienced it can cause hurt feelings. The standards of the industry right now are such that re4cordings have to be perfect or as close to perfect as possible. Even rock records consist of a lot of sampling and looping and electronic over-dubs of drum part with the sounds coming from industry 'producer packs'. I've produced plenty of projects that follow that formula, including a couple of my own albums, but The Groovalottos album needs to be special... it needs to be real music played by real people, incorporating some of the production elements from the contemporary industry.

Steele Dan, a band that really consisted of two people, had an interesting way to deal with this issue. When it came time to record the album, they would do it in California where they had access to tons of studio players, who were very steady, predictable, and safe. Then, when it came time to go on the road, they'd recruit a bunch of folks from New York and Boston who were unpredictable, busy-styled and musical risk takers; thus adding excitement to their life show. The JBs, the late, great James Brown's back-up band also understood this, playing the tune more conservatively in the studio and stepping it up when they were on the road. Likewise, Motown would have one arrangement for the studio and another for the live show. (In the case of Stevie Wonder's first record, "Finger Tips" they released the live recording because they were not able to capture all of that energy in the studio)The Groovalottos is a band in this tradition.

One of the very cool things about the current state of the music industry is that the industry has less and less control over the music that is being produced and marketed, which is creating opportunities for bands to reach their audiences on a global level without having to sound like what's currently 'in'. Unfortunately, especially in much 'urban' music being produced the slave mentality thrives as indie producers scramble to sound like the industry; not unlike the former slaves who refused to leave their plantations after emancipation.

Years ago, I'd gotten some wonderful advice from Quincy Jones about producing. He suggested that once you know the kind of sound your looking for, grab up a few albums produced in that style and listen to them over and over before going into the studio; a practice that I gratefully incorporated into my own process. When producing "The Liberation Sessions" I obtained copies of old air-checks from WBLS in New York, trying to make the CD sound as much like an urban radio broadcast as possible. When producing the classic house influenced "DEEP Soul Chants & Hollers" I got on a steady diet of classic records spun at the Paradise Garage in NYC and the Warehouse in Chicago during the late 1970's to early 1980's.

To produce an album like the one that I have in mind for The Groovalottos, required me to listen to a combination of soul, funk and jazz records produced during the 1970's and '80's that did not use a drum machine; hip-hop albums produced in the late 1980's to the early 2000's that used samples and updated productions of the classics of the 1960's and 70's. I started my homework in March of 2014.

My Producer Listening List:

Curtis Mayfield
Thomas Bell
James Brown
Charles Stepney
Sly Stone
Isaac Hayes
Gary Katz
Wilton Felder
Stix Hopper
George Clinton
Boz Scaggs
Jim Healy
Joe Wissert
Rod Temperton
Chucky Thompson
Pete Rock
DJ Premiere
DJ Muggz

After and during my listening sessions, The Groovalottos began rehearsing my originals with the focus of simplifying the arrangements for studio recordings. After a few weeks of this, we went to lay down the original tracks were set for June 30th and July 7th at the Musicians Development Institute in Plymouth, MA. For the same reason that we went to REO Studios and Ron Orsmby, a studio and engineer designed for recording music by live muscians, we chose MDI. For those of you who do not know about MDI and Bob Yen, this is one of those humble looking studios of great power. Several major labels use it as one of their retention studios for production and mix-down work. Bob himself has been an engineer and sound man for countless major rock and blues albums and tours.

Following the formula, we got down excellent takes on the basic tracks for all twelve of the songs on the album as well as some other material. Like any well-made building, the foundation has to be excellent so that the house will stand. Now, to let the cement dry and settle before we start framing the house.

To Be Continued...

Jun 29, 2014

July 19th Come to the First Gathering of the National Congress of Black American Indians

Be A Part of A Historic Gathering!!!

 The First Gathering of the National Congress of Black American Indians

July 19th in Washington DC

Jun 23, 2014

Apr 28, 2014

Mwalim Wins 'Best Male Jazz' in 2014 New England Urban Music Awards

Third win in even year cycle for 'NDN Jazz' artist. Competition particularly stiff this year.

BOSTON- Sunday, April 27, 2014 The Hibernian Hall auditorium erupted with applause as Mwalim DaPhunkee Professor (Morgan James Peters) took to the stage to accept his "Best Male Jazz" award at the 9th Annual Urban Music Awards, followed by a performance of his international hit song, "Just Is.." for an enthusiastic audience of over 200 people. A previous winner, in 2010 and 2012 in the same category, this yeas competition was particularly stiff with regional jazz festival favorites, Elan Troutman, Walter Beasley and Andre Ward as nominees in the same category. 

Mwalim's latest album, "Awakened By A Noon Day Sun" (LMMGM/ Spirit Wind Records, 2014) has been attracting the attention of jazz as well as Native American radio stations and formatted shows with his signature 'NDN Jazz' style. A Mashpee Wampanoag, Mwalim points to the melodic structure and style of Eastern Native American songs as a significant influence on his songwriting and composition. 

Mwalim is a tenured professor of English and the Director of Black Studies at UMass Dartmouth as well as a multi-award-winning playwright. He is also the keyboard player and a singer with the regional soul-funk band, The Groovalottos who perform at the Weary Traveler's Club in Monument Beach on the second Saturday of each month.

The ceremony was packed with a literal who's who of musicians, singers, producers, promoters, and radio personalities of New England's urban music professionals; drawing from Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Main and Massachusetts.Qualifying nominees are voted on by the general public on-line. According to New England Urban Music Award officials, this years award drew votes from around the world including Indonesia, Japan, Germany, Nigeria, Senegal, the U.K., and the West Indies.

According to New England Urban Music Awards founder, Charles Clemmons, “The New England Urban Music Awards is an opportunity to experience the vast musical talent the region has to offer. Artists are tapping into their greatness. The artists are empowering and the music showcases talent that the audience will appreciate. The program is where we get to inspire and highlight artist from New England and beyond.”

Apr 24, 2014

Mwalim to Perform at the 2014 New England Urban Music Awards

ROXBURY - the 2014 New England Urban Music Awards will feature a performance by Spirit Wind Recording artist, Mwalim DaPhunkee Professor.

The 9th annual award ceremony will take place on Sunday, April 27, 2014 2 6PM
Hibernian Hall, 182 Dudley St, Roxbury, MA

Mwalim was the winner of the 'Best Male Jazz' category in 2010 and 2012 and he is a nominee this year in the same category.

Apr 2, 2014

VOTE Mwalim "Best Jazz" New England Urban Music Awards

ROXBURY - It was announced on Tuesday, April 1 that Mwalim DaPhunkee Professor became a nominee for "Best Male Jazz" artist in the 8th Annual New England Urban Music Awards.

Mwalim's latest album, "Awakened By A Noon Day Sun" with the instrumental hit single "The Trading Post" has been making it's way onto jazz, urban and Native American radio stations throughout the USA and Canada.