Like Ripples, Man
If all music is part of some cosmic tapestry, if rhythm and melody are merely cogent representations of some inherent little spark of self-awareness that we all carry inside of ourselves like DNA, then sampling is more akin to making cocktails of our collective memories.
The album that I want to kick off the new year with is one that many people haven’t heard but know intimately, because packets of this album’s DNA have marked and characterized well-known songs. If you were listening to music at all in the 90′s, then there are pieces of this album that will reach to you through the ether of time and caress something familiar in your hippocampus. It’s an album that has been extensively sampled, cut-up, mixed in and muddled, but also an album that is strong enough and satisfying enough to take on its own, like a good whiskey. The album in question is Frank Foster’s 1974 masterpiece The Loud Minority.
Let’s flank it, and then sneak up on it and discuss the significance of the record itself. We’ll start by listening to DJ Greyboy‘s track Freestylin’, from the album of the same name. Note the intro orchestration and then of course the iconic spoken-word sample at about the 1:45 mark.
Greyboy’s album was well-received when it was released, a practical treatise of accord between the hip-hop heads, the sampling fanatics, and the purist jazz lovers. It made a strong statement about the vibrancy of acid jazz and turntablism, and the track source material was well-chosen and deep. The title track from Frank Foster’s album features prominently on Greyboy’s mix, and it’s use is the least distilled here.
You can also hear echoes of Dee Dee Bridgewater’s hopeful and defiant declaration of “we are a part of those concerned with change!” from Frank Foster’s album in DJ Shadow‘s In/Flux.
Frank Foster’s The Loud Minority is a tight, dizzying effort, the product of a modern orchestra that was assembled from some of the best jazz players on the scene. It is steeped in the best funk trends of its time, slippery bass lines knocking against fluid drum fills, swinging organ sounds and shimmery synthesizers. The horn section locks in on melodies just as effortlessly as it pushes out towards more progressive forms with a palpable immediacy.
But the real shit of this album is the lineup. This is one of those albums that seemingly has a cast of thousands. It is so thick with talent that you could simply work your way down the credits on the back, find albums by the individuals, and have months of listening pleasure on your hands. There is, of course, the bandleader Frank Foster, a saxophonist who spent time in Count Basie’s orchestra and put out some fine records as he emerged as a talent in his own right. There is bassist Stanley Clarke, who is best known for his work in Chick Corea’s fusion outfit Return to Forever and also scored the music for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. There is badass percussionist Airto Moreira, who worked with Miles Davis and went on to join fusion jazz juggernaut Weather Report.
Then there is Jan Hammer, who is just about due for a renaissance. Jan Hammer (pronounced “yawn hah-mer” [slowcore bandname, anyone?]) played keyboards for John McLaughlin‘s Mahavishnu Orchestra (yet another fusion band) in the early 70′s, and that might be his best known association, but I want to talk about the Miami Vice soundtrack. Jan composed the theme and the incidentals for 90 episodes of the series. This may sound tired, or like a bit of nostalgia, but I think the music that Jan was cranking out production style in 1984 bears some striking resemblances to music that is knockin’ people’s socks off today. Watch the video below and try and tell me that the song doesn’t sound for all the world exactly like a Beach House sleeper jam, or a peppier Zola Jesus cut.
As one last diversion, let’s consider the drummer featured on Frank Foster’s album, Elvin Jones. Elvin Jones is a monster of a drummer, and his dynamic, polyrhythmic flourishes grace some of the best albums from the post-bop era. He spent six years as the timekeeper in John Coltrane’s classic quartet, and worked with just about every innovative post-bop musician on the scene. AND, he played gunslinging drummer Job Cain in a movie that was billed as “the first electric western”, Zachariah, which co-starred Don Johnson, who played Sonny Crockett in Miami Vice (the interconnectedness of it all wobbles the mind). Here’s a scene from Zachariah, in which Elvin Jones takes over drumming duties from some jive-ass turkey in some future-hippy saloon. Note that the drumming you see is not the drumming you hear, as the audio track is another drummer playing a transcription of Jones’ solo (this doesn’t at all diminish the visceral punch of simply watching Elvin Jones breaking those drums like a bronco, flashy-as-fuck in his silver vest and kerchief)
And finally, let’s bring it back to Frank Foster’s prideful album, The Loud Minority. This dense album and its defiant lyrical message of ownership and empowerment is as fitting a new year’s declaration as any. The music is loose and urgent, driven by collective yelps and pretty interludes, swaying and jumping from pensive preludes to rump-shaking, propulsive breakdowns. It works as a kick-off to the new year as both metaphor and soundtrack. Enjoy!
Frank Foster – The Loud Minority (1974 – Mainstream Records)
1. The Loud Minority
2. Requiem for Dusty
3. J.P.s’ Thing
4. E.W. – Beautiful People