Funky Knuckles – Funky Music to Brighten Your Day

Yes, it’s been quite a few months since I last wrote in my blog.  What can I say?  The muse had left me, inspiration fled, laziness set in, the force was not so strong with this one . . . whichever excuse suits your fancy, I just didn’t get around to writing in my blog.

To be honest, I think the break was probably good for me.  I’ve had a lot going on at work in my full-time and part-time jobs.  I’ve had some time to think and to reevaluate what I want to write about.

I wanted to write a short post today to make another musical recommendation.  With all of the work that I’ve been doing I’ve needed some music to keep me going.

In my full-time job my company recently moved offices.  The office is cool, albeit somewhat unfinished.  I now sit next to a group of sales reps who play “motivating” music (“motivating” to them, mostly annoying to me, because I’m a music snob.  I can admit it, I’m not ashamed.) all day long.  So I’ve been listening to a lot more music at work just to keep from having to listen to the endless sales motivation soundtrack going on in the background.

Today the music that kept me from nodding off, or losing my mind from the constant barrage of whatever-they-listen-to-over-there was the groove-filled music of Funky Knuckles.

Spotify recommended them, and they had such a great name that I couldn’t resist, I gave them a try.  I was definitely not sad that I did.  Hence the blog post.

They have such a nice groove throughout both of their albums.  Their music is fun, light-hearted, funky stuff.  There was enough variety throughout to keep me grooving through a long day of work, while also working really well as fun background music.  Of course, Funky Knuckles isn’t background music (like smooth jazz, Enya, or Kenny G), it’s great music, and it works really well as my own, personal motivational soundtrack.  A soundtrack that my musical snobbiness can tolerate, and that I can recommend to anyone who wants something with some good musicians to help get you through the workday.

Their arrangements are creative, they have a good chemistry, the solos are fun.  They just have a great, fresh take on fusing jazz, funk, and hip-hop together in a really hip way.

So, without any more of my poor descriptions, please enjoy some very groovy, Funky Knuckles music.  And, of course, let me know what you think.

spotify:artist:0uyK6faAhm4CYcf1OhP38V

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Odd Times

Everyone knows a good beat when you hear it.  Your foot starts tapping.  Your head starts bobbing.  You can feel the groove.

Most pop music is written to get people dancing and moving to the music.  It’s written to be catchy, easy to listen to, easy to fall in love with, memorable.  It’s accessible.

A lot of this accessibility is due to what’s called the time signature.  Most pop music is written in one of 4 time signatures (4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 6/8).  I won’t delve too much into the difference between them because it’s hard to describe them without going into a lot of stuff about music and how it’s written.  My goal with this is to get you to understand the difference between these common time signatures and some of the more uncommon ones in the playlist above.

Odd time signatures are beats made with odd numbers.  If you tap to the beat of any of your favorite pop songs you’ll likely notice that it follows a pattern.  If you can count to 4 over and over again to the beat you just discovered that the song is in 4/4.  But with odd time signatures it can be difficult to predict when a new measure begins.  That’s because odd time signatures come in flavors like 5/4, 7/4, 11/8, 13/8 etc.  It would seem easy to count to 7 seven over and over again to get the time signature, but musicians are often tricky when they write songs in odd time signatures.  Take for instance You by Radiohead.  The song is in 6 . . . for the most part.  The song follows a pattern of six except for one exception.  If you were to count out the measures the song goes 6 | 6 | 6 | 5.  So the last measure of that phrase sounds like it got cut short.  If you’re trying to dance along to the music it’ll feel like you got the rug pulled out from under you.  What was once predictable and groovy is now still groovy but a little bit wonky and lopsided.

Even when artists write in 7/4, it’s pretty easy to count to seven, but they often make it feel like it’s switching back and forth between to different time signatures.  With 7/4 you can play it like it’s two measures, one with 4 beats and one with 3, or 3 and 4, or 2 and 3 and 2, or any other variation you can think of.  So when you’re trying to tap along to the beat it can throw you for a loop depending on how they’ve organized the beats.

A good example of this lopsidedness is The Mad Hatter Rides Again.  When you listen to it, it will seem a little bit off kilter, and you might have a hard time finding the down beat (the first beat in a measure).  That’s because it’s written in 17/8.  It follows a beat pattern of 4 | 4 | 4 | 5.  When you’re listening you might not even like it, and that’s OK, no offense taken.  But hopefully you can recognize the skill it takes to write and play.

What’s fun with these tunes is finding what time signature it’s in just by listening.  Some of the songs are hard just to count along to, for instance try to figure out what time signature Seven Minute Mind is.  Good luck.

Time signatures like these are really difficult to play.  You really have to be paying attention because it feels like there are one too many or not enough beats, it feels odd, like trying to walking with a limp.

But not all of them are weird like this.  Sting has written a number of songs in odd time signatures that you might not even notice are odd.  Take Love Is Stronger Than Justice.  The song is in 7/4, but the way it’s written and played it makes it seem almost normal.  Unless you’re paying attention to the time signature you might not even notice that something is off about the music.  The same goes with Espera, Four Sticks, and Seven Days.  They are all in odd time signatures, but are not difficult to listen to.

Part of my goal with this playlist was just to, hopefully, help people realize that there are quite a few popular songs with odd time signatures.  My other goal was to show you some of my favorite tunes with odd time signatures.  They are hard to write and play, but they can be really fun.

As you’re listening to the playlist above consider it a listening challenge.  I’ve written out some of the time signatures below (along with how they separate the beats, although there’s a lot of room for different interpretations on some of them), as you’re listening try to count along and recognize where the beats change.

Feel free to chime in with comments below.  What do you like/not like? What songs do you like that have odd time signatures?

The Mad Hatter Rides Again  –  4 | 4 | 4 | 5 (or 17/4)

You – Radiohead  –  6 | 6 | 6 | 5 (these are entire measures, not beats, so this is an example of multiple time signatures)

Winsome – The Moth and the Flame –  4 | 5 |  (can also think of it as 4 | 3 | 2 or just 9)

Four Sticks – Verse in 5/4 (with an occasional 6/4)  |  Chorus 6/4

Times Like These – Intro 7/4 (this theme comes back as a segue into other sections)

Heavy Resin | 11 (counted as  6 | 5 )

Take 5, Mars, Seven Days  |  5/4

Espera, Love Is Stronger Than Justice, Saint Augustine in Hell  |  7/4

solo section in Paranoid Android goes back and forth between 7/4 and 4/4.

Soulive: a Sick, Grooving Organ Trio

Soulive is by far one of my favorite bands to fuse jazz with hip-hop/funk/R&B.  They’ve got a pretty decent discography, with a lot of variety to take in.

Organ jazz-fusion trio Soulive – Eric Krasno, Alan Evans, Neal Evans

A little background about Soulive and the genre that they are defining.  Soulive (as I mentioned) is an organ trio: organ, guitar, drums.    Many of their albums are just the three of them playing live (hence Sou”live”), so I’ve found that every time I’ve listened to their albums the recording quality isn’t as good as it might have been had they done it in the studio, but there is no way that they could convey as much energy and enthusiasm in a studio.

For some of their albums they’ve brought in a bassist, and have collaborated with musicians like: Dave Matthews, John Scofield, Derek Trucks, Joshua Redman, and others.

In their 13 years together, Soulive has followed the muse in the direction of hip-hop, R&B, blues and rock – (Bio from their Website)

Most of their music is, to me, a kind of jazz infused hip-hop.  Their grooves are funky, fresh, and energizing.  They maintain all that is groovy and cool about hip-hop while bringing their awesome musicality and musical prowess to their solos.

So if you’re looking for something different to listen to this weekend, I’d recommend giving them a listen below, and enjoy some sweet grooves and funky solos.  I’ve posted two albums here, one is live, one is in the studio.  Both I think are amazing albums.

Enjoy.

Jazz for Newbies

You learn a few things when you spend 7+ years of your life studying music in college.  Most things that you learn are either misunderstood or totally ignored by the majority of the people on this planet.  To be honest, most of the stuff I learned are things that most people wouldn’t even find interesting (Troubadour’s vs Trouvere’s anyone?  Anyone?  Thought not).  But, and even though, there are many things in music education that are not important or relevant for anyone other than musicians, there are many more things (IMHO) that people should know about music that they ignore.

I don’t think that people are ignorant of these necessarily because they want to be, or because they wouldn’t be happy to learn about them, but it’s just that no one has been able to explain them in such a way that doesn’t make them want to fall asleep.

There is one thing that I am very passionate about that I wish that people could appreciate more, and that is jazz music.  Whenever I ask people what kind of music they listen to eventually they ask me back and I say that I’m into jazz (among other genres).  Nearly everyone says that they like jazz (or appreciate it), but very few of them can name any examples of jazz that they like (apart from “Saxaphone jazz”, and “Kenny G”, or other such generalities).

I’ve tried a number of times to explain to my friends what is so awesome about jazz.  I manage to pique some interest among some, but for the most part I just see their eyes start to glaze over, and then comes the head nod and they say something like “uh huh, yeah that’s so cool”.

I was recently talking to a friend of mine at work about this very topic.  He’s been learning bass and guitar and he got me started on a (probably longer than he wanted) tangent about music and jazz.  He asked me to recommend him some jazz music to listen to so that he could hear what jazz guitar voicings sounded like (they sound very different from most guitar chords you’ve heard on the radio).  That’s when I got the idea of this post.

I got on Spotify (my music service of choice) and set up a playlist for Jazz-Newbies.  A list of songs that, to me, sum up what is awesome and diverse about jazz.

I could sit here and write out all of my touchy-feely thoughts on jazz and how everyone should listen to it.  But to be honest, nothing I could say would do it justice.  Jazz is far too big a subject and encompasses so many genres and decades that I couldn’t sum up jazz into a post that would be any shorter than an eBook.  So I figured I would set up a playlist so that you can listen to some jazz, in all sorts of varieties.  My idea in this is that I often talk about jazz, but I rarely get to “show” them jazz.  And for me, when I started seeing jazz live and really listening to it is when I realized how awesome it is.

On this playlist below I’ve got standard jazz, combos, big bands, fusion jazz of many flavors, vocal jazz, string jazz, bebop, swing, blues, and I even added some more modern, fusion-type jazz that incorporates some hip-hop and funk elements. Some of it is straight ahead, and some is just downright weird.

So I’ve attached the playlist.  My recommendation would be listen to it on random, or just pick random songs that look interesting.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.  Which ones are your favorites, what would you like to hear more of?

(Keep in mind that this playlist is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all of the “essential” jazz songs, or “important” jazz pieces that changed jazz music.  It’s just a playlist that I think has a wide variety of my favorites/essentials/songs that I think that someone who knows nothing about jazz would enjoy listening to.)

How Jazz Changed My Life

I hated jazz. Jazz was the most boring, lame, outdated music in the world. If there wasn’t a wicked guitar solo or vocals it wasn’t worth listening to. (I did listen to some classical music, and for some reason that didn’t seem ironic to me at the time.)

My oldest brother started playing drums in his high school jazz band, and he started to listen to this horrible jazz music instead of Boston or Third Eye Blind. It didn’t make any sense.

I was 13 at the time and I was all about that rock music. Then something crazy happened.

One day as I sat downloading music on Napster, playing a ripped off PC version of Final Fantasy (they were simpler days), my brother walked up and asked me if I wanted to come to a concert with him and his friends. He got free tickets to see the Ray Brown trio live in Salt Lake City.

I had no idea who Ray Brown was, but my brother said he was great and I wasn’t about to pass up a free concert. So I went.

What happened next was somewhat of a miracle for me.

I sat in the back of the crowded hotel event center, surrounded by my brothers friends and lots of grown ups and began to witness something that I had never seen before.

I watched as Ray Brown played an instrument I wasn’t even aware existed, and was twice as big as any stringed instrument I had ever seen play improvised solos that blew my thirteen year old mind to the moon.

Ray took what looked like a behemoth instrument and played some of the fastest, most exciting solos those little ears had ever heard. He would back up his drummer and pianist in the most skillful ways. I understood in that moment why jazz musicians use the word “tasty” to describe a great lick or solo, when the Ray Brown trio played, it was so good I could almost taste it.

I remember to this day the moment that I decided I wanted to play upright bass. When Ray pulled out the bow and played a beautiful and moving solo over My Funny Valentine I was hooked. I had to play bass, I had to play jazz. Nothing in the world was going to stop me.

A few weeks later I started taking lessons, then I joined the high school’s summer orchestra program. I was too embarrassed to play with the orchestra because I had no idea what I was doing. But I would close myself off in a practice room at school and practice for three hours straight, every day, all summer long.

I joined the orchestra and jazz band when I got to high school and continued to play as much as possible.

Later I moved to Arizona with my family and, through a summer jazz workshop, I got accepted to the Mesa Community College jazz performance program.

I flourished as a musician at MCC. I practiced and jammed with great musicians there. I studied with Fred Forney, who taught me more about jazz in the one year that I was there than I learned in high school, and more than I would learn at Brigham Young University about jazz.

When I got back from my LDS mission I got accepted into the Brigham Young University school of music and quickly started playing in every ensemble I could.

Over my time at BYU I played in virtually every ensemble there was. I played in their top jazz bands, orchestras, concert bands. I started gigging at nights to help pay for school and was making some money, I still needed to work part-time elsewhere, but it was some extra income.

I met my wife in the practice room hallway of the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU. I enlisted into the National Guard and now play with the 23rd Army Band. I’ve had the privilege of associating with some great musicians and continue to play music whenever I can.

My career goals have shifted while at BYU. Not all of my experiences in music were positive and I needed to make money, which music was not going to provide.

Even though I don’t play jazz as much as I used to I have never regretted the time I spent learning that art. I have made great memories, amazing friends, I found my wife (who is perfect and amazing for me), I have gained experience in life and music. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world.

Ray Brown died the year after I saw him in concert. He passed just months before he was scheduled to come back out to Salt Lake again. So I didn’t get to see him perform again. I’m OK with that now, because this way my only memory of Ray Brown was a life-changing one.

So thank you Ray Brown and jazz music. You are truly an inspiration.

 

Who are your musical inspirations?