Friday, October 26, 2012
Kool & the Gang - Kool & the Gang (1969)
Kool & the Gang's debut sounds nothing like much of the material the general public know by them. Formed in Jersey City, NJ in 1964, the band was originally called the Jazziacs until they were mis-billed as Kool & the Gang during a gig and just stuck with the name. Despite, their penchant for funk tunes later in their career, Kool & the Gang is much jazzier on this album. Call it soul jazz. Call it jazz-funk, but whatever genre you label it under, it's much more jazz than anything. The title track of the album opens the album to a great start; a funky guitar riff and a tambourine build to introduce the horn line of saxes and trumpet. This track, "Kool & the Gang," was a surprise hit and reached #59 on the Billboard Top 100. This track is a great indication of what the album will be like; there are lots of funky grooves that create a great vehicle for the three horns. "Breeze & Soul" is a personal favorite of mine and opens with a relaxed electric piano solo that transitions into a harmonized melody carried by the horns. This track is different than most Kool & the Gang material in that the piano is the primary source of harmony rather than the guitar; the guitar typically ornaments what the piano is doing for most of the track. "Chocolate Buttermilk" is another highlight to a great album. This track some really great unison horn writing with great transitions. Towards the end of the track the alto plays extensions of the chord that makes for a harmonically close to the track. "Sea of Tranquility" moves to a laidback feel and adds vibes to create "moon sounds." I call them "moon sounds" because the Sea of Tranquility is on the moon. "Give it Up" is an medium tempo funk marked by tremolos on a bluesy-sound piano and horn lines that build up to a solo by tenor sax player Khalis Bayyan. "Kool's Back Again" recalls the first track as the opening guitar shares close similarities to the one that opens the first track albeit much slower. "Let the Music Take Your Mind" is a great close to the album, and is the only track that has extended vocals. The lack of vocals on the majority of this album is really what sets it apart from the rest of the Kool & the Gang discography and aligns the album much more definitively in the realm of jazz. There's not much variation in how the horns are orchestrated, but that's not really what funk music is about. It's about the groove, and this album experiments with a variety of them. "Breeze & Soul" and "Sea of Tranqulity" incorporate instruments like the electronic piano and vibes that are uncommon in funk, but the majority of these tunes are straight-ahead funk with a jazz sensibility.