Guest Post: Ali Jamieson – ‘Jazz Funk Crossovers From The Last Days Of Disco’

The following is the first ever ‘guest post’ on Too Many Sebastians, it will hopefully be a weekly occurrence. The idea behind this is to expand on what the blog normally posts and to showcase a side of Producers/Muscians/DJs that is rarely seen on music blogs these days. The side which is essentially how much enjoyment there is to be had exploring music and discovering new things. We are in age where dance music seems kind of narrow-minded and the reality is, it’s influences come from all spectrum’s of music.

First up is Ali Jamieson, who is not a fan of the main snare. He produces music in his spare time, you may see some of that on the blog every now and then. He also teaches music technology and runs the music tech blog Zeroes & Ones. His post presents a selection of tracks that are jazz funk crossovers from the last days of disco. It’s a pretty lengthy post, but full of things that you may have not realised influenced some of the music you like. Have fun.

Atmosfear – Dancing In Outer Space [1979]
Disco is one of the greatest exports of America, and while we largely suck at imitating other people’s music (I wont name genres), but our disco isn’t half bad. I came across this record on the excellent compilation British Hustle by Soul Jazz. This aimed to document “The Sound Of British Jazz-Funk 1974-1982”.

Containing all the hallmarks of jazz-funk with its hypnotic arrangement, this neatly segways between disco, noodly-synth improvisation and even ska-like passages at times.

The title Dancing in Outer Space as you can imagine had generous hat tips to the afrofuturist movement as well as space disco – a largely european experiment, crowbarring the freedom and fun disco afforded with themes of science fiction.

This peaked at no. 50 in the UK singles chart. Can you imagine this getting anywhere near the charts there days? In 1997 Masters at Work (Kenny Dope and Loui Vega to their families) released a series of remixes of this.

Carol Williams – Can’t Get Away [1982]
Featured on Jazzanova’s excellent …Mixing compilation (compilations are the best) this is a great example of the last days of disco. This track epitomises the shift from band orientated disco into electro funk, boogie and the other offshoots that came from the idiom.

The track contains all elements of great post disco – a simple boom bap drum beat, syncopated piano chords, tame but funky slap bass, choppy poly synth work and guitars that would make Prince blush.

A year later a “special dub mix” was released complete with an introduction from Carol herself.

The Blackbyrds – Mysterious Vibes [1977]
Mysterious Vibes neatly straddling the golden triangle of disco, funk and jazz courtesy of Washington DC band The Blackbyrds, taken from their album Action.

The appeal of the track is its visceral guitar and bass groove coupled with its singalong chorus. It however trades verse lyrics in for some tasty alto sax improv.

Like a large swathe of the music here, it’s been sampled to death, but perhaps the most relevant example floating around is Miguel Campbell’s 2008 take on the tune (literally, how did he get away with this?).

It also saw a rerelease on Joey Negro’s Z Records in 2002 with some club friendly remixes that I couldn’t motivate myself to hunt down.

Post script: I found them, leave them where they are. I am a big proponent of jazz house but these are not good, although the reprise isn’t bad in a DJ tool sorta-way.

Letta Mbulu – Nomalizo [1983]
Hailing from Soweto, South Africa, Letta Mbulu is a soul singer responsible for a discography spanning five decades. This is taken from her largely ignored In The Music The Village Never Ends album which saw a Japanese rerelease in 1985, renaming the album Sweet Juju (which is a much cooler name to boot).

Nomalizo blends elements of Minneapolis funk and post-disco boogie, with melodic quirks and lyrics from her native South Africa.

Averaging at over £150 on Discogs (post-brexit prices), you’d be lucky to come across a copy of this at a reasonable price. Repress anyone? Shouts to OJ for sending this one over.

William Onyeabor ‎– Body & Soul [1980]
It could be argued that posting William Onyeabor is not exactly a rare find after 2013 saw Luaka Bop compile Who Is William Onyeabor? – a nine track retrospective of the Nigerian musician.

I first came across Onyeabor in Four Tet’s 2010 essential mix and was instantly drawn in by the electronic reimagining of afrobeat.

Body & Soul has a contagious groove and sonically flirts between Sun Ra, Parliament-Funkadelic, Chick Corea and of course afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.

James Mason – Up Jump [2015, sort of]
Introduced to me via the Alexander Nut NTS show, Mason was the guitarist in guitarist in Roy Ayeres’, this is a bonus track taken from previously unreleased recordings of Mason’s, released in 2015. Of course the master tapes would date back much earlier than this, but I struggled to obtain any concrete evidence of when.

It has drum machines and vocoders. I don’t think I need to say any more than that tbh.

Stanley Clarke – Heaven Sent (feat.Howard Hewitt & George Duke) [1984]
Stanley Clarke is a jazz guitarist who, paired with George Duke (basically the guy who wrote Daft Punk’s Digital Love) released Heaven Sent, taken from Clarke’s 1984 album Time Exposure – which has a fantastic neon blue silhouetted figure emerging out of the ether like some celestial jazz guitarist.

Blog dwellers from pre-2012 might remember LAY BAC, a chillwave based duo who sampled the aforementioned track, adding their own shoegaze-like vocals and some sea-sick sidechain compression. Hmmm! It saw a rerelease on my own label Heavy Disco in 2013. Check the rest of the compilation here.

Tata – Afro Breakdance [1985]
Some South African spy-boogie now. Can legit imagine the Joburg-Eddie Murphy dashing over a car bonnet taking shots from the Cape Town mafia or something. As you can probably tell I don’t know much about this track.

Stylistically it doesn’t retain much that’s inherently South African in its sound or production – the track could well have been produced by D Train or someone, but I do have a weird obsession with black American music from Africa and this is a great example of something almost coming full circle.

Bernard Wright – Keep On Doing That Right Thing [1983]
Oh my what a bass line. This is just a lesson in pure groove. They say it’s not the notes you play but the notes you don’t play but Wright proves you can play as much or as little as you damn please so long as it’s funky.

Readers may know Wright as “that brere Skee-Lo sampled for I Wish“, and they’d be correct.

I always got massive christmas vibes from this tune (lyrics mention a robin) but nothing to suggest it other than a hunch and the chord progression is similar to”Wish Upon a Star”. Would prefer this to The Pogues tbhwy.

Cerrone – Supernature [1977]
Ever wondered where Random Ass Melodies got a bunch of its ideas from? Me neither. Released the same year as I Feel Love, space disco was alive and well. Borrowing elements from progressive rock, this cosmic crossover would become the surrogate father to italo disco, which in turn would have a massive hand in the creation of house music.

The lyrics are properly off the wall, which is fantastic, something you sadly don’t hear a lot of these days. Coupled with a delightfully crude video this a winner. Amazingly this reached number 8 in the UK singles chart.

Supermax ‎– Love Machine [1978]
More european progressive disco, from Austrians Supermax. Sonically this has hallmarks of disco (steady jogging tempo, kick drum on each beat of the bar, repetitive musical figures) but blends in elements of Krautrock and even has oddly tribal nuances to it.

Despite them continuing into the early part of the noughties, recording new material and releasing remixes, this was the band’s biggest hit. Great set opener.

Chemise – She Can’t Love You [1982]
Something for the stalkers now. Nestled between italo, boogie and electro funk – She Can’t Love You is an example of what disco at its best can do: present such a desperate, bitter and jealous heartfelt vocal delivery over a bass line that would probably make even Michael Portillo tap foot in appreciation.. The ultimate juxtaposition.

I first came across the above track through this Young Montana? track, which chops and screws the sample skillfully. Like hiphop and french touch stuck in an elevator.

Francis Bebey – La Condition Masculine [1976]
Another example of African disco funk. Francisco Birago Diop orginated from the Cameroon, however La Condition Masculine (translated as The Male Condition) taken from the album of the same name was actually released in France in 1976.

I love the noisy drum machine that underpins this whole track (a Roland CR-78 at a guess) and the frenetic bass line that on the surface seems repetitive but on closer inspection the dude doesn’t sit still for two bars at a time.

Vocally, the delivery is spoken rather than sung, like this is some sort of public service announcement. Lyrically this might be a bit neckbeard and vape pen by today’s standards but my key stage 2 French couldn’t decode it enough to detect any irony. Happy to be corrected but this was the 70s.

Imagination – Music & Lights [1982]
Another British band in the form of Imagination. Responsible for a large swathe of sample-able hits during the last days of disco, this is taken from the band’s In the Heat of the Night album.

Music & Lights reached No. 5 in the UK singles charts in the mid 1982 and was the band’s last big hit.

It doesn’t take a disco trainspotter to identify this as the sample in Tiger & Woods‘ [where does that apostrophe mark go?] 2011 serial set-opener Gin Nation.

Toshiki Kadomatsu – After 5 Crash [1984]
Last one from me, taken from the album of the same name, After 5 Crash is very Japanese in its sound. They seemed to take to jazz fusion and the crossover with disco, soul and funk like ducks to water.

Kadomatsu has been written about in these pages already, so you can read more about him there. The track itself has synth moments that wouldn’t be out of place in WipeOut 64.

Musically it has nods to George Benson, Pat Metheny and Lee Ritenour whilst still being quite idiosyncratically Japanese. Thanks to Blende for sending this over.

Ali was last seen on Soundcloud adding Smash Mouth to Hannah Wants tracks.

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