Today, we’re spotlighting a pair of funk-drenched new releases from Cherry Red’s Robinsongs imprint!
When Herbie Hancock’s The Joni Letters received an Album of the Year Grammy Award in 2008, it became the first jazz album to take the trophy since 1965 – underscoring the legendary pianist’s enduring relevance in his fifth decade as a recording artist. Since Takin’ Off in 1962 with his Blue Note debut of the same name, Hancock had pushed the envelope of jazz, including a period in the late 1970s when he embraced the sound of disco. 1978’s Sunlight and 1979’s Feets, Don’t Fail Me Now built on the R&B-funk-fusion sound that Hancock had been largely pursuing since 1973’s seminal Head Hunters. These two late-seventies LPs have recently been joined together in expanded form as a 2-CD set from Robinsongs.
The opening track of Sunlight, “I Thought It Was You,” signaled that this was a different Hancock; jazz purists were all but assuredly distressed to hear his voice, run through a vocoder, singing on the burbling mid-tempo dancer. Aided by bassist Byron Miller and drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler from fellow fusion artist George Duke’s band, along with a smoking brass section and turns on guitar by “Wah Wah” Watson and Ray Parker, Jr., Hancock plunged headfirst into a blend of R&B, pop, jazz and disco on the catchy song. Though the single only reached No. 85 in the U.S., it became a smash in the U.K., where it made a No. 15 peak.
The rest of the album, performed by Hancock on a multitude of keyboards plus musicians including bassist Paul Jackson, and drummer Harvey Mason, Jr., was stylistically similar, including other vocal outings such as the gently percolating “Come Running to Me” and “Sunlight.” On the hard-driving departure from R&B entitled “Good Question,” Hancock welcomed Jaco Pastorius on bass and Tony Williams, his bandmate in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet, on drums. Sunlight made the top 40 of the U.S. R&B chart and the top 30 in the U.K.; Robinsongs has expanded it with two bonus tracks, the edited single versions of “I Thought It Was You” and “Come Running to Me.”
Hancock and returning producer David Rubinson went even further in an uptempo disco direction for 1979’s Feets, Don’t Fail Me Now. “You Bet Your Love” emphasized the disco beat, again featuring Hancock on vocoder-treated vocals but adding The Waters on backgrounds. A core band of Hancock, drummer James Gadson, bassist Eddie Watkins, guitarist Ray Obiedo and percussionist Bill Summers played on the LP, joined by Ray Parker Jr. and Sheila E on guitar and congas, respectively, for the funky, Parker-penned “Ready or Not.” The track gave Hancock a No. 25 R&B hit single.
“Trust Me” offered a breezy respite, with “Honey from the Jar” also slowing things down. As on Sunlight, the closing track (“Knee Deep”) was the most adventurous jazz excursion on the LP, although it still lathered on the funk. Six bonus tracks have been appended to Feets, all culled from 7- and 12-inch single versions. (Note that, unlike many reissues, the original 7:12 album version of “Tell Everybody” is here, as is the extended 7:48 Disco Version that replaced it on subsequent pressings. (The original album version premiered on CD via Columbia/Legacy’s The Complete Columbia Album Collection box.) Note that Funky Town Grooves’ now out-of-print 2015 standalone reissue of Feets contained one additional bonus track, the Disco Version of “Honey from the Jar.” Charles Waring has written the new liner notes for this two-fer, while Alan Wilson has remastered.
Robinsongs has tapped into the Ohio funk scene for another collection. Zapp‘s first three albums – helpfully titled Zapp I, Zapp II and Zapp III, are brought together on a 2-CD set with five bonus tracks. The large Parliament/Funkadelic-inspired funk ensemble led by Roger Troutman and his brothers Larry, Lester and Terry released six albums between 1980 and 2001, issuing the first five all within the 1980s. Mentored by P-Funk’s George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, Zapp successfully integrated electronics into a funk framework, and also paved the way for the G-Funk style of hip-hop that later emerged on the West Coast.
The band’s electro-funk grooves on 1980’s Zapp I led to a Gold certification and a No. 1 berth on the Billboard R&B chart and No. 19 placement on the Billboard 200. Just six lengthy tracks comprised the LP, including the No. 2 R&B/No. 19 Dance single “More Bounce to the Ounce,” which featured Bootsy Collins. The No. 26 hit “More Bounce” would go on to be sampled by countless artists including Ice Cube, 2Pac and Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg. Another album track, the atypical ballad “Be Alright,” would also be sampled by 2Pac, H-Town, and others.
Zapp II yielded an even bigger single hit when “Dance Floor,” featuring Roger Troutman’s prominent talk-box, reached No. 1 R&B. Though the album fell slightly short of the previous LP’s success, reaching No. 2, it crossed over to the Billboard 200 at No. 25 and included the No. 10 hit “Doo Wa Ditty (Blow That Thing),” later sampled by R.L., Snoop Dogg and Lil Kim on “Do U Wanna Roll (Dolittle Theme).” Zapp added horns and backing vocalists to the mix on Zapp II, bolstering their already muscular sound and leading into Zapp III.
The band’s third LP followed a solo excursion for Roger Troutman and was preceded by the No. 4 R&B success “I Can Make You Dance.” It would be included on III along with the No. 15 single “Heartbreaker.” The album continued the group’s winning streak when it reached No. 9 R&B/No. 39 Pop, proving that there was still an appetite for the blend of down-and-dirty funk, midtempo balladry, and dancefloor grooves. But for a variety of reasons, nearly three years would pass before Zapp would issue a fourth album; 1989’s Zapp Vibe on Warner Bros. sister label Reprise would be the band’s final release before the deaths of Roger and his brother Larry Troutman in a tragic murder-suicide that saw Larry kill his brother before taking his own life. Lester and Terry Troutman pressed on with one more album in 2001, dedicating it to Roger’s memory.
Robinsongs’ three-for-one release adds five single versions from the three albums: “More Bounce to the Ounce,” “Dance Floor,” “Playin’ Kinda Ruff,” “Heartbreaker (Part I)” and “I Can Make You Dance (Part I).” Once again, Charles Waring has written the liner notes, and Alan Wilson has remastered.
Both titles are available now from Cherry Red and Robinsongs at the links below!
CD 1: Sunlight and bonus tracks
- I Thought It Was You
- Come Running to Me
- No Means Yes
- Good Question
- I Thought It Was You (Single Version)
- Come Running to Me (Single Version)
CD 2: Feets Don’t Fail Me Now and bonus tracks
- You Bet Your Love
- Trust Me
- Ready or Not
- Tell Everybody
- Honey from the Jar
- Knee Deep
- You Bet Your Love (Single Version)
- Ready or Not (Single Version)
- Tell Everybody (Single Version)
- Honey from the Jar (Single Version)
- You Bet Your Love (Special Disco Version)
- Tell Everybody (Disco Version)
CD 1: Zapp I and bonus tracks
- More Bounce to the Ounce
- Brand New Player
- Funky Bounce
- Be Alright
- Coming Home
- More Bounce to the Ounce (Single Version)
- Dance Floor (Single Version)
- Playin’ Kinda Ruff (Single Version)
- Heartbreaker (Part I) (Single Version)
- I Can Make You Dance (Part I) (Single Version)
CD 2: Zapp II/Zapp III
- Dance Floor
- Playin’ Kinda Ruff
- Do Wa Ditty (Blow That Thing)
- Do You Really Want an Answer
- Come On
- A Touch of Jazz (Playin’ Kinda Ruff) (Part II)
- Heartbreaker (Part I & Part II)
- I Can Make You Dance
- Play Some Blues
- Spend My Whole Life
- We Need the Buck
- Tut Tut Jazz
- Do Wa Ditty (Blow That Thing) (Live)