Driving While Black
By Dr. Patrick Gleeson
This is a group and an album that Bennie and I have been meaning to get around to for something like 25 years. Some things take a little longer than planned…
When Bennie and I were in Herbie Hancock’s early 70’s group which introduced synthesizers (for better or worse) and a funk-influenced groove into contemporary jazz, we envisioned a continuing direction for that music which never quite happened. For financial reasons that band broke up after two controversial and (my opinion) brilliant records, Crossings and Sextant that treated the marriage of electronics, funk, and jazz with the seriousness which Miles and Gil Evans also gave it.
Instead, jazz history went a different way. Synthesizers migrated to a certain kind of jazz (Ramsey Lewis’s Sun Goddess was an early and likable example), which was fine, but they were also excluded from others. The jazz critics, particularly the influential New York critics, soon decreed that electronics in jazz was a bad thing (deploring Miles and the “waste” of Herbie’s talent was a popular way of doing this). Acoustic jazz was real jazz, electronic jazz wasn’t. This was declared with the overbearing conviction of the “Two legs good, four legs bad” chant of Orwell’s Animal Farm. Funk, which our kind of electronic jazz has some affinity to, was similarly treated as not really serious music, although God knows the rhythmic counterpoint in some Sly and early George Clinton recording is about as serious as a heart attack.
Recently younger listeners and musicians have rediscovered this music that Bennie and I were a part of and have put it to use, sometimes simply by sampling, other times by employing similar musical strategies. We both played on Meat Beat Manifesto’s forthcoming album and it seemed to be familiar and congenial territory, although the music business classifies Meat Beat Manifesto as techno, a form of rock.
So it seemed a good time to re-explore this music from our present perspective. Things inevitably change, of course. To the mix of jazz, funk and electronics we’ve added a certain (wary) nostalgia for psychedelic and orchestral Motown, and are unapologetic about enthusiastically rifling through techno, hip (and trip) hop, all welcome additions to the worldwide musical family of the ongoing groove.
PS–about the group name. Well, it’s black music and driving and if you’ve ever been driving while black (especially if you’re a black male) you know exactly.