Jazz Soul Seven – Impressions Of Curtis Mayfield – Singular Recordings/ BFM Jazz 302 062 413-2, 74:06 [4/17/12] ****1/2:
(Terri Lyne Carrington – drums; Russ Ferrante – piano; Master Henry Gibson – percussion; Bob Hurst – bass; Wallace Roney – trumpet; Phil Upchurch – guitar; Ernie Watts – saxophone)
Long after his passing, Curtis Mayfield stands at the top of the R&B pinnacle. As a composer, arranger and singer, he elevated this musical genre to world acceptance. A unique guitarist (who tuned his instrument to F#), it was his golden voice that permeated the culture. As lead singer for The Impressions, he wrote and performed on a series of dazzling hits, including “Gypsy Woman”, “Amen”, I’m So Proud” and “People Get Ready” —and this is merely a partial list. He successfully made the transition to solo artist, achieving critical success for scoring the 70s cult movie Superfly. At the heart of his music was a commitment to civil rights, opposition to war and the plight of urban America.
An ensemble of talented jazz musicians has collaborated on a tribute, entitled Impressions Of Curtis Mayfield. Jazz Soul Seven includes drummer Terri Lyne Carrington (Wayne Shorter, Dianne Reeves, John Scofield and Cassandra Wilson), saxophonist Ernie Watts (Quincy Jones, Gerald Wilson, Charlie Haden and The Rolling Stones), pianists Russ Ferrante (Yellowjackets), Bob Hurst (Branford Marsalis) and trumpeter Wallace Roney (Art Blakey, Tony Williams). Additionally, two veterans who recorded with Mayfield, guitarist Phil Upchurch (Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Stan Getz) and percussionist Master Henry Gibson (Ramsey Lewis) round out this all-star lineup.
This album is arranged with creative precision. After a jazzy opening, the opening track, “Freddie’s Dead” invokes the catch vamp of the melody with Watts’ fluid sax. The band is cohesively anchored by the rhythm section (Carrington, Gibson and Hurst). Ferrante adds his unusual syncopated piano touch to the jam before the ending flourish. Fans of the Impressions catalogue will be pleased by the selections. “It’s All Right” has the soulful countenance of the original with a harmonic, Ramsey Lewis-type piano line. Upchurch executes a fluent guitar solo that brings to mind the work of Wes Montgomery or George Benson. Roney’s concise muted trumpet solo is dynamic. The grooves that identified Mayfield’s work are captured perfectly by the ensemble, especially on guitar. Songs like “Move On Up” and “We’re A Winner” combine fusion jazz elements, but never obscure the funky melody structure.
There are several interesting arrangements. “We’re A Winner” has a uptempo blues vibe that features a scintillating guitar by Upchurch and a searing trumpet by Roney. On “Keep On Pushing” the group brings a waltz time signature with slower tempo as Roney stretches out on his solo. Ferrante’s chords augment the percussion and bass rhythm. Even songs associated with iconic vocals like “Gypsy Woman” are captured with expression by the band. Carrington and Gibson are a strong duo. On tracks like “Beautiful Brother Of Mine” and “Check Out Your Mind”, their chemistry drives the pulse. But the ability to transform popular music into jazz is at the core of this project. “I’m So Proud” is polyrhythmic and evocative, and “Gypsy Woman” takes full advantage of the superior musicianship. On “Amen” the bouncy, gospel feel is maintained, but with subtle transitions.
Impressions Of Curtis Mayfield is a gas!
TrackList: Freddie’s Dead; It’s All Right; Move On Up; We’re A Winner; Superfly; Beautiful Brother Of Mine; Check Out Your Mind; I’m So Proud; Keep On Pushing; People Get Ready; Gypsy Woman; Amen
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