Michael Olatuja – Speak – Backdrop

by | Aug 14, 2009 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews | 0 comments

Michael Olatuja – Speak – Backdrop OSD-CD-BD006, 50:17 ***1/2:

(Michael Olatuja – electric bass, acoustic bass, arrangements & Fender Rhodes; plus 11 additional musicians and 13 singers)

British/Nigerian bassist Michael Olatuja operates in territory similar to that of Richard Bona, whom he credits as a mentor, though less successfully to these ears. An accomplished sideman who has accompanied such artists as Soweto Kinch, Terence Blanchard, Patti Austin, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Gretchen Parlato, and many others, on his debut recording he displays influences gleaned from these and many other artists. A baker’s dozen lead and background singers make it challenging to keep continuity between vocal tracks, even though most of them work in a soul-gospel-R&B vein, but it’s to Olatuja’s credit that they mesh quite seamlessly. By the end of the disc, however, things are beginning to fray: we desire more rigor and less eclecticism.

The most successful numbers are the pure gospel tune “Walk with Me,” the bubbly Afro-pop of “Ma Foya,” and the highlight of the disc, the quiet ballad,  “Mama Ola,” tellingly the only instrumental number featuring the reflective piano of Jason Rebello and the haunting soprano sax of the hugely under-recorded Jean Toussaint. Given the serene beauty of “Ma Ola,” it would be fascinating to hear an all-instrumental recording by this talented but somewhat unfocused artist.

TrackList: Ma Foya, Altar Call, Hold On, Little Sister, Le Jardin, Yi Yipada, Unconditional, Speak, Walk with Me, Mama Ola

— Jan P. Dennis

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