Harvey Mason: Chameleon (2014)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
When you've been making music as long as Harvey Mason has as a solo artist and manning the drum chair for Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Donald Byrd,and more artists than there is space here to list, you are not only pleasing longtime fans, you're making new converts as well. Some who might ask, "This guy's pretty good. Wonder what else he's done?"
Mason's answer is his first album in a decade, Chameleon and he both looks back at classic compositions "Mase" either wrote, co-wrote or played on while tapping top young talent to aid and abet his look forward while looking back at his varied past. Mason calls upon two of his colleagues from Hancock's Head Hunters band, bassist Paul Jackson and percussionist Bill Summers as well as new blood such as saxophonist Kamasi Washington and NEXT collective members, electric bassist Ben Williams, trumpeter Christian Scott, guitarist Matthew Stevens and keyboardist Kris Bowers are among the stand-outs.
When it comes to jazz-funk, Mason was there at major moments in the genre and he knows his way around a groove without ever being showy and pretentious. Always more of a technically adept instead of a razzle-dazzle showman, Mason's approach to drumming is to remain present without being thunderously loud, amazingly fast or ostentatiously playing licks all over the place.
The hardest thing for an artist with a resume as long, varied and accomplished as Mason's is choosing which of his many musical stops to return to. "Black Frost" (Grover Washington,Jr), "Before the Dawn" (Patrice Rushen), "Montara" (Bobby Hutcherson) which features a rare turn on vibes by Mason and naturally, "Chameleon." While Hancock's synthesisers are missing here, the work of Bowers, Mark de Clive-Lowe, and Corey "C.K." King on keyboards and Fender Rhodes nicely capture the classic jazz-funk of that era.
The one misfire is "If I Ever Lose This Heaven" the only vocal track with Chris Turner doing nothing to make anyone forget to forget the Quincy Jones original. That aside, Chameleon is Mason serving notice he is not a lion in winter, but still continues to make a joyful noise as a drummer, arranger and bandleader.
Track Listing: Black Frost; Montara; If I Ever Lose This Heaven; Looking Back; Before the Dawn; Studio Life (Hold It One Second); Places and Spaces; Either Way; Mase's Theme; Chameleon; Looking Forward (Breaking Bad)
Personnel: Harvey Mason: drums, vibes, percussion, synth, piano, synth bass; Kamasi Washington: tenor sax; Corey "CK" King: synths, trombones; Matthew Stevens: guitar; Kris Bowers: fender rhodes; Ben Williams: electric bass; Bill Summers: percussion, vocals, Hinda Hu whistle; Mark de Clive-Lowe: Fender Rhodes, synths; Chris Turner: vocals (3); Christian Scott: trumpet, Jimmy Haslip: electric bass (3, 10); Paul Jackson: electric bass (4, 15); Guillaume Perret: tenor sax, keyboards (15); John Beasley: piano solo (15)
Record Label: Concord Records