The disc gets off to a great start with an accurate cover of Seawind’s late-seventies hit “He Loves You.” (Seawind was one of the most under-recognized outfits of the era; this band gave us trumpeter/arranger Jerry Hey, keyboardist/saxophonist/producer Larry Williams, and singer Pauline Wilson.) Here, the rhythm is emphasized a little more, and vocalist Sarah Newell comes close to matching Pauline Wilson’s gifted delivery.
As the program progresses, it becomes apparent that the band is more successful at updating soul-jazz tunes from yesteryear than creating their own originals. Manny Albam’s “Bad, Bad Simba” (enlivened by guest drummer Steve Gadd) and Gene Ammons’ “Jungle Strut” are the other highlights. The originals tend to consist of a simple foundation of a repetitious two-chord pattern and a head that is more like a repeated riff than a melody. The low point is “Each & Every Day,” a two-chord vamp that drones on endlessly and steals vocal snippets (actually sung, not sampled) from the above-mentioned “He Loves You” without crediting composer Bob Wilson. However, throughout the entire program the requisite groove is always present, and the band’s talented soloists turn in skillful, well-developed solos. The sax duties are split between Frenchman Herve Gamilen and Belgian Poli Cousse, and although the liner notes don’t distinguish their performances, I believe Gamilen handles the soprano and alto on about a third of the tunes, and Cousse blows funky baritone and tenor on the rest. Guitarist Malcom McFarlane is impressive as well, both as a soloist and as a funky rhythm guitarist. The band boasts two qualified vocalists in Sarah Newell and Christine Glen, but they’re only sporadically heard. Band co-founder Andy Spiller, who supplies all keyboards and drum programs (very life-like, I might add) and shares in four compositions and the production duties, is the preeminent force behind the band, along with co-founder, co-producer, and co-composer Alan Barnes.
Despite wanting for a little more compositional substance on a few tunes, this is a good CD. There are some great tunes, great soloing throughout, and good grooves. And the band is establishing it’s own sound and style rather than trying to fit into a formula. I hope this is but the first of many installments. (Higher Octave Jazz HOJCD 50957)
Track Listing: He Loves You; Rio Dawn; Bad, Bad Simba; Skindo Le Le; Burn It Up; Each & Every Day; Jungle Strut; Ocean Dance; Boss Tres Bien; Mellow Mellow (Right On). (60:50)
Personnel: Andy Spiller
Record Label: Higher Octave Music
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