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Back in this fan's formative listening years, the record racks had a section that carried the label "Rhythm & Blues." There you'd find everything from early MotownSmoky Robinson and the Marvelettes, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Marvin and Tammi, the Temptations and the Supremes; and from other labels specializing in "soul sounds": Gene McDaniels, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Ray Charles...
I mention this bit of history because vocalist Bruce A. Henry sounds very much like a forward extension of that tradition, a carrying on of the things Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield were doing as the decade of the sixties drew to a close, bringing in a jazz spirit and an uplifting Afro-Centrism into a soul/blues/jazz mix.
And that is a very good thing.
Henry's Connections opens with the soaring Gill Scott Heron/John Coltrane anthem "Equinox," pared down Coltrane Stylebass, drums piano, sax; then it rolls into a Langston Hughes poem, proud and unstoppably dignified, with music supplied by Henry: "Darker Brother/I Too Sing America." In between lies Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay," and further on you'll find perhaps the highlight, a linked trio of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" and the Henry-penned "Africa Cries Prelude" and "Africa Cries."
Henry's one and a half octave vocal range delves into a rich baritone on his haunting original, "Moon," and rises elsewhere to a creamy Bobby Blue Bland deliveryI'm truly reminded of Bobby Blue on "Red Clay" and "House of the Rising Sun." A set that includes the occasional horn section, lady background vocals, infectious groovesa cooking version of Earth Wind and Fire's "Mighty, Mighty" the bouncing percolation of "Afro Blue," the solemn, spiritual reverence of "Africa Cries," all this makes Connections an outstanding and original vocal effort, produced to near perfection.
A small mistake is a version of Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" that has a surpisinglygiven the vibrancy and joy of the rest of the setleaden rhythm and sterile production. Just hit the fast forward button. It's the only time you'll need it. The repeat button will will be in full use on everything else.
Track Listing: Equinox, On the Red Clay, Darker Brother/I Too, Sing; In a Sentimental Mood, Might, Mighty; Africa Cries Prelude, Africa Cries, Afro Blue, House of the Rising Sun, Sound of Music, Moon
Personnel: Vocals--Bruce A. Henry; bass--Anthony Ciox, James A. Young III, Gordy Johnson, Enrique Toussaint; Keys--Peter Schimke, Adi Yeseya, Sean Truner, Nachito Herrera; Drums--Kevin Washington, Michael Becker, Daryl Boudreaux, Gordy Knudtsen
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.