Paying homage to one of the most influential and important artists in the past century, the Jazz Soul Seven collective tips its hat to Curtis Mayfield
on Impressions of Curtis Mayfield
, an instrumental re-imagining of twelve of the R&B, funk and soul singer's most popular compositions. A voice of African-American pride, Mayfield was a socially-conscious artist who led The Impressions, delivering political musical statement during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Author of many funk and soul compositions during that decade and the one that followeed, Mayfield may be best associated with the soundtrack to the groundbreaking Superfly
(1972), its main theme reprised here behind energizing performances from drummer Terri Lyne Carrington
, trumpeter Wallace Roney
and guitarist Phil Upchurch
The group borrows two more songs from the hit Superfly
(Rhino, 1972) album, opening the tribute with a hard-charging version of "Freddie's Dead," featuring versatile saxophonist Ernie Watts
blowing strong and funky. With a terrific bass line introduction from Bob Hurst, "Check Out Your Mind" is the other Superfly
track, highlighting pianist extraordinaire Russell Ferrante
and the prowess of recently deceased percussionist master Henry Gibson Jr
. Reprising his role on the original recording, Henry's mid-song conga break on "Move On Up" is one of the features of this version, along with solos from Roney, Upchurch and Watts.
The classic "It's All Right" is always a joy to hear, but this jazzed-up rendition is particularly sweet, offering Wes Montgomery
like riffs from Upchurch setting the rhythm, while the group's horns set the chart a blaze on the rambunctious "People Get Ready," a piece often reprises by R&B and gospel artists. From his sophomore solo album Roots
(Rhino, 1971), recorded when he was 29 years old, "Beautiful Brother of Mine" is one of those social pieces penned by Mayfield specifically for the African-American community. In the same keeping, "I'm So Proud" is a gently reflective number, led by Watts and Roney with inspirational performances.
The group's soulful flair comes out splendidly on "Keep On Pushing," but is truly expressive on the defining "Gypsy Woman," the song that put Mayfield on the map when he performed it with The Impressions more than fifty years ago. The Jazz Soul Seven does it real justice on this album as it turns out to be one of the best moments of this disc. Speaking of soul, the album ends with The Impressions' 1964 chart topper "Amen," propelled by Roney's muted horn expressions capping off one soulful tribute to a giant of the R&B and soul genres.
Mayfield was a songwriter whose music carried a social message above all else. It is indeed appropriate that the all-stars who comprise the Jazz Soul Seven express his message of freedom and justice so eloquently on Impressions of Curtis Mayfield
, using the once revolutionary and liberating musical medium of jazz to document this well-deserved tribute.