While he may not be as recognized as Stevie Wonder or James Brown, Curtis Mayfield left an indelible mark on American popular music as a pioneering instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and R&B producer. His compositionsincluding the score for the iconic blaxploitation film Super Fly (1972)are compelling, incorporating the heritage of urban soul and gospel music and providing socially conscious messagescommentaries on the Vietnam War, inner city poverty, drug abuse and the tumultuous struggles of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. His legacy is celebrated on Impressions of Curtis Mayfield by the Jazz Soul Seven, a band of ace jazz stars whose members include older and younger "groove aficionados" such guitarist Phil Upchurch and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.
The band's depth and sophistication imparts Mayfield's genius with equal doses of soul and swing in sweet rebirthings of popular tunes ("Move On Up") and forgotten jewels ("Beautiful Brother of Mine"). The melodies are unspoiled, allowing for creative liberties such as Upchurch's smooth fretwork on "Keep On Pushing" or the Yellowjackets's pianist Russell Ferrante's perfectly phrased comps on the gospel-influenced "People Get Ready." The rhythmic foundation of the band is exemplified by the resilience of bassist Robert Hurst and Carrington's wonderful swing-walk drumming on the killer version (no pun intended} of "Freddie's Dead."
Veteran horn masters Wallace Roney and Ernie Watts provide the juice with muted horn cries and burnished sax lines that radiate both heat and cool. The late Master Henry Gibson's percussion ignites the already uplifting sentiments of "We're a Winner," elevating Roney's dynamic horn. The band's bond tangibly provides memorable highlights such as the conclusion of "Superfly," where the horns repeatedly echo the song's verse, "trying to get over," as Upchurch burns out a copacetic solo.
The many highlights include an ultra-tight "Check Out Your Mind" and the hit ballad "I'm So Proud," which was first recorded by the Mayfield-led pop group, The Impressions, in the 1960s. It's re-imagined here with an upbeat tempo and a West African flavor, the horns trading the amorous melody. From start to finish, the Jazz Soul Seven's dedication to Curtis Mayfield doesn't falter. The music suggests that, while yesteryear's Afros, platforms shoes and bell-bottoms were super cool, Mayfield's message was much deeper and still holds relevance today.
Freddie's Dead; It's All Right; Move On Up; We're a Winner; Superfly; Beautiful Brother of Mine; Check Out Your Mind; I'm So Proud; Keep On Pushing; People Get Ready; Gypsy Woman; Amen.
Terri Lyne Carrington: drums; Russ Ferrante: piano; Master Henry Gibson: percussion; Bob Hurst: bass; Wallace Roney: trumpet; Phil Upchurch: guitar; Ernie Watts: saxophone.