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Esther Phillips: What A Diff

Jim Santella By

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Originally released in 1975, Esther Phillips’ disco album features her soulful delivery and passionate feel for the blues. This came toward the end of her career, during the singer’s second major comeback.

She always had her finger on the pulse of the listening public. Little Esther had started climbing the stairway to stardom at age thirteen, after an impressive amateur night performance at the Largo Theater in Los Angeles. Having gained notice, she toured the country in 1950 with the Johnny Otis band for Savoy Records. Throughout much of the decade following, Little Esther rode a wave of Rhythm & Blues popularity that introduced her to a wide audience that was thirsty for the kind of emotional hipness that she so naturally exhibited. Her career stalled for a few years, however, toward the end of the decade.

Taking the name Esther Phillips in 1962, she had a brief comeback with a few recordings and appearances here and there. Her second significant comeback came just about ten years later, with What A Diff’rence A Day Makes. Joe Beck provided hot musical arrangements and provided soulful guitar solos on several tracks. David Sanborn’s soulful interlude graces the title track, which is performed as a fast moving disco strut. The album’s bonus track is an alternate take of “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes,” in which Beck replaces Sanborn. There are other significant jazz moments on this otherwise pop-soul-disco album. “One Night Affair” and “Hurtin’ House” feature soulful tenor solos by Michael Brecker, and “I Can Stand a Little Rain” finds the Brecker brothers trading with Phillips. Elsewhere, you can hear the screeching trumpet section, which includes Jon Faddis along with Randy Brecker. Reissue of this classic CTI album serves two purposes: it welcomes a session of stellar studio work from a handful of superb jazz artists, and it brings back one significant chapter from the glory years that we remember from Little Esther’s career.


Track Listing: One Night Affair; What A Diff

Personnel: Esther Phillips- vocals; Joe Beck, Steve Khan, Eric Weisberg- guitar; Don Grolnick- keyboards; Will Lee- electric bass; Chris Parker- drums; Michael Brecker- tenor saxophone; David Sanborn- alto saxophone; Randy Brecker, Jon Faddis, John Gatchell, Alan Rubin- trumpet; Barry Rogers, Tony Studd- trombone; Jimmy Buffington, Brooks Tillotson- French horn; Emanuel Green, Leo Kahn, Kathryn Kienke, Harold Kohon, Harry Lookofsky, Gene Orloff, Max Pollikoff, Matthew Raimondi- violin; Al Brown, Manny Vardi- viola; Charles McCracken, George Ricci- cello.

Title: What A Diff | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Epic Records

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