Album review: STANLEY CLARKE, NORMAN CONNORS, HARVEY MASON (Jazz Funk compilations)

STANLEY CLARKE - The Definitive Collection

Cherry Red Records/imprints

The mid to late 1970s was a golden age for disco/jazz-funk.   Bands like Earth, Wind & Fire were ascendant in the charts whilst our more home-grown Level 42 picked up the baton for the burgeoning Brit Funk of the early-1980s.  Cherry Red via its soul/R&B imprints have released three excellent compilations which will allow further exploration of the phenomena as realised via three key musicians of the time.

I can recall seeing Stanley Clarke performing in 1977 at the famed “Erics” club in Liverpool with his band and on the back of a classic jazz funk album ‘School Days’ You can imagine the atmosphere in a club which mirrored the old Cavern in terms of low ceiling and sweat.

The Definitive Collection brings together Clarke’s key output for Epic during the years 1975-1990. He’d previously been part of the jazz fusion outfit Return To Forever but his own solo work was more accessible and crossed over bringing his powerful bass lines to eminently danceable tunes.

Clarke rubbed shoulders with the likes of fusioneers Jeff Beck and one-time Zappa band member George Duke (‘Journey To Love’, ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Jelly’) although it’s Ray Gomez who provides the frenetic guitaring on ‘School Days’.

This collection also reminds me that one of Clarke’s later albums 1986′s ‘Hideaway’ (represented here by the title track) is well worth exploring.  Sadly another album highlight ‘When It’s Cold Outside’ is omitted.  It demonstrates that the 70s and 80s jazz funkers were given an extended lease of life if they embraced the smooth jazz genre that hit the airwaves in the late-1980s/early 1990s.  (Robinsongs, 09.06.17)  *****

Norman Connors - Valentine Love - The Buddah/Arista Anthology

During the halcyon seventies jazz funk period there were several drummers who rose to prominence including Lenny White, (he’d been in Return To Forever with Clarke).  Idris Muhammad, Harvey Mason (more of whom to come) and Norman Connors.  Connors was influenced by Herbie Hancock’s pioneering fusion of jazz and funk and his debut in 1972 actually featured the influential keyboard player.  By 1974 when Valentine Love – The Buddah/Arista Anthology begins Connors was melding R&B, funk and rock as evidenced on ‘Slew Foot’ and ‘Saturday Night Special’.

Connors’ later albums enlisted the singer he called Adaritha but for many the true highlight here will be the minor club hit ‘Captain Connors’ included in all its 12″ extended glory and Connors’ breakthrough hit in 1976 ‘You Are My Starship.” one of several collaborations with the vocalist Michael Henderson.  (Soul Music Records, 10.03.17) ****

Harvey Mason - Sho Nuff Groovin' You The Arista Records Anthology (1975-1981)

Harvey Mason had carved out a career in the seventies as an in-demand session drummer and appeared on  albums by Barbra Streisand and, perhaps more significantly, Miles Davis.  Herbie Hancock’s  album ‘Headhunters’ was a landmark blueprint for jazz funk in the seventies and Mason played drums and co-wrote the key track ‘Chameleon’.

It wasn’t until 1975 that he released his first solo album for Arista and as you might expect he brought together a number of stellar names such as vocalist Randy Crawford (‘Building Love’) and heavyweight jazz fusionists Dave Grusin and Herbie Hancock (‘Ballad For Heather’).

This collection – Sho Nuff Groovin’ You – The Arista Records Anthology (1975-1981) – also includes ‘Till You Take My Love’ a club hit in the UK in 1977 from Mason’s highest charting  album ‘Funk In A Mason Jar’.  This was a co-write with top AOR producer David Foster and sung by Merry Clayton who you might remember fronted the Stones’ classic ‘Gimme Shelter’ with Mick Jagger.

By the 1990s Mason had formed Fourplay with Bob James and Lee Ritenour (both of whom appeared on his solo albums). Like Stanley Clarke he capitalised on an increased demand for smooth jazz during this decade and which had a ready-made radio outlet in the States and to a lesser extent in the UK via the Jazz FM station.  (Big Break Records, 30.06.17) ***1/2

All these splendid collections come with extensive liner notes.

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

Gig review/interview (Stanley Clarke, July 2017)

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 26 July.. In the first hour David pays tribute to the blues/rock guitarist Peter Green.

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