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In The Groove: Patti Austin, George Duke, Ronnie Laws Reissues Coming From SoulMusic Label

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Patti Austin - CTISoulMusic Records, a division of the Cherry Red Group, is taking a soulful walk on the jazz side of town this month – or is that a jazzy walk on the soulful side of town?  You can decide for yourself with the new reissue of titles from Patti Austin, George Duke and Ronnie Laws.  All three albums are available now in U.K. and U.S. stores.

With Quincy Jones and Dinah Washington as her godparents, it’s no surprise that Patti Austin found her calling in music.  Yet despite having first recorded in 1955, Austin didn’t release a solo album until 1976 when she signed with Creed Taylor’s CTI label.  CTI was known for its sleek, modern jazz offerings, but Taylor was looking to expand his label’s horizons and the already accomplished singer /songwriter fit the bill.  SoulMusic has reissued Austin’s 1976 CTI debut, End of a Rainbow, in a deluxe edition also containing nine bonus tracks drawn from two later CTI platters.  Taylor himself oversaw Rainbow, which featured arrangements from David Matthews and guest appearances from CTI labelmate Joe Farrell, Randy Brecker and Gwen Guthrie.  On End of a Rainbow, Austin tackled lush, string-drenched ballads as well as uptempo grooves that straddled the line between jazz and R&B.  Austin wrote every song herself with the exception of one tune co-written with Dave Grusin (“That’s Enough for Me”) and one from Pat Upton (Spiral Starecase hit “More Today Than Yesterday”).  Grusin would play a significant role in Austin’s future, eventually signing her to his GRP label.

But more immediately speaking, Grusin and his GRP partner Larry Rosen took the reins as producers for Austin’s 1978 follow-up, Havana Candy.  This album was even more eclectic than the first, with songs ranging from the “rumba-type thing” (in Austin’s words) that is the saucy, delicious title track, to a heartfelt rendition of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s “Lost in the Stars.”  Five tracks have been culled from Havana for the new release, and three from 1980’s CTI farewell Body Language.  (A concert LP, Live At the Bottom Line, came in between.)  Recorded in Muscle Shoals with Taylor back in the producer’s chair, Body Language found Austin singing Squeeze (“Another Nail For My Heart”) and Isaac Hayes (the title song).  The album was actually the singer’s most successful, going Top 30 Jazz and earning a spot on the R&B charts, too, at No. 62.  But CTI was in a state of flux by 1980, and Austin decamped for her godfather’s Qwest label.  Though Havana Candy and Body Language should warrant reissues on their own, SoulMusic’s expanded End of the Rainbow is a vibrant retrospective of an artist who’s still blurring genre lines and pushing boundaries as both a singer/songwriter and an interpretive vocal talent.  SoulMusic founder David Nathan has written new liner notes, and Alan Wilson has remastered.

What’s coming from George Duke and Ronnie Laws?  Just hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 6, 2013 at 09:32

Little Bit O’Soul: Thelma Houston, Syreeta, Nancy Wilson, Brecker Brothers, George Duke Reissued

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Thelma Houston - MoWestSoul music was alive and well in 2012, and some of the finest reissues arrived courtesy of Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records label.  With the label already looking forward to 2013 releases from artists including Ronnie Laws, Patti Austin, Stephanie Mills, George Duke, Gwen Guthrie and Freda Payne (more on those soon), the time is right to revisit some of the year-end titles that might have fallen under the radar!

In addition to celebrating the post-Motown recordings of Mary Wells at 20th Century Fox and The Miracles at Columbia Records, two other Motown-centric releases were highlights of the SoulMusic rollout.  The short-lived MoWest label hasn’t always gotten a lot of love, with Light in the Attic’s 2011 compilation Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love: Motown’s MoWest Story 1971-1973 an exception. In fact, Berry Gordy’s West Coast operation yielded more unissued albums than issued ones!  Yet one that did make the cut for release was Thelma Houston’s self-titled LP, the second MoWest album following the eponymous debut of New Jersey rock group Lodi.   Houston’s 1972 album makes its CD debut from SoulMusic in an expanded edition with nine bonus tracks appended to the ten original songs.  Though commercially unsuccessful, Thelma Houston was a prestige effort for MoWest, with productions and songs from many Motown staff favorites.  On the songwriting side, Patti Dahlstrom and the team of Nick Zesses and Dino Fekaris made contributions, while the album’s tracks were produced by Mel Larson and Jerry Marcellino, Al Cleveland and Eddie Langford, and Joe Porter.  Arrangements came from heavyweights like Gene Page, Michael Omartian and Artie Butler.  The eclectic album also featured a song penned by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (“Black California”) and covers from Kris Kristofferson (“Me and Bobby McGee”) and even Anthony Newley (“There’s No Such Thing as Love”).  The bonus tracks include all four songs added to the U.K. release of Thelma Houston plus single sides.  These feature contributions from Pam Sawyer, writing with both Gloria Jones and Michael Masser, and more from the Larson/Marcellino team.  The result is a stunningly soulful, funky trek back to the days when Detroit went Hollywood.

Syreeta - One to OneSyreeta Wright was a MoWest labelmate of Thelma Houston for her own self-titled album Syreeta in 1972.  By 1974, Syreeta was on Motown’s Tamla label, where she recorded her third LP, 1977’s One to One, newly reissued by SoulMusic.  Though her marriage to Stevie Wonder lasted a mere year and a half, they made a dream team in the studio even after their personal union crumbled.  Wright teamed with Wonder on both Music of My Mind and Talking Book, and he returned the favor producing her first two studio albums, including the MoWest effort.  With Wonder otherwise occupied, Syreeta produced One on One herself, with her second husband, bassist Curtis Robertson Jr., and Leon Ware, who had just come off some groundbreaking work with Marvin Gaye, as co-producers.  Stevie Wonder’s one-off single production, “Harmour Love,” was added to the album at Motown’s behest.  Musicians including Greg Phillinganes, Gary Bartz and Michael Sembello all played on One to One.  But despite its all-around high quality, One to One didn’t fare well on the charts.  Syreeta later teamed with artists including The Spinners’ G.C. Cameron and Billy Preston, with whom she had a major chart success in 1980 with “With You I’m Born Again.”  She passed away in 2004, aged just 57, as a result of complications from cancer.  SoulMusic’s reissue is the album’s first CD release outside of Japan, and though there are no bonus tracks, it features a comprehensive new essay from A. Scott Galloway.

After the jump: info on new titles from the Brecker Brothers, George Duke and Nancy Wilson, plus order links and full track listings with discography for all releases! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 9, 2013 at 11:52

Epic Jazz and Funk: George Duke and Stanley Clarke Complete Boxes Coming Soon

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With the latest two additions to its growing Complete Albums Collections roster, Legacy Recordings and Epic Records are looking to two musical pioneers for which the description “jazz artist” seems largely inadequate.  George Duke, keyboard virtuoso, and Stanley Clarke, electric and acoustic bass pro, have extensively toured and recorded together, but these forthcoming box sets turn the clock back to their solo periods on the Epic label.

George Duke has proven himself equally adept at jazz, funk, R&B and pop, but over a lengthy career, he’s refused to be boxed in by any single genre.  Duke’s name might have first resonated with rock fans when he collaborated with Mothers of Invention leader Frank Zappa on a number of the singular artist’s best-remembered albums (Waka/Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo, Apostrophe) between 1969 and 1975.  Duke’s early joint effort with another friend of Zappa, the violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, made for a well-received entry in the world of early jazz-rock fusion.  After a long stint on the European MPS label as leader, Duke signed with Epic in 1977 where he scored crossover hits with the funk-infused “Reach for It” and “Dukey Stick.”  The 6-CD Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection of The George Duke Band presents Duke’s first six albums for the label, including From Me To You (1977), Reach For It (1977), Don’t Let Go (1978), Follow The Rainbow (1979), Master Of The Game (1979) and Brazilian Love Affair (1980).  As is customary for these sets, all albums are presented in mini-LP replica sleeves, and Duke himself has written a 4,000-word note exploring each album in detail.  These are the albums from the fertile time in which Duke allowed all of his influences to flower, for a true fusion of jazz, blues, soul, funk and disco.

Hit the jump for the scoop on Stanley Clarke: The Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection, plus track listings with discographical information for both sets! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 18, 2012 at 10:59