Stanley Turrentine's great blues-inflected tenor sax work for Blue Note Records in the 1960s helped build the template for what became known as soul-jazz, but Turrentine was always restless, and he recorded in a wide variety of formats, from trios to sextets, during his nine years at the label. This set, drawn from a pair of 1967 sessions, one in February that included Donald Byrd on trumpet, and the other in June with McCoy Tyner on piano, wasn't released by Blue Note at the time, although it is a smooth-running and varied album from start to finish, featuring several fine Turrentine sax solos over artfully arranged massed horn charts (eventually some of the tracks were released as Stanley Turrentine in 1975 and others as New Time Shuffle in 1979).
Formed in 1967 by former Motions guitarist Robbie van Leeuwen, the Dutch quartet Shocking Blue originally had a lineup of VanLeeuwen on guitar, lead vocalist Fred DeWilde, bass player Klaasje Van der Wal, and drummer Cornelius Van der Beek, and the initial configuration of the band had a minor homeland hit with “Lucy Brown Is Back in Town” a year later in 1968. Things really got moving, though, when DeWilde was replaced by sultry singer Mariska Veres, whose sexy presence and solid singing brought the band a second Netherlands hit, “Send Me a Postcard,” and then a huge international smash with “Venus” in 1970 after the group had signed to Jerry Ross' Colossus Records imprint.
In the 1970s, Harvey Mason was one of those busy L.A.-based sessions players who had one foot in jazz and the other in R&B. The drummer backed his share of soul heavyweights (including Earth, Wind & Fire, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and the Brothers Johnson), but he never lost his jazz chops. Recorded in 1976, Earthmover is among the mostly instrumental albums that Mason provided during his stay at Arista. This self-produced LP, which finds him trying to balance commercial and creative considerations, is a mixed bag. Some of the material is strong, especially the cerebral fusion item "No Lands Man" (which boasts Jan Hammer on keyboards) and the funky "Bertha Baptist." And the contemplative "First Summer" is an enjoyable track that reminds the listener of the underrated Hawaiian funk/fusion outfit Seawind, which isn't surprising because it was co-written and arranged by Seawind's Bob Wilson.
With Beyond Skin, Nitin Sawhney set a high bar for global fusion music. Now he's raised it with Prophesy, taking advantage of a larger budget to bring in Indian strings, a South African choir, a Chicago cabbie, soul singer Terry Callier, and Nelson Mandela, among many other things. But what could have been an awkward grab bag of sound comes together under Sawhney's sure hands and inspired songwriting. He makes the unusual work. On "Sunset," for instance, flamenco and rai meet Brazil, and the vocals of Cheb Mami and Nina Miranda work to glorious effect. Trilok Gurtu contributes some stunning kannakol (vocal percussion) to "Breathing Light," while Natacha Atlas beguiles with her singing on "Acquired Dreams." But this is more than a collection of great tunes–it's an album that ponders the way our world and civilization is developing, asking questions and challenging assumptions while still delivering some sumptuous grooves and melodies.
Fourteen years is a long time to spend with one label, especially for jazz and fusion groups. Azymuth celebrated 14 years with the United Kingdom's Far Out label in 2008. Butterfly is their eight record for the imprint and their first new studio album in four years. The original trio – Jose Roberto Bertami (keyboards/vocals), Alex Malheiros (bass/guitars/vocals), and Ivan Conti (drums/percussion/vocals) – is still together after 35 years. Here jazz, funk, fusion, and elegant samba are woven together seamlessly. The disc was produced by the trio with David Brinkworth (Harmonic 33). "Butterfly," the album opener, is a sultry, breezy cover of the classic Herbie Hancock track, originally on 1974's Thrust. The elegant sound of gorgeously arranged strings (by Arthur Verocai no less), warm rolling Rhodes piano, Conti's breaking drums that walk the line between lithe funk and samba, and a pronounced but languid bassline gradually and deliberately build the space, stopping at interludes to reinsert the sensuous mood in the melodic line. Certainly it's an auspicious way to begin, but it's only one of the many highlights on this set.