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.
Move is Hiromi's second "Trio Project" recording with electric bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips, and is a worthy follow-up to 2011's Voice. The pianist/composer defines the compositions on Move as mirroring an average day, starting with the title track, a choppy excursion that finds the trio connecting through a maze of twists and turns. "Brand New Day" is smoother than the previous track but doesn't lose any of the energy. Hiromi switches between piano and an analog synthesizer on "Endeavor," which, unfortunately, sounds like a novelty and cheapens the otherwise enjoyable composition. "Rainmaker" glides between fusion and post-bop. "Margarita!" is fun party funk. The final track, "11:49 PM," brings the day, and this very satisfying session, to its conclusion.
Rhythm team David Paull and Jim Payne left Jonesy after the release of the band's debut No Alternative. In their stead came Gypsy Jones and Plug Thomas, along with trumpeter/woodwind player Alan Bown and string arranger Ray Russell upending their previous sound. "Masquerade," which opened their sophomore Keeping Up set, immediately introduced the new crew across a dizzying array of genres. Shades of new romantics to come haunt the early passages, but then the song rounds on funk, delves deep into moody waters, pooling around woodwind and trumpet solos whipped to a froth by the lush strings while operatic vocals soar overhead. The new players weren't the only changes to be heard within; guitarist John Evan Jones had recently discovered the delight of the wah-wah pedal, and showcases it across many of the tracks.