Jazz Soul Seven: Impressions Of Curtis Mayfield Curtis Mayfield's music has always possessed a certain cachet in soul, funk, R&B, pop and rock circles, but it never fully took hold in jazz until now. Pianist Herbie Hancock had some fun with Mayfield's "Future Shock" on the decades-old album of the same name (Columbia 1983), while other jazz musicians may have occasionally taken a stab at one of his songs; but these were merely blips on the musical radar. It was boundary-pushing bassist William Parker's I Plan To Stay A Believer: The Inside Songs Of Curtis Mayfield (AUM Fidelity, 2010) that made clear that it was time for jazz to embrace, honor and recontextualize Mayfield's music. Jazz Soul Seven does just that on Impressions Of Curtis Mayfield.
Producer Brian Brinkerhoff and guitarist Phil Upchurch assembled a killer cast for this project, breathing new life into Mayfield's music without altering the essence of the originals. Melodic riffs meld with riff-like melodies, and heady grooves, sly licks and strong solos can be found throughout. The music is funky, soulful, powerful and poignant, and it should come as no surprise that these adjectives can also be applied to Mayfield's originals.
The rhythm team of drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Robert Hurst are the true stars of this date, setting a four-alarm fire from below with some assistance from Mayfield's longtime percussionist, Master Henry Gibson. Trumpeter Wallace Roney brings depth and power to the proceedings with his Miles Davis-like horn work. Upchurch is the chameleon of the group, doling out bluesy licks, African-inspired lines ("I'm So Proud") or fusion-based sounds, depending on what the music calls for. Those who've only heard saxophonist Ernie Watts' straight-laced saxophone sounds and only know pianist Russell Ferrante from his work with the Yellowjackets would be hard-pressed to identify either one by their playing here, as both men go a step outside and sound fantastic doing it.
Mayfield's Impressions-era material, soundtrack songs and solo work are all represented, as this stellar septet works their way through a dozen songs that use groove as the common denominator. The first half of the album, by and large, is more lively and aggressive, while the second half is a bit more expressive, but each and every performance is passionate in its own way. Watts burns on "Freddie's Dead," Carrington and Hurst are in the pocket on a swinging "It's All Right," and "Move On Up" contains several strong solos. The waltzing "Keep On Pushing" sounds like a vintage V.S.O.P number, as Roney channels Freddie Hubbard and Ferrante comps in Hancock-esque fashion. But the band doesn't stay in this area for very long. Each song allows them to view Mayfield from a different angle and they don't waste a single opportunity.
By tapping into soul music, swing, modern jazz, fusion and funk, the Soul Jazz Seven has fused its own individual personalities with that of its honoree. Now that the floodgates are open, it's time for others to follow. Jazz needs more Mayfield like this.