Harvey Mason—Chameleon (Concord). On his new jazz-fusion album, Harvey Mason shows he hasn't lost his funky '70s touch. For decades, Mason has been one of the most in-demand studio drummers, recording behind dozens of top artists. He also was the drummer on Herbie Hancock's seminal Head Hunters album in 1973. On this CD, Mason integrates polyrhythms, a Fender Rhodes, moody synthesizers and a rubbery bass line, producing what can arguably be a 21st-century sequel to Hancock's funky fusion vision. Check out Black Forest, Either Way and Looking Back. The songs snapped me back to the decade of corduroy sports jackets, Adidas Roms and aviator sunglasses.
Alan Broadbent—America the Beautiful (CD Baby). Arranger, conductor, composer and pianist Alan Broadbent taps into all of his talents here with the NDR Bigband, a crackerjack jazz radio orchestra based in Hamburg, Germany. While the title track—America the Beautiful—is a bit of an odd choice, the balance of the album is savvy and rich in harmony and texture. Broadbent's piano is dominant throughout and deftly enveloped by different sections of the band. The album is less of a swinger and more of an orchestral work in the Gil Evans-Claus Ogerman school. Sample Between the Lines Mix and Mendocino Nights. A misty, moody approach to bid band jazz.
The Dramatics—Greatest Slow Jams (Stax). Slow jams used to be called "soul," and when soul was hot in the 1970s, just before disco's flowering, the Dramatics were among the finest practitioners of "bedroom songs." Among their hits were In the Rain and Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get. Their songs featured plenty of falsetto, strings and horns as well as big-build, dramatic intros. Stax wisely brought together the group's wooing numbers in this remastered set, and they haven't lost their touch. Sample Toast To The Fool; Fall In Love, Lady Love; Hey You! Get Off My Mountain and Thank You For Your Love. Music that makes you want to start up a Chevelle SS.
Curtis Stigers—Hooray for Love (Concord). I love Stingers' voice. His vocal chords sound like they've been wiped down with a rye-soaked cloth, and the result is pure hipster saloon. And while there's a slouching casualness to his phrasing, he can carry a tune. Normally I can't stand Songbook albums, largely because I've heard it all and much in the past has already been done definitively. Yet Stigers has found a way to have another go at this material and pulls it off with a contemporary sound and without overdoing it. Songs like You Make Me Feel So Young (with an equally chilled-with-a-twist Cyrille Aimee) and The Way You Look Tonight. Both are poured seductively. Not bad for a kid from Idaho.
Joe Beck—Get Me Joe Beck (Whaling City Sound). Guitarist Joe Beck died of lung cancer in 2008 at age 62. Over the course of his career, he recorded with Miles Davis, James Brown, Gene Ammons, Al Kooper and many other artists, moving seamlessly between jazz and rock in the late 1960 and '70s. Recorded live in 2006 at Anna's Jazz Island in Berkeley, Calif., Get Me Joe Beck features Beck with bassist Peter Barshay and drummer David Rokeach. On this CD, we get to hear Beck's rhythmic jazz style and chord voicings with rock seasoning. Dig the superb Georgia on My Mind and I Can't Get Started and a groovy Corcovado.
Thom Douvan—Brother Brother (CD Baby). Finally, more jazz artists are realizing that soul songs from the 1970s are standards, too. This R&B tribute offers flavorful reworkings of songs like That's the Way of the World, What's Going On, Sara Smile, Isn't She Lovely and others. Guitarist Douvan is backed by superb Hammond work from a series of organists along with crisp drumming and held-note saxophones. Shades of Charles Earland and Grover Washington, Jr.
Bill Medley—Your Heart to Mine: Dedicated to the Blues (Fuel). It's easy to typecast singer Bill Medley as just half the Righteous Brothers—the duo who recorded You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' and Unchained Melody. But Bill and the late Bobby Hatfield were called The Righteous Brothers for a reason. Bill knew his R&B and could put across a gospel vocal with conviction. If you put on this album when friends are over, Bill's vocals will fool them all, since they'll never guess it's him. Strongly influenced by Ray Charles, Bill has a mess of church in him. Sample Drowned in My Own Tears, Change Gonna Come and Pledging My Love. If you think I'm overreaching, hear it for yourself.
The String Cheese Incident—Song in My Head (Sci Fidelity). Don't be put off by the band's goofy name. This highly original funk-bluegrass band has been around for 20 years and will knock your socks off. The Colorado sextet weaves in elements of folk and rock, but no matter how you slice it, these guys know how to write songs and drive them through a wall. Think Steely Dan meets Mumford and Sons. Sample the title track, Rosie and Colorado Bluebird Sky. No two songs are alike. Produced by the Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison, String Cheese keeps it interesting.
The Ohio Express—Beg, Borrow and Steal (Real Gone). Not the Ohio Players or BT Express—but the Ohio Express. The name didn't designate a steady instrumental unit as much as it was a cover for a rotating series of New York studio musicians assembled by Super K Productions. Regardless, this music from 1967 will take you back fast—songs like And It's True, Had to Be Me, Roses Are Red, Life Is a Mystery and Stop Take a Look Around. A marketing ploy, to be sure, but the music still holds up with its mild psychedelic wash and pop hooks. Funny thing is they sound like the Mamas and the Papas, the Hollies and Spanky and Our Gang all jammed into one VW Bug. The sound of sixty-seven.
John Németh—Memphis Grease (Blue Corn). Singer-songwriter and harmonica player John Németh was born in Idaho to Hungarian immigrant parents, and his first job was driving trucks. Perfect recipe for the blues. Last year, he relocated his family to Memphis and befriended Scott Bomar and the Bo-Keys. The result is a sizzling album with the works—soulful vocals by Németh backed by a strong Stax-style beat, organ and horns. Dig Bad Luck Is My Name and Elbows on the Wheel. Music that sounds like Memphis's Gus's Chicken and the BBQ joints I love down there.