Only in recent years have I come to realize just how significant Harvey Mason is to the progression of jazz-funk on through “chill” and into the modern expansive era of the jazz idiom. As a drummer,being a band leader was an inevitability because of that age old tradition of the drummer leading the marching band during the ragtime era-or even as a communicative instrument in Africa. Having been a founding member of Bob James’ 90’s era super group Fourplay,Harvey has continued the occasional solo and ongoing session work as he had always done. Realizing the nature of his talent as a musician of many musical colors,Harvey put together a new group called Chameleon which consisted of himself,sax player Kamasi Washington, keyboardist Corey King,Jimmy Haslip on bass and classic Headhunters era percussion Bill Summers in the mix. This album serves both as a Harvey Mason release and an introduction to the new band as well.
“Black Frost” takes Bob James’ composition into a place where all of the instrumentation revolves around Mason’s spiraling drum sound. Bobby Hutcherson’s “Mantara” gives a similarly involved workout to a very complex yet compelling melody. “If I Ever Lose This Heaven”,long associated with Quincy Jones funkiest years has a single vocalist for this occasion in the somewhat more contemporary Chris Turner. “Looking Back” and especially “Mase’s Theme” are both just over one minute interludes that showcase a full on return to the driving,clavinet driven Headhunters style of jazz funk while Patrice Rushen’s “Before The Dawn” allows for the band and Harvey to groove in a softer manner belying the intensity of the dynamic composition. Donald Byrd’s “Places And Spaces”,featuring vocals from Corey King again focuses on the spiritual,avante garde end of the jazz-funk genre. The album concludes with a re-arranged version of Herbie Hancock’s title song-one which emphasized the hindewhu effect more than the synth bass of the original. The bonus number (several tracks later “Looking Forward (Breaking Bad)” is a lively full band arrangement with an uptempo rhythm.
Overall this music is not as easy to pin down as the virtues of Mason and his intention would make it out to be. Of course the same thing could apply to the Headhunters as well. Though they were rather clearly based in funk at the core. This album is quite different at the base. The sound doesn’t have the phat bass lines and breaks that are essential to hard funk. Nor does it have that breezy,glossy studio overcoat that would commonly be found on a “chill” (once pejoratively referred to as smooth jazz) type of album either. What this does is provide a full musical picture that integrates elements of what Mason did in the Headhunters and his totally separate style forged in Fourplay. So this is sort of a hybrid sound to a degree. At the same time,a live band and very jazzy (on the fusion end) sound is emphasized. That being said,the music here successfully bridges one generation of jazz fusion with another that has the feeling of a pair of paternal mentors leading their musical children and cousins. The musical unity creates a strong and uniquely grooving sound on this album and it is more than a welcomed addition to Mason’s vast and diverse musical catalog.