With now over four decades in the music business? Melissa Manchester has taken her soulfully theatrical wail of a voice and heavy melodicism as a songwriter from the singer/songwriter,blue eyed soul,new wave and synth pop genres of music. Since she comes from the pop music scene,having had her biggest hit album produced by one time Marvin Gaye producer and fine singer/songwriter in his own right Leon Ware? It’s no surprise that through it all,Manchester would maintain a strong jazziness about her sound as well.
After a decade as an adjunct professor at the USC Thornton musical school,Manchester was encouraged by some of her students to independently raise money for a new album she wanted to record. The album was released in February of 2015 along with a series of club dates to promote it,including a guest appearance on Tavis Smiley’s talk show on PBS. Including a bevy of powerful guests,including the the late Joe Sample,Bronx native Manchester’s title song to her brand new album You Gotta Love The Life really bought her back with a serious musical bang!
Starting off with a persistent kick drum from Mister Abraham Laboriel,the horn section of Tom Evans.Steve Baxter and arranger/trumpet/flugelhorn player Lee Thornburg make a serious rapid fire funky horn proclamation before a groove assisted ably by the bluesy piano of John Proulax,Hammond organ player Steve Welch-all led along by the percussion of Lenny Castro on a pumping dance floor friendly jazzy funk rhythm. On the bridge the rhythm,the piano breaks down to a cymbal based beat after which guitarist Peter Hume takes a fiery jazz/rock solo. After this Manchester’s toughly vocalized chorus kicks right back in and stays there until it comes right into the end with the songs title frankly sung.
With a guest of crackerjack musicians along with backup singers Vangie Gunn and Susan Holder? This song is of the sort that most professional musicians would want to begin their album with. The melody is bold,the rhythm is righteous and the band are absolutely on fire along with the performance of Manchester herself. She sings about devotion to the love of creating and performing music,even through all of the outside struggles that are put upon artists. Stating in the end that it’s all worthwhile since “you’ve gotta love the life”. The uptempo,hard horn packed jazzy funk vibe and the style of choruses,instrumental harmonies and rhythms are also right out of the Crusaders/Stuff/Steely Dan school as well-which also helps matters for the lover of a good groove. An excellent way for Melissa Manchester to launch her comeback album!
Filed under Abraham Laboriel, Bronx, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, John Proulax, Lee Thromburg, Lenny Castro, Leon Ware, Melissa Manchester, PBS, Steely Dan, Steve Baxter, Steve Welch, Stuff, Susan Holder, The Crusaders, Tom Evans, USC Thornton, Vangie Gunn
I could spend a good deal of time focusing in on the double meanings behind this album title. Of course Joe Sample,on his own and with the Crusaders was being sampled right and left by this time by one jazz/funk obsessed DJ after another at this time when there was a huge sense of 70’s funk revivalism occurring in the hip-hop/electronic/scratch scene. Kind of good news for Joe Sample,whose career was still going incredibly strong at this time with successful releases with the Soul Committee on Did You Feel That? and reunions with the Crusaders. Ever the jazz improviser however funky and soulful he was,Sample bought in George Duke to help with production as well as his classic team of session aces from Steve Gadd,Lenny Castro,Dean Parks and the multi talented Marcus Miller to re-imagine his own material.
Much of what’s here I have to admit to not hearing in it’s original form. But for those I haven’t I’ll comment on what the sound says on it’s own terms. “Rainbow Seeker II” begins the album in that soulful,piano oriented vein that he maintains throughout “Caramel”,”In All My Wildest Dreams”,”Snowflake”,”It Happens Everyday”,”Fly With The Wings Of Love” and “Melodies Of Love”. These are classic Joe Sample jazz grooves,modernized enough to keep them fresh but punchy enough to keep them out of smooth jazz cliche’s:something of a Sample trade mark. Dianne Reeves throws her pipes well into the samba flavored “I’m Coming Back Again” where Dennis Rowland takes over for Bill Withers on “Soul Shadows”.
As the album gets more into the uptempo music “Night Flight” and “Chain Reaction” slide into the grooves very smoothly and easily. On “Street Life” the rhythm is changed to a more instrumentally inclined jazz/reggae style with no lead vocal. Probably the most radically different to me. “Free As The Wind” and the classic “Put It Where You Want It” probably dig deeper into the groove,even slowing down the tempo to an even funkier level than the originals and he ends the album with his solo piano rendition of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreveport Stomps”. While I’m not usually very keen on an artist re-doing their old material,even in the jazz world defined by improvisation of all sorts,this really works wonderfully for me. For one,it’s one of a series of wonderfully made Joe Sample albums…full of soul,the blues and groove as he always is. Also it makes it more than clear that jazz-funk can,indeed,be very successfully improvised on as much as acoustic music.
Originally posted on November 4th,2012
*For original Amazon.com review,click here!