Cherry Red’s Robinsongs imprint has recently released a pair of two-fers sure to excite jazz fusion fans.
Keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Eumir Deodato began his career as a major proponent of the bossa nova scene in his native Brazil, and soon became a sought-after arranger for the likes of Roberta Flack, George Benson, and even The Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra. Although he had been a solo recording artist since the early 1960s, Deodato’s solo career took off at Creed Taylor’s CTI label at the dawn of the new decade. In addition to a high-profile collaboration with Astrud Gilberto and Stanley Turrentine (1971’s Gilberto with Turrentine), Deodato scored an unexpected crossover hit the next year with his jazz-funk rendition of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” When the classical composition and 2001: A Space Odyssey theme was released as a single, it shot to No. 2 Pop. It eventually netted a 1974 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. More solo work followed for CTI (including 1974’s Deodato/Airto in Concert with fellow Brazilian, drummer Airto Moreira) and MCA, and in 1978, he joined the Warner Bros. label. Robinsongs has turned its attention to Deodato’s second and third long-players for Warners: Night Cruiser and Happy Hour.
Both albums were recorded in West Orange, New Jersey’s House of Music, the same studio where Deodato worked his magic with Kool and the Gang on such hits as “Ladies Night,” “Too Hot,” and “Celebration.” (In fact, Ronald “Kool” Bell showed up on saxophone for Night Cruiser!) Both LPs featured Deodato on keyboards and percussion, bringing his typically impeccable musicianship and arrangements for brass and strings to a mélange of disco, funk and jazz styles. The floor-filling title track of Night Cruiser made it to No. 23 Dance in the U.S., while the album itself reached No. 53 R&B and cracked the Billboard 200 at No. 186. In addition to Ronald “Kool” Bell’s wailing sax on “Uncle Funk,” the LP also welcomed Motown funk outfit Platinum Hook on occasional vocals and claps throughout. The bubbly “Skatin'” achieved a second life when artists including Notorious B.I.G. and Angie Stone later sampled it.
Deodato followed up Night Cruiser with Happy Hour. It differed substantially from its predecessor in that the composer-arranger-artist took a more pop/disco-oriented approach with featured lead vocalists Kelly Barretto, Eban Kelly and Candi Staton. Opening track and mission statement “Keep On Movin'” barely missed the Dance Top 40 at No. 41, and the title song “Happy Hour” stopped climbing at No. 44, though it also reached No. 70 Pop and R&B. Candi Staton lent her voice to the slick, modernized update of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” while Barretto and Kelly also had spotlight moments to shine on the funky, upbeat confections. Alan Wilson has remastered this two-fer from the Brazilian maestro, which also features two bonus tracks: the 7-inch single edits of “Night Cruiser” and “Keep On Movin’.”
The Deodato release has been joined by another pair of albums, this time from Deodato’s old label CTI Records. Before it was fashionable, producer Creed Taylor’s label had been injecting pop and R&B sensibilities into jazz, paving the way for the commercial fusion sound. Fuse One was the label’s late-period supergroup, releasing three albums beginning in 1980. The “supergroup” concept wasn’t new to CTI; not only had the label sponsored “All-Star” concerts, but its top-tier musicians frequently cross-pollinated each other’s albums in truly democratic style. Robinsongs’ two-fer presents two of the group’s three releases from this unique group designed without a proper “leader.”
The 1980 debut Fuse One brought together guitarist John McLaughlin, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny Williams, joined by drummer Lenny White, guitarist Larry Coryell, percussionist Paulinho da Costa, saxophonist Joe Farrell, and others. Clarke and McLaughlin each contributed a pair of songs, while keyboardists Jeremy Wall and Ronnie Foster also each contributed a track. One classical composition (always a CTI trademark) by 19th century Czech composer Bedrich Smetana rounded out the set. Fuse One played to the diverse strengths of the players, taking in forms from light samba to mellow balladry to upbeat dance fusion.
Silk, Fuse One’s sophomore set, featured Stanley Clarke as musical director leading an almost entirely new ensemble featuring guitarists Eric Gale and George Benson, saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, trumpeters Tom Browne and Wynton Marsalis, and others. (Gale, Benson and Turrentine were both onetime CTI headliners.) Latin and Brazilian grooves once again informed the proceedings, and the album – with just four lengthy tracks, two on each side of the original vinyl – pointed the way towards the smooth jazz that would soon become synonymous with the 1980s.
Fuse One only recorded one more album (the independent 1984 release Ice, produced, arranged and conducted by David Matthews and featuring returning players Tom Browne, Larry Coryell, and Will Lee, as well as Steve Gadd. Robinsongs’ reissue captures these two fine additions to the CTI library, adding two bonus tracks: the 7-inch single of “Silk” and its non-LP B-side, George Benson’s “Ode to a Kudu.” (Of course, Taylor named his soul-focused CTI sister imprint Kudu.) Note that with these bonus tracks, this set has two more tracks than The Complete Recordings, issued years ago but long out-of-print.
Charles Waring has written new liner notes for both releases, and Alan Wilson has remastered both titles. Deodato’s Night Cruiser/Happy Hour and Fuse One’s Fuse One/Silk are available at the links below!
- Night Cruiser
- East Side Strut
- Uncle Funk
- Love Magic
- Uncle Funk (7-Inch Edit)
- Keep On Movin’
- Happy Hour
- Just This One Night
- Tears of a Clown
- Sweet Magic
- Keep It in the Family
- I Never Get Enough
- Keep On Movin’ (7-Inch Edit)
Tracks 1-6 from Night Cruiser, Warner Bros. BSK 3467, 1980
Track 7 from Warner Bros. single WBS 49635, 1980
Tracks 8-14 from Happy Hour, Warner Bros. BSK 3649, 1982
Track 15 from Warner Bros. single 7-29915, 1982
- Grand Prix
- Sunshine Lady
- To Whom All Things Concern
- Double Steal
- Taxi Blues
- In Celebration of the Human Spirit
- Hot Fire
- Silk (7-Inch Version)
- Ode to a Kudu (Non-LP B-side)
Tracks 1-7 from Fuse One, CTI 9003, 1980
Tracks 8-11 from Silk, CTI 9006, 1981
Tracks 12-13 from CTI single OJ-54, 1981