Harvey Mason may be best known for his session credits on countless classic records by artists from Carole King to Quincy Jones. But the drummer/percussionist has also led a solo career since 1975, most often fusing his jazz sensibility with R&B textures. His first stint as a solo artist came at Clive Davis’ Arista Records, where he recorded five well-received, self-produced albums between 1975 and 1981. Big Break’s recent anthology Sho Nuff Groovin’ You: The Arista Records Anthology 1975-1981 draws on all five releases to paint a full portrait of the artist’s irresistible, and irresistibly funky, floor-fillers.
Over the course of 36 primarily upbeat tracks on two CDs, Sho Nuff Groovin’ You features Mason aided and abetted by some of the finest musicians in R&B, pop, and jazz, including pianist Richard Tee, keyboardists Herbie Hancock, David Foster, Greg Phillinganes, Ian Underwood, and David Foster, guitarists George Benson, Ray Parker, Jr., Steve Lukather, and Lee Ritenour, percussionist Sheila E, saxophonist Ernie Watts, arranger Jerry Peters, and vocalists The Waters, Merry Clayton, Venetta Fields, Randy Crawford, and many more. Harvey’s own brother Kenny Mason joined him on numerous tracks as co-writer, co-producer, and vocalist. Though Harvey’s work might be described accurately as jazz fusion for the virtuosity of the musicianship and freedom for the players to stretch out, his records were melodic, accessible and heavily R&B/dance-oriented.
Mason’s debut album, Marching in the Street, introduced him as musician, producer, composer, and arranger. Though it charted on the R&B survey, the LP was very much in a jazz bag. BBR’s anthology includes five cuts, including the Mason-penned title track, inspired by his growing up in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “Marching in the Street,” the first track from Mason’s first album, summoned up the soulful procession of tunes to come. Ernie Watts on piccolo flute added delicious flavor, with further standout performances from solo trumpeter Blue Mitchell and the horn section. In addition to two more Mason originals, Sho Nuff Groovin’ You has selected two covers from Mason’s fellow musicians. Lee Ritenour’s “Wild Rice” has tasty improvisations from the composer-guitarist and the crack band (including Watts on tenor saxophone, Chuck Rainey on bass, Dave Grusin on piano, Benny Maupin on solo tenor sax, Oscar Brashear and Bobby Bryant on trumpet, and George Bohannon on trombone). The great Grusin’s “Modaji” features a flute lead from Hubert Laws, recalling a strong CTI Records vibe on the mellow track.
1976’s Earthmover picked up where Marching in the Street left off, right down to a track (“KY and the Curb”) drawing on Mason’s youth in Atlantic City, and specifically the nightlife on the city’s Kentucky Avenue. A full seven of its nine tracks are included here, such as the brief, cinematic “Earthmover Prelude” and spacey instrumental “The Mase.” Bassist/guitarist Louis Johnson of The Brothers Johnson co-wrote “Sho Nuff Groove,” with Merry Clayton on backgrounds; its funky sound would be explored even further on Mason’s next releases. The album also featured a live version of “When I’m with You,” with Motown great James Jamerson on bass and a complement of ebullient horns. It’s a bit slicker than the studio cuts, but made an undeniably effective closer to that album.
Mason returned in late 1977 for Funk in a Mason Jar, with one key difference. Clive Davis had requested more vocals from the artist, and he delivered – in the process turning in his most focused R&B effort. Two tracks, both reprised here among eight selections from the LP, were tailor-made for crossover success. Merry Clayton sings the lead on the midtempo “Till You Take My Love,” co-written by David Foster and imbued with the effortless pop sensibility for which Foster is known. Even better is “Pack Up Your Bags,” penned by Mason, lead vocalist Art Wilson, and Skip Scarborough. The sumptuous strings and cooing background vocals by the Waters and Venetta Fields on the uptempo composition conjure a Philly soul splendor which was surely intentional. The chorus is reminiscent of Thom Bell’s most easygoing melodic lines, and Wilson even channeled The Spinners’ Philippe Wynne in his ad-libs.
Mason didn’t completely abandon instrumentals, however. “Liquid” is the right title for one moving track written by Mason and evocatively arranged by CTI veteran Bob James in the attractive, wistful mode of his own Taxi theme, “Angela.” Tom Scott took the smooth tenor sax lead. Two cover versions were equally impressive. Mason’s take on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” reunited the artist with George Benson and his fellow players from Benson’s classic Breezin’ LP, and Kenny Loggins’ “Set It Free” paired him with Johnny Mathis’ onetime duet partner Paulette McWilliams and Stephanie Spruill on vocals.
By the time of 1979’s Groovin’ You, Arista was eager to see Mason embrace disco, and the ever-imaginative, searching and prolific artist wasn’t opposed to the notion. Its title song was a true dance-funk fusion, powered not just by Mason’s thunderous drums and colorful percussion but by Ray Parker Jr.’s liquid guitar groove, Richard Tee’s piano, David Shields’ bass, Jerry Peters’ Fender Rhodes, and a horn section. It’s presented here for maximum enjoyment in its extended 12-inch version.
Six more tracks from Groovin’ You are additionally presented here, underscoring Mason’s diverse approach to the album. David Foster co-wrote the intoxicatingly nonstop “Say It Again,” with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White on bass. The bright “The Race” recalls the EWF sound and style, while vocalist Bill Champlin (Sons of Champlin, Chicago) brought his expressive pipes and soft-rock sheen to keyboardist Bill Meyers’ “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.” Harvey and his brother Kenny’s “Never Give You Up” showcased orchestral color with its strong yet subtle brass arrangement, and the gentle “We Can” offered a rare ballad and moment to breathe.
Mason paid tribute to bossa nova pioneer Antonio Carlos Jobim with a breezy rendition of the master’s “Wave,” one of the most romantic songs in Jobim’s entire catalogue. Playing a variety of percussion instruments including vibes on a bed of atmospheric strings, Mason’s extended instrumental performance of (and improvisation on) the beguilingly beautiful melody proved transporting.
1981’s M.V.P. became the artist’s Arista swansong. For his first album of the 1980s, Mason retained his independence with few concessions to the more heavily electronic sound rising to dominance. The Earth, Wind & Fire influence in his music was even more pervasive on M.V.P. thanks to the irresistibly sleek grooves of “We Can Start Tonight,” “On and On,” “Universal Rhyme,” and “How Does It Feel,” with Mason showing off his falsetto on the lead vocals. Karen Floyd took the Deniece Williams-esque lead on the boisterous “Going Through the Motions,” and Deon Estus wrote and sang the appropriately hypnotic “Spell.”
Compilation producer Wayne A. Dickson has avoided strict chronology to sequence Sho Nuff Groovin’ You as an impressionistic musical journey through Mason’s musical world. The first disc emphasizes the faster, funkier, and more danceable grooves in his catalogue, building to a crescendo and then cooling down; the second disc creates a relaxed, softer, and more jazz-centric mood with many instrumental tracks. Nick Robbins has remastered all of the tracks for ideal sound, and Christian John Wikane has interviewed Mason for a comprehensive and illuminating essay. Sho Nuff Groovin’ You: The Arista Records Anthology is a compelling tribute to a consummate musician; it casts an entrancing spell all its own.
- Groovin’ You (12-Inch Disco Version)
- We Can Start Tonight
- Till You Take My Love
- The Mase
- Pack Up Your Bags
- Sho Nuff Groove
- Space Cadets
- How Does It Feel
- Say It Again
- Going Through the Motions
- On and On
- Never Give You Up
- We Can
- Freedom Either Way
- Funk in a Mason Jar
- The Race
- Universal Rhyme
- When I’m with You (Live Version)
- Marching in the Street
- KY and the Curb
- Wild Rice
- First Summer
- Ballad for Heather
- What’s Going On?
- Earthmover Prelude
- Bertha Baptist
- Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
- Building Love (Hymn)
- Set It Free
CD 1, Track 1 from Arista 12-inch single CP-704, 1979
CD 1, Tracks 2, 8, 10-11, 14 & 18 from M.V.P., Arista AB-4283, 1981
CD 1, Tracks 3, 5, 7, 15-16 and CD 2, Tracks 6, 9 & 14 from Funk in a Mason Jar, Arista AB-4157, 1977
CD 1, Tracks 4, 6, 19 and CD 2, Tracks 2, 7, & 10-11 from Earthmover, Arista AL-4096, 1976
CD 1, Tracks 9, 12-13, 17 and CD 2, Tracks 4 & 12 from Groovin’ You, Arista AB-4227, 1979
CD 2, Tracks 1, 3, 5, 8 & 13 from Marching in the Street, Arista AB-4054, 1975