Brazil bred keyboard wizard Eumir Deodato arrived on American soil at the perfect time. With his musical roots in Rio de Jenario’s bossa nova scene, Deodato quickly broadened his style by leaning heavily toward the new jazz sounds spewing out of New York in the early ‘70s. The shift from bossa to fusion led to a record deal in 1972 with Creed Taylor’s CTI label, yielding his magnum opus, a jazz-fusion interpretation of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (his entitled “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2010)”). After picking up a 1974 Grammy for this #2 pop hit, Deodato’s career exploded and he became the defining force behind Kool & The Gang, propelling the Jersey City band from an underground funk outfit into pop/R&B glory. Before you knew it, his production hands were touching the golden vinyl of acts like Earth, Wind & Fire, Con Funk Shun and Dazz Band.
With one hand deeply dipped in the jazz pool of greats like Wes Montgomery, Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughn and the other hand surrounding modern giants as vast as Bjork, Lupe Fiasco and a litter of funk groups, ultimately contributing to over 500 albums, Deodato’s legacy almost has the combustible greatness of a Quincy Jones.
Like most influential producers, Deodato’s personal work hasn’t had the golden luster of the acts he’s contributed his work to. That’s not to say that those albums deserve overlooking. After releasing a chunk load of LPs for CTI and Warner Bros., Deodato is still recording and making music. On The Crossing, the multi-instrumentalist teams up with UK R&B band Londonbeat and Italian jazz fusion Novecento to create an ingenious soulful mix that gleams with Jamiroquai funk and smooth Latin bossa.
The Crossing is armed with Deodato’s usual instrumental jams. He attempts at doing the impossible by transporting George Gershwin’s “Summertime” into the get-down disco inferno of his 1978 dance classic “Whistle Bump.” The instrumental arrangement is pulled off effortlessly and without any complication, creating one of the album’s most defining moments. “Night Passage,” another standout instrumental, is fueled with steamy romance as Deodato’s electric piano contrasts against Gianni Virone’s flute and a Santana-styled guitar solo from John Tropea.
Even with a strong cast of musicians supporting Deodato’s vision, guest vocalists are present to add a nice layer of texture to the musical canvas. Al Jarreau guests on the upbeat “Double Face,” bringing spirited punches to the catchy chorus (“Double feature/Double creature/That will teach ya…Double do ya/ Double fool ya/Hallelujah”). As the groove expands, the song is sweetly seduced into disco nirvana as the gorgeous warmth of the backing vocals alongside Jarreau’s infectious scatting adds extra layers of comfort. Jarreau also teams up with Novecento’s Dora Nicolosi on “I Want You More,” with Nicolosi floating on the wings of Sade seduction.
Some of the offerings are met with a hint of criticism. In particular, Jimmy Helms’ vocals – shredded with Michael McDonald affectations – tend to weigh heavily with a slight abundance of vibrato. Still on “No Getting Over You” and the title track, where Helms shows up, the tracks are propped up strongly with good songwriting and musical displays as Londonbeat provide extra help on the leads. They even double up their harmonies to create that oozing Doobie effect. Similar happenstance takes place on “Rule My World,” which comes off like a stale hip-hop track, but slowly puckers up as Dora Nicolsi’s lead vocals turns the cut into a Teena Marie throwback.
Deodato, who co-writes the bulk of the material, exercises his keyboard magic throughout this ten-track affair with the same gusto and precision as his most glorious moments with CTI and Warner Bros. Even without the promotional push of a major label, Deodato totally surrounds himself with dynamic musicians that complement his virtuosity. It is that superior ensemble that helps elevate The Crossing over much of the output from the modern jazz world. Recommended
By J Matthew Cobb