Gerald Albright - Pushing the Envelope (2010)

Gerald Albright
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Smooth jazz is one of the few genres where funk music can still be heard. In fact, the listeners wouldn't be wrong if they conclude that Pushing the Envelope, Gerald Albright's new CD, is a funk record. Listeners wouldn't have to go past "What Would James Do," the album's first track, to reach that conclusion. The James that Albright had in mind is James Brown, The Hardest Working Man in Show Biz. "What Would James Do" is a mid-tempo track that features that thumping bass line and funky guitar licks that were the heart of 1970s funk. The track also features the great Fred Wesley, longtime trombonist for The Godfather back in the halcyon days. Hearing Albright and Wesley trade solos on "What Would James Do," will take listeners back to the time when soul and jazz often intersected.

Smooth jazz is one of the few genres where funk music can still be heard. In fact, the listeners wouldn't be wrong if they conclude that Pushing the Envelope, Gerald Albright's new CD, is a funk record. Listeners wouldn't have to go past "What Would James Do," the album's first track, to reach that conclusion. The James that Albright had in mind is James Brown, The Hardest Working Man in Show Biz. "What Would James Do" is a mid-tempo track that features that thumping bass line and funky guitar licks that were the heart of 1970s funk. The track also features the great Fred Wesley, longtime trombonist for The Godfather back in the halcyon days. Hearing Albright and Wesley trade solos on "What Would James Do," will take listeners back to the time when soul and jazz often intersected.

Several other tracks sport the same kind of heavy, on-the-one feel displayed in "What Would James Do"; namely "Get on the Floor" and "Highway 70." However, Albright shows the diversity of funk music on Pushing The Envelope, by demonstrating that funk can be a good vehicle to deliver slower songs. Albright takes a basic melody and creates imaginative solos -- also giving his sidemen room to create -- on "The Road to Peace (A Prayer for Haiti ), and he introduces an element of blues on Pushing The Envelope's final track "From the Soul."

Albright brings in some world music flavor on tracks such as "Capetown Strut" and "I Found The Klugh." The latter track finds Albright sharing the spotlight with jazz guitarist and long time friend Earl Klugh. Klugh's acoustic guitar solos are the perfect match for the Latin tinged "I Found the Klugh." While Albright displays his funky side on Pushing The Envelope, the record contains a fair share of jazz improvisation. That should not be surprising. Fusion players in the early 1970s merged jazz improvisation with funk and rock, and anyone who listens to hard bop and soul jazz innovators like Art Blakey and Cannonball Adderly will hear how their sound influenced a lot of the funk music that came later.

With its funk foundation and its openness to both alternate beats and improvisation, Pushing the Envelope will find an audience looking for more than just another smooth jazz album.  It is another solid outing by a now-legendary artist who doesn't rest on his jazz laurels. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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