Johnny Britt was an up-and-coming jazz trumpeter when he decided, after hearing Miles Davis's influential final recording, Doo Bop, he wanted to make a change in his career. His premise was that interesting sounds could come from the merger of his jazz/gospel/soul background with a partner coming from more of a funk/hip-hop background. He found Sean E. Mac and together they formed the jazz/funk duo Impromp2 in 1993.
They were signed by the MoJazz label and their 1995 debut, You're Gonna Love It, won critical acclaim. However, popular awareness avoided them despite two solid albums for the ill-fated Motown jazz subsidiary. When that label folded in 1997 they, along with a number of other very talented artists, were left out in the cold. For the next several years they worked on a number of projects, both together and separately. Britt, who before Impromp2 served as the Temptations' musical director for three years, produced the music for the "Temptations" mini-series, and they also worked with Boney James.
In 2002, as Britt considered touring in Maxwell's band, the duo hooked up with Qadree El-Amin, CEO of the new Big 3 label, and re-teamed with producer Steve Harvey (who produced their debut and more recently albums by Donnie and Frank McComb) to record their latest release, Definition of Love.
From the moment you start listening to Definition of Love, you know this is something different. In a current soul environment where independent and small label releases are chock full of programmed music, the first thing you notice here is the full sound of a release that combines the latest recording technologies along with real musicians playing real instruments. And what musicians! We're talking Al McKay, Ray Parker, Jr. and Wah Wah Watson on guitars, Boney James on sax, Freddie Washington on bass, Steve Harvey and James Gatson on percussion, George Duke on the Fender Rhodes, and Benjamin Wright conducting a real string section (when was the last time you heard one of those?).
Definition of Love has the feel of a nighttime love album, with a number of smokey, sensual ballads, including "Is It Cool," "Bring It Back" (featuring a nifty solo by Boney James) and "Makin' Love." But there are also funky beats and old school-influenced cuts reminiscent of Marvin Gaye (ironically, on their ode to monogamy, "All The Woman"), Stevie Wonder ("Drama"), and Norman Whitfield's work with the Temptations circa 1973 ("Change Comin'" and "Who I Am"). Also, their cool first single, "Mocha Soul" (featuring a creamy Kim Fields narrative) is all over Urban Adult Contemporary radio. While the compositions on Definition of Love aren't overwhelming, the performances are. It is an enjoyable disc start to finish, and is one of the best group performances of 2003.
By Chris Rizik