Marlon McClain - TBC (2014)

Marlon McClain
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Throughout the 1970s, Portland-based octet Pleasure tastily intermingled elements of jazz, funk, and R&B into a kinetic fusion culminating with the top-10 signature hit, "Glide." While each member also exhibited talents on a number of outside projects, guitarist Marlon McClain has remained the most prolific on record since the group disbanded. The versatile player worked with The Dazz Band for nearly a decade and also wrote and produced for the likes of En Vogue and Kenny G before shifting his focus to a solo career. Connoisseurs of the groove still relish his first individual outing, 1981's Changes; but it was with 2010's TBD that he came into his own as a frontman, spearheading the writing, production, and primary instrumental duties.

Throughout the 1970s, Portland-based octet Pleasure tastily intermingled elements of jazz, funk, and R&B into a kinetic fusion culminating with the top-10 signature hit, "Glide." While each member also exhibited talents on a number of outside projects, guitarist Marlon McClain has remained the most prolific on record since the group disbanded. The versatile player worked with The Dazz Band for nearly a decade and also wrote and produced for the likes of En Vogue and Kenny G before shifting his focus to a solo career. Connoisseurs of the groove still relish his first individual outing, 1981's Changes; but it was with 2010's TBD that he came into his own as a frontman, spearheading the writing, production, and primary instrumental duties.

Continuing to employ the smoothly rippled contemporary jazz vibes found on TBD, but also throwing in a healthy serving of brasher funk riffs, the newly released TBC compellingly exposes McClain's abilities as both a rock-influenced leader and cool soul man. There are even some cases, as in the intriguingly titled "Gwuwgwun," where both tendencies meet and result in the kind of jams in which both purists and cutting-edge types can revel. But it's the spitfire nature of numbers like the opening "Me & You" and the gutsy "Radiation Blues" that most strongly evoke the emotional voice of his axe. Bearing the influence of Johnny "Guitar" Watson, "Me & You" at once stimulates and relaxes through its percolating rhythm arrangement and McClain's thoughtfully electric plucking. "Radiation Blues" is sprinkled with a Hendrix sensibility, enhanced by steady but subtle keyboard work and light vocal flourishes.

Fans who especially took to breezy tunes like "Come On" and "Dreaming of You" on TBD will find similarly pleasurable moments in the softly pulsating "Step into the Light" and the chilled-out "Where Are You" on TBC. The sliding wah-wah scales of the latter seep unassumingly and deliciously over a laid back beat pattern in a mode that conveys imagery of oceanic landscapes and the feeling of a quiet evening by firelight. Meanwhile, the former hooks the ears quickly with tightly accented percussive sounds balancing McClain's legato stylings. For those looking to relive a bit of the gliding funk, the jam session found in "That Ain't Right" (featuring Thomas McElroy on keys) should do the trick.

Over the span of nine tracks, TBC traverses a colorful road of styles and textures that fit together snugly without trying too hard—or without coming loose along the way. Even the outright dance flow of the fast-paced "Positivity"—with its pairing of airy chords and concise vocal melodies—is right in the pocket with both the softer selections and harder-hitting numbers. The end result is a soothing and impelling album that's a solid listen any time, any place. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor

 
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