Chris Jasper - Dance With You

Chris Jasper
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The patriarch of what is inarguably the first family of American music passed from the scene when Joseph Jackson died earlier this week. If the Jacksons are music’s first family, the Isley Brothers can justly be called a musical royal family of the highest honor. The Isleys have been making music for all or part of seven decades, and the Isley Brothers’ first hit, “Shout,” came in 1959 – 10 years before the Jackson Five reached the charts.

Chris Jasper was a little boy and burgeoning musical prodigy in 1959. Ten years later, Jasper was a classically trained musician studying at Julliard and playing in bands with brothers-in-law Ernie and Marvin Isley. Jasper along with the two younger Isleys toured with Isley Brothers group, which at that time consisted of older brothers Ronald, Rudolph and O’Kelly, and played on the group’s 1969 Grammy winning hit “It’s Your Thing.”

The patriarch of what is inarguably the first family of American music passed from the scene when Joseph Jackson died earlier this week. If the Jacksons are music’s first family, the Isley Brothers can justly be called a musical royal family of the highest honor. The Isleys have been making music for all or part of seven decades, and the Isley Brothers’ first hit, “Shout,” came in 1959 – 10 years before the Jackson Five reached the charts.

Chris Jasper was a little boy and burgeoning musical prodigy in 1959. Ten years later, Jasper was a classically trained musician studying at Julliard and playing in bands with brothers-in-law Ernie and Marvin Isley. Jasper along with the two younger Isleys toured with Isley Brothers group, which at that time consisted of older brothers Ronald, Rudolph and O’Kelly, and played on the group’s 1969 Grammy winning hit “It’s Your Thing.”

Jasper and the two younger brothers became full-fledged Isley Brothers in 1973, and with Jasper’s keyboard playing, song writing and arranging, the group had a decade long run of musical excellence that ranks with top R&B hit makers of that era. The hits kept coming for Jasper after the Isley Brothers disbanded in 1984 and O’Kelly’s sudden death a year later. He wrote and sang the number one title track from Isley Jasper Isley’s 1985 album Caravan of Love and scored a top seller as a soloist in 1988 with “Superbad.”

The band’s no longer together, but in many ways the sum of the parts proved to be nearly equal to the whole. Ronald has had a successful career both as an interpreter of standards and as a vocalist who can appeal to a younger generation through his Mr. Biggs alter-ego. Ernie released jazz albums, and now tours with Ronald under the Isley Brothers name. Ernie’s daughter, Alex, has become a SoulTracks favorite. Rudolph left the road and became a minister.

Still, Chris Jasper has quietly constructed a prolific post-Isley Brother career. Jasper has released 15 albums, including his latest – the excellent Dance With You. As has historically been the case since Jasper went solo, a Chris Jasper album is a Chris Jasper album in that he writes, produces, arranges, sings and plays the instruments. Vocally, Jasper’s husky baritone places him in the same range as contemporaries James Ingram and Michael McDonald.

From an arrangement standpoint, Dance With You has the imprint of the music Jasper wrote during last half decade of the group’s classic years. Fans of the smooth, sensual ballads from that era such as “Groove with You” will find plenty to like here with the best being the lush “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”

Vocally, Jasper displays a range and emotion that we rarely heard during the Isley Brother days, when Ronald did the bulk of the ballad work. However, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” is a wonderful track on so many levels. The cut tells the story of a man who so desires to be in the moment with his woman that he doesn’t want to go to sleep. “I can stay awake/just to hear you breathing/watch you smile while you’re sleeping/while you’re far away dreaming."

Jasper operates at a high level at every tempo. “I Love You” is a smooth piece of up-tempo funk/infused R&B that is propelled by a smooth bass line and Jasper’s spacey work on the keyboards. “Make Your Move” is the one track that is a throwback to the hard-hitting funk that fans got on 3+3, Go For Your Guns or The Heat is On. Ironically, the theme of this track is one imploring artists to take their career into their own hands and not get trapped in the past.

Jasper's last two big international hits were the inspirational “Caravan of Love” and “Superbad.” He remains a deeply religious man committed to social justice and uplift, and so it should not be surprising this Dance With You includes inspirational tracks. “It’s a Miracle,” finds Jasper combining a religious message with a mid-tempo stepper’s groove, while “Show Somebody Love,” another mid-tempo steppers cut, finds the singer asking people to make the extra effort to spread love. Jasper’s dual messages of agape love for our fellow man good old-fashioned romance between lovers is one that runs against the headwinds of our divided and cynical times. And that’s what makes it exactly what we need right now. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

Click Here to listen to "Dance  With You"

 
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