The Closer I Get to You

"The Closer I Get To You"

[song written by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas]

For a recording to be classed as a Smooth Soul Survivor, it must be a much loved track that has its origins deep in the soul music of the 60's and 70's.  The intention is to encourage you, the reader, to search the racks of your favourite record store for such items of buried treasure.

This excursion into the archives has uncovered the James Mtume and Reggie Lucas composition ‘The Closer I Get To You'.

"The Closer I Get To You"

[song written by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas]

For a recording to be classed as a Smooth Soul Survivor, it must be a much loved track that has its origins deep in the soul music of the 60's and 70's.  The intention is to encourage you, the reader, to search the racks of your favourite record store for such items of buried treasure.

This excursion into the archives has uncovered the James Mtume and Reggie Lucas composition ‘The Closer I Get To You'.

Mtume, on percussion, and Lucas, on guitar, had played with Miles Davies in the early seventies.  They combined to write and produce for such artists as Phyllis Hyman, Eddie Henderson, Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack.  Among their credits were the 1980 dance floor fillers ‘You Know How To Love Me' by Phyllis Hyman and ‘Back Together Again' by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.

However, it was another collaboration with Flack and Hathaway, ‘The Closer I Get To You' that led to a 1978 hit on both sides of the Atlantic.  In the UK it spent four weeks on the charts reaching # 42.  The recording appeared on the Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway 1977 album, ‘Blue Lights In The Basement', on which Mtume and Lucas also performed.

Following this, the status of the record as a modern classic was quickly established.  It appeared on Mtume's own 1978 release ‘Kiss The World Goodbye' on which both Mtume and Lucas played as well as produced.  It was featured on the 1978 Vanguard recording by the Players Association, ‘Turn The Music Up,' and was covered by Herbie Mann on his 1979 Atlantic release ‘Sunbelt' that also featured Roy Ayres.

It has also proved to be a song that transcends recognized music formats.  Although deemed to be closest to soul, it experienced a cross over to pop with Tom Jones and was handled by the reggae artist Dennis Brown in a duet with Janet Kay.  This featured on Browns ‘The Prime Of Dennis Brown' on Trojan as well as the 1997 compilation ‘Trojan Jungle 2'.  In addition, the gospel rooted Anson and Eric Dawkins included it on their 1993 album ‘Dawkins and Dawkins'.

Its credentials as a Smooth Soul Survivor have been reinforced by the treatment given to it by Peter White on his 1994, ‘Reflections', and later on his own compilation, the 1996 ‘Collections - Limited Edition'.  This Peter White version is also featured on the 1997 compilation ‘Flavours Of Jazz 97'.

In terms of smooth jazz crossover, the most enduring and atmospheric memory of ‘The Closer I Get To You' rests with the 1979 offering by Tom Browne from his GRP issue ‘Browne Sugar'.  Tom, on flugelhorn, takes an essentially minimalist approach while the production by Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen memorably delays the introduction of the haunting vocals by Patti Austin to the point where the first time listener is lulled into believing that the track must be an instrumental.

However, like all the best Smooth Soul Survivor's that go around, this one comes around.  Much of Roberta Flack's success in the seventies had come through her work with Donny Hathaway, who sadly committed suicide in 1979.  After a short break Flack formed a new partnership, this time with Peabo Bryson.

When Fourplay included the song on their 1995 Warner Brothers recording ‘Elixir' they paired Peabo Bryson with Pattie Austin on vocals.  Another interesting end to yet another great Smooth Soul Survivor.

By Denis Poole

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