Transoceanic by Audio Caviar Ė reviewed by Chris Mann

 

Drummer/vocalist Ralph Johnson, an original member of Earth, Wind & Fire, and keyboardist/bassist/flugelhorn player Morris Pleasure comprise Audio Caviar along with Danish guitarist Steen Kyed. The band was initially conceived as a traditional jazz trio in a Copenhagen recording studio, but the project changed focus and expanded to embrace the talents of a veritable whoís-who in the worlds of soul, R&B and contemporary jazz.

The term ďsupergroupĒ seems to have fallen out of use in recent years, with the possible exception of Fourplay.  Itís kind of interesting that Marcel East, who has enjoyed a long association with that band, shares songwriting, musician and production credits on this new supergroupís impressive first recording. 

As Iíd expect given the Earth, Wind & Fire connection, the opener Transoceanic Prayer (prelude) is atmospheric with sound effects, including the ocean, voices and windchimes.  It leads straight into the ultra-commercial but still soulful Hookline.  If this isnít a single it should be.  The big, phat bassline, mellow keyboards and that strong hook are making me rewind this a lot!! 

A nice, mellow vibe follows on into the dreamy Now That Iíve Found You.  Itís a very soulful instrumental with some great keyboard work and lovely acoustic guitar lead courtesy of Steen Kyed.  This ebbs and flows like good film music and creates a lovely atmosphere.  The piano and guitar wind effortlessly round each other on the utterly gorgeous Jodie too.  I canít put my finger on it but thereís something pleasingly old-fashioned about this song. 

Now Iím ready for the Latin bounce of 5th House, where Kyedís guitar flows along with a great vibes sound, though I think itís really a keyboard.  The keyboards on this CD really are outstanding.  This tune has its darker moments and I love the whole thing, including the way it fades into the interlude Serengeti SunsetEventually Live (a drum thing) is both a shout out to Duke Ellington and a way to ease into a stripped-down version of Miles Davisís All Blues.  The tenor sax solo is a juicy one. 

Tel Aviv has a particularly disjointed drum pattern but the main theme sticks in your head.  The Eastern theme is suggested rather than being too obvious and the Moog solo here takes this deep into Fusion territory.  Itís one of the more challenging numbers on the albumÖ  Jonathan Butlerís vocals on Legends of Ratava lend it an African feel and the midpoint of the album finds the band firmly establishing its ethnic/world music trademark sound. 

Steen Kyedís mournful guitar on Sofieís Theme (interlude) leads into the dreamy The Island.  This slow Latin number, written by Ivan Lins and Vitor Martins, features a piano solo by George Duke and vocals by Dori Caymmi.  Do I need to tell you more?  The horn lines, alternately muted and open, are haunting.  This is my favourite track on the album, and lucky for me at over six minutes itís the longest.  The pretty Welcome, sounding like an old Dave Grusin tune I canít quite place, features Gary Biasís sweet soprano sax and two of Steen Kyedís TAO band members. 

The Earth, Wind & Fire connection is complete on the ballad Dominique.  This has been released as a single and features the distinctive falsetto of Philip Bailey, the guitar of Al McKay and the dependable bass of Verdine White.  Feel the years roll back on this one!  Thereís also a big, spine-tingling soul feel on Love Comes in Time.  How could there not be with Howard Hewett on lead and background vocals, Philip Bailey and the EWF Horns.  If youíre not raiding your music collection for old Earth, Wind & Fire albums once youíve heard this Iíll be amazed.  Me?  I just ordered ďRaise!Ē on CD. 

The contemplative Closing Prayer features the solo piano of the classically-trained Morris Pleasure and this is a timeless piece of music.  It strays into gospel as the title would lead you to expect but the Chick Corea-style flurry of notes in minor chords is surprising.  The whispered vocals, wisps of acoustic guitar and ocean sound effects which accompany the fade mean this song will stay with you.  The album ends with a bonus vocal mix of Hookline.  The lead vocal is delivered by Daniel, one of the songís co-writers and though his name and voice are unfamiliar to me, Iím hoping to hear more. 

In fact, thatís how I feel about the whole Audio Caviar thangÖ  I love the way itís taken musicianship and songwriting talent you know and trust, listened to the urban groove on the street, taken some chances and made a statement about the healing power of music in this early part of the 21st century.  I believe that material is already being prepared for a second album Ė I canít wait!

  


 
 

Allliance Records THM-002   Producers Ė Marcel East, Ralph Johnson, Morris Pleasure