To say that Curtis Mayfield was one of the most
prolific songwriters of American popular music would not be an
overstatement. From his work with the impressions to his career as a solo
artist, Mayfield is distinguished as one whose lyrics not only spoke to
the African-American struggle for equality in society but also the
realities of life as humans.
Produced by Brian Brinkerhoff, the Jazz Soul Seven release Impressions
of Curtis Mayfield (BFM Jazz, 2012). The ensemble is comprised of
seven jazz all-stars, musicians who have worked in a variety of settings,
including a few who have been session players as well as bandleaders. They
are Terri Lyne Carrington, drums; Russell Ferrante, piano; Master Henry
Gibson, percussion; Bob Hurst, bass; Wallace Roney, trumpet; Phil
Upchurch, guitar; and Ernie Watts, saxophone.
“Freddie’s Dead,” a dark anthem about a young man lost to the world
because of drug addiction, kicks things off. Watts covers the lead,
originally sung by Mayfield. The sax throws in some scat-like phrasing at
the end of the second pass. He plays freely during the middle. In the
background, Carrington, Gibson and Upchurch make things interesting.
“Superfly,” the theme to a movie of the same name, may be Mayfield’s most
popular song as a solo act. Roney and Watts cover the horn section
introduction and harmonize on the chorus. While Watts handles the verses,
Roney takes the vocal interlude. One can almost hear Mayfield singing:
“Gambling with the odds of fate / trying to get over.” From there, Roney
takes the trumpet on a spirited jaunt, similar to something out of the
Freddie Hubbard vocabulary. Hurst’s bass line channels the original but
adds a personal touch. Ferrante also gets to stretch out. Again,
Carrington, Gibson and Upchurch have plenty going on behind the leads.
The Jazz Soul Seven are to instrumental music what The Power Station was
to rock in the 1980s. That group was the confluence of singer Robert
Palmer, with members of Duran Duran and members of Chic. Combining these
seven players to form a solid group opens a ton of possibilities. Each
musician gets to shine, but what really makes Impressions of Curtis
Mayfield a keeper is the sense that they’ve all played together for
years, and feed off one another accordingly. The jazz arrangements of
Mayfield’s music don’t hurt.