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06/08/14

Harvey Mason
Chameleon
Concord Records

Harvey Mason revisits seven fusion classics of the 1970s on Chameleon, his Concord Records debut album. The veteran drummer, currently a member of the superband Fourplay, has performed with a vast range of artists, and he played on nearly all of the originals he’s remaking here. Mason is joined by a stellar group of musicians—including young talent Christian Scott, Ben Williams and Kris Bowers—and together they celebrate the originals while finding contemporary ways to present them to a new audience.

The album kicks off with Grover Washington Jr.’s “Black Frost,” which retains the slow-grooving moodiness of the original. Saxophonist Kamasi Washington has the daunting task of recreating Washington’s tenor saxophone lead, and he puts his own stamp on it, turning in a muscular performance with the edges left unpolished. Mason’s take on Patrice Rushen’s elegant “Before the Dawn” stays close to the original, spotlighting those familiar horn harmonies.

On “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” Mason doesn’t try to reproduce the vocal magic Quincy Jones achieved with Leon Ware, Minnie Riperton and Al Jarreau. Instead, singer Chris Turner takes the song someplace new, transforming it into a smooth, seductive boudoir ballad.

Mason was a member of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, and the title track is a fairly faithful remake of the classic tune from that band’s epochal 1973 album. Fellow Headhunters Paul Jackson (bass) and Bill Summers (percussion) also play on the track, which opens and closes with Summers reprising his hindewhu solo from the ’73 version of “Watermelon Man.” It’s a great way to wrap up an album that deftly updates these classics while reminding us why they were so beloved in the first place.

Originally published in May 2014
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