Impressions of Curtis Mayfield
No doubt some folks will be drawn to this engaging tribute for purely sentimental reasons, but Jazz Soul Seven doesn’t go out of its way to cater to that crowd. In fact, as heartfelt as this 12-tune salute is, what ultimately distinguishes the album is a series of arrangements that play to the ensemble’s strengths. And it’s some ensemble, an all-star lineup featuring saxophonist Ernie Watts, trumpeter Wallace Roney, pianist Russell Ferrante, guitarist Phil Upchurch, bassist Bob Hurst, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and the late percussionist Master Henry Gibson, who collaborated with Mayfield for the better part of two decades. (Recorded nearly a dozen years ago, the album is dedicated to Gibson.)
Thanks to Upchurch’s savvy arrangements, the album proves time and again that, in the right hands, Mayfield’s music transcends pop appeal. Of course, if you’re looking for soulfully evocative arrangements that recall his affection for R&B, gospel and proto-funk, you won’t be disappointed, certainly not when the band turns its attention to “Superfly,” a terrific showcase for Gibson, Hurst and the horns, and “People Get Ready,” with its churchy keyboard cadences.
Yet some of Mayfield’s best-known tunes benefit from fresh perspectives, such as “Freddie’s Dead,” recast as a Watts-powered burner, and “Gypsy Woman,” reanimated as a bossa nova. Fittingly, the album ends on a spiritual note with the traditional anthem “Amen.” An R&B and pop hit for the Impressions, it’s one of several performances that colorfully deploy the horns—in this instance, Roney’s muted trumpet—and showcase the band’s versatile rhythm section.