Rating: Four out of Five
Vocalist Tony Adamo’s new CD, What Is Hip?, is a funkified and deeply rhythmic locked affair with some of the best musicians of the day. Put together by master guitarist and producer Jerry Stucker, this horn-laden album reminds one of the early days of Tower Of Power (TOP) brought up to date by modern sensibilities. Some of the big names assisting Adamo include master drummer Steve Gadd, percussionist and Headhunter Bill Summers, trumpeters Mic Gillette, Henry Hung, and Eddie Henderson, as well as TOP bari saxophone soul man Stephen “Doc” Kupka and keyboardist Rodney Franklin.
For those unfamiliar with funk and soul the easiest comparison of this album would be with some of the early work of Boz Scaggs when he was wrapping his vocals within bluesy soul-infected wraps. Add some tastefully arranged horn backgrounds courtesy of Mic Gillette, and the result is sublime excellence.
While funk and rarified soul like this will have a tough time reaching the airwaves, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fantastic recording. The “What Is Hip?” TOP remake is given a bluesy and smoothly swinging turn that features some excellent electric trumpet work by the great jazz trumpeter Eddie Henderson. On “Ecstasy” Neil Larsen’s organ playing is top-notch and Rodney Franklin’s keyboard work on “Rhythm Of Your Love” is incredible.
Throughout the recording Stucker’s guitar is ever present as a featured color. His work is angled at finding the right mode of expression as opposed to showing off his chops. Finding just the right notes at the right time, Stucker keeps things tightly bolted down and firmly rooted in the groove. This is shown nowhere better than on “Ecstasy” where his lines float and punctuate Adamo’s vocals in pure precision.
Adamo’s voice is perfectly suited each of the tracks, both those he wrote with Stucker and the covers. With a rich baritone timbre, Adamo sincerely gets inside the lyrics as opposed to just singing them. Working within the arrangements, as opposed to singing on top of them, Adamo does more than feel the phrase, he becomes them.
While there are a few missteps, like the cover of “Eleanor Rigby” which is too sly, Adamo hits it out of the park on “Cold Duck Time (Groove On Line)” and “Make Me A Memory.” For lovers of music not aimed being aimed for 14 year-olds, this is about as excellent a recording as you will find and well worth searching out.
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