U-Nam: Back from the 80’s

U-Nam, the stage name of twentysomething French guitarist and producer Emmanuel Abiteboul, defined disparity on his debut The Past Builds the Future with instrumentals, soul songs, downtempo, funk, rock and jazz jockeying for space. He seems determined to crack the U.S. smooth-jazz market on his second CD, however, and with any luck he’ll succeed. True to its title, the CD offers fresh versions of classic and lesser-known gems from the 1980s. But even more remarkable are the new, thoroughly modern tunes inspired by his favorite songs from the big-hair decade.

George Benson is the obvious influence here, and U-Nam’s soulful, electrified version of Benson’s vocal tune “Turn Your Love Around” is too cool. Elsewhere on the CD, Benson’s original lines and U-Nam’s new material coalesce into something of a new style: hybrid cover. Examples: “Keep the Faith” opens with an improvisation from one of Benson’s greatest hits, “Affirmation,” before setting into a relaxed and wholly original groove punctuated by a snappy horn section. And an instantly recognizable Benson riff from “Give Me the Night” pops up at the end of “Slowdown,” while “Mister GB” opens with a string section playing “Breezin’ ” before easing into new material.

Elsewhere, the mix-and-matching continues on Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s “Where Is the Love,” which channels Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” and Jeff Lorber’s tasty Rhodes solo adds spice to the Crusaders’ “Street Life.” U-Nam also covers Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It” with a talkbox hook and brings a disco bounce to an obscure Lionel Richie tune titled “Love Will Find a Way.”

Original tunes include the personal “Just a Kiss & Goodbye,” a sentimental ballad; “Just Like Real Lovers Do,” which features U-Nam’s trademark cascading guitar riffs, some wah-wah guitar riffs and a romantic sensibility a la Marvin Gaye; and “From Overseas” with steel pan legend Andy Narell and Maysa Leak’s scatting in time with U-Nam’s guitar.