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Sekou Bunch: The Next Level

Sekou Bunch is a well-known session bassist in the smooth jazz universe, but he is perhaps best-known as the first contestant voted off the Survivor: Cook Islands reality TV series in 2006. The native New Yorker might not have possessed what it took to survive in the South Pacific, but his debut CD as a leader just might help him survive a solo artist. It surpasses expectations.

Sure, there are some smooth nuggets, well-played but predictable: a glorious new version of “Sun Goddess” with Fred White and Lamont Van Hook handling the familiar Earth, Wind and Fire vocals; an urban slick chestnut “Smooth Sailing,” with Angela Winbush vocals and Boney James tenor sax; “Haters,” a slammin’ funk number complete with clap rhythms and Bunch’s thumb-thumping on his Fender jazz bass; and a melodic and calming instrumental version of “Everything I Miss at Home,” a Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis hit for R&B vocalist Cherrelle.

But Bunch really sparkles on well-placed covers and originals that step out of his comfort zone. The original “The Return of the Superman” has a ’70s fusion soul vibe with energetic solos by Kim Hansen on synth and George Duke on piano. Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” rocks with fuzzy and crunchy guitar by Jimi Macon and Thomas Organ, as well as Sheila E’s driving percussion. And “Ploom Ploom Ploom” is a breezy island jam with a vocal choir, Robert Greenridge on steel pans and Munyungo Jackson on bata drums and timbales, while “Funkabilly” is a jazzy hoe-down with Bunch’s rapid solos and Karen Briggs and Mad Tolling’s one-two violin punch.

Originally Published