High Time: Morning Walk

The groove is the thing for High Time, a quartet of accomplished journeymen who have never quite reached household-name status. And the groove on much of the group’s debut CD leans on the laidback side of fusion: closer texturally to Yellowjackets/Fourplay territory than to the aggressive shred-head approach of many contemporary fusioneers.

Take, for instance, “Two Thoughts,” one of three tunes on the disc penned by drummer Ndugu Chancler, a studio vet whose high-profile work has included recordings with Michael Jackson, Weather Report and Frank Sinatra. Lightly funky rhythms anchored by Chancler and bassist Lou Fischer are topped by the warm textures and lithe melodies of guitarist Fred Hamilton and keyboardist Pat Coil, for a sound occasionally reminiscent of Steely Dan and, even more so, the Crusaders. (No surprise about the latter connection, as Chancler and Fischer both did stints with the band.) A similar vibe is felt on the Chancler-penned title tune, driven by Fischer’s sticky line and fueled by Hamilton’s marvelously fluid six-string work, and the drummer’s closing “Sounds Like You.”

Everyone’s a writer here. Hamilton’s tunes, the energetic opener “Life With You” and the moody “Tears of Jesus,” hew a bit closer to the guitar-led fusion of yore. Fischer’s pen yields the lovely ballad “Portrait of Cape Town” and partly hard-swinging standout “Salt & Pepper,” while Coil contributes the leapfrogging “Give or Take” and the syncopated “Don’t Ask.” Strikingly memorable tunes? Not really. But the hand-in-glove feel of the interplay on Morning Walk suggests greater things to come. Here’s hoping this isn’t just a one-off.