Pop Jazz, Volume One, released by the music company Spring LLC, is a really hot continuation of the fine tradition of hybrid jazz. Hybrid jazz is no strange concept for the likes of saxman Mike Phillips, one of the shining stars behind the Hidden Beach Unwrapped recording series of some of the best hop-hop/jazz imaginable in such a marriage. We've no "Pop Jazz" category yet for this new hybrid, so I agonized over which existing category best described this latest phenom. Soul/funk? Well, maybe. At least close enough for a cigar this time around, I hope.
The album kicks off with the classic 1979 Crusaders hit "Street Life," this time with Mike Phillips on sax and velvet-voiced Jill Scott standing in front of the microphone where the nightingale Randy Crawford once stood with Joe Sample’s group. Jill fits in beautifully. Track three shows off Bobbi Humphrey’s flute on the hyper funky "Jasper Country Man" from her 1974 Blacks and Blues album. Always one to get the blood pumping. We all remember what justice Paul Jackson, Jr. did to The Spinners’ "It’s A Shame." Well, Spring LLC certainly found it compelling enough to include here. Good call. The sheer gritty intensity of the 1975 cheatin’ heart and lust churnin’ "I’ve Got Nothin’ to Lose But the Blues" as belted out by Gwen McCrae can only make you understand. It’s as simple as that.
In fact, this album is so chock full of simple soul-striking volcanoes that leave one without deep-reaching analyses, just inexplicable emotions that you can only shake your head in bewilderment and amazement. Cases in point include Soulive’s horn-tight, keys-rich, ironclad funkster "Ne-Ne," Tom Browne’s 1980 party blast "Funkin’ for Jamaica," that featured the hot vocals of one Toni Smith, and Mike Phillips’ own sassy "Flow." This excellent collection ends with the "needs no intro" vocals of the inimitable Randy Crawford and her 1981 hit "You Might Need Somebody" from her Secret Combination album.
I can easily envision Pop Jazz, Volume One being followed with Volume Two almost effortlessly. The number of singles that can qualify to be included would be infinite. Unless I miss my guess, Spring LLC has tapped the lucrative well of crossover talent for some time to come, as have others like Mike Phillips, Kim Waters, and Jeff Lorber. It’s this type of insight that sparks the interest and whets the appetite of the true smooth jazz aficionado. I anxiously look forward to the next installment.