Transformation–that metamorphosis, shaking off one form in order to be reborn–can be a tricky thing. Embracing profound change, The New Mastersounds leave twenty years of instrumental funk behind with the release of Shake It on Color Rad.
Born of the UK club scene, the band’s core is built on a bedrock of the Gibson-guitar-slinging singer Eddie Roberts’ jazz-funk groove, Simon Allen’s deadly serious acoustic drums, and Pete Shand’s beautifully meshing bass. Seasoned Leeds piano/organ player Joe Tatton rounds out the sound. Longtime contributor Mike Olmos on trumpet welcomes Jason Mingledorff (toured with St. Paul and The Broken Bones) on flute and sax into the fold as a guest.
Denver’s Color Red Studios, producer Eddie Roberts, tracking engineers Mike Tallman and Dan Cohn, mastering engineer Doug Krebs and vinyl mastering engineer Carl Saff (which I cannot speak to yet) represent the team behind this sonically impeccable release. Listeners can hear the space between the vibrations of Shand’s bass licks and the jazz-driven riffs Roberts famously throws down, all amidst horns and Allen’s steady drum beat. Each instrument resonates in an extraordinary way. This is mind blowing technical work!
This record introduces guest vocalist Lamar Williams, Jr., the son of late Allman Brothers bassist Lamar Williams. I could guess he grew up immersed in music. Shake It is a soul joyride back to a 60s R&B groove that surged through the charts. Adding Williams, Jr., with his vocal vibe reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield, shapes the sound of most of the album’s eleven tracks. From the downbeat of “Shake It,” long-time fans of New Mastersounds fans will feel the party has changed. And changed for the better, as Williams, Jr. elevates the band’s sound by adding another dimension to a band already known for its funked-up jazz groove. Williams, Jr. delivers, carrying the band’s metamorphosis into the best of R&B whiplashed through basic elements of The New Mastersounds.
Shifting to a soul vibe on “Let’s Go Back,” organ and bass dance to a dirty groove James Brown would be proud of. Even though it’s a departure from the sound the band is known for, this is just plain cool. This one’s a classic, the signature cut of the release. Truly a throwback, Robert’s guitar reverb struts with Olmos and Tatton, all while Allen’s soft steady beat keeps time. It feels like 1967, with great soul coming from Custom Records. The essence of that genius has been captured and recreated here.
“Love They Deserve” captures the funky dance groove. Getting into the meat of the record, “Taking Me Down” feels crazed, reflecting the blistering guitar-driven tempo. Jazz-driven high anxiety is incredible. The cut includes guest Jeff Franca on percussion, helping set the pace.
Transitioning The New Mastersounds’ identity effectively needed a strategy, since certainly some longtime fans would be angered at the abandonment of the purely instrumental jazz-funk fusion. That said, “Too Late To Worry” is perfection. Highlighting Jason Mingledorff’s flute as an easy transition to Williams, Jr. smooth vocals, this track seems to be a warm embrace, appeasing conflict and channeling an essence of Marvin Gaye. Shand lays down a masterclass in bass, subtly driving the frame of the composition for all other instrumentation to hang their notes on. Less funk and more jazz/soul, this is among the best cuts of the record in its pure musicality.
“Layin Low” is a pure instrumental for New Mastersounds purists. The best of what has given the band its longevity is here, but it’s a quick hit into the massively uptempo “Live Your Life Free” and its crazy Joe Tatton keyboard runs. “Permission to Land” features Franca again on percussion adding to Simon Allen’s steady backline.
Going forward, The New Mastersounds are strolling easy in a new direction. They’re musically not settling on being just a great jazz-funk-infused instrumental powerhouse. The addition of guest Lamar Williams, Jr. connects rock and roll blood, creating soul that resonates for new generations. Wow! –Lisa Whealy