|Personnel: Norman Brown (vocals, guitar); Crayge Lindesay (wah-wah guitar, keyboards, drum programming); Jeffrey Clayton, Gary Bias (flute, saxophone); Ray Brown (trumpet, flugelhorn); Reginald Young (trombone); Herman Jackson (keyboards, synthesizer, drum programming); Jerry Peters, Gail Jhonson, Wayne Linsey (keyboards); Larry Kimpel, Richard Patterson (bass guitar); Mike Baker , Charles Morris (drums); Munyungo Jackson (percussion); Neron Thomas, Baby Lee, Lynne Fiddmont, Arnold McCuller, Troy Taylor, Boyz II Men, Bridgette Bryant (background vocals); Stevie Wonder (vocals, harmonica); Bobby Lyle (piano); Land Richards (drums, cymbals); Rayford Griffin (drums); Paulinho Da Costa (percussion).
|Oh yeah. GRP comes up with a compilation worthy of its title. Between 1992 and 1996, guitarist, composer, and arranger Norman Brown released three albums -- Just Between Us, After the Storm, and Better Days Ahead -- for the MoJazz imprint (he was the first solo artist signed to the label). He was the first guitarist since George Benson to lay out solid grooves where genuine improvisation met the groove consciousness with a seamless blend of R&B, deep soul, and funk. His playing is warm, eclectic, and literally stunning in places, even over standard R&B rhythmic foundations. But his recordings -- particularly Just Between Us and the truly electrifying After the Storm -- took the entire "smooth jazz" genre to an entirely new level. His compositions and his way of playing covers -- as demonstrated by the inclusion of his reads of the Isley Brothers' "For the Love of You," Stevie Wonder's "Too High" (on which the composer guests as vocalist), Marcus Miller and Luther Vandross' "Any Love," as well as R. Kelly's "Your Body's Callin'" are so remarkable, uplifting, and downright sexy it's no wonder that they resounded in the NAC radio consciousness the way they did. Critically, those jazzheads who didn't dismiss smooth jazz entirely could see it. But these records never crossed over the way they should have. This can be attributed to many causes: the deep niche fragmentation of FM radio, the lack of videos shown anywhere but BET (why not VH1?) despite the fact that these sets all made the mainstream Top 200 Billboard charts. It begs questions about race and class in American popular culture that is beyond the scope of this review. As this best-of illustrates, Brown's MoJazz albums are literally unequaled for their time period and stand with Grover Washington's Soul Box and Mister Magic, or Benson's aforementioned classic, or even Wes Montgomery's Down Here on the Ground as revolutionary. They should have crossed over into the mainstream in the same way those earlier recordings did. In the post-LP, 45 rpm and jukebox era, these are recordings that demand a serious reconsideration. One has to wonder why Universal, GRP's parent company, hasn't issued any "Deluxe Editions" of any of the disc this Very Best Of comes from. The 11 cuts chosen here may not be the deepest from those albums, but they were the most popular, and that counts for plenty. Check the cover of "After the Love Is Gone," James Brown's "That's the Way Love Goes," or Brown's own "Just Between Us," as the terrain where so many genres meet, commingle, and come out as something recombinant. That something of course is the very best of smooth jazz. This is highly recommended as an example of popular art at is best. ~ Thom Jurek