The veteran R&B/smooth jazz guitarist's Heads Up debut once again captures the always engaging, melodic, and easy grooving magic that has defined his career. This time, rather than simply gather a bunch of likeable tunes to show off his electric and acoustic versatility, he's in a tribute mode. 97th & Columbus is the address of the Manhattan nightclub Mikell's, which was a traditional and contemporary jazz hothouse during Powell's early- and mid-'80s developmental days. Hot new acts were often discovered there, and everyone from John Scofield to George Benson dropped by to jam or watch. Powell celebrates the club's sense of history and shedding with odes both direct and not so obvious. He pays homage to Benson with a faithful and slick run on "Breezin'"; tackles the Ramsey Lewis chestnut (co-written by Maurice White) "Sun Goddess" with a snappy playfulness on electric classical guitar (backed by George Duke on Rhodes and Marcus Miller's subdued electric bass); and draws from his church background for a lighthearted, sometimes dreamy take on "What's Going On" (with longtime associate Luther Vandross on vocals). The best originals are the Latin-tinged "The Flavour," on which Powell begins lines with electric and completes them on acoustic; the silky title track; and the beautiful and heartfelt reflection, "Ode to Chet." Powell and some of the biggest names in soul and jazz move effortlessly from easy ballads to more funky exercises which combine to capture the youthful spirit that defined Powell when he was coming up two decades before this album was released.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran
feat: Ron Brown