Roy Ayers

For Café Après-Midi

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While there are literally a dozen or more Roy Ayers compilations, many of them fine, none match the subtle grace and depths of this one. A Japanese-only release compiled by Toru Hashimoto, For Café Après-Midi does not focus on Ayers' hits or well-known tracks at all (though it doesn't necessarily exclude the ones that fit the aesthetic here), nor does it explore his many club anthems. Instead, it focuses on the mellower and jazzier side of his Polydor period. Rather than his vocals, the set beads on his amazing vibes playing -- and all the jazz nerds can scream blasphemy and break out the stones, but when Ayers was playing vibes, and especially playing jazz vibes, there were none better, not even Milt Jackson or Gary Burton. There are 18 tracks here, ranging chronologically from 1971-1981 (though the record is not organized as such). From the beautiful conversation with his son that opens "The River Niger" to his gorgeously textured readings of "Feel Like Makin' Love" and "Way of the World" to the title track from Vibrations, his own "Black Five," and Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," Ayers' mellower tunes are full of subtlety and grace, a certain shining elegance that transcends the "smooth jazz" genre while defining it just the same. A track like "Third Eye" from Everybody Loves the Sunshine once seemed out of place on a collection of up-tempo good-time jams; likewise, "Sweet Tears" may have come across as an anomaly on a driving funky disco record like He's Coming, but it now plays as the quintessential anchor tune, a love song settled into the groove of a funky expressionism that needed to reflect as well as pronounce. The references to source LPs are relevant here because they are pointed out with identification tags no less than twice on the package. What is most impressive about this set, however, is the way these tracks seamlessly wind together to form a quilt of ambient soulful textures, perfect for late-night or early-morning listening. It is also notable that they come together to form an exquisite new Roy Ayers disc.

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