Ndugu & the Chocolate Jam Co.

The Spread of the Future

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Best known for his association with keyboardist George Duke, drummer/composer Leon "Ndugu" Chancler was one of those musicians who had both jazz and soul credentials in the 1970s and 1980s. Chancler was well aware of the fact that soul was a lot more profitable, and his R&B side prevailed when, in 1979 and 1980, he led an obscure outfit called the Chocolate Jam Co. The list of musicians Chancler employs on the Company's first album, The Spread of the Future, is a long one -- some of the participants include Duke, Earth, Wind & Fire guitarist Al McKay, saxman Don Myrick, and trumpeter Oscar Brashear. In addition to producing the LP and writing or cowriting all of the songs, Chancler tries his hand at singing and provides many of the lead vocals (along with Virginia Ayers and Leo Miller). Understandably, people tend to be skeptical when drummers become vocalists, but Chancler is a competent singer even though he isn't a great one. And The Spread of the Future is an enjoyable LP even though it isn't a masterpiece. The material ranges from gritty, aggressive funk ("Looking Glass," "A Chocolate Jam") to romantic, polished soul ("Just as You Are"). Earth, Wind & Fire is a prominent influence, as are George Duke and Roy Ayers. The Spread of the Future received very little attention, which is why it went out of print in the early '80s. But the LP is worth looking out for if you find yourself in a place that sells a lot of old R&B vinyl.

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