Earl Klugh

Ultimate Earl Klugh

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Mosaic's Contemporary series is a model for how artist compilations should be done in any genre. This volume, showcasing the career of Earl Klugh from his self-titled Blue Note debut in 1976 to his Warner Bros album Sudden Burst of Energy some 20 years later, reveals a very warm and intimate artist whose intimate melodic sensibilities crossed many genres, from soul to jazz, from Latin to country, from pop to blues. Hearing "Angelina" today from that Blue Note record is a revelation. Klugh, along with Lee Ritenour, Harvey Mason, Dave Grusin, bassist Charles Meeks, and percussionist Laudir DeOiveira, brought a quiet hush onto the new groove scene that had begun with Grover Washington, Jr.'s "Mister Magic" and Bob James' read of "Feel Like Makin' Love." Klugh's instrumental acuity on the guitar went for the groove, but he played around it, seeking and teasing out a tune's harmonic possibilities while responding to a circular rhythm, one that returned over and again to the relaxed groove. Klugh's next two albums on Blue Note are represented here by the title track from Living Inside Your Love, and "Dr. Macumba" from Finger Paintings. The former featured subtle backing vocals from Patti Austin, Vivian Cherry, and Lani Groves. By this time, Grusin had grown into his role as a producer and was a constant presence. 1979 marked the breakthrough year for Klugh with his Heart String album and its subtle Latin flavors and in-the-pocket soul lead guitar work from Phil Upchurch. Klugh's tenure with Blue Note was a fruitful one and marks his in-depth creativity as he matured from pop forms to funk, disco, and beyond as evidenced by the material here taken from his Warner Bros years. "Rainbow Man," from 1984's Soda Fountain Shuffle, is an elegant and graceful example of how contemporary crossover jazz could find an audience with just about anybody who listens to the radio. Klugh's production is beautifully clean and he adds skeletal layers of keyboards, some light Latin percussion, and DMX programming to his sound for dimension. The guitar, of course, remains front and center, and once again, against the bright lithe grooves he creates melodies one can hum to without sacrificing the wit and warmth of his solo guitar chops. The funky keyboard collision on "Brazilian Stomp," from Collaboration with George Benson, is a superb Latin funk number with classical overtones and harmonic jazz invention. It's up-tempo and gritty with keyboard layers, and Klugh plays everything from nuevo flamenco to tango to samba in his guitar flourishes. Nothing here displays the depth of Klugh's commitment to jazz more than his solo guitar reading of Johnny Mercer's "Emily"; the space, phrasing and sheer texture of the tune evoke that of a singer. The set ends with "Maybe Tonight" from Sudden Burst of Energy, and offers a slightly different side of the guitarist and composer as his single-string playing has a bit more bite, and his keyboard work is sparser. Lenny Price's soprano solo is a nice touch, adding a melodic counterpart to this little groover. In all, these 12 cuts showcase a master guitarist, a fine composer, and a producer who knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. Sure, there's some contrivance here, but there's also a sculpted musical form, one that appeals to the ear, gets inside it, and stays there. Recommended for the curious, the true fan, and even the skeptics. Mosaic is onto something with their Contemporary series, recontextualizing "smooth" jazz and cutting out its place within the tradition.

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