Roy Ayers

In the Dark/You Might Be Surprised

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This two-fer collects a pair of middling Roy Ayers dates cut for Columbia in the mid-'80s. In the Dark updates his signature funk-jazz sensibility for a new generation, and the results are mixed at best. Co-produced with Stanley Clarke, the LP embraces synthesizers, drum machines, and hip-hop beats, and while the results could have been far worse, Ayers sounds like a follower, not a leader. While the breakthrough success of Herbie Hancock's landmark "Rockit" proved the creative and commercial viability of rap-inspired electro-funk, Ayers' footing seems unsure. The risqué club hit "Poo Poo La La" mistakes irreverence for relevance, and even more inventive entries like the title track suffer under the weight of the dated, brittle production. You Might Be Surprised refines the formula, adds some high-profile guests (including Branford Marsalis and James Mtume), and restores some of the substance to Ayers' music. He still seems a slave to contemporary trends, especially on the Prince-inspired opener, "Hot," but exhibits a stronger grasp of the language he's now speaking.

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