Knights of Fantasy/Night Cruiser

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This Wounded Bird two-fer packages together two of Deodato's transitional albums from 1979 and 1980, when he was actively pursuing chart success and radio play in the United States. Knights of Fantasy, from 1979, contains trace elements of the Brazilian producer and composer's fusion persona while melding them with disco and lite funk -- as many other jazzmen were also doing at the time, from Lonnie Liston Smith to the Crusaders. The album is a thoroughly kitschy sci-fi affair with some very fine playing and horn and string arrangements, particularly on the bass- and ARP-driven "Space Dust/Sherlock," which goes on for nearly eight minutes. Here, funk grooves are allowed to find their way and wind out while a popping bassline holds down the fort even as Deodato goes ape on the synth for his wildly improvisational solo. "Shazam" is another case in point, though it contains some smoking Brazilian polyrhythms undercutting the basic disco funk groove and a slight riff cop from Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime." The weirdest thing here is one of Deodato's trademarks -- taking classical themes and weaving them together in some "futuristic" way. In this case it's Bach, as he combines the composer's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring with Andre Popp's "Love Is Blue" (a huge easy listening hit in the 1960s by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra) and his own "Whistle Bump"! The bottom line is that while it's somewhat shocking, it doesn't really work at all -- there are too many variables and too many instruments layered in, and when the disco groove tropes are added on top it falls far short of the mark. The title track is a handclap-saturated lite dance tune with a killer guitar solo by John Tropea. Night Cruiser, released in 1980, is a groover. This is on the jazzier side of disco and some solid players contribute to the mix, including Ray Gomez and George Parrish, Jr. Each of these tunes works well for what it is. It's a smooth, beat- and bass-driven listen, with captivating horn charts and deep funky hooks. The album's highlight is the smoking "Skatin'," with its slippery-smooth intro and shimmering keyboards, synths, guitars, and spidery bassline. Here is where jazz harmony, disco rhythms, and pop-soul melody all wind together to create something memorable. Other standouts include "Uncle Funk," a collaboration with Kool & the Gang saxophonist Ronald Bell, and "Groovitation," closing the set with an over the top rhythm scheme. Fine for the dancefloor or the listening room, Night Cruiser is easily Deodato's most consistent effort of that decade. It alone makes the purchase price worth forking over. Taken together, these recordings are spotty but mostly satisfying -- especially for those interested in late-'70s pop music and production.

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