Dexter Wansel

Life on Mars

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Science fiction was big in the 1970s. So from a marketing standpoint, it made sense when, in 1976, Dexter Wansel went for a sci-fi theme on his debut album, Life on Mars. Not that the Philadelphia producer/keyboardist needed a gimmick to get over -- if you're good enough to work with heavyweights like the O'Jays, the Stylistics, and the Intruders, you don't need a gimmick. Even without the sci-fi theme, Life on Mars would have been a memorable debut for Wansel, who produced the album and wrote or co-wrote all of the material. This diverse LP is far from predictable; if you bought Life on Mars for its title song (a haunting piece of space funk that employs members of Instant Funk), you quickly learned that the record also includes mellow quiet storm offerings ("One Million Miles From the Ground," "Together Once Again") as well as Curtis Mayfield-influenced funk ("You Can Be What You Wanna Be") and pop-jazz/crossover instrumentals ("A Prophet Named K.G.," "Theme From the Planets"). In fact, one of the musicians Wansel employs is saxophonist Bob Malach, a jazzman who is heavily influenced by Michael Brecker but is more Grover Washington-influenced on this album. Ranging from decent to excellent, Life on Mars is arguably Wansel's strongest album.

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