The Mizell Brothers


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Any jazz purist who hovered over record bins during the '70s knows to stay away from this, as one quick glance is likely to trigger flashbacks of feeling like a vampire shoved into daylight. Some background info: Fonce Mizell established his do-it-all studio career as part of the Corporation, a Motown team that worked for the Jackson 5, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, and Edwin Starr. His brother Larry, who had recorded with him prior to the Motown gig, began working with him again -- as Sky High Productions -- on Donald Byrd's sharp left turn into funk, Black Byrd. In addition to inciting howls from purists, the session ignited Fonce and Larry's professional partnership and established their specific sound. Intricately arranged and often incorporating strings and state-of-the-art keyboards and synthesizers, their productions were supremely vibrant, funky, and slick, fusing dancefloor-friendly R&B and jazz to the point where there were no visible seams. Bobbi Humphrey, Gary Bartz, Rance Allen, and especially Byrd (a remarkable five-album run) all benefited from their genre-bending Blue Note sessions with the Mizells, showcased on this 11-track anthology. There's no point in singling anything out. Each track is filled with rich melodies, complex-elegant rhythms, and lush textures. Whether on a crowded dancefloor or driving with your partner on a summer evening just before sunset, everything translates. The two previously unreleased tracks -- Bartz's blistering "Funked Up," featuring vocals from Syreeta, and the dynamite "N R Time," recorded during Humphrey's Satin Doll sessions (albeit without the flutist) -- should seal the deal for collectors. As thoroughly enjoyable and representative as this disc is, it's somewhat arbitrary. Blame the Mizells for their quality control, not the people who put the set together. Sky High, a just-as-valuable 1998 set released in Europe, is concrete evidence of this fact, containing only two of the same selections. It reaches beyond the brothers' Blue Note work (a couple Johnny Hammond cuts, A Taste of Honey's "Boogie Oogie Oogie") and puts a different spin on their sessions with Allen, Bartz, Byrd, and Humphrey. Both sets still leave much to explore, including but in no way limited to Johnny Hammond's Gears and Gambler's Life (which are just as compulsory as the Byrd albums), Roger Glenn's Reachin', and L.T.D.'s Love to the World.

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