Earth Jazz / Vincent Herring

Morning Star

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Vincent Herring's third edition of his funk project the Earth Jazz ensemble has him and his cohorts jamming along quite nicely, extending the road song tradition without veering into so-called smooth jazz territory. This is nothing new for Herring, so fans who have been with him since his days with Nat Adderley should not be surprised. What is startling is the facility of his band to play a more R&B-derived music, as bassist Richie Goods, drummer Joris Dudli (ex-Art Farmer), and the growing keyboardist Anthony Wonsey expand the strict parameters of dance rhythms into a quite listenable experience. You hear the distinct crossover trappings of the electrified Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, and even early period David Sanborn in Herring's music on this date. The group turns the John Coltrane's usually pensive "Naima" into a funk tune with staggered accents, slows Mulgrew Miller's "Soul Leo" into a nicely turned-down fusion piece replete with Wonsey's electric piano, and romp through originals by the keyboardist, most notably the hip-shakin' funk of "The Thang." There are only traces of overt commercialism as Herring picks up a soprano sax, some gospel-derived soul, and even one jazz swing that reminds you of Herring's status as a top-drawer post-bopper. On occasion, musicians must make a better living and play to a larger urban audience, but in this case, the combo succeeds while avoiding a sell-out or watering down their music.

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