Months out of high school in 1972, Patrice Rushen attracted the attention of the Prestige label at the Monterey Jazz Festival. When the keyboardist moved to Elektra six years later, she was behind three almost entirely self-composed albums -- all of which she also arranged -- and was progressing further away from pure jazz with a greater emphasis on funk, soul, and her lilting vocals. The transition was completed during her seven years with Elektra, a run of five LPs summarized here to near perfection by the U.K.-based Strut label. A few of Rushen's charting singles from the period aren't included, but the disc is filled to capacity and astutely prioritizes breadth. All the major hits are represented, typically and justifiably in their 12" versions. These include the supercharged quartet of "Haven't You Heard," "Look Up!," "Never Gonna Give You Up," and "Forget Me Nots," each one immediately pleasurable and splendidly detailed. Beneath the A-sides with dancefloor appeal is a clutch of deep quiet storm classics. "Where There Is Love" and "Remind Me," both tantalizing ballads -- Rushen tucks one of her most dazzling electric piano solos into the latter -- helped make Straight from the Heart one of the best albums of 1982. The selection also accommodates the artist's post-crossover shift into Mtume-like pared-down machine soul with the two best tracks off Now, her last act for Elektra.
Strut deserves commendation for redressing WEA/Warner Music Group's neglect of Rushen's Elektra recordings. The larger entity injudiciously backed only Rhino's 1996 expanded reissue of Straight from the Heart and an overview, and otherwise let the works languish, even as rap, pop, and gospel artists continued to repurpose elements, and as sessions by a multitude of stylistic descendants -- from Norah Jones and Alicia Keys to 4hero and the West Coast Get Down -- picked up where they left off. (Wounded Bird at least intervened in 2003 with the first stateside CD editions of Patrice, Pizzazz, Posh, and Now.) The inaction perhaps shouldn't be surprising given that Rushen wasn't adequately supported in the first place. As told in Strut boss Quinton Scott's liner notes for this set, Elektra didn't get behind "Forget Me Nots" until after Rushen and close collaborators Charles Mims and Freddie Washington paid an independent promoter to jump-start it at radio. Had the three not taken the matter into their own hands, the song would not have become a number 23 pop hit and earned a Grammy nomination in the R&B field. As demonstrated with this anthology, "Forget Me Nots" is merely one highlight in a bounty of everlasting material. It's all among the essential R&B of the post-disco, pre-new jack swing era.