Kudu arranger and session pianist David Matthews erased the boundary between jazz-funk, soul, and disco on Shoogie Wanna Boogie, issued near the end of 1976. His charts, packed with enormous horn and string sections, vocalists, keyboards, and guitars and paired with snapping crisp production, set a benchmark -- one that horrified jazz purists and delighted fans of club music and jazz played on the radio. It's like Matthews took the success of Grover Washington, Jr.'s "Mister Magic" and "Feels So Good," and used their inspiration to go even further. Matthews hauls from the Detroit area, and one can see that influence in his song selection; half the tunes were Motown standards -- "My Girl," "You Keep Me Hanging On," and "Just My Imagination" -- but Berry Gordy never envisioned them quite this way. The other tracks are a cover of John Phillips' classic "California Dreamin'" and a pair of originals. The players are a who's who of '70s jazz-funk and fusion, and include Don Grolnick, Barry Miles, Will Lee, Steve Khan, John Tropea, Randy and Michael Brecker, Jon Faddis, Joe Farrell, and Jeff Berlin. Patti Austin, Gwen Guthrie, and Vivian Cherry all appear as vocalists. This is a slick and steamy groovefest from top to bottom. Whether it's the radical readings of the Motown tracks -- all of them with faster tempos and tricked out with all sorts of layered vocals, basslines, and horns -- or the disco-fied "California Dreamin'" with its gospel chorus and mariachi horns that must have shocked Phillips if he heard it at all, everything here is a reinvention. "Gotta Be Where You Are" and the title track are unabashed explorations of spacy jazz-disco. The Crusaders "Street Life" this ain't, but it works better. The bottom line is that Matthews' vision isn't for everyone; it's brash, unsubtle, and never lets its groove-conscious attitude rest for a minute. But that's just fine. Because in that terrain, it's a stellar example of how to make a record with hooks, chops, grooves, and wildly inventive arrangements. This is a party record par excellence, and makes a case for jazz as a truly popular American music not separable from its more canonical art forms.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek