Back in the '70s, guitarist John Tropea was the type of session player who had no problem backing a long list of rock, pop, and soul vocalists but could also handle a jazz-friendly setting when recording on his own as an instrumentalist. Tropea was frequently compared to Lee Ritenour, Eric Gale, and Larry Carlton (three other busy session guitarists with jazz chops) in the '70s, and those comparisons were still applicable in the late 2000s. Fondly recalling Tropea's '70s heyday, 2007's Take Me Back to the Ol' School boasts an impressive cast of veterans that includes, among others, Ronnie Cuber (baritone sax), Lew Soloff (trumpet), Steve Gadd (drums), Bob James (piano), and Leon Pendarvis (organ). With musicians of this caliber on board, this mostly instrumental jazz/R&B date should have been exceptional, which it isn't. But while Take Me Back to the Ol' School is slightly uneven, there are still enough memorable tracks to make it worthwhile. Charlie Parker's bebop gem "Donna Lee" receives a pleasingly funky makeover, while Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" and Eddie Kendricks' 1973 hit "Keep on Truckin'" are successfully transformed into improvisatory soul-jazz instrumentals. Another highlight of this 56-minute CD is singer Lalah Hathaway's appearance on the Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road," which is taken out of British Invasion rock and planted firmly in Northern soul. Hathaway is also featured on "You Are My Heaven," a vocal duet with bassist Will Lee and a remake of the Donny Hathaway/Roberta Flack hit; regrettably, the remake is disappointing and lacks the sparkle of the version her father performed with Flack in the late '70s. But Take Me Back to the Ol' School has more pluses than minuses, and the stronger tracks make it clear that Tropea's chops have held up well over the years.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson