Everyone out there surely remembers Sheila E. from her mid-'80s heyday as one of Prince's protegée, when songs like "The Glamorous Life" and "A Love Bizarre" (produced by the enigmatic pop star) helped launch the young singer/percussionist to brief but memorable stardom. Though she delighted millions recording and touring with Prince, Sheila Escovedo's real fans know there's a jazzier side of the story: She began her career as a teenager playing with George Duke and has been a top touring percussionist with numerous jazz and pop notables. Recorded with her longtime performing band, the E Train, Sheila's Concord Records debut, Writes of Passage -- her first effort as a leader in nine years -- combines funk-inflected smooth jazz, 1970s-influenced fusion, gospel, and, as is her family tradition, an exciting Latin influence. She takes a lead vocal on only one song, the gentle and inspirational "N Perfect Time," and only lets loose a few times on percussion solos (most notably at the end of the easy-swaying exotica of "Rituals," featuring Ray Obiedo's rolling guitar lines and Eric Leeds' mix of punchy sax improv and sassy flute). Her wild fills on the Yellowjackets-influenced closer "Virtuosity" help spur her bandmates onto some zesty playing themselves. The rest of the time, she blends happily into her formidable ensemble, switching off drum- and percussion-anchoring duties with her brother, Peter Michael Escovedo, as Leeds, Obiedo, and keyboardist Renato Neto trade moments in the spotlight. Often those moments draw together impressively, as at the end of "Paragon," where Obiedo's screeching electric guitar bounces off the sax melody while Neto bubbles under on harmony. The title track is the one obvious middle-of-the-road smooth jazz cut, with melodic pleasantries showing off Leeds' pretty side.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran