Anyone who questions the value of higher education has clearly never heard the story of the Universal Togetherness Band, a funk/soul/R&B combo whose body of work would be lost to the ages if Chicago's Columbia College had never offered courses in audio engineering. Andre Gibson, the leader of the Universal Togetherness Band, was attending Columbia in the late '70s when he heard that an audio production class needed bands for students to record in their studios; he volunteered his band's services, and as a consequence the UTB recorded many hours of original material between 1979 and 1982 without having to fork over a dime in studio fees. Despite some passing interest from Mercury Records, the Universal Togetherness Band never landed a record deal or released any material during their lifetime, but the archivists at the Numero Group have finally made it possible for us to hear highlights from their Columbia College sessions on a collection simply titled Universal Togetherness Band. Judging from the eight songs on board, the Universal Togetherness Band were both strong and ambitious, fusing R&B, funk, disco, soul, jazz, and a dash of rock & roll and new wave into one combustible mixture, and the band sounds as tight and professional as any major R&B act of the day. The UTB knew how to cut the funk, but their attack was enjoyably idiosyncratic, suggesting the broad musical world-view of Prince or George Clinton but with a lean, fiery swing and easygoing intelligence that gave them a distinct personality of their own. The tales of struggle and positivity that dominate Gibson's lyrics occasionally sound a bit eccentric (especially when Andre and his lady hop a ride aboard a UFO), but the music is tight and flavorful throughout, and the UTB -- Andre Gibson (vocals, keys, vibraphone), Leslie Misher (lead guitar), Fred Misher (bass, backing vocals), Paul Hanover (harmonica and piano), Arnold Gibson (drums, bass), and Louis Sanford (percussion) -- hit a joyous stride on these tracks as they find a sweet spot in between several branches of the R&B family tree. It's hard to say if the Universal Togetherness Band would have been stars if they'd actually put out records in the day, but this music sounds and feels too good to be ignored forever, and after decades of collecting dust, Universal Togetherness Band confirms those audio engineering students got a pretty amazing show for their tuition dollars. Would that every semester project was this smart and this much fun.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming