February 11, 2004

The Look Of Love - Ashanti Style

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

The Secret Garden has always followed with interest the cross over between smooth jazz and classic soul and the use of sampling to embed familiar riffs into new music. So, here in the month of February 2004, with this years Grammy awards replete with tributes to the world of soul and r&b it seems fitting to comment on an r&b star of today who is having chart success and critical acclaim with a hit single that not only samples heavily from a piece of soul history but also features the original artist on it.

The artist is urban sensation Ashanti and the recording is ‘Rain On Me’, surely destined in time for classic status.

coverAshanti has literally been an overnight sensation who blasted into the urban music scene in 2002 and topped the charts with multiple singles. Directed by hit maker Irv Gotti she rapidly built her reputation with some notable duets, first with popular rapper Ja Rule, on a the Secret Garden favorite ‘Always On Time’ and also with Fat Joe and The Notorious Big on ‘What Luv’ and ‘Unfoolish’ respectively.

New York producer, Gotti, took notice of Ashanti initially because of her beauty, dancing, and acting. She trained as a dancer at the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center, learning a number of dance styles and appearing in a number of big name music videos. As an actress, she made a name for herself working on several Spike Lee projects.

Often compared with Alicia Keys and more latterly Beyonce Knowles her huge selling debut album, Ashanti, sold an astounding 500,000-plus copies in its first week and she returned in 2003 with Chapter II, the album that features ‘Rain On Me’.

The fact that the track is actually credited to Bacharach/David/Douglas/Lorenzo/Parker is the giveaway that at its foundation is their classic composition ‘The Look Of Love’ that was done to such sensational effect by Isaac Hayes, the artist selected to partner with her on this latest recording.

coverA massively covered recording in its own right Hayes featured an eleven minute version of it on his album To Be Continued that was released in late 1970 on the heals of two chart-topping albums, Hot Buttered Soul, in 1969 and The Isaac Hayes Movement earlier in 1970. To Be Continued proved to be another number one album and, typical of Hayes at that time, featuring four songs that extended far beyond traditional radio-friendly length mainly due to important mood-establishing instrumental segments. Notable among these moments were his treatment of ‘Walk on By’ and ‘You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin’. Elsewhere on the album, ‘Our Day Will Come’ featured a nice concluding instrumental segment driven by a proto-hip-hop beat that proved just how ahead of his time Hayes was in those early-'70s days. It’s commonly considered that To Be Continued was better than any of his recordings that came after 1971. Indeed, although both 1975's Chocolate Chip and 1976's Groov–a–Thon went gold, his records of that period attracted considerably less attention than prior efforts. This combined with poor management and business associations left Hayes with no choice but to file for bankruptcy in 1976. However, To Be Continued did not top the charts for eleven straight weeks by accident and that alone marks it out as one of the truly classic soul albums.

coverSince then Isaac Hayes has been fighting back. Despite retiring from the business for five years in the mid eighties he is now recognized as an icon that helped translate the smooth luscious soul of the seventies into nearly everything that has followed. He is a successful restaurateur and a television personality. He is again in demand. In 2001 he supported Alicia Keys as a musician and arranger on her acclaimed debut Songs In A Minor. This latest collaboration with Ashanti is another step along that road and when listeners hear the haunting orchestra laden riff that permeates the number they should thank god not just for the modern day recording techniques that make it sound so good but also to the genius of Hayes for bringing it to us in the first place.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor or a track for ‘what’s smooth jazz?’ that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole@AOL.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at February 11, 2004 4:34 PM