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. Bill McGee is a special kind of guy with a biography just waiting to be written. It’s an account that starts in the late 1960’s with a group of young African Americans who, despite all the odds, believed they could be anything they wanted to be. It goes on to chronicle the evolution of black music over the last forty plus years and, in addition, reveals the remarkable story of a man who, for twenty years, gave up the music industry in order to teach in the public school system. In fact Bill is currently a school administrator with Richmond Public Schools, Richmond, VA. However, since 2002, and the release of his first solo CD This Ones 4U, this talented trumpet and flugelhorn player who at one time was musical director for Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King and has recorded with the likes of McFadden and Whitehead, The O’Jays, The Stylistics and Leon Huff has again been making his mark. With his very own project 804 Jazz Records he is harnessing the talents of some of the best musicians and singers that Virginia has to offer. He calls these special friends the 804 Jazz All-Stars and they are very much to the fore on his latest CD, the brand new for 2007, Chase The Sunset.
The album is a choice blend of five cool originals and seven classic covers that without exception are played with a quality and finesse that sets them apart. This is immediately evident with the slick production and execution of The Stylistics 1971 smash ‘Stop Look And Listen’. McGee’s mellow and reflective playing gels delightfully with the sax of James Holden while the vocal chorus that comes courtesy of Wanda McGee, Thomasine Johnson and Joshua Hodari is quite sublime. The picture perfect vocals of Hodari are again put to good use on the Marvin Gaye standout ‘What’s Going On’. McGee finds a vibe that is just right and partners with the great sax of James Gates to serve up as good a cover as you will hear all year. Gates is back, this time combining with McGee and Hannon Lane, to co-write and perform ‘The Groove’. The mellow product of this rarified mixture of sax, trumpet and guitar is an outstanding piece of contemporary jazz that, from the get go, is right in the pocket while in the same smooth jazz vein is ‘Chill’. With McGee joined on the track by guitarist Jim Adkins, the wonderful fabric that is woven by piano, flute and guitar makes this one very special indeed.
McGee builds a real masterpiece with his interpretation of Earth Wind and Fire’s 1973 hit ‘Keep Your Head To The Sky’. He turns to his long time horn section partners Hannon Lane and Lynwood Jones to set the mood, has Brandon Lane holding it down on bass and brings in the classy vocal of Shawn Chappelle to complete the picture. It’s a super track but perhaps even better is McGee’s six plus minute take on ‘Go Outside In The Rain’. Originally from the Dramatics 1972 LP Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, this quiet storm version is blessed by soulful vocals from Chyp Greene.
Retro jazz fusion that is both tight and funky would be an apt way to describe ‘Gold Baby’. It’s McGee’s tribute to his father Bill McGee Sr. who was given the nickname of Gold Baby at birth by virtue of the gold coins with which his mother paid the hospital bill. The gold actually came from her husband, Bishop F W McGee, who was a noted pioneer of gospel music in Chicago and beyond. The title track, also penned by McGee, features nice interplay with guitarist Tom Reaves and engenders a mellow late night vibe while another McGee composition, ‘Kickin And Screamin’ finds co-writer Debo Dabney in fine form on jazzy piano. That said McGee’s playing is even jazzier and the whole piece is topped off with a horn riff reminiscent of Tower of Power. Also big and brassy is Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Wish’ and although it is played out primarily as an instrumental, ex Trussel vocalist Mike Spratley pops up for the final chorus.
The familiar tones of ‘Sway’, the Latin tune given a new lease of life when it was featured in the movie ‘Shall We Dance’, provides another platform from which McGee shows off his multi instrumental talents. With the exception of flute from Joe Taylor McGee handles everything else and he is at it again, providing all the rhythm tracks and brass work on his classy controlled cover of the Outkast song ‘I Like The Way’. Here Gates is again huge on sax, Tom Reaves contributes on guitar and the familiar chorus is delivered in terrific style by Virginia based vocal group Bak N Da Day.
The life of Bill McGee is about achievement and dedication. It’s also about wonderful music and Chase The Sunset is a great example of his art. Currently there is a vast and under served audience out there who enjoy contemporary jazz but not so secretly hark back to the soul music of the seventies. They need smooth jazz with soulful attitude and Bill McGee might be just the guy to provide it.
For more on Bill McGee go to www.billmcgeemusic.comPosted by Denis Poole at January 7, 2007 11:36 AM