Diverse CD from prodigious collective is an elegant sonic delicacy
For the first time in the United States, the complete 17-track debut album, Transoceanic, from the accomplished collective Audio Caviar was released last week (October 23) by Well-Oiled Records, a division of entertainment conglomerate The Machine Productions. Group members Ralph Johnson and Morris Pleasure teamed with Marcel East (Fourplay, David Benoit, Bob James) to produce the sonic passport to an audacious audio adventure through an expansive array of soulful R&B, sophisticated contemporary and traditional jazz, and multicultural World Music. Prefacing the album release, “Dominique,” featuring an exquisite piano melody embedded in a mid-tempo R&B groove and a dreamy chorus crooned by Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey, was serviced to radio where it is currently being added to playlists.
Having proudly played a role in creating an enduring legacy as an original member of EWF, drummer-vocalist Johnson was hungry to forge a separate identity for his musical wanderlust. Joined by former EWF musical director, keyboardist-bassist-flugelhorn player Pleasure and Danish guitarist Steen Kyed, Johnson envisioned recording an album as a traditional jazz trio. But once inside the nurturing environs of recording studios in Copenhagen and Los Angeles, the compositions and recordings experienced a metamorphosis, blossoming into elaborate and substantive endeavors that brazenly push the boundaries. Audio Caviar members had a hand in penning a dozen songs for Transoceanic, which was completed by songs written by Miles Davis (“All Blues”), Ivan Lins (“The Island”), Jonathan Butler (“Jodie”) and a trio of Danish songwriters (“Hookline”). Lending their talents to the opus were George Duke, Howard Hewett, Dori Caymmi, Paulinho De Costa, EWF’s Verdine White, Al McKay (original EWF guitarist) and the EWF horn section.
Setting the stage with an inspirational interlude (“Transoceanic Prayer”), “Hookline” is an urban-jazz original anchored by Pleasure’s piano and embellished by a vocal chorus. Kyed steps to the fore on “Now That I’ve Found You” and “Jodie” with heartfelt acoustic guitar leads. The slamming “5th House” is a Latin fiesta along a shuffling, Cha-Cha rhythm. After a couple interludes – the soothing trumpet-led “Serengeti Sunset” and the kinetic drum-work on “Eventually Live” – things get bluesy and jazzy on “All Blues.” “Tel Aviv” is a challenging, erudite composition on which eclectic World Music stylings engage a prominent rhythm section comprised of a funky acoustic bass and a staccato drumbeat. Butler’s African chanting makes “Legends Of Ratava” an interesting meditation. Kyed’s gorgeous guitar interlude (“Sofie’s Theme”) leads right into “The Island,” a classy samba number spotlighting Caymmi’s haunting vocals and Duke’s intricate piano renderings. The uplifting “Welcome” is a sparsely produced, sunny jaunt. R&B vocalist Hewett pours his heart into song on “Love Comes In Time,” a timeless romantic ballad with a cinematic chorus. Pleasure revisits the entire album on a solo piano sojourn called “Closing Prayer” that ties the collection together in a perfect bow. A vocal version of “Hookline,” boasting Danish singer Daniel’s caramel growl serves as a bonus cut.
For Johnson, Audio Caviar is no whimsical side project. Although he is still highly active with EWF, with whom he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he is fully committed to piloting Audio Caviar to success. Johnson, along with Pleasure, a classically trained pianist who has toured and/or recorded with Janet Jackson, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack, and Rachelle Ferrell, and Kyed, who is a member of the Danish band TAO, have begun writing material for the second Audio Caviar CD. Additional information is available at www.themachineproductions.com.