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The 'Other' R&B

Sophistipop at summer's end, remembering the glboal fusion of the '70s

by Carol Cooper

Solu Music
Solu Music

Salomé de Bahia
Tommy Boy

Summer's end provides the perfect release window for albums like Solu Music's Affirmation and Salomé de Bahia's Brasil. Deceptively light, eminently danceable club music, they feature the kinds of sexy, soulful arrangements I term "sophistipop" -- and which might otherwise be dismissed as archaic, especially during a radio season wherein classic r&b quotes can sound woefully atavistic unless fronted by some amazingly skillful white vocalist or a rap star.

But in this supposed era of globalization, how can we forget how much the jazz-fusion experiments of the 1970s hybridized and enhanced records by Stevie Wonder, Wayne Shorter, the Blackbyrds, Norman Connors, Fela Kuti, Jorge Ben, Weather Report, Gil Scott-Heron, Santana, and Earth, Wind & Fire? Both Affirmation and Brasil borrow from the aural legacy of these sources in ways that reaffirm the power of memory and Pan-African ingenuity.

Singing in Portuguese and recording with a French producer in and around Paris, Salomé covers Stevie Wonder's "Another Star" ("Outro Lugar"), Barry Manilow's "Copacabana," and Jorge Ben's "Taj Mahal" (which Rod Stewart shamelessly copied to make "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"), in ways owing as much to Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds as to contemporary deep-house innovations. The DJ-producers who created Affirmation as a vehicle for vocalist Kai Martin wisely held her album release party during "Roots" night at Cielo, the one club night in New York where a '70s black-and-Latino vision of globally inspired, multiculti dance music still reigns supreme. If only Frankie Crocker were alive.

Virtual instrumentals like "Tabula Rasa" and "Brites" favorably compare with signature tracks from vintage labels like CTI or Tappan Zee, while Martin's soft, soaring lyricism evokes both Sade and Roy Ayers's Ubiquity. Were Frankie Crocker still programming radio stations, he'd force P1 outlets to embrace both these albums for what they are . . . the unfairly ignored "other side" of contemporary rhythm and blues.

Published in: Village Voice, October 4, 2005