Johnnie Taylor – I Don’t Wanna Lose You / Hijackin’ Love [1977; Bellaphon, Stax]

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Slow crooning with deceptively sparse-sounding backing instrumentation and vocals marks the A-side of this single, with Johnnie Taylor putting in strong emotional vibrancy with his singing.  Slides into thin breaks and building back out give the song an interesting structure, but the simplicity of the lyrics ends up dragging the song down a bit.  The B-side shifts to a funkier and more instrumentally-driven groove, and by moving the vocals to more of a supporting role, the repetitive lyrics don’t make such a negative impression as in the first song.  Outside of the words, the music’s pretty solid on both sides.

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Stanley Turrentine – Everybody Come On Out [1976; Bellaphon, Fantasy]

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With a spread of jazz from hard bop to smooth sax, this album shows band-leader Stanley Turrentine and his sizable group of backing musicians (with almost three dozen contributors credited) playing with more of an ear towards experimentation than consistency.  That approach, along with the rotation of the band’s line-up and all but one of the songs being covers (the exception being “There Is A Place (Rita’s Theme)“, written by Pamela Turrentine), doesn’t keep the group from maintaining a recognizable character and steady quality to the music, though.

While some of that persistence is attributable to the department-store production, the majority of it is due to the clear skills of the performers, which bring frissons of lively embellishment along with solid foundations to each song.  With all of it kept instrumental, the little touches are allowed more clarity, and there’s quite a few passages into the lush details of which a listener can just let themselves pleasantly sink.  The occasional chintziness is minor enough as to not impact things too much, and the whole of it comes off well, if a little too wide in scope.

Rick James – Fire It Up [1979; Bellaphon, Gordy, Motown, Pathé Marconi EMI]

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On Rick James’ third album (released the same year as his Bustin’ Out Of L Seven), all but two of the song names invoke love in one form or another, starting with the barely-concealed double entendre of “Love Gun”.  The other main link is the songs’ ballsy brand of funk, placing James squarely at the center of focus, with the backing band feeling almost incidental despite their strong playing. 

It makes James come off as more of a rock star than a James Brown-styled ringleader, and in spite of the cocaine habit which was already in firm swing, he tempers the swagger (and occasional out-right shouting) with softness, sweetness, and soulfulness, which has the side effect of making the heavy love focus not seem quite so out of place.  And while the movement from song to song can seem a bit jarring, the full run through the album finds a weird but very effective balance to its energy and momentum, even with the lengthy spoken-word segment of “Stormy Love”.  Distinctive and impressive, with very little dead weight despite its unconventional shaping.

Flora Purim – Encounter [1977; Bellaphon, Milestone Records]

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Featuring a dozen musical guests, including McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, and Byron Miller, Encounter shows Flora Purim and her band mixing covers with some original pieces (co-/)written by the prolific Hermeto Pascoal, who also handles piano duties on the album.  Despite the number of players and rotations from song to song, the album retains an airy lightness, clear continuity between tracks, and wonderful economy of performance. 

The players also find room for some wonderful elaborations and tangents, kept tight enough to feel more like expansion than wandering, and the persistently recognizable shared character of the performances is made even more impressive by the album’s contents being pulled from three years of recording.  Superb throughout, though there are some moments that almost drift away on their weightlessness, and an impressive showing from everyone involved.