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Harvey Mason — Chameleon

Apr. 1, 2014

You just had to feel that a masterful solo effort was on the way from renowned drummer/composer Harvey Mason. When you think about it, it only stands to reason. Each of the current members of supergroup Fourplay is a profoundly talented icon in his own right. In fact, bassist Nathan East just released his solo self-titled project on March 25.  You can find my review of that release here on this site. It now gives me great pleasure to present my review of the new Concord Records debut from Mason, Chameleon, scheduled for release on April 29. It is a look back at — and a new view of — some early material, most of which he’d either co-written or appeared on the original version. This is classy jazz-funk (and a nice touch of fusion) with a 21st century Mason twist. How could it be anything but genuinely priceless?

Working with both some of the brightest young jazz forces today (Christian Scott, Ben Williams, Kris Bowers, Matthew Stevens, Corey “CK” King, Kamasi Washington, Chris Turner, Mark de Clive-Lowe) and some of Mason’s contemporaries like Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip, Headhunters founding member/bassist Paul Jackson, and Los Hombres El Caliente percussionist/founder Bill Summers, firepower is certainly not lacking here.

Kicking it off properly with “Black Forest,” the 1974 track that would become the launching pad for a strong and lasting friendship between him and legendary pianist Bob James, Mason goes through this album displaying the “chameleon” in him via the sharp and pronounced versatility that he claimed long ago.  For example, “Montara” has him on vibraphone. He also shows how selfless he is by allowing guitarist Stevens to be the lead voice on the track (and Stevens does a really impressive job) and, later, keyboardist de Clive-Lowe on the Fender Rhodes.

Mason’s son handles the vocals magnificently on “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” the Quincy Jones classic from Body Heat originally sung by the late songbird Minnie Riperton.

“Places and Spaces” is given new appeal as Scott (trumpet) and King (vocals/arrangement) color it brightly and with broad strokes with their imaginative contributions.

As the icing on the cake, Mason offers the title track as the finale with a cool arrangement from reedist Ben Wendel and a solidly funky groove to strut the project to its exit.

Sophisticated, funky, and polished. As I said, what would you expect from one of the four stellar musicians who collectively make up one of the most competent and imaginative supergroups of our time? Mason adds his own exclamation point with this solo effort that demonstrates his musical genius not only as a member of Fourplay but singularly as a bonafide legend. – Ronald Jackson

NOTE: At the time of posting, no Amazon mp3 sampler was available. However, as soon as one becomes available, we will post it here.

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