Album Review: The Secret Life of Us, Joey Negro & The Sunburst Band (Z Records, 2012)

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U.K. producer Joey Negro (a.k.a. Dave Lee) has a knack for recreating 70’s funk/disco zeitgeist with a contemporary dance sensibility. This is the fourth album from his Sunburst Band incarnation and its most uplifting and danceable collection.

Missing from this album is some of the innovation we saw in earlier releases which experimented quite brilliantly, with some jazz and electronic fusion. Notably, Until the end of Time from 2004 featured a sensational ode to Ahmad Jamal in the track “Far Beyond,” borrowing Jamal’s climax from his opus, “Swahililand.”

To be fair, there are indeed some unconventional tracks here, including “Jazz the DMX,” a jazz fusion overtop dance beats and “Educated Funk,” a trancey interlude, showcasing some of the talented players in the band, such as bassist Julian Crampton.

Former Incognito guitarist, Tony Remy, also makes his mark, especially in his easy-going rhythm track on “Opus de Soul.”

This album is at its best though across the generous collection of dance tracks that blend soulful house and jazz/funk elements. “In the Thick of It” is a brilliant opener with a nice bossa outro. The title track, sung in duet by Donna Gardier and Diane Charlemagne, is a great melody, reminiscent of Incognito and the Brand New Heavies, circa 1995.

As well as an impressive line-up of vocalists, what stands out are the keyboards of Michele Chiavarini. I don’t think I’ve heard this much use of a bender since 1982! “Where the Lights Meet the Music” showcases Chiavarini’s style, which rekindles the early 80’s pop/funk sound innovated by D-Train keyboardist, Hubert Eaves III.

“Caught in the Moment” uses the Doobie Brothers “What a Fool Believes” rhythm track, continuing a series from prior releases that paid homage to classics. Namely, “Atlantic Forest” from Here Comes the Sunburst Band (1998) is a nod to Paul Hardcastle’s “Rainforest.” And “We Will Turn You On” from Until the End of Time pays tribute to CHIC’s “Good Times” rhythm.

It’s remarkable that a producer as prolific as Lee has managed to keep this outfit together over its now 15 year history. Releasing an album about every 4 years shows confidence, that their music, like its 70’s pedigree, will continue to make people move.

Players:

Dave Lee (producer), Michele Chiavarini (keys), Julian Crampton (bass), Thomas Dyani-Akuru (percussion), Tony Remy (guitar), Pete Simpson (vocals), Frank Tontoh (drums)

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