Cast your minds back to a golden era for jazz-fusion record collectors from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Devotees in major cities would flock to their local record specialist that held the latest imports and among these, LPs from Inner City records consistently contained hidden Latin-tinged, instrumental and vocal jazz gems during a period when jazz was somewhat in the doldrums. This period is chronicled by Kev Beadle on this excellent overview of the label. Chronologically, the compilation covers roughly the period 1977-1981 and sub-divides into Latin fusion, quality jazz-funk and jazz vocalese. Latin music and jazz have long enjoyed a fruitful and mutually enhancing relationship and so it proves on the frenetic piece ‘The samba’ from Jeff Lorber Fusion. Adding and abetting matters was the contribution of Chick Corea on electric keyboards and on this number the storming rendition compares favourably with his work as part of Return to Forever. In an uptempo vein, but with softly spoken vocals, singer and keyboardist Judy Roberts delivers a classic slice of jazz-fusion in Never was love’ that was a dancefloor delight. Interestingly, Roberts also recorded in a straight ahead vein on acoustic piano and those albums are worth seeking out also.
Japanese musicians regularly figured among the imports arriving in the late 1970s and three of the most prominent are featured here. Trumpeter Terumasa Hino was in some ways an equivalent of Norman Connors in so far as several emerging soul and jazz musicians passed through his band at one stage or another. On ‘Send me your feelings’ from an original 1979 Japanese album on City Connection, the unknown soulful vocals of the song (written by one Harry Whitaker, who was an integral member of Roy Ayers Ubiquity period) embellish the underlying jazz component and this is a real treat to hear again. Trombonist Hiroshi Fukumura and tenor saxophonist Sadao Watanabe combine beautifully on an import favourite and album title track that eventually came out on 12′, ‘Hunt up wind’. This belongs alongside ‘Spaces and Places’, ‘Expansions’ as a bona fide jazz-funk classic.
Last, but by no means least, this is an anthology that showcases the vocal talent that Inner City had on their roster and what an impressive line-up they had at the time. Janet Lawson has thankfully seen her album ‘Janet Lawson Quintet’ re-issued previously be BBE and ‘So high’ is a defining example of her artistry. One of the pioneers of jazz vocalese and personal favourite of this writer is the late and unquestionably great Eddie Jefferson. His 1977 album, ‘The main man’ is richly deserving of a re-issue, but one superb example of his craft is to be found on the stunning interpretation of Duke Pearson’s ‘Jeannine’. Jefferson was a major innovator in the field of jazz vocals and took on some challenging projects, including adding lyrics to Miles Davis’ jazz-rock opus, ‘Bitches Brew’ and even Herbie Hancock’s ‘Chameleon’. Wordless vocals was a technique that came to the fore during the 1970s and included Al Jarreau and a then young Bobby McFerrin. One major practitioner was Polish vocalist Urszula Dudziak and her offering, ‘Shenkansen’, conveys the breakneck speed of a Japanese bullet train. In a more straight ahead vein, but on less enthralling, Tom Lellis, akin perhaps to Jackie Paris, never received his full due, and one truly wonders why when listening to the excellent, ‘Lucky Southern’. Again another album that deservers to be heard in its entirety and re-released. A major vocalist from the past who came back with a lovely album for Inner City was Helen Merrill and her take on the Brazilian jazz-samba ‘Vera Cruz’ immortalised by singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento, adds a new layer to the vocal offerings here.
For a second volume, perhaps greater light could be shed on some of the fine acoustic jazz that surfaced on the label and included the great pianist Mary Lou Williams, on the fine collaboration between Stan Getz and a then young singer Cybil Shepherd and on the history behind the label. Otherwise, this is a near flawless anthology and one that has been a long time coming.