Chameleon ‘Chameleon: Expanded Edition’ (BBR) 4/5

One of the lost treasures of the disco era, Chameleon were a one album outfit produced by and featuring two jazz instrumentalists in multi-reed player Azar Lawrence and trombonist Fred Wesley, the latter of whom was an integral member of the James Brown organisation and offshoots, the J.B’s. Lawrence had performed as part of McCoy Tyner’s band and with the more obscure sounding formation that comprised the mid-1970s period in Miles Davis’ career, on ‘Dark Magus’ from 1974. He led a parallel career as a leader on the jazz label Prestige and recorded two well received albums that long-term fans of spiritual jazz have warmed to. Both ‘New age’, featuring the vocals of Jean Carn, and ‘Summer Solstice’, are richly deserving of a re-issue at some stage.While this self-titled album release on Elektra records from 1979 was clearly aimed at the dancefloor, the quality of musicians on board elevated this album above the rest, and alongside elongated disco numbers, are jazz-tinged funk numbers, such as, ‘Mysteryoso’, which takes a leaf out of the Herbie Hancock Headhunters era. Elsewhere, there are contemplative soul songs with fine accompaniment from the likes of Gerald ‘Get down’ Brown on bass and Ronald Brune on drums. The pick of these is, ‘Game of life’, sung by Earl Alexander who doubles up on guitar.

As a memorable bonus, the two disco-oriented numbers are included in their full length 12″ versions and probably worth the purchase of the CD alone. While ‘Get up’ is the more conventional of the two dance tracks, ‘We’ll be dancin’ was the late 1970s in microcosm with beefy percussion including the obligatory syndrums and a stunning percussive breakdown, a fine horn section that included Earth, Wind and Fire hornman Andrew Woolfolk and the smooth lead vocals of Delbert Taylor. An underground disco hit for sure and one that thankfully has stood the test of time remarkably well.

To this writer’s knowledge, no follow up record was issued so this is all we have to represent the band and the liner notes written by Christian John Wilkane feature an interview with Azar Lawrence. A worthy re-issue item that would be all too easy to overlook.

Tim Stenhouse