Freeez ‘Southern Freeez’ 2CD (SFE) 4/5

freeezThe late 1970s and early 1980s were a key period in the evolution of UK jazz-funk music and bands sounds varied from the grittier Hi Tension who took a leaf out of Brass Construction, to the more soulful hues of Central Line and Light of the World, and on to the early instrumental sides by Incognito and Level 42. Freeez initially belonged in the latter category and this welcome re-issue brings together their first, acclaimed album and supplements it with a whole host of 12″ versions as well as separate singles all not previously available on CD format. Chronologically the story starts on the first few numbers on CD 2 with the relentless bassline to ‘Keep in touch’ and the keyboards betray a nod to Lonnie Liston Smith. This was no compromising instrumental music that had a clear group sound imprint firmly in place. Interestingly, the follow-up single, ‘Stay’, contained the genesis of the future Freeez sound with female lead vocals and groove laden guitar riffs and, since it was written by Incognito founder Jean-Paul Maunick, in hindsight the commercial potential of the group was already perceptible. Cross back to the first CD and you can then enjoy how the first album progressed. It is full of American influences in tis use of keyboards and horns, yet still managed to create an earthier UK sound. This is best heard on the moody Latin-tinged ‘Mariposa’ (‘Butterfly’) that opens the album and gave the Japanese jazz imports of the time a run for their money, or the more frenetic bass and drum pleasures of’ Easy on the onions’. However, already a more dancefloor friendly groove was morphing with an early nod to boogie/late disco of ‘Caribbean Winter’. What propelled the album at the time was the release of a hit single ‘Southern Freeez’ that entered the national charts and here both the superior original album version and the later 12″ extended version are included. It is a classic slice of UK jazz-funk and revealed a new side to the remainder of the album with Ingrid Marshall Allman taking lead vocals. A catchy chorus and discofied handclaps with trademark heavy bass and percussion combine and this was the band’s highpoint. One hidden album burner is ‘Sunset’ complete with Earth, Wind and Fire style vocal harmonies and a bass line seemingly straight out of Roy Ayers’ ‘Running Away’ era. The second CD remixes several of the original album cuts in a newer 1984 setting when the second chapter in the group’s history was underway. In fact on the 12″ remix of ‘One to One’ one could already hear a new sound emerging and ‘IOU’ was not far off with both electro and hip-hop grooves replacing the former funk and jazz influences.

A later and more electro friendly side to Freeez’s reprertoire would emerge in 1983 when the group scored a major US and UK dancefloor hit with ‘IOU’ that was produced by Arthur Baker no less and received the Jellybean Benitez remix treatment. Some will argue that the addition of regular vocals took away the instrumental prowess of the earlier material and now in its full glory the listener will have the opportunity to debate the merits of both points of view and make up their own mind. A fine re-issue that stands among the pantheon of UK albums alongside Incognito’s ‘Jazz Funk’ and Level 42’s ‘Starchild’.

Tim Stenhouse