James Mason ‘Rhythm of Life’ LP (Chiaroscuro) 4/5

Back in the mid-1990s a reissue of James Mason’s seminal ‘Rhythm Of Life’ album began to circulate for those DJs interested in extracting such highlights as ‘Sweet Power Your Embrace’ and ‘Free’ for club or radio. The sound was adequate but, lacking on range or dynamics. Okay, it was poor! A few years later, Soul Brother Records obtained the rights to reissue the album, elevating the quality for a much better listening experience. Then a few years after the Soul Brother reissue, a Japanese reissue via SHOUT! Productions followed, featuring a 7” promotional release with ‘Sweet Power Your Embrace’ on the a-side and ‘Free’ on the flip. It’s a little expensive and difficult to find but at least it’s 1⁄4 of the price of the advertised original, and it’s meticulous in staying true to the original release which included a 7” promotional disc. The sound quality is great.

And then there was the 2017 package that came through the Dutch label, Rush Hour, who followed up their highly collectable 12” releases of ‘I Want Your Love’ and ‘Dance Of Life’ with another adventure into the world of James Mason and his music. ‘The Sweet Power Collection’ was a 2 x 7” package featuring rare promo versions of ‘Sweet Power Your Embrace’ and ‘Free’ on one 7” with original versions of the albums, ‘I Got My Eyes On You’ and ‘Slick City’ on the other 7”. There is also another 7” with a new edit of ‘Funny Girl’ and a promo version of ‘Dreams’. As per usual Rush Hour placed a real emphasis on quality and uniqueness adding a spark to the usual mantra which pervades many of the collectable reissues.

And now we come to the original label’s September 2019 reissue… Deciding to venture out on his own after playing an integral part within Roy Ayers’ Ubiquity band, James Mason pulled together an interesting group of musicians to record his one and only album ‘Rhythm Of Life’ for the Chiaroscuro label in 1977. In the same year, on the same label, another release featuring James Mason was the brilliant self-titled album by Tarika Blue, with James Mason and Ryo Kawasaki both guitarists on the album. For many radio stations of the time ‘Rhythm Of Life’ was one of those difficult albums to categorise and thus received less than deserved airplay, with the album, like many other timeless gems, falling into obscurity. It’s easy to see why some of the radio stations might have found it difficult to give the album its due. The use of the Arp Odyssey synthesizer and the Polymoog may have been, for many, a little too much to handle.

The range of electronic instruments which provide a colourful template for vocalist Clarice Taylor and saxophonist Justo Almario. James Mason embracing a range of interesting electronic instruments of the time including the Arp Odyssey, Poly-Moog and Arp String Ensemble. A bold and adventurous approach. The influence from his Ubiquity band contribution certainly brings a unique vibe that permeates the album and adds to the dynamics and overall feel of the album.

Back in 2007, Recloose covered the ‘Sweet Power’ track with his live band on his excellent album ‘Backwards and Sideways’ and it’s a fitting tribute to the integrity of the multi-instrumentalist, James Mason, and his sonic explorations of the time. 10 years earlier, on the Mo Wax record label, Attica Blues alongside guest artists including Anti Pop Consortium and vocalist Roba El Essawy reinterpreted James Mason’s track ‘Free’ with a contemporary twist that sparked deserved interest and most likely jump-started a new wave of interest in the artist and his music. James Mason’s music has thankfully been recognised for the due credit it deserves and the timeless appeal continues to create more interest with collectors and musicians alike.

For those new to the name, this vinyl reissue is guaranteed to sell out quickly and highly recommend you investigate without delay. For those who have lived with this music for some years, well perhaps a crisp fresh copy wouldn’t be a poor choice either.

Mark Jones