Kay-Gees ‘Keep On Bumpin’ & Masterplan’ / ‘Find A Friend’ / ‘Kilowatt’ 2CD (Robinsong) 5/5

Jazz-funk is a much maligned term and one that is prone to be misinterpreted as a mere substitute for easy listening muzak. At its essence, however, is an edgy fusion of styles that had a significantly rougher side than disco, and yet combined elements of jazzy brass and appealed squarely to the dancefloor. The Kay-Gees are one of the hidden gems of this genre that have been crying out to be re-discovered (original vinyl is highly sought after) and this is actually the first ever re-issue of the group on CD in the UK, which given their roots is all the more surprising. They are in fact an off-shoot of Kool and the Gang, the latter of whom were formed in the late 1960’s and were influenced by the likes of James Brown, the sound of Motown and the collective horns of jazz. While Robert and Ronald Bell were the co-founders of the Kool collective, younger brother Kevin was the brainchild of the Kay-Gees, and they recorded on the De-Lite label side imprint, Gang. Their 1974 debut kicks off proceedings and the eight piece band have close affinities with Kool, but are considerably tighter in sound and track length, and were aimed far more at the dancers than the elongated jams with which early Kool and the Gang are best associated. From the first album, ‘You’ve Got To Keep Bbumpin’ came as a two-part 45 that came together on the elongated album version, while two more singles followed, the third, ‘Get Down’, ironically, being the bigger of the hits, just reaching the R & B top forty in early spring of 1975. However, from, a purely musical listening perspective, the second single, ‘Master Plan’, was equally strong and an early prototype of jazz-funk with chanted chorus and tight horns guaranteed. A second album continued in a similar vein, with ‘I Believe In Music’ coming across as a composite of both Earth, Wind and Fire, and perhaps inevitably, Kool and the Gang. Again, it was the second single, ‘On The Money’, that fared slightly better chart-wise. A third album extended the franchise, and this time Latin and disco flavours came to fore on ‘Tango Hustle’, with yet another dance craze being celebrated, while the real killer tune was ‘Kilowatt’, featured here in the original album and two extra long versions. Familiar to many will be the opening cut of the third album, ‘Kay Gee’s Theme Song’, while another is ‘Cheek to Cheek’, (not the Fred Astaire associated song) that exists both as an album track and as 12″mix. To provide a fully comprehensive coverage of the band, the bonus cuts include non-album songs such as, ‘Hustle Wit’ Every Muscle’, a TV theme track, and three separate 12″ versions, two of ‘Kilowatt’. This is probably all the Kay-Gees you will ever need and they can be compared with bands of the calibre of Brass Construction who typify this era.

Tim Stenhouse